This Week’s PotUS Conflicts of Interest Round-up!

In the last seven days:

  • Kellyanne Conway (Counselor to President Trump) used a talk-show appearance to tell the nation to “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” violating Code of Federal Regulations §2635.702
  • The President himself likewise violated CFR §2635.702 when he scolded Nordstrom’
    C4PLzuOWYAUyoy0
    Code of Federal Regulations §2635.702

    s via Twitter on his personal account and then re-tweeted that scolding from the offical @potus account (see below).

  • The President is likely risking another violation of CFR §2635.702 by plugging his Florida country club as the “Winter White House” (as well as creating other serious ethical conundrums).
  • The President is still likely in breach of contract with the “Old Post Office” hotel.
  • The President’s use of revocable trust under his own SSN “to hold assets for the exclusive benefit of Donald J. Trump” and legally controlled by his son does nothing to insulate him from his international businesses—including hotels, which are currently a conduit for funds from foreign governments to directly benefit him personally.
  • (this one is sort of a sub-point of the above) The facile suggestion that “money from foreign governments will go to the U.S. Treasury, not the PotUS” is meaningless in the absence of a coherent and detailed question of how that would be done and a neutral, third-party auditing and verifying the same. Such a plan does not exist.
  • No one has a clue what the PotUS’s business dealings include, because he refuses to release his tax returns.

What you can do:

  1. Call your reps and ask them to support Rep. Bill Pascrell’s request that the House Ways and Means Committee subpoena Trump’s tax returns for private congressional review.
  2. Support Rep Jerry Nadler’s Resolution of Inquiry “directing the Department of Justice to provide the House of Representatives with any and all information relevant to an inquiry into President Trump and his associates’ conflicts of interest, ethical violations—including the Emoluments Clause—and Russia ties.”

 

 


 

UPDATE:

I know it feels sorta like our democracy is crumbling right now, so I want to reiterate that a lot of this craziness is actually a sign of the our system working, not failing.  Yes, we’re a month in and have yet to go a single business day without a new affront to decency and orderly government—but our institutions are still rooting out the weeds and shoveling the bullshit off the paths.  Yes, there is always a risk of those instutitons being debilitatingly buried, but your actions—your daily calls, your protests, your agitation—are keeping this front and center in the news, and keeping feet held to the fire.  

And as you make your calls and hold up yoursigns, let’s remember those good ole “High Crimes and Misdemeanors“:

High crimes and misdemeanors

Elon Musk’s “Hyperloop” is a Load of Snake Oil and Bullshit

I don’t give a shit about Elon Musk, so I’d largely ignored Hyperloop, but now that I’ve taken even a cursory gander—

😂

Y’all are shitting me, right?

Just to punch one hole in this mess:

The train will take folks from LA to San Francisco (~350 miles) in 30 minutes.  It can reach these hella crazy high-speeds because it’s a bullet train traveling through a vacuum maintained in an unbroken, direct-shot tube.  Based on their own experience with their ~1 mile long test track, we can expect that it would take 200 to 300 hours to evacuate the air from this LA-SF bullet train tube[1].  i.e., it could make the run between those two cities in 30 minutes, but only do it once every 10 days?  And how much energy does it take to create that vacuum?  And how much money to maintain a pressure vessel orders of magnitude larger than any other ever created?

(Also, FYI, in their test track they expected to hit maybe 80—not 800—miles per hour, but actually maxed out at 60mph.  My dying Prius—henceforth, the HyperCar!—exceeds that every single day on Michigan’s crumbling roads.)

Continue reading “Elon Musk’s “Hyperloop” is a Load of Snake Oil and Bullshit”

Briefly On Neil Gorsuch and Compromise

I’m not super-duper enthusiastic about Neil Gorsuch joining the SCotUS—which is probably not much of a shocker—but some of his writing resonated with me, and I wanted to meditate on that.  Here’s a snippet from his book on assisted suicide and euthanasia:

All human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong. We seek to protect and preserve life for life’s own sake in everything from our most fundamental laws of homicide to our road traffic regulations to our largest governmental programs for health and social security. We have all witnessed, as well, family, friends, or medical workers who have chosen to provide years of loving care to persons who may suffer from Alzheimer’s or other debilitating illnesses precisely because they are human persons, not because doing so instrumentally advances some other hidden objective. This is not to say that all persons would always make a similar choice, but the fact that some people have made such a choice is some evidence that life itself is a basic good.

