Advice to government employees

Cross-posted at the Resistance blog

Slate has a article by Ian Samuel, explaining the legal situation for government employees. Samuel is a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School and a former law clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia. The whole article is worth reading, but the last two paragraphs are the most important ones

Of course, asserting your legal rights and standing up to the government you work for aren’t always easy and come with substantial risks. (For one thing, a court might end up agreeing with the Trump administration that its orders were perfectly lawful.) The wise civil servant who was ready to refuse a Trump executive order would do well to talk with a lawyer beforehand. That’s why I’ve offered to represent, pro bono, any government official who refuses to execute a Trump order on the grounds that the order is illegal. A huge number of other lawyers—in particular, professors Daniel Epps (of Washington University in St. Louis) and Leah Litman (of the University of California–Irvine)—have offered their services as well, as have countless other lawyers, paralegals, law students, legal secretaries, and even (my favorite) a bartender in Cleveland.

No government program or White House command is self-executing. It takes thousands and thousands of people, distributed throughout the country, to transform an illegal order into an injustice. These loyal civil servants were there before President Trump arrived and they will mostly be there when he’s gone. Are you one of them? If so: The American system provides you with a choice. You can insist that you were just following orders. Or you can follow the law.

So, if you are a government employee who think that you have gotten an illegal order, there are resources available for you to draw upon. Please use them.

The self-purge has started

I just came across this on my twitter feed: Kara Goldin, CEO of hint water [sic], has resigned from the National Advisory Council On Innovation And Entrepreneurship (NACIE).

She explains her reasons:

I am resigning from NACIE because I believe that we now have a President that has no interest in advice, that is pursuing power as an end in and of itself and that has no intention of solving real problems or creating real opportunities for the people of this great nation. More importantly, as the leader of an innovative company that’s helping America get healthier, I feel a deep obligation to our employees, our investors and our customers to distance myself from the sexism, racism, protectionism and hate that has defined the Trump administration’s first days in office.

Hint is made up of men, women (over 50%), straight people, LGBT people, small people, large people, hispanic people, jewish/christian/muslim people, white people and black people. We are all Americans and we are proud of our country and its values.

The last thing that I want to do is have you think that I would be supporting an administration that is working against the values that I believe as an American that are the key to entrepreneurship.

Kara Goldin joined NACIE under Obama, so it is perhaps not so surprising that she would leave, but for her to state the reasons so bluntly is rather remarkable.

This, of course, follows Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber, leaving Trump’s business advisory council. This decision was driven by the #DeleteUber campaign, but it demonstrates that American CEOs find the cost of being pals with Trump too high, and decide that it is not worth it.

Not everyone appears to feel that way – Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, is still part of the business advisory council. A lot of people believe that this might have something to do with the nearly $5 billion dollars his companies get in in government subsidies. I am not a great fan of Musk for a number of reasons, but until now, I believed he held some principles. This doesn’t appear to be the case. I hope that this will have consequences for him and his businesses. I know for certain that I will remember to bring up his ties to Trump, every time people are mindlessly repeating his claims in the future.

Going back to the people leaving the different councils – I think we will see many people do that in the coming weeks. Most will probably do it fairly quietly, but some will feel the need to clearly distance themselves from Trump.

On the tactics on punching Nazis

I am a bit late to the party, but I thought that I’d comment a bit on Richard Spencer getting punched in front of TV cameras

A lot of debate has been going since then, about whether it was acceptable to do so, and if, whether it was good tactics to do so in front of cameras.

Well, legally, it is clearly not acceptable, since it is assault. Morally, on the other hand, I personally don’t have a problem with someone literately advocating genocide and/or promoting an ideology which is based upon genocide getting punched. Some people tries to make the slippery slope argument, asking when it is OK and when it is not, implying that next step will be to punch granny because she voted for Trump. Well, no – the line is clear – if you directly promotes either genocide or an ideology based upon genocide, then it is acceptable. It might be acceptable to punch other groups, based on other clear criteria, but it doesn’t mean that anyone remotely related to the first group get punched.

And it is not like people hasn’t tried to debate Richard Spencer before.

On the tactics parts.

