Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Call To Action: March For Science...What I Did For Love

Wendy reports on the Science March in the latest installment in her "A Call To Action" series....

This past Saturday, Tom and I marched in the NYC March for Science.  Overcast skies turned to light drizzle turned to pouring rain.  And yet over 25000 protesters kept marching through the Upper West Side to Columbus Circle and further down Broadway.  A middle aged woman stood in front of the Trump International Hotel and Tower with a sign that read "Fund Research, Not Walls."  Can't argue with that.  Others I liked included "One Trip to Mar-a-Lago Equals Ten Funded Grants.  "Make American Geek Again." "Women Belong in the Lab." "There is No Planet B."  And what was to me, a very poignant sign, left hanging on a post near the end of the march which simply said, "STEM."

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, shoes and outdoorI know there was some debate about this march, about politicizing science.  And I actually agree with those who carried signs saying "Science Is Not A Liberal Agenda."  But from the first moment I heard about this march, I knew that I would be there.

Like so many of you, I've long contributed my time and money to causes that are particularly important to me.  I volunteer for Hope's Door, a domestic violence agency, and for Planned Parenthood because I believe that these organizations, and others like them, are the first step towards economic equality for women, even those amongst us who are most disadvantaged.  My devotion to women's rights likely stems from the particular time in American history that I experienced as a young woman -- at the advent of "the pill" and Roe v Wade and as a transfer student to a newly co-ed college.  I've also volunteered many years as a board of education member in my community and as a tutor and mentor to young men at Children's Village, a residential school for underprivileged children.  That interest likely stems from the steady beat of my childhood that education is the great equalizer. . I've attended rallies to oppose the immigration ban and I've made countless calls to Congress -- simply because it felt to me like the right thing to do. 

The science march was different.  I'm going to say something now that's trite, but true.

I marched in the March for Science for my daughters.

Nothing -- not even the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court -- will affect my daughters' futures as surely, as strongly, and as negatively as cuts to funding for science research.  The benefits of science research are a public good.  The vaccine that was developed to end small pox and the one that will be developed to end Zika, the technology that brought us seat belts, air bags and blind spot detection: these developments benefit us all.   We need continued progress in combating cancer, diabetes, autism, and depression.  We need continued progress in matching organ donors to recipients.  We need to control population growth and we need to feed the population that’s already here on earth. 

And, of course, there's the elephant in the room: the consequences of climate change threaten the very existence of the planet.  One of my daughters, an entomologist, went to a rally in Orono, ME on Saturday carrying a sign that read "Mosquitoes Are Ready For Climate Change; are you?"  Indeed.  Those Zika-carrying mosquitoes are adapting, while we turn a blind eye.

You may dodge a virus or a car accident, but climate change is upon us already and will, if unchecked, pose a risk to humanity itself.  For my generation, climate change feels more like a concept than a direct threat. Not so for our children and grandchildren.  Gutting the EPA and the NIH mortgages my daughters' futures, and there's nothing this mother cares about more than her daughters.  So I marched.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

D.T. Phone Home

This week, Steve reports to our readers on a rather interesting fact about our readers, and sees some intriguing implications…

This week, the news was the news.

First came the intrepid reporters who discovered that the great armada Trump sent sailing to give North Korea a glimpse of good old-fashioned Republican shock and awe was actually headed in the opposite direction, leaving Sean Spicer writhing on the press podium with an explanation so tortured and painful that you’d have thought he’d just been bumped from a United flight.

Then, of course, the big news in the world of news was the ouster of Bill O’Reilly, which should have been a triumphant story about fearless women forcing a major company to seize the high moral ground regarding the kind of corporate culture a twenty-first century organization should embrace. Unfortunately, we are talking about decidedly Twentieth Century Fox, whose corporate culture reeks of a nineteenth-century gentleman’s club. Just weeks ago, Fox had inked O’Reilly to a new contract at a point in time when they knew full well about the sexual misconduct allegations piling up against their star. Their decision to terminate him therefore had little to do with an ethical stance, and much more with the fact that major sponsors suddenly viewed O’Reilly as the most toxic item in advertising since Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi. 

But the juiciest news of the week about news was that it was not Fox, nor Fox’s law firm, nor anything to do with Fox that led to O’Reilly’s demise. Full credit there goes to rival news organization The New York Times, which had waged a full-throttle investigation and multi-page expose on O’Reilly’s behavior. Salute the guts of the Times, whose leaders must be keenly aware that Fox will no doubt immediately commence its own retaliatory investigations, intent to find, or conveniently invent, Donald-Trump-style-embarrassing allegations about executives at the Grey Lady.  Watch out, New York Times execs: Fox News is the founder and ancestral home of fake news.

And let us round out the week of news here in our very own microscopic corner of the blogosphere, where we’ve noticed a curious bit of news about, well,

Like any website, we have access to basic data about where our readers are located. As you would expect, most of our readers are here in the United States – but the number is actually only about 60%. We were startled to learn that a full 40% or our readership is outside the United States.

