Open thread

I imagine the National Security Advisor selection process went something like this.

Trump: someone GET ME PETRAEUS
aide: I got Petraeus!
Trump: Daaaavid
Trump: hello?
Trump: all right whatever, run up the flagpole that we might pick John Bolton. See what response we get.
aide: Sir, the red phone’s buzzing.
Putin: NO THE FUCK YOU WON”T
Trump: Maybe Boykin.
aide: the red phone again
Trump: screw it, Oprah’s on. See if mad dog has any ideas.

In other news, here’s a lovely pic from the Saugatuck Dunes on Lake Michigan, taken just before the election by reader MN. I hope to catch up on posting the many great photos sent in by you guys.

Chat about whatever, including but not limited to where and when you would transport yourself if you could escape the present timeline for one blessed moment. I pick Mohenjo-Daro during that civilization’s peak. I have long had a fascination for those guys. They left behind amazing feats of engineering and social organization, and an extensive catalog of art that somehow does not include a single image of war or violence.








Today in Domestic Terrorism and Stochastic Violence

This week the weekly phone in bomb threat to multiple Jewish Community Centers and synagogues came a day early. Instead of Tuesday, the preferred day for the last several week’s worth of calls, the caller moved it to Monday. Perhaps to capture the festive spirit of Presidents’ Day.

WHITEFISH BAY — Officials with the Village of Whitefish Bay say a bomb threat was called into the Jewish Community Center at 10:08 a.m. on Monday, February 20th.

The Jewish Community Center posted on its Facebook page, Twitter account and its website that the facility was “safely evacuated.”

A limited number of students were at the center because of the holiday. Other guests who were on site using the gym and pool facilities were also evacuated.

Police say the center was cleared by bomb sniffing dogs. The “all clear” was issued around 12:30 p.m. — after the sweep of the building.

This appears to be one of several threats made to Jewish community centers around the country on Monday.

There was also a threat called into the Levite Jewish Community Center in Birmingham, AL.

The Levite Jewish Community Center was briefly evacuated Monday morning after receiving a bomb threat. Many parents picked their children up from the child care facility.

Authorities have given the all-clear now, and staff and students are now back in the building.

A Birmingham police officer said there have been several of these threats across the U.S. today.

The JCC has received bomb threats before, including one in mid-January.

The FBI has been investigating threats to Jewish centers in Alabama and several other states.

Both the Whitefish Bay and Birmingham JCCs received similar phoned in threats in January.

Here’s what I think the security issues are going forward:

1) We’ve got some knucklehead who gets his gratification calling these in and seeing the news coverage. He may or may not be a hard core anti-Semite, but he’s basically in it for ego gratification. And based on decades of criminological research into deviance, delinquency, and offending, it is highly likely it is a he. So step up your game ladies! He may or may not even be in the US, given VOIP technology. And he may never intend to do anything but make these calls.

2) Or he intends to eventually escalate. Specifically after he feels that he has made enough of these, or other copycats have, to create a sense of complacency for the folks at the JCCs and synagogues. Basically emergency alert fatigue. At that point he actually plants a bomb at one of these locations because he figures he’s got a reasonable expectation of casualties because the threats have become commonplace and are no longer being taken seriously.

3) Or, even worse, he never originally intended to escalate, but because the threats have become commonplace the coverage drops way off. He doesn’t get his gratification and as a result escalates in order to get his rush. Basic addictive behavior pattern. Also, serial criminal pattern.

4) Or, also even worse, he never intends to escalate beyond calling in the threats, but someone else who does want to do real, physical damage to property and harm to people does. This individual or individuals waits until the coverage begins to drop off because the calls are every week or every other week like clockwork and the local news decides it needs to cover something more important. And then this person that wants to cause real harm and actually hurt people decides its time to strike because complacency has set in and some synagogue or JCC isn’t going to take the threat as seriously.

