Archives for: October 2017

Another Gold Star Feud

One of themes I keep returning to on Twitter is this:

Yes, the media has it in for Trump and will happily blow up even minor gaffes into major crises. Our entire media-political establishment has gotten twitchy and panicky about everything.

But, good Lord does Trump make it easy for them.

I have no idea what was said on the call between Trump and the family of La David Johnson. A Democratic Congresswoman says he said some dumb things and couldn’t remember the soldier’s name. The family has vaguely confirmed this; the Administration has vaguely denied it. I suspect that the family — like most Gold Star families — would rather keep politics away from their tragedy. If forced, I would guess that Trump tried to say something nice but bungled it — i.e., intended to commend Johnson’s bravery but it came out wrong. And now, being Trump, he’s refusing to let it go.

As I said in my post on empathy, part of the job of the President is to make them feel like their concerns are being listened to. Bill Clinton was probably the best I’ve ever seen at this but most Presidents have at least some ability to look people in the eye and make them feel like they care. Trump is able to speak to people’s fears and prejudices, which is probably why he won. But he can’t speak to their higher aspirations, their hopes, their dreams … or their very real sorrows.

This is who he is. We shouldn’t act surprised anymore.

LIGO Triumphs Again

Boom:

Some 130 million years ago, in a galaxy far away, the smoldering cores of two collapsed stars smashed into each other. The resulting explosion sent a burst of gamma rays streaming through space and rippled the very fabric of the universe.

On Aug. 17, those signals reached Earth — and sparked an astronomy revolution.

The distant collision created a “kilonova,” an astronomical marvel that scientists have never seen before. It was the first cosmic event in history to be witnessed via both traditional optical telescopes, which can observe electromagnetic radiation like gamma rays, and gravitational wave detectors, which sense the wrinkles in space-time produced by distant cataclysms. The detection, which involved thousands of researchers working at more than 70 laboratories and telescopes on every continent, heralds a new era in space research known as “multimessenger astrophysics.”

I was part of one of those 70 observatories. It was a very exciting week and represents one of the seminal discoveries in astrophysics. It’s a great day to be an astronomer.

Update: If you want to know what I sound like, here I am, talking to our local NPR station.

Trump Dumps On Iran

After weeks of hinting at it, Trump finally geeked:

President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to pull out of a deal freezing and reversing Iran’s nuclear program if Congress and US allies do not agree to strengthen it, as he unveiled a tough and comprehensive new policy toward the Islamic Republic.

“As I have said many times, the Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” Trump said in a major speech at the White House.

In effect, Trump put the agreement in limbo without killing it off entirely as some backers had feared. But his strategy risks setting off a chain of unpredictable consequences that could end up derailing the deal anyway and eventually raise the risk of war between the US and Iran.

By decertifying the deal, Trump has sent it back to Congress, who can decide to get rid of the deal, remake the deal or send it back to him, at which point he can break it.

A few things to get out of the way: Trump is completely full of shit when he says Iran is violating the deal. The IAEA and every partner in the deal — including the United States — has confirmed that they are in compliance. They had done things we don’t like, such as continuing their missile program. But none of that violates the deal. In fact, the EU has already rejected Trump’s assessment and said they will continue to comply with the deal (EU companies are already doing billions in business with Iran).

Seen in that light, decertifying it like this is pure stupidity. The Iran deal is far from perfect but if we abrogate the deal, that does not restore sanctions. It makes it more likely for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon as they can now resume nuclear research, knowing it will have no effect on whether the US imposes sanctions or not. It also undermines our attempts to negotiate with North Korea (or any country that decides they want a nuke) because they now know that the US will simply back out of a deal even if they are in compliance. This is why almost everyone within Trump’s Administration opposed this move. But one of the running themes of Trump’s presidency is his hatred of Obama and his determination to undo anything Obama did, whether it was a good idea or a bad one. And so … the deal has to go, no matter what the consequences.

Part of this also goes back to Trump’s deluded belief that he’s a great deal-maker, a reputation that his career and the first nine months of his presidency show to be undeserved. As a businessman, his method of making deals was to stiff contractors and milk companies for money while driving them into bankruptcy. He thinks that’s how deals work: Trump does well; everyone else gets shafted. That’s why he sees NAFTA and TPP and Iran as bad deals; because the other side got something too. Real businessmen (and competent Presidents) know that good deals benefit both sides.

And if his history as a businessman weren’t evidence of his lousy deal-making ability, his Presidency has cemented it. With a Republican Congress, it has been highlighted by a failure to fix or repeal Obamacare, a total cave-in to the Democrats on DACA, a failure to reform the budget and a pending failure on tax reform. I realize that his defenders will blame the establishment, the GOP Congress, “the Deep State” and the establishment. But Trump has shown, repeatedly, that he is unfamiliar with policy and has no desire to learn, which makes negotiation impossible. The Republican Party — like all parties — has factions. Uniting those factions requires leadership from the top, which Trump is unable to provide. He expects deals to just sort of … happen.

