They’re Already Here

Institutional momentum is a hell of a thing. Even desiccated institutions that have proved too hollow to perform the functions for which they were designed — e.g., to prevent an unstable, unqualified puppet of a foreign power from ascending to the office of the U.S. presidency — have a heft that keeps them rolling in their well-worn grooves toward a predetermined destination.

That’s why, though we can hope for deus ex machina in the form of a CIA bombshell, etc., we will almost certainly see Putin’s poodle sworn in as POTUS at noon this Friday, with most Democratic lawmakers in attendance. That’s when the real work of the resistance will begin.

But in the meantime, between calling our reps to try to save the ACA, I don’t see why we can’t have a little fun at the expense of the brittle narcissist who is almost certainly furious at the prospect of his inaugural becoming a very public flop that is insufficiently staffed by celebrities and attended by citizens. Read more



Incentives matter

This is why we call. This is why we organize. This is why we politely but firmly get in our representatives faces. Representatives are mostly lazy and they’ll go down the route that promises them the easiest win. We need to change that calculus and making the lives of representatives who are persuadable but currently voting against our interest unpleasant in a legal and above board manner will change priorities. Repeal and not Replace has, in my opinion, a short time frame for the act to be commissioned. It has to happen fast or it won’t happen as more and more of the 218 people who will vote to screw tens of millions of our fellow citizens for ideological reasons will get scared of the blowback. Let’s keep on informing the swingables that there will be blowback.

And let’s make it clear that opposition is a clear winner for any and all Democrats even the ones that drive most of this readership (myself included) nuts during normal times.

But to get away from healthcare for a moment, let’s look at where the incentives may be conceivably perverted:

The Trump administration could have a strong incentive to hope for a terrorist attack within the United States. It did not hurt Bush and the Republicans in 2002 or 2004. And it would allow for a massive shock doctrine purge of the civil service in the intelligence community.  People rally around the flag, people get suspicious of expanding the circle of US instead of THEM and the fear of another attack shuts down critical thinking and allows the few voices speaking out to be marginalized as Saddam lovers (that was the 2002 play-book as I remember it).

So incentives matter and in this last case, they are perverted.



Monday Morning Open Thread: Re-litigating the 1960s At Their Worst


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Here come the cheap thugs in their ill-fitting, flag-pin-bedazzled suits…


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Apart from uplifting fantasies, what’s on the agenda for the day?

(Tim Eagan via Gocomics.com)

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Late Night California Nightmarin’ Open Thread: Guvernator Thiel

From the Politico article:

Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, has been discussing a prospective bid with a small circle of advisers, including Rob Morrow, who has emerged as his political consigliere.

Morrow has worked at Clarium Capital, the San Francisco-based investment management firm and hedge fund that Thiel started.

Those who have been in touch with the 49-year-old entrepreneur are skeptical that he’ll enter the race. He is a deeply private figure, and California is unfriendly territory for a Republican — particularly a pro-Trump one. The president-elect won just over 30 percent of the vote there.

But they add that Thiel has conspicuously yet to rule out a bid and that those around him continue to discuss it…

Thiel, who is worth an estimated $2.7 billion, would fill an important need: the ability to self-fund. Waging a gubernatorial bid in California, where campaigns are famously expensive, could cost over $100 million.

He isn’t the only billionaire who may run. Environmentalist Tom Steyer, a prolific giver to Democratic causes, is also seen as a possible contender.

With Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown term-limited, several high-profile Democrats, including former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Treasurer John Chiang have already launched campaigns…

I’m assuming, from my perch here on the opposite coast, that Thiel is just drafting in Trump’s slipstream, getting his vanity stroked by Repub apologists like Politico without having to task his highly evolved brain with grubby political calculation.

Another sign of the President-Asterisks’s negative effects on the general political sphere — he hasn’t even been inaugurated, and he’s already encouraging the worst sort of anti-human grifters to speculate about following his slimy path.



The union of the snake

Could one of you artistic types create a picture of a snake with Donald Trump hair (maybe also a Donald Trump face?) with “Don’t Pee On Me” written on it?

