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Quote of the Day: Pesky Details: Mr. Mueller’s Involvement in the Whitey Bulger Affair Is Limited to a Positive Mention in Report on House Investigation

2018-04-19

“In a report by the House Committee on Government Reform, which looked into the F.B.I.’s use of secret informants, the only reference to Mr. Mueller was a favorable one. He offered, as F.B.I. director, to work with the committee to reform the agency’s informant practices.”  (quoted via the Microsoft newsfeed, which credits NANCY GERTNER  of – The New York Times – on Thursday, April 19, 2018)

In other words, all the negative “right wing opinion” on Fox News is so much falsehoods and Mueller had no involvement in the disastrous FBI decisions to back serial killers Whitey Bulger and his pals.  All this happened in the 1980’s.  The right wing propaganda machine is pushing this theme of past corruption, which is true especially in the Bulger case, and trying to make Mueller responsible, which is absurd when he was promoted as being completely neutral and a good administrator who was well liked by his staff.  The whole right wing theme is an embarrassment to the older FBI establishment because they know well that there have been past misdeeds.  Mr. Mueller is the most obsessively neutral FBI special agent who ever lived, and he is being slut-shamed by the most corrupt administration in living memory.  It would be to laugh if it were not so serious.  The very constitutionality of the Federal Government is at issue.

(Lego Slug by aitoff thanks to pixabay.com– I just love this slug and I want to make it famous…)

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Marijuana or Cannabis and Driving: No Apparent Connection Between Cannabis Use and Automobile Crashes, According to the NHTSA

2018-04-19

Dr. James C. Munch.– testified before Congress in 1937 that pot was bad, then got a job as pot-watcher for the government for 25 years (per a commenter on LA Times web site.)

A July 2017 report to Congress by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): “Marijuana-Impaired Driving: A Report to Congress”

“An interesting finding from this research is that after smoking marijuana, subjects in most of the simulator and instrumented vehicle studies on marijuana and driving typically drive slower, follow other
cars at greater distances, and take fewer risks than when sober (Stein, et al., 1983; Smiley, et al., 1981;  Smiley, et al., 1986; Casswell, 1977; Robbe and O’Hanlon, 1993). These effects appear to suggest that
the drivers are attempting to compensate for the subjective effects of using marijuana. In contrast, subjects dosed with alcohol typically drive faster, follow at closer distances, and take greater risks.”

“The existing epidemiological research (both culpability and case-control studies) have produced contradictory estimates of risk for marijuana use.
Some of these studies have suggested that marijuana use has minimal or no effect on the likelihood of crash involvement, while others have estimated a small increase in the risk of crash involvement.”

“NHTSA’s “Crash Risk” Study
This case control crash risk study is the first large-scale study in the United States to include drugs other
than alcohol. It was designed to estimate the risk associated with alcohol- and drug-positive driving.
Virginia Beach, Virginia” was the site used and 3,000 crashes were studied.  A case-control method was used, and crash drivers were compared with non-crash drivers on the same roadway, at the same time of day and week.  The results were disappointing: after controlling for every variable, including age and sex, and especially alcohol use, no relation between THC-positivity and crash risk was found.  Unfortunately, there is no good test available to determine when the last time someone had smoked marijuana had occurred; only THC in the blood or saliva could be easily measured, and these don’t directly correspond to time of consumption.  THC remains in the blood for days after consumption.

“The drug most frequently detected in the oral fluid and blood of drivers was THC, detected in 7.6 percent (n = 234) of the crash-involved drivers and 6.1 percent (n = 379) of the control drivers. ”

“When the odds ratios were adjusted for demographic variable of age, gender, and race/ethnicity the
significant increased risk of crash involvement associated with THC disappeared. The adjusted odds
ratio for THC positive drivers was 1.05 (95% Confidence Limit of 0.86 – 1.27). This adjusted odds ratio
was not statistically significant.
A final adjustment was made for the presence of alcohol. When both demographic variables and the
presence of alcohol were taken into account, the odds ratio for THC declined further to 1.00
(95% Confidence Limit of 0.83 – 1.22). This means there was no increased risk of crash involvement
found over alcohol or drug free drivers.
As was described above, there was no difference in crash risk for marijuana-positive drivers who were
also positive for alcohol than for marijuana-positive drivers with no alcohol, beyond the risk attributable
to alcohol. Further analyses examined the potential interaction between drug use and breath alcohol
concentration. No statistically significant interaction effect on crash risk was found between for
THC positive drivers and BrAC level.
More information on the methodology of this study is available in a Research Note (Compton and
Berning, 2015 which can be downloaded at: http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/nti/pdf/812117-
Drug_and_Alcohol_Crash_Risk.pdf”

The defect in this study and all others is that there is no known reliable method (other than self-report, which is of questionable reliability) for determining when the last time the pot was consumed.   This makes all the difference, as the studies in the laboratory all show at least mild impairment of driving-related skills for two to three hours after consumption.  Whether increased caution compensates for these impairments is not known but should be considered.  Therefore, the only conclusion that we can reach is that people who smoke pot at least occasionally show no greater risk for crashing while driving than completely sober individuals.  This is comparable to what is known of drinking: people who drink occasionally are no worse drivers than people who don’t drink at all.  However, we know from these studies that people who are impaired by drinking are terrible drivers.  No such information is available in relation to the acute consumption of cannabis within three hours before or even while driving.

