Thursday, February 23, 2017

Gee, What's So Wrong With Milo That's Not Just As Wrong With Señor Trumpanzee?

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I was skipping around the HBO channels the other night, looking for something to watch before going to sleep. Bill Maher popped up on the screen-- with neo-Nazi publicity hound Milo Yiannopoulos and I quickly moved on to Alien vs. Predator. Until the last few weeks not many Americans knew who Milo Yiannopoulos was. Essentially a social media troll, he tries, tries, tries to be outrageous enough to get famous. It finally worked-- and he was kicked off this year's CPAC program, had his book deal with Simon and Schuster cancelled and was forced to resign as a senior editor from crazy Long Island billionaire Robert Mercer's on-line fascist propaganda sheet, Breibart. I guess he can go back to harassing Brianna Wu full-time now, although he does still have his Trump white House press accreditation.

Some Americans already knew him as the aging-but-flamboyent gay guy who was permanently banned by Twitter for harassing women and blacks-- particularly black women-- under various pseudonyms. But until a film of an interview he did embracing pedophilia and extolling the virtues of the statutory rape of 13 year old boys by old men, he was just another faceless Nazi buzzing around the Trump presidency-- who he refers to as "Daddy," while referring to himself as a "Trump-sexual." Needless to say, he's a close friend of Señor Trumpanzee's Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Ryan Lizza, in the article linked below, noted that "While working for Bannon, Yiannopoulos did more than anyone else at Breitbart to explain and build bridges to the so-called alt-right, the amorphous collection of neo-nationalist activists."

The son of a Greek gangster and thug living in England, Milo was chucked out by his parents' home at an early age-- leaving him an emotional cripple, intensely angry at the world-- and was raised by his Jewish grandmother, something that has been problematic for his Nazi allies. He was exposed for starting a phony charity for Nazi youth and then pocketing all of the money. He's also a serial plagiarizer who was caught using other peoples' work in his books.

As bizarrely obsessed with his own version of outrageous sexuality as he is, he is infamous among normal gay people for insisting that gays "get back in the closet" and assumes his own unhappiness and abhorrent behavior is something he has in common with the LGBT community, which completely rejects him on every level. Much of Milo's money comes from tubby little quasi-billionaire and racist Palmer Luckey (the Trump-crazed founder of Oculus who put up the "too big to jail" billboards with Hillary's picture on them during the election). Yiannopoulos publicly brags about being expert at fellatio. The Nazi movement in Germany started out with certain gay overtones. Milo, who made this video recently, may fancy himself a kind of modern day Ernst Röhm:



Tuesday Ryan Lizza tried making sense out of Yiannopoulos for New Yorker readers:
“Things sometimes tumble out of your mouth on these long late-night live streams, when everyone is spitballing and had a couple of drinks, that are not completely expressed and not exactly what you intend. Obviously, if I had known I was going to have the media profile I have now, I would have been cautious about this stuff. I never imagined that I would become famous,” Yiannopoulos told me. He is usually brash and outrageous, leaning on his partly Jewish background and the fact that he is gay as a shield to justify his insults. A recent short music video [the clip above] that he posted on YouTube showed him and some shirtless men building a wall on what purported to be the Mexican border. But yesterday afternoon he was sorrowful and self-pitying as he tried to explain himself. “Everything I say in there is completely defensible with proper context and explanation. It just takes nuance and close attention to understand what I’m really getting at.”

...[Before CPAC booted Milo] Conservatives scheduled to speak at the event also started to grow uncomfortable. “I’ve always thought Milo was pointlessly provocative and that he added nearly nothing in terms of conservative or libertarian ideas,” Tim Carney, the commentary editor for the Washington Examiner, said. “cpac never should have invited him to give a major speech, because his ‘provocativeness’ is often bigoted or licentious.”

In the face of the growing outrage, Schlapp at first stood by his decision. Then, over the weekend, the videos of Yiannopoulos began to circulate. In one clip, he cavalierly approves of sex with thirteen-year-olds and suggests that he once attended a party at which minors were sexually assaulted. In another, he talks about the “statistical fact” that “Jews own most of the banks” and “completely dominate the media.”

...[T]he damage to the conservative movement had already been done. In a previous era, there was an élite conservative establishment that could police the movement and cast aside its fringe adherents. William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review, famously did this in the early sixties, when he attacked the conspiracists and racists of the John Birch Society, the alt-right of the day.

“The invitation strikes me as more important than the disinvitation,” Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, said of the cpac conference. “The invite said, ‘We are welcoming an alt-right (or alt-right-fellow-travelling) provocateur into the big tent.’ The disinvite said, ‘Well, O.K., since you’ve advocated pederasty, we’ll back off.’ cpac hasn’t set out a principled position here, and absent the tapes presumably would have forged ahead.”

[American Conservative Union head Matt] Schlapp stood by his original decision and dismissed critics like Lowry. “Last year around this time, there was the creation of the Never Trump movement, and there were a lot of these very same journalists who were attacking us for inviting Donald Trump,” he told me. “There are journalists in the conservative world that use cpac as a piñata once a year, and they attack us for inviting, for not inviting. The fact is this: politics is messy and it’s complicated. And we can try to sanitize it for our stage or we can decide to not avoid the controversies, but simply put them on the stage in an appropriate way for our attendees to listen to.”

But even one of Schlapp’s own board members did not buy that argument. “So we were cool with the Anti Semitic, racist, vile stuff, but we drew the line at pedophilia?” Ryun wrote to me via text, echoing Lowry’s complaints. “My argument from the minute I heard about it was to reject the alt-right ASAP.”

As for Yiannopoulos, when I spoke to him at one p.m. yesterday, he said that he was still consulting with his team about what to do next. Asked if he might still show up in Washington this week, he responded, “Probably.”

Whether or not he attends, cpac promises to be a rowdy forum for debate about the future of conservatism and the alt-right. Fans of Yiannopoulos won’t be too disappointed. Yesterday, before announcing that Yiannopoulos was disinvited, cpac organizers revealed that they had a new speaker who was even more beloved by the alt-right: Donald Trump.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Transgender People-- A Tribute With Love To My Dear Friend Jack, Then Jane,  In Graduate School.

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-by Melody Siegler

One of my best friends in graduate school was Jack. He was a serious scientist-- an accomplished scientist-- way more accomplished in his field than most graduate students of our cadre in Biology. Also, he was amazingly expert in old music, old 45s. And, who knows what else. He related well to everyone in the Department. And, he was always wonderful company.

Jack had a health problem-- he had been born with various defective heart valves. But, by some miracle, these defects compensated for each other. Not completely though-- whenever we went somewhere that involved going outside, he had to wear a hat and warm clothing, even in California. I could see him turning blue,  because his heart didn’t pump enough so that the hemoglobin-oxygen combination (to make blood red) took to circulate through his system, especially if he exerted himself in any way whatsoever.

Jack was maybe 29, the last time I saw him at UCSC. I went off to England for a post-doc. And this was in the days before the “internet” and “email.” So I lost touch with him.

I came back to visit friends in Santa Cruz, maybe two years later. Both were in the Biology Department-- one a professor, and the other a graduate student. Jack had died because of his heart problems.

But, there was a lot more to the story. In my absence, Jack had “realized” or at least declared that he was transgender. I put “realized” in quotes, because I now know that transgender people most often experience “gender dysphoria” from the get-go. Right out of the womb. But, this was not a time where this was known or recognized.