In the style of this Wonkette classic








The Real Reason the US Supports NATO and the EU

And so it begins…

From the Bloomberg reporting:

Trump, in an hourlong discussion with Germany’s Bild and the Times of London published on Sunday, signaled a major shift in trans-Atlantic relations, including an interest in lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia as part of a nuclear weapons reduction deal.

Quoted in German by Bild from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted that Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination designed with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade. For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent to whether the EU stays together, according to Bild.

Repeating a criticism of NATO he made during his campaign, Trump said that while trans-Atlantic military alliance is important, it “has problems.”

“It’s obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Trump said in the Bild version of the interview. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.” The Times quoted Trump saying that only five NATO members are paying their fair share.

I’m going to quickly move past the NATO funding issue, as that is both solvable and is actually being resolved.

Of the 28 countries in the alliance, only five — the US, Greece, Poland, Estonia and the UK — meet the target. Many European members — including big economies like France and Germany — lag behind. Germany spent 1.19% of its GDP on defense last year and France forked out 1.78%.

All member countries that fall below the threshold committed in 2014 to gradually ramp up military spending to reach the target within the next decade.

For more on NATO funding, here’s NATO’s explanation of both direct and indirect funding.

Again, the funding issue isn’t really the issue – it’s an excuse. It is resolvable by bringing up the contributions of the member states that are in arrears to the 2% level. The issue here is what is the real purpose behind these two institutions. It is true that both NATO and the EU were created at a different time and for reasons that are only partially why they are important today. The real genius of both NATO and the EU, regardless of how they’ve developed and recognizing that no institution or organization ever develops perfectly and that reasonable, rational adjustments to both institutions should be made as needed, is that they knit Europe together. Despite what the populist-nationalist or national-populists or whatever they finally agree on calling themselves say, the purpose of NATO and the EU isn’t the destruction of sovereignty or national independence. Rather both organizations serve as a forcing function. They force the European member states of both organizations to work together, to cooperate, to recognize that sometimes there are bigger and more important issues than simply national interests.

The proof that NATO and the EU have been successful is that there has not been a war in Europe between European states over national interests, including national pride or economic disputes since the end of World War II. By stitching Britain and France and Germany and Belgium and Denmark and Spain and Portugal and France and Greece and Italy and Iceland and Norway and now all the member countries from Central and Eastern Europe together, NATO has made war in Europe among the Europeans less likely. The same for the EU. When Germany and France have a dispute they and their allies no longer spill blood and treasure across the fields of Belgium. Instead they meet in Belgium and talk it out. The forcing function, forcing these states and societies to work together, means that the uniformed and civilian personnel of all these countries have studied and travelled and worked and vacationed all over Europe. They all have counterparts and colleagues from the other European NATO and EU member states. Their children’s friends are the children of their colleagues from other countries. This is the real, tangible benefit of the EU and NATO. Its not a common market or a mutual defense pact. The real benefit is that the EU and NATO have broken the reality of over a thousand years of conflicts, capped off by World Wars I and II, in Europe and among the people of the nation-states that make up Europe.

Perhaps the biggest failure of the post Cold War period was the US and its allies losing sight of the real value of NATO and the EU. By doing so when NATO and the EU expanded they were unable for a number of reasons to expand to one crucial European nation-state: Russia. As is always the case the decision makers at the time believed they had good reasons for pursuing the policies and strategies they did after the end of the Cold War. Policies and strategies that jettisoned the idea of including Russia within NATO or the EU. And as is always the case, successfully implementing strategy to achieve one’s policy creates new opportunities, challenges, and threats. We are now facing one of those threats: a Russian led campaign to destabilize and break up NATO and the EU through the support of neo-nationalist and anti-EU parties and movements throughout Europe and the US. Regardless of what the foundational documents of NATO and the EU may say, the real purpose, whether explicitly or implicitly stated, has become to bind the nation-states and societies of Europe together to prevent future conflict. It has worked very, very well even as the leaders of NATO and the EU couldn’t bring Russia in from the cold. Now we have to see if it worked well enough for them to survive an active attempt to dismantle them.



Steelers v. Chefs Open Thread

Great googly moogly.








Open Thread: Putin’s Poodle No Longer Even Trying to Disguise His Primary Allegiance

Per the Guardian:

Donald Trump’s first foreign trip is to be to Iceland for a summit with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, according to reports.

