Archives for: August 2017

Texas Deluge

I’ll have more to say on the situation unfolding in Texas. There are still a lot of rumors flying, as there were with Katrina, so we’ll wait to see. It’s a disaster of unprecedented proportions.

However, I did want to note how moved I am to see thousands of people — cops and civilians — doing what they can to help. It seems that every time I turn on the TV or fire up Twitter, I’m presented with images of cops rescuing people from rooftops, civilians in boats rescuing people, trucks driving into the region with supplies or houses of worship opening to anyone who needs shelter. Most without being asked. Most without being paid. All without beating their chests about how heroic they are.

This is who we are. And no politician or political group will change that. As long as I see Americans looking for out for each other, I will maintain my hope for this country.

Antifa on the Attack

No matter how much I might criticize the GOP, Trump or anyone else, that will never diminish my disgust for the crap like this:

Their faces hidden behind black bandannas and hoodies, about 100 anarchists and antifa— “anti-fascist” — members barreled into a protest Sunday afternoon in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

Jumping over plastic and concrete barriers, the group melted into a larger crowd of around 2,000 that had marched peacefully throughout the sunny afternoon for a “Rally Against Hate” gathering.

Shortly after, violence began to flare. A pepper-spray-wielding Trump supporter was smacked to the ground with homemade shields. Another was attacked by five black-clad antifa members, each windmilling kicks and punches into a man desperately trying to protect himself. A conservative group leader retreated for safety behind a line of riot police as marchers chucked water bottles, shot off pepper spray and screamed, “Fascist go home!”

Let’s be clear. These weren’t Nazis. Or Klan members. These were peaceful protesters marching in opposition to Marxism and support of Trump. And Antifa set upon them, even (according to rumor) beating a passerby into a coma. There’s plenty of video if you want it.

In the wake of Charlottesville, there was a brief surge of portraying Antifa as heroes for fighting against fascism. There were even bizarre comparisons made to World War II. But this is not fighting against fascism. This is using violence to shut down speech Antifa doesn’t like. It’s disgraceful. And if the Republicans were as slow to denounce similar violence as the Democrats have been to denounce this violence, it would be a national scandal.

Months ago, someone sucker punched Richard Spencer. I and many others objected to it, pointing out that this was using violence against a man who, while hateful and vile, was not engaged in violence. The Left split on this, with some opposing it but many saying punching a Nazi was OK because … you know … Nazis.

But now we’re seeing that the “don’t punch people” side was right. It has proven to be a very short leap from “punch a Nazi” to “punch a Trump supporter” to “beat the hell out of anyone you think might be”.

Arpaio Free

I guess it won’t come as any surprise to readers of this blog that I am no fan of “Sheriff Joe”. Funnily enough, my conservative temperament tends to side against people who routinely ignore violent crime to pursue illegal immigration, whose myriad abuses have resulted in multiple deaths and $140 million in settlements and compound their illegal actions by ignoring a court order. The later finally resulted in a misdemeanor conviction for contempt of court although sentence had yet to be passed. Arpaio claims this was an Obama vendetta, but the case was about as clear-cut as cases get: brought by a federal judge, referred to the DOJ and pursued by career lawyers in Public Integrity.

Arpaio has been a hero in conservative circles for a while given his aggressive pursuit of illegal immigrants and his humiliation of prisoners. He shouldn’t be. The Phoenix New Times has been covering his abuses for years. Here’s a sampling:

Click the link, then scroll down. And while I would dubious of characterizing him as “one of the most racist evil men alive”, this thread also catalogues his abuses:

Web cams in women’s bathrooms, fake assassination attempts, using his office to spy on his opponents, detaining or arresting every Hispanic in sight, arresting reporters, denying critical care to prisoners (one instance of which results in the death of a baby). Call that “tough on crime” if you want. I call it lawlessness and thuggery.

This comes up because Donald Trump just pardoned him. While I support the use of the Presidential pardon, I am very conscious of ways it can be abused (e.g., Marc Rich). This falls into that category. Of all the people Trump could have pardoned, this is the first one he picks. I suspect its partially because he likes Arpaio (and David Clarke, another “hero” whose abuse of the law is legendary). And also partially Arpaio was an early Trump supporter.

So … to sum up … Trump just pardoned one of the most unlawful “lawmen” in America because he was a supporter.

So much for draining the swamp.

