Democracy Has Prevailed.

April 30, 2017

Another Sin Of Omission By The Tribune-Review Editorial Board.

It's funny what the Tribune-Review editorial board leaves out when it publishes something.  It's almost as if the braintrust doesn't want you to know something it knows.

Finding it, however, rewrites their entire blurb.

Take a look at this from today:
Among accomplishments made by the Trump administration in its first “100 days” that likely won't make the evening news are regulatory reforms, which to date have saved taxpayers more than $86 billion.

That's the conclusion of a new report by the American Action Forum, a policy institute, which lists various Obama administration regulations that President Trump and Congress have either repealed or delayed, The Hill newspaper reports.
Now, I could have taken a look at Trump's "accomplishments" in his first 100 days, but that's been done:
No, I want to dig into what the Editorial Board describes (on purpose) as simply "a policy institute".

What is the "American Action Forum" and what does it do?  From it's own web page:
Since its 2009 founding, AAF has proudly led the center-right policy debate on fiscal policy, health care, tax reform, immigration, technology & innovation, regulatory policy and many more pressing issue areas. Its work is routinely referenced by center-right leaders who understand that government has an important but limited role in protecting freedoms, promoting a vibrant private sector, and serving US citizens more effectively.

The American Action Forum is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, and it is not affiliated with or controlled by any political group. Its focus is to educate the public about the complex policy choices now facing the country, and explain as cogently and forcefully as possible why solutions grounded in the center-right values that have guided the country thus far still represent the best way forward for America’s future. It will stay neutral in elections, and by and large will leave its sister organization, the American Action Network, to engage in any appropriate direct legislative advocacy in support of the policy proposals it discusses. Like the Network, the Forum welcomes policy ideas consistent with its center-right values from any source, regardless of party affiliation, and aims to make its educational materials available to members of the public of all political stripes.
And that "sister organization" the American Action Network? Well, my friends, it has a website as well:
The American Action Network is a 501(c)(4) ‘action tank’ that will create, encourage and promote center-right policies based on the principles of freedom, limited government, American exceptionalism, and strong national security. The American Action Network’s primary goal is to put our center-right ideas into action by engaging the hearts and minds of the American people and spurring them into active participation in our democracy.
Huh.  It's interesting that there's not even a hint of any of this in the three words ("a policy institute") the editorial board chose to describe the American Action Forum.

After reading the above descriptions, ask yourself what's the chance that this new report by the AAF would be anything other than a set of "center right ideas"?  Then you should ask yourself why the Tribune-Review editorial board didn't feel you should know that.  Why they didn't want you to know that it was a conservative report from a conservative think tank linked to a conservative "action tank."

Happy Sunday!

April 28, 2017

Just In Time For The People's Climate March!

Motherboard is reporting:
On April 19, 2017, somebody replaced most of the information on the Interior Department's main climate change page. The agency made no announcement of this, but a look at the page's source code reveals the date on which it was last modified.
What was once a robust overview of the Interior's climate change priorities is now a pedestrian paragraph about the types of land the agency protects. Gone are the mentions of rising sea levels, worsening wildfires, and threatened wildlife. In fact, the entire page, which is just 101-words-long, only uses the term "climate change" once.

The revised page now links to the climate change pages of other environmental agencies. One of the links, which should have directed to the Bureau of Land Management, is dead.
This is the text the Department of the Interior's Climate Change webpage in the Age of Trump:
The U.S. Department of the Interior manages one-fifth of the land in the United States, 35,000 miles of coastline, and 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf. The Department also upholds the federal government's trust responsibilities to 567 Indian tribes; conserves fish, wildlife, and their habitats; manages water supplies for more than 30 million people; and protects America’s natural treasures.

The impacts of climate change have led the Department to focus on how we manage our nation’s public lands and resources. The Department of the Interior contributes sound scientific research to address this and other environmental challenges.
And this is the first paragraph from that same webpage from a time long long ago (well, last year) when the administration in the White House respected reality and science:
Climate change affects every corner of the American continent. It is making droughts drier and longer, floods more dangerous and hurricanes more severe.
How long until this report is sent down the memory hole?
A comprehensive review of key climate indicators confirms the world is warming and the past decade was the warmest on record. More than 300 scientists from 48 countries analyzed data on 37 climate indicators, including sea ice, glaciers and air temperatures. A more detailed review of 10 of these indicators, selected because they are clearly and directly related to surface temperatures, all tell the same story: global warming is undeniable.
And none of Trump's alternative facts will change that.

April 27, 2017

Happy Birthday Sergei Prokofiev!

In honor of our new Russian overlords (thanks, Don!  MAGA!), I'd like to note that great Russian/Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was born today in what's now eastern Ukraine.

He also had the misfortune to die on the same day that Joseph Stalin died.  And as such there were no flowers for his funeral (they were all gathered up for Stalin's) and very few mourners (see the previous parenthetical statement).

Anyway, he wrote the score in the early 30s to a film called Lieutenant Kije.  The film itself is remembered for being the vehicle for the music.  For what it's worth, here's the plot of the movie:
Through a wildly unlikely mistake, the non-existent name Lieutenant Kijé has been entered into the rolls of a military company, and in order to prevent official embarrassment, a Kijé is invented. The film then chronicles in narrative the Lieutenant's arrival, marriage, and burial.
Here's the music:

Make America Great Again (by colluding with Russian Intelligence to sway an American Election)!

April 26, 2017

Please Note

Hey, Remember When Conservatives COMPLAINED About Executive "Overreach"?

