And now, the Congressional-Corporate interactive Corruption!

PZ has brought attention to congressional corruption (in the form of insider trading) and corporate corruption (in the form of stock buy-backs) earlier today. But hark! Fear not that they have lost out on opportunities to engage in mutual corruption. 119 members of congress, including Dems and Reps both, are now calling to use anti-coronavirus legislation to boost purchases of F-35 fighters.

Now one or both of you may actually be confused. While there’s legitimate concern for the economy and stimulus is warranted, the concern isn’t that defense contractors don’t have enough work, but rather that people who are unable to work for fear of transmitting the virus will stop spending money, either because they completely run out or because of fear their savings might not last. Economic stimulus always functions best when given to the poorest, and this case is no exception. Indeed, production speed wouldn’t be increased, so calling for more fighters simply means that production activities due to end a decade from now will instead come to a close 3 or 5 years later than that. While defense contractors like the legislation I’m sure, it does fuck all to help the economy now.

But if neither the virus is vulnerable to air-to-air missiles nor its economic effects offset by distant future delays in closing fighter jet assembly lines, we can at least take heart that the military-industrial-congressional complex have been brought together in hard times to work in unison for mutually beneficial corruption.

Trump Administration Ordered Immigration Courts to Spread Coronavirus

Is almost literally what happened earlier today, March 9th, 2020. The National Association of Immigration Judges recommended that immigration courts display disease prevention posters in english and several other languages to protect court employees, lawyers, and attendees.

But as odd as it seems for a court to be part of the executive branch, in the case of immigration courts, they are organized under Article II powers (executive powers, thus  accountable to the president) rather than article III (judicial powers, thus accountable to the Supreme Court generally on some matters, or the Chief Justice specifically on remaining matters) because the constitution gives authority over immigration and naturalization to the executive, subject to duly passed laws.

As a result, the President has the authority to interfere with immigration courts to the extent not prohibited by law passed by Congress and signed by the President (or passed with veto-override). Apparently the President or his delegates were none too pleased that immigration judges wanted to prevent death and disease and ordered immigration courts to take the posters down:

It’s hard to explain just how heinous and shortsighted this is, but mostly because it is so obviously heinous and shortsighted. To the Trumpists who actually need this explained, I doubt comprehension will ever come.

Confessions of an Imperfect Pacifist

I’m a pacifist who has never figured out how to apply her principles to others. I worked too many years in anti-Domestic Violence & Sexual assault shelters to scold people for self-defense merely because it, too, is a form of violence. Yet I’m extreme enough in my personal pacifism that during times when I was targeted for violence, including many, many times during a violent relationship in my 20s, that I never, not once, hit back against my attacker.

Part of that might be cowardice: violent relationships can be incredibly scary, and even if you are accomplished in a martial art (I’m not), you can always be stabbed or shot in your sleep. My own abuser frequently told me that she would stab me straight through the kidney while I slept if I ever hurt her.

Part of that might also be a devaluation of myself: I’ve always been convinced on a deep level resistant to reason that I am simply worth less than other people, and that assaults against me aren’t worthy of punishment in the way that the same violence targeting a different person might be.

But for whatever reason, my aversion to violence even in defense of myself exists and is extreme enough that I still sometimes denigrate myself for once bear hugging my abuser to stop her from hurting me one night.*1

And yet, I’ve never yet taken a stand in favor of unilateral nuclear disarmament. Many of my friends have, and I don’t criticize them for it. And I’ve read a little about the state of so-called “nuclear strategy”, which to my lay-mind comes across as dangerously incoherent at times. Yet I concede that even if the nuclear weapons of the USA don’t actually deter nuclear attack (and they probably do, at least to some extent – the argument is more over how much and in what situations), the possibility of disarming could be a greatly powerful lever magnifying the force of US efforts to get other countries to disarm. So I’ve always thought that it would be better to delay disarmament just long enough to get other countries to disarm with us.