Wrong Robert Lee

I have somewhat mixed feelings about the current debate over the removal of confederate statues. I see the point of the defenders that they reflect pride and history. And I am against vigilantes pulling them down on their own. But I also see the point of the critics: that these statues were mostly erected in the 1920’s and 1950’s, when America was undergoing spasms of racial strife. Some — like the Battle of Liberty Place Monument — were specifically erected as an act of defiance against the federal government by racists. I probably end up where Radley Balko is: preferring they be moved from places of honor to museums or parks where their context can be given. But I certainly see the other side of this debate and don’t think it is entirely defined by racist shitheads.

The question always gets asked: where do you draw the line? Should statues of Jefferson and Washington come down, too? But first of all, you’ve already drawn a line. I doubt that anyone would want statues of Che or Mao or Stalin or Hitler in a places of honor. If you favor keeping the current confederate statues up, you’re just drawing the line behind Jeff Davis rather than in front of him. Second, line-drawing is what we do in politics. We say that consensual sex is OK, but non-consensual is not. We say that killing someone in self-defense is OK, but murder is not. We draw lines constantly. And I see no reason why we can’t at least debate where the line gets drawn on statues. Agreeing with the Lefty Kooks on one thing does not mean you have to agree with them on everything. There’s no law of nature or politics requiring that we let this be a slippery slope.

For example

On Tuesday night, [ESPN] confirmed that its management moved an Asian-American announcer, Robert Lee, off the University of Virginia’s home opener football game “simply because of the coincidence of his name.”

Earlier Tuesday, a source had told CNN that Lee was abruptly switched to the Youngstown versus Pitt game. He had recently been promoted by ESPN, so the switch was a sensitive matter.

News of the decision follows the violence that broke out earlier this month at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The night before the deadly violence, white nationalists marched across the UVA campus, carrying torches and chanting racist slogans.

This is … ridiculous. And I’m sure the network realized it about ten seconds into the ensuing uproar. There is a valid debate to be had over Robert E. Lee’s character and legacy. I can see why some people might be offended by venerating the man who fought for slavery. But, Christ, his name is not kryptonite to black people. Just hearing that name, or someone with a similar name, is not going to make them weep. Removing him isn’t going to ease racial tension by one iota. And while the debate over the confederacy’s legacy is an interesting one, it is not the most important race issue we face right now.

How Cool Is This?

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie “Jaws” was when Quint, after comparing battle scars with Hooper (what guy is not proud of his body scars?), recounts his personal survival tale in the sinking of the USS Indianapolis (you can find that scene on youtube), chilling.

Most guys are familiar with the USS Indianapolis story, a remarkable story. After a top secret mission to deliver the unassembled parts of the atomic bomb to the island of Tinian (The American airfield where it was loaded onto a B-29 superfortress and dropped on Japan), it was later torpedoed on return to the Philippines. Sinking in 12 minutes, most survivors did not have life jackets. 5 days later what was left of the survivors were rescued by a spotter plane who by blind luck was in the area.

About 5 years ago I read In Harms Way, not only a must read for any history buff, but a book that will honestly scare the bejesus out of you and keep you up at night.

So it was with great interest that I read just the other day that the USS Indianapolis has at last been found;

300 sailors are still entombed in the wreckage. I suspect that the ship will be given the grace and respect afforded to others, like the USS Arizona but it will be interesting to see what film footage the finders can capture as they explore the wreckage.

As an aside, about 10 years ago I read the biography of Admiral Ernest King, the alter ego of George Marshall, but on the Navy side. A real SOB, it was his call to court martial the ships captain (The only captain in WW2 court martial-led for losing his ship). He wanted this guy so bad that he had aides fly to Japan, find the Japanese captain of the submarine that sank the ship, fly him to Pearl, and testify. But this backfired when the sub captain testified that the weather conditions were ideal, there was nothing the ship commander could do, and it was an impossibility to miss the shot.

Sadly, the ship captain received a constant barrage of letters from loved ones who died, blaming him for the deaths, and he took his own life in 1968.

Trump’s Press Conference

I can not respond to that disgrace any better than Charles Krauthammer did:

I never thought I would see an American President fumble a response to Nazis. But here we are.

One of the biggest problems with Trump is that he has fucks like Bannon, Gorka and Miller whispering into his ear that the racists who marched through Charlottesville are his base, the people who got him elected. They are not. The White Supremacists managed to gather less people than would show up for a National March against Mayonnaise. Even that lunatic Farrakhan managed to get a thousand times as many for his Million Man March. They are a fringe. They are less than a percent of the people who voted for Trump. But Trump he been persuaded that they are the bulk of the GOP.

Charlottesville

This is a bit personal for me. I went to graduate school at the University of Virginia. Charlottesville is a great college town. I spent six of the happiest years of my life there. I met my wife there. I made lifelong friends there. I started my career as an astronomer there. It’s one of the few cities I would consider moving to from my current digs.

