Saturday, October 21, 2017

It's a Race to the Bottom Between Fox News and Harvey Weinstein

Fox News has been hammering "Hollywood" over the huge number of women that Harvey Weinstein has harassed and assaulted. But they've been downplaying their own sex scandals, in which many women were harassed and assaulted by several Fox executives, including Bill O'Reilly and Roger Ailes, resulting in numerous large payouts.

The New York Times broke the Weinstein story, and now they've broken another story about Bill O'Reilly:
Last January, six months after Fox News ousted its chairman amid a sexual harassment scandal, the network’s top-rated host at the time, Bill O’Reilly, struck a $32 million agreement with a longtime network analyst to settle new sexual harassment allegations, according to two people briefed on the matter — an extraordinarily large amount for such cases.

Although the deal has not been previously made public, the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, acknowledges that it was aware of the woman’s complaints about Mr. O’Reilly. They included allegations of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her, according to the people briefed on the matter.
It was at least the sixth agreement — and by far the largest — made by either Mr. O’Reilly or the company to settle harassment allegations against him. Despite that record, 21st Century Fox began contract negotiations with Mr. O’Reilly, and in February granted him a four-year extension that paid $25 million a year. 
Get that? Fox News renewed O'Reilly's contract right after they paid $32 million to a woman to settle sexual harassment claims. And then they fired him a couple of days later. Not only are the guys at Fox totally devoid of any sort of morality, they're terrible businessmen to boot.

Naturally, O'Reilly claims he's completely innocent. He says he settled to save his teenage children terrible embarrassment. Those would be the same children who wanted to live with their mother after O'Reilly dragged her down the stairs by the neck. The court unanimously voted to grant the mother full custody.

More to the point, companies don't pay eight-figure settlements unless the allegations are substantial and well-documented. So there's no doubt O'Reilly is lying.

So, who's winning the settlement race: Fox News or Harvey Weinstein?
The disclosure of Ms. Wiehl’s settlement follows a wave of public accusations against the Hollywood studio mogul Harvey Weinstein, which has increased scrutiny of sexual harassment in the workplace. The Times reported this month that Mr. Weinstein had reached at least eight settlements with women, most of whom received between $80,000 to $150,000.

Ms. Wiehl’s $32 million deal dwarfs other previously known sexual harassment settlements at Fox News. The largest of those was the $20 million payout the former host Gretchen Carlson received after she sued Mr. Ailes in July 2016.

The settlement with Ms. Wiehl was more than three times the amount of any of Mr. O’Reilly’s previously known deals; in 2004, he had settled a lawsuit with a producer, Andrea Mackris, for about $9 million. Publicly known harassment settlements involving Mr. O’Reilly have totaled about $45 million.
It looks like Weinstein has paid out about a million bucks, while Fox News has probably exceeded $100 million.

So Fox News wins, by two orders of magnitude! Of course, it's a team effort with Fox, so Harvey never really had a chance.

Pesky Press

Friday, October 20, 2017

R.I.P. John Kelly's Soul

Trump's latest unforced error -- screwing up a phone call that was supposed to console the grieving widow of a fallen soldier -- has ensnared his chief of staff in his web of lies. Trump corrupts everyone he touches, even the noblest soldiers.

John Kelly, who was by all accounts an honorable man, made a public statement in front of the press that was full-on Trump: one lie after another attacking Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who called Trump to account for the botched condolence call. Kelly said:
"And a congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there and all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money -- the $20 million -- to build the building."
The video of the ceremony that Kelly references clearly shows that everything Kelly said -- from her bragging about getting the funding to understating the cost of the building by an order of magnitude -- was a lie.

Now I can understand why Kelly is upset about the incident. It hits very close to home -- his son died in service to his country. Kelly coached Trump on what to say. He was on the call. He thought Trump had relayed his message properly. Trump tried to. But Trump is just bad at being president.

Trump is great at gushing phony praises and insults, but he's terrible at talking to people in any meaningful way. He's not very smart. He's selfish and self-centered. He can't relate to anyone but fat rich white men. He has bad words.

Apparently Kelly told Trump to say something along the lines of "Your husband died doing what he loved -- defending his country." But Trump told the widow that her husband "knew what he signed up for … but when it happens it hurts anyway."

