In the News

In the News Spring – Summer 2019

Class Warfare:  Winners and Losers  The media are full of shocking stories of income inequality.  While the median household income continues to drop, the wealth of the richest continues to rise.  The income of the top 0.01% has skyrocketed, the income of the upper middle class has gone up a little, but lower and middle class incomes have fallen.  In California, upper crust wages were 72% higher than the median income.  Remember when America was the place where you could go from rags to riches?  That fairy tale is over.  But if you are already very rich, there is a good chance you can become filthy rich.  The 25 top managers of hedge funds earned $11 billion in 2016. For these tycoons, it scarcely mattered if their returns were ugly. How does it feel when the CEO in your company earns in 2 hours what you earn in a year?  Disney CEO Bob Iger got an 80% pay raise this year.  He now earns $65 million a year, 1,424 times the salary of his employees.  Even Disney heir Abagail Disney (net worth $500 million) called this “naked indecency.”  But her worth is peanuts compared to Bloomberg’s estimate of the $163 billion worth of the Walmart heirs. (Think of that every time you buy something at Walmart.)  In Britain, they are fighting back with “name and shame” the executives with outlandish incomes.  Britain now has a public register which lists lavish salaries and their ratios to the salaries of workers in their company.  Surprisingly, there is even some blowback from the 1%.  As 5000 of the world’s richest gathered at a Beverly Hilton conference, they were warned about looming class warfare.  The free enterprise system is not working and only a few are benefiting.  According to the LAT, the message for Capitalism is: “Reform or Revolution.”

Self-Destruction in Britain  Have you been watching the downward spiral of what was once a great nation?  The politics of “No” has permeated every level of government and society.  Political chaos, social distrust, and signs of collapse everywhere (America take note).

Robo Call Alert One thing politicians say they agree on is the need to do something about robo calls. Unfortunately, robo callers remain a few steps ahead of any attempts to regulate them.  The head of one company called YouMail says he makes 2.3 billion calls a month.  Robocallers from Uzbekistan can make it look like your neighbor is calling.  When you suspect a robo call, answer but remain silent. Most robo calls are simultaneous multiple dials which are voice activated and will quickly drop you if you don’t activate it. Here is how to rebel or retaliate.

Who Assesses Trump’s Mental Health?  The 25th Amendment empowers Congress to assess a president’s mental health.  But who can decide or agree upon a clinical judgment?  There is plenty of speculation that Trump is mentally ill, but no one seems to know what to do.

Click here.

Big Tobacco Hooks Children on Sugar Drinks  When the walls were closing in on tobacco, Big Tobacco diversified into another form of addiction: sugary drinks.  They used their expertise in selling addiction to make sugar drinks attractive to children. A third of American children are now considered obese or overweight, and rates of Type 2 diabetes are soaring.  “We’ve decided to focus our marketing on kids,” boasted a Kool-Aid executive. (Kool-Aid is part of General Foods which is owned by RJR Tobacco.)

The Drug Industry Spends Lavishly not only to influence doctors but also with paid ads targeting the public.  Drug advertising has risen by 70% according to the American Medical Association.  Drug companies now spend $30 billion a year to push their drugs.

The Eyeglasses Scam Getting ripped off on eyewear? Tired of bloated eyewear pricing? These are the headlines of an expose by LAT writer David Lazaus. After Italy’s Luxottica merged with France’s Essilor there is very little competition in eyewear and price gouging is the rule.  Luxottica (owner of Lens Crafters) owns almost all of the brands you can buy. The founder of Lens Crafters admitted that the best designer frames and lenses cost about $15, everything above is gouging.

Why Are Tourists Flocking to Bhutan?  A centuries old tradition in Bhutan is to celebrate the phallus. They are painted on walls, carved over doorway entrances, and worn as necklaces to ward off evil. Phallus art is thriving in Bhutan!

Beware, The Grannies Are Marching!   Last month we celebrated teenagers who are taking up social protest.  Now the Grannies are Marching.  In Vienna, Grannies are holding weekly protest marches, mostly against the rise of right wing Fascism.  Maybe the Grannies of the US should get organized?

Fascism on the Rise  LAT reporter Scott Timberg writes that democracies are falling victim to the allure of authoritarianism.  Formerly secret groups are now more open and brazen, and publishers are releasing many new titles claiming that the public is getting more interested in fascism. Even Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, has a new book Fascism: A Warning. Look at what is happening in Turkey, Venezuela, Russia, North Korea, Hungary, Poland, and the Philippines.  She asks, can it happen here? 

The Great Republican War on Democracy  This is the disturbing title of an Op-Ed by Jamelle Bouie.  Paul Krugman has a similar piece, “The Great Republican Abdication: A party that no longer believes in American values.” Republican advisor Scott Jennings explains that Republicans will never quit Trump – the former Republican Party is now the Trump Party.

Click here and here.

What Country Develops the Most Sport Champions?  In the Winter Olympics Games, Norway has won more medals than any other country. The score:  Norway, 39 (population 5.3 million), United States 23 (population 328 million).  The secret is surprising: Norway lets Children be Children (that is the headline of the paper edition of the study).  Compare the way Norway raises its children and the way America raises its children.

What Countries Are the Happiest?  The first four are Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland.  USA came in 19th.  See the whole list:

The Kansas Experiment Ends in Failure  Remember all the conservative Republican ballyhoo about the marvels of supply side economics?  Slash taxes (especially for the rich).  Slash government spending!  Kansas Republican governor Sam Brownback championed this policy slashing taxes more than any other state.  The Republican legislature slavishly followed his wishes and the result was a disaster for the state.  Brownback (now out of office) became even more unpopular than Donald Trump and New Jersey’s Chris Christie.

Israel Successfully Fires Missile Designed to be Hidden in Shipping Containers The state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries has successfully test fired is LORA missile.  It is designed to be concealed in a standard shipping container.  It can launch a 3500 lb. projectile 250 miles within t0 minutes of opening.  This system can convert any civilian vessel into a missile launching platform. The price is unclear as is who the customers will be but think of this as you watch the ships near the horizon (about 17 miles away).  There are over 50,000 cargo ships registered to 150 nations.  A medium-sized cargo ship can carry 1,000 containers. The Port of Los Angeles is the #1 container port in the country logging 9.5 million containers.  Shipping companies lose track of about 1,500 containers a year.  What could possibly go wrong?

Humans Origins and Extinctions A new 1,500 page report by international scientific experts paints a grim future for life on planet Earth.  As many as one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction because one species (homo sapiens) continues to plunder ecosystems.  As long as human beings are around, it appears other forms of life will suffer.    As for our origins, new fossils question the standard theory that modern humans drifted out of Africa about 60,000 years ago. Fossils in China, Australia, and Saudi Arabia suggest that homo sapiens may have started their migrations much earlier.

Learn How Insignificant You Are  Surprise! The universe has 10 times more galaxies than previously thought!  The Hubble Space Telescope reports that there are about 2 trillion galaxies in the cosmos. Each galaxy may have 100 million stars. There are probably 19,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars similar to ours with at least one planet similar to Earth. Even our own Milky Way probably has 40 billion Earth-sized planets.  Scientists say that the key to understanding the universe is to study supermassive black holes. The good news is that none is close enough to suck up our entire solar system and make it disappear. The bad news is that there are so many black holes that it is impossible to count them.  Some of the biggest black holes (300 million light years away) may have gobbled up 21 billion suns.  To understand how insignificant our species is, consider a 2 hour documentary film about life on Earth.  Footage about human beings would take up the last 2 seconds.   The way we are going, how long will we  be around?  Some scientists specular that this is our last century.

