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Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Nude First Lady

We Have Gone from the Dignity of the Obama Years to, well a picture is worth a thousand words.   Let the photos tell the story.

Racy pics show Donald Trump’s wife Melania posing FULLY NAKED in Steamy Photoshoot for Max magazine.   Nude photos of the first lady.  What does Jerry Jr. of Liberty University think of that?   I can tell you what he thinks, Nothing, he could not care less.   A republican is in the white house and that is all Jerry cares about.   Politics takes priority over GOD, Money takes priority over GOD.   Jerry Jr. is a plastic fake christian.   What on earth are the students at Liberty learning?

Here a defender says of the photos:   “These are not porn, they are iconic and beautiful.

“Anyone who knocks Melania is only jealous — they would love to have her body.

“They weren’t really making love.”     "This is acceptable for republicans"    "It is only dirty when democrats do it."

Trump aide Jason Miller said: “They are a celebration of the human body as art.”

"It is a celebration of the female body as given by God."

 That's what silly old Pat Roberson Thinks.    He's a real christian, NOT!

Republicans are working hard to defend this,  Imagine what they would be saying if it were a Democrat First Lady.

 Here is some more defense from the GOP.

 “Melania was one of the most successful models and did many photo shoots, including for covers and major magazines.

“In Europe, pictures like this are very fashionable and common.”

Melania, who has appeared in Sports Illustrated and Vogue, married Trump in 2005.

She is his third wife.

 "She's popular, she's brilliant, she's a wonderful woman," says Trump with uncharacteristic understatement.   And who are we to disagree?   Not only does she manage to keep a man fabled for his erections (the latest is the Trump World Tower on New York's First Avenue) on the right flight path, but she's also fluent in four languages. Very handy for those summit meetings.

I can just imagine what the old GOP white hairs in the 6th District are saying.   The old GOP Men went crazy over Sarah Palin.

 Let the Photos tell the story from here.


Is a picture worth a thousand words?

Well that's the new FLOTUS and the new POTUS.  Brought To You Courtesy of the GOP.

Here's a bit called Frustration to finish up. 

ACV Democratic News


Here is Trumps Favorite Photo

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Did You Vote for this Jerk?

Listen to this interview.   Trump does not have a clue..    His is less than skin deep.   I hope none of you wasted your vote on this con man.

Click and Listen to Trump ramble.

Amherst Democratic News


 To understand Trump’s rise you really have to realize who’s supporting him. So I thought I’d list five of the main types of Donald Trump supporters I’ve dealt with since he was elected.
1.  Angry white people:  This one is obvious.   While not all of his supporters are white – most are.   I’ve dealt with many Trump supporters over the last few months and they are probably some of the most hostile and vile people I’ve encountered.   These are people who feel good when those they oppose are miserable, in pain or suffering.   They’re also typically the people who claim they’re not racist – but most definitely would prefer to live in a “whites-only” country. 

2.  Uneducated people:  If there’s one demographic with which Trump excels, it’s the least educated among us.   While I’m not saying an education is the only standard by which intelligence is measured, it is telling that a good chunk of Trump supporters are those with a high school diploma or less.   So it shouldn’t be at all surprising that one of his weakest demographics is people with a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

3.  Racists and bigots:  These are the angry white people from #1 who don’t hide the fact that they openly loathe people who don’t look like them.   These are the folks who see groups of people like Muslims, African Americans, Mexicans, immigrants and basically anyone who isn’t a straight, white Christian like second-class human beings who don’t deserve respect.   These are typically the people who blame everything that’s wrong with this country on someone of color.

4.   Paranoid people who think America is no longer “America”:  These are the people who typically say things like “we’re losing this country” or believe in Trump’s rhetoric about the United States no longer being great.   These folks are not new to society.   Pretty much every generation has that section of the population who always believes that the “country is changing for the worse.”   You can research back decades and this is typically the battle cry of those who are always on the wrong side of history. 

5.  Fools who believe anything as long as it’s what they want to hear:  Let’s be honest, this group is not exclusive to just Trump – or Republicans, for that matter.   These types of people are found within any group of supporters.   That being said, you have to be willfully ignorant to believe the nonsense Trump sells.   I have never seen an instance of a candidate who literally just makes stuff up on the fly that his supporters never question. 

Many of his supporters are so devoid of reality, and so incredibly enamored with everything he says, that the only “truth” to them is what comes out of his mouth (or gets posted onto his twitter – often these are one in the same).   When he says ridiculous things like unemployment is really at 42 percent (a statement that’s not based on any reality known to sane people) – they believe it.   Why?    Because he said it and that’s what they want to hear. 

While there are obviously more (and many of his supporters fall into more than one of these categories), these are the main groups I encounter.

I gave up trying to debate them months ago.   It just wasn’t worth wasting my time.   You can’t convince people that something is factual or real when they simply don’t believe in facts or reality.
I’m sure everyone reading this has experienced the painful task of trying to debate and/or reason with a supporter of Donald Trump at some point or another.   It’s an experience that often leaves me feeling as if I’ve just spoken with someone who’s either been brainwashed by a cult or is legitimately crazy.   In all my years debating politics with my Republican counterparts, I’ve never experienced anything quite like dealing with people who can literally watch a video of Trump saying or doing something — then still deny that it’s true.

But it’s not just their near complete denial of reality that’s so mind-boggling.   The hypocrisy of many of these folks is absolutely astounding.

People who were chanting “lock her up!”  because Hillary Clinton used a private email server over four years ago don’t seem remotely bothered by the fact that Russia attacked the United States in a direct effort to undermine our democracy and help elect Vladimir Putin’s favorite candidate.
The same candidate who’s praised this Russian tyrant throughout his campaign, choosing to attack and discredit our own intelligence officials instead of condemning an enemy who ordered an attack against this country. 

It’s just astonishing to see millions of people believe a woman who was cleared by the FBI should be in prison because of a damn email server she used over four years ago, while they make excuses for a man who may have very well committed treason in his run to the White House — an election he only won because of this Russian cyber attack.

However, that’s not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the seemingly endless list of things Trump supporters deny, overlook or make excuses for when it comes to Donald Trump that they would never let a Democrat get away with.

 Just imagine if a Democrat ran for president as someone who:
Had at least one affair, was on their third marriage, and had 5 kids from three different spouses.

Belittled POWs, saying that they’re not heroes, because they like people who weren’t captured.

Was caught lying about how much money they had claimed to raise for veterans.

Wouldn’t release their tax returns.

Went nearly 20 years without paying any income tax.

Was caught on video admitting to being a sexual predator.

Talked about the size of their penis during a debate.

Constantly had outbursts on Twitter like a petulant child.

Mocked a reporter with disabilities.

Defended and praised Vladimir Putin.

Attacked the credibility of U.S. intelligence agencies and spies.

Refused to condemn an enemy who attacked us.

The list goes on and on.  But when you get right down to it, there’s a very simple reason why trying to reason with Trump supporters is pointless:

 Because they simply don’t care.
If he lies, they’ll reject any source that debunks him.   If he contradicts himself, they’ll make excuses for his contradiction.   If he sells them something completely ridiculous (such as asking the taxpayers to pay for his wall, claiming Mexico will “pay for it later”), they’ll blindly believe that ridiculous scam without thinking twice.

They.   Simply.   Don’t.   Care.   These people have been so indoctrinated by Fox News and right-wing blogs replete with conspiracy theorists and propaganda that most of them would really rather elect a puppet of Putin than a Democrat.   Many of them honestly believe that people like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are worse than someone like Vladimir Putin. 

They don’t care if Trump had to lie, cheat, or even get help from the Russian government to win — which is the only reason why he barely won — just as long as he won.   It’s a sad time in this country.   We’re dealing with millions of people who, instead of being supporters of a political party, are really nothing more than brainwashed members of the largest cult in human history.   People who reject facts, science and indisputable reality because none of those things tell them what they’ve been indoctrinated to believe.

That’s why it’s impossible to reason with them — because you’re not dealing with people who possess the ability to be reasonable.

I wish there was a more pleasant way of saying it but there isn't.    "You dummies had better wake the fuck up while you still have a country."

How are you going to correct this huge mistake?


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Trump and Russia, What We Know is Disturbing

Beyond wild allegations, what’s clearly true about Trump and Russia is disturbing

With reports that the Russian government may have dirt that they are using to blackmail Donald Trump setting the political world ablaze, it’s worth being clear about two things.   One is that the content of these reports is unverified and, likely, unverifiable.   What’s more, to the extent that any of it could be verified, it’s inconceivable that the Intelligence Community would publicly reveal the kind of human or signals intelligence sources that could verify it.   So as far as the public knows, we are never really going to know.

