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Archive for August 7th, 2017

John Kelly is doomed to fail. The reason why isn’t what you think.

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Sarah Posner has a good column in the Washington Post:

President Trump tweeted nine times this morning, attacking the “failing” New York Times, other “fake news” outlets (including the Washington Post), “hoax Russian collusion,” and Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, as a “Vietnam con artist” who “cried like a baby.”

Today’s string of tweets represented Trump’s most voluble social media outburst since John Kelly, a retired Marine general, became his chief of staff just one week ago, promising to restore order to a chaotic West Wing and, in particular, to push the president’s tweets “in the right direction.” On the social media front, Kelly is — not surprisingly to anyone who has even casually observed the president’s behavior over the past two years — off to a shaky start.

Today’s Twitter flare-up would seem to suggest that Kelly is destined to fail as Trump’s law and order chief of staff because Trump’s impulsiveness cannot be constrained.

But that’s not the real reason he cannot succeed. Rather, it’s because Trump’s base, and in particular, his media and social media base, thrives on West Wing dysfunction that is rooted in what is portrayed as an existential battle between Trump’s “nationalist” staff and advisers, and the dreaded “globalists” in his midst. Because Trump has displayed no real interest in taming that beast, and in fact seems to relish feeding it, any effort by Kelly to slap Trump’s hand away from Twitter will have little impact on the persistent unrest roiling the White House.

Here’s a case in point. While Trump was denouncing “fake” (i.e., mainstream) news on Twitter this morning, Breitbart, the far-right news site formerly run by his top strategist Stephen K. Bannon, had been running a story since last night attacking National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. The headline: “McMaster Worked at Think Tank Backed by Soros-Funded Group that Helped Obama Sell Iran Nuclear Deal.”

That Breitbart story attempts to link several of the right wing’s bogeymen, including McMaster himself, liberal philanthropist George Soros, and former President Barack Obama, in a liberal-funded “echo chamber” that has been promoting the Iran nuclear deal to the public.

That story comes on the heels of a Daily Beast story over the weekend detailing an ongoing clash between McMaster and Bannon. This one reported that last week, Kelly gave a green light to McMaster’s firing of two National Security Council staffers from the Bannon camp, NSC intelligence director Ezra Cohen-Watnick, and Trump Middle East advisor Derek Harvey. The Daily Beast reports that this “landed McMaster in the firing line of Bannon’s alt-right media allies and Russian troll bots, both calling for his ouster.”

Pro-Trump media outlets have pointed to other alleged evidence of McMaster’s duplicity. This morning, pro-Trump media outlets are still buzzing about a recent story in Circa, another player in the pro-Trump media world, which claimed that McMaster had renewed Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s security clearance.  The Weekly Standard reports this practice is standard procedure to maintain continuity in national security matters between administrations.

But in the Trump media world, it’s evidence of a “deep state” conspiracy. And that’s the kind of news Trump likes.

By specifically naming the New York Times, The Post, CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS as “fake news” and, in the same tweet today, boasting that his base is “getting stronger,” Trump signaled his continuing gusto for dividing the world into rivalries, including between the “fake news” and pro-Trump media. “Fake news” is on the side of the “establishment” and the pro-Trump media is on the side of, and possibly indistinguishable from, the burn-it-all-d0wn Bannon camp.

Indeed, Trump has offered . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2017 at 7:57 pm

Government Report Finds Drastic Impact of Climate Change on U.S.

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Lisa Friedman reports in the NY Times:

The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration.

The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and the ability to predict the effects are limited.

“How much more the climate will change depends on future emissions and the sensitivity of the climate system to those emissions,” a draft of the report states. A copy of it was obtained by The New York Times.

The report was completed this year and is part of the National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the draft and is awaiting permission from the Trump administration to release it.

One government scientist who worked on the report, and who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity, said he and others are concerned it will be suppressed.

The report concludes that even if humans immediately stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world would still feel at least an additional 0.50 degrees Fahrenheit (0.30 degrees Celsius) of warming over this century compared to today. A small difference in global temperatures can make a big difference in the climate: The difference between a 1.5 degree Celsius and a 2 degree Celsius rise in global average temperatures, for example, could mean longer-lasting heat waves, more intense rainstorms and the faster disintegration of coral reefs.

Among the more significant of the study’s findings is that it is possible to attribute some extreme weather to climate change. The field known as “attribution science” has advanced rapidly in response to increasing risks from climate change.

The report finds it “extremely likely” that more than half of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 can be linked to human influence.