The News in Brief

            New Trump plan to reduce poverty: change how you define poverty. This would allow him to achieve his goal of taking away health care and food assistance from millions of Americans….The Pentagon has spent $300 billion on anti-missile defense but half of the tests have failed, even when there is only one incoming missile and the “defense” knew in advance the timing and location of the missile….Rhode Island has initiated a “lunch shaming program.”  Poor students who can’t pay could receive nothing other than jelly sandwiches to embarrass them in front of all the other students….Trump picked a Kathleen White to head of the Council on Environmental Quality even after she said that carbon dioxide is harmless and renewable energy is parasitic.  Then Trump picked a coal lobbyist to head the EPA and a Boeing executive to be Secretary of Defense in spite of allegations of ethics violations. White was eventually dropped but the other two now control EPA and DOD….The 20 warmest years on record have all come in the last 22 years….The F-35 fighter jets cost $100 million each….Since plastics were invented, over 9 billion tons have been produced. Up to 14 million tons of it wind up in the ocean every year….The ban on plastics straws? Devin Nunes  retorts: “Welcome to Socialism in California!” Meanwhile, the Conservative Politicial Action Conference warns America that the Democrats are coming after your hamburgers, “just like Stalin!” ….The Justice Dept. announced that it will no longer defend prohibitions against female genital mutilations.  Your Justice Dept. has also stopped defending the Affordable Care Act and instead now attacks it….The Pentagon says it has killed only 108 civilians in bombing and drone attacks in Africa and Asia. The non-profit group Airwars says your tax dollars killed somewhere between 800-1,700 civilians….Economists say that declining wages are not because of automation. Rather they are caused but the current political environment which is deeply hostile to labor.  Let’s face it, says Paul Krugman, our system is rigged against workers….Facebook has been selling sensitive user health information.  A tool called Flo Health allows women to predict when they ovulate. Results are secretly reported back to Facebook which then sells the information to advertisers who then target her for products.  Users are not informed and there is no way they can stop the data transfer….In the U.S., a gun is stolen every 2 minutes.  There are now over 400 million guns in the country….On the brighter side of things, a group of astronomers on April 10 successfully photographed a black hole near the center of the Milky Way. This particular black hole has the gravitational mass of 4 million suns that have disappeared from the visible universe.

In the News Winter 2019

In the News Winter 2019

Trump Imperils the Planet  In an editorial by the same name, the NYT lambasts the environmental record of the President.

The Decline of California Republicans  A big full page story in the NYT begins with “The California Republican Party…is teetering on the brink of irrelevance.”     And on Jan. 3, a Republican analyst posted this Op-Ed entitled Trump’s Damage to Republicans.  

U.S. Gun Deaths Soar, Especially Among Children  About 40,000 Americans died in 2017 from firearms, about two-thirds being suicides.  Much is not known about the issue because in 1996 the NRA successfully pressured Congress to block the Center for Disease Control from funding any studies about firearms and prohibited the agency from advocating gun control. Today, the Republicans continue to block gun control legislation. Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine doctor at UC Davis said that the rise in firearms deaths was a result of “a national unwillingness to take this problem seriously.”  The NRA has tried to intimidate doctors by mocking those who treat gunshot victims:  “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.”  Meanwhile, firearms are one of the leading causes of childhood death in the U.S.  American children are 80 times more likely to die from firearms than children in Hungary, Sweden, Tajikistan, and Romania.

Hate Crimes on the Increase In a worrisome new trend, hate crimes, anti-semitism, and crimes based on sexual orientation continued to rise in 2018. White supremacist groups are flourishing and schools report more and more incidents of swastikas, sex stereotypes, and Holocaust insults.  Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism says, “We used to look at hate crimes as individual pathology. But now, social media has amplified and weaponize our divisions.”

Republicans Join Far Right Extremists in Mocking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  When this New York representative, the youngest ever women elected to Congress, was sworn in, Republicans rudely booed her.  A far right conspiracy tweeter posted this:  “Here is America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is.”  Republicans were incensed when Occasio-Cortez supported a colleague who used a swear word to criticize Trump,  Occasio-Cortez responded:   “Republican hypocrisy at its finest: saying that Trump admitting to sexual assault on tape is just ‘locker room talk,’ but scandalizing themselves into faux-outrage when my sis says a curse word in a bar. The GOP lost entitlement to policing women’s behavior a long time ago. Next.”  

The Trump Tax Cut:  90% of Americans Will End Up Poorer  Trump promised soaring investments, waves of pay increases, and a tax cut that would pay for itself.  None of this happened.  Yes, corporations became richer but they used it for stock buybacks rather than wage increases.   To make matters worse, the Republicans have gutted the IRS and filled it full of loopholes, all of which mainly benefits the very rich.

Like Grandfather, Like Grandson  According to an LAT Op-Ed,  both Donald Trump and his grandfather were both draft dodgers.  

Price-fixing of Generic Drugs Generic drugs were supposed to be a boon to consumers who are tired of getting ripped off by drug companies, right? Wrong.  Investigators have discovered wide spread collusion and price fixing in 47 states.  

What is the Happiest Town in the World? 

Does Everyone Have a Moral Duty to Leave Facebook?  The director of the Center for Bioethics at NYU poses this question.  Many are slow to grasp the radicalization of the internet and how it has changed society.  Social media have played a key role in the rise of violent right-wing extremism and we now know that it may have resulted in the election of Donald Trump.  The internet is a playground for powerful unprincipled people who want your money, your identity, your values, and they want to tell you how to vote. Facebook wants you to think it is your indispensable friend when in fact it is a juggernaut behemoth specializing in deceiving you and using you.  Recently revealed troves of emails show how FB executives using every cutthroat tactic possible to crush critics and competitors and to conceal their methods. Staff meetings often ended with chants of “Domination! Domination!”  FB sells your identity, everything you say, and every picture so it can be used for facial recognition.  It has become the poster boy for harvesting data, selling personal information for profit, and being deliberately deceptive and untrustworthy. FB allowed companies to search all customers and their friends without permission.  FB paved the way for others to invade our computers.  Now we learn that the Russian used a vast network of internet trolls on Instagram (owned by FB) to infiltrate American identity groups for the purpose of swaying them, usually in more extremist directions.  People uncritically soaked it up.  The Russians got 185 million “likes.”  In another example, it was recently charged that The Weather Channel secretly sold users identities and locations without permission.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/24/opinion/sunday/facebook-immoral.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/technology/russian-interference-instagram.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/05/technology/facebook-emails-privacy-data.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/24/opinion/sunday/facebook-twitter-terrorism-extremism.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/12/opinion/facebook-data-privacy-advertising.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/us/politics/facebook-data-sharing-deals.html

Right Wing Hackers Attack German Government  Three years ago, Russian hackers broke into  the German Parliament computer network. Germany responded by increasing cyber security but on Jan. 4, 1000 members of Parliament plus many other prominent Germans found that all of their personal information (phone numbers, email addresses, bank accounts, addresses, private chats, photos of their children) were now on Twitter. Those revealed had at some point in their lives been critical of the right wing.  The only people spared in this Twitter attack were the politicians of the far right wing.  Who could have possibly done this? Duh. 