And I fully expect that this pattern will at some point be fully extended to mosques and Hispanic and Asian churches, as well as Sikh temples. I know that the Hispanic and Asian churches in my area have seen an increase in both vandalism and threats, just as the synagogues and mosques have, because they are viewed as immigrant places (of worship) and therefore acceptable targets despite being churches.

Updated at 6:15 PM EST

Thanks to commenter Timurid, this also happened today:

I cannot emphasize enough just how bad this is. Not the property damage, in and of itself that’s bad, but because ground that has been the site of violence cannot be sanctified/re-sanctified. Provided that this is just cosmetic damage to the headstones – defacing, being knocked over, etc – there should be no problem. But if the graves themselves have been desecrated, then it will require reburials and the spaces will never be able to be reused as Judaism prohibits reusing a grave. This means that if someone has to be reburied in another plot, then the final resting place and marker/memorial will either be aware from the remainder of their relations graves or everyone will have to be relocated. This is not only traumatic for the living, but becomes prohibitively expensive to deal with.



Long Read: “4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump”

Well, it’s a useful explainer piece, although I think the author may overstate the self-awareness of his beloved /channers. At Medium, Dale Beran claims “Trump’s younger supporters know he’s an incompetent joke; in fact, that’s why they support him“:

Around 2005 or so a strange link started showing up in my old webcomic’s referral logs. This new site I didn’t understand. It was a bulletin board, but its system of navigation was opaque. Counter intuitively, you had to hit “reply” to read a thread. Moreover, the content was bizarre nonsense.

The site, if you hadn’t guessed, was 4chan.org. It was an offshoot of a different message board which I also knew from my referral logs, “Something Awful”, at the time, an online community of a few hundred nerds who liked comics, video games, and well, nerds things. But unlike boards with similar content, Something Awful skewed toward dark jokes. I had an account at Something Awful, which I used sometimes to post in threads about my comic…

These days, 4chan appears in the news almost weekly. This past week, there were riots at Berkeley in the wake of the scheduled lecture by their most prominent supporter, Milo Yiannopoulos. The week before that neo-Nazi Richard Spencer pointed to his 4chan inspired Pepe the Frog pin, about to explain the significance when an anti-fascist protester punched him in the face. The week before that, 4chan claimed (falsely) it had fabricated the so called Trump “Kompromat”. And the week before that, in the wake of the fire at Ghost Ship, 4chan decided to make war on “liberal safe spaces” and DIY venues across the country.

How did we get here? What is 4chan exactly? And how did a website about anime become the avant garde of the far right? Mixed up with fascist movements, international intrigue, and Trump iconography? How do we interpret it all?

At the very beginning, 4chan met once a year in only one place in the world: Baltimore, Maryland at the anime convention, Otakon. As a nerdy teen growing up in Baltimore in the 90s, I had wandered into Otakon much like I had later wandered into 4chan, just when it was starting. I also attended Otakon in the mid-aughts when 4chan met there, likewise to promote my webcomic.
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WTF- He Seems Sane

This McMaster fellow seems kind of sane. What the hell is going on?








Lemonade from the Media Squeeze

Never had much respect for Don Lemon, who often seems daft and clueless, but in this clip, he models the correct way to push back on the Trump regime’s “fake news” meme:

Lemon interrupts the GOP mouthpiece who invokes “fake news,” defines what “fake news” actually is (i.e., it is not any news the Trump people find inconvenient) and gives the GOP mouthpiece an opportunity to make his point without screeching about “fake news.” And when the flack says “fake news” again, Lemon cuts him off.

That’s what it’s going to take. The Trump people — including Trump himself — lie and dissemble without shame. Their purpose is to destroy the distinction between fact and fiction. It’s a technique common to conmen and authoritarians.

If the media want to avoid having their panels, interviews, press conferences, etc., flooded with so many lies that the whole process breaks down, as in a denial of service attack, they’ll have to be firm like Lemon was above.



Come on, come on down, you’ve got it in ya

This is great news:

Buoyed by a wave of progressive activism that began after the election of President Trump, Virginia Democrats plan to challenge 45 GOP incumbents in the deep-red House of Delegates this November, including 17 lawmakers whose districts voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Is anyone going to the Not My President’s Day rally today?