The other is that the Russian blackmail theory is composed of two sub-elements, both of which are clearly true based on publicly available information.   One is that Donald Trump has a curious and wrongheaded affection for the present government of Russia and its foreign policy.   The other is that Donald Trump has engaged in scandalous conduct, the public revelation of which would cause a rational person to reduce their opinion of him.

Allegations now floating around range from the salacious (Russia has Trump sex tapes made at the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow) to the serious (using intermediaries, Trump and Russia agreed to an explicit quid pro quo in which Russia would give him electoral help and in exchange he would shift US foreign policy).   None of this is proven, and much of it is unprovable (if the FSB has a secret sex tape, how are we going to find it?) but the truth is that these kind of allegations, though difficult to resist, simply shouldn’t matter much compared to what’s in the public record.

First, on Russia: 

    Trump’s strange ideas about Russia date back to at least 1987, when Trump called for a US-Soviet alliance against France and Pakistan.

    During the 2016 campaign, Trump publicly called into question America’s commitment to defending NATO allies from Russian attack.

    Trump praised Russia’s intervention in the Syrian Civil War.

    Trump has also pointedly declined to criticize Putin on any front, whether it’s about killing journalists or invading Ukraine.

    Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, made a lot of money working for Putin’s proxy party in Ukraine.
    Concurrently, the Russian government’s state-owned English-language media operations, RT and Sputnik, were fairly open in their advocacy for Trump and against Hillary Clinton during the campaign.
    Trump, at the same time, has been very open about his desire to implement a more pro-Russian foreign policy — up to and including his decision to bypass conventionally qualified candidates and instead tap the CEO of an oil company with extensive business dealings in Russia as Secretary State.

We may never know why, exactly, Trump thinks Russia’s brutal war in Syria was good or why it would be wrong to condemn Putin for killing journalists. But Trump’s Russia policy is both a bit bizarre and also quite clear. Maybe the Russians are bribing him into it. Maybe he just has bad ideas. Maybe they are blackmailing him.

I have no idea. But if you’re wondering whether there is dirt on Trump out there, then the answer is clearly yes.

 Trump was recorded telling a casual acquaintance that he routinely sexually assaults women and escapes culpability because “when you’re a star they let you do it.”

    Trump paid $21 million in damages to students at his fake university who alleged he’d defrauded them.

    Trump’s foundation broke a wide range of rules about how it is legal to raise funds for charity and how it is legal to manage charitable funds.   Some tax experts say the material is in place to open a criminal tax fraud investigation.

    Trump’s Atlantic City comeback was fueled by bilking shareholders.

Last but by no means least, it’s quite obvious that there is at least one thing — and perhaps several things — lurking in Trump’s tax returns that would be highly damaging to his political standing.   He has taken a fair amount of political heat for quite some time now to defy tradition and keep these documents secret.   I have no idea what he’s hiding or whether the Russians somehow secretly know what it is, but he’s pretty clearly hiding something.

A special congressional select committee investigation — or maybe some kind of independent prosecutor — seems clearly appropriate given the level of questions still hanging around the specific issue of Russian hacking and communication with Trump’s staff during the campaign.   But in broad terms, you don’t need to resort to any cloak and dagger theories or secret classified information to know what you need to know:  Trump has a weirdly sunny view of Putin, an alarming lack of attachment to America’s treaty obligations, and some serious skeletons in his closet.   Most people didn’t vote for that, but the dictates of the Electoral College elevated him to the presidency anyway.

The question now is whether congressional Republicans will uphold their constitutional obligations to check him.   I hope we learn more about the stories roiling the internet this week, but the publicly available facts are pretty clear.

Trump Will Remove Sanctions on Russia As Soon As He Can

If there was ever any doubt about who owns the President Elect, this should clear things up:

President-elect Donald Trump says he would be open to removing sanctions against Russia if Moscow is “really helping us.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal that came out late Friday, Trump said he would leave the sanctions in place “at least for a period of time,” though he did not elaborate or provide a more specific time frame. The sanctions, imposed by the Obama administration in late December amid allegations that Moscow meddled in the presidential election, have been widely seen as a test for Trump as he takes office.

Our elite institutions are not serving the interests of the American people, are they? Decent people are not doing the decent thing. Far too many are putting party above all else. None of the things that should be happening are and we're left to wonder, what's it going to take? At what point do we acknowledge as a nation that we've been had? Somewhere, I hope someone is doing the right thing and investigating what's gone on. I suspect that everyone who could do something about this is just sitting on their hands, hoping it all goes away.

Faith in the rule of law has never been more shaken. Not during the Bush years, not at any time before that. We've seen insanity normalized and the whole country would trade what we have now for Bush and Cheney in a heartbeat. What does that tell you?

 The "madman theory" of nuclear war has existed for decades. Now, Trump is playing the madman.

 Is Donald Trump a madman?   Or, at least, would he like foreign leaders to think he might be just a little unstable?   Such questions are being batted around in papers like the Boston Globe and the Washington Post in response to the president-elect’s foreign policy moves:  his provocations toward China, his attacks on NATO and the UN, his warm overtures toward Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin.

Across the pundit-sphere, analysts are asking, is he crazy, or crazy like a fox?

In no context is the question more pertinent than Trump’s position on nuclear weapons.   His comments both as candidate and president-elect show a more cavalier attitude toward their proliferation and use than any president in the past 30 years.   “You want to be unpredictable,”  Trump said last January on Face the Nation when asked about nuclear weapons.   More recently, he tweeted that it was time for the US to start stockpiling nukes again.   The comments prompted instant parallels to Richard Nixon’s “madman theory” of foreign relations:  the idea that the president couldn’t be controlled — including where America’s nuclear arsenal was concerned — so foreign leaders should do everything in their power to appease him.

The madman question is so important here because madness has been a mainstay of nuclear culture since the atomic age flashed into being in the Jornada del Muerto desert in 1945.   The bomb, carefully engineered by some of the 20th century’s most brilliant scientists, able to raze cities and civilizations, has always spanned rationality and irrationality, logic and madness.

The brightest minds created the most destructive force, and then leaders spent years working out rationales for its world-ending use.   It was a madness begot by logic.   But that madness doesn’t always present in the same way, which is why the history of nuclear madness has to precede our understanding of the Trump-as-madman debate.

High culture and pop culture alike have wrestled with the insanity of nuclear weapons

The first nuclear detonation in 1945 split history itself:  the time before the bomb and the time after. Scientists had harnessed the atom, the same energy that fueled the stars — a new Big Bang.   Hermann Hagedorn captured the sense of dislocation ushered in by the atomic age in his 1946 poem,  “The Bomb That Fell on America.” 

The bomb, he wrote:  did not dissolve their bodies,
    But it dissolved something vitally important to the greatest of them, and the  least.
    What it dissolved were their links with the past and with the future.
    It made the earth, that seemed so solid, Main Street, that seemed so well- paved, a kind of vast jelly, quivering and dividing underfoot.

Science fiction became a repository for those anxieties.   The Japanese grappled with the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki through films like 1954’s Godzilla, featuring a prehistoric monster revived and remade by a nuclear blast.   That same year, American filmmakers released the horror film Them!, which saw giant irradiated ants making their way from nuclear test sites in the deserts of New Mexico to Los Angeles.   Tellingly, the easily described monsters — they’re just big ants — are referred to in the film as an “unknown terror” and “nameless horror.”   This was not just an ant movie.

The trailer for Them! gave away the game:  “Cities, nations, civilization itself:  threatened with annihilation, because in one moment of history-making violence, nature — mad, rampant — wrought its most awesome creation.”   Nuclear weapons were not presented as scientific marvels but instruments of “history-making violence,” quickly elided with nature itself, as though humans had not, with precisely drawn equations and charts and blueprints, engineered and unleashed that violence.

That celluloid terror was a product of changing geopolitics.   For a moment — just a moment — the US had a nuclear monopoly.   During that brief period, the terror of nuclear science, with its unprecedented destructive power and its potential for fueling more and more powerful weapons, seemed controllable, knowable.   But four years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviets tested their own nuclear bomb, and the race was on for more powerful bombs, for better strike capability, for the ability to annihilate the other side before it could return fire.   By the mid-1950s, the arms race had reached its illogically logical endpoint:  If one side struck, everyone would be wiped out.   Mutual assured destruction. MAD.

