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The Quest For The Serious Side of Donald Trump Begins

Earlier this week, in response to an article by Peregrin Wood pointing out that Donald Trump’s web site is devoid of policy, and almost completely barren of any content other than Donald Trump’s praise for himself, one of our readers asked if we could please try to dig deeper, to discover and discuss Donald Trump’s policy ideas.

This request represents a worthwhile pursuit, helping voters make an informed choice in the 2016 presidential election, so starting today, I’m taking up the challenge. I’m going on a quest for the serious side of Donald Trump, the side that has specific ideas about how to, as Trump’s baseball cap says, “Make America Great Again”.

Donald Trump in LaredoI thought I’d start with the most recent press conference the Donald Trump for President campaign has staged. Here, I thought, is an event at which Donald Trump was directly questioned by journalists. Surely, there would be some meaty policy discussion involved. I watched the full video of the event, provided by C-Span…

… and I didn’t find much. Trump started out with more of the racism that has become his campaign’s hallmark, explaining that he is confident that he will have the support of large numbers of Hispanic voters because he owns large numbers of them himself. “I have thousands of Mexicans and Hispanics,” he said. “Over the years, thousands and thousands of Hispanics have worked for me.”

The press tried a few times go get Trump to move beyond his vague assertions that “something” has to be done at the border shared between the U.S. and Mexico, but Trump brushed off their questions over and over again. “The first thing we have to do is strengthen our borders, and after that, we’ll have plenty of time to talk,”

Strengthening borders is a goal, but it’s not a policy itself. Journalists pressed for more details. When asked by a reporter, “What would you actually do?” Trump responded, “You have to create, you have to make the people who come in actually legal. You have to let people do their job, the Border Patrol, the patrols, which by the way, I see the unions are very much involved with the patrols, but you have to let them do their job.”

So, we hear that Donald Trump wants to “make” people who cross borders into the United States “legal”. Does that mean that he wants to provide legal amnesty for all the people who have crossed American borders, so that they won’t be treated as criminals under American immigration laws?

Trump didn’t say.

Donald Trump said that Border Patrol workers should be allowed to do their jobs. What he didn’t explain was how Border Patrol workers are not able to do their jobs. What aspects of their jobs are Border Patrol agents not allowed to complete? Are there tasks that Donald Trump would have them do that are not currently part of their job descriptions? Trump didn’t offer details.

us mexico border wallWhen a reporter asked, “Are you in favor of a wall?” Trump responded that, “In certain sections you have to have a wall, absolutely. The wall will save you a tremendous amount of money, but you absolutely, there are areas where you have to have the wall.” What Trump apparently doesn’t understand was that there have been areas of the U.S. border with Mexico that are blocked off with walls for decades. Here’s a photograph of one such wall. Donald Trump’s one specific idea of a border policy – for there to be walls on the border in some places – is for things to stay exactly as they already are.

Finally, when asked if he had any ideas about how to deal with the escape of El Chapo, infamous the Mexican drug cartel leader whose escape from prison made international headlines 12 days before Trump’s news conference in Laredo, Trump merely said, “I know nothing about it.” Not only does Donald Trump have zero policy ideas for how to deal with drug cartels like the one led by El Chapo, he also doesn’t even have the most basic knowledge of what’s happening with those cartels.

This press conference shows the same image of Donald Trump that’s presented through his campaign web site: A candidate who mostly likes to talk about himself, who is unable to offer any policy ideas of substance. To the extent that Republican voters are supporting Donald Trump, it’s because they like his style. So far, my quest for substance behind Trump’s egotistical displays has found nothing there.

I’m not giving up the quest already, of course. Tomorrow, we’ll look at another Trump appearance, and see if there’s any policy substance to be found there.

