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Clinton Faints

So some excitement this weekend:

Hillary Clinton has pneumonia, her doctor said Sunday, hours after the Democratic nominee stumbled and exited a 9/11 commemoration ceremony early.

“Stumbled”. Fainted would be a more apt description.

The incident seems certain to prompt further scrutiny of Clinton’s health and her campaign’s transparency — though Republican rival Donald Trump was uncharacteristically silent throughout a solemn day marking the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

I can only assume this is because Kellyanne Conway seized his phone and locked herself in a vault.

Clinton, 68, was diagnosed on Friday with pneumonia, and “was put on antibiotics, and advised to rest and modify her schedule,” Dr. Lisa Bardack said in a statement.

“While at this morning’s event, she became overheated and dehydrated. I have just examined her and she is now re-hydrated and recovering nicely,” said Bardack, chairman of internal medicine at the Mount Kisco Medical Group.

Pneumonia can vary from “walking pneumonia” to a deathly illness. This explanation from the Clinton camp comports with what we saw yesterday as well as her coughing fit from a week earlier. Despite my distaste for Clinton, I hope she recovers well. Pneumonia, even a “minor” case, is scary business

A few thoughts on the wider issue of candidates’ health:

First, the health of the candidates is a perfectly legitimate concern. Clinton is 68, soon to turn 69. Trump is 70. Either would be the oldest President in American history and both are at an age where health can decline very rapidly, especially under the massive pressure of the Presidency.

The conspiracy theories about Clinton have been silly, but the “how dare you!” response of the press to those questions has been even more ridiculous. And it blew up in the media’s face this weekend. There was a hilarious period of time where the Clinton supporters were insisting that the mild temperatures and low humidity in New York were inferno conditions that would make even the most rugged human pass out. This was before the pneumonia was revealed and they decided that Clinton continuing to campaign while sick showed superhuman strength and vigor.

The health of a Presidential candidate is always a legitimate issue. It was an issue when Tsongas was concealing lymphoma back in ’92. It was an issue with Dole. It was an issue with McCain, specially given his tin dingbat of a running mate. It’s an issue this year. Let’s not pretend it isn’t.

(There’s a part of me that thinks that, in both cases, poor health would almost be a reason to vote for them since Pence and Kaine would make much better Presidents than Clinton or Trump. But the larger concern is a President incapacitated or making poor decisions due to health.)

Second, the paranoia and secrecy of the Clinton camp came home to roost. The Clintons tend to be secretive and untruthful, even when honesty and openness would suit them better. Revealing Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis on Friday or Saturday would have made Trump’s followers crow, but it would have quickly abated as everyone else just wished her a full recovery. Having it crop up this way was the worst possible combination of circumstances.

Third, as much as the Trumpaloos are preening, they are in a glass house on this one. Trump has been completely opaque about his medical history, releasing a crazy note from a California quack and claiming to be in perfect health. Clinton, for all her concealment, release a more detailed note addressing the hematoma from her fall of a few years ago and revealing her hypothyroidism.

The gripping hand here is that it would be really hard for either of these candidates to conceal a major health issue. The schedule demanded of a Presidential candidate is absolutely brutal. During the campaign, they never get a day off and they meet with donors, media or voters all day long (and thus are constantly exposed to pathogens). The idea that Hillary Clinton is being carried to the finish line by the Secret Service or that Trump is concealing cancer is ridiculous.

However … I do think healthcare disclosure remains important. Both candidates should have their medical records reviewed by an independent physician (or three of them). But neither will do it of course since Clinton is paranoid and Trump is consumed with his own vanity and won’t reveal anything. So maybe this is something, like the release of tax returns, we’re going to have to mandate.

The Clinton Quiz

For some reason, this morning’s hoo-hah over Gary Johnson reminded me of a Polish joke from the Cold War. I will adopt it to the present circumstance:

Hillary Clinton is on a game show where you have to answer four questions to win a cash prize. She sits down with the host.

Host: So, Mrs. Clinton, are you ready for you first question?

