Thursday Morning Open Thread: Job Opportunities

(Jack Ohman via

On the other hand, twelve-year-old me might actually have made an effort to understand math, if I’d known jobs like “Planetary Protection Officer” were an option. From the Washington Post:

There’s a vacancy at NASA, and it may have one of the greatest job titles ever conceived: planetary protection officer.

It pays well, between $124,000 and $187,000 annually. You get to work with really smart people as part of the three- to five-year appointment but don’t have to manage anyone. And your work could stave off an alien invasion of Earth or, more important, protect other planets from us…

The job announcement is rather dense. But Catharine Conley, the NASA scientist who has been in this role for three years, has spoken candidly about its scope and responsibilities, telling Scientific American in 2014 that her focus is to ensure that the agency’s activity complies with a 50-year-old international treaty that set standards for preventing biological contamination outside of Earth and safeguarding the planet’s biosphere from any alien life….


Apart from dreaming of close encounters (but not with Republicans), what’s on the agenda for the day?

Friday Night Open Thread: Eyewitness Account

It’s been a long week, humor me. Much appreciation to Mr. Pierce, and also Sen. Murkowski, and even John McCain:

After a motion to send the bill to committee sponsored by Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington failed, McConnell held the vote open for nearly an hour, giving his people time to work on any fence-sitters. Even Mike Pence came down to join in the lobbying and, if necessary, cast another deciding vote. Pretty soon, it became obvious that McCain was going to be the focal point of all the politicking. That was when Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, did a very smart thing. She walked over to McCain and talked to him for a good 45 minutes, essentially boxing everyone out, even Pence, who tried his best. The drama kept building and Murkowski kept talking to him. She, along with Susan Collins of Maine, were the true stalwarts against the bill, voting against every attempt to demolish the ACA, and even voting against the bill coming to the floor, which is something that McCain couldn’t bring himself to do. Murkowski even stood up against some clumsy—and marginally illegal—threats from Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior. She and Collins were implacable. If you told me that some of their courage rubbed off on McCain, I wouldn’t argue with you.

“Those were some of the bravest votes I ever saw in politics,” said Angus King, the Independent from Maine.

After a while, with the entire Senate chamber rapt with attention, McCain walked down the aisle and across in front of the presiding officer’s desk, over to the Democratic side of the chamber, where he joined a group consisting of Dianne Feinstein, Amy Klobuchar and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. The smiles started small, and then spread around the semi-circle of Democrats and McCain, whose love for the dramatic gesture remains undimmed, spread his arms out and lifted his head in mock supplication. Everybody laughed. Not long afterwards, Mike Pence left the chamber entirely, rather than preside over an impending political catastrophe.

The only thing that saved the day was the way it ended. The rest was taken up by a legislative process that had as much to do with orderly democracy as a tornado does with home décor…

You can spend hours trying to determine why McCain voted the way he did. He certainly took some convincing to do so, unless you think his inexplicable vote to proceed on Tuesday was the beginning of some Machiavellian exercise to saw off the limb behind McConnell and the president*. Maybe he truly was revolted by the bizarre process through which this exercise was conducted and perhaps he truly did yearn nostalgically for regular order. Maybe he didn’t want what may be his last major act as a U.S. senator to be the person who jacked their healthcare from 16 million of his fellow citizens. Or maybe it was just pure cussedness. Whatever the case, when McCain walked into the chamber and dropped his thumb down, the whole place turned into a goddamned Frank Capra movie.

“It was a pretty good movie, wasn’t it?” Angus King said. “It’s easy to stand up to your opponents. It’s much harder to stand up to your friends.”…

Tuesday Morning Open Thread: Banana Republicans

(Tom Toles via

Oh, how I would love to see Catherine Rampell’s Washington Post suggestion in action! “Jared Kushner ‘forgets’ to disclose his assets? Seize them.:

For the 39th time, top presidential adviser (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner has revised his financial disclosure forms. Kushner disclosed 77 additional assets, collectively worth millions of dollars. These items were “inadvertently omitted” from previous versions of his federal forms, according to a document the White House released Friday…

Maybe Kushner really did forget all those assets, including a stake in a start-up valued at $5 million to $25 million. Just as maybe he really did accidentally submit a security-clearance form that left off more than 100 contacts with foreign nationals…

It’s true that willfully omitting an asset on one’s federal financial disclosure form comes with the risk of criminal action. But how motivating can a threat of prison possibly be if Kushner knows he can just go back and add anything that the press happens to dig up?

