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Truth and lies about the border

January 17, 2019

The truth is that the wall is a campaign slogan that has morphed into a political fight.

Trump spews a pack of lies about the border to stoke the fear and rage of his supporters. That is his standard shtick. But it always causes an extra eyeroll when he then turns around and denies saying what he previously said, such as his promise that Mexico literally would pay for the wall. I’m not quite sure how he thinks such denial works, when the record is easily available to anyone with internet. Perhaps it is part of why Trumpistas find him authentic? Don’t know, don’t know.

Martina Navratilova says that the propaganda from the modern right tops what was produced by communist Czechoslovakia:


The wall and the law

January 16, 2019

Elie Mystal says the wall never will be built, because Constitutional law protects the owners of the border land:

There is no “military eminent domain” that Trump can invoke, national emergency or not, that supersedes the Fifth Amendment. And the Fifth Amendment only allows for takings for public use and just compensation. People will fight the government’s definition of “just” compensation. People will fight the government’s definition of “public” use. There’s a whole part of takings canon that deals with whether or not the land is being taken in whole or only in part. People will fight by saying that their whole parcels are being commandeered by the erection of an ugly 30-foot physical barrier.

That’s a nice theory. The reality here in Texas is that the protection of the 5th amendment depends very much on whose ox is gored.

Here comes the sun

January 15, 2019

ninasimoneherecomesthesunAn article in Outside Online challenges the orthodox view of sun exposure and sun screens. Like many who gravitate to the outdoors, I use sunscreens only at the start of a day when I’m planning to be out almost all of it. Who has the time and discipline to slather them on, every short outing? Purely as a matter of physics, the upper, sometimes horizontal parts of the body — like my bald pate — would get much more sun exposure than the lower, vertical parts. Which is why I long since have followed an alternative they discuss:

Trading your sunscreen for a shirt and a broad-brimmed hat is another. Both have superior safety records.

The article is worth reading for its discussion of the possible benefits to sun exposure.

Indictment and impeachment

January 14, 2019

The crimes that Mueller’s team is investigating are quite technical on the elements that constitute them. The behavior involved was complex and intentionally secret. Unlike many, I hesitate to speculate on what further indictments are coming. If any. Nor do I claim to know whether the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia was fairly shallow or relatively deep.

Andrew Coan righteously defends the Mueller investigation, regardless of what more it produces. And he points correctly to how Trump has launched an assault against the rule of law in response to it:

If Mueller completes his investigation without interference, the norm established by Watergate will remain superficially intact. But Trump will have rendered it far weaker and more fragile than it appeared just two years ago. The next time a president is accused of a crime, this weakened norm may not be enough to restrain him. For this, Trump deserves lasting censure, regardless of the investigation’s outcome.

More than censure, he deserves impeachment. Let’s be clear. It was not an impeachable offense for Trump to fire Comey. It is an impeachable offense that he did so because Comey had started an investigation related to Trump’s campaign. Motive matters. He has the mores of a mobster, arguing they do something terribly wrong when his henchmen “flip” and cooperate with prosecutors. Every time Trump tells the Department of Justice who to prosecute and who not, he crosses the line of proper presidential behavior. Brad Sherman was quite right to file articles of impeachment last year. I’m glad he did so again this year.

And no, it doesn’t seem impeachable that Trump is a habitual liar. That was clear when he was elected. It is no surprise at all that he lied about past presidents supporting his wall. But, yes, a president who declares a faux emergency — either to thwart Congress for not approving his policy, or to distract from other issues — has reached the bar for impeachment.

I don’t pretend to see the future. I don’t know if Mueller has more indictments forthcoming. I don’t know whether his report will be bland, telling little more than we already know, or a bombshell. What already is clear is that we are living through the most visibly corrupt presidency in US history. Based on what we know now.

Photo shows the previous Teflon Don.

Love is all you need

January 10, 2019

University of Texas biologists have done something quite curious. They looked at gene expression differences between closely related pairs of species — one monogamous, one not — in distant parts of the vertebrate branch. And they found commonalities. Evolution seems to be finding repeatedly the same path to make species monogamous or not. For mammals, birds, fish, and amphibians. (Cite.) (And as always with biology, with some interesting exceptions.) The obvious question that follows is whether those differences really are causative and if so, what those differences do to the brain.

One if by air, two if by sea

January 9, 2019

Those on the terrorist watch list caught entering the US overwhelming fly into the US. The next most popular route is by sea. And those few who do enter by land, don’t come from Mexico. That’s not the least surprising to anyone familiar with US entry. Yet Sarah Sanders said they were a reason to build a wall along the southern border.

The Federalist is helping spread the conspiracy theory that one of their reporters, who died of encephalitis after the flu, was murdered for reporting a story. The ordinary conspiracy theories in the right-wing media prepare its audience for the lies from the White House. Not just how to believe, but also how to propagate and how to damage control and otherwise how to handle. Propaganda serves its purpose not just when it is believed, but also when adherents accept that it is a tool that they will use and that they should expect from their leader. So if Sarah Sanders lies and Kellyanne Conway calls it an “unfortunate misstatement,” it still serves its purpose and even gives Conway a veneer of credibility.


January 8, 2019

We are in the middle of — and the cause of — the sixth mass extinction in earth’s history. I worry less about the impending loss of the vaquitas and the northern white rhino than I do about what that signals for the ecosystems where they live. How many plants unknown are we losing along the way? How many insects that only biologists notice? The vertebrates that are lost are like your house power going out during a hurricane. Quite visible, but signaling worse and more extensive damage outside your door.

That ongoing loss is not new this year. It is something we have been doing for decades. In some sense, for centuries. Because the aggregate change happens slowly relative to our short lives, we hardly notice that the nature we are leaving our children is much less than the nature we inherited. While it is inspiring to read what Patrick Kilonzo Mwalua does to save some African animals from drought, conservation efforts are stop-gaps. Most do not address the causes, and so are like bailing water out of a boat while ignoring the loose hose through which it is pouring in.

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new populist leader, is giving the agriculture lobby there greater control over Brazil’s nature preserves. Matthew Yglesias correctly identifies the best thing Americans can do to protect the environment: vote against Republicans. You are not green unless that influences your politics.

Photo shows the elusive and likely extinct ivory billed woodpecker, once common in the southern US.