Jack, while I was away, became Jane. He started dressing as a female. Wearing make-up.  There were some unisex bathrooms in the Biology Department, so I doubt that he ever committed the terrible sin of using a “F” bathroom. But, she, Jane, was shunned and reviled by members of the Biology Department, including faculty members. This was UCSC. This was Santa Cruz in the ‘70s. Where one faculty member regularly smoked dope while doing his biochemical assays. He went on to become the only Bio faculty member to be appointed to the National Academy of Science, a high honor indeed.  pparently he was horrified by Jack’s change to Jane. Yes, rumor, but believable.

I won’t go into all the scientific research I’ve done since about transgender people, and why they are transgender. The present evidence overwhelmingly strong that this is biological (not genetic) conditions at some point in the womb, in utero, that changes their development as to gender identity. And, given that my friend Jack-- then Jane-- was born with multiple heart defects, well… draw your own conclusions.

I now draw your attention to a recent HuffPost piece:

Here’s A Fact-Check On Milo Yiannopoulos’ Incendiary Claims About Trans People

  1. Transgender people are not ‘confused’ about their ‘sexual identity’

  2. Transgender people do not suffer from a psychiatric disorder

  3. Transgender people are not “disproportionately involved” in sex crimes

  4. Transgender people are the ones harassed and discriminated against in restrooms

  5. Transgender people face shockingly high levels of sexual abuse and assault

  6. Trans people using restrooms corresponding with their gender identity doesn’t allow predators to gain access to those venues

  7. Transgender people just want to use a bathroom and leave-- just like everyone else.

In closing, the level of ignorance about transgender people makes me weep.

I saw this online as a moderator at FDL during the ENDA debate. (Where the Human Rights Campaign saw fit to NOT support trans people.  And, even more recently in messages on a college list-serve I am on.

I makes me weep for my dear friend Jane, and every transgender person.

Yesterday, the Trump Regime signaled what we all feared was coming, that the Trumpists are about to reverse the federal government's progressive policy on transgender rights, an area where Obama had made tremendous strides in recognizing equal rights.

Ever since Ted Cruz burned him badly-- see video up top-- Trump has been obsessed with federal guidance to public schools going back almost a year ago that transgender students be allowed to use bathrooms matching their gender identity. Yesterday the Regime's flack, Sean Spicer, said this is a matter for the states, not for the federal government: "All you have to do is look at what the president's view has been for a long time, that this is not something that the federal government should be involved in, that this is a states' rights issue." He warned that Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos, the two vicious bigots running the Justice Department and Department of Education would be sending out new guidance. It seems likely that one day the enablers of Trumpist policy will face Justice; just add this to the list.



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Journalists' Unique Role In Resisting The Fascist Take-Over

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Team Trump is going around the world telling people to ignore what Trump himself says. When the cameras are rolling, the Trumpists are just delivering an alternative message-- the opposite of what Trump says on a wide range of topics. When the cameras aren't rolling, they've been letting European leaders know that what Trump says for domestic consumption is just to placate or arouse his feeble-minded and drugged up fans and that most of it isn't related to actual American policy goals. It would be wise for us to be very skeptical of these pronouncements disavowing any of the basic tenets of Trumpism.

It's true that when Trump offered the VP job to John Kasich, he had Donald, Jr. define the role as a kind of de facto presidency. Kasich would be in charge of domestic policy and foreign affairs, Freddo told Kasich. "What would Trumpy-the-Clown do," they asked. "He'd spend his time making America great again," was the response." He's certainly spending a lot of that time at his gawdy mansion in Mar-a-Lago and... how long does it take to play 8 holes of golf? But as lazy and afflicted with attention deficit disorder as he is, Trumpy-von-Thin-Skin isn't about to let anyone run his show, other than implementation of his grand fascist vision. People who have signed on to work for him-- the collaborators-- are all part of the kakistocracy.

Over the weekend, Time published a lecture Pulitzer Award-winning journalist Bret Stephens gave at UCLA, dedicated to the memory of Daniel Pearl and other journalists killed for their work as journalists. He started by talking about how professional journalists revere, as a matter of course, truth. "We honor the central idea of journalism-- the conviction, as my old boss Peter Kann once said, 'that facts are facts; that they are ascertainable through honest, open-minded and diligent reporting; that truth is attainable by laying fact upon fact, much like the construction of a cathedral; and that truth is not merely in the eye of the beholder.' And we honor the responsibility to separate truth from falsehood, which is never more important than when powerful people insist that falsehoods are truths, or that there is no such thing as truth to begin with."

No one could have doubted at that moment that his lecture was going to be an attack on Trump, who thrives on lies, confusion, chaos, fear and ignorance. To Trump, Stephens reminded his audience, journalists as "the disgusting and corrupt media."
Some of you may have noticed that we’re living through a period in which the executive branch of government is engaged in a systematic effort to create a climate of opinion against the news business.

The President routinely describes reporting he dislikes as FAKE NEWS. The Administration calls the press “the opposition party,” ridicules news organizations it doesn’t like as business failures, and calls for journalists to be fired. Mr. Trump has called for rewriting libel laws in order to more easily sue the press.

...[T]he question of what Mr. Trump might yet do by political methods against the media matters a great deal less than what he is attempting to do by ideological and philosophical methods.

Ideologically, the president is trying to depose so-called mainstream media in favor of the media he likes-- Breitbart News and the rest. Another way of making this point is to say that he’s trying to substitute news for propaganda, information for boosterism.

His objection to, say, the New York Times, isn’t that there’s a liberal bias in the paper that gets in the way of its objectivity, which I think would be a fair criticism. His objection is to objectivity itself. He’s perfectly happy for the media to be disgusting and corrupt-- so long as it’s on his side.

But again, that’s not all the president is doing.

Consider this recent exchange he had with Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly asks:

Is there any validity to the criticism of you that you say things that you can’t back up factually, and as the President you say there are three million illegal aliens who voted and you don’t have the data to back that up, some people are going to say that it’s irresponsible for the President to say that.

To which the president replies:

Many people have come out and said I’m right.

Now many people also say Jim Morrison faked his own death. Many people say Barack Obama was born in Kenya. “Many people say” is what’s known as an argumentum ad populum. If we were a nation of logicians, we would dismiss the argument as dumb.

We are not a nation of logicians.

I think it’s important not to dismiss the president’s reply simply as dumb. We ought to assume that it’s darkly brilliant-- if not in intention then certainly in effect. The president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have on an argument.

He isn’t telling O’Reilly that he’s got his facts wrong. He’s saying that, as far as he is concerned, facts, as most people understand the term, don’t matter: That they are indistinguishable from, and interchangeable with, opinion; and that statements of fact needn’t have any purchase against a man who is either sufficiently powerful to ignore them or sufficiently shameless to deny them-- or, in his case, both.

...If you can sell condos by claiming your building is 90% occupied when it’s only 20% occupied, well, then-- it’s 90% occupied. If you can convince a sufficient number of people that you really did win the popular vote, or that your inauguration crowds were the biggest-- well then, what do the statistical data and aerial photographs matter?

...Today we have “dis-intermediating” technologies such as Twitter, which have cut out the media as the middleman between politicians and the public. Today, just 17% of adults aged 18-24 read a newspaper daily, down from 42% at the turn of the century. Today there are fewer than 33,000 full-time newsroom employees, a drop from 55,000 just 20 years ago.

When Trump attacks the news media, he’s kicking a wounded animal.