Now, why did Trump phrase it that way? Because it's all about Trump. Trump was trying to avoid responsibility for Johnson's death by emphasizing that the soldier knew he could die, and it wasn't Trump's fault.

And this is how the family probably heard it: "Don't blame Trump, what's-his-name knew what he signed up for." Yeah, Trump forgot Johnson's name.

Let's construct an example of this usage that should make it crystal clear to John Kelly why Johnson's family took offense at Trump's phrasing:
Today John Kelly got up in front of the press corps and made himself look like a marionette with Trump's fat arm poking through the back of his jacket and his stubby fingers moving Kelly's lips.

But you shouldn't feel sorry for Kelly. He knew what he signed up for when he became Trump's chief of staff: being a yes-man, shill and liar.
I assume Kelly knew he was lying. He was just sending talking points out to Fox News and spinning for the base. But at this point Kelly is so wrapped up in the spinning, the lies and the corruption that he's lost his way. He can't think like a normal person anymore.

Normal human beings would simply have said that they were sorry for the misunderstanding and wished the family the best. They would have had no further comment. And if they had let it go there that would have been the end. But there are no normal human beings at the White House.

Billy Mumy, from "It's a Good Life"
Trump's employees are like the parents of the child with god-like powers that Billy Mumy played in the classic Twilight Zone episode, "It's a Good Life." They are scared witless by a seven-year-old all-powerful monster that always has to have the last word.

To gain entry to this White House you have to sell your soul to Trump. All must dedicate themselves to his never-ending glory.

They should put a sign over the gates of the Inferno that the White House has become:

"Abandon all truth, empathy and dignity, ye who enter here."

Trump Has Already Cost Three Million People Their Health Care

Ever since Donald Trump entered the Oval Office he has tried to destroy the health care law. After promising better health care at a lower cost, he never came up with his own plan: he tossed that hot potato to Congress. Then he blamed them when they came up with awful plans catering to the wealthy that nobody in the country liked.

At the same time Trump has been sabotaging the law in various ways. Now his treachery has born fruit:
The percentage of U.S. adults lacking health insurance rose in the third quarter of 2017 to 12.3%, up 0.6 percentage points from the previous quarter and 1.4 points since the end of 2016. The uninsured rate is now the highest recorded since the last quarter of 2014 when it was 12.9%.

The uninsured rate, measured by Gallup and Sharecare since 2008, had fallen to a record low of 10.9% in the third and fourth quarters of 2016. However, the 1.4-point increase in the percentage of adults without health insurance since the end of last year represents nearly 3.5 million Americans who have entered the ranks of the uninsured.

Still, the uninsured rate remains well below its peak of 18.0% measured in the third quarter of 2013, prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) mandated healthcare exchanges and the associated requirement that all adults have health insurance or be subject to a fine.
Trump will claim the law itself is to blame: but it's Trump's open sabotage of the ACA that is causing the decline in the number of people covered.

Let's look at what Trump has wrought with one disease: cancer.

Based on an incidence of 455 per 100,000 people, approximately 16,000 of those who lost their coverage will contract cancer in the next year. Cancer mortality is 171 per 100,000 -- including people who have health care. When you don't treat cancer, it's almost always fatal.

Most of those 16,000 will be unable to afford treatment -- since they can't afford health insurance in the first place -- and thousands will go bankrupt trying to pay for it. And contrary to the Republican refrain of "anyone can go to the emergency room," emergency rooms don't treat cancer -- they don't do long-term radiation treatments or chemotherapy.

Without health care almost all those people are going to die, and Donald Trump will have killed them.

Cancer's not the only disease: 9% of Americans have diabetes, which means 315,000 of those who lost their health care are diabetic. About 29% of Americans have hypertension, or a million of those who lost their health care. Many of these people will have to give up their medications, and as a result will have heart attacks and strokes.

Now, those people can go to the emergency room. And they won't have insurance. So the rest of us will pick up the tab. Many of them will die, but many will survive. They'll go bankrupt paying medical bills. Many will suffer permanent brain damage or cardiac insufficiency. They'll go on disability or Social Security. And again the rest of us will pick up the tab.