(photo courtesy of pixabay.com)

Quote of the Day: James Comey: “This is not some tin-pot dictatorship where the leader of the country gets to say, ‘The people I don’t like go to jail’”

2018-04-17

Comey fights back against Trump’s insults and slurs; Trump even accused Comey and others of committing “many crimes”– just what exactly he means is not clear, since Comey is not under investigation– while Trump is the “subject” of a special prosecutor’s investigation.  The coordinated propaganda campaign against Comey was evident on Fox News, where the newsreaders constantly belittled Comey and accused him of multiple malfeasances too numerous for me to mention.   Fox was covering Comey continuously and has been since the advance stories about Comey’s new book (due out today) started showing up on the regular networks.  Even the titles of the stories on Fox are slanted against Comey, insulting him without cause before the reader even gets to the text of the story.  How can Fox claim to be “fair and balanced” when even the title of the supposedly “hard” news story is “Comey is a gossipy little girl” or “Comey lies”– shouldn’t the title of a supposedly objective news story be something like “Comey attacks Trump in new book” or something simple like that, instead of “Comey lies in new book” or “Clinton World says ‘Comey is now lying'”…

The extent, the viciousness, and the wall-to-wall negative reporting on Fox News is truly remarkable.  It is as if the site has been given instructions to make sure that everyone who watches is indoctrinated that Comey is lying.  In fact, there is no evidence that Comey is lying, nor that he has committed any crimes.  He has “leaked” information to the press, most famously when he revealed (by handing his post-meeting memo on Trump to one of his friends and telling him to call the news media about it) that Trump had demanded “loyalty” from him and had tried to get him to drop the investigation of Mike Flynn (who has now pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.)

There is clear evidence from Trump’s own loose lips that Comey was fired to obstruct the FBI investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia.  Journalists have looked into Trump’s business dealings and have discovered that since Trump’s disastrous casino developments, he has been persona non grata to conventional banks.  This would have made his further career as a “real estate developer” rather problematic, but the Russians– even before the dissolution of the USSR– saw him as a “useful idiot” who could be a front for money laundering on a scale heretofore unrealized.  since the early 1990’s Trump has been supported by Russian gangsters, who use his hotel “developments” as vehicles for money-laundering even as the hotels themselves are not built, never completed, or are almost immediately declared bankrupt once they are finished.

Investigations have revealed that nearly every development with which Trump has been associated has been problematic– sited in the wrong place, bogged down in the planning stage by legal restrictions, having difficulties in the building process, or inadequately subscribed after completion with few buyers.  The buyers of completed suites have been Russian mobsters, who tend not to actually live in them (partially because they are in hiding) and Trump properties that have been successfully built up have been plagued by management deficiencies.  One of the latest is the Trump tower in Panama, which has been riven by a revolt among the owners of apartments who actually live in them.  The Panamanian government has stripped Trump of management responsibility because of complaints by people who live in it, replacing Trump’s employees with those of another management firm selected by the residents.

Trump has been closely associated with Russian mobsters like the “boss of bosses” Simion Mogilevich, the ubiquitous Felix Sater (a US intelligence asset who has exploited his get out of jail free card), and Tevfik Arif– since the late 1980’s he has been a subject of Russian intelligence interest.  Trump has been an ideal Russian asset because he presents a front as a successful real estate developer but has conveniently been unable to discern the actual motivations of people who come to him with money that they want him to “invest” in property development (that is, launder the money.)

It is propaganda, pure and simple, that allowed Trump to run for and win the Republican nomination for president.  Once he was the official Republican candidate, despite all the truly awful information about him that circulated, the other candidates felt they had no choice but to back him.  Even Mitt Romney, now that he has returned from retirement to run for Senate from Utah, has begun to show that he is a team member by muting his criticism of Trump.  Romney had previously made damning statements about Trump that you would think can’t be walked back; he called Trump “a fraud”, for example.  How do you reverse course and back such a person?  Doesn’t it offend your sense of truthfulness and personal honor to support a man that you called a serial liar and a cheat?  Even Mitt Romney has gritted his teeth and released positive statements now that he needs Trump’s support (and the Republican money machine.)