Some people think it might be a bad idea to punch Spencer in front of the TV cameras, as it allows him to play martyr, and others to claim that the left is just as bad as the right. I will concede that there is some truth to that concern, but I still think it is a good idea. Nazis and other white supremacists won’t go away if you play nice with them – maybe they will on an individual level, but not as a group/movement.

Every time someone has gotten rid of Nazis, it has required people to stand up to them physically.

Why should we believe that this is any different? Especially when they’ve got direct influence on the White House, and backing by senior members of the Trump staff?

No, the only way to get them to stop promoting their hate, is to show them that they are not accepted – this can be done through demonstrations, but it can also be done by the means of punching them, when a TV channel gives them a platform.

Or as I stated on Twitter, just after it happened:

So, in other words, I find the tactics of punching Nazis in front of camera effective in the sense that it will make the Nazis crawl back into the shadows, and stop them spreading their ideology. Given this, it could be argued that it is actually more effective tactics to punch Spencer in front on rolling cameras than away from the camera.

 

The Year 2016 – a review

In just over 5 hours, it is midnight here in Denmark, and the year 2016 will be at an end.

With the end of 2016 comes the end of a great year on the personal level, but a horrible year on the broader scale.

It was a great year for me personally, as I bought a new apartment in a part of Copenhagen that I really wanted to live in. I have lived in the apartment for half a year, and even though it still needs some renovations (a bathroom where I can move around in the shower), it has been great living here.

On top of that, it has been a good year for traveling – I started the year in Australia, and have since then been to:

  • Berlin, Germany (twice)
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Ghent, Belgium (first time there)
  • Venice, Italy
  • Tokyo, Japan (first time there)
  • Malaga/Marbella, Spain (work conference)
  • Chicago, USA
  • Springfield, Mo (for Skepticon)
  • Orlando, Florida (work conference)
  • Florence, Italy (first visit in 30 years)

As someone who loves traveling, experiencing new food, and looking at great art, this has obviously been very enjoyable.

Work-wise, there have been some disappointments, but I still love what I do and love the people I work together with, so there is no real reasons to complain.

On the down side, moving apartments combined with all the traveling, means I have had less time to do stuff in Denmark as I’d have liked. It means I haven’t seen my friends as much as I’d have liked, and that I have had to miss out on some of the Copenhagen Skeptics in the Pub sessions.

But on balance, my year has been a pretty good one on the personal level.

On a more general level, however, the year has been horrible – and here I am not talking about the list of great people who have died this year. Rather, I am talking about the political climate in Denmark and in the rest of the world.

In Denmark, a right-winged single-party government has been in power from mid-2015. This government was dependent on the support of libertarian and far-right, xenophobic parties in the Danish parliament, and thus were busy pandering to those parties (reducing taxes and trying to block refugees and immigrants). A few months ago, the government changed, and included two more parties, including the libertarian party (also a conservative party), making the agenda of the libertarians a part of the government platform.

At the same time, the Danish Social-democratic party seems to try to win votes from the far-right, xenophobic party, by becoming more and more anti-immigrant and xenophobic, which means that even if there is a change in government, it is highly unlikely that the current policies will be rolled back.

Looking more broadly, there is of course Brexit, in which an anti-EU xenophobic block managed to convince enough voters in the UK to vote to leave the EU for the referendum to result in a leave vote. This was done through lying and fear-mongering, and should have had no place in a referendum in a modern democracy, but apparently it did, with disastrous results, in my opinion. My opinion seems to be shared by many people in the UK, including many of those who voted for leaving, so one could hope that a better solution is found in the end.

If the UK (perhaps minus Scotland) leaves the EU, I think the EU has no choice to treat them fairly harshly in the upcoming negotiations, showing that leaving the EU has consequences.

And then there is the US election. What a clusterfuck that was. There were two candidates, one of which was eminently qualified and the other who was unqualified on every level one could think off. Yet, a large portion of the voters took a look at those candidates, and decided to vote for the unqualified one. Due to the setup of the US voting system, this portion was large enough to ensure that that candidate won.

So, Trump is the upcoming US President.