From the USAToday, yesterday:
A federal judge in San Francisco on Tuesday partially blocked President Trump's attempts to punish "sanctuary cities" that do not fully comply with federal immigration enforcement efforts by withholding federal grant money.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick ruled that Trump exceeded his presidential authority when he signed an executive order Jan. 25 directing his administration to withhold all federal funding from local jurisdictions deemed to be "sanctuary" jurisdictions. That general term describes more than 300 local governments that have limited their cooperation with federal immigration officials.
Hey, Remember When Conservatives COMPLAINED About Executive "Overreach"?

To be fair, there's at least one conservative Ilya Somin  (if the name sounds familiar, we've tussled before - Hey, Ilya, how ya doin'?  Next time you're in Pittsburgh, let's go to Primanti's) that complains about this executive order.

In yesterday's Washington Post:
Judge Orrick’s ruling concludes that the order violates the Constitution because it undermines both federalism and separation of powers. It follows nearly the same reasoning I laid out in my post criticizing the order when Trump first issued it.
Somin's reasoning: the president cannot impose conditions on federal funds:
Where Congress has failed to give the President discretion in allocating funds, the President has no constitutional authority to withhold such funds and violates his obligation to faithfully execute the laws duly enacted by Congress if he does so.
And it's unconstitutional because it's coercive:
The opinion also concludes that the executive order likely constitutes unconstitutional “commandeering” because it coerces state and local governments to enforce federal law, in violation of several Supreme Court precedents under the Tenth Amendment. Ironically, those precedents were strongly supported by conservatives (one of the most important was authored by Justice Antonin Scalia) and – at the time – much-criticized by liberals. Some defenders of the Trump order have argued that there is no commandeering problem here because the anti-commandeering principle does not apply to federal efforts to compel disclosure of information. I criticized this argument here.
Ok, so how many OTHER conservatives are going to be agreeing with Somin's argument?

Can we keep count?

April 25, 2017

My ELEVENTH Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey

I'll be dropping this letter to Senator Pat Toomey in the mail today:
Dear Senator Toomey:

It's me, again. Your constituent who also writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

As you may know, this past weekend a great many of your constituents here in Pennsylvania (including thousands in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia) marched in support of science.

It's weird that all those people felt it necessary to do that, right? I supposed that in the age of Trump's "alternative facts" (for example this weekend he tweeted that he would "still" beat Hillary Clinton in the popular vote, even though in reality he lost the popular vote) science, the scientific method and rational thinking all need a strong defense.

Which leads me to this week's question: Do you support science? Specifically, when 97% of the world's climate scientists all believe that the earth is warming up and that human activity significantly contributes to that warming, why would you disagree with that? I ask because that's how you voted in 2015.  You voted against a Senate resolution that stated that human activity significantly contributes to climate change.

Can you explain to me and to all those thousands of your constituents who marched this weekend, how and why all those scientists are wrong?  What do you know that they don't?

I await your response.
And I will be posting whatever response I get from him or his office.


April 24, 2017

ANNOUNCEMENT: Podcamp Discussion

I just wanted to let you know that I'll be participating in this podcamp discussion on Wednesday.

From the Facebook page:
Politics and social media have run hand in hand over the past decade or so. We saw an uptick in the acceptance of political figureheads communicating with their constituents via Twitter and Facebook during President Obama's terms in office. With the social media surrounding the most recent presidential campaign, President Trump's inauguration, and the various social justice campaigns arising as a result of the political landscape we wanted to sit down with a team of community specialists to talk about usage and impact of social media in politics.
More details to come.

April 23, 2017

Donald Trump's Earth Day Statement - It Doesn't Say What You Think It Says.

First, the statement. At present (Sunday 8:40 am EDT) the statement has yet to be posted at but here it is complete:
Our Nation is blessed with abundant natural resources and awe-inspiring beauty. Americans are rightly grateful for these God-given gifts and have an obligation to safeguard them for future generations. My Administration is committed to keeping our air and water clean, to preserving our forests, lakes, and open spaces, and to protecting endangered species.

Economic growth enhances environmental protection. We can and must protect our environment without harming America's working families. That is why my administration is reducing unnecessary burdens on American workers and American companies, while being mindful that our actions must also protect the environment.

Rigorous science is critical to my administration's efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection. My Administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks. As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.

This April 22nd, as we observe Earth Day, I hope that our nation can come together to give thanks for the land we all love and call home.
I'm wondering if you caught the dog whistle.  HuffingtonPost didn't:
“Rigorous science is critical to my Administration’s efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection,” Trump said. “My Administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks. As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.”

But under Trump, the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology has removed “science” from its mission statement. Trump and Pruitt have questioned well established science that shows global warming is real. His administration has proposed gigantic cuts to biomedical and scientific research and, the EPA and environmental programs.
I'm not saying any of that is wrong, by the way, but by juxtaposing Trump's words with his actions like that, it looks to us like he's lying (yet again). True as that is, it's also completely beside the point. Take a look at the dog whistle again.  Specifically, the part that says that:
...rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.
What he's doing is that he's talking to the climate science deniers and no one else.  It's the use of the word "ideology" is the clue.

Don't think so?  Take a look at this quote from a Trib editorial from 2014:
What climate alarmists have left to fall back on is anything but science. [S. Fred] Singer says they “embrace faith and ideology — and are no longer interested in facts.”
Or this one from 2010:
Rejoice, Church of Climatology! Your savior has revealed himself and is proclaiming his intentions to humanity -- in the form of Great Britain's Prince Charles.