We drilled down on that number, expecting the next highest readership to come from the logical places: our close, English-speaking allies – the U.K. and Canada.  Nope. A grand total of 3% of our audience comes from these two countries combined.

No, after the United States, the three biggest countries following BTRTN are – get this – Russia, France, and the Ukraine. Russia accounts for a full 7% of our readers. France is 6%, and Ukraine is 5%. That is to say, a full 12% of the traffic to our humble little political website is from the former Soviet Union. That was pretty darn startling news about us.

Now, perhaps most of that traffic is simply low grade cyberbots programmed by high school students in Kiev to find any and all combinations or groupings of words in the English language that include “Trump,” “blowhard,” “Putin,” and “shirtless angry dictator.”

And then there’s a fanciful romantic notion that BTRTN has been discovered by pockets of idealistic Russian intellectuals who just want a few good Trump and Putin jokes to stay sane as much as people in the United States.

But one cannot ignore the possibility that there is actually something intentional and vaguely sinister in those mysterious clicks, and it is hard to ignore the now familiar pattern that Russian and Ukrainian visits to our site vastly outnumber those from the four closest allies of the United States combined.  It suggests that Russia is simply devouring data about the United States in such massive quantities that even our little butterfly wings churning madly in the thin air at the distant reaches of the blogosphere have earned a weekly fly-by from some low-level intelligence functionary.

Hmmmm… I just had an idea! Dear readers in the United States, please bear with me for a moment. I would like to directly address our readers in Russia for a few paragraphs. 

“Hello, out there, Mr. or Ms. Low-level Russian intelligence functionary! This is Steve, a writer here at I hope you are enjoying this week’s column, and I thank you and all of your comrades for coming back week after week! Do you mind if I ask you a few questions, as long as I know you are reading this?

“First, I just have to ask… Doesn’t Russia know that Carter Page is just a small-time con artist who probably got dumped after so many first dates that he will promise anything to anybody? This guy must be the neediest milquetoast that the KGB had ever tried to recruit. Help me with this one, ok?

“But let me move on to my second question…

“Is Russia surging ahead in an entirely new form of warfare that is solely and wholly about the collection, manipulation, and redistribution of information? I mean, we just dropped that Mother of All Bombs, but I have a bad feeling that Russia is building the Mother of All Databases.

“Seriously, now… the United States spends billions on cyber intelligence, but it seems that money is all going toward sabotaging Kim Jong-Un missile launches, Iranian centrifuges, and trying to shorten the queue at VA Hospitals from sixteen years to under five months.

“You Russians, on the other hand, seem to be totally and completely focused on the business of collecting IP addresses, manipulating social media trend data, malevolently circulating erroneous and inflammatory information, and timing viciously incendiary fake news stories at just the moment when our President is alone with his Samsung Galaxy in Mar-a-Lago, waiting for sunrise with his itchy twitter finger.

“Why build bombs, you seem to be saying, when the United States can be manipulated into dropping them for you?  Why build weaponry to attack the United States when you can use data to get us to rip ourselves to pieces?

“As long as we’re having this nice little conversation, can you just tell us this: what exactly do you plan to do with the recordings you must have of Flynn and Manafort offering policy quid pro quos in exchange for you hacking the DNC? And was either of those clowns stupid enough to have confirmed on tape that Trump knew?

“Hey… hey… I know I am keeping you longer than you expected, and that you have to write up twenty more websites before your break, but just answer one more question, ok?

“Does Vlad still think it was such a brilliant idea to get Donald Trump elected President of the United States? Because my bet is that he has the worst case of buyer’s remorse since George Dubya picked Dick Cheney.

“Sure, you were having a real good laugh back in March because Donald Trump was single-handedly alienating long-standing U.S. allies, representing the United States as a nation of ignorant, bigoted, and uneducated buffoons, and – like so many other empty campaign promises – rapidly making the United States not so great, again and again and again.

“But beware of the law of unintended consequences. You had not counted on Trump being so casually adventurous with military excursions. Isn’t that ironic? When he said that he wasn’t interested in Syria, didn’t want the U.S. involved in foreign wars, and that he thought NATO was obsolete, you Russians – you, of all people – you believed his fake news! You thought you were doing all the spinning, but you got spun worse than anybody.

First you saw him decide that Assad is what Donald Rumsfeld used to call a 'good target,' and now you have to worry about that lone warm water port. 

Then you saw a crazy man waving a red flag in front of a prepubescent North Korean tyrant who’s got a finger on a nuclear arsenal, and you are correctly terrified about the regional fall-out from that potential catastrophe.

“Now you see him suddenly enjoying engaging in foreign military actions, which is what U.S. presidents do to distract citizens from domestic problems. You hear him saying that NATO isn’t obsolete after all.  Which, face it, is the last thing that dear Mother Russia wanted to hear.

“Hey there, Mr. Russian Reader, we have a suggestion. For your sake, for ours, and for the sake of everyone on the planet, it’s time to bring your little Donald Trump adventure to an end. It’s time to bring Donald Trump back from the brink on Korea, Syria, and Afghanistan, and time for him – and all of us – to focus on the issue of whether he committed an impeachable offense. What do you say?