Sinclair Broadcasting Features Trump Fake News  PEW research reports that 37% of Americans rely on local TV news, almost as much as the 45% who get their “news” from Facebook (only 18% read daily newspapers). Sinclair Broadcasting now owns 193 stations which reach 40% of Americans.   Their chief political analyst is Boris Epshteyn, former Trump aide. Another producer is Kristine Frazao, a former reporter and anchor for the Russian propaganda network RT who recently ranted right-wing accusations that there is a “deep state” running America.  Sinclair regularly attacks other media outlets as fake news but runs its own fake news:  continuous pro-Trump talking points. They harshly criticized other media for reporting that Trump called Haiti and African countries  “Shithole countries.”  During the Obama years, they ran sleazy ads trying to portray President Obama as a Muslim.  Most recently, they defended the use of tear gas on migrants.   

 Two things are alarming about Sinclair.  First, their news programs come across as local news on ABC, CBS, and NBC affiliates and viewers don’t realize that they are getting fake news biased by Sinclair’s political leanings.  Second,  local anchors are required to report some segments even if they totally disagree with the contents. Sinclair calls these segments “must run segments” which local stations cannot omit. Some derisively call these segments “Trump-a-grams.”  One local news director says:  “These MUST Run. If they do not, my job is on the line.”

 These segments praise Trump profusely, just like FOX News.  In return, Trump praises Sinclair (just like he promotes FOX and even uses their “news” to make policy decisions). Trump says:

 “So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”

 It is not only social media like Facebook which is deeply involved in spreading political misinformation.  It is now major TV networks like Sinclair.  The Vox report cited above concluded that these efforts profoundly affect what millions know about the world.  The goal is to “help the Republican Party and the Trump administration.”

 Does Trump Represent the Real America?  It is commonly thought that Trump is an aberration and does not represent the Soul of America.  But what if he is the “real” America?  Why do 40% of Americans support him no matter what he says or does?  His strongest supporters are those who label themselves as “values” voters, even though it seems to everyone else that Trump totally lacks moral values. Research shows that stubborn ideology often “trumps” facts and that many voters have no problem with politicians who lie.  Everyone knows that Trump is a dedicated liar, but many don’t care.  “He may be a liar, but he’s my liar.”  More troubling is the possibility that Trumpism simply reflects a long history of American values:  slavery, the genocidal history of the conquest of native Americans, militarism, endless wars, sexism, racism, greed, worship of guns, deference to the rich, trampling on the poor, criminalizing behavior of the poor but not behavior of the rich, etc. Will Trumpism ever end, even after he is gone?  

How do Republics Die? A new book, noted historian Edward Watts chronicles how the Roman empire slowly weakened and then rapidly collapsed.  The author said that his goal is to allow “readers to better appreciate the serious problems that result both from politicians who breach political norms and for citizens who choose not to punish them.”  The Roman Empire became dominated by patricians who loathed reform, profited from inequality, and would not embrace the common good.  The book reviewer sees Donald Trump as a farcical reincarnation of Tiberius Gracchus.  He pessimistically concludes that “The challenge to American’s political system is likely to persist long after its present occupant has left the White House.”   

What Trump Aides Say about Him  Trump tweets that his administration is “a smoothly running machine.”  But a record number of top officials have resigned or been fired, 23 so far.  Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame) has a new book Fear in which he reveals dysfunctional leadership and disdain among top aides and resulted in a “nervous breakdown” within the administration. Trump’s top economic advisor (Gary Cohn) stole a letter from his desk to prevent Trump from signing it.  Secretary of Defense Mattis said that Trump had the comprehension of a fifth grader.  “He is an idiot,” said Chief of Staff John Kelly. “It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”  National Security McMaster said that Trump is a “dope” no smarter than a kindergartner.” On the other hand, many former Trump advisors such as Hope Hicks (now at FOX News) have no criticisms of the President. 

Who is Keeping Everyone Laughing?  Like every Shakespeare tragedy, no matter how bad things get you always have to end with something uplifting. So here is Timothy Egan who writes that Trump is the most darkly comic person ever to occupy the White House.  He says that the poop backing up in the National Parks is a fitting image of Trump, the man who tells a 7 year old on Christmas eve that there is no Santa. Hopefully, Mark Twain is right; “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” 

More News in Brief  In major elections, 87% of Belgians vote.  Over 70% vote in Germany Norway, Hungary, Finland, New Zealand, Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, Australia, Denmark, and Sweden.  In the last presidential election, only 55% of Americans bothered to vote….In 2016, there were 18,489 buttocks augmentation operations in the U.S., a 26% increase over 2015….In ancient Rome, about 20-40% of babies were left to die of exposure….About 80% of Christmas trees in the U.S. are artificial….The world population of people over 60 will double to 2.1 billion by 2050….Japan decided to resume commercial whale hunting and stop pretending that they were doing “research”…. Unnoticed for 4 years, hackers siphoned off a treasure trove of personal information from 500 million customers of Marriott and Starwood.  Names, addresses, email accounts, credit card accounts, birth dates, travel histories, passport numbers, you name it….700 million people views China’s annual Lunar New Year TV program….Cats are cheaper to insure than dogs.

Choice Letters to the Editor NYT

To the Editor Re “Trump Imperils the Planet” (editorial, Dec. 28):

This editorial is correct about the destructiveness of President Trump’s actions on climate change. It accurately and poignantly portrays the status of the climate change movement. It is buttressed with historical and scientific fact. It impassionedly appeals to our hearts, minds and souls.

Unfortunately, however, it misses what would be most effective — namely, removing the corrupt power of oil companies and other wealthy interests over government. This power is exerted through the legal bribery of public officials with lobbying and other money by the rich heads of private industries. And that problem could be fixed by rewriting campaign finance law.

No matter how persuasive the pro-climate argument, no matter how great a majority of the public can be convinced to support climate change action, that action will not happen so long as government officials depend for their political livelihood on the fossil fuel industry.

Art Saluk,  Pembroke Pines, Fla.

To the Editor Re The Wall

It’s not about the wall.  The $5 billion that President trump is asking for is 1/880th of the estimated $4.4 trillion federal budget for 2019.  It’s about the president.

It’s about telling lies nearly every day.

It’s about trying to kill Obamacare.

It’s about separating migrant toddlers from their families.

It’s about pulling out of the Paris climate accord.

It’s about believing Vladimir Putin rather than our own intelligence agencies.

It’s about ruining the holidays for 5,000 troops by sending them to the Mexican border in order to make a political statement.

It’s about defending white supremacists.

It’s about calling the press the enemy of the people.

It’s about hiding tax returns.

It’s about being a jerk for two years.

William Goldman, Palos Verdes Estates, CA

 

To the Editor Re “Trump lying is still a big deal” Dec. 28

How numb have we become to the lies of President Trump?”  He travels to Iraq and stands before our troops and lies to their faces about how he got them a 10% pay raise.  His comments were not misstatements; rather they were a part of a completely fabricated story that he had concocted.

If I had written the headline, it would have read, “Commander in chief lies to our troops.”

Larry Macedo, West Hills

To the Editor Re “Trump’s Lies,” by David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson (Op-Chart, Sunday Review, June 25):

I greatly appreciate the presentation of President Trump’s lies over these last five months, but I doubt that their publication will deter this president from continuing his mendacious behavior. Simply put, lying works for him: It gets him lots of headlines, and his supporters seem pleased that the mainstream media appears to be quite frustrated.

