Yukon River Rerouting Shows Sudden Impact of Climate Change; Is Bonkers Crazy

 

This river is younger than, say, “Lemonade”

 

There are few things that can change the course of a river suddenly. The New Madrid earthquakes in 1811-1812 briefly reversed the course of the Mississippi by suddenly shoving millions of tons of water in northward, but that was temporary. Normally, (unless like in Chicago you do it intentionally) rivers change directions or reroute their course very slowly, through generations of erosion as it pokes and prods and tries to find the easiest way to flow, a grinding process that eventually levels everything in its path, though never on the mere scale of a human lifetime.

Thanks to climate change, that might not always be the case. Times?

In the blink of a geological eye, climate change has helped reverse the flow of water melting from a glacier in Canada’s Yukon, a hijacking that scientists call “river piracy.”

This engaging term refers to one river capturing and diverting the flow of another. It occurred last spring at the Kaskawulsh Glacier, one of Canada’s largest, with a suddenness that startled scientists.

A process that would ordinarily take thousands of years — or more — happened in just a few months in 2016.

Much of the meltwater from the glacier normally flows to the north into the Bering Sea via the Slims and Yukon Rivers. A rapidly retreating and thinning glacier — accelerated by global warming — caused the water to redirect to the south, and into the Pacific Ocean.

Last year’s unusually warm spring produced melting waters that cut a canyon through the ice, diverting more water into the Alsek River, which flows to the south and on into Pacific, robbing the headwaters to the north.

Think about that. If you lived there (or, I guess, if you are a tremendous liar), you could say “I remember the days when these waters flowed north, onward to the Bering Sea”, and you’d be talking about last summer.

Now, to be fair, this was a perfect confluence of conditions: the way the land was shaped there didn’t have to be too much melt and erosion for the higher ground to make its way to the lower; the channels cut my newly melted water didn’t have far to go. We’re not going to wake up one day and see that the Ohio is charging back toward Pittsburgh. But it is still a stark and terrifying reminder that climate change isn’t something happening in the distant future. It is happening now, and it is really unpredictable.

In essence, we’ve decided as a species to enter a vast generational experiment where we see what happens when we accelerate natural processes and introduce unnatural ones. The earth heats and cools, glaciers advance and melt, rivers change their courses. These things happen on unimaginable time spans. They don’t happen over the course of a century, or the life of a summer. But, thanks to our desire to turn nature into capital, that’s what’s happening.

We don’t know how it will turn out. Things will happen that we can barely even guess. But it seems short-sighted to say it won’t be enormous.

I’ll leave this with an example of what retreating glaciers mean. We all know that the glaciers carved out the Great Lakes and completely wiped out the landscape that came before them. And we know it was cold as hell. But I don’t think it is generally understood how much their immensity impacted geology, and not just topography.

They pressed down on the earth’s surface, slowly impacting it under their enormity. And as they retreated, the surface slowly started to rebound. This is a process that, tens of thousands of years later, is still happening. The impact of this can be felt right around here, in Chicago. When the glaciers first retreated, and the lakes took their present form, the ground was low enough that Michigan (and Lake Chicago before it) flowed southwards, toward the Mississippi Basin. But as the land rebounded, and glaciers cut more channels, eventually the whole Lakes basin made its way to the ocean.

Until, of course, the city of Chicago, disgusted with and sickened by the filth of its residents, reversed the course of the Chicago, turning southern Lake Michigan into an extension of the Mississippi Basin. That happened in a geologic instant. The reversal of the Yukon rivers was even quicker. It was instant.

Our impact on the planet might mimic the planet’s own cycles, as somewhat more sophisticated climate deniers claim, but that’s wildly misleading. It’s a gruesome imitation, at high-speed, a janky cassette player that suddenly turns your music into a screeching cacophony, with little regard for the consequences. It’s like jumping off the Empire State Building and saying you’re imitating the gentle swaying of a leaf on the wind. Same general direction maybe, and with the same end point, but brother, you’re fucked.

