Evidence and Science

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people — because he rejects evidence and science.

– “Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden

This week’s featured post is “The Illegitimacy of a Conservative Supreme Court“.

This week everybody was talking about Justice Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday at the age of 87.

Anyone who reads the major Supreme Court decisions, as I have been doing since I started this blog, develops opinions about the thinking abilities and writing styles of the justices. Justice Kennedy, for example, used to drive me nuts, even when I agreed with what he had decided. The reason so many gay-rights cases had to go all the way to the Supreme Court was that Kennedy’s majority opinions — despite their marvelous rhetorical flourishes — never got around to stating clear principles that lower-court judges could confidently apply to future cases. Invariably, two appeals courts would apply his decision in two different ways, and only new Supreme Court ruling could straighten the situation out.

Chief Justice Roberts can do good law when he wants to, but often he has some other agenda. His opinion striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act mainly rested on the notion that “things have changed” since the original version of the Act was passed — a political point some conservative senator should have made during the vote to reauthorize the Act, but not a legal principle that should have influenced the Court. Justice Alito I have no respect for at all; in every case I have read, he wants a certain outcome and will say whatever is needed to get there.

Ginsburg’s opinions, though, have consistently been my favorites. Beyond the fact that I have generally agreed with her in principle, I never came away from a Ginsburg opinion wondering what it really meant or how she arrived at that conclusion. She always defined her terms clearly, and recounted the precedents that had shaped their meanings through time. She rooted her statements in facts rather than rhetoric. Some of her best opinions have been dissents. I greatly appreciated her demolition of Alito’s Hobby Lobby decision and Roberts’ VRA decision. Those are both sterling examples of how a legal mind should work.

I can tell I’m hurting when I start generating fantasy-novel alternative histories. Why couldn’t some billionaire have whisked Ginsburg away to his private island for some hush-hush new “treatment”, then covered up her death until January?

and what comes next

Yes, we all remember Mitch McConnell refusing to give Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a hearing because an election was coming up. Garland was nominated in March, 2016, and there was plenty of time to consider his nomination, but McConnell wanted to steal the seat for the next president.

Even at the time, no one really believed McConnell was standing on principle, and now it is clear that he was not. He has already said that the Senate will vote on a Trump nominee. Two Republican senators — Murkowski and Collins — have said the vote should not be held, but McConnell can afford to lose one more, and he probably won’t.

Trump has promised a nominee soon and says it will be a woman. (Remember how he criticized Joe Biden for restricting his VP candidates to women?) Probably that means Amy Coney Barrett. Having talked (in the featured post) about the pointlessness of speculation, I’ll make a prediction: Republicans have the votes and have no shame, so they’ll get it done. Probably they’ll do the hearings before the election, and hold the vote during the lame duck session. That will allow Susan Collins to wring her hands during the campaign, but fall into line for the vote.

Some are speculating that this helps Trump, but I don’t see it. The issues facing the Court, especially abortion rights, are ones where the public agrees more with Biden.

and Trump undermining his own government

A series of government experts said sensible things, only to have Trump contradict them.

CDC chief Robert Redfield told a Senate hearing:

I think there will be vaccine that will initially be available some time between November and December, but very limited supply, and it will have to be prioritized. If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.

He also said that face masks are “the most important, powerful public health tool we have”.

Trump said Redfield was “confused“, because of course Trump knows more about vaccines than the head of the CDC.

Apparently the CDC is not in charge of its own website, and White House political appointees can publish things in the CDC’s name.

A heavily criticized recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month about who should be tested for the coronavirus was not written by C.D.C. scientists and was posted to the agency’s website despite their serious objections, according to several people familiar with the matter as well as internal documents obtained by The New York Times.

… Similarly, a document, arguing for “the importance of reopening schools,” was also dropped into the C.D.C. website by the Department of Health and Human Services in July and is sharply out of step with the C.D.C.’s usual neutral and scientific tone, the officials said.

The information comes mere days after revelations that political appointees at H.H.S. meddled with the C.D.C.’s vaunted weekly reports on scientific research.

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to Congress that Antifa — which Trump and conservative media has turned into a boogy-man responsible for all kinds of nefarious and violent activity — is “not a group or an organization. It’s a movement or an ideology.”