The bigger problem is that printing and broadcasting Mr. Trump’s lies isn’t having much effect on his tens of millions of supporters. They still tell pollsters that Mr. Trump is their voice. If we want to peel away Trump supporters, we have to not just publicize his lies but also demonstrate how the president’s actions threaten or hurt them personally. And, above all, we have to present better policies for all Americans.

RIC STEINBERGER
INCLINE VILLAGE, NEV.

To the Editor:

Your comprehensive list failed to cite the president’s most egregious lie, which occurred on Jan. 20, when Donald Trump swore to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

ROBERT WIENER, PARIS

In the News Fall 2018

Pollution May Diminish Thinking Skills  Anyone who has been to Beijing has been alarmed with the thick smog in which you can barely see anything in front of you.  A large new study suggests a link between air pollution and adverse effects on math and language skills.

Trump Wants the EPA  to OK More Pollution  Get ready for more pollution here at home.  Caving to industry pressure and directives from Trump, the EPA is revising pollution standards to permit more particulate release, the kind linked to heart and lung disease.  The government’s own analysis reveals that there will be about 1,400 premature deaths per year as a result, but Trump feels this is worth it because it means more profits for the coal industry executives who support him.  Trump is also trying to ease pollution standards for cars.  Trump officials in the EPA also want to ease restrictions on the pesticides which cause respiratory complications, developmental disorders, and lower the IQ of farm workers. More broadly, the Trump administration is engaging in an all-out war on science.  Once-trusted scientific studies based on years of data collection are now discarded and replaced with political judgments.  CropLife America, the main agricultural trade group, is demanding a halt to regulatory decisions based on scientific epidemiological studies.  To read more, click here, here, and here.

Trump and Giuliani Speak Out in Favor of Corruption in Romania.  Romania has long been considered one of the most corrupt states in Europe.  Lawmakers are finally making efforts to root out graft, but in wades Giuliani with an Aug. 22 letter blasting these efforts.  Giuliani demands that officials convicted of crimes of corruption should be grated amnesty.  

Get Ready for Ugly Political Trash  Political campaigns of all persuasions are gearing up for a barrage of robocalls, digital ads, and attack commercials.  In the last week of August, the Congressional Leadership Fund (actually a Republican superpac) spent $3.2 million on attack ads in our area. These ads malign Democratic challengers to Republican House seats.  By the way, hang up on any push polls.  A push poll starts off like a real poll attempting to learn your opinion.  In reality, they don’t care a hoot about your opinion and instead they want to feed you heavily slanted propaganda or even lies.  “Now let me read you some statements about Congressman X’s opponent.  Do you know he beats his wife and was arrested for drunk driving when he was 19?”   That is a push poll. 

Fake Media  Did you notice what FOX News was reporting on the blockbuster news day of Aug 21 when Cohen pleaded guilty and Manafort was convicted? All the networks were awash with explosive news…except FOX News which instead focused on an alleged crime by an immigrant in Iowa. But maybe at least some viewers are finally getting it:  On that date, FOX fell into third place in ratings behind MSNBC and CNN.  It is amazing that it has taken so long for people to realize that the Trump Channel is the real Fake News Channel. 

Trump’s Personal Fake Media  In addition to FOX news fake media, Trump also has control over the tabloid media.  The CEO of The National Enquirer is David Pecker, a personal pal of Donald Trump. Trump considers the tabloid to be legitimate media perhaps because it raves about him and attacks his enemies. Trump also likes The National Inquirer because it does “catch and kill” journalism which means they issue hush money and buy the rights to any bad publicity about Trump so it never gets published anywhere.  Apparently they have a special secret safe where they locked up decades worth of bad news about Trump. 

Is Facebook a Bore or a Major Threat to Society?  Speaking of fake media, people are wondering if FB could be much worse than a mere scam.  FB willingly participates in political hacking, collaborates with foreign governments to sway elections, offers a platform for all kinds of malicious purposes, and its top people continue to lie.  A recent study in Germany found that Facebook usage was directly linked to violence against refugees.  In Sri Lanka,  FB posts have been tied to violence against Muslims.  FB is being sued because it has been used to discriminate in housing on the basis of race and religion.  On Sept. 4, the NYT ran a frontpage lead story about how Libyan fighters use FB to buy arms and locate and then kill their foes.  Roger Cohen writes that FB is responsible for social harm that goes way beyond privacy.  To read more, click here, here, here , and here.

Fake Milk or Real Milk?  Did you know that Americans now drink about half as much cow’s milk as they did in 1970?  But what is milk?  The Milk War escalated recently when the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration said, “An almond doesn’t lactate.” Is alternative milk like alternative facts?  

Education Secretary De Vos Wants to Make it Harder to Prosecute Sexual Assault, Rape, and Harassment on Campus  Secretary De Vos is not content with diverting tax payer education dollars away from public schools and into her family business of charter schools.  Now she is preparing new policies on campus sexual misconduct which would bolster the rights of those accused of crimes and make it easier for institutions to avoid liability.  But wait, Betsy also wants to divert taxpayer money from a federal grant program in order to fund the purchase of guns by school systems.  The goal is to have lots of people with guns in every school.  Here is what the NYT has to say about BetsyClick here for another article.

Worldwide Gun Violence  Betsy De Vos should read a recent study in the  Journal of the American Medical Association which reported that in 2016,  215,269 people were killed by guns (this figure does not include armed conflicts).  That is the equivalent of every man, woman, and child in a city like Glendale, Arizona.  There are about a billion guns in the world, many of them made in the U.S.  About 35% of the gun suicides in the world take place in the U.S.  The risk of dying from bullets in the United States is 100 times greater than it is in Singapore.  This report concludes that firearms are an important public health problem with severe social and economic costs.  

What Conservative Government Means in Britain  Northhamptonshire is a Conservative Party bastion sprinkled with affluent aristocratic estates.  But the town of Northhampton is broke.  The conservative government’s solution is to slash budgets.  Libraries have been shuttered, road repairs have ceased, trash collection has dwindled, and child care is on the chopping block.  The Conservatives preach austerity politics which protect the rich and harm the poor. People are finally rebelling and calling it “criminal politics.” 

New Arms Race in Space  While the Trump administration cuts back on health, education, and most social programs,  it is writing blank checks for anything to do with missiles and space weapons.  Trump is determined to weaponize space.  The Pentagon has secret apparently unlimited budgets for building armed space stations that can shoot down other satellites or conduct war on Earth from above.  There is even a plan to add a sixth branch of the armed services (along with army, navy, air force, etc.) to be called the Space Force.  Billions are being set aside for all the trappings from uniforms to administrative buildings.   In the meantime, the Pentagon is experimenting with the HTV-2 Hypersonic Technology Vehicle which can travel at 5 times the speed of sound.  In addition, the Pentagon has now spent $40 million on their newest missile defense system which includes launch silos near Lompoc, California.  The idea is to make people think we need not worry about North Korean missiles which can now reach any part of the United States.  We will just shoot them down!  Unfortunately, the program is a failure even after draining our tax dollars.  Tests showed that the missiles failed 50% of the time. So if enemies want to hit 20 targets, they launch 40 missiles.  San Onofre would probably be a prime target since even a conventional warhead would be an astronomic force multiplier. Sitting at ground level are thin stainless steel canisters holding the plutonium equivalent of 17,000 atom bombs.  To read more, click here and here.