In the long run Trump's spiteful blunder will cost the country untold numbers of dollars and lives. All because he's jealous of the accomplishments of a black man.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How Low Can Trump Sink?

After bragging about how he always called the families of deceased soldiers and lying about the respects Bush and Obama paid the families, then changing his story shortly thereafter, blaming "someone" who told him Obama and Bush didn't pay respects, Trump has disrespected a fallen soldier's family:
The mother of a soldier killed in an ambush in Niger said Wednesday that President Trump disrespected her family during a call with the man’s widow by saying the soldier “knew what he signed up for.”

President Trump denied he said those words to Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s wife during a Tuesday phone call and escalated his dispute with Representative Frederica Wilson, Democrat of Florida, who first described the exchange on Tuesday.
Trump has called the three women on the call liars. He says he has "proof" that the pregnant grieving widow is lying. So where is it? With the Comey tapes?

Any normal adult human being who unintentionally insulted a grieving widow and her family would simply issue a standard non-apology apology: "I didn't mean to upset the family, and I apologize for any misunderstanding," and leave it at that.

But Trump is not normal, and he is (apparently) not an adult human being. He's apparently a six-year-old hell-spawned brat who can never let anything go. He had to take to Twitter and call them liars. And to top it off:
“But that’s not the worst part,” Ms. Wilson said. “She was crying the whole time and when she hung up the phone she looked at me and said ‘he didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part.”
Sgt. La David Johnson
Do you think Trump's absent-mindedness and lack of tact on the call had anything to do with the fact that Sgt. Johnson and his family are black?

Perhaps not. After claiming that he had called every soldier who had died on his watch, it turns out Trump is lying there too. He never contacted the mother of Etienne Murphy (who was white, so Trump isn't a racist after all!) after falsely claiming he had talked or written letters to all the families of deceased soldiers.

Trump has been in office less than a year, and there have only been a couple of dozen deaths in the military now that our troops no longer have active combat roles. Thousands of troops died during the sixteen years of Bush and Obama, and by all reports they did all they could to console the families.

Obama lifted Bush's ban on the media covering the return of fallen soldiers (yet another stain on the Bush presidency) and visited Dover AFB multiple times (here's a story from 2009 and one from 2011). Trump has never greeted the fallen at Dover.

Every time Trump lies you think he can't sink lower into his pit of selfish ignominy and mendacity. Yet every week he spews more garbage, tweeting heinous lies that show the man has no conscience, no morals, and no soul.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trump's Big Lie on Corporate Taxes

The Republicans' tax cuts are all going to the wealthy and corporations, but Trump is trying to sell this as a good thing:
President Trump’s top economist said on Monday that a corporate tax cut being pushed by Republicans would increase a typical household’s income by $3,000 to $7,000 a year, highlighting a primary argument the administration will make in drafting and selling its tax plan.
The idea is that corporations getting a tax cut will turn around and, out of the goodness of their hearts, give that money to their workers.

This is nonsense, of course. Every time corporations get a windfall they give the money to CEOs and shareholders. Because, as Republicans always tell us, the only duty a corporation has is to its shareholders. When American Airlines raised flight crew wages earlier this year, Wall Street analysts were outraged and American's stock got hammered.

Republicans are also planning to change tax law so that corporations will be able to repatriate overseas profits without a tax penalty, which will somehow benefit regular working stiffs. But this too is a lie.

Apple has been hoarding its profits overseas for years. In 2013 Apple borrowed $17 billion to help finance a $100 billion payout to their shareholders, who are all extremely wealthy (who else can afford Apple stock?). In 2017 Apple did it again:
So far in 2017, the Cupertino tech giant has issued unsecured notes three times: on May 5 for $7 billion; on Feb. 15 for $1 billion; and on Feb. 3 for $10 billion, according to company filings with the SEC, for a total of $18 billion.

The money, in all three cases, would be used for “general corporate purposes, including repurchases of our common stock and payment of dividends under our program to return capital to shareholders, funding for working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions and repayment of debt,” Apple said in its filings.
Apple is buying back stock to drive its stock price to even greater heights, providing a huge windfall to the wealthy.

Wall Street is salivating at the prospect of corporate tax cuts and the repatriation holiday. The Dow topped 23,000 yesterday, not because the social, political and business climate is great.