The result of this decision will not be a better deal. It will be either the resumption of Iran’s nuclear program or a war. Such is the price we are paying for electing this vacuous egotistical idiotic hamster.

And to think what we could have had.

Update: One key point: the Iran deal would have been much more secure had it been made into a treaty and sent through Congress. That may not have happened, of course. But this serves as yet another illustration of why Obama’s Law of the Phone and a Pen was such a terrible idea.

The Weinstein Affair

So last week, the story broke that Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s biggest hitters, has been sexually harassing and abusing women for decades:

An investigation by The New York Times found previously undisclosed allegations against Mr. Weinstein stretching over nearly three decades, documented through interviews with current and former employees and film industry workers, as well as legal records, emails and internal documents from the businesses he has run, Miramax and the Weinstein Company.

During that time, after being confronted with allegations including sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact, Mr. Weinstein has reached at least eight settlements with women, according to two company officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. Among the recipients, The Times found, were a young assistant in New York in 1990, an actress in 1997, an assistant in London in 1998, an Italian model in 2015 and Ms. O’Connor shortly after, according to records and those familiar with the agreements.

Since the story broke, Weinstein had made an unconvincing defense of his behavior, the Weinstein company has fired him and his lawyer has quit. Reactions are ranging from outrageous “everyone knew” to absurd “no on knew”. I can’t judge what other people knew or didn’t know. But it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that Weinstein was not only a sexual predator but allowed to get away with it for decades. This is, after all, the industry that once gave child rapist Roman Polanski a standing ovation. This is, after all, the industry, that blacklisted Rose McGowan for speaking out on sexism. This is an industry that has made a chilling phrase — the casting couch — into a joke. I guarantee you that Weinstein is not unique or even that unusual. This is just the tip of a loathsome iceberg. And the reaction we are seeing from his company his co-workers is not a response to his behavior but a response to the revelation of his behavior.

Naturally, this being 2017, everyone is trying to find a political angle. Weinstein was a big donor to Democrats, so … something. I think that’s a bit rich coming from the party that nominated and elected Donald Trump to the White House. But in any case, Weinstein’s misbehavior means nothing as far as politics goes. There are plenty of rich people who donate to political parties and there may be three or four who don’t have some pattern of abusive behavior in their past. If you want to hit the Democrats for their hypocrisy on Trump, Weinstein should not be who you talk about. You should talk about Ted Kennedy. Or Chris Dodd. Or Bill Clinton. Or John Edwards. Or Mel Reynolds. People they have elected to public office and blindly supported through multiple allegations of misconduct. You should talk about the way they disparaged victims like Juanita Broaddrick and even willing partners like Monica Lewinsky. You should talk about their ties to Jeffrey Epstein.

The horrible truth is that … in his perverse way … Donald Trump was kinda right on the Pussy Tape. He was wrong that women let you grope them if you’re rich and famous; they merely bear it in silence. No, it’s everyone else who let’s you do it. It’s fellow politicians, it’s political followers, it’s fans, it’s producers, it’s actors, it’s the press, it’s the media. Until that changes, powerful men like Weinstein and Trump and Clinton will do whatever they are allowed to do.

Las Vegas

Jesus.

I won’t post observations until we have more facts. But this is just awful, no matter what. 50 dead, 400 injured. Lone gunman in a hotel shooting fish in a barrel at a concert.

Update: The Daily Beast is detailing the victims. As I have said with previous incidents, I will not mention the perpetrator by name:

Willet for the Fifth

One of the few bright spots for the Trump Administration so far has been his nominations for the judiciary. Gorsuch has worked out well so far and other conservative justices are joining the ranks. To be fair, Trump is mainly working from a list produced by the Federalist Society. But that, in itself, shows a bit more wisdom than we’re used to seeing: he’s recognizing that he’s not a legal expert and should defer to those who are.

This week, he nominated Justice Don Willet, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, for the Fifth Circuit. It’s a great choice. While Willet’s court doesn’t deal with criminal matters, his decisions on civil matters have shown a libertarian bent. He’s also one of the more popular accounts on Twitter, where he stays away from hot button issues and mainly posts about history, the law and occasional humor. He has an inspiring
life story
, having been adopted, raised by a single mom and become the first college graduate in his family.

My only reservation is his lack of experience in criminal matters, which I think is something badly lacking in our judiciary. But hopefully he will bring the libertarian tendencies to that as well. We’ll see.