The Republican party and its politicians appear to be set on an irreversible course of support for Donald Trump and many of them seem to be aware that they are going down in the November mid-term elections.  The House is likely to become majority Democratic, making it possible to initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump.  These proceedings, may I suggest, should be drawn out through the next presidential election because even if the Senate turns Democratic, the Republican minority may not be convinced to vote for Trump’s conviction on the impeachment charges.  It would be better if the impeachment does not go to the Senate– rather, the publicity of impeachment hearings and the airing of the truth about Trump should be drawn out to serve as propaganda for the Democrats in the 2020 presidential elections.  This would be the best-case scenario, since even a completed impeachment of Trump is likely to leave Mike Pence as President, which is not going to be a good situation– despite the toned-down rhetoric, Pence being an evangelical Christian with medieval views on sex, he is likely to cause great difficulties just through his executive actions even without passing any legislation.  Better to have the bad publicity for Republicans rub off on the Republican candidate for president in 2020, especially if Trump insists on running for re-election.  Pre-impeachment proceedings can be drawn out for a year or more– President Nixon’s House hearings lasted from shortly after the election in 1973 until his resignation (after the House finally decided to impeach him but before the resolution was actually passed) in the fall of 1974.

I remember those impeachment hearings– they lasted throughout the summer of 1974, creating enormous negative publicity for the Republicans, even though they cooperated with the hearings and would have voted for impeachment.  Now things are different– the Republicans are unanimous in their opposition to any investigation of Trump, much less impeachment.  The Republican-controlled House Committee charged with investigating the Trump-Russia connection has already concluded its hearings with a finding of “NO COLLUSION” (as Trump would have it; all the Republicans have fallen into line behind this obvious lie.)

(photo courtesy of pixabay.com and aitoff)

 

Quote of the Decade: Trillion-Dollar Deficits As Far As the Eye Can See, Thanks to the US Congress

2018-04-16

The Congressional Budget Office projects that, over the next ten years, there will be trillion-dollar deficits every year.  This is a result of the recent tax cut and the new budget.  There is no question that Congress has created a situation that is potentially dangerous and without precedent in peacetime:

From 2019 to 2028, the federal government will run cumulative annual deficits of $12.4 trillion. The deficits — the gap between what government spends and what it collects in taxes — average about 5 percent of the economy (gross domestic product, or GDP). Since 1950, deficits have equaled or exceeded 5 percent of GDP in only six years (1983, 1985 and 2009-2012), and most of these occurred after deep recessions. These reduce tax revenue and boost “safety net” spending (unemployment insurance, food stamps and the like).
By contrast, today’s deficits occur with low unemployment and an economy that has been expanding for nine years.

(from the Washington Post opinion piece by Robert J. Samuelson, as fed thru Microsoft News)

There has been, so far, no high-level recognition of this fact, much less the germ of a plan for dealing with it.  Both conservative and liberal economists have addressed the issue, but without compromise, so no clear path forward has been suggested beyond the extreme and unrealistic options of cutting Social Security and Medicare or raising taxes on the wealthy.

However, changes in the character of the population may alter the picture in surprising ways.  For example, a large influx of young workers could improve the balance of benefits versus costs.  Or economic crash could further worsen the cost factors.

There is some black humor in all this: the budget that Congress just passed was, to all intents and purposes, the one that Obama proposed a year ago.  They didn’t have any others laying around.

Quote of the Day: ” the first officer on scene must make every attempt to neutralize an active threat as quickly as possible”

2018-04-16

“It is imperative that the first officer on scene provides the most detailed information available. … Equally as important, the first officer on scene must make every attempt to neutralize an active threat as quickly as possible.”

These sentences come from an article about the police response to the Parkland massacre site after receiving 911 calls.

The hallway was “way quiet and full of thick smoke coming from gunfire.”

The end of the article contains the advice of the senior policeman on duty that day, who blames the first responder for the delay:

Retired Police Chief Tony Pustizzi, who ran the agency at the time of the school massacre, said the reports were “pretty consistent with what we thought.”

He blamed the delay — described as a few minutes by Burton — on the sheriff’s deputy.

“Responding officers are going to formulate tactical approaches based on the information provided to them as they are en route to a scene,” he said Monday.

“It is imperative that the first officer on scene provides the most detailed information available.”

 

 

Bad News Department: Catastrophic Declines in Europe of Insect and Bird Populations

2018-04-14

Scientific surveys of bird populations in France showed dramatic declines, between one-third and two-thirds, over several decades.  This finding follows research in Germany that showed declines of 80 percent in insect populations over the last 40 years.  Scientists suspect agricultural practices have caused the drops.  Birds eat insects, so the loss of insects might cause bird populations to collapse.  The bad news was reported in an article in the New York Times.

The recent (over the last ten years) collapse of many bee populations in the United States may be related to the collapses reported in Europe.  No direct relationship has been found.