Every other week there's another mass shooting or race riot stoked by neo Nazis. Hundreds of Americans are dying every day from a prescription drug-fueled opioid epidemic that Trump has done nothing about for months. According to the former NATO chief, Adm. James Stavridis, there's a 10% of nuclear war with North Korea, and a 20-30% chance of conventional war. Donald Trump is actively stoking racial divisions with his attacks on NFL players and his not-so-tacit support for white nationalists. The prospect of Trump destroying the NAFTA treaty has American farmers seriously worried.

No, the prospect of corporate tax cuts, with all the proceeds going to wealthy investors, is the main reason for the Wall Street bubble. Other factors include low inflation and low interest rates, which are mostly due to stagnant wages in the lower and middle classes.

But, incredibly, some upper middle class earners will actually see their taxes go up with Trump's plan. Those are the very people who provided Trump with his tiny electoral college win over Clinton.

Essentially all the tax cuts will go to wealthy elites (including Trump himself), especially in the long term. And yet, somehow the suckers who Trump conned last November still suffer from the delusion that he's sticking it to the wealthy elites.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Trump's Health Care Executive Extortion Order

After promising for years that he would give Americans better health care at lower prices, Donald Trump has begun the process of sabotaging the health care market, increasing the cost and ultimately forcing millions of Americans to lose their health care:
The Trump administration announced Thursday night that it would stop making what are called cost-sharing reduction payments to health insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act. Trump says the payments were improper. Patient advocates, insurance regulators and lawmakers, including some Republicans, say the move will send premiums soaring and could destabilize insurance markets. “It’s going to hurt people, it’s going to hurt kids, it’s going to hurt families,” Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, told the Nevada Independent.
This action will cause people to lose their health care. They won't get treatment they need. They won't get drugs they need to treat conditions such diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. People will get get sick, have limbs amputated, suffer strokes and heart attacks. They will go bankrupt. They will die.

But Trump doesn't care. He is doing this to attack the insurance companies. Now, I'm not a fan of insurance companies: they're leeches and useless middlemen that suck money out of the system and put it into the pockets of their CEOs.

But they're a necessary evil when a country doesn't have a single-payer system, which is anathema to Republicans and many Democrats.

In a White House press gaggle Trump said this:
If you look at their stock price over the last number of years, take a look at what's happened with those insurance companies. They're making a fortune by getting that kind of money.
He's trying to get his supporters mad at the insurance companies, blaming them for everything. But without single payer, nothing Trump promises can ever happen. Trump even bragged on Twitter that he caused the stock price of insurance companies to drop.

Then there was this exchange (throughout the entire Q&A Trump's incoherence and repetitiveness are truly indicative of a man suffering from cognitive impairment -- he should be in a nursing home, not the White House):
Q You promised that you would help people who are struggling. The CSR payment looks like it will hurt low-income people.

THE PRESIDENT: The CSR payments, if you take a look at CSR payments, that money is going to insurance companies to prop up insurance companies.

Q To help lower-income people.

THE PRESIDENT: That money is going to insurance companies to lift up their stock price, and that's not what I'm about.

Take a look at who those insurance companies support, and I guarantee you one thing: It's not Donald Trump.

There you have it. The real reason for this executive order. Trump is retaliating against the insurance industry for supporting his opponent. He is blackmailing them into giving him money, holding the lives of millions of Americans hostage.

Trump admitted he is extorting insurance companies in public and then posted the blackmail threat on the White House website.

This is an impeachable offense.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Unraveling of Donald Trump

Coming as a shock to no one, Donald Trump is unraveling.

Even before Corker’s remarks, some West Wing advisers were worried that Trump’s behavior could cause the Cabinet to take extraordinary Constitutional measures to remove him from office. Several months ago, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation, former chief strategist Steve Bannon told Trump that the risk to his presidency wasn’t impeachment, but the 25th Amendment—the provision by which a majority of the Cabinet can vote to remove the president. When Bannon mentioned the 25th Amendment, Trump said, “What’s that?” According to a source, Bannon has told people he thinks Trump has only a 30 percent chance of making it the full term.

30 percent, eh? I put it at even less.