My wife and I wrote post-cards to our Senators and Reps telling them to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia.

Consider this an IRL activism open thread.



Monday Afternoon Open Thread

Here’s a beautiful photo of some clam-digging ibises from faithful reader cope:

Ibises aren’t strictly shore birds. I see them sweep the neighborhood frequently, moving from yard to yard in small groups while digging for bugs. They’re such a part of the daily landscape that I scarcely notice them anymore, but I’m going to pay more attention in the future.

Saw news alerts about that despicable Milo creature getting the boot from CPAC (the annual conservative circle-jerk that takes place soon). Just a couple of weeks ago, wingnuts were bewailing the abridging of his “First Amendment rights” after an appearance in Berkeley was met by protests and then black bloc rioting.

Now that video has emerged of the creep defending pederasty in no uncertain terms, the wingnuts have dumped him. Wonder if he’ll lose his book deal and perch at Breitbart? Maybe. He sure sounds worried in this Facebook post.

It’s comforting to know there are still lines someone who defames liberals for profit cannot cross. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., are all well and good, but modern conservatives WILL draw the line at child molestation. Good to know.



Janitorial Duties

A member of the European press asks why leaders in the EU should believe Pence’s conciliatory remarks over Trump’s inflammatory ones:

Shorter Pence: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis had to do clean-up duty while visiting Iraq today:

As a part of his global tour to clean up after President Trump, Defense Secretary James Mattis stopped in Baghdad Monday where he sought to reassure Iraqi’s feeling skittish about Trump’s continued insistence that the U.S. should have already taken Iraq’s oil and his suggestion that “we’ll have another chance.”

“We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” Mattis flatly told reporters. The secretary said his visit to Baghdad was to “get current on the situation there, the political situation, the enemy situation and the friendly situation.” But as with several of his recent stops in Europe, Mattis had to spend some of his time in the country smoothing over some of Trump’s more controversial remarks.

As noted in this space many times, everything Trump touches turns to shit, very much including the reputations of people who willingly associate with him, not that Dense Pence had much of a reputation to preserve. Interestingly, Pence seems to be defying gravity better than other Trump admin lackeys thus far, possibly because he started from such a low place — awaiting his firing by the state of Indiana — and because establishment Repubs have a vested interest in keeping Pence relatively unsullied in case Trump’s presidency implodes in scandal.

Speaking of scandal, Josh Marshall and others seem to believe this Felix Sater business is a BFD. I hope so, but it’s certainly looking like Congressional Republicans will countenance any malfeasance to secure tax cuts for billionaires and an opportunity to slash the social safety net.

Still, drip, drip, drip. The mop buckets are a’slosh, and we’re only a month in.



Proposed Rule and Cassidy-Collins

I chased my kids through a museum yesterday.  Part of the day had them go through a butterfly’s life cycle and there were parts where grown-ups were just too big for it.  So I stepped aside and thought about health policy.  Specifically the proposed rule that widens the actuarial value bands from +/-2 to -4/+2.  A Silver plan under that rule could range from 66% AV to 72% AV instead of 68% to 72%.

We’ve looked at the distributional consequences of that rule last week.  Now let’s think about the legislative consequences.  The major distributional improvement is that low utilizing people who are not subsidized get slightly lower premiums.  Most of the work of that rule will be increasing out of pocket maximums for either unsubsidized but expensive individuals or subsidized individuals.

In some markets (Indianapolis is a likely target), the premium of the second least expensive Silver which sets the subsidy benchmark will decrease as plans go from 68% AV to 66% AV.  In those markets the benchmark premium (which no one besides CMS and the CBO cares about) will decrease.  The federal premium tax credit subsidy is calculated as the gap filler between an individual’s capability to pay which is a function of the federal poverty line (FPL) and the benchmark premium.  A lower benchmark premium shrinks this gap.  This will lead to a lower CBO score for the same number of people covered.

