The Last Days Of The American Empire…Soft Power Edition

I’m working on an column about, among other things, the arc of federal support for science since World War II.  As I was trying not to think about our national emergency national emergency this morning, I tripped over the following thought…

The funding deal Pelosi, McConnell et al. worked out included $1.375 billion for new barrier construction along the border (not, technically, a or the wall). That’s a win for the Democrats and a defeat for Trump, as it’s a tiny fraction of the amount that the bigot-in-chief sought, and that would be necessary to truly fortify the frontier.  For what follows I’m going to ignore the faux emergency through which the would-be dictator seeks to seize other money to pay for some useless shit, and just look at that number.

So, what makes for a powerful country?  I’d argue that the ability to project force around the world is in many  ways the least significant part of it.  Certainly, in a globally connected world, with the full range of surveillance technology and so forth, the notion of using technology perfected by, say, 1400 or so, overlapping fortifications, to keep folks out is…

Shit stupid.

US power since the middle of the last century has certainly been headlined by the military; but our capacity to influence life at home and abroad on a daily basis, in the hour-by-hour experience of billions, has turned on everything else, from our cultural impact (jeans! Rock and roll!) to, crucially and perhaps most significantly, the scientific, medical and technological revolutions fostered by the American research community.

That’s what got me going about even the seemingly de minimus amount of barrier funding in the spending bill.

The NIH budget for 2019 is $39.3 billion. In constant dollars, that’s nine percent below the peak funding achieved in 2003.  About 80% of that money goes to research grants — so just shy of $32 billion pays for folks to address all the ills that befall Americans, and citizens of the world.  For FY 2018 the National Science Foundation received $6.334 billion for research related activities.* *There are, of course, other significant pots of research money in the federal budget — DoD, DoE and Commerce all fund a lot.  But the NSF is where curiosity-driven basic research gets its support, and the NIH is, of course, the one that as we all age we notice a lot, so that’s where I’m focusing this exercise in futile rage.

A first, obvious point. The money spent on the barrier would add more than twenty percent to recent NSF research budgets, and would represent a four percent boost to the NIH.

Within those numbers these factoids: the average research project grant at NIH in 2017 provided a skosh over $500,000 to award winners. The NSF funds such a wide range of projects and disciplines that the figures are a little opaque, but still, as of 2016, the average grant offered an annualized $177,100, while the median figure was $140,900 per year.

You can see where this is going.  That barrier money could fund almost 2,800 more principal investigators trying to figure out cancer, Alzheimers, antiobiotic resistance and all the rest.  It could pay for more than 12,000 researchers pursuing basic science — the kinds of questions with pay offs that can’t be anticipated, but that have, over the last century, utterly transformed the way humans live on earth.

FTR: I do know that budgets don’t work as sort of implied above. They’re political documents, so spending on foolish stuff is often the price to be paid to spend some on smart ideas.  If we somehow avoid pouring a billion plus into  holes in the ground along the Rio Grande, that money doesn’t readily flow to a lab.  But the exercise is worth doing anyway, if only to point out how little, in budget terms, it would take to turbo charge research in this country.

The reasons for doing so extend beyond the value of knowledge for its own sake, of course, there’s the economic benefits of scientific research. There is an open argument about the size of the multiplier for each dollar invested in basic research, though less controversy about the benefits of investing in more translational or directly motivated work of the sort that shows up in many/most NIH proposals, for example. But the bottom line is that trying to figure out how nature works is good for the national (and global) bottom line.

Instead, we’re buying bollards.

And that’s how the American century ends.

Not with a catastrophic collapse, but the decision to put our national treasure to work in dumbest possible fashion, leaving aspiration, well being and wealth on the table.

With that — I’m done, and you’re up. Open thread.

*There are, of course, other significant pots of research money in the federal budget — DoD, DoE and Commerce all fund a lot.  But the NSF is where curiosity-driven basic research gets its support, and the NIH is, of course, the one that as we all age we notice a lot, so that’s where I’m focusing this exercise in futile rage.

Image: Vincent van Gogh, The Ramparts of Paris1887



Ralph Northam Press Conference Live Feed

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is scheduled to give a press conference today at 2:30 PM. The live feed is at the bottom of the post.

As late yesterday afternoon turned to night and then morning, Governor Northam has apparently decided he won’t resign. From the reporting, Northam no longer believes, despite yesterday’s apology by video, that he is in the offensive picture. Specifically, he doesn’t remember the photo, nor does he believe that he is the man in blackface, nor the man in the Klan costume. And he has been contacting his former classmates to ask if they know who the two men are who are in the picture.*

All of this may be true: that it is not Northam in the picture and that the picture was put on the wrong page. It doesn’t matter. He’s had that yearbook for almost 34 years. So have others who were in medical school with him at the time. Had he come out, during his first run for office or even his run for governor when the Virginian Republican Party and his Republican opponent, Ed Gillispie who went all in on xenophobia, accused him of turning his back on his own family’s history with the Confederacy, disclosed the picture, explained that it was coming to an understanding that going to a costume party in blackface and/or in a Klan costume was both wrong and morally unacceptable, and that is why he’s denounced his forebears service to and support of the Confederacy, there would be a very different discussion about the photo, the yearbook, and whether Northam should remain in office. This is, however, not what happened.