But the most interesting conversation is not about why Donald Trump lies. Many public figures lie, and he’s only a severe example of a common type.

The interesting conversation concerns how we come to accept those lies.

...I personally think we crossed a rubicon in the Clinton years, when three things happened: we decided that some types of presidential lies didn’t matter; we concluded that “character” was an over-rated consideration when it came to judging a president; and we allowed the lines between political culture and celebrity culture to become hopelessly blurred.

But whatever else one might say about President Clinton, what we have now is the crack-cocaine version of that.

If a public figure tells a whopping lie once in his life, it’ll haunt him into his grave. If he lies morning, noon and night, it will become almost impossible to remember any one particular lie. Outrage will fall victim to its own ubiquity. It’s the same truth contained in Stalin’s famous remark that the death of one man is a tragedy but the death of a million is a statistic.

...Shameless rhetoric will always find a receptive audience with shameless people. Donald Trump’s was the greatest political strip-tease act in U.S. political history: the dirtier he got, the more skin he showed, the more his core supporters liked it.

Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, called on Americans to summon “the better angels of our nature.” Donald Trump’s candidacy, and so far his presidency, has been Lincoln’s exhortation in reverse.

Here’s a simple truth about a politics of dishonesty, insult and scandal: It’s entertaining. Politics as we’ve had it for most of my life has, with just a few exceptions, been distant and dull.

Now it’s all we can talk about. If you like Trump, his presence in the White House is a daily extravaganza of sticking it to pompous elites and querulous reporters. If you hate Trump, you wake up every day with some fresh outrage to turn over in your head and text your friends about.

Whichever way, it’s exhilarating. Haven’t all of us noticed that everything feels speeded up, more vivid, more intense and consequential? One of the benefits of an alternative-facts administration is that fiction can take you anywhere.

Earlier today, at his press conference, the president claimed his administration is running like a “fine-tuned machine.” In actual fact, he just lost his Labor Secretary nominee, his National Security Adviser was forced out in disgrace, and the Intelligence Community is refusing to fully brief the president for fear he might compromise sources and methods.

But who cares? Since when in Washington has there been a presidential press conference like that? Since when has the denial of reality been taken to such a bald-faced extreme?

At some point, it becomes increasingly easy for people to mistake the reality of the performance for reality itself. If Trump can get through a press conference like that without showing a hint of embarrassment, remorse or misgiving—well, then, that becomes a new basis on which the president can now be judged.

To tell a lie is wrong. But to tell a lie with brass takes skill. Ultimately, Trump’s press conference will be judged not on some kind of Olympic point system, but on whether he “won”-- which is to say, whether he brazened his way through it. And the answer to that is almost certainly yes.

So far, I’ve offered you three ideas about how it is that we have come to accept the president’s behavior.

The first is that we normalize it, simply by becoming inured to constant repetition of the same bad behavior.

The second is that at some level it excites and entertains us. By putting aside our usual moral filters-- the ones that tell us that truth matters, that upright conduct matters, that things ought to be done in a certain way-- we have been given tickets to a spectacle, in which all you want to do is watch.

And the third is that we adopt new metrics of judgment, in which politics becomes more about perceptions than performance-- of how a given action is perceived as being perceived. If a reporter for the New York Times says that Trump’s press conference probably plays well in Peoria, then that increases the chances that it will play well in Peoria.

Let me add a fourth point here: our tendency to rationalize.

One of the more fascinating aspects of last year’s presidential campaign was the rise of a class of pundits I call the “TrumpXplainers.” For instance, Trump would give a speech or offer an answer in a debate that amounted to little more than a word jumble.

But rather than quote Trump, or point out that what he had said was grammatically and logically nonsensical, the TrumpXplainers would tell us what he had allegedly meant to say. They became our political semioticians, ascribing pattern and meaning to the rune-stones of Trump’s mind.

If Trump said he’d get Mexico to pay for his wall, you could count on someone to provide a complex tariff scheme to make good on the promise. If Trump said that we should not have gone into Iraq but that, once there, we should have “taken the oil,” we’d have a similarly high-flown explanation as to how we could engineer this theft.

...Overall, the process is one in which explanation becomes rationalization, which in turn becomes justification. Trump says X. What he really means is Y. And while you might not like it, he’s giving voice to the angers and anxieties of Z. Who, by the way, you’re not allowed to question or criticize, because anxiety and anger are their own justifications these days.

Watching this process unfold has been particularly painful for me as a conservative columnist. I find myself in the awkward position of having recently become popular among some of my liberal peers-- precisely because I haven’t changed my opinions about anything.

By contrast, I’ve become suddenly unpopular among some of my former fans on the right-- again, because I’ve stuck to my views. It is almost amusing to be accused of suffering from something called “Trump Derangement Syndrome” simply because I feel an obligation to raise my voice against, say, the president suggesting a moral equivalency between the U.S. and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The most painful aspect of this has been to watch people I previously considered thoughtful and principled conservatives give themselves over to a species of illiberal politics from which I once thought they were immune.

In his 1953 masterpiece, The Captive Mind, the Polish poet and dissident Czeslaw Milosz analyzed the psychological and intellectual pathways through which some of his former colleagues in Poland’s post-war Communist regime allowed themselves to be converted into ardent Stalinists. In none of the cases that Milosz analyzed was coercion the main reason for the conversion.




They wanted to believe. They were willing to adapt. They thought they could do more good from the inside. They convinced themselves that their former principles didn’t fit with the march of history, or that to hold fast to one’s beliefs was a sign of priggishness and pig-headedness. They felt that to reject the new order of things was to relegate themselves to irrelevance and oblivion. They mocked their former friends who refused to join the new order as morally vain reactionaries. They convinced themselves that, brutal and capricious as Stalinism might be, it couldn’t possibly be worse than the exploitative capitalism of the West.

I fear we are witnessing a similar process unfold among many conservative intellectuals on the right. It has been stunning to watch a movement that once believed in the benefits of free trade and free enterprise merrily give itself over to a champion of protectionism whose economic instincts recall the corporatism of 1930s Italy or 1950s Argentina. It is no less stunning to watch people who once mocked Obama for being too soft on Russia suddenly discover the virtues of Trump’s “pragmatism” on the subject.

And it is nothing short of amazing to watch the party of onetime moral majoritarians, who spent a decade fulminating about Bill Clinton’s sexual habits, suddenly find complete comfort with the idea that character and temperament are irrelevant qualifications for high office.

The mental pathways by which the new Trumpian conservatives have made their peace with their new political master aren’t so different from Milosz’s former colleagues.

There’s the same desperate desire for political influence; the same belief that Trump represents a historical force to which they ought to belong; the same willingness to bend or discard principles they once considered sacred; the same fear of seeming out-of-touch with the mood of the public; the same tendency to look the other way at comments or actions that they cannot possibly justify; the same belief that you do more good by joining than by opposing; the same Manichean belief that, if Hillary Clinton had been elected, the United States would have all-but ended as a country.

This is supposed to be the road of pragmatism, of turning lemons into lemonade. I would counter that it’s the road of ignominy, of hitching a ride with a drunk driver.

So, then, to the subject that brings me here today: Maintaining intellectual integrity in the age of Trump... We each have our obligations to see what’s in front of one’s nose, whether we’re reporters, columnists, or anything else. This is the essence of intellectual integrity.

