Thursday, January 26, 2017

My favorite pictures from January 21

I'll be talking about the massive demonstrations of January 21, possibly the largest ever in the US with a turnout now estimated at over 3 million, on the next show (the week of February 2-8).

But I wanted to share these two because they are my favorites and for a very particular reason.

They are shots of the crowd, one estimated at 6,000, that gathered in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Y'see, Asbury Park is in Monmouth County, which is where I was born and grew up. I lived in a bunch of different places, but they were all in the same area. I was a real homeboy who didn't make his first "big" move (to New England) until he was in his late-30s. In a lot of ways, the north Jersey shore still feels like home.

And I am quite certain that the rally on January 21 was the biggest demonstration that area had ever seen. Which not only makes me wish I had been there but makes it, I think, emblematic of many of the hundreds of local actions which also may have been the largest (or even the first) for those towns or areas.

So consider the pictures my celebration of the truly widespread resistance that has been aroused and (we can only work and hope) will be built on.

Two bits of science news I didn't have time for on the show

First, I now have a second reason beyond the next eclipse in 2024 to make sure I live another six to eight years.

A team of astronomers is predicting that in 2022, give or take a year, two stars in the constellation Cygnus will collide, creating an explosion in the night sky so bright that it will be visible to the naked eye.

It would mark the first time such an event was predicted by scientists.

I gather that it won't be some incredibly dramatic event, it won't be like a supernova visible even in the daytime, but it will be, again, visible to the naked eye in the night sky and it would just be so cool to be able to stand and look at the night sky and think that I was watching the explosion of a star some 1800 light-years away.

Our second bit of cool news is that in spring of 2017 nine telescopes around the world will aim towards the center of the Milky Way, around 25,000 light years away, in an attempt to capture the first-ever image of a black hole.

Black holes, by definition, do not emit visible light and we can't even "see" the blackness of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way because it is obscured by the clouds of gas that surround it.

But radio waves are not blocked by those clouds and by using a technique called interferometry that can synthesize data from multiple sources, these nine radio telescopes essentially can function as one big telescope as big as the entire Earth, with a resolution sufficient to show an orange on the Moon.

Which means these telescopes, working together, can create a radio image of the matter surrounding the black hole, enabling astronomers to "see" the black hole in its shadow.

Exactly what that will look like, no one knows. There are ideas, but no one actually knows. And that, as I think is always true in science, is part of the attraction.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

10.7 - And Another Thing: total solar eclipse, August 2017

And Another Thing: total solar eclipse, August 2017

Let's try to at least end the week without any more gloom and doom. So we'll turn to And Another Thing, our occasional foray into something cool, usually cool science and at least not intentionally political.

This time we have a bit of truly cool astronomy stuff. It's something I just learned about a few weeks ago in reading a book about the Sun.

There is going to be a total eclipse of the Sun on August 21 visible in a wide swatch across the US. The path of totality will hit the coast just south of Portland, Oregon and pass over parts of 10 states before leaving shore just north of Charleston, South Carolina.

It will be the last total eclipse visible in the continental US and I believe anywhere in the US until 2024.

I am already making plans.

10.6 - Climate change: 2016 hottest year on record

Climate change: 2016 hottest year on record

I want to address something I haven't talked about in a while but was raised by that last set of protests I mentioned: global warming, aka climate change.

On January 18, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the UK Met Office announced that their separate records of surface temperatures across the globe confirm that 2016 was the hottest year in the historical record. It broke the record set in 2015 - which broke the record set in 2014.

Meanwhile, on January 9, NOAA reported that the US had its second-warmed year on record in 2016. Every single state had a warmer-than-average year; in fact 2016 ranks as at least the seventh warmest year on record for every state. It also marks the 20th straight year of above-average continental US temperatures as compared to the average for the 20th century as a whole.

In fact, according to the US National Climate Data Center, every individual month since February 1985 has seen above average global temperatures for that month, compared with the twentieth century.

It is no longer possible to rationally deny the reality not only of climate change but of the human source of it. Nothing else explains what we've seen.

The nanny-nanny naysayer sometimes claim that no, it's not people, it's all natural processes, such as changes in volcanic activity or solar output or wobbles in the Earth's orbit.

Well, here are three graphs comparing the changes caused by those influences (the green lines) versus the actual temperature record since 1880 (the black line).

Change in temperature due to volcanos
Changes in temperature due to Earth's orbit

Changes in temperature due to solar radiaiton

You notice that none of them even come even close to matching the historical record. The impact of one thing, however, does agree with the record: greenhouse gas emissions.

The facts are so clear that it has gotten to the point where some researchers are saying we have to focus more on adapting to climate change than heading it off and that by 2030, the record-breaking heat of 2016 will be normal.

We don't have to wait until then to see the impacts.

Something else that happened in the US was that 2016 had the second highest number of weather disasters that caused at least $1 billion in damage: Fifteen separate ones together causing $46 billion in damage and 138 deaths.

And the climate in the Arctic is getting strange. Temperatures in Barrow, Alaska in November were 20 degrees Celsius - that's 36 degrees Fahrenheit - above normal and sea ice is at a record low.

Global warming is altering the entire ecology of the Arctic Ocean on a huge scale, something thought to be linked to a massive die-off of puffins in the fall, many of them appearing to have starved to death.

At the other end of the world, 2016 saw the biggest ever die-off of coral in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia and scientists have realized that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is melting from the inside out and could collapse completely within the next 100 years, raising world sea levels by three meters, or about 10 feet, inundating coastlines around the world.