Yet it's his fellow climate alarmists who've perverted genuine science. [Italics in original.]
Or how about this interview from 2015 with the former neverTrumper, Senator Ted Cruz:
Well, I believe that public policy should follow the science and follow the data. I am the son of two mathematicians and computer programmers and scientists. In the debate over global warming, far too often politicians in Washington - and for that matter, a number of scientists receiving large government grants - disregard the science and data and instead push political ideology. [Emphasis added.]
You see, what's going on with the science deniers is that they don't think they're actually denying science, in fact they think they're defending it (they're wrong, of course, but that's a separate argument).  They've settled on a few untruths that fit their ideology and simply declared them facts.  Here's a few of the untruths:
  • The Earth stopped warming X years ago.
  • Climategate proved that the scientists are doctoring the data.
  • Satellite data shows no warming in the upper atmosphere.
  • There's no consensus among scientists.
And whenever any of the 97% of climate scientists (or any of the rest of us who agree with them) who support the science attempt to disagree with any of those falsehoods, they're immediately branded as close-minded ideologues who are trying to shut down the the otherwise rigorous scientific debate over the still undecided validity of climate science. If you think the debate is settled, you're part of the conspiracy to silence the truth.

It doesn't matter that the actual facts are on the side of the 97% of the actual climate scientists because remember that number and the fact's they've constructed are false, too!

Now take another look at Trump's defense:
[R]igorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.
Now do you see what's going on? The "honest inquiry and robust debate" isn't found among the majority of the world's climate scientists but among those who oppose them.  That's what Trump said on Earth Day, though most of us couldn't hear it. 

It's a dog whistle through and through.

April 22, 2017

Because "There is no Planet B"

Some photos from today's March for Science in Pittsburgh from my friend Joy Sabl. She's a geneticist who's married to a nuclear physicist (because that's how my friends roll).

Brain hat replaces pussy hat today

The #unless refers to "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it's not." from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss


More truth!

Bonus Points if you get these.

The crowd 

On the move!


Note: The quote in the title of this post comes from this article.

Today, In Oakland

From Templeton of the P-G:
Science has been attacked from multiple directions throughout the ages, with current challenges to established research on climate change, evolution and environmental stewardship and continuing cuts in research funding through the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies.

So scientists and the pro-science community are striking back peaceably with a March For Science noon Saturday in Washington, D.C., with sister marches in more than 400 cities worldwide, including one in Pittsburgh’s neighborhood of Oakland that’s expected to attract 2,000 to 5,000 people.
I'm so glad Templeton got to use the phrase "established research on climate change" in the first paragraph - it's almost as if 97% of the planet's experts in that field agree that the science is valid or something.

Compare that to the Trib's coverage of the "March for Science" recently held at Cal U.

The closest it gets to mentioning climate science is this paragraph:
President Donald Trump's proposed budget, released in March, includes a $2.6 billion spending slash to the Environmental Protection Agency. The cut represents a third of the agency's budget and has been widely criticized because it would eliminate billions of dollars for scientific research programs.
But we all know what that means, right? If you're not sure, luckily the Washington Post reported:
The proposed budget, if enacted, would discontinue funding for the Clean Power Plan — the signature Obama administration effort to combat climate change by regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. It would sharply reduce money for the Superfund program and cut the budget for the EPA’s prominent Office of Research and Development roughly in half, to $250 million.
But coming from a paper with such an outspoken science-denying editorial board, it's hardly surprising that someone (perhaps) decided to adios the phrase "climate science" from the Trib's news coverage of the coverage of the March for Science.

Don't get me wrong, on Friday night the Trib did go with some coverage of the upcoming march - but only with the first three paragraphs of this Washington Post article from earlier Friday talking about the the march taking place 240 miles away in Washington DC.

Why no coverage of the local march taking place today?  Isn't the defense of science important enough?

April 21, 2017

Meanwhile, Outside...

From the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):
The combined global average temperature over the land and ocean surfaces for March 2017 was 1.05°C (1.89°F) above the 20th century average of 12.7°C (54.9°F). This was the second highest for March since global temperature records began in 1880, behind the record year 2016 by 0.18°C (0.32°F) and ahead of 2015 by +0.15°C (+0.27°F). March 2017 marks the first time since April 2016 that the global land and ocean temperature departure from average was greater than 1.0°C (1.8°F) and the first time the monthly temperature departure from average surpasses 1.0°C (1.8°F) in the absence of an El Niño episode in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Overall, March 2017 tied with January 2016 as the fifth highest monthly global land and ocean temperature departure from average on record (1,647 monthly records). The record monthly temperature departure of 1.23°C (2.21°F) was set in March 2016.
The second highest for March since global temperature records began in 1880.

Meanwhile in Trump's administration, this is going on:
Scott Pruitt, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, has said that the US should back out of its commitment to the Paris climate agreement, the landmark plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to limit global warming to below 2˚C.

This follows President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to cancel the agreement, with a decision on whether he will do so expected within the next month.

“It’s a bad deal for America,” Pruitt told cable news show Fox & Friends last week. “China and India had no obligations under the agreement until 2030.”
Of course, this being the Trump administration, facts are kept far out of the discussion.  On the other hand, Pruitt got fact-checked by Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post:
Pruitt clearly needs to brush up on the Paris Accord, as it’s false to claim that China and India have “no obligations” until 2030.

China and India, just like the United States, have made commitments that are supposed to be fulfilled by 2030, meaning they have to take action now in order to meet those goals. The United States made more substantial commitments — which the Trump administration is abandoning — because the United States, on a per capita basis, is a much bigger polluter than either country.

Pruitt earns Four Pinocchios.
And where they found his assertion to be false.