Need a Reason To Support Jon Ossoff? He’s Pro-CDC, Which I Guess is Controversial

 

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Turning this blue would be pretty cool…

 

Today’s special election in Georgia’s 6th is being widely touted as a “bellwether”, which is one of those fun words that political journalists like to say, and is rarely used in any other context. I’m guessing most pundits aren’t versed on its etymology, as it refers originally to a castrated male sheep with a bell around its neck that the rest of the flock follows.

I’m not criticizing pundits for not knowing the word’s history; it’s been used as a metaphor for about 700 years, which is really pretty cool. But it still fits in this scenario: these are the sort of elections that everyone decides mean something, and because of that, they actually do. If no one paid much attention to GA-6, as normally happens, it wouldn’t be seen as anything except a dreary local election focused entirely on local concerns. But because we are paying attention, the stakes are raised, and it matters. The main candidates have decided to run on more explicitly national themeseEveryone is moving in the same direction, following the bell.

If no one paid much attention to GA-6, as normally happens, it wouldn’t be seen as anything except a dreary local election focused entirely on local concerns. But because we are paying attention, the stakes are raised, and it matters. The main candidates have decided to run on more explicitly national themes, which of course means pro-or-anti-Trump. Lines are drawn, and in our tribalized times you have to choose. Everyone is moving in the same direction, following the bell.

I can’t claim to be any expert on GA-6, but smart money is that young Democrat Jon Ossoff won’t get quite enough to avoid a runoff, which is too bad. An outright win today would, by dint of consensus, send a clear signal that Trump isn’t popular, and that his voters are turning away. Whether or not this is true, I don’t know. It could just be that his voters are his alone, and aren’t interested in the midterms.

I do know that it is important to support Jon Ossoff (and it isn’t too late to make phone calls!), if for no other reason than it will drive Trump crazy. But any indication of wobble could make nervous Republicans slightly more reluctant to attach their fates and their sacred honor to the President, which is a good thing.

But it is also just good to get more liberals, or at least, more people who aren’t conservative Republicans who might, against all odds, let Ryanism happen. Proof of this? Something that caught my eye when I was getting the volunteer link.

CHAMBLEE, GA –  Joined by former CDC director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan at a press conference this morning, Congressional candidate Jon Ossoff called on the other 17 candidates in the Sixth District race to unify in opposition to a provision of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) that would gut the health security infrastructure necessary to detect and fight infectious disease outbreaks like Ebola and Zika.

The provision would slash funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), devastating efforts to protect Georgians and the nation from deadly pandemics. The massive cuts would eliminate the Prevention and Public Health fund, which is critical to preventing outbreaks of dangerous diseases like Ebola and Zika.

For more info, read this Vox explainer linked in the blurb about Republican opposition to funding public health research, including work on heart disease, vaccines, and efforts to reduce deadly infections people catch at hospitals. This includes cuts to the CDC of nearly 10%.

Anyone who is worried about a pandemic, which would be anyone possessed of more consciousness and public spirit than a castrated sheep, should be on the side of this. If you want to know why Jon Ossoff should win–if you want to know why the madness of the current GOP needs to be fought–you don’t have to go much further than slashing funding for the CDC. Seriously, these people…

The Mercy Seat: Arkansas Executions Postponed

(Note: some quick hits today as I try to rebalance a full schedule and pretend the Stanley Cup playoffs haven’t actually started yet, and this is all some grim dream…)

Shortly before midnight, the US Supreme Court postponed another in the spate of executions Arkansas has been planning. The state had been planning to execute eight men in 11 days, which, if it seems just like a spate of spring cleaning, sort of is.

The ruling brought to three the number of condemned prisoners who have now been spared the audacious execution schedule set by Republican governor Asa Hutchinson in a rush to use a batch of the lethal injection drug midazolam before it expires at the end of the month.

Think about the cruel mentality that would think of such a thing, with no more thought than rushing to make some sandwiches before the mayo turns. But there is a twist: you can always get more mayo. The problem with midazolam is that even drug companies don’t want to make it, and it has to be imported from abroad, a process that is getting more difficult because there is growing evidence that the process of death is essentially torture.

