March 23rd, 2017

Will there be a vote tonight on health care reform?

I’m not even going to bother to put up any links because the situation is so fluid and changing that nothing anyone says is worth much in terms of prognostication.

Will the House vote this evening on repeal/replace? That’s the question, and the answer (drum roll, please) is: maybe. Right now the vote is scheduled to take place, as far as I can tell.

But my guess is that it will be postponed, because they don’t have the votes right now to pass it. I also don’t really see what the big all-fired rush is.

That’s my opinion. What’s yours?

March 23rd, 2017

Shorter Dana Milbank…

on Gorsuch: he’s too retro and sort of folksy.

What sort of idiocy is this column by Milbank in the WaPo? It sounds like junior high school gossip:

No fewer than eight times [Gorsuch] punctuated his testimony with “Leave It to Beaver” exclamations of “goodness” — “goodness, no!” “oh, my goodness!” — and, though only 49 years old, spoke in archaic phrases: “since I was a tot,” “a fair and square deal,” “doesn’t give a whit.”

Perhaps Milbank would prefer it if Gorsuch had said “doesn’t give a shit”? Would that have been modern and edgy enough?

March 23rd, 2017

At the scene of yesterday’s terrorist attack in London [with UPDATE]

[See UPDATE below.]

I had never seen this statue before. But I noticed it in a photo taken at the site of the terrorist attack yesterday:

Churchill’s expression is apropos, I think. I doubt he’d be the least bit pleased with the way the Western world has been behaving lately. Here’s a better photo of the statue:

The perpetrator of the attack has yet to be identified by name, but the latest report is that he was British (does that mean British-born?) and a known wolf who had fallen off the surveillance radar.

UPDATE 1:45 PM:

The perpetrator has now been identified as Khalid Masood, a 52-year old British-born Muslim and career criminal:

Masood, who was born in Kent and had been living in the West Midlands region of central England, had previous convictions for violence but not for terrorism offenses, police said. His most recent conviction was in 2003 for possession of a knife.

But he was not the subject of any recent investigations and there was no intelligence about his intent to mount an attack, the Metropolitan Police said. May said he was not part of the “current intelligence picture.”

One of the victim’s of Masood’s attack was an American from Utah named Kurt Cochran:

US citizen Kurt Cochran was in London celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary with his wife Melissa, who suffered a broken leg, broken rib and cut to her head, her brother Clint Payne posted to social media.

Wrong place, wrong time. RIP.

More:

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson led the UN Security Council in a moment of silence Thursday for the victims of terror in London and elsewhere.

“There are victims in London from 11 nations, which goes to show that an attack on London is an attack on the world,” he said. “And I can tell you from my talks here in the United States, with the US government and with partners from around the world, that the world is united to defeat the people who launched this attack, and to defeat their bankrupt and odious ideology.”

That “bankrupt and odious ideology” that many people (including our former president) say Must Not Be Named. What is it? “Terrorism”? Is that an ideology? Or is it radical Islamic terrorism?

However, Theresa May managed to name it:

Since 2013, police, security and intelligence agencies have successfully disrupted 13 separate terrorist plots in Britain, [May] said. “We know the threat from Islamist terrorism is very real. But while the public should remain utterly vigilant they should not — and will not — be cowed by this threat.”

March 22nd, 2017

Makeovers: sometimes color isn’t best

Two makeovers that preserve silver hair:

March 22nd, 2017

Let’s make a deal: health care reform

So, who’s bluffing? Will conservatives (and even some moderates who oppose the bill) prove correct when they say they have enough votes to block the current version of GOP health care reform on Thursday? Or will Trump be able to use his famous deal-making skills to rally the troops for the bill’s passage?

If I had to bet, it would be on the former rather than the latter. Which is fine with me. This bill needs to change:

Critics of the measure, mainly conservatives who say the bill doesn’t go far enough to gut Obamacare and slash premiums for their constituents, insist they have more than enough support to kill the measure. Already, 27 members of the Freedom Caucus are firmly or leaning against the plan, known as the American Health Care Act.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), one of those conservatives, told Breitbart Radio that he had “personally spoken to 29 colleagues, conservative colleagues” who continued to oppose the GOP health plan late Tuesday. That doesn’t count the half-dozen other Republicans who have publicly signaled their opposition.

“We think the negotiation starts when one party says no. That’s why we’re going to say no,” he said. “This is worse than Obamacare and we’re going to own it. We’re going to own it lock, stock and barrel.”

