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“Truth isn’t truth”

August 20, 2018

One of the Trumpista myths is that Trump has turned around the lousy Obama economy. Sarah Sanders was forced to walk back her lies about that. The simple truth is that a president rarely gets anything done that affects the economy his first few months in office, and any consequence typically are seen a year or more after. Black employment (see left) for the last year and half has simply continued the trend of the several years previous. As has total employment, GDP, stock prices, and other major economic indicators.

Kevin Williamson’s wild-eyed rant regarding Elizabeth Warren’s desire to put labor representation on corporate boards is, alas, pretty much what I expect from him. There are all sorts of ways to evaluate her proposal sanely, both pro and con. Pretending it is mass nationalization of business is not one of those. I’ve never quite understood Williamson’s reputation as a conservative intellectual, except that the field is so barren in recent years.

Trump’s claim about Mueller and Comey being best friends is just another one of his lies, written by Breitbart, as often is the case. Designed to demonize the Mueller investigation. As often is the case.

There is no such thing as a perjury trap. Clinton testified for eleven hours under oath to a House investigation committee designed to vilify her, whose controlling members despised her. Giuliani’s problem is that his client is a habitual liar. Lies are how Trump keeps his base. Lies are how he administers government. The Orwellian “truth isn’t truth” captures the essence of this administration.

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Oats and Danes

August 17, 2018

breakfastMy usual breakfast is an oat porridge, topped with cinnamon, chopped walnuts, and blueberries. Shown left. Slate explains why you should not worry about the glyphosate in your oats, despite sensational articles now in the news.

In between stoking its audience’s racism, Fox News tells some lies about Denmark. Dan Jørgensen, a Danish politician, responds. In top form and perfect English.

The Danes like their porridge.

There’s still room at the bottom

August 15, 2018

Microbiologists from the University of Queensland identified 8,000 new species of bacteria and archaea, by reconstructing their genomes from the metagenomes of environmental samples. (Cite.) The real lesson is how much we still don’t know about the microorganisms around us. Gene Tyson, one of the authors, explains:

The real value of these genomes is that many are evolutionarily distinct from previously recovered genomes. They increase the evolutionary diversity spanned by both bacterial and archaeal genome trees by over 30 percent, and are the first representatives within 17 bacterial and three archaeal phyla.

While this kind of data mining is useful to seeing more of what is out there — or down there — each of those new beasties has its own mysteries to unfold. Microbiology is an area with plenty of unplowed fields. Though, I wonder how many biologists will get the reference from my post title?

The white man’s network

August 14, 2018

Every time I pass through TSA security or through US customs, I am reminded of the benefit of being a middle-aged, white male. Since 9/11, of the many times I have flown, I have been selected for extra screening exactly twice. Those most likely, actual random selection by computer, rather than a not-so-random selection falsely labeled that. Each delayed me only an additional half minute, as the guards apologetically gave me a second look-see.

According to a PRRI survey from last year, Republicans believe that whites in the US face more discrimination than blacks. Or than gays. And that Christians face more than Muslims. It is as if they live in a different world. A world constructed for them by their own media. Fox News is the major network that caters to white resentment. Which is why it attracts a minute minority audience. And why it proudly hosts white nationalists like Laura Ingraham.

None of this is new. The change since the rise of the Trumpistas is that Ingraham and company feel free to be more blatant in their expression.

Corruption and tariffs

August 13, 2018

An American student watching current events might be surprised to learn that the Constitution assigns Congress, not the president, the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises.” The problem is that Congress moves slowly. In 1962, the spring days of the cold war, Congress decided to give the president a route to protecting American industries where national security demanded it. It wouldn’t do to have some American company that made a switch or special part for strategic weapons to go out of business due to foreign competition. Such things didn’t much happen, so section 232 tariffs have rarely been used. Until Trump decided that it gave him a legal route to implementing his trade policies.

Fitting his nature, it is a dishonest route. Trump’s tariffs have nothing to do with national security. His deceit is a deeper threat against global trade than the tariffs themselves. Both GATT and the WTO reasonably make room for nations to have exceptional trade policies where national security is concerned. Those never much mattered, because the participating nations generally have not run to use that as legal cover for something else. With the US may be the first major player to renege. Other large nations may follow suit.