Trump's behavior of late reminds me a great deal of all those right wing bloggers and commenters that used to post on my site. Overly dramatic and emotional...offended by everyone and everything...touchy to the point of short, right wing snowflakes.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why Bad Cops Aren't Fired

A Salt Lake City police detective was fired and his supervisor demoted Tuesday for their roles in the arrest of a nurse who was manhandled and shoved screaming into a squad car as she tried to protect the legal rights of an unconscious patient.

Detective Jeff Payne was fired and James Tracy, his watch commander, was demoted two ranks from lieutenant to officer after an internal review by the Salt Lake City Police Department found their actions toward the nurse violated department policy and undermined public trust.
This is good thing, but it's not enough: the watch commander is the one who ordered the subordinate to arrest the nurse. Now they're sending him back out on the street?  The guy should be out on his ear, no matter how many years of seniority he has. Clearly, the higher-ups don't want the guy to lose his pension for making a mistake that, in their minds, any cop could make.

The question is, will Payne stay fired? Because, all too often, cities that fire bad cops are forced to rehire them:
Since 2006, the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct that betrayed the public’s trust, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings. But The Washington Post has found that departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts.

Most of the officers regained their jobs when police chiefs were overruled by arbitrators, typically lawyers hired to review the process. In many cases, the underlying misconduct was undisputed, but arbitrators often concluded that the firings were unjustified because departments had been too harsh, missed deadlines, lacked sufficient evidence or failed to interview witnesses.
The arbitrators protecting bad cops are there because union contracts force arbitration. It's exactly the thing that Republicans complain about every time the subject of unions come up. "Oh, unions protect lazy and incompetent employees. They're terrible!"

But apparently not all unions. After gaining control of the legislature and governor's office in Wisconsin Republicans gutted most public sector unions in the state. Except for the police and fire fighters unions. They got special treatment because they supported Scott Walker, though Walker claimed it was for "public safety:"
"There is an inequity, that's for sure," said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. "But everybody knows that police and firefighters didn't create that inequity."

Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republicans in the state Legislature changed the law last year, saying they needed to cut costs without endangering public safety by risking police and firefighter strikes in reaction to the statute.
This seems to be clear violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing equal treatment before the law, and worse, an explicit acknowledgment that Republicans are caving in to threats of extortion by ornery cops and fire fighters.

I can understand that politicians are leery of crossing the police unions because they depend on them for enforcing their decisions. But it makes no sense to have a police force that tolerates corruption, incompetence and wanton murder by cops.

Almost as importantly, these cops cost cities and counties hundreds of millions of dollars every year when courts award damages for the illegal actions of bad cops.

Not all cops are bad. Not by a long stretch. But when cities are forced to keep the bad ones on the payroll, it's got to be disheartening to to the good cops. And little by little, the ethos of corruption gains hold, until all the good cops can't take it anymore and just leave.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Through a Foreign Lens

Netflix has been creating a lot of original content lately (notably the Marvel series and some offbeat comedies and dramas), but they've also been adding content from foreign countries. I majored in Russian and haven't used the language much in 40 years, so I decided to work on my comprehension of the spoken language by watching a couple of Russian TV shows. I also took in a Norwegian series in which Russia has a large role. These are all subtitled, not dubbed.

Nyukhach ("Sniffer")
This is a standard police procedural/cop buddy show that's basically a ripoff of Elementary. The main character is a consulting detective who has a superpowerful sense of smell. He can enter a room and tell how many people were there, how many times a gun was fired, the genders of the room's occupants, their age, their hair color and what they ate for breakfast.

Nyukhach is a cold fish. He wears nose plugs most of the time to avoid the constant assault on his sense of smell. He won't shake your hand. He wears gloves all the time. He's arrogant. He has a terrible relationship with his ex and his son. Whenever he stubs his toe or drops something he says, "tvoyu mat'", which means "your mother," with the same connotation it has in English, though the subtitles usually translate it as "damn."

His buddy is an officer in a special police unit. He's a regular guy and a ladies man. In the first season he's banging every woman he meets. In the second season he can't get any. A cold, hyper-competent female forensic scientist is hired who won't give him the time of day. He hits on a woman who tells him that she will only date rich men. The boss's secretary got married, got pregnant and left. He's all alone now.