It would have been nice had the GOP decided on their favored Obamacare replacement prior to the 2016 election. But it’s not surprising that they didn’t. There are huge problems inherent in any effort on health care reform, as I’ve described before. Nor was the particular balance of moderate and conservative Republicans the same in the previous Congress as it is now. And it’s now that matters.

March 22nd, 2017

Terrorist attack in London

There has been a terrorist attack in London today. The death toll is unclear (at the moment, I’m reading between 2 and 4 dead). But here are the facts as they’ve emerged so far:

More than 12 people were said to have been hit by a vehicle on Westminster Bridge today after a Hyundai i40 drove into pedestrians and cyclists before crashing into the gates of the Houses of Parliament. An intruder described as ‘middle-aged and Asian’ then managed to break into Parliament’s grounds and stabbed a police officer before he was shot. One woman victim is dead and the police officer who was stabbed is also thought to have died. An hour after the attack, paramedics removed one person from the scene after extensive CPR. Another body appeared to have been left on the ground covered by a red blanket. The attack came exactly one year after 32 people were killed in suicide bombings in Brussels.

By the way, I learned years ago that the British use the word “Asian” to include groups such as Pakistanis.

This Fox report says that four people have died, including the assailant:

“Sadly, I can confirm that now four people have died. That includes the police officer who was protecting Parliament, and one man that we believe to be the attacker who was shot by police fire at the scene,” he said.

He added: “We are satisfied at this stage that it looks like there was only one attacker. But it would be foolish to be overconfident early on.”

So we have the two most popular recent terrorist methods for killing: knife and vehicle. Fox reports that many of the victims of the vehicular attack have what is described as “catastrophic” injuries. The sequence appears to be first the vehicular attack on Westminster Bridge, and then the assailant got out near Parliament, killed the officer, and tried to enter. He was shot and killed by security at that point.

March 22nd, 2017

Trump and credibility

The WSJ has published an editorial excoriating Trump for being a liar. For some reason I can’t get to the whole thing in the usual manner—Googling the title of the piece and the paper’s name—so I can’t report on the details of what was said there.

But I can find lengthy excerpts here. And what’s more, I’m not even sure they’re needed, because the gist of the idea is simple: Trump lies, and that destroys his credibility.

Well, duh.

That “duh” of mine doesn’t mean those things are unimportant. On the contrary, it’s something I (and many others) wrote a great deal about during the 2016 campaign. It’s something anyone who took even a cursory look at Trump’s lifelong habits of speech and behavior and his conduct during that campaign that led to the presidency would have naturally noticed. That includes his supporters, who calculated that it was okay because (a) Trump’s heart was in the right place, pro-America and anti-progressive (b) his lies were strategic and would help him win; and (c) he was running against an even greater liar.

“C” was indeed the dilemma we faced at the end. Once the other GOP candidates had fallen by the wayside, it was liar vs. liar, and most people on the right chose the liar who at least had their backs rather than the one determined to stab them in the back. I don’t fault anyone for that.

After Trump had been elected, some of us who had always been worried about Trump were left to reflect that his presidency would rise or fall on his actual accomplishments in the real world rather than his words. I still believe that, because I think that most people (although perhaps not the editors of the WSJ?) had already factored lies, exaggerations, weird tweets, and bizarre accusations into the Trump mix.

Now, however, Hillary has faded into the woodwork (for the moment) and Trump stands alone as president, with no reminder of what the terribly awful alternative would have been.

Trump is fully capable of acting sober and presidential, but not 24 hours a day, and no one has been able to take away his Twitter privileges. And yes, sometimes he uses the Twitter medium very very effectively. But not always.

The WSJ editors write:

Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods.

The latest example is Mr. Trump’s refusal to back off his Saturday morning tweet of three weeks ago that he had “found out that [Barack] Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory” on Election Day. He has offered no evidence for his claim, and a parade of intelligence officials, senior Republicans and Democrats have since said they have seen no such evidence.

One of the most interesting—and saddest—things about all of this is that Obama was a liar extraordinaire, a slick and savvy one. The difference between him and Trump isn’t just the style of their lies, though—it’s the opposite political sides they’re on. Obama’s lies were backed by the full force of the MSM, which is still a formidable player in shaping public perceptions, including those regarding truth or falsehood. In contrast, Trump’s lies or near-lies or maybe-lies or ambiguities or even some of his truths will always, always, always be attacked by the MSM as lies of a particularly nefarious type and magnitude, and used as examples of his basic mendacity.