That’s exactly why we need the banana republic rule (named for the lawless state, not the store).

Above a certain value — let’s say $1 million — any assets that are “forgotten” on federal disclosures can be seized by Uncle Sam. If they weren’t memorable enough for these forms, then clearly you’re rich enough that you don’t really need them.

Treasury gets to take them, without compensating you.

“That’s socialism!” you might protest. But really, it’s not so different from another policy that the definitely-not-socialist Trump administration already backs enthusiastically: civil asset forfeiture.

This is when law enforcement seizes private property without proving the owner is guilty of a crime, often without even charging the owner with a crime. Just last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he was restarting a federal forfeiture program the Obama administration had shut down.

“Civil asset forfeiture takes the material support of the criminals and instead makes it the material support of law enforcement,” Sessions explained, even though the stuff being seized is not necessarily providing “material support” for any crime or any criminal.

With such tenuous logic, why shouldn’t Sessions support appropriating possibly-innocent-but-still-kinda-suspicious financial disclosure omissions, too?…


Apart from (gleefully) imagining a more just world, what’s on the agenda for the day?

Russiagate Open Thread: About That Russian Lawyer Lady

But according to Russian-born ace reporter Julia Ioffe, from inside the Kremlin kleptocracy, it’s not that simple:

[T]he actual story says something very different about Veselnitskaya and the work she did for the FSB from 2005 to 2013. “The documents show that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, successfully represented the FSB’s interests in a legal wrangle over ownership of an upscale property in northwest Moscow between 2005 and 2013,” it says. The work, according to the story, concerned a real-estate dispute in which Veselnitskaya helped the FSB wrest ownership of a valuable building from a private company by alleging that the original sale was based on fraudulent documents.

This is a classic technique used in Russia to raid businesses and extort property owners, and it is a tactic at which both Veselnitskaya and the FSB excel. Veselnitskaya is currently going after IKEA in Russia, on behalf of a private client, using the same legal tactic—the land it sits on is extremely valuable—and the FSB has built an empire in the same way, making minigarchs out of rank-and-file FSB officers whose salaries don’t square with the posh lifestyles they lead.

Under Putin’s leadership, first as FSB head in the 1990s, and then as president of Russia, the FSB has become not just a seat of political and geopolitical power, but also a powerful economic empire. With the specter of state violence and the courts at their backs, officers of the FSB, as well as other security services agencies, have expropriated thousands of small and medium businesses, seized land, run protection rackets, embezzled state funds, and employed every trick under the sun to enrich themselves…

In other words, the Reuters story is not about espionage but about corruption. It fills in a portrait of Veselnitskaya as well as her connections to the organs of the Russian state, and the methods by which she operated. But it is yet another example of how American readers, frenzied by the drip-drip of Trump-Russia revelations, can take a bit of information, tear it out of its context, strip it of its real meaning, and run with it toward all kinds of political conclusions about the administration’s dealings with Russia. There is plenty of damning information out there, but this particular story isn’t damning quite in the way some people want it to be.

And yet it’s understandable that Donald Trump would be enchanted by the idea recreating such a kleptocracy here in America… and how the leaders of the GOP would be only too glad to assist him.

Late Night Farewell to Sean Open Thread (aka, ‘Piss Off A Pack of Journalists At Your Own Risk’)

Jeb Lund:

Maybe White House press secretary Sean Spicer cast his eyes toward the horizon and saw that the sky looked like it was going to rain indictments. Maybe the word “dignity” came up recently in his word of the day calendar. Either way, he’s gone…

Spicer’s planned demotion would be enough to make you feel pity for him — if you ignored everything else about Spicer and his job. After Spicer’s foully contemptuous and bullying introduction to the nation’s press, nothing was more appealing in some quarters than flirting with pity for the man whose boss undercut him repeatedly. That sort of light comedy is always entertaining for people — like the White House press corps — who would never truly be imperiled by what Spicer promoted and defended. Games are fun when you aren’t going to die…