It is also true, of course, that the US rocket and warhead stockpiles have been aging. And this brings us to my current dilemma: while the details are secret, we know that efforts to “modernize” missiles and warheads can only do so much and that eventually new rockets must be built from scratch, and new warheads made after melting the fissile material contained in the old and removing the impurities resulting from radioactive decay. The Trump administration is claiming that we have reached this point and is asking for a 20% increase in the modernization budget, but spending more of that money on fundamentally renewing the arsenal. A right winger at the American Enterprise Institute, Mackenzie Eaglen, told Axios that nuclear weapons systems have reached the “end of their service lives” and added, “We keep putting bandaids over bandaids and now new systems are required.”

I don’t want more nuclear weapons, and I don’t see Trump negotiating a global nuclear disarmament. Given that simply keeping these weapons systems around carries its own risks as components age and become liable to malfunctions upon which I’m not qualified to speculate and am afraid to imagine, should the responsible pacifist be calling for immediate and unilateral disassembly of dangerously aged weapons systems or supporting the new infrastructure the Trump regime is calling for?

Part of my dilemma is that much of the information I would use to make my decision is classified. How many systems would need to be immediately dismantled for reasons of safety? If it was only 70-80%, I’d be all in favor of that option. If it was 99.9%, I could probably be convinced that the right of other US citizens to self-defense against the nuclear threats of other nations outweighed my own desire to disarm. In between those numbers, I find significant wiggle room to come to different conclusions.

But there are other parts to this dilemma as well. The United States might be the most militarily active nation on the planet, certainly it is in terms of fighting outside its own borders. While there are reasons to mistrust, say, Israel and India with nuclear weapons, there simply isn’t a nuclear armed nation that roams the world in search of people to kill as freely as the United States. While some would like to see the US as one of the countries least likely to use its nuclear arms, I’m not at all sure we aren’t the most likely. If that pessimistic view is true, then getting rid of 100% of American nuclear weapons is the best possible action, even if no other nation disarms. Then there is the possibility that the US is more able to convince nations to disarm if the US had disarmed first. If this is true, then holding on to weapons as diplomatic bargaining chips is off the table as a rationale for retaining some portion of our warheads. Once again, unilateral disarmament, even 100% unilateral disarmament, would likely be the proper position to take.

And yet my consent-focussed, anti-authoritarian self deeply wants us to come to a mutual decision as a society to disarm. I’m wary of advocating unilateral disarmament over the objections of people who argue for their own right to self-defense. This doesn’t stop me from doing so where the data is clear that people are mistaken (for instance in the case of handgun ownership which is consistently correlated with higher mortality rates than disarming even while the rest of one’s neighbors have not disarmed). But data here seem so thin, that I find it difficult to make an irrefutable case that unilateral disarmament will definitely improve safety. And in the absence of that, I find myself wondering if I should be more concerned about accidental deaths from again weapons than the future threat of a renewed nuclear stockpile. Given that I can’t say for sure which path is safer, and given that the weapons already exist (I would have no trouble advocating never building nuclear weapons in a country that had none), I find myself second-guessing my own instinct to oppose Trump’s budget request.

and… that’s it. There’s no grand rhetoric in service to a definitive aim in this post. I want all the nukes gone, but I’m just not sure which step is the right next step, while the aging stockpile increases the pressure to have an answer right now even though I have yet to acquire, and quite likely will never acquire, the information I would need to make what i feel are good judgments on a topic of this importance and complexity.

I’d welcome any thoughts anyone else might have about how to respond to this current dilemma. Will those of you who hold US citizenship be contacting your representatives and senators to advocate against this suggested appropriation? Do you have more educated thoughts on whether it’s time to disarm whether or not we can get other countries to disarm with us? I’m simply at a loss.


*1 It’s hard to explain to anyone else how that night was different from others, but my partner’s violence that night was frenzied. Normally she preferred to attack unpredictably, but not wildly. That night she was screaming more in anguish than anger, and I simply intuited that holding her would allow her to calm rather than escalating the situation as it would have on other nights. I chose correctly, and she calmed after a couple minutes and I let her go, but there are times when I’m so deep in my depression that I can’t remember that the combination of self-defense and the help I provided to her that did shorten her distress more than justified an action that physically restrained her freedom.

