Cassini flies close to Saturn

Here are some pictures that Cassini took a few days ago (Credit: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech):

As you can see, they’re not all that impressive … except:

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is giving earthlings their closest-ever views of Saturn’s swirled atmosphere and its massive hurricane, beaming a trove of images and data back to Earth after the craft made its first dive between Saturn and its rings Wednesday.

This is part of Cassini’s Grand Finale and the first of its dives close to Saturn. The pictures aren’t impressive but they give new information on Saturn.

Malden news

In local news, the first concrete signs that the old City Hall, police station, and the nearby Church are really being torn down have appeared:

The barriers have been there for a couple weeks and they’ve been working inside the buildings and the stairs between the Church and Police Station were ripped up last week, but this is the first change in the outside that I’ve seen.

The March for Science

The March for Science (you should go if you believe that science is important) is today and so we get stories like this:

That is why, Michel said, he plans to take to the streets (and play his accordion) Saturday at the March for Science in Boston, an offshoot of the main event in Washington and one of hundreds of such marches across the country that aim to celebrate science and champion its role in advancing the health, safety and well-being of society.

The marches are nonpartisan, but have generated criticism that they threaten to turn scientists into another political interest group protesting the new administration, thereby undermining the credibility of scientific research and one of the organizers’ key messages: that science is apolitical.

Science is apolitical, but when one party consistently denies the science when it goes against their beliefs it becomes political. Many, and sometimes most, Republicans don’t believe in global warming or evolution or the problem with certain pesticides (going all the way back to Rachel Carson) or how abortions are performed (and how they affect the woman–it does not cause them to be depressed). And when a man gets elected President who specifically denies global warming, wants to cut money going to all kinds of scientific research, wants to make it harder for scientists to come to the US (either to work or just to come to a conference) and cuts scientists out of the decision making process in multiple departments, then you’re going to get push-back from the scientific community.

President Trump and Republicans have made parts of science political and this should hurt them politically. It hasn’t, partially because of articles like this.

Casual corruption, Trump style

Here’s how you do corruption:

On April 6, Ivanka Trump’s company won provisional approval from the Chinese government for three new trademarks, giving it monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services in the world’s second-largest economy. That night, the first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat next to the president of China and his wife for a steak and Dover sole dinner at Mar-a-Lago.

The Trump’s will argue, if they bother, that this isn’t illegal because … something. I don’t really care because it obviously is corrupt. If you think that China didn’t do this at least partly to get in good graces with President Trump, then you don’t live in the same world I do. And there’s more:

Instead, the first daughter and her husband have emerged as prominent interlocutors with China, where they have both had significant business ties. Last year, Kushner pursued hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate investments from Anbang Insurance Group, a financial conglomerate with close ties to the Chinese state. After media reports about the deal, talks were called off.

Pure corruption.

Let’s look at the Trump administration

We all heard the cries that liberals needed to give Trump a chance, so let’s look at two departments under Trump.

First let’s look at the EPA under Scott Pruitt:

  • thinks its mission is to help the fossil fuel industry:

This new agenda for the EPA, bitterly opposed by many of the agency’s staff, was unveiled at the Harvey mine in Sycamore, Pennsylvania, on Thursday. Pruitt, who was presented with an honorary mining helmet, said the federal government’s “war” on coal was over in a speech to assembled miners.

“The coal industry was nearly devastated by years of regulatory overreach, but with new direction from President Trump, we are helping to turn things around for these miners and for many other hardworking Americans,” said Pruitt.

Though Pruitt insisted that clean air and water will be maintained in this purge, the choice of venue for the announcement was jarring.

Consol Energy, which operates the Bailey Mine complex which includes the Harvey mine, was fined $3m in August for discharging contaminated wastewater into streams that flow into the Ohio river. In the settlement with the EPA and the justice department, it emerged that the mining operation exceeded effluent limits at least 188 times between 2006 and 2015.

He also doesn’t seem to care about pesticides:

The EPA administrator also recently decided to reject the conclusion of his own agency’s scientists who recommended that a widely used pesticide, chlorpyrifos, should be banned from farms.

EPA scientists warned that the pesticides could cause severe harm to children and farm workers, but Pruitt said chlorpyrifos would not be banned in order to provide “regulatory certainty” to businesses.

And he has his priorities straight (bold added):

The EPA has been targeted by the Trump administration for stringent budget cuts. The agency has drawn up a plan that would lay off 25% of its employees and scrap 56 programs, including pesticide safety, lead toxicity and environmental justice. There would be new funding, however, for a 24-hour security detail for Pruitt.

  • He really seems to want increased pollution from coal:

The hulking Gallatin Fossil Plant sits on a scenic bend of the Cumberland River about 30 miles upstream from Nashville. In addition to generating electricity, the plant, built in the early 1950s by the Tennessee Valley Authority, produces more than 200,000 tons of coal residue a year. That coal ash, mixed with water and sluiced into pits and ponds on the plant property, has been making its way into groundwater and the river, potentially threatening drinking water supplies, according to two current lawsuits.