In the time since the election, he has done nothing but create one international crisis after the other, often by the simple act of using Twitter. Well, when I say “nothing”, I obviously don’t mean that – he has also been busy appointing the most unqualified cabinet one could possible imagine; if you can think of someone who would be completely unqualified for a cabinet position, it is highly likely that Trump wants to appoint that person for that position!

Given the fact that the GOP is in complete control of the houses, it also means that the GOP can more or less implement all their policies at will.

The policies that both Trump, and many of the GOP members went to election on, includes things like getting rid of Obamacare, deporting undocumented immigrants, rolling back LGBT rights, reducing taxes for the rich, and creating a register of all Muslims in the US.

In other words, the Trump presidency is going to be horrible for marginalized people of all types.

And here I haven’t even gotten into Trump’s fascist tendencies and the mutual support between him and Putin, which might cause serious problems in Ukraine, the Baltic countries and other former Soviet countries.

So, all in all, 2016 has been a pretty bad year, and will spill over into the years to come.

Confront them!

Apparently members of the Trump and Clinton campaign recently met at Harvard University:

As is now a tradition every four years, the Harvard Kennedy School invites the influential players of a presidential election to speak and debate on panels, and mingle with eager, inquisitive grad students and professionally nettlesome reporters.

The description is from the Daily Beast article linked above. The article is pretty bad, but I found it worth linking to for the following picture:

white-supremacists

Apparently this was something that happened at debate – it’s a verbal exchange between well-documented liar and Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and Jennifer Palmieri, the communications director for Hillary for America.

I think Palmieri is doing the right thing here – confronting the Trump campaign and its supporters with the fact that the Trump campaign was build upon hate and sexism. They are trying to deny it now, but it really was, so it is important to keep pointing it out!

 

Lazy linking

A few links to things I have come across recently

3 Men Arrested in Plot to Bomb Kansas Aparment Complex, Mosque Following Presidential Election

Three members of a southwest Kansas militia dubbed the “Crusaders” were arrested Friday on charges stemming from a plot to attack a housing complex that houses a mosque in Garden City, Kan.

It is hardly a surprise that right-wingers are a genuine terrorist threat in the US, and it is good to see that the law enforcement are aware of this, and can stop them before they can effectuate their plans.

 

Parkinson’s researcher with three retractions heads to court on Monday

On Monday, Parkinson’s researcher Caroline Barwood will head to court in Brisbane, Australia, following a probe at her former institution, the University of Queensland (UQ).

Barwood was granted bail in November, 2014 — charges included  that she “dishonestly applied for grant funds,” and fabricated research that claimed a breakthrough in treating Parkinson’s disease, according to The Guardian. In March, Bruce Murdoch, a former colleague of Barwood’s at UQ, pleaded guilty to 17 fraud-related charges, and received a two-year suspended sentence after an institutional investigation into 92 academic papers.

It is fairly rare that scientists are facing trial after having fabricated research, probably because it can be difficult to be sure whether they actually fraudulently fabricated their result. In cases like this, where there were claims of breakthroughs in an area, giving people false hope, I think it is important for there to be a legal follow up.

 

Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously means listening to what they’re actually saying

Donald Trump’s supporters deserve to have their concerns taken seriously.

If the media and commentators in 2016 can agree on nothing else, it’s this. It’s a bit of an odd meme. I can remember literally no one in 2012 dwelling on the importance of taking the concerns of Mitt Romney voters seriously, even though they made up a considerably larger share of the population than Trump supporters. No one talks about taking the interests of Hillary Clinton supporters, a still larger group, seriously.

But Trump supporters, a smaller group backing a considerably more loathsome agenda, have received an unprecedented outpouring of sympathy, undertaken as a sort of passive-aggressive snipe at unnamed other commentators and politicians perceived to not be taking their concerns seriously.

But there’s something striking about this line of commentary: It doesn’t take the stated concerns of Trump voters, and voters for similar far-right populists abroad, seriously in the slightest.

In the primary, though, the story was, as my colleague Zack Beauchamp has explained at length, almost entirely about racial resentment. There’s a wide array of data to back this up.