Clinton: I’ve been ready since 1991, when I …

Host: OK, so … for your first question … what is Iraq?

Clinton: Iraq is a country that I voted to invade in 2003.

Host: That is correct! Now, for your second question … what is Libya?

Clinton: Libya is a country I decided to bomb in 2011.

Host: That is correct! Now, for your third question … what is Syria?

Clinton: Syria is a country I supported bombing in 2014.

Host: That is correct! Now, for your last question … and all the money … what is Aleppo?

Clinton squirms for a while, fiddles with her blackberry, stares off into space, bites her lip. She concentrates very hard. Finally, she clears her throat.

Clinton: Well, I’m not completely sure, but I’ll take a shot at it.

Host: THAT IS CORRECT!

Government, Fast and Slow

Here is what government does when it comes to holding itself accountable:

The Environmental Protection Agency never submitted a report due to Congress in 2014 that might have shed light on the environmental problems with mandating the use of ethanol in gasoline.

When the EPA’s Inspector General pointed out this week that the study was nearly two years overdue, the EPA said they’ll get around to finishing it—by 2024.

Congress created the ethanol mandate in 2005, requiring the blending of corn-based biofuels into gasoline and diesel. A 2007 law expanding the scope of the mandate required the EPA to submit reports to Congress every three years detailing the consequences of that policy on air and water quality. After completing one such report in 2011, the EPA says it ran out of money and didn’t have enough time to keep doing them.

There isn’t a lot of doubt that the ethanol mandate is bad policy. It doesn’t cut greenhouse gas emissions at all. It encourages mono-cropping and putting food into cars instead of starving people’s bellies, driving up the price of cereal crops. It increases smog. It damages the ozone layer. A strange coalition of radical greens, conservatives and libertarians have come to the realization that this is a disastrous policy.

But it’s popular with farmers and popular with ethanol makers and popular with both of our Presidential, ugh, candidates. So the EPA is going to sit on one of the most important environmental analyses they are doing.

By contrast, when it comes to restricting our freedom, the government can move with amazing haste:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has filed a notice of intent (PDF) to place the southeast Asian plant called kratom to the most restrictive classification of the Controlled Substances Act. The plant, Mitragyna speciosa, and its two primary constituents, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, will be temporarily placed onto Schedule I on September 30, according to a filing by the DEA at 8:45 am Eastern time today. The full announcement is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow, August 31.

Various forms of kratom and teas made from the plant’s leaves are sold in cafes and on the internet. Their primary effect is to provide a short-lived peaceful and calm feeling that is described as pleasant. Consistent with this effect being opioid-like, anecdotal reports indicate that some users have used kratom to successfully recover from physical and psychological dependence on prescription opioids and heroin. Comments on my last report on kratom have also indicated the successful use of teas made from the plant in managing chronic pain without the side effects and addictive potential of prescription opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine.

Makes people feel good? Competes with multi-billion dollar drug revenue streams? BATTLE STATIONS!

The justification for banning this is that poison control centers reported about 600 cases of abuse of the drug … over five years. 600 overdoses is probably a good week with alcohol. The risk is so minimal that the North Carolina legislature recently rejected efforts to outlaw it. Making it Schedule I will not only make kratom illegal but hinder any research into it.

These two stories really illustrate how our government works. They move instantly to destroy our freedom based one a rumor. But they can’t be bothered to check their own behavior despite overwhelming scientific evidence.

The Cover-Up

Holy cow:

On Friday afternoon, the FBI released its 47-page report on the investigation into the private email server Hillary Clinton used while serving as secretary of state. (The FBI also released an 11-page document detailing its interview with Clinton in early July.)

Among the things revealed?

  • Clinton had 13 different mobile devices during her tenure as SoS. Most are not accounted for. Some were smashed.
  • Clinton never sought approval for using a private server and ignored warning from her own office about using unsecured devices.
  • Astoundingly, Clinton’s people began wiping her servers three weeks after the story broke in the NYT. This was a deliberate and calculated attempt to hide her e-mails.
  • Clinton didn’t realize that C markings atop e-mails indicated they were confidential.