The Truth about the Health Effects of Drinking  The health journal Lancet claimed to publish the definitive meta-analysis of the pros and cons of drinking.  Unfortunately, they muddled the waters and the truth is:  It Depends.  Read an analysis.

The Republican Show of Hypocrisy  As the draft-dodger president insults the war hero,  Republicans back the president but pretend to honor John McCain.  Or as the NYT puts it: “Congressional Republicans made a show of honoring John McCain, even as they continue to reject his principles.”  See the photo before the casket with McConnell, Ryan, Pence and other Republicans who owe their career to the unprincipled behavior that McCain despised.  

Will the Birthplace of Modern Conservatism Turn Blue?  The New York Times zeros in on Orange County: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/06/opinion/columnists/orange-county-california-midterm-democratic-party.html

A New Era in Astronomy  Astronomers have spent a century searching for the source of cosmic rays which are the key to understanding the nature of the universe.  Unfortunately, cosmic rays are warped by magnetic fields so it is impossible to tell where they came from.  Tiny and elusive neutrinos are not affected.  It takes 10 billion neutrinos to equal the mass of a proton, and billions pass through your fingertips every second.  Scientists have now succeeded in identifying 28 neutrinos and have traced their origins into deep space to a powerful blazar named TXS 0506+056, which sits just beneath the arm of the constellation Orion.   Read all about neutrino astronomy.

The Real Duncan Hunter  Read this NYT front page expose` of the real Duncan Hunter and what he does in his spare time.

Liberals, You’re Not As Smart as You Think  This is the headline of an Op-Ed by a professor of politics.

 

Is Trump a Symptom or a Cause of What’s Wrong with America?  Roger Cohen asks the troubling question:  Is Trump causing the malaise in America or does he reflect what the real America is like?  Did Trump get elected because there are millions and millions of Americans who share his values and principles? 

How to Get Into Harvard  Ever heard of lopping, dockets, or z lists?  That’s what getting into college is all about according to those delving into an unusual lawsuit against Harvard. A group of Asian-Americans is suing the university claiming that there is discrimination.  Harvard says it is not all about grades, especially since they could fill their classes with applicants posting perfect grades and test scores.  What they seek is diversity, something which is difficult to measure.  The Trump administration is gleefully jumping in, smelling an opportunity to destroy affirmative action, something that conservatives have long hated.  

More News in Brief

The World Health Organization reported that 92% of people worldwide breathe unhealthy air….Did you know that pigeons can fly over 100 mph….The famed Greenwich Village newspaper The Village Voice, a mainstream voice in New York City since 1955, has gone out of business….With sales dropping for its unhealthy sugary drinks, Coca-Cola suddenly turned to coffee with a $5.1 billion purchase of coffee giant Costa….Campbell Soups is famous for its heavily-salted canned soups and vegetables.  In recent years the company tried to improve its image by moving into fresher food options.  On Aug. 30, Campbell announced it is abandoning this effort and instead will continue to focus on junk food….Donald Trump, the self-described champion of working class America, cancelled pay raises for all government employees for next year.  Trump said the move would save the government $25 billion, money which is much needed to fund the $1.5 trillion tax cuts for the rich.  The transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich was also done to spite workers who had the audacity to resist Trump’s efforts to roll back protection for union workers….In 2017, sharks killed 5 people.  In the same year, humans killed about 100 million sharks….In 1970, only 10% of Americans had a college degree….Here is Philippines’ President Duterte commenting on the increasing number of rapes:  “As long as there are many beautiful women, there will be more rape” ….The Danish company Legos makes 100 million tiny plastic bricks every day.  It is now trying to find a way to make its toys plastic-free….The Trump administration, caving to corporate pressure from formula “milk” producers, is trying to scuttle a World Health Assembly initiative aimed at encouraging breastfeeding….Meanwhile, public health officials are alarmed at increasing obesity in America.  What does the Trump administration do?  It caves to corporate food industry pressure and is proposing new rules that would limit warning labels on food products….The Red Delicious apple (looks pretty, tastes like cardboard), has finally been deposed as the nation’s favorite apple.  The new favorite is Gala.  Also gaining favor according to a U.S. Apple Association survey is Granny Smith, Fuji, and Honey Crisp….Only 13% of Californian homeowners (and 10% of commercial businesses) have earthquake insurance….Scotland became the first country in the world to offer free sanitary products to students.  The problem was that many girls were staying home from school during their period because they could not afford to buy these products….The majority of Democrats in the Oregon House are female….More than 350,000 people have been killed since 2011 in the Syrian conflict.   

 

Letter of the Month

To the editor Los Angeles Times, Sept. 2:

            There’s an old saying about baloney: You can slice it, dice it, saute it, boil it or broil it, but it’s still baloney. That’s my take on James Kirchick’s piece on the Republican party “in exile.”  Republicans are not in exile. Their leaders and rank and file support President Trump.

            Kirchick’s remark that the “#Resistance” labors under the delusion that “we are living under a 20th century style despotism” is also ludicrous. Trump’s attacks on racial minorities, his dog whistles and policies against immigrants and refugees, and his relentless attacks on the press are more than an echo of past dictators. With Trump, make no mistake about it, we are careening toward fascism.

            Kirchick rightfully invokes the late Sen. John McCain’s personal sacrifice and courage. But Republicans like him are few. Most cower in fear that Trump will destroy them if they speak out. Their docility and cowardice harms us all.

Mark Day, Vista, Calif.

In the News Late Spring 2018

Turmoil in the Newpaper Business     At the Los Angeles Times, bitter complaints against its owner (Tronc) led to the sale of the LAT to billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong.  Conflict intensified when the New York Times ran major stories on April 7, 12, and 22 about troubles at the Denver Post.  The editorial board of the Denver Post, sick of all the firings in the newsroom, lambasted their own Wall Street hedge fund owner, Alden Global Capital which they called “vulture capitalists.”  As people turn more and more to electronic media, venture capitalists have been gobbling up newspapers at bargain prices and then slashing their budgets to squeeze out as much profit as possible.

Alden is also the majority owner of Digital First Media which in turn is the owner of eleven Southern California newspapers including guess what, the Orange County Register.  Alden and Digital First are raking in profits by squeezing the life out of newspapers. Frank Pine, the Executive Editor of the OCR joined the fight with an unusual front page editorial about the risk to democracy as newspapers are forced into decline.  Many have criticized the OCR for not keeping up with demographics in Orange County where Democrats and Independents now outnumber Republican conservatives (and libertarians are way down the list).  Meanwhile, the OCR has moderated its tone, particularly in the news division.  But according to Mr. Pine, the OCR is getting bombarded with criticism not from the left but from right wingers who complain bitterly whenever the OCR runs anything which is not ultra-conservative.  They now have a new opinion editor, Scott Kaufman,  who replaced Brian Calle.