The story he probably won’t tell his kids is this: Before taking the White House press secretary position, their dad was the Republican Party’s communications director for six years. His entire professional utility was and is his ability to tell lies to people, and his goal was telling more, better lies for progressively more important people until he could retire at 55 with a multimillion-dollar nest egg…

Their dad was vicious, lying scum, and the fact that his old boss and his new boss are worse doesn’t obviate his complicity in trying to destroy the very baseline idea of shared reality in service of a vain and cancerous meringue sowing fear and uncertainty among the citizenry, when his policies don’t merely immiserate or kill them. Their dad carried water for the worst president in American history, and now that the investigations are drawing further into the White House, Spicer can bail out and blame his new boss for wrecking the plane. Let it never be said that, when times got tough, their dad was just a liar: He was also a chickenshit…

In other words, it wasn’t Spicer (or Trump) trying to punish the press; it was about Spicer trying to avoid being punished by his babyman boss. SAD!

Read more

NATO’s Video on the Forest Brothers

We and the news media are so entrapped by the doings in Washington that we miss stuff going on in the rest of the world. That’s not without reason; having an unqualified boor as president of the most powerful nation on earth provides a great deal of scary copy. But the other side is an opportunity cost. There is stuff going on besides the Trump-manufactured crises. Other nations have their own ideas as to what is important, although they are affected by the crazy too.

The Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – are members of the EU and NATO. They were absorbed into the Soviet Union after World War II, but most nations of the world continued to recognize them as independent states. They were instrumental in breaking up the Soviet Union in 1991.

After World War II, resistance fighters continued in all three states. They were called the Forest Brothers and were widely supported by the population. Their activity continued through the 1980s. The last Forest Brother in Estonia drowned himself in 1978 rather than be taken by the Soviets.

I figured when Russia seized Crimea that Baltic young people were consulting their grandparents and that stocks of guns, ammunition, and food were being hidden away. Earlier in July, NATO released a video about the Forest Brothers, with interviews from two people who were involved. Here’s a longer history of the Forest Brothers, and a bit more. And here’s the video.



And open thread!

Open Thread: Trumpcare ‘Not Dead Yet’ (But It Smells Kinda Funny)

Who’s got a sturdy cudgel? Yes, the ongoing fight to protect Obamacare is serious, but watching the REPUBS IN DISARRAY! is delicious. Alice Ollstein, at TPM, “Trump’s Ham-Handed, Incoherent Health Care Message Leaves Senate Flailing“:

On Wednesday, [Trump] summoned all 52 Republican senators to the White House to try to browbeat them into passing some form of a health care bill. The president previewed his message for the lawmakers in an interview with televangelist Pat Robertson—saying he’ll be “very angry” if they can’t pass a bill—and in tweets Wednesday morning that made no case for the merits of the legislation or the difficult politics of curtailing the benefits of millions of people.

At the meeting, he threatened bill critic Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), asking as TV cameras rolled if he wants to “remain a senator,” and demanded the Senate stay in session through the summer recess until they “get it done” on health care…

Trump’s tin ear for Washington politics was on full display Monday night—the night Republican defectors drove the final nail into the coffin of the latest Obamacare repeal bill. The president hosted a group of senators at White House ostensibly to discuss health care over an elegant steak dinner, but did not invite any of the on-the-fence lawmakers he needed to convince to support the repeal effort. Instead, he dined with a group that already supported the bill, and according to the Washington Post, spent most of the evening recounting his recent trip to France…

“For seven years, Republicans have told the voters: ‘If you elect us, we’ll repeal Obamacare,’” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), carefully choosing his words as he walked through the Capitol’s underground tunnels surrounded by half a dozen reporters. “I think we will look like fools if we can’t deliver on that promise.”

But that message is unlikely to resonate with the moderate senators opposing the legislation who have repeatedly promised to protect their constituents’ Medicaid benefits and advocate for people with pre-existing conditions.

“Any time you’re over at the White House and the president is talking to you about his opinions, it can provide a pretty strong case,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) acknowledged. “But,” she added with a laugh, “we have our strong opinions too.”

Hmmm… piss off their voters, or Ted Cruz? How tough a choice is that?