It is no longer adequate to say we are screwing with the climate. Rather, the fact is we have screwed with the climate. We have screwed up the climate.

And even the attempts by officials to be upbeat have a hollow ring to them when you get past the puffery.

For example, outgoing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says that there is great progress being made on the climate and the progress is probably irreversible.

There is some truth to what he says: Clean-energy and renewable energy technologies have become much cheaper and more efficient; for example, costs have fallen 41 percent for land-based wind power and 64 percent for utility-scale solar power since 2008. The global market for such technologies will only grow and utility and manufacturing industry executives, who have to plan investments on 30-year time horizons, aren't likely to make long-term bets on high-carbon projects, so there is market pressure for a lower-carbon economy.

The move from coal to natural gas, which is less carbon-intensive, also has had an impact.

But here is where we get past the puffery. The shift from coal to natural gas did not occur because the latter is cleaner in a global warming sense but because it is cheaper. Which means that shift will continue only so long as that remains true. And natural gas is still a fossil fuel. Meanwhile, the energy industry still talks about the chimera of "clean coal" and Moniz enthused about a doubling of domestic oil production as if that was a good thing - which is particularly objectionable since the increase was from shale oil.

In other words, the vision being presented is not one of a carbon-free economy or even of a low-carbon economy, but only of a not-as-high carbon economy. And that is just not good enough, especially not when we are now facing the prospect of an administration lead by a man who has openly proposed scrapping all NASA climate research, is filling his administration with hard-core climate deniers, and appears to be readying a witch hunt against Energy Department staff who have promoted climate change programs.

I'm not ready to give up, not yet, not when we have seen plans out there, specific plans on how we can create a carbon-free economy within a couple of decades, plans I have talked about on this show. But I have to tell you, I am not hopeful.

10.5 - Protests continue and grow

Protests continue and grow

But let's be clear: being on our own does not mean being alone.

In the week following the election, I celebrated the on-going protests against TheRump and all he represents. It is clear that spirit of resistance has not petered out but if anything, has grown.

PEN rally, New York City
On Sunday, January 15, PEN America, the American branch of the international literary and human rights organization, held a series of events under the banner "Writers Resist" to celebrate the power of language as a tool to express concern about the future of democracy in the US.

There were some 93 such events spread across 37 states as well as events in at least eight other nations.

On that same day, under the banner #OurFirstStand, there were around 70 rallies across the country with crowds ranging in size from dozens to thousands opposing repeal of the Affordable Care Act and supporting Medicare, Medicaid, and Planned Parenthood. Many of those rallies urged going beyond mere defense of existing programs to pushing for some form of single-payer coverage.

A thousand in Richmond, more than six thousand in Boston, ten thousand in the suburbs of Detroit, hundreds in dozens of other places from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, California.

And we must never forget: Resistance does not live just in large numbers. It also exists in all the small actions, perhaps especially the creative ones.

#OurFirstStand, Boston
On Tuesday, dozens of protesters gathered outside the headquarters of Goldman Sachs in New York City, some wearing swamp-monster masks in reference to TheRump's pledge to "drain the swamp" - a pledge made before he picked several former Goldman Sachs executives for top jobs in his administration.

About 20 of the protesters brought sleeping bags, intending in an echo of Occupy Wall Street to camp outside the bank until the inauguration on Friday. Bank security guards sent people to another entrance and their bosses gave no order to remove the protesters, likely wanting to avoid attracting any more unhappy attention than the very symbol of corporate greed is already getting these past days.

These next actions have not happened at the time I'm preparing this, but will have taken place before you see this, but I'm going to talk about them anyway in anticipation of their success.

On Friday, Inauguration Day, a group of celebrities are banding together for what they are calling a Love-a-thon, a three-hour live broadcast on Facebook with proceeds going to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Earthjustice, the organizations chosen because they represent issues under attack in a TheRump administration.

Among those taking part are Jane Fonda, Jamie Lee Curtis, Judd Apatow, Patricia Arquette, Christopher Guest, and Tim Robbins. Admittedly not A+-list talent like Three Doors Down, but they'll do.

And then of course there is Saturday. The Women's March on Washington.

I sincerely hope there will be - from your perspective, was, a huge turnout. Predictions are for tens, scores, hundreds of thousands to turn out. Right now, as I prepare this, the prospects look good. As one sign, of January 14, DC parking permits had been sought for 1200 buses for the event. By comparison, fewer than 400 permits had been sought for the inauguration. That may not be the complete total for either event, but the difference is still striking and I will say hopeful.

Women's March on Washington
Significantly, the DC march is not the only one planned. There are a multitude of what are being called "sister" marches planned. As of January 17, by my count of what's on the organizers' website, there are in addition to the DC march some 231 marches and rallies planned covering all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Plus, there are another 156 events in 58 countries. And there are, as indicated by the number for the running total that is on the page, a good many more which have not been posted.

And that will not be the end of it.

The following Monday, January 23, students on college campuses around the country will be holding actions calling on their campuses to help address global warming divesting from the fossil fuel industry and reinvesting in alternative energies.

I have said on a number of occasions that if we are going to push for some kind of political revolution, we need more, much more, than polite conversation, navel-gazing blog posts, and snarky twitter feeds. We need people in the streets, we need to fill the streets, we need to fill the jails, even, if it comes to that, we need to fill the camps. We need social disruption, we need no business as usual, we need to be noisy, we need to be in your face. This doesn't mean we need to be violent, but it does mean we have to be determined, creative, and most of all persistent.