The acronym stuck, perhaps because of the horrific absurdity of it all.   The logical conclusion, the position to which the world had been brought by the combined education and expertise of scientists and strategists, was the verge of obliteration.

No giant irradiated ant could compete with that. 
As time passed, Mutually Assured Destruction came to seem — MAD

In the early 1960s, the world wobbled on that edge during the Cuban Missile Crisis.   John Kennedy, the young, optimistic president surrounding himself with the “best and the brightest,” had toyed with nuclear war, engaging in brinksmanship right until the moment Khrushchev blinked.   Never had the world come closer to war between two nuclear powers.   One false move, one miscalculation, and the story would have ended there.

Maybe it was the exhaustion of the arms race, or the terror of the missile crisis, or the apocalyptic consequences of MAD, but by 1964 the idea of ever using nuclear weapons was considered insane.   If the outcome truly was mutual assured destruction, then it would take an act of self-destructive madness to press the button.   That was the conceit behind Dr. Strangelove, the film that offered characters like Strangelove, the German-émigré nuclear “mad scientist,” and Jack D. Ripper, the insane general with a killer’s name, as models of madness.

Ripper, convinced that the Soviets were brainwashing Americans through fluoridation, sent ordinance-laden planes toward the Soviet Union.   But in order for the spittle-flecked lunacy of Ripper to have world-ending consequences, another madness had to precede it: the game-theory logic of brinksmanship, stockpiling, and second-strike strategies.

These arguments were not contained to film.   Dr. Strangelove was quickly reinterpreted as an allegory for the Goldwater campaign, especially after Goldwater advocated the use of low-yield nuclear bombs in Vietnam.   Goldwater’s suggestion that the US should use nuclear weapons, even on a small scale, fed into his image as an unstable extremist, a madman in the Strangelovian mold.   It was those public doubts that led Fact magazine to ask psychiatrists to evaluate Goldwater’s mental health.   And it was also why the popular rejoinder to Goldwater’s slogan, “In your heart you know he’s right” was “In your guts you know he’s nuts.”

This belief — that advocating the use of nuclear weapons was insane — likewise shaped Richard Nixon’s early foreign policy moves.   Upon entering office, Nixon used a make-’em-think-you’ll-do-it tactic with the Soviets and Vietnamese in an attempt to bring Hanoi to the bargaining table.   (This effort followed his efforts during the 1968 campaign to scotch the Johnson administration’s attempt at peace talks, the subject of some recent archival revelations.)

The tactic became known as “the madman theory”, a term Nixon coined and shared with his aide H.R. Haldeman in the summer of 1968.   The basic concept had been brought into the White House by Henry Kissinger, who wrote about the “strategy of ambiguity” in his 1957 book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, although the idea seems to have come from a 1959 lecture by Daniel Ellsworth called “The Political Uses of Madness.” 
Nixon explicitly embraced the “madman theory”

Nixon put the madman theory to the test early in his first year.   In October 1969 the US went on nuclear alert, loading up 18 B-52 bombers with nuclear warheads and aiming them right at the Soviet Union’s eastern border.   As historian Jeremi Suri explained in his account of the incident, Nixon’s goal was not to attack the Soviets but to convince everyone Nixon was out of control, and just crazy enough to start a nuclear war in pursuit of ending the war in Vietnam.

Despite resistance from the joint chiefs and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, for three days the planes looped between the West Coast and the edges of Soviet airspace, skirting the border in ways that might gain notice but would not make the Soviets think they were under attack.   (There is no evidence the Soviets had any significant reaction to the provocations.)

“I want the North Vietnamese to believe that I've reached the point that I might do anything to stop the war,” Nixon told his aide H.R. Haldeman.   “We'll just slip the word to them that, ‘for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism.   We can't restrain him when he is angry — and he has his hand on the nuclear button’ — and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace."

The Soviet ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, walked away from a meeting with Nixon and Kissinger convinced that Nixon was unhinged.   But the feint didn’t work.   Hanoi did not rush to cut a deal.   The war raged on for another four years.   Nixon’s foreign policy victories came instead from more rational strategies of détente and triangulation, resulting in open relations with Communist China and SALT I, the first arms-limitations agreement between the US and the Soviet Union.

Arms-control talks were the norm until Ronald Reagan took office and reintroduced a note of instability into US nuclear policy.   In the 1980 race he had campaigned against SALT II, which he called “fatally flawed,” and pushed for a new arms build-up, along with a missile defense initiative.   In office, his hawkish rhetoric, combined with Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov’s fear of a secret attack and increasingly realistic American war games in Europe, brought the world once again to the brink of nuclear war.   A recently declassified 1990 intelligence report concluded:  “In 1983, we may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger.”   The trigger nearly went off in November of that year.

When Reagan learned that the Soviets believed he was capable of starting a nuclear war, he was stunned.   During the 1983 war scare, he said:  “I feel the Soviets are so defense minded, so paranoid about being attacked that without being in any way soft on them, we ought to tell them no one here has any intention of doing anything like that.”   His rhetoric soon softened, and Reagan, like Nixon before him, switched from the madness of brinksmanship to the rationality of arms-control, starting first with a ban on intermediate-range missiles and culminating in the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty.

The Cold War ended.   The Soviet Union broke apart and the challenge became keeping nuclear weapons secure in the hands of the new Russian state, and away from actual madmen whose geopolitical calculations did not conform to the great-state deterrence model of the Cold War.   Neither MAD nor the madman theory had a place in a post-cold War world, where nuclear policy was instead defined by controlling and destroying weapons and managing their spread. 
Trump embraces a Nixonian approach in the post-Cold-War era.

This has not been an easy feat.   World leaders understand that nations with nuclear weapons are treated differently than those without, and so there is a rational reason for pursuing nuclear technology.   At the same time, the use of nuclear weapons against an enemy would make a nation-state into a global pariah.   It would be insane.

Enter Donald Trump.   The president-in-waiting is schooled in none of these particulars, claiming to believe only in strength and the desire to use it.   His loose talk about nukes has re-raised the long-dormant question:  Is he crazy enough to actually press the button?

Here, the history of nuclear madness may be as much a trap as a guide.   Because the questions now shouldn’t be about Trump’s madness but his impulsivity and ignorance.   Whatever one thinks of Nixon and Kissinger’s madman theory, it was a calculation.   Kissinger was steeped in game theory and Nixon had a deep knowledge of international affairs.   Reagan was a foreign policy autodidact with experienced ideological advisors.   Their administrations could tell a hawk from a handsaw.   (Admittedly, some of these comforting thoughts were only fully evident in hindsight.)

Trump doesn’t share his predecessors’ considered strategic thinking and mastery of geopolitics, but that doesn’t make him a madman.   The madness is in the weapons themselves, powerful enough to obliterate entire countries, entire peoples, and in the logics that grew up around them to govern their disuse.   The only hope is that, as with Nixon and Reagan before him, Trump’s time in office makes clear how badly things can go in an atomic age, and how important it is to continue the push to contain, if not eliminate, the madness in our midst.

What Happens If Trump Repeals Obamacare?

President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act when elected, calling it a "total disaster."   With Republicans -- who have vowed for six years to overturn President Barack Obama's health care law -- set to control both the Senate and the House of Representatives in addition to the presidency, a dismantling of Obamacare is more likely than ever.   Here's what repealing the law would mean for you.

Republicans do not hold 60 seats in the Senate, so a full repeal is unlikely, according to the New York Times.   But according to Price waterhouse Coopers, Trump and Congress could make "targeted changes" to the law, including defunding "the consumer exchange subsidies in a budgetary maneuver known as reconciliation."

These are the targeted changes:  In January, the GOP passed a bill (that Obama vetoed) that eliminated the subsidies that help many Obamacare recipients afford their health coverage as well as Medicaid expansion that gave coverage to more than 6 million low- and moderate-income Americans.   The bill also eliminated the employer mandate; the individual mandate, which requires everyone to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty; and restricts funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood.

What Women Should Know About Health Care Under Trump

 According to Amy Lotven, a reporter and editor for Inside Health Policy/Inside Health Reform, it is possible that the elimination of subsidies could cause millions of people to lose their insurance overnight.   A clause in the agreement between insurers and the government allows insurers to bow out of policies if subsidies end.

However, given that Vice President-elect Mike Pence said there would be a transition period—which the GOP plan put at two years—that is not necessarily likely.   Additionally, "the clause also says 'subject to state law,' so [it is] unclear how that would pan out on the ground level," Lotven writes in an email.