Some of the lower premium tax credit payments will be counter-balanced by higher cost sharing reduction subsidies but on net anyone who is making between 250% FPL and 400% FPL and is receiving a subsidy will see a smaller subsidy.

Why does this matter for Cassidy Collins?

Their plan is to take the entire pool of ACA money that a state would have received from the ACA and take a 5% haircut.  From that smaller pool of money, states could elect to continue with an opt-in ACA as is or move towards an opt-out HSA high deductible and catastrophic plan system in their alternative methodology.

This administrative rule shrinks the CBO score for the pool of money that states would be eligible for so it shrinks the pool of money available for Cassidy Collins by a few percentage points.  This is critically true for the alternative methodology as their plan spreads the same amount of money (after the 5% haircut) over a much broader population (subsidized, unsubsidized and unenrolled) so the baseline plans that can be paid for with either just the subsidy OR the subsidy plus the same ACA individual contribution are far skimpier with far higher deductibles.  This rule will increase the deductibles that Cassidy-Collins would have to charge by several hundred dollars more per person.








Monday Morning Open Thread: Vintage Year

On a more serious topic, keep our Left-Coast friends & associates in your thoughts…


***********

Apart from that, what’s on the agenda for the (holiday-for-some) day?



Something Important to Consider

Earlier this evening, in the comments to my post about the concerns being expressed about the US at the Munich Security Conference, a couple of commenters expressed their views that the US has wasted tons of money interfering all over the world, ignoring international law, and basically doing terrible things. And as a result the US is poorer and the world is worse off than if we had just not done any of it. I’m not some pollyanna who is unaware of the fraught and conflicting history of the US’s international activities post World War II – and in some cases before WW II. However, it is one thing to recognize that we often fall short of our ideals or compromise them because of the domestic politics or failure of leadership or short term fears and simply throwing the baby out with the bathwater of US involvement in international affairs post WW II. The point of the earlier post is that our partners’ and allies’ view of the US, warts and all (and I wrote warts and all in the original post) under the current Administration is beginning to sharply diverge from how most Americans, and American leaders, continue to view the US as being a force for good in the world.

So how have others viewed the US? Here’s one example:

What is described above is just one example of the good that comes from America using its national power – diplomatic, information, military, and economic – within the global system. There are many others. For instance, US Army – Japan’s, as well as other Pacific Command elements’ and US government agencies’ assistance after the tsunami and Fukeshima Daiichi meltdown. There is no one else on the planet, no one, that has the strategic lift capabilities, or the expeditionary forward deployed personnel, to conduct over the horizon, global humanitarian assistance, disaster management, and emergency response. While many countries may contribute when something like the Fukeshima Daiichi disaster happens they rely on the US to get their assets and aid on site. And they rely on the US to have personnel close enough to provide immediate response until everyone else can get moving.

In case it was unclear in the earlier post, or any of my other posts, I’m not arguing that the US is perfect. That we never screw up or that we’re always able to align our values and ideals and our strategic objectives. We do screw up and we quite often fail to align our values and ideals and our strategic objectives. Even worse we elect leaders with feet of clay or who’s personal ambitions outweigh the public good. This doesn’t make us evil. It makes us human.

Rather, my intention in the earlier post, and one’s similar to it, has been to argue that we largely established the post WW II order. And that it has benefited us immensely even as we often didn’t always get it right. But until or unless someone can coherently explain who is going to ensure that the Ground Lines of Commerce and Communication (GLOCCs), Sea Lines of Commerce and Communication (SLOCCs), and Air Lines of Commerce and Communication (ALOCCs) if the US doesn’t. Or how a post US driven international order would work, what it would look like, how it would be more stable, then simply either throwing it all out in pursuit of national populism or badmouthing the US for its failings without recognizing its successes, you’re not constructively moving the conversation forward. You’re just picking nits.