Yes, the Right to Vote

Over on Pharyngula, PZ has a post up unequivocally supporting trans* persons equality with any other human where rights are concerned. As PZ and many, many others have put it: Trans rights are human rights.

In the thread, helpfully titled, “Arguments are closed, I’m not going to argue with anyone about trans rights”, someone showed up who wanted to argue about trans rights. You’ve really got to hand it to some folks, y’know? And on the one hand, this person (so far) doesn’t seem remotely as bad as some others who have commented on Pharyngula opposing trans* persons human rights. On the other, did they even read the post title?

I mean, seriously.

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He learns nothing.

Much has been made of the fact that one of Trump’s defenses (there were many, and not all of them can be advanced simultaneously without obvious and major contradiction, but even so) against Trump’s obvious efforts to get Russia to help his election campaign is that he was simply naive about the law when making pronouncements like, “Russia, if you’re listening…”.

Now, obviously he’s not learned that lesson and his claims of naivety ring hollow given that in the early summer he said that if offered dirt by a foreign nation in the 2020 election, he would still accept it, knowing as he does the illegality and the political consequences of doing so.

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The Transcript Isn’t A Transcript

The White House said it was going to release a transcript of the phone call between Trump and President Zelenskyy of the Ukraine. They’ve now released a document, but the document itself gives us a pretty strong warning that should give us all pause about how this disclosure is being reported:

CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion. The text in this document records the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty “Officers and-NSC policy staff assigned t_o listen.and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place. A numper of factors can affect ‘the accuracy of the record, including poor telecommunications connections and variations in accent and/or interpretation.

The word “inaudible” is used to indifate portions of a conversation that the notetaker was unable to hear.

Nonetheless, USA Today gives us this:

Trump administration releases transcript of call with Ukraine’s President Zelensky amid impeachment inquiry

CBS News gives us this:

Trump call transcript shows he pressed Ukrainian president to probe Biden — live updates

CNBC’s article is headlined:

Trump authorizes release of transcript of controversial Ukraine call that mentioned Joe Biden

And no less than that vaunted bastion of journalism, the NY Times writes their headline without any ambiguity:

Transcript: Trump’s Call With the Ukrainian President

Forbes, of all sycophantic outlets, is actually the voice of reason and caution here, despite calling the document a “transcript” in the headline:

Trump’s Ukraine Transcript Reportedly Won’t Contain Entire Conversation

What Forbes says is actually a fair summary of the problem

President Trump said he would release the “complete” and “unredacted transcript” of his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president Wednesday, but multiple reports state that what gets released is unlikely to be word-for-word, per longstanding White House rules.

  • According to Reuters, White House rules on phone calls between the president and a foreign leader would likely mean a transcript would be put together from notes taken by several U.S. officials who listened in.
  • The note-takers are typically National Security Council or Central Intelligence Agency officials.
  • The final official document of a phone call can range from what looks like a word-for-word transcript, a memo or a short summary.
  • And the Washington Post reported that Trump is unlikely to have tape recordings of the phone call. Recordings have not been made since the 70s.

So when you hear that a “transcript” has been released, don’t believe it. Maintain your skepticism. There may very well be no recording back to which we can compare Trump’s document and every single person involved in the preparation of the document we do have answers solely and ultimately to Trump. If in conversations with others who refer to it as a transcript, it might be useful and appropriate, depending on context, to correct the “transcript” language of the person or persons with whom you’re speaking.

And if they doubt you, refer them right back to the official warning on the actual document released:

CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion.

 

 

 

Trump Would Rather Have His Racism Than $20 In His Pocket

So, when redesigning the US$20 bill, the treasury department took a poll on the best person to next be depicted. You may remember that Andrew Jackson, the genocidal maniac who was critiqued by other slave holders for how cruelly he treated his slaves, graces your US twenties right now. Since the US has been notoriously bad at featuring women on its currency and since the new bill was due to come out in 1920, the anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the US, and because US citizens have more sense than the government, the person selected to honor the new bill is Harriet Tubman… except the men couldn’t have a white guy replaced by a Black woman, so the new design was to keep Jackson, but move him to the reverse side of the 20 while putting Tubman on the front.