So what is going on?  Are liberals and progressives shy about expressing opinions, unwilling to speak out?  When was the last time you wrote a LTE?  Sure, it is unlikely to get published but they carefully count what people are writing about and you can be certain that this influences what gets covered and with what slant.  Sharpen your pencils and write in before there are no newspapers left. Write to letters@ocregister.comletters@latimes.comletters@sanclementetimes.comletters@nytimes.com

How Would San Clemente Spend $24 Million?  Guess what, there is a bill in Congress (HR 3929) which would award San Clemente over $24 million to spend as it sees fit.  It is called the Stranded Nuclear Waste Accountability Act of 2017 sponsored by Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT) whose town of Haadam, CT was devastated when Connecticut Yankee NPP was decommissioned. There are 12 such stranded nuclear waste sites in the country, and guess what city has more nuclear waste than any in the entire country?  We get the prize.  San Clemente, CA has by far the most nuclear waste (1773 tons of uranium and plutonium, 4 times as much as Connecticut Yankee).  If you think that the deadly radioactive waste is somewhere else, far off in another county, think again.  The NRC specifies San Clemente as the home of the new nuclear waste dump.  We are the nearest town (1.6 miles away), we share the same zip code, and we share nuclear waste which has the potential to become 100 Chernobyls.  HR 3929 is an attempt to mitigate all the harmful effects of having to live near a nuclear waste dump.

Unfortunately, the bill is not going anywhere.  When they asked Darrell Issa to co-sponsor it, he said NO, just like he said NO to the petition to get funding for the National Academy of Sciences study of cancer streaks in the 31 mile radius around San Onofre.  The city of San Clemente is aware of HR 3929 and will probably discuss whether to support it at the next city council meeting.  If such a bill is dead until the next session of Congress, discussion of it might generate some public awareness that we have a serious problem here.  Did anyone notice that the mayor’s “State of the City” address? Mayor Brown did not even mention radioactive waste as an issue.  No wonder there is so much apathy (and lack of awareness). Time to make a little noise?

The Rich and Greedy  Immense prosperity is returning to America (but only if you focus on the rich).  CBS CEO Leslie Moonves now gets $69.6 million a year in compensation. And look what is happening at Amazon:  The CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s riches man but his employees median pay is $28,446.  Joseph Zubretsky, CEO of Molina Healthcare makes 450 times more than the median income of workers in his healthcare insurance company.  Wells Fargo, caught after opening 3.5 fraudulent accounts, has agreed to pay $480 million back to shareholders (but only $12.5 million back to harmed customers).  So what did the bank also do?  It awarded CEO Tim Sloan  a 36% raise.  The CEO of Uline (a package supply company) is so rich that he gave $20 million to support hard-line right wing candidates. How do the rich conceal their wealth and hide what they are doing?  They take lessons from Trump and his relatives who have been doing this for decades.  Ask his pal Sean Hannity who shares Trump’s sleazy lawyer Michael Cohen.  Over the last decade,  Hannity has secretly built a multimillion dollar real estate empire in four states by specializing in renting to low-income tenants. Then he uses them to obtain mortgages insured by the U.S. Dept of Housing and Urban Development essentially exploiting taxpayer money to help build his wealth.  He conceals his activities through anonymous shell corporations registered to the address of Henssler Financial.      Here is another good one:  Stephen Schwarzman, Wall Street billionaire and big supporter of Donald Trump, offered to donate $25 million to Abington High School in PA.  But Mr. Schwarzman wanted gratitude (remind you of anyone else?) in which the school had to be renamed after him. He wanted prominent portraits of himself featured in the school and wanted spaces named after his brothers.  He wanted to approve the construction contractors, etc.  The school board agreed to the deal in secret, but 1,500 residents were outraged and signed a petition opposing it. Columnist David Brooks asked if the school board was brazen, sneaky, stupid or all three?  “What else is for sale” he asked.  

Privacy for Sale  Remember those FB friends you deleted?  FB remembers every click you ever did.  Reporter Brian Chen opened his own file and found that FB had sold all his personal and contact information to 500 advertisers.  Meanwhile, the FB scandal which may have thrown the election to Trump compromised the privacy of 87 million users. What else is Mark Zuckerberg up to?  In Illinois, FB is working behind the scenes to block a strong privacy law.  Zuckerberg does not want the state to require consent when FB wants to use facial recognition to track you and sell your privacy.  Here is another hi-tech attack on privacy:  if you have done a DNA ancestry search, your genetic makeup is for sale.  That’s how they found the Golden State Killer.  Companies can search DNA databases, discover all your relatives and ancestors, and sell the information to anyone interested.  Like insurance companies, for example, who might screen your genes and use the information to charge you more or deny coverage all together.  Big brother is watching you. 

The Psychology of Lie Acceptance  Here is a scary statistic:  89% of Republicans think highly of Donald Trump.  Why isn’t the Party of Trump (formerly the Republican Party) bothered by his behavior and why are they now making the defense of Trump the center piece of Republican strategy?  Are his lies so frequent and so blatant that they are now normative and acceptable?  Do Republicans actually think that Trump lies are truth, or is there something else going on?  A London psychology professor is busy conducting research on how people tolerate lies.  It is not so much that people deny the lies, but they are unwilling to condemn lies as long as they can convince themselves that they might have been true in which case falsehoods are not considered unethical.  Now that the idea of fake news and alternative facts has inspired the gullible, people of different political leanings use different standards to make moral judgments.  By using a little “truthiness,” spin doctors and demagogues can lower ethical standards and persuade people to accept lies.  So lies that are outrageous to you are ho-hum to Trump supporters. 

Women and Teachers on the March  Many are now thinking that the emergence of women power (together with youth power) may save American democracy.  Massive teacher strikes in Arizona, Colorado, and other states are catching on like wildfire.  Teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky have done the same. They are creating a serious challenge to Republican lawmakers who like to slash funding for education.  In Arizona, a stay at home mom Melinda Merkel started a movement called Save Our Schools.  She collected 100,000 signatures and forced the reluctant governor to accept a 20% pay hike.  This lead to a NYT headline: Year of the Women.   More recently, the toxic work environment of the stogy and chauvinist Nike Corporation led women in Beaverton, Oregon to the forced outing of six top Nike executives.  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/28/business/nike-women.html  And here at home we hail the persistence of Ellen Montanari (a speaker at a previous SOCP meeting) whose protests in front of Issa’s office for months helped persuade him to quit.    

Christian Soldiers on the March  Remember when Republican evangelicals trumpeted “family values?”  Today they openly embrace the moral failings of Donald Trump and his alliances with crooks and porn stars .  Amy Sullivan says that most white evangelicals today would vote against Jesus Christ if he were a Democrat.  Read on, and see a photo of Donald Trump praying.

Fascism Advances, America Declines  It was shocking to learn that a YouGov survey of 6,000 Europeans in seven countries discovered that only half of young people there believe that democracy is the best form of government.  Apparently democracy (especially in America) is easily gamed. For some European counties, Donald Trump’s election has translated into turning democracy from being an ideal into being the enemy.  Read “How Democracy Became the Enemy.”    In another Op-Ed, Christopher Preble writes “Adapting to American Decline

And Madelein Albright has a new book out, Fascism: A Warning.”  For the NYT, she writes “Fascism on the March.”    Is American democracy about to crumble?

Ten Characteristics of a Dictator  Bill Mayer made a sick joke by asking how many of the following characteristics of dictators apply lyin’ Don:    1. Very narcissistic – likes to put his own name on buildings;  2. appoints family members to official government positions; 3. holds scary rallies; 4. hates the press and considers the press as enemies of the people; 5. likes to hold military parades; 6. uses his office for personal financial gain; 7. loves other dictators; 8. asserts that minorities are the cause of the country’s problems; 9. lies freely;  10. likes to wear military uniforms.  Looks like the president gets a grade of A- (90 percent correct).  But since he is a draft dodger we can be relieved that he will never get a perfect score of 100.