Reasons not to trust the Creationist Reasons to Believe Website

In response to an article sharing news about the latest transitional fossil discovery (a four-legged snake from the ancient continent of Gondwana), creationist Paul Cawley left a comment recommending the website “Reasons to Believe” as a scientific resource regarding evolution:

Great science from a REAL group of scientists who just happen to be Christians too! The only thing I disagree with them about is the interpretation of Genesis. The scientists on this site are mostly DAY-AGE believers in Genesis, which suggests that each “day” of the Genesis account is explaining MILLIONS of years of earth’s history. It is absolutely INCORRECT exegesis of Genesis.

However, the rest of the science is ROCK SOLID!!!

I can’t share Cawley’s recommendation of the website as a “ROCK SOLID!!!” scientific resource, for three reasons:

  1. Cawley’s depiction of the website as “great science from a REAL group of scientists who just happen to be Christians too!” does not accurately describe the website’s mission and approach.  The full title of the website is “Reasons to Believe,” and the website avowedly embraces Christianity ministry first and foremost: “Reasons to Believe is a ministry devoted to integrating science and faith and to demonstrating how the latest science affirms our faith in the God of the Bible.”  The website’s “our mission” page lists the following three pillars under the heading “Our Beliefs”:The core beliefs of Reasons to Believe

    Reasons to Believe’s staff certainly has the right to its beliefs and to hold scripture as the supreme and final authority on truth, but its approach is as a result quite different from a scientific approach; a scientific approach does not pursue research in order to demonstrate that reality matches an unassailable faith, but rather pursues research in order to assess theoretical descriptions of the world.

  2. The leaders of Reasons to Believe are not scientists in the field of evolutionary biology.  There are four individuals identified as “Research Scholars” for Reasons to believe. Of these, Hugh Ross is a PhD in Astronomy, Kenneth Samples has a BA in Social Science and a MA in Theology, Jeff Zweernik has a PhD in Astrophysics, and Fazele Rana has a PhD in Chemistry.  Rana’s degree is the only one that has any relationship to a bearing on evolutionary biology, but he has published no peer-reviewed scientific papers in evolutionary biology.  Before the year 2000, he published some papers on the chemical structure of biological membranes.
  3. What Reasons to Believe says is just not accurate. Fazele Rana, who of the four comes closest to having any scientific relationship to evolutionary biology, declares baldly on this web page that “what we see when we look at the fossil record is an absence of transitional forms.” This is demonstrably false.

Don’t Be So Negative About Negativity!

“Distance yourself from negativity or it will deplete your well of optimism.” – Jeff Sheehan

Look: These words are printed in front of a serene field of grass, so they must be wise.

jeff sheehan on negativity

Let’s try this not being negative thing on for size. Why don’t we start by distancing ourselves from the negativity of Jeff Sheehan? He’s always so down in the mouth about negativity. Oh, watch out, negativity is bad, bad, bad!

Well hey, can we look on the bright side for just a moment, and consider the possibility that a dose of negativity might actually replenish our well of optimism? Let’s put that in front of a serene field of grass, and see if it becomes wisdom.

the up side of negativity

Creationists ask: “Where are the Transitional Forms?” Reality Responds Yet Again.

The Institute for Creation Research (which, if you look carefully, describes itself as a “biblical” religious “ministry”) asks a typical anti-evolution question:

Where are the transitional formsEvolutionists sometimes brag that they have abundant evidence of transitions, but when pressed, the examples are almost always minor variations within a category, as expected within creation thinking, and thus certainly not proof of evolution.

Long lists of significant transitional forms in the fossil record have been compiled to demonstrate both vertebrate and invertebrate evolution; see them here and here.  New discoveries of transitional forms continue all the time.  Last week, the journal Science published a paper by David Martill, Helmut Tischlinger, and Nicholas Longrich describing a newly identified four-legged snake from ancient Gondwana.  That paper is held behind a paywall, but detailed photos of the newly discovered specie, tetrapodophis amplectus, can be found at National Geographic.