Not to look around, or beyond, or away from the facts, but to look straight at them, to recognize and call them for what they are, nothing more or less. To see things as they are before we re-interpret them into what we’d like them to be. To believe in an epistemology that can distinguish between truth and falsity, facts and opinions, evidence and wishes. To defend habits of mind and institutions of society, above all a free press, which preserve that epistemology. To hold fast to a set of intellectual standards and moral convictions that won’t waver amid changes of political fashion or tides of unfavorable opinion. To speak the truth irrespective of what it means for our popularity or influence.

The legacy of Danny Pearl is that he died for this. We are being asked to do much less. We have no excuse not to do it.

In case you haven't seen it yet, Quinnipiac released their latest survey on Trumpanzee job approval. As you would have probably guessed, it's continued to sink. Trumpy-The-Clown disapproval fell from 51% on February 7 to 55% today. Of the 55% who disapprove of the idiot-- almost all-- 49%-- strongly disapprove. It gets worse:
Not honest- 55-40%
Bad leadership skills- 55-42%
Doesn't care about average Americas- 53-44%
Not level-headed- 63-33%
Doesn't share our values- 60-37%
More a divider than a uniter- 58-36%
Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said "Trump's popularity is sinking like a rock. He gets slammed on honesty, empathy, level headedness and the ability to unite. And two of his strong points, leadership and intelligence, are sinking to new lows. This is a terrible survey one month in."

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Stop the presses! What shade(s) of orange do you suppose extraterrestrial Donald Trumps might be?

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"Now we have seven Earth-sized planets to expand our understanding. Yes, we have the possibility to find water and life. But even if we don't, whatever we find will be super interesting."
-- University of Liège "exoplanet researcher" Michaël Gillon

by Ken

So here I was, wrestling with a post that would take off from a cluster of one upcoming and two just-forgotten birthdays, and last night's Real O'Neals and The Middle, so good that you have to wonder how they survived interference by the Disney-ABC network suits, and the whole consuming business of "fitting in" or not.

That combined with -- as an afterthought or maybe overthought -- a piece by Nathaniel Rich in the March 7 NYRB, "Joan Didion in the Deep South" (copyright by the author, curiously; note that the full piece is available only to subscribers or purchasers) about Joan Didion's about-to-be-published book South and West, which apparently consists of her actual notes for never-written pieces gathered during a month traveling the Gulf Coast in summer 1970 and a 1976 visit to San Francisco (in, of course, her native California) covering Patty Hearst's trial for Rolling Stone.

I'd already decided that probably it would have been split into two sure-to-be-riveting posts, when whap!, along comes this breaking news, and naturally all that other stuff has to be put on hold. I know that these seven planets aren't in our solar system, or anywhere near (note that the description of Trappist-1 as an "ultracool dwarf" isn't a value judgment but a description of the 39-light-years-distant star's temperature and size), but still, seven "Earthlike" planets? Get out of here! Just think, somewhere out there in space there could be seven officially extraterrestrial Donald Trumps! Do you suppose they would all come in the same shade(s) of orange?
Speaking of Science
Scientists discover 7 ‘Earthlike’ planets orbiting a nearby star

By Sarah Kaplan | February 22 at 1:00 PM

[SEE VIDEO CLIP ABOVE]
Three planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system resemble Earth in terms of size, mass, and the energy they receive from their star. (Reuters)

A newfound solar system just 39 light-years away contains seven warm, rocky, Earthlike planets, scientists say.

The discovery, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, represents the first time astronomers have ever detected so many terrestrial planets orbiting a single star. Researchers say the system is an ideal laboratory for studying distant worlds and could be the best place in the galaxy to search for life beyond Earth.

“Before this, if you wanted to study terrestrial planets, we had only four of them and they were all in our solar system,” said lead author Michaël Gillon, an exoplanet researcher at the University of Liège in Belgium. “Now we have seven Earth-sized planets to expand our understanding. Yes, we have the possibility to find water and life. But even if we don't, whatever we find will be super interesting.”

The newly discovered solar system resembles a scaled-down version of our own. The star at its center, an ultracool dwarf called TRAPPIST-1, is less than a tenth the size of the sun and about a quarter as warm. Its planets circle tightly around it; the closest takes just a day and a half to complete an orbit, the most distant takes about 20 days. If these planets orbited a larger, brighter star they'd be fried to a crisp. But TRAPPIST-1 is so cool that all seven of the bodies are bathed in just the right amount of warmth to hold liquid water. And three of them receive the same amount of heat as Venus, Earth and Mars, putting them in “the habitable zone,” that Goldilocks region where it's thought life can thrive.

Still, “Earthlike” is a generous term to describe these worlds. Though the planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system resemble Earth in terms of size, mass, and the energy they receive from their star, there's a lot that makes our planet livable beside being a warm rock. Further observation is required to figure out what the TRAPPIST-1 planets are made of, if they have atmospheres, and whether they hold water, methane, oxygen and carbon dioxide — the molecules that scientists consider “biosignatures,” or signs of life.

“You can bet people will be rushing to take those measurements,” said Elisabeth Adams, an exoplanet researcher at the Planetary Science Institute who was not involved in the study. “That's going to be fascinating to see.”


An artist's conception of the view from the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) [Note: Click to enlarge. -- Ed.]

Whatever secrets it may harbor, the TRAPPIST-1 system will surely be a sight to behold. Though the star is small, its nearness to the planets means that, from their perspective, it appears about three times as large as our sun. The outermost planets enjoy the daily spectacle of their neighbors passing across the sky and in front of their shared sun, each world a large dark spot silhouetted against the salmon-colored star. Its dim glow, which skews toward the red and infrared end of the light spectrum, bathes the planets in warmth and paints their skies with the crimson hues of a perpetual sunset.

[There's more, ohsomuch more, which all you astronomy nerds out there can read onsite. -- Ed.]

WHEW! HOW EXCITING IS THIS?

Now, maybe Friday we can get back to the business originally plann for today.
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Saturday The DNC Finally Picks A New Chair-- Let's Pray It's Not Another Disaster Like Wasserman Schultz

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The DNC charter says a new chairman has to be elected before March 1st. Saturday is as close to the deadline as they could have gotten. It's been a long race, primarily between the progressive wing represented by Keith Ellison and the status quo establishment wing represented by Tom Perez. Obama has been quietly making calls on Perez's behalf. The energy of the Resistance in fully behind Ellison.

This week New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley-- also the chairman of the Democratic chairmen organization-- dropped out of the race and, significantly, endorsed Ellison. That's a very big deal that the media largely missed. This is what he told his supporters when he endorsed Keith:
We need to reform the DNC and strengthen our state parties if we are to win back power. After helping win 11 of the last 13 statewide elections in New Hampshire-- and electing the nation's first all-female, all-Democratic congressional delegation-- I wanted to help lead this national effort.

Many of the 10 of us who were running spoke about these issues. But Keith's track record of winning elections, increasing voter turnout in Minnesota, being an organizer, partnering with the progressive grassroots, and helping to change the national debate in a way that favors Democrats all stood out.

I have 100% confidence that with Keith Ellison as our Chair, the Democratic National Committee is going to become much more accountable and that the grassroots will be the top priority of the DNC. With Keith's leadership, we will start winning again.

...Keith Ellison also knows elections are not won and lost in the DC beltway, but on the ground across the country. We both believe in providing support and investing resources to help every state party succeed, and organizing in every county across this great country.