In the United States, the report finds with “very high” confidence that the number and severity of cool nights has decreased, while the frequency and severity of warm days has increased since the 1960s. Extreme cold waves, it says, are less common since the 1980s, while extreme heat waves are more common.

The study examines every corner of the United States and finds that all of it was touched by climate change. It said the average annual rainfall across the country has increased by about 4 percent since the beginning of the 20th century. Parts of the West, Southwest and Southeast are drying up, while the Southern Plains and Midwest are getting wetter.

With a medium degree of confidence, the authors linked the contribution of human-caused warming to rising temperatures over the Western and Northern United States. It found no direct link in the Southeast.

The Environmental Protection Agency is one of 13 agencies that must approve the report by Aug. 13. The agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2017 at 5:36 pm

We now know how the Trump presidency will end. Let’s hope we survive.

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Tony Burman, the foreign affairs correspondent for, write:

How will the Donald Trump presidency end? It will end badly, so let me count the ways:

1. America is hurtling towards a constitutional crisis that will rock its institutions to the core.

2. Its president and his business empire will soon be exposed as beholden to Russian oligarchs and mobsters.

3. Trump will try to fire special counsel Robert Mueller to prevent this from becoming known, but Congress will intervene.

4. His only remaining hope will be a 9/11-scale disaster or contrived war that he can exploit.

5. If we are lucky enough to survive all of the above, Trump will resign before he is impeached — but only in exchange for a pardon from his servile vice-president, Mike Pence.

Yes, this scenario is anything but far-fetched.

One lesson we have learned from the slow-motion train wreck of this Trump presidency is that precise predictions are impossible to make. That is true, except for one thing.

We are now getting a much clearer sense of where this high-stakes drama is heading. The details may change but the contours of this epic chapter in American political history are beginning to emerge.

Although it has been another head-spinning week, perhaps the most important disclosure was a Washington Post story (notwithstanding reports that Mueller empanelled a grand jury to probe Russia’s ties to the 2016 campaign). The story suggested how centrally involved Donald Trump has become in the expanding inquiry about his secret connections with Russia.

The story revealed that, contrary to previous public assurances, Trump himself dictated a misleading statement about the nature of a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.

Mueller, a former FBI head, is examining Russian interference in the 2016 election, including potential obstruction of justice and allegations of cover-up. But much to Trump’s horror, Mueller’s investigation is expanding to include the history of connections between Trump’s controversial business empire and Russian government and business interests.

In this latter category are some of the most corrupt Russian oligarchs and mobsters, involved in widespread money laundering, who rose to prominence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

On the surface at least, one of the most perplexing questions still unanswered from last November’s shocking election result has been Trump’s persistent refusal to single out Russia or President Vladimir Putin for dramatically interfering in the American presidential election.

This has prompted many people in the U.S. and abroad, not only his critics, to ask the question: “What does Russia have on Trump?”

Increasingly, it appears that  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2017 at 4:23 pm

The U.S. could be free of gerrymandering. Here’s how other countries do redistricting.

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Bernard Grofman and German Feierherd report in the Washington Post:

This year, on the first day of its term, the Supreme Court will consider the much-anticipated Gill v. Whitford. That case brings up the hot-button question of whether a state legislature may draw electoral districts that favor one party over another. Gerrymandering, as it’s called, is clearly prohibited if it’s done to dilute the votes of racial groups. But when it comes to partisan gerrymandering, the Supreme Court, while willing to hear some challenges, has so far been unwilling to declare such a plan to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. A decision on Gill affirming the lower court — or setting a new standard and remanding the case for further review by the lower court — has the potential to change that.

Before the Supreme Court weighs in, let’s look at how other countries redistrict. How does redistricting differ in the United States from elsewhere? Are there lessons for Americans in these varying experiences and procedures?

According to the Supreme Court, the Constitution requires that population must be equalized across districts. The idea is that if one Arizonan lives in a district with 1 million other voters while another Arizonan lives in a district with only 200,000 other voters, then the second one’s vote is more influential in choosing a member of Congress. Of course, populations shift, growing or shrinking over time.

To prevent those shifts from leaving unbalanced districts, state legislatures must redraw their electoral districts every 10 years, once the Census Bureau releases its new population data. Redistricting regularly leads to heated political and legal fights as legislators scramble to gain advantage for their political parties.

Although the Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights Act ban race-based gerrymandering — gerrymandering that reduces the power of one racial group’s votes, it has so far been unwilling to stop gerrymandering that twists districts to favor one party or another.