Clinton also blamed her concussion for her inability to remember some things. This is after weeks of HOW DARE YOU! responses to questions about her health.

You can read the whole thing. Best take on it I’ve seen is from Ken White, who said the kindest interpretation is incompetence and arrogance. The least kind: obstruction of justice and lying to federal agents, which are criminal acts.

The thing that strikes me over and over again is that this was completely unnecessary. If Clinton had simply told the truth right off the bat, this scandal would have died a quiet death. There’s unlikely to be anything truly damning in those e-mails. But the Clintons lie — fluently, repeatedly and instinctively. And, somehow she got away with it. I can appreciate the dilemma that Comey found himself in: an indictment of Clinton would have been the political storm of the century, directly affecting the election. But … at some point … doesn’t the rule of law have to apply to Presidential candidates?

Bye Bye Corey

Good riddance to bad rubbish:

Angela Corey, a state attorney in northeast Florida who investigated the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and prosecuted Marissa Alexander for firing a warning shot during a domestic dispute, lost the Republican primary on Tuesday for 4th circuit judicial state attorney.

Melissa Nelson, a corporate lawyer and former prosecutor, claimed 64% of the vote over Corey’s 26% in the fourth circuit, which oversees Jacksonville, Fla. Nelson will face Kenny Leigh, a write-in candidate who runs a men’s only law firm, in the general election.

Corey, you may remember, initially did not prosecute George Zimmerman after he invoked Florida’s “stand your ground” law. She then changed her mind in the wake of political pressure but failed to get a conviction. She also came under fire for the Marissa Alexander case, where she refused to accept a “stand your ground” defense from a woman defending herself from an abusive boyfriend and got a judge to hand down a 20-year prison sentence (it was later reduced to three years).

That’s just the beginning. Corey has been one of the most aggressive prosecutors in the nation when it comes to charging juveniles as adults and seeking the death penalty in questionable cases. When criticized for her handling of cases, she’s had a tendency to lash out, famously threatening Alan Dershowitz when he criticized her charging of George Zimmerman.

Corey is just the latest prosecutor to go down in flames. Earlier this year, Chicago voters ousted Anita Alvarez for sitting on the Laquan McDonald case and Cleveland voters ditched Tim McGinity for his handling of the Tamir Rice case. This is unusual to say the least. Prosecutors rarely get unelected. But they’re now becoming the targets of unelection campaigns. Whatever one may think of these three prosecutors, I’m glad to see people paying more attention. It’s about time that “lock ‘em up, let God sort em out” stopped being an automatic ticket to power.

And Now Gene Wilder

Oh, come on, 2016. Gene Wilder too?

I couldn’t find any great clips from the 1968 version of The Producers, which is one of the most brilliant comedies ever made. But here’s a great clip from Blazing Saddles

The thing I loved about Wilder was how well he played off of other actors. Great comedies are collaborative and Wilder was one of the best comedy collaborators ever, working with geniuses like Zero Mostel, Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor to create truly great comedy. His work with Mostel is what makes the first Producers so brilliant. The way he played off Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles or Mary Feldman in Young Frankenstein or Richard Pryor was dazzling to behold.

Wilder mostly retired after Gilda Radner died but did occasionally pop up in such things as guest spots in Will and Grace. He will be missed.

The Lost Opportunity

I was asked the other day what the worst aspect of the Trump candidacy is. And after thinking about it, I decided that the worst part may be the lost opportunity.

Republicans went into 2016 with a majority in both houses, a majority of state houses, a majority of governorships and a golden opportunity to defeat a weak, compromised Democratic presidential candidate. Had they nominated someone like Rubio (maybe not him specifically, but someone of that ilk), they wouldn’t be fearing an electoral disaster but wondering just how big his landslide would be.

But its worse than that.

Over the last few months, Speaker Ryan has been rolling out his agenda called “A Better Way”. It has detailed Republican plans for addressing national security, poverty, the economy, Constitutional law, health care and taxes. While I disagree with some of its points, it’s a massively superior agenda to the Far Left nonsense that Clinton has been rolling out.