But, for Hutchinson, and for much of the right, that’s the whole damn point. It’s showing that they are the tough ones, that they don’t care about your little PC whining on the rights of murderers. Which can be a compelling argument, emotionally. I don’t know the details of the cases, but I haven’t heard anything that any of these men have been wrongly convicted. So talking about the victims and justice is justifiably powerful.

It isn’t really about the victims, though. It’s about a display of power, and keeping the (generally) racialized mechanics of death in place. It’s about being able to say that even though far-left wing pharmaceutical companies want to stop us from carrying out the hard work of justice, we’re going to push through.

When Rick Perry got applauded for saying he never lost a moment’s sleep about the incredible number of humans he had put to death, that wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t just “right audience, right time”. It was an encapsulation of GOP beliefs. There is no cruelty too great or meanness too small not to be applauded if it makes liberals angry.

Trump Signs Bill Defunding Planned Parenthood; Is a Republican (Or: Why Ivanka Trump Is A Terrible Person)

 

Image result for ivanka trump jared kushner immigration ban snapchat

“We care about people!”

 

The Hill

President Trump on Thursday signed a bill to nix an Obama-era rule that blocked states from defunding healthcare providers for political reasons.

The bill, which Democrats say is really an effort to defund Planned Parenthood, passed the Senate last month after Vice President Pence had to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Trump signed the measure behind closed doors in the Oval Office without media present.

When Donald Trump bombed Syria last week, after Ivanka convinced him that some Syrians were people (though not refugees), we got another spate of “Is Ivanka the moderating influence?” stories. This, combined with her hubby Jared seemingly pushing out Steven Bannon, or at least gaining the upper hand in their battle for influence, (all while already being absurdly powerful) led a lot of people to wonder if the admin was going to get more “moderate”.

Now, granting that, politically, Trump had to sign this or face a total revolt, we still have to accept that one of these things:

  1. Jared and Ivanka aren’t actually moderate;
  2. Jared and Ivanka aren’t actually powerful, or;
  3. Jared and Ivanka have zero positions except to help Trump succeed in building the family name/brand, whether that means sometimes acting like a normal Republican or sometimes acting like a loon, but taking care to protect their image.

Is there actually any question here?

The thing about Ivanka and Jared is that, regardless of how much they don’t hate gays, are aiding and abetting the most far-right administration in American history. Where was their power when pops nominated Jeff Sessions, an open white nationalist who is bringing white backlash back to power? Or Scott Pruitt, who has pledged to destroy the environment? Or when he signed the Muslim ban, got his ass handed to him, and signed another one? Or when he superempowered ICE and CBP?

No, these pampered self-serving idiots don’t get to have it both ways. Helping Donald Trump get elected damns them, no matter how much they claim to slow down his worst impulses Because, really: what have they done that has been any good? You got a Republican elected, and no matter how many “We Are Relatable Millennial” ads you photoshopped, we have a xenophobic reactionary world-eating government with your unstable sexual-assaulting childish dolt of a father in control. That’s your legacy.

I’m not terribly interested in Ivanka, but her CBS interview did make me realize, fully and finally, that she is her father, only prettier and more polished.

Ivanka Trump: I speak up frequently. And my father agrees with me on so many issues. And where he doesn’t, he knows where I stand. But–

Gayle King: Can you give us–

Ivanka Trump: –it’s not my administration–

Gayle King: — an example of something that you disagree with him on and that you think that by speaking up to him it made him change his position or soften his position? Are you comfortable with that?

Ivanka Trump: I think that for me this isn’t about promoting my viewpoints. I wasn’t elected by the American people to be president. My father is gonna do a tremendous job. And I wanna help him do that. But I don’t think that it will make me a more effective advocate to constantly articulate every issue publicly where I disagree. … And that’s okay. That means that I’ll take hits from some critics who say that I should take to the street. And then other people will in the long-term respect where I get to. But I think most of the impact I have, over time most people will not actually know about.