It doesn’t matter whether he’s in the photo or not. It doesn’t matter if it was put on the right yearbook page or not. It doesn’t matter if this accurately represents who Northam is in 2019. Right now America, both state and society, are subjected to a non-stop barrage of bigotry, prejudice, and lying from the President of the United States. Every time he gives remarks, off the cuff or prepared, whether from the Oval Office, the Roosevelt Room, the Cabinet Room, the Rose Garden, the White House lawn, one of his rallies, or, as I fully expect to happen, from the dais of the House of Representatives next Tuesday, Americans are confronted with a President who lies about his own bigotry and prejudice, then makes more bigoted and prejudiced statements, and then delivers more lies on a wide variety of topics. Right now one political party, the Republican Party, goes out of its way to cozy up to, play footsie with, and tolerate bigots. It’s why Senator McConnell can condemn Congressman Steve King’s remarks, while never being held to account for his own longstanding relationship with neo-Confederate organizations. It’s why Congressman Scalise can do the same thing despite campaigning for Congress as “David Duke without the baggage”. And that’s before we get to the President’s political appointees, such as Stephen Miller and Kirstjen Nielsen, who are just as bad if not worse.

Right now there is a need in the US for both formal and informal leaders, and this includes Northam, to stand up, tell the truth, and do the right thing. American state and society are in desperate need for more of this, not less. And Northam can do America a great service today if he stands up at his press conference and provides one last act of formal leadership and resign. He needs to resign not because he or anyone else may be sure that he is actually either the man in black face or the man in the Klan costume or that the picture is on the right page, but because American needs to see examples of leaders who take responsibility, even if they’re not 100% sure that they are the responsible party, when something bad happens, and then take the hard and important first steps to fix the problem. Which, in this case, would be to resign. The real question about whether Northam is a real leader, and is even morally fit to be a leader, is less about the picture in his yearbook from 1985. It is really about whether he leads today by giving up power and seeing it peacefully and efficiently transferred to his lieutenant governor or whether he tries to petulantly cling to power in the hope that an explanation for the photo surfaces that exonerates him and allows him to brazen this out. You can’t teach character, despite what the knuckleheads at the Combined Arms Center think. You can identify it, you can nurture it. You can mentor it. You can reinforce it. But you either have it or you don’t. At 2:30 today we will learn if Governor Northam has character and is actually fit to lead, even as he gives up formal leadership, or if he doesn’t.

Update at 3:55 PM EDT

Governor Northam has announced that he won’t be resigning. Here’s the response from the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus:

 

Open thread.

* It is possible, though not probable, given what we know of them, that this is PJ and Squi in the picture after brewskis at Timmy’s with Brett, Judge, Tom, and Bernie because they were all black out drunks in high school at Georgetown Prep and this is the type of things they would do. But I think this is highly unlikely.



Roger Stone Press Conference: Live Feed

Here’s the live feed for Roger Stone’s post making bail press conference:

While Stone bitches and moans about the FBI’s tactical raid for his arrest this morning, the reason the FBI did this is because Stone has posted pictures of himself with firearms on social media. Usually day at the shooting range type pictures, but that’s enough to get the tactical team deployed. Additionally, it was done this way for the element of surprise. Right now Federal investigators are going through his house with a fine tooth comb. A pre dawn arrest via raid is done to ensure that, in this case, Stone, was not able to destroy any evidence once he was asked to come in and surrender himself.

One another crime related note, at this time there is no word as to whether Stone will also be charged with a series of murders in White Chapel in 1888, as well as a series of murders in southern Manhattan, western Long Island, and northern New Jersey in 1889.

Open thread!



Violations of Norms Create Loaded Guns Left Lying Around and Are Highly Addictive: Potential National Emergency Declaration Edition

From CNN:

Washington (CNN)The White House is preparing a draft proclamation for President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency along the southern border and has identified more than $7 billion in potential funds for his signature border wall should he go that route, according to internal documents reviewed by CNN.

Trump has not ruled out using his authority to declare a national emergency and direct the Defense Department to construct a border wall as Congress and the White House fight over a deal to end the government shutdown. But while Trump’s advisers remain divided on the issue, the White House has been moving forward with alternative plans that would bypass Congress.

“The massive amount of aliens who unlawfully enter the United States each day is a direct threat to the safety and security of our nation and constitutes a national emergency,” a draft of a presidential proclamation reads.

“Now, therefore, I, Donald J. Trump, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C 1601, et seq.), hereby declare that a national emergency exists at the southern border of the United States,” the draft adds.

The draft was updated as recently as last week, a US government official told CNN.

According to options being considered, the administration could pull: $681 million from Treasury forfeiture funds, $3.6 billion in military construction, $3 billion in Pentagon civil works funds, and $200 million in Department of Homeland Security funds, the official said.

As lawmakers discussed a short-term measure to fund the government Thursday, Trump again raised the prospect of other ways to fund a border wall without congressional approval.

“I have other alternatives if I have to and I’ll use those alternatives if I have to,” he told reporters.