“It is time to work all those back channels you created and get a message to Donald Trump. Tell him to pick up that hotline and get in touch with you.

“DT phone home! To Moscow. Let him know exactly what you have on him.

“It is time for you to reclaim the alien you foolishly thrust into our Presidency.  All you have to do is wrap that little tape in an envelope – you know, the one where Manafort mentions Trump’s name -- and address it to a news organization that actually knows how to bring a bad guy down. Send it to people who have the guts, the wherewithal, and the experience to do it the way only a real news organization knows how.

“Gee, what a coincidence. Just this week, The New York Times just did exactly that. Give them a try.

“And, hey, this goes out to all you folks in Russia who are reading our stuff – not just the intelligence officers! If any of you would like to open a dialog with us, just email us at  We’d be thrilled to hear from you. We’d love to know what you think of this crazy situation we are all in together. And we hope you’ve enjoyed our work. In its own little way, our site does give you a sense that as stupid as our country may look from time to time, we still have the power of an unrestricted and free press.

“And that may be the thing that actually does, someday, make us great again."

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Georgia’s 6th District: Ossoff Has a Chance to Win Outright, But A Runoff More Likely

We put this chart together three weeks ago to help understand the five special elections in the House in 2017 that were necessitated by political appointments.  Four of them were by Trump of cabinet members, and the other was in California and involved a Democrat representative landing that state’s Attorney General position.  Many eyes are focused on these races as providing insights into the state of the Trump presidency (and this is a legitimate thought) and also as a predictor of the 2018 midterms (this far less so).

Primary     Run-off
General Election
Nov. 2016 Outcome
Trump vs   Clinton
Pompeo (R)
Apr 11
61/30  R+31
60/33  R+27
Zinke (R)
May 25
56/41  R+15
56/36  R+20
Bacerra (D)
Apr 4
Jun 6
77/23 D+100 (D v D)
84/11  D+73
Price (R)
Apr 18
Jun 20
62/38  R+23
48/47  R+1
Mulvaney (R)
May 2
May 16
Jun 20
59/39  R+20
57/39  R+18

Since then the GOP received an enormous scare in Kansas’ 4th District, where they won the election on April 11th by a mere 7 points, just six months after Mike Pompeo won the same seat by +31 and Donald Trump the same district by +27.

Then California 34th went as predicted, with two Democrats taking the top two slots and Democrats winning 91% of the vote.  Thus it is a foregone conclusion that the Dems will hold this seat in the June runoff.

This brings is to today’s election, the primary race for Georgia’s 6th District.  This one is commanding national attention as Jon Ossoff, a Democratic newbie, leads the field of 18 and has a chance to win the seat outright if he can achieve more than 50% of the vote.  This would flip Tom Price’s seat, long a GOP stronghold, to the Dems, and be used by the Dems as evidence that Trump is losing support and could lose the House in 2018.

The main reason for the Democrat’s optimism is Hillary Clinton’s strong showing in the district in 2016 relative to that of Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008.  As the chart shows, she lost to Trump by only a single point, 48/47.  Obama, on the other hand, was defeated by 18 points by John McCain in 2008 and 23 points by Mitt Romney in 2012.  And even though Tom Price won again in November 2016 by a comfortable margin (+23), that margin was slightly tighter this go-round than his wins in 2014 (+32) and 2012 (+29).  All of this, plus the rather disastrous start to the Trump administration and Price’s own failure as a key player in the “replace and repeal Obamacare” debacle, have led to Dem optimism that they can win here.

Georgia’s 6th is comprised primarily of northern Atlanta suburbs, which have higher median incomes than the state as a whole as well as greater educational attainment.  It also has a reasonably significant minority population, roughly 25%.  Ossoff has raised a whopping total of more than $8 million through the end of March, while the GOP candidates combined raised less than a million.  National volunteers have poured in to help Ossoff, while dialers from all corners (including us) are helping to get out the vote.

There have been ten polls since mid-March, and all tell a similar story.  Ossoff has consistently polled in the low 40’s and no other candidate is close.  But the GOP candidates combined are in the mid-40’s and lead him.  There seems to be modest momentum in Ossoff’s favor, as the most recent poll has him at 45%, but that, of course, could be noise.

The X Factor is, of course, turnout.  Special elections typically feature very low turnouts but the significance of this race, which has fueled the money and the effort, make it hard to know.  The GOP has countered the Dems' effort but probably not as effectively.  The fact that they do not have a single candidate who has broken through is a minus.

BTRTN views this as a near 50/50 proposition in all ways.  We believe Ossoff will easily win tonight, and come very close to the magic 50% level but will most likely fall short.  We would peg the odds of him winning the seat outright tonight at roughly 45%.

You can watch the tabulations tonight, after the polls close at 7 PM EST, here:

If Ossoff wins the seat either tonight or in June, it will be a major story.  Certainly it will have to reflect some disenchantment with Trump, but probably says little about the 2018 midterms.  There is just too much time between now and then to consider it a harbinger.  But it will certainly be a wake-up call for Trump, if he needs yet another one.