We need to pace ourselves because we are in this for the long term, but we need to keep on keepin' on, without backing down or bailing out.

Because like the song goes, every victory brings another. Carry it on.

So I look at that week of events I just described and I say "more, please. Much more."

Monday, January 23, 2017

10.4 - Outrage of the Week: Dems choose Big Pharma over consumers

Outrage of the Week: Dems choose Big Pharma over consumers

Now for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

Okay. So senators Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar introduced an amendment that would have allowed pharmacists to import drugs from Canada. Because the Canadian government has the legal power to negotiate with drug companies on the cost of drugs, medications are virtually always if not across the board significantly cheaper up north. What's more, many of the medications in question are made in the US and exported to Canada - and despite being exported and re-imported, they would still be much cheaper.

The amendment, embracing an idea supported by 72% of the American public, attracted the support of a dozen GOPpers and would have passed - except that 13 Dimcrats voted no, killing it and leaving us still at the mercy of Big Pharma.

Why? Well, the excuse given by recent liberal celebrity Sen. Cory Booker was that the amendment "didn't meet the test" of ensuring that "foreign drugs" meet "American safety standards."

Except that Canadian standards and procedures for approving drugs are similar to those in the US and that no one, not even Cory Booker, has been able to point to any Canadian drug scandals that would question their safety. And again, a lot of them are actually made here.

Sen. Cory Booker
But the real proof that "consumer protections" are not the issue here is found in the fact that all 13 of those bozos, including Booker, voted to pass the so-called 21st Century Cures Act, one of those deals where a thin layer of good stuff is just the colored wrapping and pretty bow around the real present: a box load of benefits to Big Pharma that among other giveaways to the medical industry with the emphasis on industry would significantly reduce the safety standards that now exist, saving the drug corporations millions and making an utter mockery of the claims of those such as Booker.

Under the bill, signed into law by The Big O on January 13, corporations will be able to get approval for new uses for existing drugs without clinical trials, instead relying on so-called "real world evidence," which includes observations, safety and side-effect claims, and other data not subject to rigorous analysis. In other words, anecdotes.

It also allows drug makers to promote off-label uses of their drugs to insurance companies, vastly expanding the markets for these drugs while bypassing the FDA entirely.

If protecting patient safety was really all that important to these Dems that even drugs from another major industrialized nation are to be regarded with dark suspicion through narrowed eyes, they could have demanded the removal of these provisions as a price for their support of the bill. But they didn't. They said and did nothing.

So if patient safety is not the reason for voting against the Sanders-Klobuchar amendment, what is?

Well, maybe it's just a coincidence that of the top 10 recipients of campaign contributions from pharmaceutical manufacturers, five of who are Dems, nine voted against the amendment. Maybe, too, it's just a coincidence that pharmaceutical and medical device companies spent nearly $200 million lobbying for the bill.

Or, bluntly, maybe it's not.

Maybe it's another indication of whose interests are really central to the members of Congress. Maybe it's another indication that the interests of the vast, vast majority of the people of the nation are addressed only to the extent they do not impact the interests of the insiders. Maybe it's another indication of how we simply cannot trust the Democrats - I won't even bother with the GOPpers - we cannot trust, we cannot rely on, the Democrats to act to the benefit of the needy over the needless, the poor over the powerful, except as we make them do it.

Yes, individual Dems can be good on individual occasions on individual issues. Hell, it can even be true of GOPpers; remember a dozen of them voted right on the amendment to import drugs from Canada. And yes we can and should work with Congressional Dems where we can.

But we can't rely on them. We cannot, must not, expect them to lead. We have to make sure that they are followers of our campaigns, not that we are followers of theirs.

So maybe what all this is, at the end of the day, is another indication that ultimately we are on our own. Maybe it's another outrage.

10.3 - Clown Award: Reince Priebus

Clown Award: Reince Priebus

Now for the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

I say at the top that I swear to you that I have been trying to avoid going after members of TheRump's team. I have.

So for this week's clown I considered Thomas Hodgson, sheriff of Bristol County, Massachusetts, who has come up with a plan to send prisoners to help TheRump build his Great Wall of Orange on the border with Mexico.

I considered the Washington Post, which is embracing with increasing gusto its role are mouthpiece of the right-wing status quo masquerading as a vapid "centrism" and did its duty on Martin Luther King Day to argue that King, despite his rabble-rousing and radical calls for racial and economic justice and his embrace of democratic socialism, was actually a conservative.

But I couldn't help myself, the temptation was too strong. So this week's winner of the Big Red Nose is TheRump's incoming White House chief of staff and current chair of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus.

A few days ago, congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis suggested that he thought TheRump was not a legitimate president because he thought that Russian meddling may have affected the outcome. Now, it needs to be repeated that even assuming the Russians are guilty as charged with hacking and leaking information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign, there is no good reason to think that changed the outcome. You could argue, I suppose, that it could have affected the margin, but actually flip the outcome, no. In fact, as I pointed out last week, there is good reason to think that the Russians had no expectation of doing that or even particularly wanted to.

But anyway, Lewis said that and of course the whole GOPper world exploded, especially TheRump himself, who really put his foot in it by responding in effect that Lewis is a loser from a crappy district who should not be talking smack to his betters.