First You Slam The Whistleblower, Then You Declare National Whistleblower Appreciation Day

Whistle-blower: a person who tells police, reporters, etc., about something (such as a crime) that has been kept secret – Merriam Webster

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed by unanimous consent S. Res. 236, a resolution declaring the day to be National Whistleblower Appreciation Day.

The resolution was introduced by Senator Charles Grassley, and was promoted by Mitch McConnell.

When Edward Snowden acted as a whistleblower to expose massive unconstitutional surveillance by the National Security Agency of hundreds of millions of ordinary Americans, Senators Grassley and McConnell weren’t so appreciative.

Grassley declared that, although he couldn’t specifically what law Snowden broke, he knew that Snowden had to be thrown into prison anyway, as retaliation for blowing the whistle on the NSA. “I don’t know exactly the law and I don’t know the extent to which he violated whatever law is there, but he’s got to be prosecuted,” Grassley said.

Mitch McConnell also blasted Edward Snowden, declaring that it wasn’t enough to just reprimand Snowden, because other whistleblowers must be deterred. “I hope that he is prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” McConnell said.

Just two days before National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, President Barack Obama finally ended 766 days of refusal to acknowledge a petition asking for a pardon for Edward Snowden by declaring that, no, Edward Snowden must be prosecuted, because whistleblowing cannot be tolerated.

These politicians say they appreciate whistleblowers, but demand vigorous criminal prosecution of people who blow the whistle. Could the message be more clear?

In the United States, whistleblowers will receive their appreciation from behind bars.

Everything You Need To Know About Donald Trump’s Service To Others

Back during the 2004 presidential campaign, I remember being struck by the language used by the Howard Dean presidential campaign: It wasn’t called America for Howard Dean. The campaign chose to call itself Dean for America instead, making the point that the campaign was about improving the condition of the country, not about Howard Dean obtaining power for himself.

12 years later, the big political sensation of the day is Donald Trump. He’s ahead of all the other Republican presidential candidates in the opinion polls, but it’s difficult to know what Donald Trump actually stands for.

Yes, Mr. Trump makes conspicuously obnoxious statements, calling Mexicans a bunch of rapists, and saying that any soldier who gets captured during a battle is by definition not a war hero. Those are just bouts of verbal venom, though. They’re not policy.

Where can a voter find out about Donald Trump’s policy ideas? Not on Trump’s web site. The site’s news section simply contains article after article bragging about how Trump is going to win the Republican presidential nomination. Here are all the headlines from the Trump for President campaign over the last week:









There’s no policy in any of this, just Donald Trump talking about what a great guy he is.

There’s no page on Trump’s presidential campaign web site devoted to the issues at the center of his campaign, so a desperate voter, seeking to understand what policy issues Donald Trump has considered opinions about, might go to the “about” page.

The “about” page, however, is once again almost completely devoted to bragging. Donald Trump doesn’t once talk about any ideas he has about what he could do for the United States of America. Instead, he devotes the page to saying things like:

“Donald J. Trump is the very definition of the American success story, continually setting the standards of excellence while expanding his interests in real estate, sports and entertainment.”

“In New York City, the Trump signature is synonymous with the most prestigious of addresses.”

“Mr. Trump has over 7 million followers on social media.” (Actually, a huge portion of those supposed followers are fake.)

Only 14 percent of the text on the page has anything at all to do with anything that he has done for any other human being – and that’s to describe how people applauded him when he walked in a parade for veterans.

If Donald Trump’s campaign web site is any indication, if he won the Oval Office in 2016, he would do little else with the position but use it to talk about himself… and occasionally walk in a parade.

Actually, Donald Trump has made plenty of off-the-cuff remarks about ideas for policy. His positions just can’t be found in his promotional campaign materials. To see where Donald Trump stands on many issues, voters have to go to sites like On The Issues, PBS, and

We’ve gone from Dean for America to Trump for Trump.