Facts are stubborn things and it's still getting warmer out there and we're still causing it.

Meanwhile, this weekend, science is defended in Pittsburgh.

April 20, 2017

As The Man Said, Follow The Money (The Trib, The Minimum Wage, And America Rising)

Take a look at this editorial from my friends on the Tribune-Review editorial board:
A new study confirming that government minimum-wage diktats hurt the low-income workers they're supposed to help is especially noteworthy because it comes from a local-level government that's nevertheless forging ahead with a higher minimum wage.
Ah, yes. The Trib braintrust writes about a new study that somehow confirms what Republicans already believe.  But take a look at the details of the study itself.  From its last paragraph:
Ultimately, generalizations on the “overall” impacts of the $15 MWP will depend in large part on the importance of - or weight given to - worker incomes vis -à- vis firm - level profits. With such caveats in mind, our estimates suggest that most workers’ incomes will be improved significantly, firm profits will fall slightly, and job loss will be relatively small. [Emphasis added.]
And from its first:
Using our microsimulation model with city - level restricted tax data and publicly available government data, we predict that over 60,000 District residents will be impacted by this policy; residents will observe an average increase of about 20% in wage income, while about 3.4% of District resident workers will experience job loss. We also find that the city’s affected EITC recipients will lose a total of $16.4 million in federal and local EITC payments in 2021 while gaining $56.6 million in additional wages by way of the $15 minimum wage. [Emphasis added.]
And yet, this is what we get from the braintrust:
“This study proves what we've known all along,” says Jeremy Adler, communications director for conservative policy group America Rising Squared — that minimum-wage hikes “will hurt the most vulnerable in the District, costing them jobs and important economic opportunities.”
The folks at America Rising Squared (and their fellow travelers at the Trib) report nothing but bad news.  But where's the part about how the "average increase of about 20% in wage income"?  The $56.6 million in additional wages?

Silence about all that stuff.  Gee, I wonder why.

America Rising Squared.

Who're they?

From The BridgeProject:
America Rising is a for-profit group which is the unofficial research arm of the Republican Party.
But hey, don't take the Bridge Project's word on it.  Follow that link.  It heads to the Wall Street Journal.  Even if you don't have a subscription to the WSJ, the words "unofficial research arm of the Republican party" can be clearly seen in the second paragraph.

But hey (again), what if the Journal were criticizing America Rising?  Hey, maybe America Rising doesn't want to be called the "unofficial research arm of the Republican party" howbow dah? Well, the good folks at America Rising actually excerpted the Journal's piece on them at their website - so I am guessing they agree with the description.

Well, how about that, huh?

So here's my question: why didn't the Trib braintrust describe America Rising with the words "unofficial research arm of the Republican party" and why did they fail to discuss the many benefits actually outlined in that new study they're using to bash any rise in the minimum wage?

Because, my friends, they are hiding the truth from you.


April 18, 2017

My TENTH Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey

I'll be dropping this letter to Senator Pat Toomey in the mail today:
Dear Senator Toomey:

It's me, again. Your constituent who also writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

As you may know, this past week thousands of American citizens (including many here in Pittsburgh) took to the streets and demanded that Donald Trump do what presidents have done for 40 years - release his tax returns to the public.

During the campaign he said he'd absolutely release them, then he said he'd release them once his audit is complete (even though there's no legal obligation to withhold them while under audit) and then after the election he said that no one cares about seeing his taxes, anyway.

Do I need to point out the petition currently at with a million signatures on it from citizens who absolutely do care about seeing his tax returns?

The reason the American people are entitled to see any sitting president's tax returns is simple: we have a right to know if decisions are being made for the good of the American people or simply for the good of that president's finances. One of the best ways to know that is to know see that president's financial details.

If it was good enough for Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, it should be good enough for Donald J. Trump, don't you agree?

That's this week's question.

I await your response.
And I will be posting whatever response I get from him or his office.


April 17, 2017

April 17 - Thorton Wilder's Birthday

In the Age Of Trump, I thought it might be a good idea to remind, gently, of some of the more beautiful things America created pre-Trump.

For example, today is Thorton Wilder's birthday.  He's famous for writing, among a few other things of course, the play Our Town.  For me this triggered this memory:

Something to ponder while pondering the pussy-grabber now sitting (with help from Russian Intelligence) in the Oval Office.

April 14, 2017

When Can We Show Donald Trump The Door?

From the Guardian in the UK:
Britain’s spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told.

GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added.

Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians, sources said.
In late 2015.  That was before Paul Manafort joined the Trump Campaign in late March, 2016.  That was before Carter Page was announced as part of Trump's foreign policy team (also March, 2016).

Before we go any further, the Guardian has this to say to our conspiracy-minded Trump defenders out there:
It is understood that GCHQ was at no point carrying out a targeted operation against Trump or his team or proactively seeking information. The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets. Over several months, different agencies targeting the same people began to see a pattern of connections that were flagged to intelligence officials in the US.
They were tracking Russian intelligence assets and then noticed that those Russian intelligence assets were talking to some Trump people.

Back to our story - Both Page and Manafort have been tied to various Russian intrigues in recent months.  So if it wasn't Page or Manafort, who in the Trump campaign was talking to elements of Russian Intelligence in late 2015? When were they talking? And what were they talking about?

How high up the campaign does the treason go?

April 13, 2017

White House Staff Discovers Best Method to Communicate with Boss

According to several sources, West Wing staffers have found a new best way to get the President's attention and impart information to him. Previously, if a top level staffer needed to inform the President of something important, they'd book an appearance on Fox News -- knowing he'd very likely see it and believe if it was mentioned there. Another method used would be to try to get Alex Jones to say it on his Infowars program. Lastly, they'd jockey to be the last person in the room to speak to him, hoping that their words would survive his general lack of interest and astonishingly small attention span. 