“A lot of people who wants this to happen. The military wants this to happen. This is a virtual invasion of our country,” Trump said.

I want to make four important points about this prospective course of action being considered by the President:

1) If the President does do this, it does not also mean that it then clears the way for the shutdown parts of the government to be reopened. While it may free the majority Republican caucus in the Senate to move a clean continuing resolution, it also frees the President up to just ignore it. He’ll have gotten what he wants, immediate funding and the gratification that comes with it, for his wall. At that point there’s no pressure on him to sign any continuing resolutions or appropriations bills. Regardless of what Republican senators and/or conservative pundits might think, this doesn’t break the logjam preventing funding to reopen the shutdown portions of the government. Rather, it relieves any pressure on the President to actually reopen them as he will have found a way to unilaterally get what he wants, which removes all the pressure being brought to bear on him.

2) If the President crosses this line and declares a national state of emergency regarding border security, he’ll quickly become addicted to it. Some of this will be because of the rush of violating norms, rules, and traditions in a very public and very large scale way. Some of this will be because of all the attention he’ll get from doing so. And some of this will be because he will suddenly have a new toy to play with. If he does this for a fictional border security crisis, he’ll also do it for his other factually inaccurate but deeply held fetishes: multilateral trade agreements that are ripping the US off, Chinese currency manipulation, multilateral military and national security alliances that are taking advantage of the US – none of which are actually happening. And as was the case with his military transgender ban, he’ll be encouraged to use his transgressive new powers for a variety of other hard right dreams such as rewriting US immigration law (which he actually publicly considered doing several months ago), outlawing abortion, declaring national constitutional or reciprocal carry of firearms to ensure Americans can defend themselves against the terrorists, gang members, and drug dealers that are not actually poring over our southern border, etc.

3) While the lower courts, including many of the Federal Courts of Appeal, will overturn this proposed action of declaring a national emergency on the southern border to reallocate funds without Congress’s consent to build his wall, and enjoin them from taking place, the Supreme Court will uphold the action. The one constant in the nominations and appointments of Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh is that they all hold the most expansive views possible of executive branch and presidential power, especially when the president is a Republican. As much as they may or may not overturn a variety of precedents such as Roe V. Wade or try to reinstate the Lochner era of Federal jurisprudence, they were chosen to rubber stamp the executive branch and presidential actions of what Karl Rove thought would be a permanent Republican majority America, where the Congress would have a GOP majority and the president would be a Republican for at least a generation.

4) If we’re lucky enough that the President, should he actually declare a national emergency on the southern border in order to reallocate funds without congressional approval to build his wall, and not actually decide to use this power over and over again, Republican elected and appointed officials, as well as conservative commentators, think tankers, and legal scholars need to prepare themselves for a future Democratic president, perhaps as early as January 2021, declaring a national emergency regarding climate change and thereby forcing the Green New Deal. Declaring one regarding income inequality repealing all the tax cuts since the 1960s. Declaring one that Justice Gorsuch, as well as all the Federal district and appellate court justices who are were confirmed because McConnell refused to allow confirmation of Obama’s nominees, all received stolen goods when they were confirmed and sworn in on the Supreme and other Federal courts, and therefore increasing the size of them and filling those appointments without the Senate’s advise and consent to prevent the GOP from further ratfuckery in Federal judicial appointments. And declaring one regarding mass shootings and school shootings in order to radically reinterpreting the 2nd Amendment and force gun safety measures.

Violating norms, ignoring traditions, and breaking rules are sometimes necessary. None of them should be done for trivial reasons, which includes process reasons, which includes a declaration of national emergency to allocate funds that Congress has not and will not appropriate for a border wall. Violating this norm, issuing a national emergency because the President cannot get Congress to go along with something he wants, is unwilling to negotiate in good faith, and has run out of other options to achieve his goals, creates a very dangerous precedent. We will be lucky, should the President decide to issue such a declaration, that it is just a one off and that future Democratic majorities in Congress and a future Democratic president can agree to revise the law regarding national emergencies and rebalance power back to the legislative branch. Unfortunately, we are more likely to see this President to become addicted to his new toy and try to use it over and over and over again. Republican officials, like Senator Graham, will rue the day they encouraged the President to do this. Unfortunately the rest of us are going to rue it too. It will not only be a massive violation of norms and rules, it will also be a massive threat to national security and that threat will be coming from the Oval Office aided and abetted by the Republican majority Senate and Republican nominated and approved conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

Open thread!



A Meeting of the Mindless

Ari Melber decided to have Carter Page, Michael Caputo, Sam Nunberg, and Jerome Corsi all on tonight. On the same panel. I give you the Four Whores of the Apocalypse!

The only good thing about the this panel was watching all four of them both take their delusional conspiracies about Special Counsel Mueller out for a walk and turn on each other repeatedly.

Here’s some lowlights from Melber’s twitter feed:

How Carter Page 1) graduated from the US Naval Academy and 2) got a PhD is beyond me.

I’m pretty sure Melber’s producer is currently curled up in the fetal position sobbing while drinking bourbon straight from the bottle.

Open thread!