Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 19th, 2016

Donald Trump’s Mafia Approach to Governing Has Officially Started

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The Trump administration is apparently aimed totally at making money from the office. Kevin Drum blogs:

Judd Legum of ThinkProgress reports that “members of the Trump Organization” pressured the government of Kuwait to switch their annual National Day celebration from the Four Seasons to the Trump International:

In the early fall, the Kuwaiti Embassy signed a contract with the Four Seasons. But after the election, members of the Trump Organization contacted the Ambassador of Kuwait, Salem Al-Sabah, and encouraged him to move his event to Trump’s D.C. hotel, the source said.

Kuwait has now signed a contract with the Trump International Hotel, the source said, adding that a representative with the embassy described the decision as political. Invitations to the event are typically sent out in January.

Abdulaziz Alqadfan, First Secretary of the Embassy of Kuwait, told ThinkProgress last week that he couldn’t “confirm or deny” that the National Day event would be held at the Trump Hotel. Reached again Monday afternoon, Alqadfan did not offer any comment. An email sent directly to Ambassador Al-Sabah was not immediately returned.

Legum writes that his source is a person “who has direct knowledge of the arrangements between the hotels and the embassy,” and that he was able to “review documentary evidence confirming the source’s account.” I have a feeling that a lot of foreign governments are going to be getting phone calls from the Trump Organization over the next four years.

Now, Trump’s defense, if he bothers to offer one, will be that nothing happened. Someone in his company made a sales call to the Kuwaiti government, offered them a deal they couldn’t refuse, and closed the business. What’s wrong with that? But Newt Gingrich has a whole different idea about how Trump should deal with potential violations of the law:

We’ve never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don’t work,” Gingrich said Monday during an appearance on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show” about the president-elect’s business interests. “We’re going to have to think up a whole new approach.”

And should someone in the Trump administration cross the line, Gingrich has a potential answer for that too.

“In the case of the president, he has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon,” Gingrich said. “It’s a totally open power. He could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anyone finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period. Technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”

Jeez, it’s too bad we didn’t have this Newt Gingrich around in the 90s. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2016 at 9:32 pm

What’s the Matter With North Carolina?

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Karen L. Cox writes in the NY Times:

In recent days, folks from outside North Carolina have been asking me what, exactly, is wrong with my state. After a vicious governor’s race in which the Democrat, Roy Cooper, squeaked past the incumbent Republican, Pat McCrory, the state General Assembly drew up and passed a series of bills that greatly restrict the power of our incoming chief executive — bills that Mr. McCrory signed on Friday.

This is only the latest in a series of fierce political fights in our state. Earlier this year, it was around H.B. 2, the so-called bathroom bill; before that, it was over efforts by state Republicans to restrict voting rights. All of this in a state long regarded as a paragon of Southern moderation.

But rather than being an outlier, North Carolina is the distillation of nationwide trends. Our cities are solidly blue, while our rural regions, which thanks to gerrymandering have an outsize power, are reactionary red, and their representatives are bent on breaking every rule to keep a hold on power.

It wasn’t always this way.

My family and I moved to Greensboro in 1974. It was here where my fascination with politics took root. I participated in mock elections at school, and at age 17, was chosen to be a page for the Democratic governor, James B. Hunt Jr. Even then, I could tell that people on both sides were working toward the same goal, and respected each other for it.

Continue reading the main story

But the state’s political divisions were soon laid bare. In 1984, our state was embroiled in one of the most divisive campaigns for the United States Senate that North Carolinians had ever witnessed, in a battle that pitted Governor Hunt against the incumbent Republican, Jesse Helms. Its brutality shocked the nation and even international observers. Then in 1990, when Helms faced Harvey Gantt, the former mayor of Charlotte and an African-American, those divisions hardened. The Helms campaign produced the infamous “Hands” ad, which showed a pair of white hands crumpling a job application, a not so subtly racist message about affirmative action “quotas.”

Those elections may have been the beginning of the end of political civility in North Carolina, but they also heralded a new type of electoral politics nationally, one that focused on tearing down one’s opponent in order to win.

Fast forward to 2010, when North Carolina Republicans seized control of the General Assembly, which put them in charge of the House and Senate for the first time since 1870, and the governor’s office in 2012. Since then, there’s been a desperate effort to return the state to its less progressive roots. And that’s being kind.

Though a slight majority of the state clearly supports Democratic leadership and progressive policies, the state’s Republicans, bankrolled by the right-wing businessman Art Pope, have targeted jobless benefits, education and welfare spending, while pushing for redistricting and limits on voting rights to keep them in power. They have operated as thieves in the night, presenting bills crafted in midnight sessions to their Democratic colleagues only a few hours before a vote is to be held.