But now they are going for a much more direct method -- through his stomach -- after it was revealed in a Fox Business interview that while the President may not remember which country he bombed, he sure as hell remembers that bomb chocolate cake.

The following are some recent "memos' to the President:

While the First Lady and First Lady Daughter may object to the added pounds, White House staff realize that the fate of the world may depend on a bit of flour, sugar, cocoa, and eggs.

Yep, Warmer. Look WAAY Up North.

We'll start with a graph from the National Snow and Ice Data Center:

See the blue line?  That's this year.  The dotted green?  That's 5 years ago.

And from the journal Science (from the good folks at the American Association for the Advancement of Science) we can read a possible explanation:
A new enemy is undermining ice floating on the Arctic Ocean: heat from below.

Sensors that have plumbed the depths of Arctic seas since 2002 have found warm currents creeping up from the Atlantic Ocean and helping drive the dramatic retreat of sea ice there over the last decade. A new study shows this “Atlantification” of the Arctic Ocean as a new, powerful driver of melting, alongside losses due to rising air temperatures.
The journal Science, by the way, is peer-reviewed and one of the oldest and most prestigious science journals on the planet. It's also the journal that Representative Lamar Smith, chair of the House Committee on Science, called "not objective."

And Donald Trump thinks it's a Chinese hoax designed to undermine American productivity.

So I suppose it's the Chinese who're pumping all that warm water into the Arctic?

April 12, 2017

Can We Do That Thought-Experiment Again? PLEASE?

Take a look at this, from the Washington Post:
The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.

The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.

This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.
Of course Page calls it "unjustified, politically motivated government surveillance."

But let's take a look at the FISA Court anyway, shall we?  What does it take to get a FISA Court to OK some surveillance?

From CNN:
The FISA Court's larger mission is to decide whether to grant certain types of government requests-- wiretapping, data analysis, and other monitoring for "foreign intelligence purposes" of suspected terrorists and spies operating in the United States.

The once-secret approval of collecting bits and pieces of information from electronic communications -- called metadata -- comes quarterly from judges at the court. To collect the information, the government has to demonstrate to a judge that it is "relevant" to an international terrorism investigation.
And who's on this court?  Again, CNN:
The court is made up of 11 judges who sit for seven-year terms. All are federal district judges who agree to take on the additional duties on a rotating basis. They are appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts, without any supplemental confirmation from the other two branches of government. Roberts has named every member of the current court, as well as a separate three-judge panel to hear appeals known as the Court of Review.
So ALL the judges are Roberts approved.

Back to the Washington Post:
The judges who rule on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests oversee the nation’s most sensitive national security cases, and their warrants are some of the most closely guarded secrets in the world of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence gathering. Any FISA application has to be approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department and the FBI.

Applications for FISA warrants, [FBI Director James] Comey said, are often thicker than his wrists, and that thickness represents all the work Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents have to do to convince a judge that such surveillance is appropriate in an investigation.
I hardly think a "politically motivated" and "unjustified" FISA warrant application from the Obama DOJ is going to make it past all those levels of guv'ment bureaucracy - especially not all those FISA judges appointed by the conservative Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts.

And now onto that thought experiment: Imagine if she won the electoral college and someone (anyone) attached to the Clinton campaign was under similar surveillance.  Imagine the calls for impeachment that would have inevitably risen up out of the otherwise freedom loving conservatives on the right side of our nation's political discourse.  Where there's silence from the right now, there would have been riots and burning effigies.

Forget the damned emails, this is treason!

But that's a different timeline, a different reality.  And in this reality, different rules obviously apply.

April 11, 2017

My NINTH Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey (UPDATE)

I'll be dropping this letter to Senator Pat Toomey in the mail today:
Dear Senator Toomey:

It's me, again. Your constituent who also writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

It goes without saying that Syria's recent chemical attack was an atrocity - as much an atrocity as Syria's chemical attack in 2013. A response is necessary, though I should point out that Congress refused to approve a military response in 2013 when asked by the Obama Administration.

That being said, I'd like to ask you about the recent cruise missile attack on the Shayrat Airbase in Syria.

The Pentagon announced that, "Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line. U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield." Reportedly, the Russians were then able to inform the Syrians of the attack. The runways themselves were not damaged and within a day or so, the base was operational again.We're talking limited damage here.

All this was done before the American people were informed. Let me simplify: Syria's ally Russia (and supposedly, Syria) knew of the attack before the American people knew.

Doesn't this bother you at all?

I await your response.
And I will be posting whatever response I get from him or his office.

UPDATE: Senator Toomey has responded to this letter.


April 9, 2017

Senator Toomey Has Responded To A Letter Of Mine

This one, I think.

And I say "I think" only because in the letter (see below for the text), the Senator is giving a response about Trump's Executive Orders regarding immigration and the first letter I sent him is the only one that even mentions immigration.

I'll let you be the judge as to whether Senator Pat Toomey is answering any of my questions.

First let me offer up some background. In unlikely event you hadn't already heard, there's been an ongoing protest against Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey's seeming reluctance to meet with his constituents

There's a Facebook page.

And a Twitter page.

As the group's name implies, every Tuesday a group of people can be expected to protest outside of each of his offices statewide.

I thought it such a good idea, I started my own "Tuesdays with Toomey" project at this blog - hence my open letters to Pennsylvania's Junior Senator (and one of my two Senatorial representatives in the US Congress) Pat Toomey.