Besides the dead body of the week, there's an underlying arc that deals with a secret vigilante group that can somehow control people remotely, forcing them to murder specific targets and then commit suicide.

The most striking aspect of the series is its treatment of women: they are either sex toys, harridans, bitches or victims. The writers tried to redeem themselves in the second season by making the women more independent and sympathetic, but it still comes off as sexist and misogynist.

This was a Ukrainian production set in an unnamed Russian city, presumably Moscow or St. Petersburg. Production quality is similar to any modern American series.

Mazhor (Silver Spoon)
This is another police procedural, cop buddy series with a love triangle thrown in. The main character is the son of a Russian oligarch. The kid is a total screwup. When he gets into a fight with a cop (causing the cop to lose his gun), his father pulls some strings and forces him to make a decision: become a cop or be cut off completely. Naturally, Mazhor is put into the same unit of the cop whose gun he lost.

There are several layers of conspiracies and several arcs in this series: the ongoing love triangle between Mazhor, his boss (a female police captain), and her boyfriend. There's the death of his mother -- she supposedly died in a car accident when he was a kid, but now that he's on the police force he's finding out that it might have suicide or murder. There's strife between Mazhor and his father, other oligarchs, his rich, drug-addled pre-cop pals.

There's even a funny bit where one of Mazhor's cop buddies falls in love with a rich girl whose daddy is a big Putin supporter. He makes the guy sign a marriage contract that includes requirements that the first-born child be a boy and be named after the president.

Once you get past the preposterousness of the premise, the characters in this series are more sympathetic. Mazhor starts out as a despicable rich oligarch brat, but over time he grows into a decent guy and a competent investigator. He slowly wins over his coworkers.

The series makes no bones about the corruption of the oligarchy and the police in Russia. It's right in your face, all the time. The series has comedy, pathos, drama and vengeance, and shows that a certain amount of self-reflection is allowed in Putin's Russia. There are even some pop-culture references to American movies ("I'll be back"). Almost all the songs played during montages are in English.

This is a Russian production set in an unnamed Russian city, presumably Moscow based on the license plates of the cars.

I actually learned something from this show: in recent years there was a huge police reform. The police force was called the "militsia" until 2011, when it was reorganized and renamed the "politsia." Thousands of bad cops were fired and pay was raised in an attempt to eliminate corruption by reducing the need for cops to take bribes. I also learned the slang term for cop: myent, pronounced with great disdain.

This show is more idiomatic and grittier than Nyukach. It's more engaging emotionally and plot-wise. Both are rather predictable, but that's no different than any American series.

Everyone in the cast of these two shows is white, with the exception of a minor character who appears to be Asian -- perhaps Kazakh. Everyone appears to be Russian, with the exception of a few Georgians and Caucasians (Chechens, probably), who are criminals, bums or drunks.

The third season of the show is currently in production, presumably coming to Netflix in the next year or so.

This political thriller takes place in Norway. When the Green Party prime minister shuts down North Sea oil production in favor of an all-electricity economy using nuclear power plants fueled by thorium, the Russians kidnap him and give him an ultimatum, occupying Norwegian oil fields and refineries until oil production is resumed. All with the blessing of the EU and the United States.

After an assassination attempt on the Russian ambassador, things quickly go bad. The Norwegians are abandoned by their NATO allies, who are cowardly and venal and just want the oil. A terrorist resistance starts to grow, aided by traitors inside the administration.

The main characters are the prime minister, a reporter, the security minister, the prime minister's bodyguard (who becomes an investigator and is the main action hero), the Russian ambassador, and the bodyguard's and reporter's wives. In contrast with the Russian series, the women characters are basically equal to the men. The main Russian characters are multi-dimensional, some are kind, clearly trying to make the best of a bad situation; the real villains are off in Moscow, never to be seen. One of the main Norwegian characters is of African descent.

This series appears to have been inspired by Russia's invasion of Crimea, viewed through the lens of the German occupation of Norway in WWII. Though never explicitly referenced in the show, the term "Quisling" -- meaning a collaborator or traitor -- immediately came to mind when the prime minister agreed to the occupation. It was coined after Vidkun Quisling became the prime minister after Hitler's 1940 invasion of Norway.

