Sunday, January 21, 2018

Live free or die

The New York Times has a piece on a drug addict in New Hampshire. The live free or die state. So this is ironic:

 In Patrick’s home state of New Hampshire, which leads the country in deaths per capita from fentanyl, almost 500 people died of overdoses in 2016. The government estimates that 10 percent of New Hampshire residents — about 130,000 people — are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The overall burden to the state, including health care and criminal justice costs and lost worker productivity, has ballooned into the billions of dollars.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Maybe the Russians have it

Another NSA screw-up, unless it was deliberate.

The National Security Agency destroyed surveillance data it pledged to preserve in connection with pending lawsuits and apparently never took some of the steps it told a federal court it had taken to make sure the information wasn’t destroyed, according to recent court filings.
Long ago, in Esquire, Malcolm Muggeridge wrote about beng offered a job in British intelligence during World War II. He said he turned it down because intelligence never attracts really first-rate people. That isn't always true. Alan Turing was as good as you get, and R.V. Jones probably nearly as good.

(These happen to be English examples. Despite Britain's much more stringent spy laws, we know more about Britain's intelligence work than we do about America's, thanks [I think] to Britain's clubby and gossipy old-boy network.)

The evidence, as far as we know it,  does not suggest that U.S. intelligence agencies are,  by and large, run by competent people. It is impossible to say whether on balance it would have been better not to have had them at all or not,  but they have unquestionably done enormous damage to us.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Unguarded comments

Just when the Trumpeters were, somewhat languidly, pushing back against their fuehrer's latest racist imbroglio, out tumbles the audio record of one of WBD's appointees, in this case a spokesman for the agency that runs AmeriCorps.

Not the highest gift within the presidential patronage portfolio, but a frontman is necessarily a bit elevated in his public role. This one, Carl Higbie, was known for, well, his known-ness; he was one of several appointees (the Sam Clovis affair leaps to mind) whose only apparent accomplishment is having opinions and blurting them out.

I mean, when the reviewers reviewed Higbie's resume, what what on it? He's never done anything.

Query: Trump minions do review appointees before recommending them? Don't they?

So, how did they overlook Higbie's baroque racism?

Two possibilities come to mind.

One, the reviewers are just as racist as Higbie so it did not occur to them that anyone would find anything to object to.

This is the kind of "tell," in the current Beltway lingo, that allowed RtO to refer to the Tea Party as 100% racist. Numerous TP leaders sent out email blasts including the vilest kind of racist jokes. Now, that doesn't make the recipients racists, but it does prove that the leaders assumed that all their members are racists. You never send out an email blast unless you think everyone on the mailing list is on board.

And if they stay on board afterward, then you, the sender, were right. And that is how RtO can say without chance of contradiction that the TP was and is 100% racist. If it ever had any non racist adherents (which I doubt), they are gone.

Possibility two is that Higbie's record never was reviewed, that the same care was taken over his appointment as punters give to tips about a sure thing in the third at Pimlico.

I am unable to choose between these alternatives. There's  lots of evidence for pervasive racism in the Trump coterie.

But there's lots of evidence for the Trumpeters acting without checking, too.

The missing tweet

Several polls purport to find that even WBD's supporters wish he would tweet less. Yet there was one tweet we were more or less promised that has not been sent.

That would be the one that calls out Gregory Hayes, CEO of United Technologies, for sending jobs offshore. We were told that Trump would use what Politico calls his "Twitter cannon" to discipline executives who killed off American jobs in order to improve their bottom line.

Hayes in particular should have been called out because he made WBD look like a chump by promising to keep Carrier jobs in Indianapolis but instead sending them to Mexico.

Hayes is crying all the way to the bank. UTX stock is up 12.5% since the election he helped WBD to win, and the market value of UTX is over $13 billion higher than it wa s then.

The $7 million deal worked out by WBD and Pence to fleece the taxpayers was change lost in the sofa cushions for Hayes, and a few hundred jobs -- who cares?

It does show how stupid Trump voters were and, it appears, still are.

I used to have a saying when I was a reporter, a saying that I used even more often after I became a pawnbroker: some people are hard to help.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Book Review 408: The Whiskey Rebellion

THE WHISKEY REBELLION: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution, by Thomas G. Slaughter. 291 pages, Oxford

In 1794, just six years after it began, just about everyone expected the strange American political experiment to fail. President Washington, the British and the Spanish governments, most of the Federalists, at least some of the Antifederalists, and, above all, Alexander Hamilton.

About the only ones who did not share this opinion were the people widely viewed as being against the national union — the western pioneers.