It’s not just that there isn’t an answer here (I don’t blame her for not saying “I disagree about XYZ”). It’s that she spins her lack of any impact as a virtue, telling us, despite all evidence to the contrary–despite her father’s administration being an absolute horrorshow for issues she pretends to care about–that she’s doing a lot. So much. You’ll see.

Believe me.

Enceladus Discoveries Demonstrate That Life (Almost Certainly) Exists

 

The caption as the NASA site reads, blandly and beautifully, “Color image of icy Enceladus.” It sounds like the beginning of a poem that somehow explains everything. Someone write it. 

 

Eeee!

Could there be life under the icy surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus?

NASA announced on Thursday that its Cassini spacecraft mission to Saturn has gathered new evidence that there’s a chemical reaction taking place under the moon’s icy surface that could provide conditions for life. They described their findings in the journal Science.

“This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement.

However, the scientists think that because the moon is young, there may not have been time for life to emerge.

Don’t let the last paragraph get you down. Thrill, instead, at the possibilities. And thrill, even more, at the certainties. Because while Enceladus might not have life, the last sentence contains within it the seeds of a glorious “yet”, and with that, the possibilities explode like the limitless universe.

Let’s just take Enceladus, and assume that its youth has left it so far lifeless. But the idea that life could develop there, given time, expands our perceptions in both directions. Think of the idea that there could have once been life on Mars, or even on Venus, even just the merest microbes that were entirely annihilated with the slightest shift in orbit.  Life developed over millions and billions of years, while the earth was lifeless, or as the first microbes emerged from a chemical sludge, and then disappeared. Entirely. Our centuries seem so vain compared to that eonic drama.

And then go forward: after we’ve wiped ourselves out and the earth starts to rebuild from our folly, maybe life will slowly bloom on Enceladus. It might not happen, but it might. It might spark to life and then fizzle out, unsuccessful. That has probably happened billions of times across the universe.

But the point is, it has happened. One of this blogs secondary yammering points has been that we’re past the point where any reasonable person could think there isn’t life outside of earth, or that there hasn’t been, or that there never will be. Mars once had water. Enceladus has the primary conditions for life. There are seven nearby planets that are the right distance from their star to contain life.  There are40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of Sun-like stars and red dwarfs in the Milky Way.” Just the Milky Way! There are two trillion galaxies in the observable universe. There are more things than can be contained in even our most outsized vanities.

The universe is far too big, and far too weird (look how weird Pluto is), to think we’re the only place this has happened. But that’s not so bad. We’re probably the only place where that weird chemical sludge whorled and zapped up the exact combinations that led to sequoias and dinosaurs and tree sloths and Tilda Swinton, and that’s awesome. We get to have Warren Zevon and playoff hockey. Neat!

None of this is to say that, given the size of the universe, and the certainty that we aren’t alone, that our problems are lessened. Because, functionally, we are alone. It’s not like any jerkass Enceladusian microbes are going to FedEx us a care package, much less a solution to our crippling frailties. The fact that we know that life certainly started in other places, even in our solar system, and was wiped out, a fate that will absolutely befall earth, should be enough to dim our self-destructiveness and work to make better the time we have. One would hope, anyway.

I’ve argued that since we are past the point where life in the universe can plausibly be doubted, even without definitive proof, something will slowly alter in our morals. It won’t happen overnight. It will be a generational thing, much like the Copernican “discoveries” began the slow erosion of Popish authority. Our perceptions of ourselves will change. And I think it could be for the better.

We might realize that far from being special, we’re lucky. We’re enormously lucky to be here, as a planet, as a species, and as individuals. Stretch back to the beginning of time and trace the events that led to your parents meeting. It’s impossible. So much could not have happened, and so much didn’t happen to other potential beings, other potential species. A wrong turn on a Sunday means your great-grandparents never chanced into each other or that you were just too far away from the sun to be warm, and so you’re a lifeless void.

It’s wild, these possibilities created by an endless universe. Maybe if we recognize that, if we recognize this glorious chance that lets us drink champagne with the ones we love, we won’t be so vainly self-destructive. If only we have time.