North Carolina’s 2016 election results demonstrate the rural-urban divide that is emerging across this country. In this campaign season, even Mr. McCrory, the longtime mayor of the largest city in our state — Charlotte — lost the urban vote by wide margins, including by 30 points in Mecklenburg County, where he once served.

That’s not the only national story reflected locally. Over the course of several election cycles, the national Democratic Party seems to have taken North Carolina’s progressiveness for granted. The Democratic National Committee does not have much of a ground game in our state. The fact that Barack Obama won here in 2008, by the slimmest of margins, is more a testament to the strength of his grass-roots campaign. That election should have signaled to the Democratic Party that there was work to be done here. But it didn’t.

Now we find ourselves in a situation that looks akin to the South of the 1890s. Then, it was the Democratic Party that went to work to reverse what little gains Reconstruction had given freedmen. State governments implemented laws to preserve white supremacy, and politically disenfranchised black voters.

Today, North Carolina’s citizens — including an increasingly diverse and growing minority population — are being disenfranchised by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. G.O.P. lawmakers have brazenly dismissed the will of the people in this election and have shown no compunction about curtailing civil liberties. Worst of all, they have passed, and will continue to pass, regressive laws that undermine our democracy, even as they subvert the Constitution they claim to defend.

How and when the state will emerge from the damage being done, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2016 at 5:29 pm

Reality-TV Populism

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Paul Krugman writes in his NY Times blog:

This Washington Post article on Poland — where a right-wing, anti-intellectual, nativist party now rules, and has garnered a lot of public support — is chilling for those of us who worry that Trumpism may really be the end of the road for US democracy. The supporters of Law and Justice clearly looked a lot like Trump’s white working class enthusiasts; so are we headed down the same path?

Well, there’s an important difference — a bit of American exceptionalism, if you like. Europe’s populist parties are actually populist; they pursue policies that really do help workers, as long as those workers are the right color and ethnicity. As someone put it, they’re selling a herrenvolk welfare state. Law and Justice has raised minimum wages and reduced the retirement age; France’s National Front advocates the same things.

Trump, however, is different. He said lots of things on the campaign trail, but his personnel choices indicate that in practice he’s going to be a standard hard-line economic-right Republican. His Congressional allies are revving up to dismantle Obamacare, privatize Medicare, and raise the retirement age. His pick for Labor Secretary is a fast-food tycoon who loathes minimum wage hikes. And his pick for top economic advisor is the king of trickle-down. [And his pick for the Dept of Energy wants to abolish the Dept of Energy. His pick for Secretary of Education wants to dismantle public schools (and has shown determination in Minnesota for doing that). His pick for Housing and Urban Development is an opponent of public housing. And so on. Donald Trump brings us a wrecking crew. He really seems determined, in a confused and unaware way, to attack the US at its most vulnerable points and weaken it for a takeover. – LG]

So in what sense is Trump a populist? Basically, he plays one on TV — he claims to stand for the common man, disparages elites, trashes political correctness; but it’s all for show. When it comes to substance, he’s pro-elite all the way.

It’s infuriating and dismaying that he managed to get away with this in the election. But that was all big talk. What happens when reality begins to hit? Repealing Obamacare will inflict huge harm on precisely the people who were most enthusiastic Trump supporters — people who somehow believed that their benefits would be left intact. What happens when they realize their mistake?

I wish I were confident in a coming moment of truth. I’m not. Given history, what we can count on is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2016 at 5:20 pm

Is it appropriate for taxpayers to fund research for corporate profits? (Hint: No)

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In the NY Times Matt Richtel and Andrew Pollack point out something that’s very wrong indeed:

Enthusiasm for cancer immunotherapy is soaring, and so is Arie Belldegrun’s fortune.

Dr. Belldegrun, a physician, co-founded Kite Pharma, a company that could be the first to market next year with a highly anticipated new immunotherapy treatment. But even without a product, Dr. Belldegrun has struck gold.

His stock in Kite is worth about $170 million. Investors have profited along with him, as the company’s share price has soared to about $50 from an initial price of $17 in 2014.

The results reflect widespread excitement over immunotherapy, which harnesses the body’s immune system to attack cancer and has rescued some patients from near-certain death. But they also speak volumes about the value of Kite’s main scientific partner: the United States government.

Kite’s treatment, a form of immunotherapy called CAR-T, was initially developed by a team of researchers at the National Cancer Institute, led by a longtime friend and mentor of Dr. Belldegrun. Now Kite pays several million a year to the government to support continuing research dedicated to the company’s efforts.