The Times reports that the reconciliation noted above would not impact some of the most popular provisions of Obamacare, including allowing people under the age of 26 to stay on their parents' health insurance and the requirement that health insurers cannot refuse coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.

During the two year transition period stipulated by the GOP bill, Trump and the GOP would theoretically implement whatever new policy they come up with.   "Practically, you can’t turn everything off immediately,"  Chris Condeluci, a healthcare expert who worked with Senate Republicans, told Vox's Sarah Kliff.   "The GOP doesn’t want to get beat up over kicking 20 million people off of insurance."

The issue is that there may not be a replacement plan ready if it is repealed right away by the Trump Administration, as Republican law makers are already promising.

Obamacare Really Isn’t the Job Killer Trump Says It Is

Trump and the GOP can absolutely repeal Obamacare — and 22 million people would lose health insurance

The Republican Party, for the first time ever, has a very real shot at repealing Obamacare — and leaving tens of millions of Americans without health insurance coverage.

Donald Trump has won the White House. Republicans retained control of the Senate, and they’re expected to keep the House, too.   One party rule means that President Obama’s health care law is in real jeopardy.

“They have a death blow to the Obamacare health coverage expansion,”  says John McDonough, a Harvard University professor who worked in the Senate on the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans began to lay serious groundwork against Obamacare last winter.   In January, both the Senate and the House passed a reconciliation bill that took apart Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid and private, subsidized health insurance.

The bill didn’t matter much at the time — Obama repealed it when it arrived at his desk — but it showed that Republicans could use the reconciliation process to take apart key Obamacare pillars, requiring a simple majority rather than the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

Trump has promised that repealing Obamacare would be his first act in office.   All he needs to do is pull this ready-made Republican plan off the shelf.

Republicans have already mapped out how to repeal Obamacare with a simple majority in the Senate.

Most Senate bills need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.    But Senate rules also allow bills to pass with a simple majority if they only relate to spending, a process known as reconciliation.   Reconciliation bills need to be approved by a parliamentarian, who certifies that the content does indeed have budgetary impact.

Last winter, Republicans drafted a bill that would fit the parameters of the reconciliation process.   HR 3762 was introduced into the House on October 16, 2015, by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA).   The bill would repeal Obamacare’s tax credits for low- and middle-income Americans to purchase insurance at the end of 2017.   It would end the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion at the same time, essentially creating a two-year transition period in which Republicans would presumably consider Obamacare replacement plans.

“Practically, you can’t turn everything off immediately,”  says Chris Condeluci, who worked as tax and benefits counsel for the Senate Finance Committee's Republicans during the Affordable Care Act debate.   “The GOP doesn’t want to get beat up over kicking 20 million people off of insurance.”

HR 3762 would also repeal Obamacare’s mandate.   It would end many of Obamacare’s major taxes that helped pay for the health law’s insurance expansion.

This includes taxes on health insurers, hospitals, and medical device manufacturers and a Medicare payroll tax of 0.9 percent that the law levied on Americans who earn more than $200,000 (or $250,000 for a married couple).

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 22 million people would lose insurance under this plan after the two-year transition policy ended.   These would mostly be people who have coverage through Medicaid and the insurance marketplaces.

The repeal plan would reduce the deficit by between $281 billion and $193 billion, depending on how CBO measures the economic effects of the legislation.

House Republicans passed HR 3762 on October 23, 2015, and the Senate followed on December 3, 2015.   President Obama vetoed the bill when it came to his desk, and the bill was covered as yet another failed Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare.

But as McDonough recounts, it was arguably much more.

“People laughed about why would Republicans pass another repeal vote that Obama would veto,” he says.   “I wasn’t laughing.   It took significant unity to get this through Congress.” 
Republicans have a strong Obamacare repeal plan.  They don’t have a strong Obamacare replace plan.

HR 3762 does thorough work demolishing Obamacare’s insurance expansion.   But it also leaves millions without health insurance unless Republicans also pass a replacement plan.

Right now that replacement plan isn’t really fleshed out.   Condeluci, who worked in the Senate during the Obamacare debate, expects that Republicans would use the two-year transition window to come up with a replacement — but that they’d pass this initial reconciliation bill before that.

“I don’t think the two [repeal and replace] would come in tandem,”  Condeluci says.   “Replace needs to be litigated to a greater degree than it has before.”

House Republicans did publish a document outlining their Obamacare replacement plan this summer, called “A Better Way.”   It envisions many health policy proposals that have become common in conservative plans, like block-granting Medicaid and allowing insurance sales across state lines.

But as Condeluci points out, that paper  “isn’t in legislative form, and the Senate hasn’t weighed in.”

Trump does have a health policy proposal, but it is still a relatively sparse, bullet-pointed list on his website.   “I would envision Trump looking to Congress to drive the replace process, just as the Obama administration did with the Affordable Care Act,” Condeluci says.

Republicans have promised dozens of times to repeal Obamacare.   Will they actually follow through?

Repealing Obamacare would undeniably lead to millions of Americans losing insurance coverage — many who had gained coverage for the first time as the law ended preexisting conditions and expanded Medicaid to cover more low-income Americans.

And Trump has repeatedly promised throughout his campaign that he is committed to covering everybody.

"I am going to take care of everybody,"  he told 60 Minutes in an interview last fall.   "I don’t care if it costs me votes or not.   Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now."

Trump’s health care website promises that he will “not allow people to die on the sidewalks and the streets of our country" for lack of access to health insurance.

At the same time, Trump, like the majority of Republicans, has repeatedly called to repeal Obamacare.

"If we don't repeal and replace Obamacare, we will destroy American health care forever,”  Trump said at his Pennsylvania rally last week.

He called the law a “catastrophe” and lamented how deductibles could go “up to $15,000.”   Meanwhile, he promised to deliver “quality, reliable, affordable health care.”

It is a moment of reckoning for Trump and other Republicans — whether they will follow through on the calls for Obamacare repeal that they have made consistently for six years, or whether they will back off at the prospect of causing millions to lose insurance coverage.

“The fly in the ointment is that some of the Republicans supported the reconciliation repeal thinking it would never happen,” says McDonough.    “Will they actually vote to take away insurance from 20 million Americans? That’s the unknown right now.”

Better Off Before Obamacare?

Before the law, which Trump has said he would repeal, health insurance was cheaper for a few, but outright unattainable for many.

Throughout his campaign, President-Elect Donald Trump repeatedly vowed to repeal and replace Obamacare, which he called “a disaster.”

That was music to his supporters’ ears.   Repealing Obamacare is Republican voters’ biggest priority for the Trump administration, according to a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll.   People who are unhappy with the Affordable Care Act overwhelmingly voted for Trump, and now 74 percent of Republicans want it gone.

The frustration with the health law is understandable;  many people are struggling to afford medical care even if they have insurance.   The problem is, it’s not clear Americans would have been better off had Obamacare never been passed.

First, some people might be confused about what, exactly, they’re angry at.   When we talk about “Obamacare,” we’re talking primarily about the 12.7 million people who are buying individual insurance coverage through state marketplaces or   Roughly 60 million people voted for Trump last week, so they can’t all be on Obamacare exchange plans.   More than half of all non-elderly Americans still get insurance through work, and premiums on employer-based plans are actually growing more slowly than average.   (About a third of Americans are either on Medicare or Medicaid, and the rest are uninsured. Only about 4 percent are on the exchanges.)

Before Obamacare, insurance premiums on the individual market were rising by about 10 percent a year.   But, it’s important to note, the cost of any given person’s health plan purchased this way depended on how sick they were.   Insurance companies could charge people more if they had cancer, for example, or deny them coverage entirely.   Insurers were partly able to keep costs down just by keeping sick people off their plans. Under Obamacare, insurers can’t do that anymore.

In 2014, right after most of the Affordable Care Act sprang into action, a middle-of-the-road plan—the “second-lowest cost silver-level” plan—was between 10 and 21 percent cheaper than a similar plan was before the ACA in 2013.   So concluded an analysis published in Health Affairs in July by the economists Loren Adler and Paul Ginsburg, two health-care experts at the Brookings Institution.

Since then, the price of individual-market plans has climbed higher.   Health-care prices go up all the time, no matter what.   We all wish they didn’t;  they do anyway.   But in the years since the ACA was implemented, individual-market premiums haven’t been rising as fast as they were before, according to Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They went up by “35 to 40 percent in the three years before ACA,”  Gruber told me.   “If you look at the three years since ACA, it’s still below that, including this year.”