Trump immediately had to contradict him, because he knows more about Antifa than the FBI:

And I look at them as a bunch of well funded ANARCHISTS & THUGS who are protected because the Comey/Mueller inspired FBI is simply unable, or unwilling, to find their funding source, and allows them to get away with “murder”.

I’m not sure what “murder” is supposed to mean, and I’m always mystified by the “well-funded” part of the conspiracy theory. What does Antifa do that requires money?

and Republicans turning on Trump (sort of)

It’s hard to know what to make of the NYT op-ed “What’s At Stake in This Election? The American Democratic Experiment” written by Trump’s former Director of National lntelligence Dan Coats.

His main premise is certainly valid: For our system of government to work, the American people need to believe that the elections they vote in are legitimate.

Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.

If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome.

But his bipartisan view-from-nowhere loses credibility when he can’t state the obvious: The current American leader does want such an outcome. Trailing badly in the polls, Trump works tirelessly to sow doubt about the possibility of a fair election. Without offering evidence of any kind, he proclaims that if he loses, the election is a fraud. He claims mail-in voting can’t be trusted, despite the fact that it has been used for years in states as politically different as Oregon and Utah, without any of the problems Trump predicts. Avoiding the mail by using drop-boxes, Trump says, is also a “voter security disaster”. He warns that the election won’t be decided “until two months later“, during which time “lots of things will happen”.

In every case, Trump offers no solution other than “Don’t do it.” Don’t vote by mail. Don’t use a dropbox. Don’t vote early. Don’t open more polling stations. Don’t appropriate money to help election officials in any way. Just don’t do it. If you’re afraid to wait in a long line on Election Day, don’t vote.

Whenever he has been asked for evidence to support his wild claims, he has failed to produce any. Early in his administration, he assembled a commission for the sole purpose of proving that he didn’t really lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016. The commission disbanded without issuing a report, having found nothing to back up Trump’s charge that 3-5 million fraudulent votes — or any significant number of fraudulent votes — were cast.

Coats’ call for Congress to establish a “supremely high-level bipartisan and nonpartisan commission to oversee the election” will go nowhere, because establishing it will become a partisan issue. Even if it could be established, Trump would denounce it too as soon as it blessed the legitimacy of an election he lost. The “supremely bipartisan and nonpartisan commission” would be just another manifestation of the Deep State.

The root of Coats’ vision — members of both parties coming together to save American democracy — is already flawed. Democrats are for democracy and Republicans are not; that’s where we’ve gotten to. If Coats wants to save democracy, he needs to support Biden. Nothing short of that will make the slightest difference.

Olivia Troye, who worked as homeland security, counterterrorism and coronavirus adviser to Vice President Pence for two years, has made a video for Republican Voters Against Trump.

and you also might be interested in …

Scientific publications that usually stay out of national politics feel like they have to weigh in. Science has an editorial “Trump Lied About Science“.

Over the years, this page has commented on the scientific foibles of U.S. presidents. Inadequate action on climate change and environmental degradation during both Republican and Democratic administrations have been criticized frequently. Editorials have bemoaned endorsements by presidents on teaching intelligent design, creationism, and other antiscience in public schools. These matters are still important. But now, a U.S. president has deliberately lied about science in a way that was imminently dangerous to human health and directly led to widespread deaths of Americans.

This may be the most shameful moment in the history of U.S. science policy.

And Scientific American endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time in its 175-year history.

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment.

Bill Barr’s Department of Trump is once again following the Leader’s instructions: It has opened a criminal investigation of John Bolton for blaspheming against the Leader in his book The Room Where It Happened.

Since Trump blasphemy is not yet in the legal code, the purported charge a grand jury has been impaneled to investigate is revealing classified information. The basic facts are well understood: Bolton submitted his manuscript for government review, and was told by the reviewer that his edits had satisfied her objections. But when an official OK was slow to materialize, Bolton published anyway. The administration sued to stop distribution of the book and lost.

The basis of the dispute is why the OK never came. The administration claims the manuscript still contained classified information; Bolton says Trump wanted to delay publication until after the election.