That orange emphasis is mine, because I agree 100%.  I’ve double emphasized “private persons” because Gorsuch uses that to cop out of some things that I find absolutely essential to humanity leveling up from here, but I’ll let it slide because I believe something else: 

I’ve never seen a human action that was not undertaken by a “private person.”  That private person may have been acting on the orders of the State or a corporation or along the dogma of thier faith, but the actor in the moment—the human holding out the bowl of food, holding out the knife, holding out the gun, holding out the helping hand—has always been a private person choosing (perhaps under duress, perahaps in a situation where there are no good choices) to comply or to refuse.

But that’s my bit, not Gorsuch’s, and it’s beside the point, becasue what I diuscovered in reading this is the following:

Given these words, Gorsuch and I aren’t such different people (apart from a religious/superstitious disagreement about what constitutes a “human life.”)  And the thing is, I would accept living under the Christian supersition that a lump of potentially viable human cells entirely dependent upon staying embedded within the person of another human being is somehow a “unique human life” if that also meant no more death penety, no more war, no more state application of potentially deadly force, and actually fully funding and implementing “our largest governmental programs for health and social security” so that folks on these shores don’t just have an abstract “right to life,” but a true and concrete right to a decent life.

That’s both a logically consistent trade off, and one whose ramifications I would accept, even thought it would mean putting me in violation of the true and deeply held tenants of my faith.

But, of course, this isn’t the trade off I’m being offered.

According to the WaPo (all the blockquotes in this post are from this same article):

[Gorsuch] specifically avoids discussing war and capital punishment, saying they “raise unique questions all their own.”

In other words, we’re back to the cryptic American assertion that one murder by one man is horrible and to be avoided at all costs, but thousands upon thousands murdering thousands upon thousands is somehow A-OK.  It seems to me this is sort of our thing as a nation, right?  Your kid steals a candy bar, you ground him.  Your kid grows up to make millions stealing people’s homes, and he’s a captain of industry.  #America

So there we are:

All human beings are intrinsically valuable (even ones who don’t exist) and the intentional taking of human life is always wrong (except for when the government decides to do it).

The Washington Post goes on to note:

Gorsuch rejected that view [i.e., U.S. Court of Appeals Justice Posner’s assertion that there were situations where physician-asssisted suicide should be permitted], writing it would “tend toward, if not require, the legalization not only of assisted suicide and euthanasia, but of any act of consensual homicide.” Posner’s position, he writes, would allow “sadomasochist killings” and “mass suicide pacts,” as well as duels, illicit drug use, organ sales and the “sale of one’s own life.”

Again, sorta interesting that all of these consensual things are no-go—because all human beings are intrinsically valuable, even the ones who don’t want to keep being human—but if the state very much against your will decides to torture you to death with a crazy nonsense drug cocktail . . . well, I don’t need to belabor the point.

For what it’s worth, I was talking to some law school lawyers last week, and the second-hand inside-baseball from them (one of whom has a pal who clerks for Gorsuch) is that the dude is solid, fair-minded, and non-ideoligical when he’s on the bench—the sorta thing you want in a Supreme Court Justice, I’m told.

You need REST to #RESIST

If the last–what, two weeks(!?!)–are any indication, it’s going to be a long four years.  There are going to be plenty of set-backs and, more disheartening, plenty of near misses (the DeVos squeaker just now not the least of them).  Progress is slow, because by design these wheels grind exceedingly fine.