Reince Priebus
Still, Lewis was not alone and an undercurrent of "illegitimate" and if there is such a word overcurrent of "Not My President" was on-going.

Send in the clown. On "Meet the Press," Priebus called Lewis "irresponsible" and said he had started a "firestorm" and he wanted something done about it. Someone, he said, should "step up" and "call it what it is - it's wrong what is happening, it's wrong how some of these Democrats are treating President-elect Trump."

And who is it that should "step up" according to our clown?

You already guessed: It's Barack Obama. Barack Obama. The party Reince Priebus now chairs planned on undermining Obama's presidency even before he was first inaugurated. The party Reince Priebus now chairs declared it a priority to make Obama a one-term president. The man who is about to be Reince Pribus's new boss spent years as the patron saint of the birthers and as recently as July 2015 refused to say that Obama was born in America.

But Reince Priebus thinks it is now Barack Obama's responsibility to "step up" and defend the legitimacy of Donald TheRump.

If I thought he had enough self-awareness to realize what he's saying, I'd say he had a lot of chutzpah. But I doubt he does. Instead, he's just a sad little weasel.

In other words, Reince I do admit he has a cool name Priebus is a clown.

10.2 - Footnote: on the legalities

Footnote: on the legalities

Just so we understand what's happened here, there are two sorts of presidential clemency: Commutation is shortening a prison sentence, while a pardon is thought of as a sort of official forgiveness for whatever the crime was.

An important difference is that commutation leaves the conviction and the assumption of guilt intact; it does not do away with civil disabilities such as not being able to sit on federal juries or, in many states, to vote. A full pardon, like commutation, doesn't suggest innocence, but it does strip away many of the effects of a conviction, allowing the person to vote, sit on juries, and possess firearms, among other examples.

So I wish Chelsea Manning had gotten a pardon rather than a commutation, but her release remains really good news.

If Obama had followed through and issued a pardon for our other American hero, Edward Snowden, that would have been fantastic news. But of course he didn't to what should have been no one's surprise.

10.1 - Good News: sentence of Chelsea Manning commuted

Good News: sentence of Chelsea Manning commuted

So let's get to the Good News right away, and this is particularly Good News because I didn't expect it to happen.

Barack Obama, the Amazing Mr. O, has commuted the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning. I sincerely hoped he would do this, but I genuinely did not expect it. And needless to say, I am delighted.

She will be released on May 17.

Chelsea Manning, in case you have been on a bad acid trip for the past several years, is the former US military intelligence analyst who in 2010 leaked government documents to WikiLeaks; some of them classified and others deemed not classified but "sensitive." Those documents included ones showing US forces committing war crimes in Iraq, most particularly the video that became known as "Collateral Murder," which is still available on YouTube. If you haven't seen it, look it up.

Chelsea Manning
Manning was fingered as the leaker after she was ratted out by a supposed friend, the appropriately-named Adrian Lamo. She was held in solitary confinement in a military prison for nearly a year on a claim she was a suicide risk but which many felt was an attempt to break her - since extended solitary is considered torture - to get her to testify against the government's real target: Julian Assange.

That didn't happen, so she faced a show trial before a military court. You should keep in mind that the old saying that military justice is to justice as military music is to music still applies.

On July 30, 2013, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison, a sentence an order of magnitude longer than other convicted whistleblowers have faced.

Now, Obama, on the way out the door, has commuted all but four months of her remaining sentence. So Chelsea Manning, American hero, will be freed in May. And how can that not be just great news.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

What's Left #10

What's Left
for the week of January 19-25, 2017

This week:

Good News: sentence of Chelsea Manning commuted

Footnote: on the legalities

Clown Award: Reince Priebus

Outrage of the Week: Dems choose Big Pharma over consumers

Protests continue and grow

Climate change: 2016 hottest year on record

And Another Thing: total solar eclipse, August 2017,_2017

Monday, January 16, 2017

9.7 - Footnote: Russian "hacking"

Footnote: Russian "hacking"

There is an important Footnote to that, which is why I had put Outrage of the Year off until this week: The impact of that stretches into this year and continues, in fact will require more discussion than I can give it here.

There was one other place blame for the Democrats' failure was laid: Russia. Blame Russia! Blame Russia! They hacked the election! They hacked the election! They hacked the election! Scream it over and over and wait for the paranoia to set in.

Now, note at the top that this does not mean that the Russians did not hack the DNC. It also does not mean that what WikiLeaks released did not ultimately come from a Russian source with enough intermediaries to conceal its true origin from the group.

What is does mean - beyond the fact that there is no evidence that even if the charges are true that the hacking made any difference in the outcome - and this is important, it means that the Democrats are so determined to put the blame for their embarrassing failure in losing to the most unpopular major-party presidential candidate in US history on someone else that they would rather ignite a new cold war than look in the mirror.

While it may well be true that the Russians hacked the DNC and perhaps other computers related to political parties, the actual evidence presented thus far is thin and the rhetoric is getting overheated, complete with dark McCarthyist mutterings about other "foreign actors," panicked and totally false reports that the Russians had hacked into the US power grid - it turned out to be a piece of malware found on a single laptop that was never connected to the grid - and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper charging the Russians with the most "aggressive, direct campaign to interfere in our election process" we've ever seen.

But here we come up against two problems, one of judgment, one of context.

The judgement lies in the determination of the spooks that the hacking was the result of a campaign ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin for the purpose of helping TheRump win the election. But how certain is that?