There are only 447 voting DNC members. As I've talked to the DNC membership, it's clear that nobody has all the votes they need yet. It's also clear Keith has widespread and growing support.
Yesterday John Lewis, one of the moral centers of the Democratic Party, once again threw his weight behind Ellison (see video above). And remember, Lewis was not just a supporter of Hillary Clinton's campaign, he went out of his way to disparage Bernie during the primary. His endorsement of Keith is an important step in healing the gap between progressives and a political establishment that blundered and failed and brought us the disaster of Trump and Trumpism.

"We need his leadership. We need his vision. We need his commitment and his dedication now more than ever before," said Lewis in his announcement. "Keith wants our party not just to wait until the next election but to organize now for the long haul."

Yesterday many of us got an e-mail from Michael Moore under the subject line: Do These 10 Things, and Trump Will Be Toast. They were all good. #6 is especially relevant to this post though:
TAKE OVER THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: The old guard of the party has twice in 16 years presided over the majority of Americans electing the Democrat to the White House-- only for us all to see the losing Republican inaugurated as president. How is it that we have won the popular vote in SIX OF THE LAST SEVEN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS-- the Republicans have only won ONCE since 1988-- and yet, we hold NO power in any branch of government?! That, plus losing 1,000 local seats in this election that the Dems use to hold-- plus watching many Dems in Congress unwilling to stand up to Trump ― PLEASE, the old leadership has to go. God love ‘em for their contributions in the past, but if we don’t enact a radical overhaul right now, we are doomed as far as having a true opposition party during the Trump era. And that, more than anything, will help to usher in the vice-grip of a totalitarian culture.

You must do two things:

Let the DNC know that THIS SATURDAY, February 25th, the Democratic National Committee MUST elect reform and progressive candidate, Congressman Keith Ellison, as the new DNC chair. Keith is a former community organizer, the first Muslim elected to Congress, and a key backer of Bernie Sanders. He not only has Bernie’s support-- and mine-- but he’s also backed by Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Gloria Steinem, John Lewis and many others. Sign his petition of support at www.keithfordnc.org/howyoucanhelp. Let the DNC know how you feel.

And locally, you need to start attending your county Democratic meetings. If possible, organize your friends and others and take over your local Dem organization. More on this at a later date.
The DNC chairman's race worked to benefit the Resistance. Can you imagine if a universally despised piece of shit like Wasserman Schultz was still chair and attempted to make herself part of the grassroots movement? It would have died an ugly death. Keith is largely seen as a part of the Resistance and can help channel its energy into the 2018 electoral cycle. I doubt many people would be interested in Perez's attempts to do something similar. Yesterday, Bill McKibben addressed concerns about the party and the Resistance in an OpEd for The Guardian. "If Keith Ellison wins," he asserts, "the party might just be able to win back its lost credibility."
The resistance is doing as well as anyone could realistically hope. Deprived by the elections of any institutional power, we’ve marched in record numbers with courage and wit. That’s helped journalists to find their footing, and President Needy’s poll numbers have begun to tumble. But only a crazy person could keep up this plate-spinning pace for long. Since he clearly will, those fighting Trump need to find a fortress to call home-- a place to find shelter in and from which to sally forth.

One of those fortresses may be the Democratic party, depending on how this weekend’s vote for a new DNC chairman comes out.

There are a number of candidates, but two appear to be in the lead: former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison. Both, by all accounts, are good guys, and not greatly divided by ideology. But they clearly represent the two wings of the party.

Perez is from the ruling wing, the institutional party. He’s closely identified with Barack Obama, who he worked for, and Hillary Clinton, who he supported. Ellison is from the movement wing. He’s closely identified with Bernie Sanders. Indeed, he was one of the few members of Congress who actively supported his insurgent candidacy.

The choice is actually about the best way to unite the opposition to Trump, at least for the purposes of winning elections.

We don’t need the Democratic party to tell us what to think-- we have vibrant and engaged movements out there that are reshaping public opinion every day, in the airports and on Facebook. Black Lives Matter leads our movement intellectually in a way that the Democratic Party never will. But we may need the Democratic party for the fairly limited purpose of winning elections and hence consolidating power. What would best serve that utilitarian need?

The answer, I think, is pretty clear.

Ellison-- and by extension the movements he represents-- offers the party the items it lacks and needs. Credibility, for one. You could (and this is the argument of Perez and his establishment team) begin in the middle, with as unthreatening and centrist a party as possible, and then reach out to the various movements and try to bring them on board. But I doubt that will work.

The deep-seated anger at the elites, who have compromised serious principle time and time again, is simply too strong. If the polls are to be believed, most Americans don’t trust any of Washington’s power centers, the DNC included. No one looks at Steny Hoyer and thinks ‘what barricade can I die on?’ The last chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, was the embodiment of this kind of non-principled power-based thinking, and she did tremendous damage. [Editor's note: She'll still have to be dealt with for the DNC to ever regain any kind of confidence form grassroots progressives.]

And if that’s true of Americans in general, it’s doubly true of young people. In fact, more than doubly: the single most remarkable statistics of the 2016 election season were the four- and five- and six-to-one margins by which Bernie won young voters.

That he was able to overcome that inherent distrust means he may be able to do the party a great service, and deliver it a generation of voters who are not otherwise inclined to affiliate with institutions of any sort. Ellison is the bridge to that world, and it would be political malpractice to draw it up. But he’s also the bridge to the world of movements, which supply the passion and spirit and creativity that the DNC requires at least as badly as it needs credibility.

A typical Ellison supporter is someone like Jane Kleeb, the whirlwind Nebraska organizer who spearheaded much of the fight against the Keystone Pipeline, and is now assembling a coalition of farmers, ranchers, and other unlikely activists across the Midwest to fight fossil fuel infrastructure and demand renewable energy.

Kleeb’s just been elected chair of Nebraska’s Democratic party, giving it a transfusion of organizing energy that had been lacking-- if you want to compete in the heartland, she’s the kind of person you need.

These folks are serious about winning elections-- Ellison himself has been a remarkably successful campaigner in his Minnesota base, expanding his margins year after year and lending effective support to the rest of the ticket. And they know how to raise money, one of the key jobs of a party: Bernie’s 27-bucks-at-a-time model is clearly the future of political fundraising, a welcome change from simply finding plutocrats or shaking down Wall Street.

Ellison is in a very real way the safe choice. If the institutionalists are put in charge, then much of the DNC’s energy in the years to come will be spent trying to deal with people who distrust institutions. But with Bernie’s implicit backing, Ellison can short-circuit that conversation and simply get to work.

Few people will accuse the black Muslim Berniecrat of being an apparatchik. And since he’s simultaneously a modest Midwestern track-and-field coach, he’ll be able to get a message across to the broad middle.

I don’t know whether that will be enough to save the Democratic party. We’re in an era of rapid deinstitutionalization-- our political parties may just become hollow shells that cannot compete against insurgent candidates like Bernie (who was an Independent most of his career).