That’s the situation Trump faces, and the situation we face. We can bewail it all we like, but it’s the reality. It’s not new, and it should not be a surprise. It was never realistic to think that this aspect of Trump would change, or that the MSM would cut him any slack whatsoever.

When Trump made his “wiretapping” accusation, I wrote the following:

The Trump we knew during the campaign made a host of wild allegations against his opponents. That was one of the things about him that dismayed me. I like a fighter as much as the next person, and a hard-hitting one at that, but trying to somehow tie Ted Cruz’s father to the Kennedy assassination was so far beyond the pale that it should have worried even Trump’s most fervent supporters.

We often say that the Democrats have cried wolf on Trump so many times that they’ve lost all credibility. But Trump was a champion wolf-crier as well, especially during the campaign.

That does not mean he’s making up a story here. It does not mean he’s gone of the deep end and is swimming in the waters of paranoia. But what it does mean is that his opponents are going to spin it that way, and that the wildness of some of Trump’s prior accusations have made the spin more plausible…

…launching such a serious accusation in a tweet is both pure Trump and feeds into the idea that he is reckless. I think it’s pretty clear that if a president is going to make an accusation of that sort against a former president, he’d better have his ducks in a row before he does, and make it in a forum other than Twitter. But that’s most definitely not Trump’s style.

So here we are. I continue to think that Trump will be judged as president by his deeds rather than his words. It’s early yet. Let’s see what gets accomplished.

[ADDENDUM: One thing I want to reiterate is something I said at the outset of Trump’s “wiretap” tweet, which is that the problem with that tweet was it was exaggerated. The use of the word “wiretap” (even in scare quotes), and Trump’s saying that President Obama himself had done it, gave Democrats plausible deniability to Trump’s charges.

It seemed clear that, in making those tweets, Trump was relying on reports in the MSM about surveillance, and that much if not all of the surveillance in question was done through NSA data-collection and/or surveillance of non-Trumpian targets rather than an actual wiretap involving Trump himself (or Trump Tower itself), or something ordered specifically by Obama.

Now we see this:

The U.S. Intelligence Community collected ‘incidental’ information about President Donald Trump’s transition team – and possibly about Trump himself – during the three months following the 2016 election, according to House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes.

Nones told reporters that the information collected was ‘legally collected’ pursuant to a warrant issued by a FISA judge in a federal court, and concerned ‘foreign’ surveillance…

Based on Nunes’ evaluation, the surveillance would have occurred while Obama was still president. Nunes said he has seen no evidence that Trump Tower was surveilled, which was one of Trump’s contentions…

…”This is normal incidental collection, at least from what I was able to read.”

I believe that this was the kernel of truth in Trump’s allegations. ]

March 21st, 2017

This is your brain on satnavs

First, I learned a new word today: “satnavs,” for satellite-guided navigators.

Next, this is exactly what I intuitively sense when I use my navigator to help with driving directions:

‘Our results fit with models in which the hippocampus simulates journeys on future possible paths while the prefrontal cortex helps us to plan which ones will get us to our destination.

‘When we have technology telling us which way to go, however, these parts of the brain simply don’t respond to the street network. In that sense our brain has switched off its interest in the streets around us.

’The findings build on previous research by UCL that the hippocampuses of London cabbies expand as their knowledge of streets increases.

The current study suggests drivers following satnav directions do not engage their hippocampus –limiting the learning of the city street network.

How did we all manage without them? Well, I used to regularly get lost in a city such as Boston. Then again, I still do, because satnavs get very confused there and sometimes go on strike or give impossible directions, such as to go the wrong way down a one-way street.

If a person has too many experiences like that, satnavs lose their effectiveness because people start distrusting them. And if you don’t trust your satnav, you don’t do what it says.

March 21st, 2017

Did the head of La Prensa

steal Tom Brady’s Superbowl jerseys?

I wonder whether the jerseys could be authenticated by DNA, even if they’ve been washed.

More:

The NFL confirmed the suspect was indeed a properly credentialed media member. The league also confirmed that the primary failure appeared to occur when the individual was allowed access into the Patriots’ locker room during a private period. According to individuals who are part of the league’s security process, the entry point into the Super Bowl locker room is effectively where the security ends for vetting media members.