Reconciliation  A woman in Georgia discovered that her relatives years ago were part of a mob that lynched four black people.  Recently she linked up with and formed an unlikely friendship with a black woman whose ancestors were among those lynched. 

The News in Brief  Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the largest owner of TV stations in the country, was caught ordering news anchors at its TV stations to support Trump claims that other media outlets offer only fake news that cannot be trusted.  Many anchors protested this “forced read” and the heavy hand of Sinclair’s right wing agenda (itself fake news) while Sinclair seeks to curry favor with Trump to expand its TV holdings….One would think that the Consumer Protection Bureau would champion consumer protection,  right?  Unfortunately it is run by Mick Mulvaney, billionaire crony appointed by Trump who now heads of the Office of Management and Budget.  He is championing SB 2155 which claims to enhance consumer protection but in fact harms consumers and helps corporations.  Over 85 consumer advocacy groups are protesting but so far to no avail as it passed the Senate.  Another example of Trump filling the swamp with zillionaires whose job is to dismantle the department they are supposed to defend (EPA, State, Education, you name it) White House-backed bill purports to strengthen consumer protection. It does the opposite.

….Scott Pruitt, a Trump favorite but complete embarrassment to the country, has proposed that restrictions should be placed on scientific research used to develop environmental policy….Did you know that Nancy and Ronald Reagan watched 363 movies at Camp David?  His favorite:  “Top Gun.”

Letter of the Month

To the Editor NYT:

Your April 11 editorial “The Law Is Coming, Mr. Trump” was brilliant. The problem is nobody cares. Nobody cares how he does business and the kinds of people he surrounds himself with. Nobody cares about his prevarications, his hypocrisy, his misogyny, his illiteracy, his rants and, most of all, his lack of a moral compass.

Nobody cares. Not Congress, not the evangelicals who are eager to give him all the mulligans he needs, and certainly not his 40 percent base.

The results of the Mueller investigation won’t matter. President Trump will never be impeached, and all of his minions currently under investigation will be pardoned.

The only way to contain Mr. Trump until 2020 is to elect a veto-proof Democratic Congress in 2018. Until we can find a new set of leaders equipped with a backbone and a conscience who understand and support the word “compromise,” “fake” government will continue.

 William M. Doyle, Lakewood, NJ

 


In the News Spring 2018

Repeal the Second Amendment  Many are tired of hearing people say “I support the 2nd Amendment, however….”  Former supreme court judge says it is a relic of the 18th century and we should just get rid of it entirely.  An Op-Ed in the LAT makes the same case.

The Facebook Betrayal  Michael Hiltzik, columnist for the LAT worried when he noticed how Zuckerberg developed a two-class stock structure with the purpose of cementing his power over the future of Facebook.  “You better hope he does everything right, because if he doesn’t he’ll be harder to get rid of than tuberculosis,” Hiltzik quipped.  Now we see what Zuckerberg has been up to (in secret).  Facebook with its 2.2 billion users now joins the Russians, Kushner, Cambridge Analytics, and the FBI in efforts to help the Republican throw the 2016 election. Some years ago,  Mark Zuckerberg was asked why people willingly gave up so much personal information.  “I don’t know why,” he said.  “They trust me.  Dumb….”    FB has been criticized for many years for data mining of personal information and making it difficult for users to manage privacy options.  In 2010, Zuckerberg admitted that FB needed better privacy controls but he never did anything about it.  He is now making the same kinds of statements.  Better take your picture off FB because they use facial recognition technology and everything about you starting with your face may be for sale.  If you want to delete FB (it is hard to do). check this out.   If you want to protect yourself from data harvesters, read this.

Big Brother is Watching You  Remember when politicians railed against the dangers of Communism?  Thought control is already standard operating procedure in Russian and China, and Russia now successfully uses thought manipulation (with the cooperation of Donald Trump)  to manipulate elections in other countries. The Communist Party of China employs and army of fake internet commenters who spew out 448 million comments per year aimed at cheering on the government and redirecting attention to distract the public from issues the government doesn’t want them to talk (or think) about. A Georgetown professor writes about high-tech totalitarianism and what it is like to live in a surveillance state.  Is this already happening here?  Have we become a country where real news is dismissed as fake news, and fake news (like FOX) gets promoted as real news? 

The Republican Guide to Presidential Etiquette  Our February In the News column featured the official list of the 425 people and organizations that Trump has insulted.  Here is another NYT list with about 50 examples of presidential behavior that are acceptable (even admired) by Republicans.  Examples:  Trump tells an average of 5 lies per day (over 2,000 so far).  Watches 4-8 hours a day of cable TV and makes policy decisions based on what he hears on FOX.  Boasts that he has signed more legislation than any other first-year president when in fact he has signed the least.  Praises Norway for buying fighter airplanes that Trump has seen in video games (there are no such planes).  Boasts to his rich friends that his new tax bill will make them all even richer.  Says it is “disgusting” that reporters can write whatever they want and suggests that reporters who do this should be investigated.  Spends about a third of his time at his golf course properties (at tax payer expense).  Brags that there were no airline crashes last year because he was in office.  Read the rest here.

The Republicans Fight Back  Several decades ago the Republicans realized that their future was bleak unless they could somehow manipulate the popular vote.  Much effort went into gerrymandering, and it worked.  Donald Trump lost the popular vote by a wide margin but was able to win the gerrymandered electoral vote.  In spite of this advantage, the prospects for the Donald Trump party continue to look bleak. Look for more efforts at voter suppression to help them out.  The subtitle of this piece in the LAT is Republicans have doubled down on the tactics of voter suppression.”   

Beauty Contest in Washington  Ever thought you would see the day when people reminisce about the good old days under Richard Nixon?  The antics in our capitol have inspired a vigorous debate by Gail Collins who has written three pieces on Who Is the Best and Who is the Worst.  For example, there is some good news for James Buchanan!  Move over, you are no longer at the bottom of the worst president ever list!   And who is worse, Trump or his lawyers?   And what about the current Trump cabinet?   Gail Collins rates the entire swamp.  Read who is the winner.

The Gloves Come Off at the NYT  The news division of the NYT continues to mute its headlines but the editorial division doesn’t mince words.  A couple recent examples:  In one entitled “Is Mr. Trump Nuts?”  The editors debate the findings of psychiatrists who concluded that Trump has mental illness issues which are a “grave and immediate danger to the safety of America and the world.”    Another editorial is about the total romp that lobbyists are now enjoying in Washington.  Lobbyists stream in and out of the White House in secrecy.  Favors and deals abound.  A non-partisan watchdog group documents 60 lobbying groups, foreign governments, and corporations that make the stench worse than ever.  All this after Trump stated during the campaign, “I’m going to fight for every person this country who believes government should serve the people – not the donors and special interests!”  Is this lie # 2001?

Is Trump Honest or Dishonest?  Did Donald Trump trick the American voters?  Not so, says Frank Bruni who insists that Trump is the most honest president in recent times because he makes no effort to hide his ugly side.  Everyone knows that he is a totally unprincipled liar, bigot, and racist.  He is vengeful, has an explosive temper, ignores facts, reads very little and gets his information from television. He worships money, wallows in vanity, enjoys being a con artist, and cavorts with prostitutes.  He didn’t trick anyone because this was all common knowledge and Americans elected him anyhow.  The real story is what this tells us about America.  See this Op-Ed with a cartoon of Trump hiding behind four Joker cards:

 Is Orange County Turning Blue?  Not so fast, says the LAT headline: “OC’s Conservative Side Is Alive and Well.” 