In a move that echoes Ronald Reagan’s cold war meeting in Reykjavik with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, Trump and his team have reportedly told British officials that the summit will take place within weeks of him becoming US president…

On Saturday the president-elect said he would consider dropping sanctions against Russia if Moscow helped tackle terrorism and worked with the US on other goals, although they would remain in place “at least for a period of time”…

Trump’s claims that he has “nothing to do with Russia” appear to have been contradicted by his son Donald Jr, who reportedly said in a speech in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section” of a lot of the Trump Organisation’s assets…



They’re Just Fucking With Us Now, Right?

Awesome:

“Honey, I’m going on Fox to announce that my biker gang of meatheads will be private security for Trump and bash any protestors that get ‘unruly.’ What should I wear?”

“I dunno, babe. Probably anything but brown. Literally anything but a brown shirt.”

Bonus hilarity- that is Chris Cox, head of Bikers for Trump, who is a “chainsaw artist.”








Dallas vs. Green Bay Divisional Playoff

Ran into some Packers fans in Ybor City a while ago. I’ve lived near sunbelt stadiums all my life, which means I’ve had the opportunity to interact with large groups of fans who migrate south for football games.

Packers fans are by far the most sporting, generous and polite of the bunch. They introduced bratwurst to the city of Tampa, and were in turn honored guests at the area’s many tawdry bars. So, Go Pack, go!

Open thread!








Open Thread: Rep. Steve ‘Pigmuck’ King Lunges to Defend His Title

… as the Dumbest Mean Legislator / Meanest Dumb Legislator in DC. Sure, Donald Trump has the advantage of being born with a gilt-plated spoon in his mouth (and he never risks being confused with Rep. Pete ‘IRA Mucker’ King). But when it comes to world-class vicious stupidity, STEVE KING WILL NOT BE IGNORED!!!

I guess if you assume the real American voter is a cruel, ignorant bigot wholly in thrall to megacorporate filth producers, Iowa really deserves its premier spot in the quadrennial presidential race.



Self Inflicted Wounds: Blind, Deaf, and Maybe Dumb

In the street of the blind, the one eyed man is the guiding light

Genesis Rabbah (300-500 CE)

Last week Yediot Ahronot reported, now confirmed by Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post, that Israel’s Intelligence Community has itself been warned to be careful sharing and transferring information and intelligence with the White House during the next Administration.  Now the Sunday Times of London and The Guardian are reporting that our British allies are very, very concerned:

A British intelligence source with extensive transatlantic experience said US spies had labelled Trump and his advisers’ links to the Kremlin problematic. “Until we have established whe­ther Trump and senior mem­­bers of his team can be trusted, we’re going to hold back,” the source told the Times. “Putting­ it bluntly, we can’t risk betraying sources and methods to the Russians.”

The concern is that any information and intelligence shared after the transition  will wind up with the Russians and the Russians would likely provide it to the Iranians (and the unspoken bit here for the Israelis is the Iranians would share it with the Syrians and Hezbullah). That this information quickly leaked from the Israelis is not an accident or a coincidence. It was intended to leak in order to provide the same message our allies and partners:  that anything shared with the incoming Administration’s White House team may wind up with Russia. Through the Israeli leak the US’s other allies, partners, and clients have now been warned. This includes the other four members of the Five Eyes Intelligence alliance, the rest of our NATO allies, and other allies and partners. They have all been put on notice that the US Intelligence Community thinks that the incoming President, Vice President, their strategy, policy, and communication advisors, the incoming National Security Advisor and his deputies, and the rest of the incoming White House team cannot be trusted with classified information.

This means that the US will have its ability to see and hear seriously restricted starting next Friday. We won’t be blind, as we’ll still have our own capability, but our vision will be significantly dimmed and our hearing significantly dulled. This will make managing and mitigating the foreign, defense, and national security problem sets that we are currently facing, let along the ability to anticipate future ones, much more difficult. And this includes the ongoing Russian active measures, influence, and cyber operations directed at us, at our allies, and at our partners.

We are off the looking glass and through the map.