In an interview with the Reuters podcast War College, Mark Galeotti of the Institute for International Relations in Prague denied that such hacking, assuming Russian guilt, was done to help TheRump. Galeotti, whose specialty is the Russian government, maintained that the Putin government, like most others, thought that Clinton was a lock and was aiming to have her enter office as a damaged and therefore weakened president. Part of his reasoning, which I find persuasive, was that what leaders of great powers want more than anything else in their international affairs is predictability. And one thing on which most people would agree is that TheRump is not predictable. Now that TheRump is going to be president, Putin will try to take best advantage of that, but that doesn't mean it's a situation he actively desired.

And in fact, contrary to the headlines, the evidence backs that up, even if you have to dig to find it as our national media gins up the fear machine and buries the lede.

Consider for one example that on January 5, the Washington Post began an article by quoting unnamed US officials as saying that intercepted communications showed Russian officials congratulating themselves on the outcome of the election; the paper described the reaction as "ebullient."

You have to read down to the 20th graph, farther down that most readers get, to find that "the messages also revealed that top officials in Russia anticipated that Clinton would win" and that "Russian officials 'were as surprised as the rest of the world'" by the election results.

Which would appear to make Mark Galeotti a better judge than our entire intelligence apparatus.

Speaking of that apparatus, there is the matter of context. It's not necessary to justify or approve any Russian hacking, again assuming guilt which I'm prepared to do, to note that when we present ourselves as shocked, shocked to find election interference going on, we should expect to face an entire world rolling its eyes.

For one thing, directly relevant, have we forgotten the NSA? Have we forgotten that the NSA has a unit called Tailored Access Operations, the very mandate of which is to enable the spooks to hack any computer anywhere, any time? "Getting the ungettable" is the NSA's own description of the unit's duties.

And have we forgotten our own lengthy history of interfering in elections in other countries?

According to a database compiled by political scientist Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University, the US tried to influence the outcome of presidential elections in other countries as many as 81 times since 1946 - including, at least once, in Russia. Note well: That number does not include engineered coups such as in Guatemala and Iran, attempts to undermine disfavored governments such as in Chile or the Congo, or general (and open and legal) assistance with the electoral process, such as election monitoring. It is only cases of meddling in presidential elections.

Our history is so clear, our behavior so common, there's even a running joke in Latin America about it:

Q: Why has there never been a coup in the United States?
A: Because there's no US embassy in Washington.

So investigate -  calmly and carefully without all the rhetoric and overheated assumptions  - sure. Tighten your computer security against hacking, sure.

But ignite a new cold war because someone else wanted to play by our rules? I don't think so.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

9.6 - Outrage of the Year 2016: Democratic Party presidential race

Outrage of the Year 2016: Democratic Party presidential race

Since I did just did the Outrage of the Week, I suppose now is a good time to finish up what we started last week and announce our choice for Outrage of the Year for 2016.

Again this is a bit different from other awards because it looks to an issue that we covered several times over the course of the year rather than something that was the Outrage of the Week once only to be replaced by some other outrage a week or two later.

So even though this was not something that was the Outrage of the Week once, I think a lot of folks might agree that it was an on-going outrage.

So our pick for Outrage of the Year, 2016, was the 2016 presidential race, particularly as it involved the Democrats.

I don't cover political races much at all on the show, leaving that to the multitude of others who revel in the horserace aspects and the personalities.

In fact, my first mention of the primaries was in February and while making clear my preference for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, I also said that this it might be my only comment on the race.
Okay, that didn't work out. In April, when it had become clear that as a practical matter, Sanders had fallen short of the nomination, even if he had not yet been eliminated mathematically, I was asking "What now for progressives?" because "The political revolution is not about Bernie Sanders."

But by then I had become so disgusted with the Clinton campaign that even though I had earlier said that if I lived in a toss-up state (which I don't) I would "have to choke back my bile and vote for her," I was, I said, on the verge of becoming a Bernie-or-Buster. "The utter ruthlessness" of the Clinton campaign, I said, "has been astounding." Accusations against Sanders of racism, of sexism, of not caring about the victims of gun violence, and more, were becoming daily fare.

In the wake of the New York primary, there was a cacophony of demands that Sanders, as I put it, "quit the race, kiss the ring, and pledge fealty to all things Clinton" and that he was "helping the Republicans" by continuing to campaign; in fact, there were a few voices darkly intoning that helping the GOPpers was his actual intent.

Meanwhile, the so-called "Hillary Victory Fund" acted essentially as a money-laundering scheme to get around limits on campaign contributions and the campaign openly coordinated with the so-called Correct the Record Super-PAC, coordination which is illegal but was justified by a flat-out bogus interpretation of the law but more importantly enabled by the fact that a paralyzing partisan divide at the Federal Election Commission rendered it incapable of enforcing the law, so they knew they could just get away with it.

Then there was the active coordination between the self-professedly neutral Democratic National Committee - the DNC - and the Clinton campaign, including limiting the number of debates and scheduling them at times of low viewership, figuring Clinton's much greater name recognition compared to Sanders' would carry her through to the nomination, and even passing on a prospective debate question to the campaign.

By the end of the primaries, it was obvious what it had all been about: Not about winning a nomination, or rather not just about that, but about defending the political establishment against a challenge by an outsider, by something they couldn't control, by someone, more, by a movement, that was not beholden to them.

