Category: politics

Republican government

I’ve seen comments that Betsy DeVos (married into the Amway pyramid scheme) is unqualified to be Sec. of Education. This is Republican government–Republicans want to destroy much of the Federal government. They were circumspect about in the past, but the Republican party has become more extreme, gotten more power, and feels less need to mask their objective. When a Republican is elected, the Sec. of Education is tasked with destroying public schools and funneling government support to private Christian schools. This has the dual goals of destroying teacher unions (to cut teacher pay) and funneling public money to for profit school corporations. And recall, the Religious Right, modern white political Christianity, was created in the fight over government subsidies for private whites-only Christians schools started to circumvent desegregation.

A Republican Sec. of the Interior is tasked with giving public lands to mining and lumber companies. A Republican Dept. of Justice shuts down enforcement of Civil Rights laws, anti-trust enforcement, and lets companies cheat their customers. A Republican Labor department is tasked with reducing worker safety and enforcement of honest pay laws. A Republican EPA Administrator is tasked with not enforcing (and eliminating where possible) clean water and clean air laws. The head of the Energy Dept. doles out subsidies to the oil and coal industry, and he works with Interior to give these companies protected Federal lands and works with the EPA to to legalize the industry’s pollution.

Cashing in on the Presidency

A note on Donald Trump. When he takes office tomorrow, he will be in violation of a Constitutional ban on receiving money from foreign interests, “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Trump still owns his company, and it takes in payments from foreigners in many ways. Since being elected, he has used his status as President-elect multiple times to meet with foreign officials and press them for help with his company’s business deals. Trump will also be in violation of the Constitution in another way. Trump properties in the US receive favorable tax treatment (tax abatements and rebates), these are a common part of real estate deals. The President is banned from receiving payments from the States under the Constitution. Trump has refused to sell his business, and plans to use the Presidency to increase his wealth. This is plain corruption, using the office of the Presidency for illegitimate private gain.

A don’t expect that conservatives will complain about Trump’s violation of the Constitution. Many conservatives have taken to calling themselves ‘Constitutional Conservatives’, but they will not utter a peep about Trump’s violation of these Constitutional anti-corruption measures. ‘Constitutional Conservative’ was always a proud name for shabby blanket opposition to President Obama. It was always about partisanship for them, not law or the Constitution. Trump’s self dealing will not attract the attention of the Republican majority Congress, they will do little or no investigation, nor demand Trump follow the rules laid out in the Constitution. Republicans will retreat to the President Nixon’s “If the President does it, it’s not illegal” excuse.

Trump meme #1

Meme: Trump learned discipline, respect, and hard work because his father sent him to a military academy.

Trump was such an insufferable a**hole, he failed out of his comfy private school and his dad sent him to a private military school. Because of this, Trump says “I always felt that I was in the military” and that he had “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”. Trump actually avoided service in Vietnam using 4 education deferments and then a Y-1 medical deferment for “heel spurs”. In college, Trump played football, tennis and squash. Trump has never held a job or done an honest day’s work in his life.

Notes on the present

State of the federal budget:
US fed deficit over the last few years

Annotated with more detail:
US fed budget changes

This is the steepest set of budget cuts since the US came out of WWII.

Is this typical for the US economy coming out of a deep, deep recession. No, unprecedented:

US fed spending post recession

A sharp reduction in spending like this is slowing the recovery. If the US followed the usual course (+15% federal spending, i.e. more stimulus), an extra 2-3 million people would have jobs, and that positive feedback would be pushing the US into a full recovery.

The budget currently on the table in Washington, rejected by the GOP:
2014 US Fed budget, Senate CR

Deficit reduction since 2011:
cuts since 2011

More charts covering the federal budget, deficit, health care spending, and related matters.

Documenting the voting restriction effort

Boulder County DA Stan Garnett clears all 17 suspected illegal voters

Last month, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler gave Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett a list of 17 names, all suspected of voting in the November election despite being non-citizens.

Those names were among 155 people identified statewide as possible illegal voters.

But an investigation by Garnett’s office found that all 17 people were citizens and were able to easily verify their status, the district attorney said Wednesday.

Related: Common Cause page on Voter Supression and Secretary Scott Gessler

How is the US economy doing?

GDP: the US is doing better than Europe or Japan:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2012/11/long-slump

GDP, US vs the rest of the West

Unemployment: the US doing much better than Europe:

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/transatlantic-divergence/

Unemployment, US vs Europe

Different economic policies, different outcomes. Europe and Britain have run austerity programs, cutting spending while the US increased spending and cut taxes.