Let’s Talk About SNL

I think one of the things that is becoming very clear to a lot of people is that this upcoming administration is going to require unprecedented resistance. Let me make this crystal clear- one of the ways the Republicans and the bobbleheads like Kurtz, Todd, and others are going to rely on is hoary old bullshit like “this is a departure from tradition” or “decorum is at an all time low.”

Fuck them. We are in uncharted waters here, and you need to take your lead from John Lewis and not the media courtesans. We need a departure from whatever fictional tradition they have in their heads (and it is fictional because the last eight years of Republican obstruction threw everything out the god damned window). SNL, I am happy to say, is taking no fucking quarter:

“Nazi Germany at least had the guts to take on Russia.”

Bravo.

Also on SNL last was an artist I had never heard of before, Sturgill Simpson, and I am buying ALL his music today. Here is Keep it Between the Lines (the SNL recordings on youtube are shit):

I actually like his rendition last night better because the pacing was faster. Here’s Call to Arms:

This shit hits all my sweet spots. Brassy with baritone sax, good lyrics, and anything with a Hammond organ, well, sign me up. Although I am not sure why he has Joey Ramone playing the keyboards.








Thoughts About The Politics of Travel

Hello there. You most likely don’t know me. I’m Michael Demmons and I am a traveler and a travel blogger based in Atlanta, Georgia. I write at a blog called The Round The World Guys. It’s a place where my husband and I talk about our travels and offer tips & tricks about how you can maximize the value you get out of your vacations.

Well, it will be anyway. It’s only a couple months old and doing quite well so far. We just hired a tech-type person to design us a fancy, user-friendly layout that will evolve and get better over time.

A bit about me. I’m in my late 40s and have been traveling to various places around the world now for about 15 years. I’ve been to over 40 countries and don’t intend to stop till I see them all. I’ve been on every continent except Antarctica, which I’ll remedy in 2019. Travel keeps me sane and grounded and makes me realize how lucky I was to be born in where I was. I mostly travel with my husband, but we can’t travel together much right now because we have a 14.5 year old Labrador Retriever who pretty much needs constant attention. That’s old for a Lab, if you didn’t know. Really old.

Why blog here? To be honest, it’s because I asked John if I could check in once in awhile. A travel blogger might not seem to be a good fit for a blog that’s mostly a discussion about politics, but politics is a big factor in travel. While my first interest is travel nowadays, my second interest has always been politics. I don’t get the chance to talk publicly about politics much anymore. I gave up blogging about that years ago. That said, I thought I could offer a perspective on U.S. politics and how it is likely to affect travel both to the U.S. and around the world for Americans and others. So, as those topics come up, I’ll write about them here as they really don’t fit well at our site.

My next trip is in February, when I will be traveling to Iran for a couple weeks. Iran is a great lesson in how politics affects travel. People who travel a lot necessarily learn about the places they’re going. If you listen to the news here or look at the Department of State’s page on Iran, it looks like a festering hellhole that no sane person would ever travel to. But that’s not the reality. Iran is actually one of the safest places in the world for travelers, the people are friendly, and the food is delicious. Sure, there are things you simply can’t do there – like photograph government buildings. But face it, doing that here nowadays can get you a bit of side-eye from the authorities, too.

The politics here in the U.S. also affects travelers from other countries. I am a Canadian, but I live here. U.S. policy is often mirrored by its allies and Canada is no exception. Because of this, as a Canadian, I will be officially treated exactly the same as an American while I am there, meaning the visa process is strict and I need a guide the entire time. That means the cost increases from just a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand.

So that’s the type of thing I will write about here. I expect to maybe write once a month or so. Unless something weird happens and there’s room for more. If there’s anything you ever wanted to know about travel in general or the politics of it, I’d be interested in having that discussion.

In the mean time, Go Falcons!








Peaceful Assembly and Personal Security – Re-upped

I know a number of you all are planning to join one of the marches that will begin taking place between now through, and then after, the inauguration. So I wanted to re-up the post for anyone that missed it the first time.

