What the Trump indictment contains

The indictment against serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) and his personal aide Waltine Nauta have been unsealed and can be read here. It is far more wide-ranging than I anticipated. The indictment describes how sloppy SSAT was with the documents, including for a time having boxes of them on the stage of one of the ballrooms at Mar-a-Lago, in a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom, and a storage room, and showing documents to others who had no security clearance, and moving some of them to the Bedminster golf club in New Jersey when he went there.

The indictment consists of 37 felony counts but 31 of them are the same charge but related to different individual documents, leaving just seven distinct categories.

31 of those counts are for “Willful Retention of National Defense Information” and each relate to individual documents that are at issue. (p. 28-33)

#32 is for “Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice” and deals with a conspiracy by SSAT and Nauta to obstruct justice by keeping “classified he had taken with him from the White House and to hide and conceal them from a federal grand jury (p. 34)

#33 is for “Withholding a Document or Record” and describes how the two of them misled one of their attorneys by hiding documents from him so that he would make false statements to the grand jury. (p. 36)

#34 is for “Corruptly Concealing a Document or Record” by hiding boxes from the attorney so that he would not find them and give them to a grand jury. (p. 37)

#35 is for “Concealing a Document in a Federal Investigation”. (p. 38)

#36 is a “Scheme to Conceal”. (p. 39)

#37 is for “False Statement and Representations” with SSAT hiding information. from his own attorney causing his attorney to make false statements to the grand jury that all requests for documents had been complied with. (p. 40)

#38 is against Nauta for lying to the FBI about his knowledge about the boxes and what had been done with them.

It is clear from the indictment that this was not a case of SSAT haphazardly packing up boxes of stuff at the last minute when he was forced to leave the White House on January 20, 2021 and possibly accidentally taking classified documents among them. It is clear that he really wanted these documents and was willing to go to great lengths, even lying to the authorities and hiding them from his own lawyers, to hang on to some of them. The indictment did not speculate on the motives for doing so.

What a stupid, stupid, man.

The second Trump indictment drops

Serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) has now been indicted on criminal charges for the second time. The first time was a few months ago in Manhattan on state charges related to his paying hush money to porn stars. This time it is on federal charges in Florida relating to his withholding of classified documents after he left the presidency. He is expected to turn himself in in a Miami federal courthouse on Tuesday where the indictment will be unsealed and he will be formally charged. SSAT’s lawyer has said there are seven criminal counts including violations of the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. He will of course plead not guilty but by all accounts the case against him this time is stronger than the earlier one.

The main danger for SSAT in this case is the charge that he willfully withheld classified documents even when asked for them, thus triggering prosecution under the Espionage Act, which is pretty serious. If he had readily handed them over when they were found (as Mike Pence and Joe Biden did), then he would likely not have been charged. There is evidence that he knew that he had classified documents in his possession and yet did not hand them over when asked to do so. For some reason that I still cannot fathom, SSAT wanted to keep these documents even after leaving office. SSAT’s motivations are mostly grifting and narcissism but it is not clear where those fit in in this case.
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A hateful voice is no more

Televangelist Pat Robertson has died at the age of 93. He was a malign influence on US politics, creating a toxic mix of religious bigotry and rightwing politics.

Robertson’s enterprises also included Regent University, an evangelical Christian school in Virginia Beach; the American Center for Law and Justice, which defends the first amendment rights of religious people; and Operation Blessing, an international humanitarian organization.

But for more than half a century, Robertson was a familiar presence in American living rooms, known for his 700 Club television show, and in later years, his televised pronouncements of God’s judgment on America for everything from homosexuality to the teaching of evolution.

Robertson started the Christian Coalition in Chesapeake in 1989, saying it would further his campaign’s ideals. The coalition became a major force in Republican politics in the 1990s, mobilizing conservative voters through grassroots activities.

The venom of his message was masked by his genial, avuncular manner and the occasional goofy pronouncements where he would blame all manner of human-caused and natural disasters on the LGBTQ+ community and other perceived enemies of his version of Christianity.
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The Republican race for the nomination takes shape

This is an unusual race. Normally, if an incumbent president runs for election, few will try to challenge them for the nomination and at least in the recent past, none have succeeded in doing so. Lyndon Johnson was a notable case in that he decided to not run again in 1968. This was due to the intense opposition to the Vietnam war but it is not clear what might have happened if he had sought the nomination. The fact that his own vice-president Hubert Humphrey, whom he endorsed, got the nomination suggests that he might have won.