In general, classified-information cases are difficult for the public to judge. (Example: the Clinton email investigation.) If Bolton really has revealed classified information, the government can’t just point to a line in the book and say: “There”, because that announcement in itself would violate security. (When I was being taught about classification in my old job, the instructor told us about an article in Aviation Week that gave the specs of a new aircraft. Someone who had inside knowledge of the program had gone through the article with a highlighter, picking out the classified information. Those highlights made that copy of the article a classified document, despite the fact that the underlying article had already been published. The specs were just a rumor until the insider’s highlights verified them. It’s a little like the stoning scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where the prosecutor gets stoned for repeating what the blasphemer said.)

And from the outside, it’s often hard to tell whether a fact is classified or not. Publishing the nuclear codes would be obvious, but there also might be good reasons why the government doesn’t want some apparently innocuous detail to get out, like that a particular official was in a certain city on a certain day.

On the other hand, Trump has made ridiculous claims about classified information in the past, and in particular with regard to Bolton and his book.

I will consider every conversation with me, as president, highly classified. So that would mean that if he wrote a book and if the book gets out, he’s broken the law. And I would think that he would have criminal problems. I hope so.

With all those caveats in mind, this investigation looks bad. It has all the appearances of using the Justice Department to persecute a political enemy, and to intimidate any Trump insiders who might turn against the Leader in the future.

Another credible sexual assault charge against Trump. Every week seems to have new revelations. I think people realize we’re at a speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace point with Trump. In 2016, you could imagine that he would lose anyway, so your story didn’t need to reach the public. This year, with the possible end of democracy staring us in the face, those people are coming forward.

It looks like TikTok will continue to operate in the US. Trump has indicated acceptance of a deal in which a new US-centered TikTok Global will be owned 80% by the Chinese company ByteDance (the previous owner of TikTok) and 20% by an Oracle/Walmart consortium.

Wired comments:

From the beginning, Trump’s strategy for TikTok, like so many things, was messy and incoherent. For weeks, the president said that only selling the app to an American company would alleviate national security concerns. Now, the deal with Oracle is being described as merely a “partnership,” which caused Republican lawmakers to call for its rejection.

… All along, the administration has failed to provide evidence that TikTok, which employs over 1,000 people in the United States, was doing anything particularly nefarious. The company, as well as outside security researchers, have said TikTok’s data collection practices are in line with those of similar domestic social media platforms. “Here we are banging on the table that we are the ones who have rule of law,” says Jason Healey, a senior research scholar at Columbia University specializing in cyber conflict. “Then where is the evidence?”

Maybe there are real national security issues and maybe this arrangement solves them. Or maybe Trump is doing some kind of shakedown. I wish we had a president I could trust.

There is some confused rumbling about Oracle/Walmart contributing $5 billion to an education fund, which may or may not be the “1776 Project” Trump wants to indoctrinate American schoolchildren with “patriotic education”. Or maybe the project and the money alike are part of Trump’s alternative reality.

You know which corporate giant is pledging to “achieve zero emissions across our global operations by 2040 … without relying on carbon offsets”? Walmart.

Whenever you hear an announcement like this, you always have to wonder how seriously to take it. Corporations have a way of doing whatever they were going to do anyway and calling it “green”. But even though I don’t trust Walmart, I do trust Vox’ environmental writer David Roberts, who tweets:

Wal-Mart is not The Libs. It’s not doing something this big to virtue signal or appeal to a particular upscale market niche (those are just gravy). It’s doing this because it’s going to save a shitload of money.

Maybe that’s where we are now: solar-paneling your big flat roof, fleets of electric vehicles, and so on — maybe that’s just good cost management.

The Big Ten has reversed itself and is now planning to start its football season on October 23.

and let’s close with something rewarding

The Daily Show announces the first (and hopefully only) Pandemmy Awards “celebrating the most breathtaking achievements of this pandemic season”. You can still vote for the winners, who will be announced on tonight’s show.

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  • Ted  On September 21, 2020 at 3:11 pm

    I read the “well-funded” description of antifa as an anti-Semitic dogwhistle. Where does that funding come from? George Soros and global financiers. It’s one of those big lies that you’ve talked about propaganda alluding to without stating explicitly.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On September 21, 2020 at 3:26 pm

    The President appoints Supreme Court Justices, and the Senate confirms them, but the Democrats aren’t helpless. In a little over a week, the federal government will shut down unless the continuing resolution proposed today passes. All the House has to do is add a requirement that any hearings on the next justice be postponed until after Jan. 20. Let’s see if McConnell and Trump are willing to shut down the government over this.