The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 was not much of an affair and has been viewed as a sort of hiccup. I remember it was presented in schoolbooks in the ‘50s as an assertion by the national government of resolve and firmness that squelched disunionist sentiment more or less forever. This despite the occurrence of the Civil War.

Thomas Slaughter sees it differently. It was  big deal then, and the issues that drove it  — liberty or order, localism or nationalism, big government or small — are still lively among us, even if the factional actors have switched ideological sides more than once in the past 225 years. However, the geographical locale of the dissent has stayed quite stable. The opponents of central government are still concentrated around the Ohio Valley.

In 1794, Pittsburgh was the only real urban place on the frontier, and the writ of national or state government barely ran in the West.

The westerners were full of grievances: they wanted protection from the Indians, the right to trade at New Orleans and no internal taxes.

Hamilton, the villain of the piece, had schemed to enrich himself and his friends by simultaneously flimflamming the veterans of the Continental army out of their bonuses and assuming the state debts. To pay the debts, he needed new taxes, and his preferred method was an excise, a tax on internal production.

Since this was the flashpoint of the Revolution, Hamilton’s political acumen needs to be called int oquestion, unless, of course, he had a more nefarious intention than raising a revenue.

Thomas Slaughter does not say he did, but although he disclaims any intent to take sides, he finds most of the errors that led to an army’s being marched against American citizens to have risen in the capital (then Philadelphia) and much of that advice coming from Hamilton.

My view, coming into this book, was that Hamilton was a scoundrel and a con artist. Nothing in “The Whiskey Rebellion” causes me to change my mind.

In Slaughter’s estimation, the western grievances were practical, not jus ideological. There was no cash in the West to pay taxes with and nothing to trade except whiskey, which Hamilton was emboldened to tax.

It is hard to believe Hamilton thought the tax would be received quietly. Slaughter suggests he was anxious for a demonstration of force to teach the lower orders their place.

Washington, too, had long experience of the western farmers and a low opinion of them. He also had huge financial interests. The outcome of the rebellion — really more of a tax strike — raised the value of those lands by 50% over night.

Slaughter finds many, many competing influences that led to a breakdown of public order but class divisions were at the forefront. It was the landless, impoverished, sometimes actually starving pioneers who — with nothing to lose — had most reason to rebel.

What they did not have were arms, leadership, organization, plans or prospects.

Probably a genuinely conciliatory policy in Philadelphia could have settled the west without turmoil, but that would not have suited either Hamilton or Washington, who both thought the common herd needed a sharp lesson.

The rebellion was widespread but mild — excise officers were  tarred and feathered or run out of town, houses or bans were burned, collaborators were threatened. But there was no jacquerie and the amount of additonal violence on an already extremely violent frontier was barely noticeable.

Still, eventually a huge (by Revolutionary standards) militia army marched. Like the militia before and since, it was notable for drunkenness, indiscipline, robbery, violence, jealousy and deep incompetence.

Resistance collapsed at nice.

The fervid imaginations of governors of Canada and Louisiana and of a few get-rich-quick artists among the Americans proved to be just that, imaginary.

Just because the so-called rebellion ended as a damp squib does not mean it was not significant. Slaughter summarizes:

“The Rebellion and the government’s response thus exacerbated rather than cured the political conflict that rent America in the 1790s. It contributed as much as any single event to widening the breach between selfstyled friends of liberty and friends of order, and to the birth of the Republican and Federalist parties in the years following 1794. And this was only one effect of the Rebellion on the transforming political scene. It was only one of the consequences of this  last violent battle over the meaning of the Revolution.”

Our brilliant chief magistrate

The Washington Post reports

Trump was not particularly upset by the coverage of the meeting and his vulgarity after it was first reported by The Washington Post, calling friends and asking how they expected it to play with his political supporters, aides said.

“Everyone was saying it would help with the base,” which would agree with his characterization, one person who spoke with the president said.
And why not? Consider what he accomplished by what the Post says was a spur-of-the-moment meeting on the most significant piece of legislation currently before the Congress:

1. He got everyone to quit talking about "Fire and Fury"

2. He forced his prim opponents, such as the New York Times and NPR, to say a naughty word

3.  He reassured his supporters that, yes, indeed, he is a stone-cold racist, just like them.

And wait, there's more. He emasculated rightwing senators Cotton and Perdue (emergency attendees, according to the Post's account) who will never again be able to negotiate with the Democratic leadership after being maneuvered into calling Durbin a liar.

It's a win-win-win-win-win . . . so much winning.

It is remarkable how many ducks he brought down with one shot.