If an incumbent wins the presidency but loses their re-election bid (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush) they fade from the scene and do not try to come back four years later, leaving the field wide open for another member for their party to seek the nomination, and that usually leads to a large field of candidates.

This year is an anomaly at least on the Republican side. We have a one-term president in serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT), who is not only seeking to make a comeback after losing his re-election bid, he even claims that he did not lose. And we have a large segment of the party establishment and membership either actually endorsing that delusional claim or pretending to in order not to offend SSAT. And SSAT seems to have the support of a significant number of party faithful

Because of this fact, SSAT is almost like an incumbent and so I am surprised that so many Republicans have decided to challenge him. We have SSAT’s vice president Mike Pence, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, South Carolina senator Tim Scott, Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, current governor of North Dakota Doug Burgum (whom even someone like me who follows politics closely had never heard of), right wing activist Vivek Ramaswamy, and radio host Larry Elder. That makes 10 in all including SSAT. And there may be more to come.
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The problem with men

We live in a world dominated by men in pretty much every area of life. Hence anyone who argues that the state of men is in danger has a pretty tough row to hoe. And yet, that is the alarm that some people are sounding, that in our efforts to create gender parity, we are overlooking the fact that many men are currently really struggling to cope in contemporary US society and that the trends for them are not good.

To have a serious discussion about this, we have to first get beyond the more absurd exaggerations of people like former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

[W]ho could forget the “Tucker Carlson Originals” special “The End of Men,” which introduced the world to “bromeopathy,” the patriotic practice of bathing one’s testicles in red light? That special also featured hand-wringing about “soy boys,” paeans to raw-egg slonkers, and homoerotic montages, apparently filmed on Alex Jones’s bocce court, that looked like Abercrombie & Fitch ads directed by Leni Riefenstahl. Again, it’s easy to brush all this off as a campy, desperate ploy for attention, which it was. But “The End of Men” also made an argument: American men are being systematically emasculated by some sort of ill-defined global cabal, for the purpose of slowing down birth rates in “the West”; only “well-ordered, disciplined groups of men,” presumably after being armed and restored to testicular health, can “reëstablish order” and restore Western civilization. This is the sort of thing that seems funny until it doesn’t.

The more serious aspects of this issue are discussed by Idrees Kahloon in the January 20, 2023 issue of The New Yorker.
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The Girl From Ipanema

Astrud Gilberto, who sang The Girl From Ipanema, has died at the age of 84.

Her version of the song was released in 1964 and became a huge hit and by some accounts it is the song that has been recorded the most often.

It has a gentle bossa nova beat and its great appeal may lie in the fact that it plaintively expresses the forlorn state of someone who tries, perhaps too subtly, to convey their attraction to a person who does not seem to even know that they exist.

That is something that many non-assertive young people have experienced at some time in their lives.

Negatives of electric vehicles

Rowan Atkinson is well known as an actor and comedian. But his undergraduate education was in electrical and electronic engineering, with a subsequent master’s degree in control systems. He has written a thoughtful opinion piece on how his early infatuation with electric vehicles as a way to combat climate change has cooled as he learned more about the hidden environmental costs of this technology.

I bought my first electric hybrid 18 years ago and my first pure electric car nine years ago and (notwithstanding our poor electric charging infrastructure) have enjoyed my time with both very much. Electric vehicles may be a bit soulless, but they’re wonderful mechanisms: fast, quiet and, until recently, very cheap to run. But increasingly, I feel a little duped. When you start to drill into the facts, electric motoring doesn’t seem to be quite the environmental panacea it is claimed to be.