(Note: for a good scientific explanation of Enceladus, read Calla Cofield’s piece at Space.com)

NATO is “No Longer Obsolete”. Trump Still Doesn’t Understand What NATO Is

Image result for trump stoltenberg

One of these men is the most powerful in the world. 

Yesterday, during a news conference in which he said that he wouldn’t label China a currency manipulator, Donald Trump also claimed that he had fixed NATO’s terrorism problems.

At a joint press conference with Mr Stoltenberg, Mr Trump said: “The secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more Nato can do in the fight against terrorism.

“I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism.

“I said it [Nato] was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”

It’s actually pretty breathtaking. Because NATO countries were always fighting terrorism, from before September 11th, of course, but certainly after, when it invoked, for the first time ever Chapter 5, a mutual defense agreement. But it’s a neat trick, complaining that something already happening should happen, and then taking credit when it still is. Temporally, it’s sort of the mirror image of the great Mitch Hedberg line: “I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.”

It’s the same thing with the Chinese currency manipulation (they haven’t been artificially devaluing Renmimbi for three years, by all accounts, in fact, the opposite). That Trump was accusing them of manipulation was correct, if he was talking about years ago. Chances are he didn’t know that, and didn’t care. But now that they are no longer doing so, he can claim it was his tough talk. It’s like saying “I’ve been telling people for years we should draw heat from earth’s yellow sun, and now people are saying, ‘you’re right, you’re so right, we should’. A lot of people are saying that, and now we are.”

(And it is terrible for Stoltenberg, who has to stand there, and can’t immediately call Trump out for being such a doughy liar. It’s a classic weak-fingered power move by someone steeped in the artifical world of real estate and failed casinos.)

The only inkling of credit that Trump could take is that he drew a spotlight on how member nations need to contribute more of their GDP to national defense, but that was already going up anyway.

But that’s sort of the point. Because you want to ask Trump: what do you mean when you say “NATO wasn’t fighting terrorism”, and that now they are. Do you mean that:

  • None of the member states were doing so? Does that include the UK or Canada? Because they clearly were.
  • Did you mean in Afghanistan? Because NATO member nations, under the auspices of the International Security Assistance Force, have been there since 2001. Granted, not every member nation sent soliders, but most contributed in one way or the other.
  • Do you mean, more vaguely, that they are doing nothing to “fight terrorism” in terms of bombing ISIS, or sending troops into Syria/Iraq? Because that’s not entirely true, nor is it the only way to “Fight terrorism”. Pretty sure that Belgium and France are trying to combat ISIS attacks in their countries.
  • But, more to the point, what changed? How are they “no longer obsolete”? Can you point to any actual differences, other than perhaps raising the percent of GDP spent on defense, which you can’t really take credit for, but more to the point, would not have changed anything tactically?

It’s obvious he couldn’t answer any of these questions, and that gets to the real heart of the matter: Donald Trump still doesn’t know what NATO actually is. He really seems to think it is an independent fighting force instead of a collection of nations who sometimes fight under a more unified banner with a central command (as in Kosovo). But there are no, like, standing NATO forces or NATO air force that these countries are not contributing to.

To say NATO has been obsolete is to say that every member nation refuses to take terrorism seriously, which even Trump couldn’t actually think (or, I guess, he could). He might mean that “NATO” should do more to coerce members to step up, which isn’t how it works. But there is no way to interpret his comments that comports with the reality of NATO.

Member states do, of course, have to contribute to what is NATO overhead, but even that is not the same, and not in the way he thinks. That’s why he embarassed himself when Angela Merkel came to visit. He most likely didn’t actually hand Merkel a bill, but he still tweeted that Germany owes…

To which The Guardian explained

Ultimately, members’ contributions are based on each nation’s capability. Therefore, Nato member nations do not “owe” or have to compensate any other country.

On Saturday Ivo Daalder, who was permanent representative to Nato from 2009 to 2013, respond to Trump in a series of tweets.