766 Belated Days Later, the Obama Administration Responds: No Pardon for Edward Snowden

On Tuesday, July 28 2015 — two years, one month and six days after it reached the threshold triggering a required response — the presidential administration of Barack Obama has finally responded to a petition calling for the pardon of surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden.  Snowden, you may recall, released information that has documented the federal government’s widespread use of surveillance technology to grab the content and metadata of personal, private communications by millions Americans right here in the USA – people without any alleged connection to terrorism at all. The administration’s response to the petition:

“If he felt his actions were consistent with civil disobedience, then he should do what those who have taken issue with their own government do: Challenge it, speak out, engage in a constructive act of protest, and — importantly — accept the consequences of his actions. He should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers.”

But that’s what Edward Snowden actually did do: he challenged it, he spoke out, he engaged in constructive protest.  And now, the Obama administration wants to imprison him for it.  No pardon for Edward Snowden.

Let’s remember that before Edward Snowden revealed the truth that the United States military was (and still is) unconstitutionally spying on innocent Americans and warehousing their conversations for analysis, officials in the Obama administration actively lied to the U.S. Congress and the American people, actively denying that such a program existed.

Let’s remember what Snowden’s documents reveal — that under the Obama administration’s spying regime, surveillance agents violate its own rules thousands of times a year, on their own, without obtaining bureaucratic or judicial approval at all.

Let’s also remember the number 766.  It took the Obama administration 766 days to answer a petition from the people of the United States — a petition that met all of the administration’s stringent standards for triggering a response.

Republicans Seek To Add New Step To The Bureaucracy Of Federal Government

Republican politicians are fond of complaining about the many layers of bureaucracy in the federal government. There is so much red tape and bloat on the process, they say, that it’s impossible to get anything done.

As much as they complain, though, what have Republicans in Congress done to actually make the federal government run more smoothly? Yesterday, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to make the bureaucratic process in Washington D.C. another layer thick.

Their bill, H.R. 427, also given the lengthy title of the Regulations From The Executive In Need Of Scrutiny Act, will invent an entirely new burdensome step in the operation of the federal government. Congress has already granted the Executive Branch the authority to make rules in order to implement the laws passed by Congress. Congress has even set up a complex maze of rules about the way that the Executive Branch can create and implement those rules. Now, H.R. 427 would create another layer of rules about these rules. If H.R. 427 is passed, all significant rules in the Executive Branch will have to return to Congress, and go through a series of committees and hearings, before finally coming up for a final vote on whether to approve the rules – even though congressional authority for the rules already was granted long before.

To go along with this burdensome new process, there would have to be entirely new layers of clerks and aides and bureaucrats checking that the rules about the rules about the rules were being processed according to the rules.

Republicans may complain about federal bureaucracy and big government, but right now, they’re the ones trying to make it all bigger. Not one single Republican in Congress voted against passage of H.R. 427 yesterday.

Donald Trump’s Aide: Yes, You Can Legally Rape Your Spouse. Reality: Complicated

Michael Cohen, aide to presidential candidate Donald Trump, explaining that Donald Trump could not have possibly raped Ivana Trump in 1993 because they were married:

“You’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”

“It is true,” Cohen added. “You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.”

CNN quotes RAINN activist Scott Berkowitz as definitively debunking Cohen’s claim:

“Marital rape has been illegal in all 50 states since 1993 and non-consensual sex between spouses does in fact constitute rape, said Scott Berkowitz, the president and founder of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.”

But legal reality lies somewhere uncomfortably in between these two claims.  For a short-form version of the current state of marital rape law, visit the National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape, which agrees in part with Berkowitz by noting that as of 1993, all 50 states had some degree of prohibition of rape in marriage.  But the NCMDR also notes that in 30 states, a greater degree of violence or evidence is required to prosecute marital rape.  Jennifer J. McMahon compiled a detailed list of the inconsistent conditions and exemptions regarding marital rape as opposed to non-marital rape in those states for her doctoral dissertation, and ties differences between the states to women’s greater or lesser labor force participation, among other factors.