Nonetheless, we should view these population collapses with alarm.  As time passes, more and more ecosystems on Earth are damaged or degraded.  This is not a pleasant thought.  It is all epitomized by global warming and the great plastic patch in the Pacific ocean.  The root cause is overpopulation and consequent overuse of the Earth’s resources.  Drastic changes in resource use and conservation are needed to prevent ecological collapse.

Quote of the Day: There is an Exception to the Attorney-Client Privilege

2018-04-13

There is an exception to the attorney-client privilege if communications with an attorney are used in furtherance of a crime or fraud; that could come into play here as well. And documents related to anything Cohen did on his own — after all, Trump has denied knowing about the payment to Daniels — are likely not privileged if they do not contain attorney-client communications. Documents are not automatically privileged simply because they passed through an attorney’s hands.

–From a Washington Post “opinion” piece about the FBI raid on Michael Cohen’s office and hotel room Monday morning.   Mr. Trump stated then, in front of his military chiefs, that the raid was “an attack on America” and the next day, he claimed that “attorney-client privilege is dead”– just more flaming falsehoods from a man who is vying for the title “Father of Lies.”

Some things about Michael Cohen are remarkable.  The first, obviously, is that he is of Jewish heritage– Cohens are traditionally a hereditary class of Jewish religious persons (“Cohen” literally means “priest” in Hebrew) who are supposed to interpret the Law (religious law.)  The fact that Mr. Trump would employ a Jew may surprise some in the anti-Trump camp who believe that he is prejudiced against Jews (among many other non-German people, mostly of a darker shade.)  It is true that Mr. Trump holds massive prejudices, but he also holds tremendous degrees of stereotypy, one of those stereotypes being that Jews are good with money and the law.  Based on this stereotype, Mr. Trump is known to employ Jews to handle his money issues as well as his legal issues.  He has been known to make statements about not wanting African-Americans to handle his money counting duties– presumably because they “can’t handle” money without it slipping through their fingers into their pockets, among other places.

It is known that Mr. Trump employs people based on such simplistic stereotypes, as well as based on personal acquaintance.  For example, he hired his former chauffeur to a high-level Administration position.  He is not known to defer to investigations or “due diligence” reviews of persons whom he wishes to hire or retain.  This is a bad thing.

In any case, regardless of Mr. Cohen’s heritage, the FBI’s execution of a search warrant on him is a potentially serious turning point in the FBI’s investigation.  Mr. Cohen has been Mr. Trump’s lawyer for a long time, and is known to have done a number of questionable things for him, the most famous so far being his payment, allegedly from his personal funds, just prior to the presidential election, of $130,000 to the woman known as Stormy Daniels.  The only known connection of “Stormy Daniels” to either Mr. Cohen or Mr. Trump is that she recently came out on “Sixty Minutes” with a tale of a one-night stand twelve years ago between her and Mr. Trump.  Unless Mr. Cohen himself received substantial personal services from “Ms. Daniels” there is a substantial suspicion that the payment represented an unlawful campaign contribution, in this case to buy her silence.

Mr. Trump, just a few days ago, claimed that he did not know of Mr. Cohen’s payment to the lady in question.  This is odd because of the alleged existence of a contract between the two (Trump and “Daniels”) that specifies said payment and spells out certain actions that she will be obligated to perform (or not perform) in return for that payment.  She has come out with the statement that the contract is void because Mr. Trump never signed it, even using the pseudonym by which he is referred to in the document.  We can understand why Mr. Trump would not sign such a document; what we have difficulty with is the concept that he thought he could get away with any of this.

The only logical answer to that question is the observation that he has “gotten away with it” many, many times in the past, either by resort to money payments, blank denials, or physical threats, all of which “Ms. Daniels” has alleged in this case.  The task before Democrats, liberals, and progressives this November is to make sure that he no longer gets away with it.  Whether this is by reducing him to impotence with majorities in the House and Senate or by actual impeachment (preferably of BOTH Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence) in the House is a matter that has not been yet settled.  I would favor impeachment of both malefactors, which can readily be drawn out all the way from January 2019 to the next Presidential election in November 2020– for maximum effect.

There is one variable which I cannot confidently predict but fear nonetheless: what happens to the economy between now and then.  A crash between now and November is unnecessary but significantly possible– I’m sure the Democrats can win in November without the assistance of the economy.  The possibility of Mr. Trump’s actions having a serious negative effect on the economy is very significant, and particularly troublesome in light of the fact that he has “baked in” huge federal deficits as far as the eye can see– despite the current strength of the economy, which in conventional economic thought, should dictate a federal surplus– that is, higher taxes and spending on tangible objects (that is, infrastructure or at least weapons systems.)  (I’m following Paul Krugman here, not the right-wing conservative economic “unicorns.”)

(today’s photo is courtesy of pixabay.com and jplenio, and represents “the light at the end of the tunnel”– let us hope that it is not an oncoming train.)