The “including this year” part is important.   News of soaring Obamacare premiums—they went up 22 percent this year—was everywhere right before the election.   But according to Adler and Ginsburg’s projections, premiums are still lower this year than they would have been without the ACA, given how premiums were rising before the law.   “People are getting more for less under the ACA,” they wrote.

Not everyone agrees with this analysis.   Some conservative health wonks, such as the Hudson Institute’s Jeffrey Anderson, have disputed Ginsburg and Adler’s paper, arguing premiums are higher now than they would have been without Obamacare and pointing to yet another Brookings study supposedly proving that point.   (Adler responded that the two studies use different sets of data.   “Both studies are well done and valuable, just all of our analyses have their inevitable shortcomings,” he said.)

Either way, it’s clear that Obamacare is too expensive for some people, especially if they’re not qualified for the subsidies for low- and middle-income people who purchase insurance on the exchanges.   People are now spending larger shares of their income on health care than before Obamacare, but that’s not because of the law—it’s because health-care costs are growing faster than incomes.

The vast majority of Obamacare enrollees—some 85 percent—receive federal subsidies that bring down the cost of their premiums.   But those who don’t might indeed be facing unaffordable premiums.   Hillary Clinton’s health-care proposal would have made those subsidies more generous.   When Trump’s proposal was initially released, it wasn’t clear if it would involve subsidies.   But his campaign later told me that “those now receiving ‘premium support’ would be given subsidies or other forms of support to purchase health insurance in the private market through Health Savings Accounts.”   Still, it’s not clear whether Trump’s subsidies would be more widespread or more generous than what’s currently on offer.

In an email, Ginsburg points out that, without subsidies, most Obamacare enrollees’ premiums are in fact higher than they would have been, “but that is more than evened out, on net, by the lower premiums that sicker people now face.”

Okay, so if you are one of the less than two million Americans who are not insured by an employer or the government, and are too wealthy for the subsidies, and are extremely healthy, you might be paying more for health insurance under Obamacare.   (That is, unless and until you one day get sick.)

However, even Anderson concedes the higher premiums are the result of some of the consumer protections baked into Obamacare.  As he wrote:

    The Congressional Budget Office offers some useful language to help explain why:  “Many of the [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] regulations tend to increase average premiums, particularly in the nongroup market.   For example, when they sell those policies, insurers must now accept all applicants during specified open-enrollment periods, may not vary people's premiums on the basis of their health, may vary premiums by age only to a limited extent, and may not restrict coverage of enrollees' preexisting health conditions.   Insurers must also cover specified categories of health-care services, and they generally must pay at least 60 percent of the costs of those covered services, on average.”

Indeed, Obamacare did a lot besides make everyone buy insurance, such as:

    Free birth control
    No charging women more for insurance
    No risk of having your insurance plan cancelled because you got sick
    Young adults can stay on their parents’ plan until they’re 26
    No risk of paying more, or being denied insurance, because of a pre-existing condition.

Trump has now said he wants to keep these last two elements of the law, which are very popular.   (Here’s a good Steven Pearlstein piece explaining why this will be tough to do while still repealing Obamacare.)

In fact, maybe we’re arguing about the wrong things.   While much of the debate over the merits of Obamacare has focused on whether individual-market premiums are higher or lower than they would have been, perhaps the biggest difference the law has made is allowing people to buy insurance who wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

As Charles Gaba, a blogger who tracks health-care numbers, described on his website,

    For instance, let's take someone with cancer... Without the ACA, they'd be utterly screwed and would very likely go bankrupt trying to pay the full price for treatment, or die without it, or the first followed by the second.   To them, it isn't a question of "I was paying $X, now I'm paying 25% more than $X"; it's a question of “before, I would've died; now I hopefully won't.”

Before 2014, the individual market for insurance was often nasty, brutish, and short, as John McDonough, a Harvard public-health professor who helped write the Affordable Care Act, reminded me via email.   Sick people and old people paid through the nose for coverage, if they could get it at all, and, he added, about 130 million people faced lifetime or annual limits on their health coverage.   Many insurance plans didn’t cover basic services, like mental-health care, which is now mandatory.

“So comparing an individual policy in 2008 versus today is like comparing a pineapple to an iPad,” McDonough wrote.   “Two very different products.”

Now that Republicans have a good chance of repealing Obamacare, we’re about to see just what kind of pineapple we get.

Donald Trump Meets, and Assails, the Press

In his first formal press conference since July, the president-elect blamed Russia for hacks, offered a plan to resolve conflicts of interest, and scolded the media for its reporting on him.

In his first press conference since July 2016, President-elect Donald Trump took only a few questions but made news on several fronts, saying he accepted the conclusion that Russia conducted hacks on top Democrats, bashing the press, and refusing once again to release his tax returns.   Trump also refused to answer questions about whether any of his aides had been in contact with Russian officials, though he later said they had not as he departed the press conference.

During the press conference, Trump announced a plan he said would answer concerns about conflicts of interest between the government and his business interests, yielding the stage to an attorney to explain the arrangement.

The president-elect was in combative mode, scolding reporters and the intelligence community and dodging several questions.   He was asked early on about a pair of stories that emerged Tuesday night—one, from CNN, saying that he had been briefed on a memo that said Russia agents claimed to have compromising information on him, and a second, from BuzzFeed, that posted a dubious dossier of allegations.

He blasted the publication of that dossier, and thanked news organizations that had not run it.   “I read what was released, and I think it was a disgrace,”  Trump said.   He would not comment on whether he had been briefed on the material, saying briefings were classified, but he said the allegations contained in the memo and dossier were untrue.

But Trump said for the first time that he believed the Kremlin had conducted the hacks against the Democratic National Committee and others, but he downplayed that particular action as just one of many.   “As far as hacking I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people,” he said.   (He later added, in response to a separate question, that it “could’ve been others also.”)   Trump offered an ambiguous read on the publication of private material, on the one hand blasting the leak of the dossier to the press—an action that he pinned, without proof and probably incorrectly, on the intelligence community—while at the same time suggesting that the hacking of the DNC was bad but somewhat mitigated because of the information it revealed.

The president-elect refused to answer questions about whether any of his aides had been in contact with Russian officials, as some reports have stated.   In an extremely tense exchange, he dismissed dogged questioning from CNN’s Jim Acosta, saying, “You are fake news.”   As he left the press conference, however, he answered another reporter who reprised the question, saying, “No.”

Trump insisted, despite copious reporting to the contrary as well as his own son’s statements, that he did not and never had business dealings in Russia.   When a reporter asked him whether he would release his taxes to prove that, he once again demurred, claiming they are under audit.   (He has not proved that claim, and the IRS says there’s nothing to prevent him from releasing taxes that are under audit.)   Yet he also seemed to suggest that having won the election, he no longer had any incentive to release the returns.   “The only ones that care about my tax returns are the reporters,” he said.   “I mean, I won! I became president!”   (A recent Pew poll found that 60 percent of Americans would like Trump to make the documents public.)

The details of Trump’s plan to solve his conflicts of interest remain to be explored and parsed, though he made several peculiar comments during the press conference.   He asserted, dubiously, that he has very little debt.   He claimed to have been offered a $2 billion deal in Dubai over the weekend, but he said he’d turned it down—even though, he said, he had no obligation to do so.   “I could actually run my business and run the government at the same time,” Trump said.   He added, “I have a no-conflict situation because I’m president.”   That’s an outrageous statement.   While not all conflicts-of-interest laws apply to the president, the lack of legal constraints does not mean conflicts of interest cannot exist.   Moreover, Trump is still subject to the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, among other rules.

Before taking questions, Trump boasted about companies opening new factories in the U.S., or canceling planned offshoring.   Although he claimed credit, most of those decisions were made prior to his election.   “I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created, and I mean that,” he said.

And Trump promised to continue to throw his weight around.   He thanked states that had voted for him on Election Day and seemed to suggest that those states would be rewarded.   He attacked pharmaceutical companies for charging high prices, and said the federal government should bargain with them.   Current federal law bars such negotiation for Medicare.   While Democrats have long lobbied for greater bargaining power, pushing this argument could put the president-elect into conflict with Republicans in Congress, who have opposed bargaining.