I've sent Senator Toomey eight letters so far and this is the first response I've received.

Here's what I wrote two months ago:
Recently on "Face The Nation" Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller had this exchange with host John Dickerson.  When asked whether the administration had "learned anything" from their experience with the immigration executive order, he replied:
Well, I think that it’s been an important reminder to all Americans that we have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become in many case a supreme branch of government. One unelected judge in Seattle cannot remake laws for the entire country. I mean this is just crazy, John, the idea that you have a judge in Seattle say that a foreign national living in Libya has an effective right to enter the United States is -- is -- is beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.

The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned. [Emphasis added.]
Senator, do you think he's correct?  Given the fact that our Constitution defines three equal branches of government does the president have unquestionable power when it comes to national defense?

Or do you believe that there is judicial and legislative oversight that serves as a check and balance to the president's authority, whatever it is?
And this is how Senator Toomey responded with the letter is dated March 30, 2017 (Full text at the bottom of this post):

So, let's take a closer look at what he does say, shall we?

You'll notice in my blog post that I wasn't actually asking about Trump's executive order. Rather, I was asking whether, in our Constitutionally described checks-and-balances system of government, Toomey agreed with Trump advisor Steven Miller when the latter said that Trump's power to defend the nation "will not be questioned." The immigration angle was tangential. There's an old saying in Washington: Never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you. And I suppose that's what Toomey's doing here - he doesn't want to address the issue I raised so he'll simply ignore it and talk about  something else.

In any event, Toomey's talking about Executive Order 13780 - which he says lays out a "sensible rationale" for banning the entry of individuals to the U.S. from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. He says that the executive order does not set forth a religious test which is interesting, since the letter is dated about two weeks after a Federal Judge in Hawaii ruled:
The Court turns to whether Plaintiffs sufficiently establish a likelihood of success on the merits of their Count I claim that the Executive Order violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Because a reasonable, objective observer—enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance—would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion, in spite of its stated, religiously-neutral purpose, the Court finds that Plaintiffs, and Dr. Elshikh in particular, are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim.
Which is to say, of course, that it is a Muslim ban. It does set forth a religious test. It's interesting that Senator Toomey doesn't even mention the ruling in Hawaii - even if only to disagree with it. Indeed, reading his letter one is not sure whether the Senator even knows that the implementation of the executive order has even been banned nationwide. He writes:
While I am still reviewing the details of the revised executive order and will closely monitor its implementation, it appears to lay out a more detailed, coordinated and clearer set of rules that will hopefully yield less confusion about who can and cannot enter the country.
So if you didn't already know that the executive order has been blocked by a Federal Judge you wouldn't know it from Toomey's letter to one of his constituents.

Why not?

Isn't that troubling? Isn't it troubling that a U.S. Senator (who's avoiding town hall meetings with his constituents) will avoid a question posed to him about the integrity of our constitutional republic and in its place offer an answer that's a misleading picture of our political reality.

I just wonder what Toomey's next letter to me will say.

Full text of Toomey's letter below:
Dear David,

Thank you for contacting me about President Trump's executive order concerning entry of certain foreign nationals to the U.S. I appreciate hearing from you.

On March 16, 2017, President Trump rescinded a prior immigration executive order and issued a revised one concerning the entry of certain foreign nationals from six countries into the U.S. The President laid out a sensible rationale for covering each nation, explain how these states fail to provide the information we need to vet their residents for terror ties. President Trump's executive order does not set forth a religious test. It sets forth a national security test to protect the American people.

The executive order also specifies that any nation can remove itself from the list by sharing information on terrorists with the United States. In this way, the new executive order is similar to the American SAFE act, which I and a bipartisan majority of the House and Senate supported last Congress. Furthermore, I was pleased to see that President Trump took into account concerns I raised that the previous order did not strike the right balance between defending our people against the deadly threat of international terrorism and providing a safe haven for innocent refugees seeking peace and freedom. For instance, the new order wisely clarifies that green card holders and those who were granted visas for assisting our military will be able to enter the U.S.

While I am still reviewing the details of the revised executive order and will closely monitor its implementation, it appears to lay out a more detailed, coordinated and clearer set of rules that will hopefully yield less confusion about who can and cannot enter the country.

Thank you again for your correspondence. I value knowing your input on this important issue. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.


Pat Toomey
U.S. Senator

April 7, 2017

A Trump Contradiction?

This happened yesterday:
Q Can I follow up, sir? Last year, you seemed to be reluctant to get involved -- or to intervene in Syria directly. Is that one thing that’s changed after yesterday?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, one of the things I think you’ve noticed about me is, militarily, I don’t like to say where I’m going and what I doing. And I watched past administrations say, we will attack at such and such a day at such and such an hour. And you, being a warrior -- you would say, why are they saying that? And I’m sure you sat back in Jordan, and you said, why are they saying that?

I watched Mosul, where the past administration was saying, we will be attacking in four months. And I said, why are they doing that? Then a month goes by, and they say, we will be attacking in three months, and then two months, and then we will be attacking next week. And I’m saying, why are they doing that? And as you know, Mosul turned out to be a much harder fight than anyone thought, and a lot of people have been lost in that fight.

I’m not saying I’m doing anything one way or the other, but I’m certainly not going to be telling you, as much as I respect you, John. Thank you.
Ah, yes.  But look at this:
The U.S.’ unilateral strike against the Assad regime will undoubtedly spark tension with Russia. Moscow has supported Syria both politically and militarily for years and launched an air campaign to support Assad in September 2015.