UCLA’s Michael Tesler has found that support for Trump in the primaries strongly correlated with respondents’ racial resentment, as measured by survey data. Similarly, Republican voters with the lowest opinions of Muslims were the most likely to vote for Trump, and voters who strongly support mass deportation of undocumented immigrants were likelier to support him in the primaries too.

We see the same in Denmark, where we always hear about how the voters for the xenophobic Danish Peoples’ Party (Dansk Folkeparti) have a lot of concerns which we should take serious, but when you listen to what the actual supporters say, it is all about foreigners and getting rid of them.

 

I guess Biden is not a Trump fan

ABC has uploaded a speech by Vice President Joe Biden, where he talks about Donald Trump. The description doesn’t say where and when it was given, but it was clearly after the first presidential debate.

I think the speech is pretty powerful, and could help move some doubters – either to not vote Trump or to vote Clinton.

What’s interesting, is that Biden’s speech is mostly about Trump’s one-liners (“because I’m smart”, “that’s called good business”), which demonstrates once again that the biggest liability for the Trump campaign is Donald Trump

15 years ago

Throughout your life, you will live through a number of events that will get burned into your memory for ever. Some of them are personal, and don’t really affect anyone else but you, while others are shared across large groups of people, even populations, and can have lasting effects on not only your life, but the life of everyone on the planet.

15 years ago a event happened that shaped the world in ways that was impossible to predict at the time.

I am of course talking about 9/11. The attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

I remember the day it happened quite clearly. I was at home, when one of my friends called me, and told me to get on the internet – this was just after the second plane had hit. I managed to get online before the towers collapsed, and remember the confusion and the many rumors being reported, which later turned out to be wrong.

At the time, I was active in Readerville, the now-closed book forum, where there was a general purpose discussion thread, which turned into a news and support thread. Most major news sites were overwhelmed with the traffic that hit them, and google put up a cached version of New York Times, allowing people to read it (with a delay). Even this cached version was at times overwhelmed by the sheer traffic. The most reliable news source many of the US regulars on Readerville had, was an ex-pat living in Amsterdam, reporting what they news there said – this news channel only brought verified news, so it cut out the rumors.

It was a horrible day – I knew a fair number of people in both New York and in Washington D.C., and it took days before I knew that they were all safe. Several of them had witnessed the attacks, and some had lost friends or family that day.

Looking back, it can be hard to explain to younger people why the attacks on the WTC was such a shock. Why we, even at the time, felt that this was a game changer. It was hardly like it was the first terrorist attack that had ever happened – not in the US, and not even on the WTC. But the scope of it felt very different. It somehow changed terrorist attacks from being attacks on single targets, to being coordinated on multiple targets, using other innocent victims as the weapons.

I am not sure that this in itself would have been enough to make 9/11 a gamechanger, but combined with the US president at the time, George W. Bush, it changed the geo-political reality we live in.

Using 9/11 as he vehicle, George W. Bush started two major wars – the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. The war in Afghanistan was, in my opinion, justifiable,  but handled completely wrong, especially after the start of the Iraq War, which could not in any way be justified by 9/11, and which in my opinion was an illegal war. Both of these wars are still going on today, and are costing lives among both the soldiers sent there and among the civilians. They are also the breeding ground for resentment, and for militant groups, which later turn into terrorists (see e.g. ISIS).

There are a lot of people saying “never forget 9/11”, but I see little chance of that happening. It will decades before the damages from 9/11 and the reaction to it will be even partly undone. Rather, we should say “learn from 9/11”. Don’t let terrorist acts, no matter how horrible, get you to allow politicians to lead the country into groundless wars.

On that note, my condolences are with everybody who lost someone on 9/11, or in the wars that followed it.

Note on comments:

While I generally would allow comments pushing conspiracy theories, if nothing else then for the amusement of shredding them, I actually have little patience for 9/11 Truthers, and I don’t  think a remembrance post is the right place for that sort of stupidity, so any such comments will be deleted, and the poster might get banned.

 

Trump has lost the neoconservatives

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is doing pretty bad in a number of demographics, and is pretty much doing well in one demographic: white men. And even in that demographic, Clinton is catching up.