Yet as much as the event was a chance for the press to address Trump, it was also a forum for Trump to address—and dress down—the press.   The first speaker was incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who called the publication of the dossier “frankly shameful and disgraceful.”   Next up was Mike Pence, who scolded reporters that “with freedom comes responsibility.”   When Trump himself arrived at the lectern, he, too, attacked reporters.

“It’s very familiar territory, news conferences, because we used to give them on a nearly daily basis,” Trump said.   “We stopped having them because we were getting a lot inaccurate news.”

He also thanked news organizations that had not published the dossier.   “I have great respect for the news, and great respect for freedom of the press and all of that,” Trump insisted.

The Atlantic Ocean and an Actual Debate in Climate Science

Scientists have recently begun to re-examine a scary question:  Will a crucial ocean current shut down?

Americans who are concerned about climate change have long found themselves in an unenviable position:  They have to debate about the existence of a debate.

For about two decades, the vast majority of climate scientists have agreed that human industrial activity is forcing the planet to warm.   For about as long, some doubters have argued that this consensus is nonexistent or premature—and that, despite repeated studies identifying it, media attempts to report on the consensus constitute so much liberal bias.

These fights will likely be recapitulated this month.   Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma and President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the EPA, has invested a lot of time in fighting the Obama administration’s climate and environmental regulations.   He has not, however, said very much on the record about climate change.

One of his only quotes on the matter appeared in a National Review editorial last year.   “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote, in an article co-authored with Alabama attorney general Luther Strange.

The problem is:  Not all of this sentence is true.   While scientists continue to explore the consequences of climate change, there is essentially no debate among scientists about global warming’s “connection to the actions of mankind.”

Nor has there been a debate for years.   Since at least 1995, the balance of evidence in climate science has indicated that human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions are behind the planet’s warming.   Agreement on this question has only strengthened since.   By 2012, an international panel of leading researchers in the field said there was at least a 95 percent chance that human activity has caused global warming since 1950.

There are active discussions in climate science—they’re just not about this.   So before we all have to talk about a topic on which there is near total scientific agreement, I thought it might be fascinating to examine a real area of dispute in the field.   And one of the most consequential disagreements is about something called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC.

Ocean map gulf stream

Many Americans know AMOC as the Gulf Stream: the warm, surface-level current in the Atlantic Ocean that hugs the East Coast.   You may have seen it in the old map by Ben Franklin, pictured above:  It flows up the Carolinas, passes by New England and Nova Scotia, and then veers toward Europe.   Eventually it arrives near the British isles and northwestern Europe.

The Gulf Stream is part of a much larger system, however.   As that warm water flows northeast, it gradually cools, and in cooling, compresses and sinks.   Eventually, in the Labrador and Greenland Seas, it becomes dense enough that it plunges down thousands of meters into the deep ocean.   There it becomes a new current, running back south.   It can remain in this deep-ocean current for many years until it eventually upwells at the equator or in the Southern Ocean.

This global conveyor belt of water is AMOC, and it is critical to the world’s climate.   (Most scientists pronounce it as AY-mock.)

When AMOC is strong, it sends millions of cubic meters of ocean water north every day.   A strong AMOC seems to shape the entire planet’s climate systems.   It moderates the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes, lessens the risk of drought in North America, and assures the health of monsoons in India.   AMOC also ferries warm weather from the equator to Western Europe, where it helps bring the region unusually mild winters.   (Consider that temperate Berlin is about as far from the equator as the snowy Chilean city of Punta Arenas.)

Crucially, the entire AMOC system depends on cool, dense water “overturning” in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.   Without cooled water plunging into the deep ocean near Greenland, and turning back south, the entire conveyor belt will stop.

About 30 years ago, climate researchers became concerned that AMOC could suddenly shut down as a result of anthropogenic climate change.   The “paleoclimatic record”—that is, what the planet’s geology and fossil record reveal of previous global climates—showed that the AMOC has rapidly collapsed in the past.   “Rapidly” here means “within the span of a human lifetime.”

The crumpling of AMOC could potentially cause big problems for the global economy.   AMOC’s disappearance would quickly worsen sea-level rise on the U.S. East Coast and subject the Southeast to unusually intense tropical storms.  It could upheave agriculture in India, Europe, and the African Sahel.

But as climate models improved, those fears dissipated.   “No current comprehensive climate model projects that the AMOC will abruptly weaken or collapse in the 21st century,” wrote a team of NOAA researchers in 2008.   “We therefore conclude that such an event is very unlikely.”

Thomas Delworth was the lead author of that report.   Delworth is a researcher at the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at Princeton University.   He says that scientists are now re-examining those old conclusions.

“Some recent work now is challenging that consensus.   It suggests that the real climate system may be less stable than [the models] think,” Delworth told me.

The most attention-getting of this work:  a paper last year by James Hansen and 18 other scientists that argued the AMOC’s collapse could threaten global civilization this century.   The paper built on older work showing that huge injections of freshwater have historically destabilized AMOC, essentially by flooding the Atlantic with cold water and screwing up its finely tuned density cycle.   Hansen and his colleagues argued that as the Greenland ice sheet melts, it would be able to provide exactly such a pulse—and that, crucially, climate models failed to account for this physical process.

The paper made headlines around the world.   Though he now is a professor at Columbia University, Hansen led the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies for more than three decades.   In 1988, he became one of the first scientists to warn Congress of the dangers of global warming.

This week, the consensus on AMOC was challenged again.   A team of researchers have showed in Science Advances that a popularly used climate model may significantly overestimate the stability of AMOC.   Once you account for this bias, AMOC proves much more likely to collapse, they argue.   And this collapse could happen without any freshwater injection from Greenland.

In other words, they show that the stress of global warming can push AMOC into collapse all by itself in at least one model.   Freshwater doesn’t need to pour in from Greenland for AMOC to fall apart;  simply increasing the temperature of the ocean can do it.

That’s because climate models make AMOC more stable than it actually is in nature, said Wei Liu, an oceanography researcher at Yale University and one of the authors of the study.   “In a stable routine, if you increase the CO2, then AMOC only weakens.   But in an unstable routine, if you add global warming, then AMOC will collapse by itself,” he told me.

He argues that field observations of the Atlantic Ocean suggest that AMOC is in fact unstable.   Between mid-2009 and mid-2010, AMOC appeared to weaken, with the current carrying only two-thirds of its usual volume of water.   At the same time, sea-level rise on the East Coast accelerated and Europe experienced an unusually frigid winter.

In their study, Liu and his colleagues tried to make their model more unstable.   Most models, they say, do a bad job of representing AMOC.   They don’t have enough salty water entering the Atlantic at the equator, and they also don’t have enough freshwater leaving it in the deep ocean.

In their experiment, they fixed this extremely crudely. Instead of fixing the underlying physics, they told the model to add much more saltwater and freshwater to the simulation.   Then they doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the simulated atmosphere, stepped back, and watched to see what would happen.

What happened is that, between year 200 and 300 of their adjusted model, AMOC rapidly collapsed.

Delworth said that even though their experiment was crude, it was revealing.   “It’s a very interesting and provocative work,” he told me.   “I think they are opening up this topic and saying our models may be too stable.”

“In this new study, they’ve just put a band-aid on [this stability].   They’ve said, if we alter these characteristics, the model is much less stable.   But sometimes it’s really good to have these simple ad hoc techniques to address,  ‘What’s the sensitivity of our models?’” he said.

The paper alone didn’t overthrow the consensus, he added, but it did suggest it should be re-examined.

Hansen, on the other hand, was more dismissive of the study’s approach.   “You can’t fix the climate model simulation via ‘bias removal’—you should fix what is wrong with the model physics,” he said in an email.   “They are doubling CO2, letting that change the temperature, rainfall, etc. and seeing what that does to the AMOC in their model.   It’s been more than 35 million years since we had that much CO2 in the air, and sea level was more than 200 feet higher then.   If we (humanity) are so stupid as to double CO2, you can count on the AMOC to shut down much faster than 300 years.”

Other climatologists, especially those who study Earth’s past, were much more positive about the paper, describing it as a necessary improvement to how we understand current climate models.

“This is an important step forward,” said Jean Lynch-Stieglitz, a professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Tech.   “This study identifies a specific property of the climate models that would tend to make the AMOC in the models more stable than in reality.”

“Importantly, it reminds us that even if most climate model projections agree on their projections for future AMOC changes, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the projections are correct,” she added.

Ocean 2

The instability of AMOC is one of the great open questions remaining in our understanding of climate change, one of the ongoing explorations into global warming’s “degree and extent.”

It is, in other words, an active debate in climate science.