A new rule regulating the monitoring, safe storage and disposal of coal ash went into effect in 2015. This past week, however, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a letter to a Minnesota environmental official that the agency would reconsider the rule and delay the 2018 compliance deadline for states.

President Trump’s top environment official called Thursday for an exit from the historic Paris agreement, in what appeared to be the first time such a high-ranking official has so explicitly disavowed the agreement endorsed by nearly 200 countries to fight climate change.

Speaking with ‘‘Fox & Friends,’’ Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt said, ‘‘Paris is something that we need to really look at closely. It’s something we need to exit in my opinion.’’

‘‘It’s a bad deal for America,’’ Pruitt continued. ‘‘It was an America second, third, or fourth kind of approach. China and India had no obligations under the agreement until 2030. We front-loaded all of our costs.’’

Then there’s Betsy DeVos, that supremely unqualified leader of the Department of Education.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is inexplicably backing away from rules that are meant to prevent federal student loan borrowers from being fleeced by companies the government pays to collect the loans and to guide people through the repayment process.

On Tuesday, she withdrew a sound Obama administration policy that required the Education Department to take into account the past conduct of loan servicing companies before awarding them lucrative contracts — and to include consumer protections in those contracts as well.

A suit brought by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau claims that Navient saved itself money by steering borrowers into costly repayment strategies that added billions in interest to their balances. But as Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg reported in The Times on Monday, states’ lawsuits are especially damning with respect to Sallie Mae — the company that spun off Navient in 2014.

Most people would think that such a company shouldn’t get more business with the federal government, but not our Secretary of Education.

  • She hired someone even less qualified than she is, which I would have thought was impossible:

The new acting head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights once complained that she experienced discrimination because she is white.

A longtime anti-Clinton activist and an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, she has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by, an economist who decried both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Now that’s impressive. Scott Pruitt has sued the EPA and Rick Perry now heads an agency he once wanted to get rid of, but the new head of the Education’s Office for Civil Rights has worked for someone who was against the Civil Rights Act and compulsory education. You can see her thinking in these quotes:

“As with most liberal solutions to a problem, giving special assistance to minority students is a band-aid solution to a deep problem,” she wrote. “No one, least of all the minority student, is well served by receiving special treatment based on race or ethnicity.”

“In today’s society, women have the same opportunities as men to advance their careers, raise families, and pursue their personal goals,” she wrote. “College women who insist on banding together by gender to fight for their rights are moving backwards, not forwards.”

It’s almost as if she doesn’t believe racism or sexism exist, which is kind of weird for a head of a civil rights division.

She’s also blatant in her hypocrisy and partisanship:

In 2005, Jackson wrote a book on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton, titled “Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine.” She gained national attention last October after she arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Jackson sat with the women in the front of the audience. A few days before the debate, Jackson established Their Lives Foundation. In registration documents, she described two of its purposes as “giving public voice to victims of women who abuse positions of power” and “advocating for and against candidates for political office.”

Less than a week after the debate, Jackson posted on Facebook that her foundation “supports all victims of power abusers,” but labeled Trump’s accusers “fake victims.”

 

This same kind of thing is true in almost every part of the Trump administration, which is why we didn’t want to give Trump a chance. We knew how bad he could be.

We almost got rid of Bannon

It seems that Steve Bannon has been removed from the National Security Council:

In a move that was widely seen as a sign of changing fortunes, Mr. Trump removed Mr. Bannon, his chief strategist, from the National Security Council’s cabinet-level “principals committee” on Wednesday. The shift was orchestrated by Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, who insisted on purging a political adviser from the Situation Room where decisions about war and peace are made.

Given that Bannon is an awful person, this is one of the few good pieces of news coming from the Trump administration. It seems we almost got lucky:

Mr. Bannon resisted the move, even threatening at one point to quit if it went forward, according to a White House official who, like others, insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Mr. Bannon’s camp denied that he had threatened to resign and spent the day spreading the word that the shift was a natural evolution, not a signal of any diminution of his outsize influence.

In fact there needed to be an intervention to keep him:

Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, a longtime Bannon confidante who became a prominent Trump supporter during the campaign, urged Bannon not to resign. “Rebekah Mercer prevailed upon him to stay,” said one person familiar with the situation.

So they really to keep a horrible person in a position of power. To see how horrible, look at Bannon’s explanation for why he left the council:

“Susan Rice operationalized the N.S.C. during the last administration,” Mr. Bannon said in a statement, referring to President Barack Obama’s national security adviser. “I was put on the N.S.C. with General Flynn to ensure that it was de-operationalized. General McMaster has returned the N.S.C. to its proper function.”

Operationalize is a weird work but it just means to make something operational, which means Bannon left after he had ensured that the council no longer operated.

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