Even among white men, there are sub-demographics where Trump is doing bad. Some of these are unsurprising, e.g. he is doing badly among LGBT, young men and men with college or higher degree, while others are a bit more surprising, e.g. neoconservatives.

In one sense, it makes sense that neoconservatives are against Trump – they are usually highly educated and international in their outlook. In another sense, it is highly surprising – they are extremely partisan on behalf of the Republican party, and they generally dislike the Clintons. In recent months, however, a number of neoconservatives have come out and said that they would not vote for Trump, and probably would vote for Clinton instead.

The most recent is Paul Wolfowitz, joining people like Bill Kristol in explicitly stating that he is preferring Clinton over Trump.

The Atlantic has a good cheat sheet of where the different Republicans are standing on Trump.

Looking down the list, I am not surprised that monsters like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are backing Trump, but I can’t help being amazed by how many GOP politicians and intellectuals have abstained or even directly opposed the official presidential candidate of the Republican Party.

Think of what this would mean, in the highly unlikely case of Trump winning the election. There would be some kind of civil war in the GOP, probably resulting in a lot of prominent people either leaving the party or getting expelled (Trump doesn’t take opposition nicely).

Even if Clinton wins, as everything points towards right now, there will be a deep schism in the party – probably bigger than the one that the Tea Party takeover created. This would probably mean that the Republican party would spend more time and resources on fighting itself. While this sounds great, the Tea Party takeover of the GOP shows that this might actually be harmful, pushing moderates out and giving power to the extremists.

The only way I see avoiding that, is if Clinton and the Democrats win big, showing that the majority of the electorate rejects extremism, giving GOP moderates the leverage.

It’s Climategate all over again

A couple of weeks ago, apparently timed to cause most damage to the DNC and Hillary Clinton, Wikileaks leaked a number of emails taken from the DNC mail servers by hackers, which appears to be Russian, or have ties to Russia.

After the leak, Wikileaks tweeted out a number of claims about the content of the emails, often linking to a specific email as some kind of evidence. This was picked up by others, and others also added new claims.

Just about all of these claims have now been pretty much debunked (see e.g. here)

The only part that hasn’t been debunked is the fact that several of the DNC staff expressed displeasure with Bernie Sanders, and made suggestions on how to stop him. None of which appears that anyone has followed up upon. Several high position DNC staffers have resigned because of this.

Looking at this, I can’t help thinking of Climategate.

Apart from the Russian hacker connection, there are also many other similarities:

The emails were released at a time to maximize their harm. In Climategate, the emails were released just before the Copenhagen Summit, and was a major cause of the very limited results from the summit. In the DNC emails, they were released just before the DNC convention, but with limited results.

Frustrated comments were taken as evidence for nefarious plots. In Climategate, frustrated scientists wrote about how to stop bad science from getting published, and about withholding data from people they knew would twist and misuse them. In the DNC emails, DNC staffers talked about how to harm the Sanders campaign. In neither cases, did any of the emails lead to any actual actions!

Emails are quoted out of context. In both Climategate and the DNC mails, there are many passages that appears problematic if devoid of context. These are of course those passages that gets quoted all the time. Looking at those passages in context, they suddenly appear much more reasonable (or as the words of a frustrated person, as described above).

The Climategate mails managed to do real, everlasting harm to the planet, by derailing the summit and make the scientist take time to defend themselves. Time they could have spent on research instead.

So far, it appears that the DNC mails haven’t had the same effect, probably because many of us are wiser to the methods of the attackers, and because new technology makes it easier to look up the facts. There is still a risk that the DNC mails might cause lasting damage though – if they somehow gives Trump and the GOP a leverage, allowing him to win. That would cause harm not only to the DNC or even the US, but to the entire world.

In other words, it is important to ensure that any claims about the DNC mails are met swiftly and resoundingly.

Theoretically, the DNC mails could still hold a ticking bomb for the Hillary campaign, but that is highly doubtful. If they did, someone would already have brought it up.

On a passing note, I will just say that it is highly likely that we will see similar email dumps in the future, and it is important to remember Climategate (and the DNC mails), when reacting. Instead of just believing any claims made about what they say, make sure to check the actual mails out, and to do so in context.