But I want to highlight how it does and doesn’t look like a political debate.   To my eye, it looks more like an open investigation:  Researchers share their results, compare the models to the field observations, make tentative corrections to the software and underlying assumptions, and move chaotically together toward a deeper understanding of how the planet works.

Sometimes, they may disagree about how best to proceed or about the validity of any one study.   But they do not disagree about the underlying chemistry and physics of their enterprise—all of which show that people are warming the planet through their industrial greenhouse-gas emissions. 

Martha Buckley, a research professor of oceanography at George Mason University, may have put it best.

“It is certainly a possibility that the AMOC is too stable in current [global climate models],”  she said in an email.  “The most obvious weakness of the paper is that the experiment is done for a single model.”   She called the authors’ methods of fixing it “relatively crude.”

But then she went on.   From what we know right now, the possibility that AMOC will shut down remains a “potential impact of climate change with significant consequences.”

“Yet other impacts are much more certain” to result from climate change, she said, listing “increased surface temperatures, sea level rise, and ice melt.”   While some harms, like those of a collapsing AMOC, are still up for debate, it is almost completely certain that climate change will bring serious consequences for us in our time.   Rampant drought, drier rivers, and vanished coasts are all ours to inherit.

The Biggest Intelligence Questions Raised by the Trump Dossier
There are even deeper issues here than whether or not the unsubstantiated allegations are true.

I’ve spent nearly 20 years looking at intelligence challenges, including failures.   That means getting into what I call the “silent but deadly” organizational causes of failure—so while the news tends to gravitate toward the salacious elements of a story like allegations about President-elect Donald Trump that broke Tuesday night, and ask what’s true and what’s not, there are organizational questions that this new reporting raises about how well the intelligence community is working.

With intelligence, the devil really does lie in the details, so it’s important to distinguish between what we know the community has said, and what they don’t know yet.   In the case of CNN’s report that senior intelligence officials had told both Trump and President Obama “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump,” neither the FBI nor the numerous news organizations that have been investigating those allegations have verified their substance.   The memos detailing them, released by Buzzfeed shortly after CNN’s story broke, came not from the intelligence community itself but from a person claiming to be a former operative with the British intelligence service MI6 who compiled them “over a period of months” while conducting opposition research on behalf of Trump’s political rivals, both Republican and Democrat.   That material from the former MI6 official may not be all of what the intelligence agencies have;  the “compromising” information about President-elect Trump that “Russian operatives” reportedly claim to possess may not be what they actually possess; and what they actually possess may not be completely, or even partially, true.

Here are my top four unknowns as I read this story:

1) Trump team communications with the Russian government before the election

Did anyone in the Trump orbit—intermediaries, campaign staff, family, confidants—know that the reported information was in the hands of the Russian government before the election?   Did anyone in the Trump orbit communicate with Russian government officials before the election as the documents allege?   (Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, for example, was not in Prague in August 2016, when the documents allege he was there meeting with Kremlin officials.)   If anyone else in Trump’s orbit was, were these new allegations the subject of any communications?

2) Whether the FBI screwed up

What did the FBI do once it got the memos in August 2016, when reports say the former MI6 agent first approached an FBI official in Rome?   Who took what steps, and why?   Why didn't the public hear anything about this matter until five months after the FBI received the memos? 
One key lesson in intelligence:  Information need not be true to be damaging.

CNN does not report on when exactly the FBI in Washington got the information;  only that the Rome contact took place in August.    So it is possible the FBI was slow in reacting to the initial “over the transom” communication in Rome.   I’d like to know the precise timeline of activity from the point of first contact to better understand whether the bureau should have been moving with greater effort and urgency on a matter of such significance.   Four possibilities:

a) Organizational fragmentation.   The FBI is highly decentralized into 56 field offices, with a history of left hand/right hand coordination problems—which explains why, before 9/11, three different field offices each had clues about the plot, but nobody knew what the others knew, so more concerted action was never taken.   Was this another case of coordination problems impeding success?

b) Cultural pathologies.   FBI culture is still rooted in crime-fighting, which means it's slow and careful, oriented toward collecting evidence for a court after something bad has already happened.   An intelligence culture, by contrast, is focused on prevention, speed, and integration—pulling and weaving together threads as fast as possible to prevent disaster.

c)  Misjudgment.   FBI Director James Comey misjudged when and with whom to share this information.   We've seen this movie before.

d) Degree of difficulty.   The FBI didn’t do anything wrong.   The investigation was hard—getting greater confidence and protecting sources and methods took time.

3) Is the two-page intelligence report officials provided to Trump and Obama, which in part summarizes the longer set of memos compiled by the former MI6 agent and made public by Buzzfeed, primarily aimed at the past or the future?

Does the revelation that the Russians have this supposedly embarrassing information (whether it is true or false) suggest an ongoing risk that the president-elect could be pressured by a foreign power into taking actions that are not in the best interests of the United States?   One key lesson in intelligence:  Information need not be true to be damaging.

4) The obvious unknown:  Is the embarrassing information about Mr. Trump true?

CNN reports that, in the time since the former MI6 operative approached the FBI over the summer, “US intelligence agencies have now checked out [him] and his vast network throughout Europe and find him and his sources to be credible enough” to warrant briefing the president and president-elect on his findings.   Many of Tuesday’s reports, in other words, depend on the credibility of one anonymous source and what he told the intelligence community.   The cautionary tale there is that “Curveball,” an Iraqi defector the U.S.   relied on to build its case about WMD in Iraq, was also thought to be credible—until many of his claims proved false.   And, as Buzzfeed notes, the full document contains errors of spelling and fact.

The fact that the intelligence officials thought the allegations serious enough to bring to the attention of the president and the president-elect is something we need to give serious weight to.   But there’s also an unprecedented element in this story, which concerns claims about politicization of intelligence.   What intelligence officials don’t want to have is for news to leak before the president or president-elect sees it directly—they want Obama and Trump to hear it from them first.  Then the problem is, once that’s happened and the news leaks anyway, it seems to have more credibility precisely because it was brought to such high-level attention.

The Trouble With Publishing the Trump Dossier
In distributing a set of inflammatory allegations that it admitted it could not vouch for, BuzzFeed sidestepped a basic principle of journalism.

There’s no set of rules for when to publish and not to publish an explosive, sensitive story—decisions are made with limited knowledge, and the full impact is often only felt after the fact.   Even granting those limitations, BuzzFeed’s decision to publish a dossier full of serious accusations against President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday raised serious questions.

Late Tuesday afternoon, CNN published a story reporting that intelligence officials had given Trump, President Obama, and eight top members of Congress a two-page memo, summarizing allegations that Russian agents claimed they had compromising information on Trump.   (If you’re finding this chain difficult to follow, you’re not alone;  I tried to parse the story in some detail here.)   CNN said officials had given no indication that they believed the material in the memo to be accurate.   That memo, in turn, was based on 35 pages of materials gathered by a former British intelligence operative who had gathered them while conducting opposition research for various Trump opponents, both Republicans and Democrats.

The story left many questions unanswered—most importantly, whether the claims were accurate, but also just what the claims were;  CNN said it was withholding the contents of the memo because it could not independently verify the allegations.

The second question was answered in short order, when BuzzFeed posted a PDF of the 35-page dossier a little after 6 p.m.   Even in their posting, BuzzFeed acknowledged some misgivings about the document, admitting that it was full of unverified claims.   “It is not just unconfirmed:  It includes some clear errors,”  the story noted. Verified or not, the claims were highly explosive, and in some cases quite graphic.   Because they are not verified, I will not summarize them here, though they can be read at BuzzFeed or in any other number of places.

Other reporting, including from my colleague Rosie Gray, has already begun to poke holes in the assertions contained in the dossier.   Trump denied the report on Twitter, writing,  “FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”   Now that the documents are in the public domain, the work under way within some news organizations to suss out what is true in the report will likely accelerate.

Sensing that the decision to publish would be controversial, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote a memo to staff explaining the thinking, and then posted it on Twitter.

“Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers.   We have always erred on the side of publishing.   In this case, the document was in wide circulation at the highest levels of American government and media,” Smith wrote.   “Publishing this document was not an easy or simple call, and people of good will may disagree with our choice.   But publishing the dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017.”

Smith alluded to the document’s wide circulation, a nod to the fact that many outlets have either acquired or been offered the chance to view it—a group that includes CNN, Politico (whose Ken Vogel said he’d chased the story), and Lawfare. David Corn of Mother Jones also published a story based on information collected by the British intelligence operative in October.