But there are, unfortunately, strong forces in the Constitution that favor a two-party system. So even if parties are not as important as protest, it’s still worth seeing if they can serve a useful role going forward. Keith Ellison is the best chance of finding out.
Moments after McKibben's OpEd was published, Steve Phillips' powerful-- and contrarian-- endorsement of Ellison hit the NY Times, urging DNC voters to "choose a leader who will resist the pressure to pursue the wrong white people. Hundreds of articles have been written about the imperative of attracting more support from white working-class voters who supported Barack Obama in 2012 but then bolted to back Donald J. Trump. The far more important-- and largely untold-- story of the election is that more Obama voters defected to third- and fourth-party candidates than the number who supported Mr. Trump. That is the white flight that should most concern the next D.N.C. chairman, because those voters make up a more promising way to reclaim the White House. The way to win them back is by being more progressive, not less. To be clear, all white voters matter. But Democrats must make tough, data-driven decisions about how to prioritize their work. Right now, too many are using bad math and faulty logic to push the party to chase the wrong segment of white voters. For example, Guy Cecil, who spent nearly $200 million as head of the progressive “super PAC” Priorities USA, urged the party to rebuild trust with the “millions of white voters who voted for President Obama and Donald Trump.” The math underlying that conclusion is incorrect (Mr. Trump picked up not “millions,” but only 784,000 white votes in the 10 battleground states he won by single digits). And it misses the bigger-- and more fixable-- problem of white Democratic defections to third- and fourth-party candidates."
Hillary Clinton lost the decisive states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan by 77,744 votes; the number of Democratic votes dropped significantly from 2012 levels, and the Republican total increased by about 440,000 votes. The third- and fourth-party surge, however, was larger than the Republican growth, with 503,000 more people choosing the Libertarian or the Green candidate than had done so in 2012. When you look at the white vote in those states, the picture is even more stark.

In Wisconsin, according to the exit poll data, Mrs. Clinton received 193,000 fewer white votes than Mr. Obama received in 2012, but Mr. Trump’s white total increased over Mitt Romney’s by just 9,000 votes. So where did the other 184,000 Wisconsin whites go? A majority went to third and fourth parties, which, together, received 100,000 more white votes than they did in 2012.

In Michigan, where 75 percent of the voters were white, Mrs. Clinton received about 295,000 fewer votes than Mr. Obama did, but the Republican total increased by just 164,000 votes. The ranks of those voting third and fourth party leapt to more than 250,000 last year from about 51,000 in 2012, and Mrs. Clinton fell short by just 10,704 votes.

In Pennsylvania, the Democrats’ problem was not with white voters, but with African-Americans. Mrs. Clinton actually improved on the Democratic 2012 results with whites, but over 130,000 unenthused black voters stayed home, and she lost by about 44,000 votes.

If Democrats had stemmed the defections of white voters to the Libertarian or Green Parties, they would have won Michigan and Wisconsin, and had they also inspired African-Americans in Pennsylvania, Mrs. Clinton would be president.

If progressive whites are defecting because they are uninspired by Democrats, moving further to the right will only deepen their disillusionment. But if the next D.N.C. chairman can win them back, the country’s demographic trends will tilt the field in Democrats’ favor. As Mrs. Clinton’s popular vote margin showed, there is still a new American majority made up of a meaningful minority of whites and an overwhelming majority of minorities. Not only is there little evidence that Democrats can do significantly better with those white working-class voters who are susceptible to messages laced with racism and sexism, but that sector of the electorate will continue to shrink in the coming years. Nearly half of all Democratic votes (46 percent) were not white in 2016, and over the next four years, 10 million more people of color will be added to the population, as compared with just 1.5 million whites.




Keith Ellison, a D.N.C. chairman candidate, has a proven record of engaging core Democratic voters rather than chasing the elusive conservative whites, and the party would be in good hands under his stewardship. (Thomas E. Perez, the former labor secretary, has less electoral history, but his reliance on political superstars such as the strategist Emmy Ruiz, who delivered victories for Democrats in Nevada and Colorado, is encouraging.)

Whoever prevails as chairman must resist the pressure to follow an uninformed and ill-fated quest for winning over conservative white working-class voters in the Midwest. The solution for Democrats is not to chase Trump defectors. The path to victory involves reinspiring those whites who drifted to third-party candidates and then focusing on the ample opportunities in the Southwest and the South.

Mrs. Clinton came closer to winning Texas than she did Iowa. She fared better in Arizona, Georgia and Florida than she did in the traditional battleground state of Ohio. The electoral action for Democrats may have once been in the Rust Belt, but it’s now moving west and south.
Goal Thermometer

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Resistance Has Many Forms-- From Refusing To Work For The Fascist Regime To Voting Out Its Enablers

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Showing up at congressional town hall meetings is sending a powerful message congressmembers are hearing. Marching and demonstrating against Trump and Trumpism is sending a message they're hearing as well. Supporting the voices of the Resistance inside Congress is another way of sending a strong, clear message. But nothing sends a message like showing up on election day and joining with your neighbors to make real change.

2018 is going to be the whole enchilada-- the one shot we have to stop Trump and Bannon in their tracks by taking the House of Representatives away from enablers like Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy and their toxic committee chairmen and knee jerk majority. However, as we explained last week, there are a series of special elections coming up in just over a month that the whole country-- the whole world-- is watching for some kind of a signal. One race is in a solidly blue district, CA-34, where 23 candidates are competing to fill the empty Becerra seat. Most of the credible candidates are good progressives-- although 2 shady characters, Sara Hernandez and Yolie Flores, are the puppets of the charter school forces-- and the race there isn't so much about sending a message as electing a strong, competent, proven leader who will join the resistance to Trumpism and fight against it effectively, the reason why Ted Lieu, Ro Khanna, Judy Chu, Grace Napolitano (as well as virtually all the unions, Planned Parenthood, Equity California, local and state leaders from Eric Garcetti to Kevin De Leon and Anthony Rendon, as well as Blue America have endorsed Jimmy Gomez.

The 4 other special elections coming right up are in red districts that all voted for Trump. Those are where messages can be sent. And the one with the best chance of flipping out the GOP and Trumpist establishments is in Georgia-- GA-06, the Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb county suburbs just north of Atlanta. Bill Barrow, writing for the AP, wrote recently that the race there is shaping up to be a referendum on Trump.
The scramble to succeed Health Secretary Tom Price as Georgia congressman may quickly become a referendum on the popularity and agenda of Price's new boss, President Donald Trump, while offering a preview of 2018's midterm elections.

Democrats are looking for an upset in the GOP-leaning district where Trump underperformed among the affluent, well-educated residents of the northern Atlanta suburbs. Trump narrowly topped Democrat Hillary Clinton, but fell shy of a majority even as Price cruised to re-election with more than 60 percent of the vote.

...Adding to the mix is a quirk of Georgia election law that makes special congressional elections a "jungle primary" with all candidates on the same ballot, regardless of party. If no candidate wins a majority on April 18, the top two finishers-- again regardless of party-- would advance to a second ballot set for June 20.

Businessman Bruce Levell, an African-American who led Trump's campaign diversity coalition, announced his candidacy this week, saying in a statement that he's running to be "President Trump's strongest ally on Capitol Hill."

Another candidate, Bob Gray, has hired the GOP operative who ran Trump's Georgia campaign, and the Johns Creek city councilman's aides say he is running "on the Trump agenda."

Other GOP hopefuls are more circumspect.

A state senator, Judson Hill, has been perhaps the most visible early Republican candidate. He casts himself as a "proven conservative" with "Georgia values," but makes little to no mention of Trump. The closest he comes to backing the president is promising in campaign materials "to help HHS Secretary nominee Tom Price repeal and replace Obamacare."

A wealthy former state senator, Dan Moody, mentioned Trump only indirectly in a Monday statement confirming his candidacy. Moody referred to Price as "President Trump's" health secretary. He otherwise stuck to the safe GOP themes of "tax cuts, job creation, repealing Obamacare and shrinking the massive size of the federal government."