“Sorry, Mr President, that’s not how Nato works,” he wrote. “The US decides for itself how much it contributes to defending Nato. This is not a financial transaction, where Nato countries pay the US to defend them. It is part of our treaty commitment.”

But I think the “obsolete” comments go even further. Because there is no NATO except for an agreement between nations, there is nothing to change except for what the nations themselves are doing. And I don’t see any big change since January 20th. Some countries are more aggressive than others in combatting ISIS/AQ, and some have different priorities, but all contribute. It’s always been that way, since that terrible September day, when our strongest allies rallied around a battered and stunned United States, and did so thorugh 15 terrible years and multiple Presidents. It’s still the same, even though Trump refuses to understand that, and continues to take credit for the actions of others.

The “Chemical Weapons” Fiasco Is A Result of Not Understanding Syria or Russia; or: Spicer Is an Idiot, But He’s Also Carrying Water for Idiots

 

Image result for hitler

“Ok, but…” No! Just don’t start that way. It’s SO easy

 

Look, it’s not hard. Normal people don’t slip up and say things like “Hitler never gassed his own people!” Most people don’t even start sentences with “At least Hitler…”  That’s Human Speaking 101, and something that, if your entire job is to talk, you should have learned. So one can reasonably come to the conclusion that Sean Spicer isn’t particularly good at his job.

One can also, when riding in the wake of Seanspicerholocaustcenterdumbassgate, draw darker conclusions. This is an administration that didn’t mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day,  and it is one that employs not just Steve Bannon, but the ludicrous and grotesque pro-Nazi bigot Sebastian Gorka. It’s attracted the very worst elements of American politics, people who were more repulsively fringe than Steven King, mucking up from the bile of the hardest right. Every half-bright sexless bigot like Steven Miller with an axe to grind gyered and gimbled their way to the White House.  They were drawn by Donald Trump, who himself is a half-bright bigot. Like attracts like.

So yeah, you could say that hearing some perhaps mixed messages about Hitler contributed to Spicer’s confusion Choitner discusses that, but also gets closer to the real issues, which is that Spicer has to flip-flop almost daily.  Or not even flip-flop: wrench around based on the ill-informed whims of above-mentioned half-bright bigot.

The horrible weight of electing someone who never deeply considered any policy before, other than spouting off about headlines he skimmed, much like every other ill-informed paper-reader, is beginning to really press down on us. Our allies have no idea what to believe. Russia doesn’t even pretend to take us seriously. It has zero interest in listening to the administration, because, as we said yesterday, it is clear the administration doesn’t know what it is doing. Hell, right now, Putin is leaving Tillerson twisting in the wind.

Vali Nasser goes in-depth about why Russia will stay with Assad, and it is pretty clear that no one in the Trump administration has given these reasons much thought. They seem to believe that suddenly believing Assad “should go” is tantamount to a coherent policy that should be respected. I still think that Putin is making a mistake, and that even if things are going “well” right now, he’ll still end up broken on the rocks of an impossible conflict, but his short-term logic requires him to stay. And it certainly doesn’t require him to listen to an administration that has believed in what they are saying for about 15 minutes.

Trump likes to say he is “unpredictable”, and sell that as a virtue. And, to an extent (or rather, in neutral conditions) that could be true. But he isn’t “unpredictable” as part of some clever game; he’s unpredictable because he has no idea what he’s doing. His talk of not letting enemies know what he is going to do is pure bluster: he has no plans, no goals, no strategies, but couldn’t ever say that. So, like with everything else in his entirely empty life, he spun that off as a virtue. Oh, I can’t tell you what I am going to do, you’ll have to wait and see, but it’s great. Super great. I know more about everything that everyone, you’ll see. It worked during his days as a real estate and promotional carny, and it somehow worked during the campaign. He became President.

But it doesn’t work when you actually have to do things. When his casinos failed after empty promises, he declared bankruptcy. That’s something you can do when you are rich. He always had a system that would pick him up after he failed. But that doesn’t exist anymore. There is no backup. You actually have to produce, and you can’t suddenly have a coherent foreign policy when you’ve never actually thought of one before.