(Originally posted on 18 December 2016)

Congress shall make no law… abridging…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. — Amendment 1, Bill of Rights, US Constitution

One of our readers/commenters emailed me about a week ago and asked if I would put up a post about personal security for those going to peaceably assemble to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. I put a list together and ran it past a select group of our Balloon Juice legal eagles (those I’ve corresponded with before/have corresponded with me, so if you didn’t get asked, don’t be insulted I didn’t want to just impose on you with a cold request) – thank you all for getting back to me. Here’s my list of what I think anyone going to peacefully assemble should do to enhance their personal security.

  1. Go with a buddy, that way you have at least one person looking out for you/watching your back and vice versa.
  2. Carry cash and make sure to carry a valid picture ID!
  3. Bring a pocket flashlight.
  4. Get and wear a go pro that is automatically updating to the cloud.
  5. Bring a pocket charger for your cell phone and go pro regardless of whether it is supposed to be a long day.
  6. Make sure your personal electronic devices all have sufficient password protection and encryption on them. And have them set to upload to the cloud at a regular interval.
  7. Turn off fingerprint access to unlock your phone and delete your finger prints from the memory. Some jurisdictions allow law enforcement to compel you to unlock your phone if it has finger print based access. Or get a disposable phone just for this occasion.
  8. Turn off your phone and other personal electronic devices option to connect to known wifi as it can be used as a way to fail your encryption.
  9. Bring a bandana or neck gaiter and water so you can make a make shift gas mask in case things get out of hand and tear gas or pepper spray is deployed.
  10. Bring a bottle of saline eye rinse in case you need to rinse your eyes out if tear gas or pepper spray is deployed.
  11. Bring plenty of water and some snacks to make sure you’re properly hydrated and you’ve got enough fuel in your system to get through the day.
  12. Dress in layers so you are prepared for the weather and make sure you have good shoes/boots and a change of socks in case they should get wet. A set of silk base layer undersocks is a good idea regardless of the weather. They’ll help keep your feet warm or cool as needed and they’ll provide some protection in case your shoes/boots and socks get wet. And something to keep the back of your neck and your ears warm if you’re going to be someplace cold.
  13. Bring/wear a hat to keep the sun off your head or to keep it warm depending on the weather.
  14. Bring/wear eye protection. Specifically sunglasses that are impact rated. (You should be able to pick up military surplus ones pretty cheap).
  15. Sunscreen, skin moisturizer, and lip balm. Even if its cold you’ll need these.
  16. If you need to take regular/routine prescription medication: bring it in its original container, with the prescription details on the label. If its a gel based application and comes in a packet, make sure you’ve got a hard copy of the prescription with you.
  17. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. You don’t have to be paranoid, but have a sufficient level of situational awareness. If something looks and/or feels hinky or the hair on the back of your neck stands up, head on home or go get a drink or go back to your hotel. Know who and what is around you, keep your valuables in front pockets or in secure/securable purses/bags, and keep those where they can’t be easily snatched or accessed.
  18. Have a contact plan for both linking up and communicating in case one gets separated from anyone you’re with.
  19. Have a contact plan to stay in touch with someone who isn’t at the march, but knows that you’re there and a regular set of contact times.
  20. Have a lawyer you can contact if necessary and that your outside contact could contact if you don’t check in. Make sure you have all of your contact’s phone numbers memorized in case your phone is damaged or taken by law enforcement should the worst happen and you’re arrested.
  21. Bring a sharpie to take down badge numbers if necessary. And if necessary write them on your hand.

Should the worst happen and you get caught up in a peaceable assembly that suddenly turns not so peaceable:

  1. Do not resist law enforcement. Just do what they say, let your arms go limp, and do what you can to avoid a reflex response to resist – that can get you charged with assault on a law enforcement officer.
  2. Be respectful and polite when dealing with the authorities – law enforcement, the National Park Service, whoever.
  3. If you are arrested, ask for a lawyer and then shut up. Do not say anything else or answer any other questions until your lawyer arrives. In fact let the lawyer do the talking.

One last item: some of you probably carry a pocket knife or multitool everywhere. Or everywhere that you’re normally allowed. I would recommend not carrying anything on your possession that could be construed as a concealed weapon or even an openly carried one. Even if you’re in a state/jurisdiction that allows for concealed or open carry of knives and/or other weapons – don’t. Being part of a march or peaceful assembly that turns ugly is not a good time to attempt firearms (or knife) normalization.

Stay Frosty!