As of Tuesday afternoon, Betty Price had not announced her intentions. [After Barrow's article ran, Price confirmed that she isn't running. A friend of hers told us that she expects Democrat Jon Ossoff may win and that she will be better positioned to challenge him in 2020.]

Karen Handel, a Georgia politician well-known to social conservatives nationally for her aggressive criticism of abortion-provider Planned Parenthood, is expected to enter the race, as well.

Georgia's 6th Congressional District spans from the wealthy neighborhoods of east Cobb County, northwest of downtown Atlanta, to the ever-growing suburbs of north Fulton and north DeKalb counties, northeast of the city.

Chip Lake, who has run previous campaigns for Tom Price, said Republicans trying to succeed the new secretary must "tread very, very carefully" with Trump. "It's risky aligning yourself with this president," Lake said, "but it's not easy to distance yourself from a figure like him either."

More than two weeks into his presidency, Trump's job approval rating stood at 37 percent among self-described moderates and 41 percent among independents in the latest Gallup polling.

Democrats will have at least one well-financed candidate.

Jon Ossoff, an Atlanta native and former congressional aide, insists he's trying to reach "every kind of voter" from anti-Trump liberals to disenchanted independents and Republicans.

Ossoff confirmed in an interview that his strategy is to make a runoff against the top Republican finisher. He will benefit from at least $550,000 in fundraising on the liberal Daily Kos website. He also boasts endorsements from Atlanta Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson, his old boss, and Ossoff emphasizes the importance of congressional oversight in the Trump era. Yet he also says the election should revolve around Trump.

"I think the divisiveness of the political atmosphere right now makes people hungrier for candidates who are willing not to play into lowest-common-denominator politics and instead offer solutions," he said.

National Democrats' House campaign committee lists the Georgia district among its 59 targeted seats in the 2018 election cycle. Still, it's not clear how much the party will invest; the district was not among the 20 where the party recently dispatched full-time field staff members.

The chances of a Democrat winning the open House seats in Kansas, Montana and South Carolina are less likely than winning-- although as time passes, the chances of Trump turning off more voters grows pretty rapidly. By the way, did you see that OpEd yesterday from Ed Price, the former CIA agent from Kansas who decided to quit the CIA rather than serve the Trumpist regime? "This was not a decision I made lightly," he wrote, explaining how he had sought out a career in the CIA as a college student.
The CIA taught me new skills and exposed me to new cultures and countries. More important, it instilled in me a sense of mission and purpose. As an analyst, I became an expert in terrorist groups and traveled the world to help deter and disrupt attacks. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama took the CIA’s input seriously. There was no greater reward than having my analysis presented to the president and seeing it shape events. Intelligence informing policy-- this is how the system is supposed to work. I saw that up close for the past three years at the White House, where I worked on loan from the CIA until last month.

As a candidate, Donald Trump’s rhetoric suggested that he intended to take a different approach. I watched in disbelief when, during the third presidential debate, Trump casually cast doubt on the high-confidence conclusion of our 17 intelligence agencies, released that month, that Russia was behind the hacking and release of election-related emails. On the campaign trail and even as president-elect, Trump routinely referred to the flawed 2002 assessment of Iraq’s weapons programs as proof that the CIA couldn’t be trusted-- even though the intelligence community had long ago held itself to account for those mistakes and Trump himself supported the invasion of Iraq.

Trump’s actions in office have been even more disturbing. His visit to CIA headquarters on his first full day in office, an overture designed to repair relations, was undone by his ego and bluster. Standing in front of a memorial to the CIA’s fallen officers, he seemed to be addressing the cameras and reporters in the room, rather than the agency personnel in front of them, bragging about his inauguration crowd the previous day. Whether delusional or deceitful, these were not the remarks many of my colleagues and I wanted to hear from our new commander in chief. I couldn’t help but reflect on the stark contrast between the bombast of the new president and the quiet dedication of a mentor-- a courageous, steadfast professional-- who is memorialized on that wall. I know others at CIA felt similarly.

The final straw came late last month, when the White House issued a directive reorganizing the National Security Council, on whose staff I served from 2014 until earlier this year. Missing from the NSC’s principals committee were the CIA director and the director of national intelligence. Added to the roster: the president’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, who cut his teeth as a media champion of white nationalism.

The public outcry led the administration to reverse course and name the CIA director an NSC principal, but the White House’s inclination was clear. It has little need for intelligence professionals who, in speaking truth to power, might challenge the “America First” orthodoxy that sees Russia as an ally and Australia as a punching bag. That’s why the president’s trusted White House advisers, not career professionals, reportedly have final say over what intelligence reaches his desk.

To be clear, my decision had nothing to do with politics, and I would have been proud to again work under a Republican administration open to intelligence analysis. I served with conviction under President George W. Bush, some of whose policies I also found troubling, and I took part in programs that the Obama administration criticized and ended. As intelligence professionals, we’re taught to tune out politics. The river separating CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., from Washington might as well be a political moat. But this administration has flipped that dynamic on its head: The politicians are the ones tuning out the intelligence professionals.
A brief note on the brilliant and fabulous General HR McMaster who the media has been treating as the second coming since Trumpanzee appointed him to replace Flynn as National Security Advisor. How brilliant and fabulous could he be, going to work for the fascist regime? As brilliant and fabulous as General Kelly who just issued draconian orders implementing Trump's plan to drastically increase deportations, which are sure to be arbitrary and divisive enough to tear the country apart. Kelly is criminal scum-- as, no doubt, all Trump's collaborators will prove themselves to be.


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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Trumpezoic Era

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Sidd Bikkannavar

One of my friends is a senior VP at one of the major American investment firms. A couple of years ago her company took all the senior officers for a convention in China. They were instructed to leave their cell phones and computers at home and were all give clean electronics with no data. That seemed extreme to me. I recently spent a day in the Beijing airport. A friend of mine from one of the big Silicon Valley tech firms warned me to not turn on my phone unless I didn't mind all the data being compromised instantly. So I kept it powered down; never turned it on for a second. About a month later I got a bill for over $100 for calls from Beijing. I explained to my service provider that I never even turned the phone on in Beijing and after almost an hour of arguing with a couple of agents, they wiped the $100 off the bill. But they refused to discuss how the charges got there.

Who wants to live in a country like that? Have you heard about Sidd Bikkannavar? Although the name might give him a problem, Bikkannavar is entitled to run for president of the U.S. Unlike Ted Cruz, he was born in the U.S. He's an optics technology scientist working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Last month he was in Chile racing solar-powered cars in Patagonia. But when he tried returning home, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport apparently didn't like his South Indian last name. They detained him and demanded he hand over his phone's access PIN. The phone is NASA property and included sensitive data so he was reluctant to turn it over. The agents informed him they could detain him until he complied with their request which he eventually did. They took his phone (and PIN) away and returned it after getting whatever they wanted from it.

As The Verge reported, Bikkannavar is enrolled in Global Entry-- a Customs and Border Patrol program that allows individuals who have undergone background checks to have expedited entry into the country and made a strong case that there was no other reason to detain and search him other than illegal ethnic profiling.
“I asked a question, ‘Why was I chosen?’ And he wouldn’t tell me,” he says.