The plan was, in just these words regarding Bernie Sanders, "Disqualify him, defeat him, and unify the party later." Note well: They didn't want to just beat him, they wanted to disqualify him. It was not enough to win, they wanted to destroy his candidacy. They wanted to turn him into an irrelevancy, as someone not only shouldn't be taken seriously as a presidential candidate, but who didn't deserve to be taken seriously as one.

Bernie Sanders
That they failed at that, failed rather spectacularly, as it turned out, doesn't change the fact that that was the intent. It wasn't about winning the White House. It was about protecting the status quo. About preventing change. About protecting their privileges and privileged positions.

As evidence, once it was down to Clinton versus TheRump, I listed nine issues I predicted would not be discussed in the fall campaign even though Sanders had made them into issues in the primaries: single-payer health care, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, income inequality, a $15/hour minimum wage, poverty and homelessness, student debt, tuition-free college, "too big to fail," and campaign finance reform. I'd say with the possible exception of the TPP, I was spot on.

Because those are issues the political establishment does not want to discuss and we had just seen a primary campaign geared to "disqualifying" the person who was raising them.

That determination to further solidify the status quo, to continue that refusal to change at all, continued even in the wake of the election, even in the stark evidence of the Democrats' failure, a failure that leaves actual progressives fighting a sort of two-front war: one against the reactionary policies and convictions of the Great Orange One and his administration, an administration the political establishment is doing its best to normalize, and the other against the liberal political establishment represented by the Dummycrats, a party that refused and to this day still refuses to take any responsibility for its own failures.

Democrats have blamed third parties for the loss. They have blamed sexism. They have blamed James Comey.

They blamed WikiLeaks over the leaks of the Podesta emails, refusing to admit that it wasn't the leak, it was what was in those emails, the corruption and bias they showed, that was damaging.

They blamed Bernie Sanders.

They blamed Jill Stein. They blamed millennials. They blamed, that is, pretty much everyone - except themselves.

Because even now it is about avoiding change. It is about protecting the status quo. It is about protecting themselves and their positions.

Which makes the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential race more than deserving of being declared the Outrage of the Year for 2016.

9.5 - Outrage of the Week: TheRump considering panel desired by anti-vaxxers

Outrage of the Week: TheRump considering panel desired by anti-vaxxers

In a post on my blog a bit over two years ago I - I think rather gently - went after the so-called "anti-vaxxers." These are people who are opposed to vaccinations, either of all children or just of their own, on the grounds that the vaccines, or to be more exact a preservative used in them called thimerosal, is related to a variety of neurological disorders, mainly autism. I called such folks "wrong scientifically and wrong ethically and wrong practically."

The baseline claim, which has been flatly rejected by the scientific community, is that because thimerosal contains a mercury compound, that vaccinations cause mercury poisoning with causes autism.

A few months later I gave the Clown Award to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has long campaigned on a claim of a connection between thimerosal and autism, after he used the term "holocaust" in reference to this imagined link. Kennedy insists he is not against vaccination but continues to spin tales of massive conspiracies among government, Big Pharma, and the medical profession to "hide the truth" about the "holocaust" he claims they have caused.

The fact is, there is no sound scientific basis for any of it.

The whole business arose in the early 1990s, when there was an increase in autism, or, more properly, autism spectrum disorders. People in and out of the medical community were looking for an explanation.

Around the same time, there was a push for more children to be vaccinated earlier and over a shorter time. Aha! said some, embracing the false notion that coincidence equals causality. It's the vaccinations that are causing autism! We know mercury is poisonous, so that must be the cause!

The notion really got going in 1998, when British researcher Andrew Wakefield published a paper linking autism to the MMR vaccine, the one for for measles, mumps, and rubella. It has continued as a fringe belief ever since.

There are, however, a few inconvenient truths for those true believers:

First, it developed that Wakefield's data were fraudulent. In 2010, he was found guilty of professional misconduct by Britain's General Medical Council and his license was revoked.

Next, there is not a single documented case of a connection between vaccinations and autism. Or between thimerosal and autism. Or even between mercury and autism.

In fact, the typical symptoms of mercury poisoning are significantly different from those of autism and under scans the brains of people suffering from mercury poisoning are very different from the brains of autistic people.

What's more, except for flu vaccines, thimerosal has not been used in vaccines in the US for over 15 years - even as the rate of autism in children has more than doubled over that same time.

Bottom line: There is no sound basis either in science or logic to connect vaccination in general or thimerosal in particular to autism. Period.

What there is a sound basis for, on the other hand, is the contention that these fantasy fears have created the community of anti-vaxxers with the predictable result of increases in diseases for which vaccines are routinely available. A 15% increase in whooping cough in the US in 2015, clustered in areas where the rate of vaccination had declined. Some 200 cases of measles that year in a nation from which the disease had been declared eradicated 15 years earlier.

The persistence of this fantasy about the dangers of inoculation is going to cause children to die of preventable diseases - while not saving a single one from autism.

And it promises nothing good to note that among those who question the safety of vaccines is the Great Orange One himself. He claims he's not an anti-vaxxer, just a "slow vaxxer" - that is, have the inoculations spread out over a longer period of time, even though that increases the risk to the children by failing to protect them when they can be. His reason for this is, this is a quote, is that "children are not small horses."

But despite his claim of being "pro-vaccination," TheRump met with the disgraced and discredited Andrew Wakefield and a group of other anti-vaxxers at a donor event in Florida in August.

Subsequent to that event, Wakefield said that one of his two federal priorities as an activist if I can disgrace that honorable term that much is to set up an independent board on vaccine safety.