This is precisely what I’ve wanted the GOP to do for years: not to just oppose Democrats, but to propose a positive alternative agenda; to give people something to vote for. A decent candidate using this agenda would be absolutely crushing Clinton and building toward a 1994 style revolution. And let’s remember, that revolution resulted in a balanced budget, a booming economy and a huge decline in poverty.

This is the worst part of Trump. Trump himself has no policies. He seems to just parrot whatever has been whispered in his ear most recently. Maybe if he were elected, he’d enact parts of the Better Way, but I doubt it. As it is, however, his personality and lack of managerial skill is dooming the GOP, possibly to minority status.

I really hope the GOP can regroup in 2020. Because if it’s a choice between the GOP’s “Better Way” and the Democrats Marxism Light, I know which bodes for a better future.

The Clinton Foundation

This week, AP ran a story alleging that about half of the people outside government who met with Clinton when she was Secretary of State had donated to the Clinton Foundation. This is on top of reports that donors to the Clinton Foundation mysteriously mysteriously earned lucrative contracts from the State Department under Clinton’s tenure. There is no smoking gun at this point; no proof of an explicit quid pro quo. But there is an awful lot of smoke.

The response of the Left Wing has been … astonishing. They have basically been writing pieces all week that are little more than wrappers for the Clinton campaign’s press release. Their claims are basically:

  • The AP deceptively focused on only 154 of Clinton’s thousands of meetings during her tenure. This talking point is garbage. AP deliberately excluded people with whom Clinton would have met anyway as Secretary of State (some of whom, incidentally, were also big Foundation donors). Moreover, the State Department has refused to release large parts of Clinton’s schedule. The AP worked with what they had.
  • There is no explicit proof of a quid-pro-quo.. True enough. But the Left Wing knows perfectly God-damned well that this is not how corruption works. Government corruption does not work like it does in movies with smoke-filled rooms, cackling fat men and suitcases full of cash. What the Foundation donors are alleged to have been buying is access. And a group of people who have spent the last six years screaming and wringing their hands over Citizens United should understand that.
  • The Clinton Foundation is an A-rated charity and puts 88% of its money into good causes. I’m a bit dubious of the charity rater they are citing, who seems a bit too enthusiastic. But even assuming this, that’s kind of beside the point. I’m sure the Clinton Foundation does do a lot of good — $2 billion will do that. That does not mean that donating to it isn’t the best way to get the Clintons’ time and attention. It does not mean that its money can’t be directed toward certain organizations and causes. That the Foundation does good and the Clintons are corrupt are not mutually exclusive possibilities.
  • Republicans don’t face this level of scrutiny.. As the Intercept points out, this is bullshit. Non-profits associated with John McCain, Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush have come under fire for similar incidents. Just because you haven’t been paying attention doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Honestly, it’s pathetic. So pathetic that Vox had to run an article where four experts carefully explained to them why these allegations are so troubling.

Clinton Derangement Syndrome is a thing. There are certainly people who are driven to madness by the Clintons and see everything they do in the worst possible light. But Clinton Defense Derangement Syndrome is also a thing. There are people who continually insist that all the allegations about the Clintons are baseless right-wing smears. Hell, there are people who still insist that Whitewater — which resulted in forty felony convictions — was a whole lot of nothing. To these people, the Clintons are wonderful do-gooders who have endured 25 years of baseless persecution.