That chicanery also bolixes the renegotiation of trade agreements. In the current NAFTA talks, Mexico wants protection against future section 232 tariffs. Of course! Since that now is the way the US does economic tariffs, an agreement that doesn’t cover those is toothless. US negotiators argue that they will not and should not restrict what the US might need to do for its own national security. Which would be a valid argument, were the US not now so corrupt that it labels anything a matter of security at the convenience of its president.

For those trying to keep track of American descent into strongman rule, there are several boxes to check here. First, Trump is blatantly using a pretense to misapply the law. Second, that pretense is to label as national security concerns that have nothing to do with that. “National security” is a favorite excuse of strongmen everywhere. Third, his supporters speak nary a word against that corruption. Let’s hope House investigations next year look at this closely when they consider articles of impeachment.

Roman craft

August 9, 2018

RomanRingThe noteworthy thing about the 3rd c. Roman ring some British detectorist recently found in a field, allegedly near Crewkerne, is that it would not look out of place sitting in a modern jewelry store in Rome. And were they in new condition, the Roman shoes found in a well near the Saalburg a couple of years past could be sold in a modern high end shoe shop.

Insurance, crime, and the NRA

August 8, 2018

I suspect those selling car insurance often are asked whether the insured can purchase a rider that helps with legal expenses, if the insured ever is charged with a DWI or other serious crime committed behind the wheel. Many states take a dim view of allowing people to purchase insurance against the cost of possible criminal acts. The whole point of criminal law is to forbid and deter willful acts of certain sorts. Allowing insurance policies to cover some of the cost of that is the quintessential example of moral hazard.

And by way of that example, the NRA has been marketing insurance to its members who worry that they might end up on the wrong side of the law by shooting someone. The mandatory class I took for a Texas LCH some years past pushed those NRA policies. The instructor instilled almost as much fear of criminal prosecution as he did of evil culprits who needed to be shot. I suspect he somehow made some money for the policies sold.

New York Governor Cuomo has moved against the insurers behind those policies, and is urging similar action by states with similar laws. And the legislation of such laws in states lacking them:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today launched a national effort urging states across the country to follow New York’s lead and outlaw the NRA-branded “Carry Guard” insurance program if they determine it does not already violate their state laws. The Governor’s call to action follows a State investigation that found the program illegal under New York State law, leading to penalties against insurance companies involved. New York will begin outreach to other states to support their efforts to outlaw the practice and hold insurers responsible.

The insurer is blaming the NRA. The NRA is suing New York, arguing that its regulatory actions went beyond their legitimate ends, and that New York’s moves threaten its very financial viability. You can tell the NRA is desperate when it spends only a million dollars or so advertising for Kavanaugh.

Though New York is moving for quick dismissal, that lawsuit strikes me as likely to spend years in the court, with all sorts of issues coming to the fore. It may be that New York regulators overstepped. I doubt, though, that the NRA is having a hard time finding depository services. There are any number of banks from any number of states that would jump for their accounts. I would be happy to introduce the NRA to some south Texas bankers, if they need that.

The NRA created the mess they are in by marketing policies, quite aggressively, that they should have known were illegal in some of the states where those policies were sold. I suspect what really worries them is the almost inevitable class action suit headed their way, for the premiums long paid on policies that were and are worthless, because they are illegal.

Interestingly, the one group besides the NRA that thinks gun owners should insure themselves against criminal acts are some anti-gun zealots who wrongly think that would have a large impact on the number of gun owners. Many gun owners are suckers, and the NRA was more than happy to sell that product. As to actual liability insurance, not dealing with criminal acts, that typically is rolled into homeowners and renters insurance. The risk of a neighbor’s child finding your gun and shooting himself is less than the risk of him falling in your pool and drowning or taking your heart medicine and poisoning himself. As much as it may be a hot topic of political debate, from an actuarial viewpoint, it isn’t significant.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Texas now enacts a law explicitly making it legal to insure oneself in case of criminal prosecution. Moral hazard be damned. Sadly, in the local political climate, committing crime matters mostly if the perpetrator isn’t of the class who stay well-insured.