Creating a new bill is a time-consuming task, not least because after the old one has been out for a while, counterfeiters will have learned to mimic most of the features and the new bills, in addition to being durable in water, somewhat more tear resistant than most papers, and meeting US consumers’ subjective expectations that a bill seem “official” and not feel plasticky (which implies “fake”), new anti-counterfeiting techniques need to be designed into each new bill. Even when the person featured in the portrait does not change, the bills themselves do every so often and updating the counterfeiting countermeasures is a significant part of that. For this reason, the Treasury is literally in a constant state of research and development of new features that can be built into any new bills.

This time round, however, Steve Mnuchin, the US Secretary of the Treasury, has just told congress that despite the long lead time and the overwhelming poll support for Tubman, she will not appear on the $20 bill in 2020. Instead, Mnuchin suggests, 2028 is a more likely date. This would extend the current design to 25 years of use. We are already at 16, and the previous record for the longest use of a single design is about 15 years. In 2017 Mnuchin suggested that the Treasury might not release Tubman on the 20 because consumers become attached to particular persons on particular bills. This rationale was given despite the fact that the decision had already been made to keep Jackson’s image on the bill, if on the other side. But now, in 2019, Mnuchin has just announced that due entirely to needing to develop new anti-counterfeiting techniques, Tubman’s image cannot appear when originally intended.

The whole thing stinks, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Take a moment to think and you’ll realize that even if no new anti-counterfeit measures were ready to be placed in the 2020 series bill, changing the design and keeping the current measures is better at challenging counterfeiting than doing nothing at all. So why delay?

The real answer we can only guess, but I have three good ones: 2020 is a Presidential election year, and not only does Trump idolize Jackson, but I think he’s also afraid that his racist supporters will be furious at him if his treasury department releases a $20 with a Black woman on it – no matter how many white men are on it with her. If enough of his supporters are racist (a reasonable proposition), then pissing off the racists will hurt Trump’s chances at reelection.

And so here we are, we can’t have nice things because

  1. Trump idolizes a genocidal maniac who embarked on the ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples from the areas of US territories that were recognized states during his term, and generally from any economically valuable land,
  2. Trump’s supporters are too often racist to risk the US government promoting the picture of a Black woman during an election year, and
  3. Trump is his own racist supporter who doesn’t want to see a Black woman’s face on “his” money.

It’s amazing how Trump can combine the most obscenely consequential power grabs with the most trivial and petty exercises of that power.


PS. And will the Democrats call this out for the racism that it is? Of course not. We’ll get a few comments about how it’s disappointing that 100 years after the ratification of the 19th amendment we still have never had a woman’s portrait on US paper currency during a federal election in which women were entitled to vote. But they certainly won’t say anything about racism, or even about how Mnuchin’s assertions are literally irrational.

 

Stephen Moore: Not the Nominee Republicans Need

Before we start, I’m going to need to go into a bit about the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System of the United States of America (AKA the Federal Reserve Board). If you think you have enough context and just want to read about Stephen Moore, you can skip ahead to the “Now it gets interesting!” tag below.

Stephen Moore has been stealth-nominated by the White House for a position on the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System (AKA “the Federal Reserve”). Someone in such a position is called upon to make decisions about many things, but most often and most centrally decisions about the availability of credit in the United States. The Board of Governors’ principle tool to influence monetary policy is the ability to raise and lower the interest rate that banks must pay to borrow money from the Federal Reserve. Not only does this affect directly many interest rates for consumer and mortgage loans, but it also affects the total amount of money in the economy. For instance, if a bank has an opportunity to loan money out at a specific interest rate, but it doesn’t have enough to do so, it can borrow the money from the Fed at a low interest rate and then lend it out at a higher interest rate. This allows them to use the income from the higher interest customer loan to pay the interest they owe to the Fed and pocket the difference. But if the interest rate the Fed wishes to charge is high enough, the rate charged to the customer might be so high the customer does not want the loan or perhaps so high that the customer does not have credit sufficient to qualify for the same size load at that higher rate (the required monthly payments would be larger, and the customer many not be able to comfortably afford those higher payments, in the judgement of the bank, even if the customer believes they could).

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