What got him? Video:

The source said authorities focused on the media member after cameras captured him leaving the locker room with a plastic bag under his arm following the private locker room period. Fox Sports broadcast video matching that description, showing a media member entering the private locker room period with his credential shielded by a necktie at 10:04 p.m. CT. The same video feed then showed the man leaving the locker room with a black plastic bag under an arm at 10:18 p.m.

That’s a pretty bold move. I would think the perp must have known there would be some sort of video record. I assume he thought he couldn’t be identified.

March 21st, 2017

Is the GOP health care reform bill dead on arrival?

I have no idea what the answer to the above question might be.

How’s that for incisive, cutting-edge blogging?

House conservatives are saying they have the votes to defeat the bill as it now stands. The bill’s proponents (who include President Trump) are furiously whipping the votes to get enough House members in line to pass it. Perhaps all the concessions to the conservative wing have already been made; perhaps there are more to come.

I’m not the only one who doesn’t know. I don’t think anyone knows.

This fight highlights the conflicts that have existed in the GOP for a long, long time, probably for most of my lifetime. And many people noted during the 2016 campaign that, particularly on the subject of health care reform, Trump was no conservative.

Now Republicans can’t just criticize Obamacare or even pass bills to repeal it when the repeal will vetoed. Now they must come up with a better bill to do something that is inherently very very difficult: redesign a health care coverage system that pleases most of the people most of the time.

March 21st, 2017

Laptop ban on flights from eight Muslim majority countries

The Department of Homeland Security under Trump has prohibited passengers from carrying certain types of electronic devices into the cabin of airplanes coming to the US:

Passengers traveling to the United States from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries will be prohibited from bringing laptops, tablets and other portable electronic devices on board with them when they fly, according to new rules set to take effect Tuesday.

Fliers can still travel with these items, but they must be packed in their checked baggage on U.S.-bound flights from airports across eight countries including busy transit hubs in Istanbul, Dubai and Doha, Qatar.

Senior U.S. administration officials said the rules were prompted by “evaluated intelligence” that terrorists continue to target commercial aviation by “smuggling explosives in portable electronic devices.”

It’s another annoying inconvenience, although I am certain that some people will see it as a terrible trial. Passengers are still allowed to take their cellphones with them and use them, although that information isn’t made clear until nearly the end of the lengthy WaPo article. If you look at the comments to the article, you can see that a lot of people seem to think that this is one of the many terrible things the nefarious Trump has done—for example, here’s a rather typical remark in the comments:

A checked laptop is a huge problem to an international traveler. Soon, international conferences will stop being held in the US. Scientists and engineers will need to travel overseas to conferences. Tourists will stop coming to the US. This will all happen because Trump needs to create the illusion that his administration is doing something.

Other comments of the same sort are legion; some examples here:

“This ban seems more geared towards intimidation or harassment than security…”

“This seems to be more an attempt to do damage to middle east based airlines.”

“This sounds like another work around to effect a Muslim ban.”

I agree that it’s an inconvenience. But isn’t it the case that on a cellphone one can still read documents if loaded onto the device, surf the internet if there’s a connection, and even do some writing (albeit slowly)?

I’m of two minds about this sort of restriction. It seems to go too far while at the same time not going far enough. What do I mean by too far and not far enough? It’s not clear that it will stop any terrorist, and it’s highly unlikely to stop every terrorist (for example, what about rigged laptops in the luggage hold?), while it manages to inconvenience an enormous number of passengers. Terrorists will keep innovating, because—in an interconnected world in which international trade and travel is key and in which Islamic terrorism is also rampant—the terrorists are out to harm people and business in the Muslim world as much or even more than they are out to harm us. To them, the inconvenience is almost as good as the terrorist act.

Those who predictably and repetitively blame this sort of rule on Trump are ignoring the fact that Britain is set to implement very similar regulations:

…[T]he Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: “The additional security measures may cause some disruption for passengers and flights, and we understand the frustration that will cause, but our top priority will always be to maintain the safety of British nationals.”

In the US, the question is whether some district judge in Hawaii or Maryland will decide that this is an unconscionable, unconstitutional case of religious discrimination and overrule the DHS. Watch for it.

March 20th, 2017

The book review section: fanning anti-Trump paranoia

Decades ago, the book review section of the NY Times used to be one of my favorite portions of the paper to read of a Sunday, back when I read it in the paper version. Implicit in my mind—without my even thinking about it consciously at the time—was the idea that these reviews were written by people who were not only erudite but even wise, writing their impressions of books that had been written by people who (for the most part) were also not only erudite but even wise.