Congress Passes Law Requiring Unneeded Maintenance Of Airport Security Machines

Anthony Kimery, Editor In Chief of Homeland Security Today, described a Homeland Security Department audit two months ago by writing that, “US airline passengers appear to have been in potential jeopardy to terrorist attacks for nearly a decade ‘because the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has not properly been managing the maintenance of its airport screening equipment.'”

Let’s unpack that statement.

For nearly a decade, airport security machines have not been maintained in full working condition according to manufacturers’ specified procedures.

Despite the lack of what the manufacturers say is necessary maintenance of the airport security machines, there have been absolutely zero terrorist attacks that took place in the United States because of failures in airport security.

Therefore, either:

A) The supposedly substandard maintenance of airport security machines as it has been practiced for the last decade has actually been effective; or

B) We don’t need airport security machines to protect us.

You know what Congress did in response to the audit, of course. They passed H.R. 2770 yesterday. It’s a new law requiring the Department of Homeland Security to develop a plan for following the plan of maintenance that it was already supposed to follow, but proved to be unnecessary – and not one member of Congress had the guts to vote against the silly bill.

In Australia, the direct cost to travelers of unnecessary airport security is estimated at about two billion dollars per year – and that’s not counting items lost and confiscated by security agents, nor the salaries of those security agents, nor the cost of their equipment – or its maintenance. Who knows how much expense is being caused by airport security in the United States?

Back in September of last year, professors John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart gave it a shot. They calculated that, for U.S. spending on Homeland Security to be cost effective, there would have to be 1,667 attempted terrorist attacks in the United States every year. “In an important sense,” they write, “the most cost-effective counterterrorism measure is to refrain from overreacting.”

Did the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Break the U.S. Military?

In 2010, as the presidential administration of Barack Obama began laying the groundwork for a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the prohibition on gay men and lesbians in the U.S. military, American conservatives predicted dire consequences. The conservative periodical Human Events issued a typical prediction:

Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy, told HUMAN EVENTS that his concern is that if the policy is repealed the military may lose out on retaining personnel. A poll by Military Times showed that between 10% and 25% of those who are currently in the military might say, “I’m not going to serve.”

“You will break the all-volunteer force. And in time of war, in time of great — and growing –  international threats to this country, that’s not something we can afford to do,” said Gaffney.

In 2011, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prohibition was officially ended.  Has the U.S. military indeed been “broken” as a consequence?

As Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times reported a year after the change, the predicted 10-25% exodus didn’t materialize:

Pentagon officials say that recruiting, retention, and overall morale have not been affected.  None of the dire predictions of opponents, including warnings of a mass exodus of active duty troops, have occurred.

An ongoing Military Times poll regarding gay and lesbian people in the U.S. military shows that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discrimination didn’t break the military.  On the contrary, the military shifted its culture and has increasingly approved of gay and lesbian participation in military life:

Military Times Poll on Gay Servicemembers in the U.S. military, 2006-2015

In the meantime, researchers (a majority of whom are affiliated with U.S. military educational institutions) determined that despite their effort at “identifying evidence of damage caused by repeal” of discrimination against gay and lesbian people in the military, they could find none.  The researchers were particularly damning of the prediction that repeal would impact military “readiness”:

A comparison of 2011 pre-repeal and 2012 post-repeal Military Times survey data shows that service members reported approximately the same level of military readiness after DADT repeal as before it. On all four components of readiness measured by Military Times surveys (quality of training, officers and enlisted leaders, and whether today’s service members are the best ever), the 2012 post-repeal data indicate approximately the same levels as the 2011 pre-repeal data.14 If repeal had compromised overall readiness in any discernible way, it would be hard to understand why every dimension of readiness assessed by Military Times survey respondents remained stable after the new policy of open service went into effect.

Considering related predictions that legalization of same-sex nuptials would somehow destroy American heterosexual marriages, the predictive ability of conservative America isn’t looking too good.  The next time you hear someone say that ending some other kind of discrimination will lead to a horrible result for America, keep that record in mind.