(Left unanswered by the Clinton defenders is this: if the Clinton scandals are all Republican dementia and invented nonsense, why have we seen nothing like this with Obama? The Republican hatred of Obama is arguably deeper than their hatred of Clinton. And they’ve tried to pin some stuff on him sure. But they’ve never gotten anywhere with it. The IRS scandal fizzled and ended up focusing on Lois Lerner. The gunwalking scandal fizzled. Benghazi ended up focusing on Clinton (and fizzled). Even the VA scandal fizzled. The most they could come up with from his pre-Presidency days was Jeremiah Wright/Bill Ayers which no one outside of Fox News cared about. They’ve made a lot of noise and tried to get something going, but we’ve not seen them gain the kind of traction they did with Whitewater or Lewinski. And while the media arguably runs interference for Obama, it’s peanuts compared to the interference they run for Clinton. Obama’s been in office for eight years without any felony convictions, impeachment proceedings or perjury. The vast majority of criticism is focused on his policies, not his ethics. Doesn’t this suggest that there may be at least something to the idea that the Clintons are a bit slimy?)

Now I wouldn’t go as far as some pundits have in describing the Clinton Foundation as a criminal organization. The money it dispenses actually goes to good causes, such as providing anti-malarial drugs in Africa and disaster relief in Haiti and Indonesia. It’s also burned money on a lot of dubious liberal initiatives like “sustainability” and patting do-gooders on the back. Overall, I suspect it’s fine … on its terms.

But I also think it’s highly likely that it’s become a nexus of Clinton influence, with donations to the Foundation catching the attention of the Clintons and occasionally largesse from the government. It’s not nothing. And I wish the media would quit pretending that it is.

The Latest Trump Flop

I can’t say I’m surprised that Trump has now flipped his opinion on immigration, now supporting a plan that is not a mile distant from the plans promoted by Rubio and Bush, which he previously denounced as amnesty. In fact, his speech on this change used many of the exact same words Bush used (this isn’t amnesty, they will pay back taxes, etc.). Trump has no deeply held positions; he has a series of publicity stunts. And now that he’s down in the polls, he’s trying to tack left to pick up votes from moderates. Or, equally likely, pick up wavering conservatives who were bothered by his rhetoric on immigration.

What makes this really delightful, however, is that he did this on the same day that Ann Coulter released her latest book “In Trump We Trust”. Coulter has been having a fit over on Twitter. Viz:

If Trump did this just to fuck with Coulter, I may have to reassess my opinion of the man. That would be Olympic caliber trolling.

The Nearest Earth

Well, it’s 24 trillion miles away, but at least we now have somewhere to go once Clintrump send us on a spiral of doom:

In this golden age of exoplanetary science the announcement of a planet 30% more massive than the Earth, in an 11.2 day orbit around a low-mass star with a luminosity 0.15% of the Sun’s would usually elicit little more than a raised eyebrow.

Except for the fact that this world orbits the nearest star to ours; Proxima Centauri.

It means that at a cosmically trifling 24 trillion miles (4.243 light years) from where you are at this instant is an alien system with a planet that could conceivably harbor life as we know it. That planet is estimated to be around 4.9 billion years old, it receives about 65% of the Earth’s stellar irradiation, and its skies – whatever else is in them – are bathed in the red-hued rays of a diminutive star only 12% the mass of our Sun.
Say hello to the closest truly alien world.

The planet was discovered by the very small doppler shift its orbit induces in Proxima Cen. Way back in 1993, I did a presentation in my astrophysics class in which I claimed that this was the best approach to finding extrasolar planets. My professor — who was and is a good friend and a brilliant man — thought I was crazy, that we would never be able to measure doppler shift precisely enough to find Earth-like planets. So every time we do find one this way, I still feel a little thrill of vindication.

There are actually plans to send a probe to a nearby world. Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner is funding a program to send a tiny probe at a significant fraction of the speed of light to a nearby star. It would be a very quick visit. But talking with my exoplanet colleagues this summer, it sounds like he’s serious and this could be done. The main hurdle to be overcome is how to pack it with enough power to transmit a signal back to Earth.

The more we look at the universe, the more ubiquitous we find planets to be. So I’m not entirely surprised by this. The universe is teeming with planets and the number of potentially habitable planets almost certainly numbers in the billions. If we live long enough, we will see a space telescope get a spectrum of a nearby planet’s atmosphere. And then it’s only a matter of time until we find a signal of life in another star system.

In the meantime, let’s hope we one day get off our butts and get moving. The universe is at our doorstep.