We’re not perfect. We screw up. But if you think Vladimir Putin is going to provide strategic lift and take the lead in doing humanitarian assistance, disaster management, and emergency response if the US pulls back or that the People’s Republic of China will, then you are deluding yourself. One day the PRC may be ready and willing and able to do so, but they aren’t now. And even if they reach the point where they have those capabilities, they may not have the desire or will to do so.

What do you think is going to happen if/when the Kim regime fails/falls in North Korea? Sure, the People’s Republic of China is going to have to play a huge role in the response, as will South Korea. Especially for the political, social, and economic responses. But a great deal of that response is going to be humanitarian and the US will be in the lead for that. Not just because its in our best interest to quickly secure North Korea’s nuclear stockpile, but because it is in our interest, as well as in line with our national values, to prevent millions of impoverished North Koreans from over running the Peoples Republic of China, South Korea, and possibly Japan as refugees. This would destabilize the Asia-Pacific region quickly overwhelming the states and societies there, throwing the regional, and possibly the global, economy into chaos. And leading to untold amounts of suffering.

As for Russia, as long as Vladimir Putin runs Russia in order to benefit himself and his select group of oligarchs and agents, it will never have the capabilities, let alone the intentions to pick up the slack. The US is not an indispensable Nation because over the long course of history no Nation-state or person is indispensable. But until or unless someone else demonstrates they have the will and the capability to step up, the US’s role in the global system is as close to indispensable as can be.

And with that I wish you all a goodnight.



Small Ray of Sunshine Open Thread: Is Trump Making Reporting “Sexy” Again?

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Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”
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During “normal” times, people tend to regard the press as, at best, a bunch of prying busybodies, and at worst a pack of tattle-tales. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) But for a brief shining moment after Watergate (and not, I would add, necessarily to the benefit of the profession), investigative reporters were swashbuckling young rebels who brought down an evil cabal which had threatened the very foundations of our democracy. Since some people mistook the movie version of All the President’s Men for a documentary, earnest suburban youngsters with adequate SATs dreamed of becoming the next Robert Redford Bob Woodward or Dustin Hoffman Carl Bernstein. Journalism became a credential-requiring career, not just a job for oddballs too literate for the factory floor and too stubborn or damaged to climb into the better white-collar ranks.

But if Trump and his handlers, on both sides of the Atlantic, are determined to reenact Watergate (second time as farce!), maybe we’ll at least get an influx of bright young minds interested in actual investigative reporting, as opposed to cocktail-party scrumming to join the ranks of the Media Village Idiots…


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As little as possible

I hate to keep beating this horse, but I’m wondering if maybe the Trump-Russia story is one of those things that establishment media just isn’t set up to cover. I don’t mean that they can’t cover individual pieces of the story but that they aren’t able to put it all together. I had the same feeling when Josh Marshall was breaking the Bush US Attorney story, which was also ignored by establishment media. I guess some stories have too many moving parts and say things that are too negative about powerful people for establishment media to handle.

We have an “All The President’s Men” press corps but we’re living in a “Chinatown” world.

So good on the Times for finding this fact out but shame on establishment media for being unwilling to think the whole thing through. Josh Marshall:

I don’t know how much attention it’s received. But the appearance of the name of Felix Sater in this new article in the Times is one of the biggest shoes I’ve seen drop on the Trump story in some time.

[…]

Having spent some time studying the matter, the biggest red flags about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia and businessmen around Vladimir Putin have always been tied to the Trump SoHo building project in Lower Manhattan, from the first decade of this century. I base my knowledge of this on this rather cursory but still quite good April 2016 article from the Times and my own limited snooping around the Outer Boroughs Russian and Ukrainian emigre press. (I summarized the most salient details of the earlier Times article in Item #3 of this post.) This was a key project, perhaps the key project in the post-bankruptcy era in which Trump appeared heavily reliant on Russian funds to finance his projects. Sater was at the center of that project. The details only came to light after the project got bogged down in a complicated series of lawsuits.

After the lawyers got involved, Trump said he barely knew who Sater was. But there is voluminous evidence that Sater, a Russian emigrant, was key to channeling Russian capital to Trump for years. Sater is also a multiple felon and at least a one-time FBI informant.