That hasn’t seemed to be true for a long, long time.

Yesterday I was in New York visiting family, and I picked up the dead tree version of ye olde Times book review section, something I hadn’t done for ages. I saw that a certain obsession/compulsion seems to have crept into the prose of the reviews. Every single one that I read—and I got to around to about fie or six of them before I stopped reading—made some reference, oblique or direct, to these harsh Trumpian times in which we live. This was true whatever the subject matter of the book might have been.

And these weren’t just references to the discord of the American people about the Trump presidency, either. Each reference seemed to come with a set of assumptions that implied agreement among the Times’ readers on the following:

(1) we all detest Trump
(2) Trump is a totalitarian about to take our rights away any moment
(3) these things don’t need much demonstration at this point; they are a given and we all understand what we’re referring to

I’m very familiar with reading authors or periodicals that assume liberal agreement among their readers. But this seemed different: more constant, more gratuitous in terms of having anything to do with the subject matter of the books being reviewed, and more extreme in the nature of the presumably shared and obviously-true assumptions.

I didn’t read every review, of course. But I read enough to safely say that I don’t remember seeing anything quite like it before, even in the Times. The entire thing ended on the last page with these essays debating whether we’ve now been catapulted into a future that has more resemblance to Brave New World or to Nineteen Eighty Four (both essays appear to have first been published in the book review in early February, but were now being repeated).

One of the essays (by Charles McGrath, former editor of the Times book review) contained passages such as this:

Two months ago I would have said that not only is “Brave New World” a livelier, more entertaining book than “1984,” it’s also a more prescient one. … [Huxley’s] novel much more accurately evokes the country we live in now, especially in its depiction of a culture preoccupied with sex and mindless pop entertainment, than does Orwell’s more ominous book, which seems to be imagining someplace like North Korea.

Or it did until Donald Trump was inaugurated. All of a sudden, as many commentators have pointed out, there were almost daily echoes of Orwell in the news, and “1984” began shooting up the Amazon best-seller list. The most obvious connection to Orwell was the new president’s repeated insistence that even his most pointless and transparent lies were in fact true, and then his adviser Kellyanne Conway’s explanation that these statements were not really falsehoods but, rather, “alternative facts.” As any reader of “1984” knows, this is exactly Big Brother’s standard of truth: The facts are whatever the leader says they are.

My, my, my. I suppose those assertions of McGrath sound petty convincing (and scary) to those who never noticed the constant and multiple lies of President Obama, and Obama’s “repeated insistence that even his most transparent lies were in fact true” (I left out “pointless” because I don’t think any of Obama’s lies were pointless at all). And then, of course, McGrath follows it up with an ignorant and/or purposeful mischaracterization of the meaning of Kellyanne Conway’s comment, a mischaracterization that has become a favorite of the left. Conway was trying to say that facts are sometimes reported correctly and sometimes reported inaccurately, and that when facts clash we must read both sets and try to sort out the alternatives if we want to make a decision about which may be true (or closest to the truth). And nowhere was she saying anything remotely like, “The facts are whatever the leader says they are”—much less exactly like that.

McGrath’s essay drips with so much condescension that I almost felt the need to wring it out and dry it off.

The goal of all of this is to deliver the message that the Times and its readers are all in this terrible Trump thing together, and that it’s not only every bit as bad as you might think it is, it’s worse. And that they don’t have to prove it, because anybody who’s anybody (and anybody literate enough to read the NY Times book review section) already knows it.

Let’s get back to one of my favorite passages in the world, from Milan Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting (how’s that for being literary?):

Circle dancing is magic. It speaks to us through the millennia from the depths of human memory. Madame Raphael had cut the picture out of the magazine and would stare at it and dream. She too longed to dance in a ring. All her life she had looked for a group of people she could hold hands with and dance with in a ring. First she looked for them in the Methodist Church (her father was a religious fanatic), then in the Communist Party, then among the Trotskyites, then in the anti-abortion movement (A child has a right to life!), then in the pro-abortion movement (A woman has a right to her body!); she looked for them among the Marxists, the psychoanalysts, and the structuralists; she looked for them in Lenin, Zen Buddhism, Mao Tse-tung, yogis, the nouveau roman, Brechtian theater, the theater of panic; and finally she hoped she could at least become one with her students, which meant she always forced them to think and say exactly what she thought and said, and together they formed a single body and a single soul, a single ring and a single dance.

By the way, this is the cover of the paperback version of Kundera’s book that I own:

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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