The U.S. did not coordinate with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Tillerson said. According to Davis, the Pentagon spokesman, Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using an established “deconfliction line.” The U.S. took precautions to “minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield,” he said. Davis did not indicate whether the strike resulted in any casualties.
Now, imagine if Clinton won, if Clinton had all those business/personal/whatever connections to the Russians, if Clinton launched a Tomahawk attack on Syria (a Russian ally) and then just before the attack, let them know it was coming.  What would the reaction be on the right?

What is it now?

April 6, 2017

We DO Have A Right To Know (Mike Pence and Susan Rice)

From The Hill, yesterday:
Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that Americans “have a right to know” details about allegations that President Obama's National Security Adviser Susan Rice asked for the identity of Trump transition team members to be unmasked in intelligence reports.

“Well I think the American people have a right to know what was going on. And we have every confidence that intelligence committees in the House and the Senate will get to the bottom of all of these allegations,” Pence told Fox News.
This is absolutely true.

We DO have a right to know what's going on.

But before we get to the details, we have to look at what Susan Rice actually did.

From ABC:
Unmasking is a term used by the intelligence community to describe the process of unveiling the identity of a U.S. person who appears in a classified foreign intelligence report. The law requires that identities of U.S. persons picked up or mentioned during the course of foreign surveillance be masked; that is, that they be shielded from people reading the reports.

However, there are 20 high-ranking officials within the U.S. government who have to power to approve requests to reveal those identities if they deem that information is necessary to understanding the value of the intelligence. That process is called "unmasking," and Rice had the authority to do so while serving as national security adviser.

When a name is unmasked it is only provided to the official who requested it, and therefore unmasking is not equivalent to leaking the name.
Former NSA-guy John Schindler explains more:
Every day, the National Security Agency intercepts lots of calls between foreigners in which Americans are discussed. If they’re important Americans—top politicians, for instance—that intercept may have intelligence value. If it doesn’t, the intercept is deleted and forgotten.

More rarely, the NSA intercepts phone calls in which one of the interlocutors is an American. As long as this operation has been approved per the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—meaning a top-secret Federal court has issued a warrant for this collection—this is perfectly legal SIGINT. Here, too, an intelligence report will be issued in top-secret channels if the NSA determines there’s foreign intelligence value here and somebody, usually the FBI, needs to know what the intercept reveals.
When the NSA receives a request to “unmask” that American’s identity, to use the proper spy-term, the Agency office which issued the report is asked if they’re ok with the unmasking. The request then goes up a chain, potentially as high as the NSA director, for final approval.
So let's see what we have, the NSA (with FISA court approval) was surveilling a person or persons deemed to have foreign intelligence value (i.e. a "spy" or "spies") and discovered they were talking to some American citizens who just happened to be working on the Trump Campaign.  A report was filed that made its way to Susan Rice - with the identities of those Americans "masked" so she couldn't see them.  She had the authority to request those identities and she did so.  The NSA apparently approved and she found out the names.

The NSA could have said no.

As Schindler later tweeted:
So damn straight, the American People have a right to know:
  • Who in the Trump Campaign was talking to people under NSA (and FISA-approved) surveillance?
  • How many times did they talk?
  • What did they talk about?
  • Who in the Trump Campaign knew about these communications and for how long?
No Donald, Susan Rice didn't commit a crime.  She was doing her job.  But we do have a right to know whether you or anyone else in your campaign committed treason.

April 5, 2017

Senator Pat Toomey's Next Voter "Outreach" (UPDATED)

At about 5pm Wednesday afternoon Senator Pat Toomey posted this on his Facebook page:

UPDATE: Here's a screen capture of Senator Toomey's Facebook announcement:

So let's see if I get this right.  With 24 hours notice, Senator Toomey has scheduled a "Tele-Town Hall" to begin right at the beginning of the evening commute - coincidentally when most of the Pennsylvania's working people will just happen to be offline.


The Senate, Neil Gorsuch, and GOP Hypocrisy

From her speech on the Senate floor, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said:
Mr. President, it is clear that President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, does not have enough support in the Senate to be confirmed under our rules. When a Supreme Court nominee does not have enough support to be confirmed, the solution is to pick a new nominee. But Republicans in the Senate are threatening to pursue a different path - they are considering breaking the Senate rules to force this nominee onto the Supreme Court anyway.

I’ll be honest - I think it’s crazy that we are considering confirming a lifetime Trump nominee to the Supreme Court at a moment when the President’s campaign is under the cloud of an active, ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigation that could result in indictments and appeals that will go all the way to the Supreme Court-so that Trump’s nominee could be the deciding vote on whether Trump or his supporters broke the law and will be held accountable. That is nuts, and I believe we should tap the brakes on any nominee until this investigation is concluded.
Only a short time ago when a different president nominated a different judge to the Supreme Court, the GOP senators were quite reluctant to fulfill their constitutional duties to "advise and consent" for one simple reason: they didn't like where they were in the calendar.

(Actually, that was just an excuse: they'd already agreed 8 or so years before not to allow that president any political successes.)

Now, we have a president who's presidential campaign is under some serious scrutiny:
With just two sentences on Monday, FBI Director James Comey cast a long, dark shadow over the presidency of Donald Trump and the campaign that resulted in his election.

“I’ve been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” Comey said in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. “That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
Then the GOP balked over the calendar.  Now they're perfectly fine with possible treason (as long as it's one of their own).  If you think that's silly just switch the parties.  Imagine if Clinton had won and then within a few months was under FBI investigation and then nominated someone for the Supreme Court.  What would Mitch McConnell be doing then?