    Another strategy would be for Schumer to sue for enforcement of the “McConnell Rule.” Since precedent in the Senate is binding, the delay over Garland should apply now as well. McConnell of course would appeal, but the Democrats could run out the clock, rendering any objections moot.

    I suspect that at least a few Republican senators would prefer to not have to vote on Ginsburg’s successor, even if they can’t admit this.

  • Chris Bayham  On September 21, 2020 at 11:51 pm

    … will take a look at it. Did you catch McMaster’s 60 minutes interview?

  • MelH  On September 22, 2020 at 3:14 am

    About the Garland delay, the Senate and President were not the same party, A Supreme court Justice was NEVER confirmed when the President and Senate were different parties. PERIOD! I think you know that but like to put on the fight anyway.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On September 22, 2020 at 8:15 am

      Not applicable until the filibuster for judicial nominations was abolished. Even an extreme figure like Antonin Scalia was confirmed 98-0. Going forward, you’re probably correct.

    • weeklysift  On September 24, 2020 at 6:06 am

      I don’t think Nixon ever had a Senate majority, but he filled three seats on the Court.

  • MelH  On September 22, 2020 at 3:32 am

    About funding ANTIFA, they needed funding to arrive by commercial airline to harass those who attended the RNC Convention, just for starters, but you would not have heard about that because the Main Stream Press only covers Democrat Propaganda. You probably never heard that funding covers the bail of ANTIFA thugs to get out of jail. ANTIFA also got funded to travel in busloads to Portland and Seattle.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On September 22, 2020 at 8:18 am

    Except that didn’t actually happen – antifa did not “arrive by airplane.” In most cases, these are local people. Also, antifa isn’t a group you can join; it’s an attitude, like vegetarianism or not liking Mondays. Most of the violence in places like Portland is coming from outsiders like the Proud Boys, the Boogaloos, and Patriot Prayer – which are real, organized groups. A better question would be who is funding them and paying their travel expenses. I suspect we will eventually learn that right-wing terror is being funded through Russian front groups.

    • Anonymous  On September 25, 2020 at 12:26 am

      I suspect that we will also eventually learn that “Q” is part of the Russian attempts to screw things up in the U.S,

      • George Washington, Jr.  On September 25, 2020 at 6:53 am

        I’m convinced that the people behind Q are part of an international child sex trafficking ring, and are using the QAnon movement to deflect attention away from themselves and onto people who have nothing to do with that activity. Notice that with all of QAnon’s efforts, not a single person has been charged with a crime. These people are aiding and abetting the very thing they claim to oppose.

      • Anonymous  On September 28, 2020 at 11:14 am

        ” Notice that with all of QAnon’s efforts, not a single person has been charged with a crime. ”

        That’s because it’s all just made up bullshit.

  • dgohare@aol.com  On September 22, 2020 at 12:45 pm

    Thanks, Dan.  It is interesting but very depressing reading, exacerbated by Romney’s move today to support the appointment of a justice to fill Ginsburg’s seat.  What I am really hoping for is public outcry against the latest nakedly manipulative move by Trump.    Best to Nettie,  Dan

    Daniel G. O’Hare

    • George Washington, Jr.  On September 22, 2020 at 10:02 pm

      A “public outcry” will have about the same effect as it did during the impeachment hearings. What’s depressing is how a vote is pretty much assured to fall along partisan lines. There’s almost no point in even holding the Kabuki theater of hearings. Trump will nominate Barrett, Democrats will vote against her, and Republicans will vote for her (with a few exceptions like Manchin and Murkowski).

      The only point in having hearings is if Barrett inadvertently says something to make her objectionable to conservatives. She’s fanatically anti-abortion, but as a presumably devout Catholic, she may have views on voting rights, wealth inequality, immigration, and social justice that may not be in line with the current GOP.

  • Weiser, Larry  On September 22, 2020 at 2:49 pm

    I read it. Great analysis. In line with the book I am reading for reading group. “The Nordic Theory of Everything “. Btw, Isaac really liked meeting with you. He thought you were the coolest guy and wants to meet with you again when he is back in SPOKANE. Probably in April.

    Larry A Weiser


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