I never know how seriously to take John Schindler, but this is interesting too:








This is How You See the World. This is How We See It!

To Steal the Sky is the late 80s HBO docudrama about Israel’s Operation Diamond that resulted in the theft of an Iraqi MiG 21 by Iraqi fighter pilot Munir Redfa. At the 52 minute mark, Ben Cross playing Redfa, stands up to leave the room where he’s meeting with Israeli intelligence officers and walks past a map on the wall next to the door with magnetic backed fighter jet miniatures in Jordan, Syria, and Iraq facing towards Israel. He stops, moves the jets into Israel, points them out towards Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, and states: “This is how you see the world. This is how we we see it!”

The discussion report from the just concluded Munich Security Conference is a report entitled Munich Security Report 2017: Post-Truth, Post-West, Post-Order? The report is intended to set the terms for discussion at the conference (h/t: Robin Wright via Digby). Interestingly Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s remarks at this year’s Munich Security Conference provocatively mirrored the reports title:

Russia’s foreign minister has called for a “post-West world order” while addressing global leaders at an international security conference.

Sergey Lavrov accused Nato of being a Cold War institution and accused its “expansion” of sparking unprecedented tensions in Europe as both sides expand military deployments and drills.

He said he hoped “responsible leaders” will choose to create a “just world order – if you want you can call it a post-West world order”.

The foreword to the discussion report, written by German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, the conference chair, states:

The international security environment is arguably more volatile today than at any point since World War II. Some of the most fundamental pillars of the West and of the liberal international order are weakening. Adversaries of open societies are on the offensive. Liberal democracies have proven to be vulnerable to disinformation campaigns in post-truth international politics. Citizens of democracies believe less and less that their systems are able to deliver positive outcomes for them and increasingly favor national solutions and closed borders over globalism and openness. Illiberal regimes, on the other hand, seem to be on solid footing and act with assertiveness, while the willingness and ability of Western democracies to shape international affairs and to defend the rules-based liberal order are declining. The United States might move from being a provider of public goods and international security to pursuing a more unilateralist, maybe even nationalistic foreign policy. We may, then, be on the brink of a post-Western age, one in which non-Western actors are shaping international affairs, often in parallel or even to the detriment of precisely those multilateral frameworks that have formed the bedrock of the liberal international order since 1945. Are we entering a post-order world? How this question will be answered in the years to come will depend on all of us.

Ambassador Ischinger provides additional context in the video trailer for the conference:

I want to reemphasize this sentence from Ambassador Ischinger’s foreword:

The United States might move from being a provider of public goods and international security to pursuing a more unilateralist, maybe even nationalistic foreign policy. We may, then, be on the brink of a post-Western age, one in which non-Western actors are shaping international affairs, often in parallel or even to the detriment of precisely those multilateral frameworks that have formed the bedrock of the liberal international order since 1945.

The United states has long viewed itself as one of, if not the primary architect of the post WW II international order and global system, as well as its defender. While many Americans, including American leaders, still do as evidenced by both the Vice President’s and Defense Secretary Mattis’s statements at the conference in regards to the importance of NATO and American intention to honor our commitments, we have reached the point where how we see ourselves and our intentions, warts and all, is increasingly at odds with how our allies and partners see the US and its intentions. We’ve reached the point where Cross’s statement, in his portrayal of Captain Redfa, rings more and more true: “This is How You See the World. This is How We See It!”



WASF Open Thread – Epidemiology Edition

They’re not rejecting science — they’re just raising questions! Because terrible tragedies — like having an autistic child — shouldn’t happen to nice people! In our complicated world, how can we know what’s true, and what’s spin?

I’m old enough to remember when the Romanovs were regarded as a couple of under-educated inbreds for letting a plainly demented charlatan take effective control over their government, not that one would expect any better from a regime where a tiny group of oligarchs ruled the teeming mass of serfs via a combination of hereditary religious bigotry and a militarized state police…