Well, guess what: TheRump is thinking of setting up a commission on "vaccine safety and scientific integrity." According to who? According to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who met with TheRump on January 10 and came out of the meeting not only saying TheRump was planning on such a commission but that he wanted Kennedy to chair it.

TheRump's team demurred, saying the Great Orange One is "exploring the possibility" of such a committee, but "no decisions have been made." But considering TheRump has repeatedly questioned vaccination and has repeatedly publicly embraced the fringe skeptics who have lost themselves in their fantasies while denying the evidence, that is to put it mildly not reassuring.

The fact that such a committee is even being considered is an affront to reason, a slap in the face of scientific research, an insult to the medical and public health communities, and a danger to the health and well-being of the nation's children.

The possibility that such a committee could be headed up by someone who has termed the practice of childhood vaccination as having caused a "holocaust" is even worse and serves to point up the nature of the delusional, anti-science, fact-free world we appear to be entering as a nation.

And that is not only an outrage - it is frightening.

9.4 - Clown Award: Kellyanne Conway

Clown Award: Kellyanne Conway

Now for one of our regular features, this is the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

We had two standout clowns this week.

Our runner-up this week is Captain Peter Rose of the New York City police.

There were 13 reported rapes in his precinct in 2016, a sharp increase from the year before. Ten of those cases remain unsolved.

Commenting on this last week, Rose said that the increase and the large portion of unsolved cases are "not a trend that we're too worried about" because many of the attackers were acquainted with the victims, and "only two were true stranger rapes," which, according to Rose, "are the troubling ones" in a way in which date rape or acquaintance rape apparently are not.

I thought we'd already dealt with this whole "degrees of rape" crap, the "legitimate rape" and the "real rape" bull. It appears we haven't. Or at least Captain Peter Rose of the New York City police hasn't.

That is damn clownish, but also a little too nauseating for a Clown Award, which is more devoted to mockery than disgust.

Kellyanne Conway
So our winner of the Big Red Nose this week - I have been trying to avoid going here, it's just way too easy, but this time I just can't resist - our winner is chief TheRump mouthpiece and all-around goofball Kellyanne Conway.

In Meryl Streep's speech at the Golden Globes, she mentioned the time TheRump mocked reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has a physical disability. TheRump of course responded by tweeted his previous denials that he did any such thing despite the video evidence that he did exactly that.

So Kellyanne Conartist goes on CNN to defend her F├╝hrer and whined that the media wouldn't give him "the benefit of the doubt" when he lied about what he'd done.

Here's the quote: "You can't give him the benefit of the doubt on this? And he's telling you what was in his heart. You always want to go by what comes out of his mouth rather than look at what's in his heart."

That's right: TheRump's chief media mouthpiece is whining that the media pays attention to what he says.

It doesn't get any better than that. I'd say we have a contender for Clown of the Year for 2017, but much of the year is still before us and she'll have plenty of opportunities to outdo herself, which I suspect she will.

Kellyanne Conway: Good gosh, what a clown.

9.3 - Not Good News: internet consumer protection rules under attack

Not Good News: internet consumer protection rules under attack

Okay, more Not Good News, something I bet more of you will be interested in than the suffering in South Sudan. Which was very likely a very unfair thing to say but I said it anyway.

Anyway. Tom Wheeler, who surprised many with his pro-consumer leadership, is set to leave his position as chair of the FCC. Drooling at the prospect of TheRump becoming president and a shift in power at the FCC, the mega telecomms - including Comcast, Charter and Cox - are rushing to call on the agency to undo the historic win for consumer privacy achieved last fall.

Those rules are meant to keep Internet providers from abusing the data they collect on their customers as they use the Internet. Your Web browsing history, your geolocation logs, even the content of your emails are all available to your IP and when combined with your health and financial information, that is an enormous source of potential advertising revenue as well as the money to be made by selling that personal information to marketers and data brokers who will in turn sell it to others, spreading that personal information even more widely.

The FCC restricted the ability of IPs to amass, use, and share that information. And that is what the telecomms want to undo as their first strike in undoing the gains that have been made not only in privacy but in net neutrality.

Meanwhile, reports say that TheRump has asked Rupert Murdoch to make suggestions as to who should be the new chair of the FCC.

These sort of efforts have been blocked before and perhaps they will be again, but it will be an uphill battle. We could be, without hyperbole, facing the end of the Internet as we have known it.

9.2 - Not Good News: civil war continues in South Sudan

Not Good News: civil war continues in South Sudan

If that didn't bum you out, how about this:

Armed rebels in South Sudan claim that a significant number of pro-government troops have defected to the rebels.
It's not the defections that are the Not Good News - it's the reminder that the civil war in South Sudan, the youngest nation in the world, drags on.

I don't know exactly why bring this story up as I have four times before since I know few if any of you are interested in this except perhaps philosophically. It's just that I have followed this story at least to some degree for years, from Sudan's civil war to the settlement - complete with multiple near-breakdowns - that created an independent South Sudan, to a breakdown of its new government into a South Sudanese civil war, to a new settlement, to a new breakdown, to a hope for a new settlement - to more civil war.

The whole thing just breaks my heart. And this news just served as a reminder.

So thanks, reality. And screw you.

9.1 - Not Good News: bumblebee listed as endangered

Not Good News: bumblebee listed as endangered

I always like to start with some Good News, it's sort of a tradition here, but this was not a good week and I didn't find much of any good news, so we'll have to start the week with some Not Good News.