It is easy to lose faith, so remember these five things:

  1. Resistance works. As I write this, carefully vetted refugees are finding sanctuary here, the rights of LGBTQ federal workers have been preserved, the repeal of Obamacare has stalled, the great Federal Lands Rummage Sale is on hold—all things you accomplished with nothing but phone calls and poster-board signs.  We don’t need to shed blood or set fires or take up arms; we are doing this with cellphones and markers.  That is amazing and beautiful and the true cornerstone of this nation’s foundation.
  2. You can switch it up.  Calling your members of congress is important.  Showing up at the big protests is important.  So is hitting those town halls.  But they aren’t everything.  There’s a quieter undercurrent to social action, the part where you simply chat with folks in your community, letting them know you have each other’s backs.  I especially like the notion of “truth advocacy”—take time off from putting out energy (hitting the phones, hitting the streets, etc.) to read and research on your own, and to disseminate what you learn.
  3. You can take a break.  Take a day off.  Take a weekend off.  You’ll be shocked how much you’ll feel like diving back in after giving yourself a 24-hour break from talking politics, calling reps, reading the paper, or looking at social media.
  4. You can join at any time.  If you’ve never called your rep, you can do so for the first time right now.  If you can’t call daily, you can call weekly.  You are picking up the slack for someone who has reached that burnout point and needs a day off.  We need subs like you just as much as we need those every-single-day every-single-protest power players!
  5. We shall defeat them, one by one.☝️  Remember: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice—provided that we keep putting our weight towards bending that mutherfucker. It ain’t gonna bend on its own.

usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26

Eli Whitney and the “Mandela Effect”

Listen: I, too, am one of those dumbasses who got it into his head that Eli Whitney was black (although, my hand to God, I swear I saw this on a sign in the African-American History Museum in Detroit when I was a grade schooler–although that itself seems problematic, as it’s highly likely that the time period I’m remembering was when the museum was closed for construction )–and had also dwelled on the irony that the cotton gin (which I believed he invented to ease the labors of enslaved persons) single-handedly invigorated the slave trade by making it massively more profitable.  I’m chagrined to admit that I may have even taught this “fact” at some point.

But that’s all trivia; read all the way through this article and meditate on the Mandela Effect, extraordinary popular delusions, and the madness of crowds—because apparently there was never any Sinbad movie titled Shazaam!

What

the

FUCK

The Math I Should Not Have Done

There have been more than 60 bomb threats targeting U.S. Jewish Community Centers in the past month, more than 30 of them since the inauguration alone (i.e., in the last twelve days).  Most of these have been domestic in origin (I have that from several sources, include a JCC security head who was told this at an info session with the Detroit FBI office this week).

just another funny little joke, i guess
just another funny little joke, i guess

That number sounds bad—but you don’t really have a benchmark for this, right?  I mean, you ask yourself “Well, how often do folks call bomb threats into YMCAs or non-Jewish daycares?”, and the answer is “Basically zero”—so that sounds bad.  But then you poke around online, and find that U.S. schools get over a thousand bomb threats every year (in fact, I used to teach at an alternative school, and one of my students—a very sweet and peaceful kid when I knew him—had been kicked out of his last school for making a bomb threat).  And how often do schools get bombed?  (Actually, bombs are placed at schools more than you think: According to some old ATF numbers, nearly 100 devces are placed each year in schools).

So I started poking around the FBI UCR (Universal Crime Reporting) Hate Crime stats.  Here’s a representative sample of annual anti-Jewish “intimidation” crime tallies (“intimidation” is the UCR category that includes, but is not limited to, bomb threats).  You’ll note a predominantly downward trend:

  • 1996 had 363 such offenses 
  • 1997: 387
  • 1998: 380
  • 1999: 420
  • 2007: 201
  • 2008: 201
  • 2010: 201
  • 2011: 187
  • 2012: 87
  • 2013: 152
  • 2014: 93
  • 2015: 114

(My numbers above are spotty, owing both to gaps in the FBI stats and because I just can’t dedicate too much time to picking around UCR reports tonight.)

I’ve emphasized 1999 for three reasons:

  1. It is the peak of the available numbers by a significant margin.
  2. It’s the year of the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shooting committed by Buford O. Furrow
  3. If January 2017 is indicative, then we can expect 600 bomb threats this year.  And if bomb threats generally correlate to the volume and volatility of anti-Semitic hate floating around out there . . . well, you can do the math.