Academic experts say the 2010 redistricting round was the most extreme in the nation’s history. That’s because of two factors: a stark partisan imbalance in control of state legislatures and governorships; and new computer technology that makes it possible to draw extremely fine-tuned partisan borders.

The power of state legislatures to engage in blatant partisan gerrymandering may change once the Supreme Court decides Gill, a case in which a federal-district court in Wisconsin overturned that state’s congressional redistricting plan, deciding that a partisan gerrymander was banned on the ground of the Constitution’s equal protection clause and, critically, on grounds of First Amendment political speech rights.

What does redistricting look like elsewhere in the world?

Redistricting looks quite different elsewhere, for several reasons.

1. Larger districts send more than one representative to the legislature

Most democracies outside the English-speaking world elect more than one representative per district. When the number of seats per district can be adjusted, the principle of “one person, one vote” can often be achieved without redrawing boundaries lines at all. You simply add a seat to a district that has grown, and subtract that seat from the ones that shrink. That vastly reduces the possibility of reshaping outcomes by manipulating boundaries.

2. Politically neutral bodies draw districts

In most other long-term democracies, a politically neutral body draws new districts — perhaps a quasi-judicial body or nonpartisan administrative board or commission. The redistricting bodies of some countries, such as New Zealand, include representatives of the major parties.

But the more common pattern is to explicitly exclude anyone with partisan connections, as is true in Canada and India. In Britain, the ‘redistribution of parliamentary constituencies is carried out by a nonpartisan Boundary Commission. Parties can object to the commission’s redistricting recommendations, but it’s purely a consultation; their overall influence is limited. In some long-term democracies, such as Britain, legislatures must approve the new electoral maps that have been drawn by independent bodies, but this is typically a formality.

3. District boundaries are harder to manipulate . . .

Continue reading.

The poblem is that the United States is victim to a very strong “not invented here” syndrome, reluctant to learn from the experience of other countries: United States exceptionalism to a fault.

There are some very good explanatory videos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2017 at 1:51 pm

The Average Household Will Get a Maximum of $28 Per Week From the GOP Tax Plan

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Kevin Drum has a good post on the GOP tax plan. From that post (but read the whole thing):

Here are some statistics about the median household in the United States:

That’s it. The average household doesn’t pay much income tax. It pays payroll taxes. But Republicans aren’t planning to do anything about payroll taxes. They’re focused solely on income taxes, and I doubt they’re planning to start sending big checks to people who owe no income tax at all. On average, this means that the absolute maximum they can provide to “the average person in our country who has not experienced this recovery” is $28 per week.

I’ll be surprised if they do even that much. But at higher incomes I’ll bet they do plenty.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2017 at 1:38 pm

Many Politicians Lie. But Trump Has Elevated the Art of Fabrication.

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Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the NY Times:

Whit Ayres, a Republican political consultant here, likes to tell his clients that there are “three keys to credibility.”

“One, never defend the indefensible,” he says. “Two, never deny the undeniable. And No. 3 is: Never lie.”

Would that politicians took his advice.

Fabrications have long been a part of American politics. Politicians lie to puff themselves up, to burnish their résumés and to cover up misdeeds, including sexual affairs. (See: Bill Clinton.) Sometimes they cite false information for what they believe are justifiable policy reasons. (See: Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam.)

But President Trump, historians and consultants in both political parties agree, appears to have taken what the writer Hannah Arendt once called “the conflict between truth and politics” to an entirely new level.

From his days peddling the false notion that former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, to his inflated claims about how many people attended his inaugural, to his description just last week of receiving two phone calls — one from the president of Mexico and another from the head of the Boy Scouts — that never happened, Mr. Trump is trafficking in hyperbole, distortion and fabrication on practically a daily basis.

Continue reading the main story

In part, this represents yet another way that Mr. Trump is operating on his own terms, but it also reflects a broader decline in standards of truth for political discourse. A look at politicians over the past half-century makes it clear that lying in office did not begin with Donald J. Trump. Still, the scope of Mr. Trump’s falsehoods raises questions about whether the brakes on straying from the truth and the consequences for politicians’ being caught saying things that just are not true have diminished over time.

One of the first modern presidents to wrestle publicly with a lie was Dwight D. Eisenhower in May 1960, when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down while in Soviet airspace.