So to see a bunch of alt-right white-supremacist clowns walking around with tiki torches and chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans hurts. I absolutely support their right to free speech, of course. If people hold vile views, I want them to publicly own it. As fellow UVa Astronomy alum Phil Plait put it:

The proximate cause was Charlottesville’s decision to sell off some confederate monuments, part of a national movement to get rid of such monuments. While I am very attentive to history, I’m also aware that most of these monuments were erected as protests against the Civil Rights movement. So I’m not opposed to seeing them go.

Things got worse this afternoon. After counter-protests and some violent clashes caused the alt-right rally to break up, someone drove a car into the crowd. I won’t embed the video, but it’s easy to find. It looks deliberate to me. And if so, it was an act of terrorism. And I hope they throw the book at the piece of garbage who did it.

I suppose we should take some comfort in that The National Rally for Racist Pieces of Shit only managed to get a few hundred of these dopes. But that’s cold comfort when I see people being mowed down on a street I once walked down in a happy daze because a pretty girl had gone out on a date with me. Any Nazis are too many Nazis.

Update: A good and balanced first hand account.

On the Brink

Hmmm:

North Korea’s military is “examining the operational plan” to strike areas around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic missiles, state-run news agency KCNA said early Wednesday local time.

Specifically, the statement mentioned a potential strike on “Andersen Air Force Base in which the US strategic bombers, which get on the nerves of the DPRK and threaten and blackmail it through their frequent visits to the sky above south Korea, are stationed and to send a serious warning signal to the US.”
Guam’s Office of Civil Defense issued a statement Wednesday saying there was no imminent threat to the safety of the US territory’s residents and visitors. Around 160,000 people live on Guam, including thousands of US troops.

The immediate cause of this appears to have been Trump’s statement that if the Norks continued to threaten the US, they would “face fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

There are several things to unroll here in the building tension with North Korea. North Korea has nukes, but it’s not clear that they can mate them to missiles (yet). If a conventional military engagement occurred, we could easily beat them. But the cost would be catastrophic — most likely Seoul bombarded with one of the largest artillery actions in history. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands dead and one of the world’s economic powerhouses reduced to rubble. Not to mention the potential of an engagement with China.

The X-factor, of course, is our own nuclear weapons which Trump has single and unconstrained control over. And Trump is showing, every day, that everything we feared about his temperament is correct. Rick Wilson:

Some presidents meet crisis with resolve and discipline. Some have a team of serious, capable advisers who bring knowledge, focus, and insight into complex regions and actors. Some have guts. Some have intellectual horsepower and mental bandwidth. Some understand people and power.

What we know of Donald Trump is that he lacks all of these characteristics, and while some of his advisers have shining parts, he ignores those who offer him counsel on how to behave, govern, and lead as a president. The Scaramucci sideshow was one more example of how deeply unready Trump is for a real crisis and how at risk our nation is because the president is temperamentally (and, let’s be real, mentally) unfit to serve. Donald Trump the television character—decisive, worldly, smart, and always in control—is precisely the opposite of Donald Trump the man. The real Donald Trump is moody, needy, shallow, and impulsive.

This is something we forget. The Trump Administration is under siege during a time of peace and reasonable prosperity. But a real crisis is coming. Even if cooler heads prevail in Korea, it could be something else: a terrorist attack, an attack on an ally, a stock market crash, something. Has anything Trump has done so far made you think he’s capable of dealing with it?

For what it’s worth, I don’t know that there is a solution to the North Korean situation. But if there is one, I am not confident that we have the leadership in place to achieve it.

Behind Closed Doors

I’ve mostly ignored Trump when he whines about leaks from his Administration. I suspect half the leaks are from him anyway. But I’m forced to agree with David Frum on the new leak of transcripts of the President’s conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.

Thursday’s leak to The Washington Post of President Trump’s calls with the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia will reverberate around the world. No leader will again speak candidly on the phone to Washington, D.C.—at least for the duration of this presidency, and perhaps for longer. If these calls can be leaked, any call can be leaked—and no leader dare say anything to the president of the United States that he or she would not wish to read in the news at home.

A lot of people are jumping up and down because Trump sounds rather foolish in the transcripts and it shows a lot of his claims about those calls to be lies. But the price of this … entertainment … is damage to our foreign relations. And it serves no actual purpose other than embarrassing Trump.

There are times when world leaders need to say things to each other in confidence; times when they need to do and say things that would be unpopular. Breaking this confidence hurts their ability to do so.