The officer also presented Bikkannavar with a document titled “Inspection of Electronic Devices” and explained that CBP had authority to search his phone. Bikkannavar did not want to hand over the device, because it was given to him by JPL and is technically NASA property. He even showed the officer the JPL barcode on the back of phone. Nonetheless, CBP asked for the phone and the access PIN. “I was cautiously telling him I wasn’t allowed to give it out, because I didn’t want to seem like I was not cooperating,” says Bikkannavar. “I told him I’m not really allowed to give the passcode; I have to protect access. But he insisted they had the authority to search it.”

Courts have upheld customs agents' power to manually search devices at the border, but any searches made solely on the basis of race or national origin are still illegal. More importantly, travelers are not legally required to unlock their devices, although agents can detain them for significant periods of time if they do not. “In each incident that I’ve seen, the subjects have been shown a Blue Paper that says CBP has legal authority to search phones at the border, which gives them the impression that they’re obligated to unlock the phone, which isn’t true,” Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of CAIR Florida, told The Verge. “They’re not obligated to unlock the phone.”

Nevertheless, Bikkannavar was not allowed to leave until he gave CBP his PIN. The officer insisted that CBP had the authority to search the phone. The document given to Bikkannavar listed a series of consequences for failure to offer information that would allow CBP to copy the contents of the device. “I didn’t really want to explore all those consequences,” he says. “It mentioned detention and seizure.” Ultimately, he agreed to hand over the phone and PIN. The officer left with the device and didn’t return for another 30 minutes.

Eventually, the phone was returned to Bikkannavar, though he’s not sure what happened during the time it was in the officer’s possession. When it was returned he immediately turned it off because he knew he had to take it straight to the IT department at JPL. Once he arrived in Los Angeles, he went to NASA and told his superiors what had happened. Bikkannavar can’t comment on what may or may not have been on the phone, but he says the cybersecurity team at JPL was not happy about the breach. Bikkannavar had his phone on hand while he was traveling in case there was a problem at work that needed his attention, but NASA employees are obligated to protect work-related information, no matter how minuscule.
Yesterday Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to John Kelly, Trump's new Secretary of Homeland Security about the incidents forcing Americans to unlock their phones. "These reports are deeply troubling, particularly in light of your recent comments suggesting that (Customs and Border Protection) might begin demanding social media passwords from visitors to the United States. With those passwords, CBP may then be able to log in to accounts and access data that they would otherwise only be able to get from Internet companies with a warrant. Circumventing the normal protections for such private information is simply unacceptable... In addition to violating the privacy and civil liberties of travelers, these digital dragnet border search practices weaken our national and economic security. Indiscriminate digital searches distract CBP from its core mission and needlessly divert agency resources away from those who truly threaten our nation. Likewise, if businesses fear that their data can be seized when employees cross the border, they may reduce non-essential employee international travel, or deploy technical countermeasures, like 'burner' laptops and mobile devices, which some firms already use when employees visit nations like China." Wyden's letter makes it clear that he is about to introduce legislation that will ensure that the "4th Amendment is respected at the border."

The term "Trumpezoic Era" comes from Alan Grayson. It's his idea. It came in a note to his supporters yesterday, a note about how, specifically, he would have made a difference in the Senate had the corrupt and stupid DSCC-- he blames Reid; I blame Schumer-- not sabotaged his campaign on behalf of yappy blue chihuahua, Patrick Murphy, Wall Street's favorite candidate of 2016 (FL- $2,161,722). Grayson, who once told me to expect that all the phone calls between him and I are monitored, wrote that he has a favorite drinking game-- "not taking a drink every time Donald Trump makes a fool of himself. That would make me an alcoholic overnight. The game is noting each time I would have altered the outcome if I had been elected to the Senate last year. So far, in Month One of the Trumpezoic Era, I count three instances."
Number One (Jan. 6):

When the Presidential electoral votes are counted, there is an opportunity to object in writing, and demand a House vote on the objection. By statute (3 USC 15), the objection can be on any grounds. There is only one catch: the objection has to be signed by at least one Congressman and one Senator. (FWIW, this is the only time I know when this particular 1+1 can do anything in our government.) There was no shortage of gutsy Representatives on the day of the Trump electoral vote count: Reps. McGovern, Raskin, Jayapal, Lee, Jackson-Lee, Grijalva and Waters all objected. (Waters also objected in 2000, to George W. Bush’s coronation.) Waters declared, pointedly, "I wish to ask: Is there one United States senator who will join me in this letter of objection?” The 48 Democratic Senators sat stone-silent.


If I had been in the Senate, I would have objected to the investiture of Donald Trump.  You bet your patootie I would have.

Number Two (Jan. 4):

Senators normally require sixty votes to clear their throats, blow their noses, etc., but there are a few exceptions. One of them is called “reconciliation,” The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 limited Senate debate on the annual budget bill to “only” twenty hours-- 20 very boring hours. A filibuster, in contrast, means unlimited Senate debate, terminable only by sixty Senate votes. Since the Congressional Budget Act limits Senate debate automatically, it prevents a filibuster for certain budget bills, known as reconciliation bills. Knowing this, right after the new Congress was sworn in on Jan. 3, the Senate GOP wasted no time and put a budget resolution to repeal Obamacare to a vote on Jan. 4. But on Jan. 4, the President was named “Obama,” and the Veep was named “Biden.” There were 52 GOP Senators on Jan. 4, but Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against the resolution. If a certain Senator Grayson had been there in lieu of a certain Senator Rubio, there would have been only 50 votes to begin the repeal of Obamacare, and the 50-50 tie would have been broken by Vice President Biden, sending the resolution to repeal Obamacare down in flames.

If I had been in the Senate, I would have voted to prevent the repeal of Obamacare, just as I did on 63 occasions in the House. You bet your patootie I would have.

Number Three (Feb. 7):

It irks me that Betsy DeVos testified that student loans increased by 980% during the past eight years, while Sen. Franken pegged the actual figure at 118%. Percentages-- isn’t that something that you learn by fifth grade? However, if gross inaccuracy doesn’t disqualify you to be President-- let us pray for the victims of Muslim terrorism in Sweden, amen!-- then why should it disqualify you from being Education Secretary? No, what really chaps my lips is the point that Sen. Sanders made about DeVos, which is that she can wear this t-shirt with pride:

“My Family Gave $200 Million to the GOP, and All I Got Was This Lousy Cabinet Post.”

DeVos paid good money for that cabinet position.

Which begs the question: America, oligarchy or plutocracy? We report, you decide. Because I remain uncomfortable with the concept that public office can be bought, I would have voted against Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. (I reserve judgment as to whether I would vote for her for Secretary of Religion, which probably is the gig she really wants.) And with Senator Grayson serving in lieu of Senator Rubio, Betsy DeVos would have lost. That would have taught her a lesson.

If I had been in the Senate, I would have defeated the nomination of Betsy DeVos. You bet your patootie I would have.

Oh, and while we are on the subject of nominees, I sure wouldn’t have opened the 115th Congress with those first few appeasement votes we saw on Trump nominees, until rank-and-file Democrats evinced their displeasure with that approach. I would have put the screws to every one of them.

Alas, I haven’t had that opportunity, because the corrupt Democratic Party leadership (first name, Harry) was enchanted, mesmerized, spellbound, bewitched and enthralled by the promise by my primary opponent’s father to provide $10 million for his vicious, vacuous campaign. (In the end, his father gave $500,000, not $10 million, and it sure was much-fun to watch my beclowned party cancel those TV buy reservations, week by week, waiting for Daddy’s money to show up.) I would say that the rest is history, but actually, the Trumpocalyptic history still unfolds, moment by moment, vote by vote, and drink by drink.

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