These are in no particular order, so let's start here.

I remember the quiet hum of bumblebees being part of my summers as I grew up. But at some point it occurred to me that I just didn't seem to see them around much any more. Maybe it was just a failure to notice, maybe it was that adult requirements involved having less time outdoors in the summer. I didn't know. But it seemed damned odd.

Of course, it has become obvious over the last several years that it was not my imagination or the lack of outdoor time. And it has only gotten worse.

And now, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has made the rusty patched bumble bee the first wild bee in the continental United States to be listed as an endangered species.

To make it even more Not Good News, the move came almost three years after two environmental groups threatened to sue the feds for a failure to act on a petition to get the bee listed as endangered.

Being listed provides some protection for the bees. The questions now are is it enough, is it soon enough, especially given a three-year delay in acting, and what will be the consequences for agriculture -  not to mention the pleasure of our summers and the fields of wildflowers - if it is not?

What's Left #9

What's Left
for the week of January 12-18, 2017

This week:

Not Good News: bumblebee listed as endangered

Not Good News: civil war in South Sudan continues

Not Good News: internet consumer protection rules under attack

Clown Award: Kellyanne Conway

Outrage of the Week: TheRump considering panel desired by anti-vaxxers

Outrage of the Year 2016: Democratic Party presidential race

Footnote: Russian "hacking"

Sunday, January 08, 2017

8.10 - A closing note

A closing note

We're out of time for this week and you may have noticed that we have not named our choice for Outrage of the Year, a category somewhat different from the others because it looks for something that is not a single event or an isolated incident but a story that we have addressed several times over the course of the year. As an example, last year we chose the Tamir Rice case.

The reason for the delay is that the Outrage we have chosen has extended beyond 2016 into 2017 and so involves some current issues that need addressing. So we will take care of that next week.

Can't you just feel the tension rising.

8.9 - Clown of the Year Award 2016, Total Jackassery Category: GOPper Rep. Steve King

Clown of the Year Award 2016, Total Jackassery Category: GOPper Rep. Steve King

Our other Clown of the Year Award is the Total Jackassery category and oh, my did we have some competition.

For example, we had right-wing attorney and self-described "no fan of government" Kory Langhofer, who said in February that Justice Antonin Skeletor's opinion on cases then pending before the Supreme Court should still count even though he died before the court took its final vote.

To repeat, in case you're wondering if you heard right: Langhofer is proposing that Skeletor should have gotten a vote on cases still pending before the Court despite laboring under the handicap of being dead, as deceased as Monty Python's parrot.

Then there was the case of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, or, as we know him around here, Voldemeort, who proved you can be a crybaby and a bully at the same time.

A woman named Cara Jennings gave him quite an earful when she encountered him in a Starbucks one day, berating him for not doing enough to help people and for a failure to create good jobs. Someone videoed part of the encounter and posted it. Jennings had nothing to do with that.

Nonetheless, a video hit piece on Cara Jennings quickly appeared. The clear result of some quick oppo research, the video was done by Voldemort's political action committee and was put up on his official YouTube channel. That is, the governor of Florida used the resources of his political campaign machine to launch a personal attack on an individual private citizen because she had the temerity to mouth off to him in a Starbucks.

What could top examples like those? Who could be a bigger jackass than either of those two?

Well, early in the year New Hampshire state Representative Josh Moore almost looked like a shoo-in, but he had to settle for Dishonorable Mention.

New Hampshire, it develops, is one of the 33 US states that do not have a law against women going topless in public and this, amid all the other problems facing any state, this is the crisis that Moore determined needed to be addressed. He introduced a bill to make a woman showing her nipples in public a case of "lewdness" and "public indecency" with repeat offenders having to register as sex offenders.

When State Representative Amanda Bouldin objected to the bill, Moore responded on Facebook by saying "If it's a woman's natural inclination to pull her nipple out in public and you support that, then you should have no problem with a man's inclination to stare at it and grab it."

Stare? Grab it? What kind of numbskull pervert would even propose such a response? What is wrong with you?

Actually, we do know what's wrong with Josh Moore. He's a jackass.

Now obviously, someone would have to reach way up to beat that, but someone did, someone who is a true champion at being a clown.

So the winner for Clown of the Year, Total Jackassery category, is GOPper Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

Rep. Steve King
During the GOPper national convention in July, he was on an MSNBC panel moderated by Chris Hayes along with White House correspondent April Ryan and Charles Pierce, a writer for Esquire.

When Pierce said that the convention hall "is wired by loud, unhappy, dissatisfied white people," King said Pierce should "go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you're talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?"

Hayes, clearly taken aback, asked King "Than white people?" to which our champion clown said "than Western civilization," which he then described as "rooted in western Europe, eastern Europe and the United States of America" - in other words, essentially white people - "and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world."

Beyond the fact that the roots of the very concept of "civilization" as we understand the term lie in Mesopotamia, the site of the world's first settled communities, and leaving aside such non-Western creations as, to cite just a few, astronomy, monetary systems, ink, paper, clocks, the compass, hospitals, the first university, and oh, yeah, our modern system of mathematics, which has made our entire modern world possible, unless you would rather be balancing your checkbook in Roman numerals, there is something else that the non-western world contributed, something that Steve King would surely regard as a contribution: Christianity.

My gosh, looking at Steve King it is hard to believe that so little rational knowledge could be in such a fat head.

Steve King, Clown of the Year 2016, Total Jackassery Category.
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