Continue reading the main story

The relationship puts American taxpayers squarely in the middle of one of the hottest new drug markets. It also raises a question: Are taxpayers getting a good deal?

Defenders say that the partnership will likely bring a lifesaving treatment to patients, something the government cannot really do by itself, and that that is what matters most.

Critics say that taxpayers will end up paying twice for the same drug — once to support its development and a second time to buy it — while the company reaps the financial benefit.

“If this was not a government-funded cancer treatment — if it was for a new solar technology, for example — it would be scandalous to think that some private investors are reaping massive profits off a taxpayer-funded invention,” said James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, an advocacy group concerned with access to medicines.

The debate goes squarely to one of the nation’s most vexing challenges: rising health care and drug prices. Kite is one of a growing number of drug and biotech companies relying on federal laboratories. Analysts expect the company to charge at least $200,000 for the new treatment, which is intended as a one-time therapy for patients.

While the law allows the government to demand drug-price concessions from its private-sector partners, the government has declined to do so with Kite and generally disdains the practice.

Insisting on lower prices, federal researchers say, would drive away innovative partners that speed the drug-development process and benefit patients. But with the government doing so much pivotal research, others say that the private sector cannot afford to walk away. . .

Continue reading.

The government should be an advocate for the public and prevent the extortion that pharmaceutical companies love: Pay our price or die.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2016 at 4:33 pm

The United States of Climate Change Denial

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Under Donald Trump, the United States is going to do everything in its power to accelerate climate change because doing that will make a few people a great deal of money, and who cares about the effect on others or on life on this planet. Sarah Emerson and Jason Koebler have a very interesting and relatively long article that profiles the main players. Their article begins:

Donald Trump has promised to unleash an energy revolution by extracting billions of dollars in untapped fossil fuels and gutting incentives to invest in renewable energy. With the nominations of Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, and Rick Perry to his Cabinet, the President-elect is poised to do more damage to America’s environmental legacy—and future—than any other leader in recent memory.

Despite Trump’s untraditional approach to choosing Cabinet officials, nothing about their nomination is accidental. Each of them offers a range of qualifications and connections that, together, form a unified front against climate progress, human health, and energy security.

Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State

With Trump’s earlier nomination of Pruitt, a fossil fuel-friendly politician, Trump decided to quit with the subtlety and nominated a literal oil magnate, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, to serve as Secretary of State. While much of the early opposition to Tillerson’s nomination has focused on his close ties to Russia—Tillerson received the Russian “Order of Friendship” from Vladimir Putin—Tillerson’s potential to do lasting damage to global climate progress cannot be taken lightly.

Several former State Department officials I spoke with say the department’s role in climate progress worldwide—and the role that climate change negotiations have played in ensuring general global stability—cannot be understated.

In her first year as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton created a new department within the State Department called the Special Envoy for Climate Change; this department was critical in negotiating the Paris Climate Agreement and the US-China agreement that preceded it.

“This is not first and foremost about saving the environment for its own sake,” Paul Bodnar, former counselor to the envoy and now a senior fellow at the Rocky Mountain Institute, told me. “It’s about protecting our economic and security interests around the world. If you support food security, global health, poverty eradication, you should be very concerned about how climate change works to counteract those goals.”

Lucky for us, it’s impossible to completely separate Tillerson’s Russian connections from his potential to do harm to the environment at the State Department. This fact may allow Republicans who feel uneasy about his ties to Putin to find common ground with Democrats hoping to salvage climate deals signed under the Obama administration by opposing Tillerson.

For instance: In 2011, ExxonMobil struck a deal with the Russian government-owned oil company Rosneft to exploit three new oil frontiers in the Black Sea, Siberia, and the Arctic. But sanctions stemming from Russia’s invasion of Crimea scuttled that deal, which cost Exxon $1 billion. With Tillerson as Secretary of State, a Trump administration could repeal these sanctions, which could put that deal back on the table, and more importantly could hasten drilling in the Arctic, which is perhaps the most threatened region on Earth.

But Tillerson’s potential to do damage to climate progress extends far beyond possible new drilling projects in Russia, which should be considered little more than a sideshow compared to what’s at stake in the rest of the world.

“The focus on climate at the international level has completely changed and transformed over the last decade, particularly the role the US has had in terms of diplomatic leadership,” Jessica Brown, former Foreign Affairs Officer and lead climate finance negotiator at the State Department, told me. “There has been a lot of trust built between the US and other countries because of the progress we’ve made on climate agreements.”