That’s where we are at now. A huckster who claimed that he was unpredictable as a way to mask his total ignorance is in a position where there is no net. He acts entirely on emotion and whims, never actually thinking things through. Eric Trump, showing the family gift for argument by evidence-free and indeed self-evidently counterfactual assertion, told the Daily Telegraph that his father was a “great thinker, practical not impulsive,” and added, “Believe me he thinks things through.” The last sentence also showed the family flair for relying on a non-existent wellspring of reliability.

This isn’t just snark. Pointing out the way this family runs is to point out how they are running the country. You can see that with Syria. One day it’s “Assad? He’s ok, I don’t care” and then “Well we should do something about that maybe” and then “Did we get good press for blowing things up? Then our position is that he’s big-league worse than Hitler. Got it Spicer?”

So no, Spicer can’t handle it. Partly because he’s an idiot, of course. But partly because he’s working for people with no idea what they are doing. In a way, he’s doing us all a service. If they had someone good at their job, they might be able to spin this in a way where you could potentially believe that the Trump administration knew what they were doing, that our allies wren’t terrified, that we weren’t being buffeted on the whims of an old man who is equal parts terrifying and laughable. Spicer’s wild incompetence does us the kindness of laying bare the enormoity of our world-historic mistake.

 

Tillerson’s “Warning” To Russia about Assad: Trump’s Meaningless Foreign Policy in a Nutshell

 

fig207-19

The President gathers his top men

 

The Wall Street Journal reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has landed in Moscow, where he will seek to convince Russia to back away from its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Yeah, Russia: you better start following this policy that we’ve had for nearly five days now.

It isn’t even that I disagree. It’s just that: is Russia supposed to take this seriously? “Oh, the Americans bombed an empty airfield and announced it was a one-off, except when Spicer said it wasn’t, then said he was wrong. This sure seems consistent and permanent. We better do what they say!”

This is what happens when you elect a man who has no idea what he’s doing and whose top advisors (Bannon, Kushner, Priebus) have exactly zero days of federal government experience between them.

Sessions Ends Forensic Science Commission; Vows To Increase Wrongful Convictions

Image result for phrenology racism

“Science!” -Jeff Sessions, Presumably

Jeff Sessions, Attorney General and acting director of a Confederacy 2.0 Pre-enactment Society, has rarely made it obvious how far backwards he wants to take this country. I mean, it is obvious that in terms of criminal justice (which is to say, the mark of a civilized society), he wants to take it really far backwards. But how far back? And where? Is it 1960 Birmingham? 1840 Mississippi? 1970s New York? King Leopold’s Congo? England at the height of Social Darwinism?

How about all of the above, like a smoothie of racism and authoritarianism. He made it clear over the weekend that he intends to reinvigorate the “War on Drugs” that led to overwhelming incarceration rates, massive violence, and generations of black families torn apart (and which did literally nothing to wean this country off its overwhelming need for intoxicating substances).

This “war” melded domestically with the War on Terror, mingling to create hyper-militarized police forces that saw citizens as the enemy and acted as foreign occupiers. SWAT raids on no-knock warrants became the go-to means for every sheriff who suddenly saw himself a soldier. Tiny counties that see a handful of crimes a month had officers armed for Fallujah. It’s no wonder they stopped seeing themselves as public servants, and started acting like conquering vigilantes. And while rural meth dealers often saw the full weight of this nightmare, it was still directed largely toward minorities, a continuation of America’s historical legacy.

It isn’t universal, of course. Many police departments, especially in big cities, tried to find a way to balance the need for order with the genuine desire for community activism. Dallas was probably the most notable city in this regards, which is what made the murder of its police over the summer doubly tragic.

But the backlash to the killing was more than outrage and sorrow; it was a backlash against the very ideas that the Dallas police tried to represent. In that hot summer filled with racial hatred and mainstreamed revanchism, Donald Trump rose, promising with zero subtlety to take America backward in time. The racial text was crystal clear. And through the revolving cast of advisors, one man stood by him: Jeff Sessions, for whom one foot forward was an abnegation of tradition.