The Eisenhower administration lied to the public about the plane and its mission, claiming it was a weather aircraft. But when the Soviets announced that the pilot had been captured alive, Eisenhower reluctantly acknowledged that the plane had been on an intelligence mission — an admission that shook him badly, the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said.

“He just felt that his credibility was such an important part of his person and character, and to have that undermined by having to tell a lie was one of the deepest regrets of his presidency,” Ms. Goodwin said.

In the short run, Eisenhower was hurt; a summit meeting with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev collapsed in acrimony. But the public eventually forgave him, Ms. Goodwin said, because he owned up to his mistake.

In 1972, at the height of the Watergate scandal, President Richard M. Nixon was accused of lying, obstructing justice and misusing the Internal Revenue Service, among other agencies, and resigned rather than face impeachment. Voters, accustomed to being able to trust politicians, were disgusted. In 1976, Jimmy Carter won the presidency after telling the public, “I’ll never lie to you.”

President Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction in trying to cover up his affair with an intern, Monica Lewinsky, during legal proceedings. Chris Lehane, a former Clinton adviser, said Mr. Clinton’s second-term agenda suffered during his impeachment, yet paradoxically his favorability ratings remained high — in part, Mr. Lehane said, because “the public distinguished between Clinton the private person and the public person.”

But sometimes it’s easier to tell what’s false than what’s a lie. President George W. Bush faced accusations that he and members of his administration took America to war in Iraq based on false intelligence about whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Bush and his team emphasized and in some cases exaggerated elements of the intelligence that bolstered the case while disregarding dissenting information, leading critics to accuse them of lying. Among those who said Mr. Bush had lied was Mr. Trump.

Over the past two decades, institutional changes in American politics have made it easier for politicians to lie. The proliferation of television political talk shows and the rise of the internet have created a fragmented media environment. With no widely acknowledged media gatekeeper, politicians have an easier time distorting the truth.

And in an era of hyper-partisanship, where politicians often are trying to court voters at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, politicians often lie with impunity. Even the use of the word “lie” in politics has changed.

“There was a time not long ago when you could not use the word ‘lie’ in a campaign,” said Anita Dunn, once a communications director to Mr. Obama. “It was thought to be too harsh, and it would backfire. So you had to say they hadn’t been honest, or they didn’t tell the truth, or the facts show something else, and even that was seen as hot rhetoric.”

With the rise of fact-checking websites, politicians are held accountable for their words. In 2013, the website PolitiFact declared that Mr. Obama had uttered the “lie of the year” when he told Americans that if they liked their health care plan they could keep it. (Mr. Trump won “lie of the year” in 2015.)

“I thought it was unfair at the time, and I still think it’s unfair,” Ms. Dunn said, referring to Mr. Obama. Mr. Obama later apologizedto people who were forced off their plans “despite assurances from me.”

On the theory that politicians who get caught in lies put their reputations at risk, Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth College (and contributor to The New York Times’s Upshot) and some colleagues tried to study the effects of Mr. Trump’s misstatements during last year’s presidential campaign.

In a controlled experiment, researchers showed a group of voters a misleading claim by Mr. Trump, while another group saw that claim accompanied by “corrective information” that directly contradicted what Mr. Trump had said. The group that viewed the corrections believed the new information, but seeing it did not change how they viewed Mr. Trump.

“We know politicians are risk averse. They try to minimize negative coverage, and that negative coverage could damage their image over time,” Mr. Nyhan said. “But the reputational consequences of making false claims aren’t strong enough. They’re not sufficiently strong to dissuade people from misleading the public.”

Of course, lying to court voters is one thing, and lying to federal prosecutors quite another. When Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, was accused of a long list of federal corruption counts related to claims that he tried to sell Mr. Obama’s seat in the United States Senate, he was asked quite directly about lying. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2017 at 11:39 am

Mr Pomp, Phoenix Solstice, and the X3

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I do like the fragrance (and lather) of Phoenix Artisan’s Solstice shaving soap, so I finally bought the matching aftershave. Today Mr Pomp made the usual excellent lather from Solstice, and I again noticed that lathering this soap works best if the brush is well shaken out and merely damp.

The Astra Keramik Platinum blade, which didn’t work at all in the Gillette 1940’s Aristocrat, went into the X3 for this morning’s shave, and it worked fine: three passes, moderate blade feel, very comfortable, no nicks, perfectly smooth result. It’s always good to start the week with a great shave.

A splash of Solstice aftershave, and I’m ready for the day, which begins with an eye appointment.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2017 at 8:33 am

Posted in Shaving

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