As you may know, the government has proposed a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. The problem with the initiative is that it seems to be based on conclusions drawn from only one part of a car’s operating life: what comes out of the exhaust pipe. Electric cars, of course, have zero exhaust emissions, which is a welcome development, particularly in respect of the air quality in city centres. But if you zoom out a bit and look at a bigger picture that includes the car’s manufacture, the situation is very different. In advance of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, Volvo released figures claiming that greenhouse gas emissions during production of an electric car are 70% higher than when manufacturing a petrol one. How so? The problem lies with the lithium-ion batteries fitted currently to nearly all electric vehicles: they’re absurdly heavy, many rare earth metals and huge amounts of energy are required to make them, and they only last about 10 years. It seems a perverse choice of hardware with which to lead the automobile’s fight against the climate crisis.

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Annoying film titles

They say that you should never judge a book by its cover but I admit there are some film titles that are so annoying to me that I resist watching them. The ones that are most annoying are the ones with deliberately misspelled words that strike me as too cute by half. Three examples that come to mind are Inglourious Basterds, The Pursuit of Happyness, and Biutiful.

This article looks at those and other titles and explains which have some justification in the plot and which are just directorial vanities.

Existential alarms about AI and longtermism

AI has been much in the news recently. The initial splash was with ChatGPT and its potential to enable students to use it for writing assignments and the threat to eliminate the jobs of people whose work consisted mainly of writing. But suddenly things took a very dark turn and warnings that AI threatens the future of humankind are suddenly all over the media. We now have a public statement signed by 350 tech executives and AI researchers that warns of the danger of extinction of humanity posed by this technology. The signatories including Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI the creator of ChatGPT who testified before congress. The statement says in its entirety:

Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.

Extinction is a pretty dire word and this naturally set off alarm bells.

But there has also been a backlash to this statement, with arguments that the dangers are being overblown and that people like some of the signatories, especially those associated with the tech industry, are fear mongering to cover their self-interest.
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A former gun industry executive speaks out

Ryan Busse, a former vice president of sales for a major gun manufacturer, explains how the gun industry went off the rails and went from advocating sensible gun use to now promoting the massive sales of weapons that are being used in shootings.

[T]here was a time not that long ago, maybe about 15 to 20 years ago, when the industry understood a sort of fragile social contract needed to be maintained on something as immensely powerful as the freedom to own guns. And so the industry didn’t do certain things. It didn’t advertise in egregiously irresponsible ways. It didn’t put, you know, growth, company growth, above all other things. There were just these unspoken codes of conduct the industry knew not to violate. And those seem to have broken down. And now it’s kind of a victory at all costs. And sadly, I think there’s a lot of cost.

There were people who agreed with everything I said before the sort of radical shifts started to happen in about 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. But, you know, as with most things, when you earn a paycheck from something, you’re likely to be greatly influenced by it. And so, over time, most of the people in the industry have either converted to a true belief in the sort of radicalized Second Amendment absolutism that now I think is very dangerous, or they have just left the industry. There is only a place for complete, 100% devotion.

What no other society has had is 425 million guns and this culture, on the right, that tells young men that to be real young men, they must purchase an AR-15 and go out and solve their problems. The industry 15 years ago would not even allow the AR-15 to be used or displayed at its own trade shows. I mean, they were locked up in a corner. You had to have military or police credentials to even go in there. Now, they’re spread around like crazy, and the marketing campaigns are so aimed at young men that in some ways, it’s not shocking that Uvalde or Buffalo or [the July 4 shooting at a parade in the Chicago suburb of] Highland Park, all three heinous crimes, all three committed with AR-15s, all by very young men. It’s not shocking to me that those happen; it’s shocking to me that they don’t happen every day.

You know, I tell the story that 15, 20 years ago, the industry named guns like the Smith & Wesson 629 or the Remington 870 because you had [industry] attorneys that knew that even the names of guns could be important. They could encourage people to do irresponsible things. And so you’d never wanted to even name things that might encourage bad things to happen. Now we have a gun called the Wilson Urban Super Sniper. I mean, what are you supposed to do with that? We now have a gun called the Ultimate Arms Warmonger. What are you supposed to do with that? We now have an AR-15 company called Rooftop Arms, as in when you don’t get what you want, you vote from the rooftops. And what happened in Highland Park? A kid got up and killed people from a rooftop. You see the old self-imposed responsibility; those old norms of behavior have been just completely trashed.

It’s a pretty sobering piece.