See how that goes?

Finally, from Josh Marshall:
As Rep. Adam Schiff put it yesterday on Twitter, Mitch McConnell's historically unprecedented and constitutionally illegitimate decision to block President Obama from nominating anyone a year before he left office was the real nuclear option. The rest is simply fallout. Senate Republicans had the power to do this. But that doesn't make it legitimate. The seat was stolen. Therefore Gorsuch's nomination is itself illegitimate since it is the fruit of the poisoned tree.

Democrats likely have no power to finally prevent this corrupt transaction. It is nonetheless important that they not partake in the corruption. Treating this as a normal nomination would do just that.
But it'll probably happen anyway.  They always get their way.

April 4, 2017

My EIGHTH Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey

I'll be dropping this letter to Senator Pat Toomey in the mail today:
Dear Senator Toomey:

It's me, again. Your constituent who also writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

You'll note that this is my eighth such letter to you. So far I've received nothing in response. Is there a reason you're not responding to a motivated constituent? Is it because I disagree with you?

We touched on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch last week so I won't belabor the point. However, I've read at that you're in favor of doing away with the Senate filibuster in order to confirm Judge Gorsuch. Again, isn't that a tad hypocritical since only a few months ago you weren't even in favor of giving Merrick Garland the courtesy of a Senate vote?

But let's talk privacy. You voted in favor of S.J. Res.34. That's the bill that would have banned ISPs from selling our personal internet browsing information. Are you aware of the poll data that shows that very few people (it's only 6% according to the poll) actually favor that bill? I think it's safe to assume that very few of your voters support the bill as well.

Why would you vote in favor of something so overwhelmingly opposed by your own voters?

I await your response.
And I will be posting whatever response I get from him or his office.


April 3, 2017

The "I-" Word

Almost 3 years ago, in what's increasingly looking like a different country, Donald J Trump tweeted this:
Of course, Donald is (as far a I can see) incorrect.  As The Heritage Foundation points out, the standard is not simply "gross incompetence" but:
Impeachment is the constitutionally specified means by which an official of the executive or judicial branch may be removed from office for misconduct. There has been considerable controversy about what constitutes an impeachable offense. At the Constitutional Convention, the delegates early on voted for "mal-practice and neglect of duty" as grounds for impeachment, but the Committee of Detail narrowed the basis to treason, bribery, and corruption, then deleting the last point. George Mason, who wanted the grounds much broader and similar to the earlier formulation, suggested "maladministration," but James Madison pointed out that this would destroy the President's independence and make him dependent on the Senate. Mason then suggested "high Crimes and Misdemeanors," which the Convention accepted.
In The Federalist No. 64, John Jay argued that the threat of impeachment would encourage executive officers to perform their duties with honor, and, used as a last resort, impeachment itself would be effective to remove those who betray the interests of their country. Like the limitations on the offense of treason, the Framers placed particular grounds of impeachment in the Constitution because they wished to prevent impeachment from becoming a politicized offense, as it had been in England.
High crimes and misdemeanors to remove those who betray the interests of their country.

Looks like there's some quiet rumblings beginning to be heard on this front:
The Massachusetts city of Cambridge will be weighing in Monday on whether the city should call for an impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump.

If the resolution passes, Cambridge would become the first city in Massachusetts and the fifth in the nation to call for Trump’s removal. Town and city councils have no actual legal authority to call for an impeachment, but they can send a powerful message.

The proposed order calls on the U.S. House to back a resolution directing the Judiciary Committee to investigate whether there are grounds to impeach Trump.
Largely symbolic with no legal authority and so far only a half dozen city councils across the country.  So we're not talking a large movement here.

Or are we?

Take a look at this poll data from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling:
PPP's new national poll finds that Donald Trump's popularity as President has declined precipitously just over the last two weeks. On our first poll of his Presidency voters were evenly divided on Trump, with 44% approving of him and 44% also disapproving. Now his approval rating is 43%, while his disapproval has gone all the way up to 53%. If voters could choose they'd rather have both Barack Obama (52/44) or Hillary Clinton (49/45) instead of Trump.

Just three weeks into his administration, voters are already evenly divided on the issue of impeaching Trump with 46% in favor and 46% opposed. Support for impeaching Trump has crept up from 35% 2 weeks ago, to 40% last week, to its 46% standing this week.
Look at the date, it's from about 2 months ago.  Do you really think Trump's approval rating has gone up since then?

As his Russian connections are unearthed, do you think the number of city councils and percentage of voters calling for his impeachment will go up or down?

Happy Monday.

April 1, 2017

No, This ISN'T An April Fool's Joke.

This is from the White House website:

President Donald J. Trump Proclaims April 2017 as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month

So in his honor:
I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful... I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything.


Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.
That was Donald J. Trump, in 2005.

Then there's Natasha Stoynoff's account of being assaulted by Donald J. Trump later that year.

Then there's Jessica Leeds and Rachel Crooks.  Each having their own account of being assaulted by Donald J. Trump - the first in the early 80s and the second, again, in 2005.

Then there's Donald J. Trump's behavior when he owned a beauty pageant:
Well, I'll tell you the funniest is that before a show, I'll go backstage and everyone's getting dressed, and everything else, and you know, no men are anywhere, and I'm allowed to go in because I'm the owner of the pageant and therefore I'm inspecting it, You know, I'm inspecting because I want to make sure that everything is good.

You know, the dresses. 'Is everyone okay?' You know, they're standing there with no clothes. 'Is everybody okay?' And you see these incredible looking women, and so, I sort of get away with things like that.
He gets away with things like that.