About half the dialog is in Norwegian, with some Russian (mostly non-native Russian accents), and a lot of English. English is used whenever Norwegians speak with the Russians or the Europeans, and when they're watching the BBC. Norway is clearly a bilingual country, with everyone speaking English with native proficiency.

Only the first season of the show is available on Netflix, leaving you in a cliffhanger. The second season will be broadcast later this year, though I'm not sure when it'll come to Netflix.

This show came out in 2015, before Russia's interference in the American election and before Trump started talking about abandoning our NATO allies. If I had seen Occupied before Trump I would have felt slandered as an American by the insinuation that America would let Russia occupy an American ally like Norway.

But it seems the Norwegians know the Americans better than the Americans know themselves.

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Case of Major Hering

Harold Hering was a major in the Air Force. He had served twenty-one years in the Air Force, serving five tours in Vietnam as a helicopter rescue pilot. 

In 1973 Hering was a Minuteman missile crewman -- one of the guys who turns the key to launch an ICBM. During a training session he asked a simple question: "How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?"
Hering's story has been told and retold several times. First in a Harper's article in 1978. Then on Slate in 2011. Then again in the Washington Post last August.

This question is particularly relevant today considering that an angry man-child is currently sitting in the Oval Office threatening to start a nuclear war with another angry man-child sitting in a Pyongyang bunker in constant fear of being assassinated by the CIA.

Richard Nixon was president in 1973, and his sanity was frequently in question. This was partly intentional because of his "Madman Theory:" by acting irrational and volatile he would engender fear that he would do something crazy. But by 1973 the Watergate story was coming out, and stories of Nixon's true behavior proved he actually was unbalanced. And a crook.

For asking whether there was any guarantee that the president was sane, Hering was discharged from the military. He never got an answer. He became a truck driver.

Now, it's easy to see why the Air Force doesn't want launch officers second-guessing their orders: without obedience to orders the military hierarchy collapses.

But in the Nuremberg trials after WWII Nazi soldiers were convicted of war crimes, even though they were "just following orders" when they incinerated millions of innocent civilians in concentration camps. Nuremberg established several legal principles, including:
"The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."
Since Hering could be held responsible for crimes against humanity if he incinerated millions of innocent civilians in a nuclear strike on the orders of a madman, it was perfectly reasonable for him to ask for assurances that the president's orders were properly vetted.

In the present case, it is clear that Donald Trump is unfit to be president. Republicans know it, though only a few brave ones who are no longer running for office, like Bob Corker, dare say it. They are counting on Trump's generals -- Mattis, Kelly and McMaster -- to prevent him from doing something catastrophically stupid.

But there's no law that gives those men the authority to override the president. If Trump ordered a nuclear strike and they refused to carry it out they would be technically guilty of treason.

That's why it's more important than ever to be sure that there's a legal and constitutional process in place to prevent nuclear insanity.

First, Congress should pass legislation to require that everyone in the chain of command is of sound mind and body, including the president, vice president and the generals in the nuclear chain of command.

Second, it should be impossible for the president to launch a nuclear strike in a fit of pique because some third-rate dictator insulted him. It should require a unanimous decision by the president, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the speaker of the House of Representatives.

The idea that we must be able to launch a full retaliatory strike within minutes and can't involve a small committee is nonsense. Even though Trump still doesn't realize it, we have a nuclear triad that includes ICBMs, strategic bombers (like the ones in Dr. Strangelove), and submarine-launched nuclear missiles. No country can launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the US without fear of retaliation -- especially not North Korea.

This isn't some idle and unfounded fear. There have been two incidents where the world was minutes away from nuclear war: the first was during the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962.

The second was in 1983, three weeks after the Soviets shot down KAL flight 007. The Russian nuclear early-warning system detected several missile launches in the United States. The officer on duty, Stanislav Petrov, decided the warning was a false alarm, and it was: it was just sunlight reflecting off clouds. He most likely stopped a nuclear war single-handedly.

But, like Hering, Petrov was not rewarded. Doing so would have meant the bigwigs in charge of the faulty system had screwed up.

We need men like Hering and Petrov in charge of our nuclear weapons. Not the toddler in the White House Day Care Center.

Quote of the Day

It's a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.