And now Jeff Sessions is using the power granted to him by the slave-state protecting wisdoms of the Electoral College to bring it all back home. His War on Drugs announcement was quickly followed by an announcement that he was ending the attempt to bring criminal justice up to speed with new scientific developments in the hopes of reducing wrongful convictions.

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday he is ending an Obama-era partnership with independent scientists that aimed to improve the reliability of forensic science, as longstanding concerns remain about the quality of such evidence in court cases.

The Justice Department will not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science, a panel of judges, defense attorneys, researchers and law enforcement officials that had been advising the attorney general on the use of scientific evidence in the criminal justice process. The department will instead appoint an in-house adviser and create an internal committee to study improvements to forensic analysis, Sessions said.

To be sure, the gussy it up with weasel mouthings, thanking the commission for their service, and saying that the cause of justice will be better-served if it is handled entirely by law enforcement officers. In a vacuum, you could see why that is trouble, since they are geared toward conviction and enforcement (it’s why generals aren’t always strategists). Even progressive law enforcement types lean toward “law and order”, by default.

This isn’t even close to neutral vacuum, though. You think Jeff Sessions’s appointments will skew liberal?

Of course not. The whole point of this is to reverse the progress that was made in overturning fake science and prosecution-friendly standards that led to tens of thousands of wrongful convictions. The commission was recommending changing procedures that allowed for dubious expertise, like bite marks, to serve as evidentiary proof.

The reasons for this are clear. Sessions wants to move us away from any haltering, faltering, and at times bipartisan movements we made toward true justice (the kind practiced by legions of decent cops, judges, DAs and public defenders), and back to the days where you could be convicted for looking funny, pushed on a chain gang because a sheriff doesn’t like you, beaten in black rooms because some mustache thinks you mouthed off.

The War on Drugs was a hideous failure. Jeff Sessions wants not just to bring it back, to  reverse any attempts to mitigate its excesses. And he wants to do this because it wasn’t a failure for the right people. Its cruel impact hurt black families the most, as well as Latino, and poor whites. And that’s exactly the point.

The backlash against progress is contained like a whirlwind in his little petite Grand Wizard frame. This is what November brought. This is justice in the era of Trump.

Reminder: We’ve Been At War for 15 Years. This is Just a Different One

 

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Image from The Guardian, come on…

This is what I was getting at in today’s first post, when worrying that CBS was trying to reassure its viewers that the only reason Colbert was making fun of the President is that he didn’t know we had struck Syria.

One can see the telltale signs of a media gearing up to make war normal. Flashes of missiles launching through the darkened foreign night, the President huddling with advisors, reading a stern statement with a serious face, maps and graphics across innumerable cable screens, “experts” who just heard of Idlib this week talking about the strategic importance of sending a message.

I ultimately don’t think much will come of this. Trump is too chaotic and unfocused, and too deeply unpopular. I don’t think there will be much flag-wrapping across the country. I don’t think he’s going to grow significantly more popular because of this, except in a very few knee-jerk quarters. In a week, we may forget this even happened (though it did, with real consequences, but I am just talking domestically for this post).

But it is broadly disturbing how quickly the media gets on its own war footing, which not only has the effect of making Trump seem like a normal President, but shows something dark about our character, and about the last 15 years.

We’ve been at war since 2001 in one country or another, and usually several on some level. But most of those go unnoticed. They don’t get the banner treatment or the blaring chyrons. This is different, because it is against a President, which means it is against a real country, which means it is a real war (regardless of how limited). That’s exciting! That’s newsworthy. The rest? Background noise.

It’s really a dual danger. The first danger is that we get so excited to be at a real war, because that is what stirs the American character. It does so in other countries as well, though America seems particularly susceptible, at the same level as, say Russia. The idiot media is a reflection of that. It doesn’t just prime the pump. But the other danger is that war is so entrenched in our story, and so inextricable from the present moment, that it takes something extraordinary to even stir out attention. It’s ingrained now, in ways we haven’t begun to understand. We’ve always been at war, and always will be.