“Won’t Somebody Think of the Children!!1!” (Yemen Edition)

“On the campaign trail, Trump endorsed killing relatives of terrorist suspects, which is a war crime. “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” he told Fox News in December 2015.” (source)

If your position is “Trump said we should kill the families of ‘terrorists’—an abominable, authoritarian war crime—and now he’s doing just that!” well, way back in 2016, when we had a President with a Noble Peace Prize on his mantle, we dropped thousands of bombs on Yemen (google it), and it isn’t like those somehow magically only killed sworn soldiers of AQAP.  A bomb dropped from a drone isn’t somehow more accurate than a highly trained SEAL with an excellent rifle standing in the same room as someone.  But, man oh man, do we suddenly give a fuck about Yemen, and military operations in Yemen, and civilian casualties in Yemen!  Better late than never, amiright?

Nawar al-Awlaki was 8 years old. Now she's dead. Don't forget to pay your taxes on April 18!
Nawar al-Awlaki was 8 years old. Now she’s dead. Don’t forget to pay your taxes on April 18!

I’m once again reminded of Penn & Teller’s Fishes and Loaves:

Penn and Teller were scheduled to appear on Letterman, and so they prepared a new twist on a classic “broken and restored watch” routine. In their improved version, they’d borrow Letterman’s watch, smash it, then wheel out a big aquarium and sprinkle the parts in the water, where they’d dissolve and the fish would eat them. Letterman would then freely select one of the fish, Teller would scoop it out with a net, they’d gut and and ta-da!, there would be the whole, ticking watch in the fish’s guts!

But the network standards and practices lawyers wouldn’t let them do that trick; it’d be too brutal to have an animal killed on screen. So Penn and Teller re-jiggered the routine: Instead of an aquarium full of live fish, they’d wheel out a fishmonger’s ice table with six dead fish on it. They’d take the host’s watch, smash it, sprinkle the bits in the ice, the bits would dissolve, the host would freely select a dead fish, and Teller’d fillet it to reveal the watch. Standards loved it, the host loved it, and that’s what went on live TV.

The point of the story—which is the sort of thing that belongs in an atheist’s Bible—is that everyone was more comfortable with six fish dying instead of one, provided they didn’t have to watch.

Same here: Dozens, hundreds, thousands of Yemeni kids are killed by bombs Made-in-the-USA, and we’re fine with it—as long as we don’t have to see her fucking picture, as long as it’s done from 36,000 feet by a drone piloted by some dude drinking a Sprite in a cubicle at Creech AFB and there’s no chance of one of “our boys” having to come home in a box in order to git ‘er done!  God forbid we should look at what our tax dollars are buying. 

It’s harsh, but it’s an apt summation of American foreign policy: Killing people’s families is our business model.

It was our business model in 2016, it will continue to be in 2017, the party, skin color, generation, and gender of the president notwithstanding.  If you don’t like that—well, you’re in decent company, because I don’t like it either.  But let’s be honest with ourselves, and just take a damned second to sort out of we really don’t like being in the Murder Business, or if we simply dislike it when a mouthy, pudgy, tactless New Yorker is the one murdering on our behalf.

Finally, if you’re suddenly worried about Trump triggering “World War III,” then I invite you to consider something: Maybe—just maybe—WWIII has been going on for the last 15 years.  We just outsourced all the suffering to developing nations—the same way we do with all the rest of our dirty work.

Maybe this is something else to talk about tomorrow, when you call your reps. I dunno; that’s between you and them.

I kinda miss the good ole days . . .

. . . back when Groundhog Day was a IMG_7123time for bickering about which Bill Murray characters were the right amount of rapey, and to what degree your childhood was “raped” by a bunch of millionaires remaking a mediocre ’80s comedy.

Anyway, gotta jet: I need to get on hold to wait and ask my congressfolk to try and keep the Shadow President from deporting my neighbors, touch base with the head of security at my local Jewish Community Center, then walk to a meeting for some pro-bono legal advice. Busy day!🇺🇸🔥