Smith’s reasoning is sincere and considered, but the conclusion is highly dubious.   Even more perturbing was the reasoning in the published story.   “Now BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government,” the story stated.

That raises a range of potential objections.   First, it unfairly forces a public figure—Trump, in this case—to respond to a set of allegations that might or might not be entirely scurrilous;  the reporters, by their own admission, do not know.   Second, the appeal to “transparency” notwithstanding, this represents an abdication of the basic responsibility of journalism.   The reporter’s job is not to simply dump as much information as possible into the public domain, though that can at times be useful too, as some of WikiLeaks’ revelations have shown.   It is to gather information, sift through it, and determine what is true and what is not.   The point of a professional journalist corps is to have people whose job it is to do that work on behalf of society, and who can cultivate sources and expertise to help them adjudicate it.   A pluralistic press corps is necessary to avoid monolithic thinking among reporters, but transparent transmission of misinformation is no more helpful or clarifying than no information at all.

The dangers of telling the public, Here it is;  you decide what’s real and what isn’t are underscored in the strange story of Edgar Maddison Welch, the North Carolina man who took a rifle to a Washington, D.C., pizzeria to “self-investigate” bogus claims of child sex slaves there.   He is hardly the only self-investigator out there.

There is a crucial difference between the Pizzagate story and BuzzFeed’s posting of documents.   The Pizzagate story seems to have spread through a network of malicious purveyors of misinformation in the “fake news” universe, as Craig Silverman laid it out in, yes, BuzzFeed.   Publishing the Trump dossier, by contrast, wasn’t an attempt to mislead;  instead, it was a decision to sidestep that question altogether.   But the danger is demonstrated with Trump’s “FAKE NEWS” rebuttal.   When serious and conscientious outlets publish information for whose veracity they cannot vouch, they make it easy for critics of the press to brand all reporting with which they disagree as simply “fake news.”

If the Trump dossier does prove to be full of inaccuracies, it will resurface in debate every time a credible and supported allegation about Trump emerges.   Carefully vetted stories will be rejected by partisans who will haul up the haste to post a damaging dossier as proof that no reporting can really be trusted.

There’s always the possibility that the dossier will contain some important truths, too.   But the answer to that question ought to be clear before the documents are published.   Anything else sets a risky precedent for the future of reporting.

The Irrationally Divided Critics of Donald Trump
Cooperation is needed to check an unfit leader.   So why are so many critics of the president-elect needlessly turning on one another?

A large cohort of Americans have reservations about the presidency of Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote by 2.9 million, strikes many who did vote for him as a highly flawed “lesser of two evils,” and has a dismal 37 percent approval rating.   These ideologically diverse skeptics must cooperate if they hope to minimize the damage they believe the Trump Administration will do to America if left unopposed.   But so far, they are easily divided. In fact, they cannot even refrain from attacking or alienating one another on matters where they are mostly in agreement.

This self-defeating approach was illustrated earlier this week when Never Trump conservatives who fully believe that Donald Trump is a bully watched Meryl Streep level that criticism.   Rather than embracing a rare moment of narrow convergence with a Hollywood liberal, they let the mutual antagonism between their cultural tribes drive their reaction and wound up furiously attacking the actress over perceived hypocrisy.   Doing so advanced none of their ends.   It was a missed opportunity.

Another immediate example concerns the upcoming Woman’s March on Washington, D.C., where critics of Donald Trump will protest the day after his inauguration.   Here’s how a New York Times article on preparations for the event began:

    Many thousands of women are expected to converge on the nation’s capital for the Women’s March on Washington the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration.   Jennifer Willis no longer plans to be one of them.   Ms. Willis, a 50-year-old wedding minister from South Carolina, had looked forward to taking her daughters to the march.   Then she read a post on the Facebook page for the march that made her feel unwelcome because she is white.

    The post, written by a black activist from Brooklyn who is a march volunteer, advised “white allies” to listen more and talk less.   It also chided those who, it said, were only now waking up to racism because of the election.   “You don’t just get to join because now you’re scared, too,” read the post.   “I was born scared.”   Stung by the tone, Ms. Willis canceled her trip.

    “This is a women’s march,” she said.   “We’re supposed to be allies in equal pay, marriage, adoption.   Why is it now about, ‘White women don’t understand black women’?”

For many, this was yet another illustration of identity politics undermining the effectiveness of leftist activism.   There are discrete features of some identity politics that frustrate me too.   Many manifestations of tribalism are doing dangerous harm to liberal democracy.   And I certainly think it is foolish for a political organizer collaborating on a protest to tell anyone, “You don’t just get to join now because you’re scared.”

“Yes, we can!” works much better.

But I find fault with Ms. Willis, too.   The wedding minister from South Carolina apparently believes that Donald Trump threatens sound policy on a host of vitally important issues, and that marching on Washington will help diminish his power to do harm.

Given those beliefs, it seems rather small to cancel her attendance because one Brooklyn activist wrote a Facebook post that she found wrongheaded.   To stand up for their beliefs, Americans have defied a king by signing their names to parchment that could’ve been a death warrant, parachuted into Germany to fight fascists to the death, and braved Bull Connor’s attack dogs.   Are we now too fragile to attend a march of many thousands when one of them hurts our feelings before the fact?   To borrow advice that Nicholas Christakis once sagely offered, if you don’t like someone’s behavior, “look away, or tell them you are offended.   Talk to each other.”   Don’t withdraw to a safe space, abandoning much that is more important than stung feelings.

The New York Times article offered more examples of intra-activist tension, then added that “no one involved with the march fears that the rancor will dampen turnout;  even many of those who expressed dismay at the tone of the discussion said they still intended to join what is sure to be the largest demonstration yet against the Trump presidency.”   If that is indeed the ultimate outcome it will be blessedly rational.   There is no reason that people who disagree, even deeply, on the wisdom or optimal contours of intersectional feminism cannot also agree to cooperate fully in opposing Trump.   Which faction is correct need not affect this cooperation.

Yet large swaths of the right and left, including extremely thoughtful, well-intentioned observers of the American scene, are behaving as if such cooperation is impossible.   Even those who purport to reject all kinds of identity politics are unwittingly presuming its supremacy in their analysis.   Comparing Meryl Streep, who delivered a message to a room full of Hollywood liberals who were certain to applaud it, and Mark Lilla, who published a broadside against identity politics in the New York Times that many on the left were sure to attack, Rod Dreher writes, “Meryl Streep is not a brave liberal.   Michael Eric Dyson is not a brave liberal.   Mark Lilla is a brave liberal.”

There’s a salvageable insight there.   Only Lilla risked the ire of his own tribe, and that does require admirable traits.   Still, is it more brave to suffer the zings of woke Twitter than to humiliate a famously vindictive personality poised to be the most powerful head of state on the planet?   Odds are the actress and the academic will both be fine, but fearing criticism from a faction that holds most of its power on social media more than a combative leader in a world where such people sometimes keep enemies’ lists makes no sense.

Meanwhile, down in the comments of that same post, a leftist Rod Dreher reader declares that he’s glad the woman who’s no longer attending the anti-Trump rally will stay home:

    No one is mourning the loss of the woman you quoted.   She was never truly “on our side.”   She was, very likely, the kind of too-comfortable person who was happy to go along with the removal of industrial employment and it’s replacement with poverty-wage service jobs for reasons of economic efficiency.   She was likely the kind of person who was so afraid of minorities doing crimes that she was prepared to countenance the warehousing of all those surplus men in the American gulag.   She is not a loss to any movement aimed at historical rectification in favor of equality.

Perhaps if this individual marches alone down the street the unprecedented purity of his demonstration will persuade all who see him that his politics are the only way forward.   But I’d place my bets on a massive anti-Trump march full of hopelessly impure rogues.

There is no crisis caused by debating identity politics or anything that falls under its rubric from any direction.   But a crisis will come if that debate is weighted so heavily that those on opposite sides proceed as if they could not possibly share any values, agree on any goals, retain any respect for one another, or cooperate at all, even as their shared political opponent, who exercises orders of magnitude more power than all of them combined, behaves in ways that all regard as catastrophic for the United States.

A large, diverse cohort of Americans have reservations about the presidency of Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote by 2.9 million, strikes many who did vote for him as a highly flawed “lesser of two evils,” and has a dismal 37 percent approval rating.   They should treat those reservations as if they matter commensurate with their gravity, breaking ingrained culture war habits that are no longer rational.

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