Not unexpected, given what happened during the Great Depression, with the US economy quickly improving as New Deal spending programs kicked in, then falling back into recession after federal spending was cut in 1937 when the economy was still weak:

http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2009020603/fdr-failed-myth

Obama has done better than any other world leader during the financial crisis and the recession it caused. Not that he’s done super–unemployment is still at 8%. An extra $500 billion of Fed spending until the unemployment rate drops below 6% would be a much better policy than the current US policy to cut spending.

How many liberal newspapers are left?

Saw in the news that the Seattle Times endorsed for Congress a Repub with ties to the militia/patriot movement–violent right wing nuts. I liberal Seattle has a hard right newspaper, how many cities have a Dem leaning paper left? I realize that Seattle has a big Defense industry economy, but that was my question.

newspaper political measure
from Gentzkow and Shapiro, 2010

I found this graph listing newspapers and giving them a score. I don’t follow enough papers to have a feel for how good a measure this is. I would place the Washington Post on the conservative side of the line, the NYT in the middle (painfully in the middle). Which doesn’t leave many liberal (or even Democratic) big city newspapers–the LA Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Denver Post, San Francisco Chronicle. I don’t know enough about the Atlanta Constitution, Boston Globe, or Philedelphia Inquirer to have a feel for their content.

The creepy imagery of Beck’s book

Shakepeare’s Sister posted on the very cover of The Overton Window, a thriller by Glenn Beck. I haven’t read it, but the plot is described as weak Randianism dumped in a Mixmaster with a thrillerish suppression of conservatives by the establishment and counterrevolution story.

Cover of The Overton Window

He points out the the Statue of Liberty has been turned into a man. But it gets odder than that!

Statue of Liberty

The other really strange thing is the viewpoint. It’s the back of the statue. And it’s been turned to face Manhattan. Why? I did a search of pictures of the Statue of Liberty and none of the first hundred were a back view. All showed the face, either full on or from the side to include Manhattan. I don’t know what to make of it, but it creeps me out!

The missing city of Marjeh

This is odd and sort of funny. And a little old. In Afghanistan, the US military has been conducting an offensive in Helmand Province. Apparently the propaganda push got a head of the facts. The official accounts had the US battling to clear the Taliban out of the Marjeh, a moderate size city of 80,000 to 125,000 people.

I ran across articles saying that the city didn’t exist. BAGnewsNotes had a picture of an isolated farm in Marjah, ostensibly showing that the place wasn’t a city.
farm in Marjah, Afghanistan

BAGnewsNotes linked to a story on the truthout.com site. But this article didn’t have any pictures at all. Now this a story that really needs a picture, and there are easy sources, Google Maps for one. Here’s the farming village of Marjeh (or Marjah, or Marja, the name can be written different ways in english):

Marjeh, Arghanistan

Just a collection of farms, no city at all.

Marjeh, Arghanistan

Marjeh, Arghanistan

Zooming out further shows that it is the biggest town in the area, so it makes sense that news of a big military operation in the area would talk about it happening in Marjeh, but it’s certainly no city.

There’s nothing to intelligent design creationism

flagellum electron micrograph
Composite electron micrograph of the flagellum basal body and hook, produced by rotational averaging (Francis et al., 1994).

Stephen M. Barr has an article in First Things, The End of Intelligent Design?. Unfortunately, Barr is looking to rescue something from intelligent design (ID) so his criticisms are muted. His main interest is whether ID has been useful in advancing religion and theology. In a faux even-handed approach he criticizes ID for not proving it’s claims but then tosses in criticism of scientists for unspecified excesses. He also tries to win favor with a religious audience by claiming that “the ID movement has been treated atrociously and that it has been lied about by many scientists”, a judgment he doesn’t substantiate.

The readership of First Things is a strange group, many of the comments go off in philosophical directions but no one is talks about the central issue–whether ID is true or false. Is there good evidence for it? Is it likely to be true? Could it be true? Or is it known to be false?

Barr’s article starts well, it is true that there’s “not a single phenomenon that we understand better today” through ID. To restate that, there is no evidence at all for ID and that is the reason ID has been dismissed by biologists.

When the idea that certain biological structures are “irreducibly complex” was proposed several examples were given: the bacterial flagellum, the immune system, the blood clotting cascade, the vertebrate eye, the Krebs cycle, etc. In fact, biologists have evolutionary models and physical evidence of how each of these things has evolved. No “irreducibly complex” structures were proposed and then proven to be so. In truth, none of the proposed examples are even open questions, things that puzzle biologists that could possibly be shown to be “irreducibly complex” in the future.

And the case for ID is really worse that what I’ve described. It’s not that ID theorists proposed structures that biologists didn’t have good evolutionary models for, structures that could have turned out to be “irreducibly complex”. When these examples were given, there was already published research explaining the evolutionary origins of each example. For example, biologists reviewing Behe’s book were able to look up and reference the research discounting his examples. No better “irreducibly complex” examples have come to light since then.