While the science of climate change and whether we should do anything about it has been very much politicized in the United States, there is widespread global consensus that climate change is a top-tier issue, and progress must move forward. If the US starts ignoring treaties or stops leading the way on climate issues, America could quite quickly find itself diplomatically ostracized.

“Frankly, the concern is that if the Trump administration does a u-turn on climate change in terms of its commitment to Paris Agreement and its commitment to move in lockstep with the 190 countries in addressing this challenge, it would have a negative effect on ability too right climate change but would affect its abilities to advance other interests in the world,” Bodnar said.

This, too is an important point. The Paris Agreement must be considered one of the more impressive feats of global diplomacy, and there have been undeniable side benefits from that cooperation.

“We saw positive knock-on effects from our leadership on climate on other areas,” he said.

Those knock-on effects have been particularly important in our frequently fraught relationship with China; climate cooperation has kept diplomatic doors open there. Again, these international agreements are negotiated by the State Department, and so having an oil-friendly Secretary of State could very well do more damage to climate progress than perhaps even Scott Pruitt could at the EPA.

“To forfeit areas of mutual benefit with China unilaterally and voluntarily seems like the wrong thing for the Secretary of State to be doing at this time,” Pete Ogden, who studies climate policy at the Center for American Progress and formerly worked at the State Department and in the White House, told me.

This brings us to the hugely important question of what kind of Secretary of State Tillerson might be. While those desperate looking for a bright spot for the environment in Trump’s cabinet have pointed out that Tillerman and ExxonMobil have both acknowledged climate change in recent years, the fact remains that the company, and by extension, Tillerman, have historically been some of the worst climate actors.

In an excellent New Yorker piece, Elizabeth Kolbert points out that those hoping for Tillerson to be progressive on climate are quite possibly delusional.

“Tillerson is smart enough to have positioned himself, and repositioned his company, so that there’s now at least confusion about where he stands,” she wrote. “But you have to be pretty desperate—and at this point many people are—to take this as cause for optimism.”

Under Tillerson’s leadership, ExxonMobil has moved away from overt climate denial and has started engaging in what Kolbert calls more “insidious” forms of denial. A report by MIT and Harvard researchers released earlier this year noted that ExxonMobil still “financially supports more than 100 climate-denying members of Congress and continues to generate its own misinformative comments about climate science.” That means while the company have publicly changed its tune about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, Tillerson cannot simply be given the benefit of the doubt or be deemed the most enlightened of Trump’s cabinet picks.

“While ExxonMobil does today acknowledge the reality of anthropogenic climate change in its public statements, it also continues to support and perpetuate climate science misinformation through a variety of increasingly veiled initiatives,” the report found. Within the last three years, Tillerson has publicly questioned the validity of climate models, temperature records, and has called into question the findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Hoping against hope that Tillerson will stand up as the lone supporter of global climate progress in a cabinet that is loaded with deniers is an act of desperation. But if we must muscle up some climate optimism in the Trump administration, perhaps the best we can hope that Trump’s interests align with our broader environmental ones.

“Climate is a central part of the discussions surrounding some of the issues that do seem to be important to Trump, like security and the refugee issues in Syria,” Brown said. “Thinking about the Syrian crisis, several reports note the link between it and climate change-related droughts. If security and refugee issues are important, it would make sense for them to continue the progress that’s been made.”

Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

. . .

Read the whole thing; it gives a clear picture of where the US and the world are headed.

I’m of an age where it will have little impact on the arc of my life. I expect the generation represented by my grandchildren will experience great suffering. But for whatever reason, it’s difficult to get the mass of people stirred up about this.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2016 at 2:29 pm

Ghost shark caught on camera for the first time

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MBARI—Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute—is just two blocks from my apartment, though it’s grown substantially over the years. Here’s the report at Motherboard by Becky Ferreria.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2016 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Science, Video

Difficulty keeping track of GOP positions

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In a Mother Jones post Keven Drum points out:

  • During the presidential campaign, Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans promised to raise hell if President Obama responded aggressively to Russia’s interference in the election.
  • Now that the election is over, Republicans are bashing Obama for not having a more aggressive response to a ruthless cyberattack by a hostile foreign power. It’s yet another example of Obama’s fecklessness on the foreign stage.

This seems odd only if you haven’t been following the GOP. They routinely erupt in outrage about behavior in Democrats that, when done by a Republican, is perfectly okay, so much so that the acronym IOKIYAR (“It’s OK if you’re a Repubican”) is actually useful, applying to many things.

You see this in how the GOP is rolling over from comments from Trump that would have caused an eruption of anger and outrage if Obama or Clinton had said them.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2016 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Congress, Election, GOP

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