Hate Groups Increasing  According to the Orange County Register, there are 38 extremist hate groups in Southern California.    They are becoming significantly more open and brazen, often flying high-visibility banners across freeways. Most banners are anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and white supremist.  For example, “Americans are white, the rest must go,” “Blood and soil” (an old Nazi slogan), and “Jews Did 9/11.”

 The Voices of Young People

Madison Leal:  “The children will become leaders as the leaders have become children.”

Sara Chadwick:   “We may be young but our voices are louder than you can imagine.”

Lina Crisostomo:   “I blame the government for what happened and also the people that are sending prayers and condolences but aren’t doing anything.  It’s just heart-breaking to know that the people representing you are failing you.”

David Hogg:  “The fact that some of the students are showing more maturity and political action than many of our elected officials is a testament to how disgusting and broken our political system is right now in America.  Every day, politics is used to suppress you.  I have always felt this way.  Now I have the platform to speak out.”

Florence Yared:   “You adults have failed us by not creating a safer place for your children to go to school.  So we, the next generation, will not fail our own kids.  We will make this change happen. If not today, then tomorrow.  Take it from us. You created a mess for us, but we will make this world safer for our children.”

Aly Sheehy:   “The children you pissed off will not forget this in the voting booth.  Don’t doubt the power of the younger generation because we are a force to be reckoned with.”

Jaclyn Corin:   “In the period of one month, we have shaken up the world.  But I feel like the adults keep pressing the snooze button.  At some point they’re going to have to wake up.”

Darct Schleifstein:   We are Generation Z, the generation after the millennials.  We outnumber them by nearly one million….We will flex our muscles at the ballot box, too.”

Best Letter to the Editor of the Month

To the Editor, NYT:  What can you say about the state of our country when an adult film star sounds more believable and more intelligent, and is more sympathetic, than the president of the United States”  Judith Katz, New York

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Seeking a lead attorney to represent client involved in an ongoing Federal investigation.  Must be familiar with laws and procedures of discovery, executive privilege, international finance, real estate, election law and the Logan Act.  Working knowledge of social media (especially Twitter) a plus as is a better than average knowledge of the adult film industry and a collection of playboy magazines.

Best Book  Remember Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame?  He has a new book out The Doomsday Machine which gives a terrifying account of the thinking of military planners whose job it is to come up with scenarios for the world’s final war.  It is a little like Star Warriors written a few decades ago by think tank strategists who considered blowing up the moon or changing the earth obit to put our enemies in a polar climate.  Ellsberg’s new book is actually an extension of the more famous one written by Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War.  He originated the idea of the Doomsday Machine whose appeal was that it was quick, simple, cheap, and effective.  The United States would assemble an enormous H-Bomb and bury it under a place like New York City.  When the temperature in NYC reached 100,000,000 degrees (a nuclear attack), the temperature sensor would trigger the bomb which would kill all life in the northern hemisphere in short course.  (It might take a few months to kill all life in the southern hemisphere.)  Because of this grand theory of mutual destruction, no one would ever launch an attack.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/books/review/daniel-ellsberg-the-doomsday-machine.html  Are you reassured?

The News in Brief  In the 2014 midterms, half of people over 60 voted but only one of six aged 18-29 voted….Wall Street bonuses are now the highest since 2006.  The average bonus is $184,220….The Wells Fargo board give CEO Tim Sloan a 35% pay raise last year in spite of the criminal activity of the bank….Disney shareholders opposed the executive pay plan which would award CEO Robert Iger with $36.3 million and more in 2018.  The board ignored the shareholders and gave it to him anyhow….Donald Trump saw millionaire Larry Kudlow on TV and impulsively appointed him as his new chief economic adviser.  The NYT headline called Kudlow the “Evangelist of Supply-Side Economics.”  Translation:  use the government to make the rich even richer and argue that this is smart because eventually other people might benefit….Guess who loves to hunt and kill big game in Africa?  Donald Trump Jr. and his brother Eric Trump.  Have you seen the photos of them grinning next to a crocodile hanging from a tree, holding a dead cheetah, and posing with a knife in one hand with the tail of an elephant in the other?  And guess why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just overturned the ban on trophy hunting?  The NRA and the Safari Club have long lobbied to promote big game hunting and now they have a friend in the White House….Just after a string of successful missile launches by North Korea, the U.S. quietly announced yet another failure in its missile interceptor testing.  Another SM-3 Block IIA interceptor (cost:  $33 million each) failed last June in spite of the fact that they knew well in advance the exact speed, distance, altitude, location, and size of the dummy warhead.  Meantime, back in Washington, the president mocks North Korea, ridicules its leaders with insults, and the DOD says with a straight face that we can count on missile defense….There are 310 million firearms in the hands of civilians, one for every adult and child.  The consequence? Americans are 25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun compared to people living in other developed countries.  If you want to study gun laws in different states, or want to know which politicians got how much from the NRA, visit this website.  70 to 80 percent of American antibiotics go to livestock.  It is normal practice to give cattle antibiotics every day until they are slaughtered.  A Pew Research Center poll found that 58% of Republicans believe that colleges have a negative effect on the country….The Trump administration is pushing a rollback of consumer protections against the airline industry.  Airlines are pressing to avoid disclosing such things as whether their fares include taxes and fees, how many suitcases they lose or damage, how passengers can get compensated for late, overbooked, or cancelled flights, etc.  

In the News February 2018

The Fake World of Social Media: Bots vs People.   Is social media like Facebook and Twitter a force for good or an evil force intended to manipulate people?  The NYT launched a nearly year-long investigation into the phony world of buying and selling fake people through social media.  A company called Denumi sells bots (fake social media followers) so the Times bought 25,000 fake followers for $225 and played with them.  Turns out there are millions of bots (fake people) used by businesses, politicians, and anyone trying to influence everything from political candidates to perceptions about shampoo.  Those who have studied the use of bots in social media to influence attitudes and opinions say that social media is rotten with fraud and fakery  Read More about that here.  Of course the same thing can be done less efficiently as they do in China with real people.  There the government employs an army of fake commenters who generate an estimated 448 million comments in the media aimed at distracting the public and redirecting attention from sensitive issues.  Russia does the same thing as it demonstrated how easy it is to manipulate public opinion in America.  And Trump also does the same thing using his cabinet members and the Republicans in Congress to spread falsehoods.
 
Newspapers in the News.  The LATimes now has a supplement called Times OC, a short weekly section which is mostly fluff news about Orange County.  Editor is John Canalis: john.canalis@latimes.com.  Meanwhile back in the big city the LAT has voted to unionize for the first time in its 136 year history.  Most other major newspapers in the country unionized long ago.  But the big shake-up is that the publisher and CEO of the LAT Ross Levinsohn was forced to take a leave of absence amid accusations of sexual harassment.  And now the LAT gets a new editor, Jim Kirk, previously editor of the Chicago Sun-Times.  He replaced Lewis D’Vorkin who was editor for only a few months of news room turmoil.  He was called the Prince of Darkness amid accusations that he was setting up a shadow newsroom to blur the lines between news and advertising in order to boost revenue.  His former job was a product officer at Forbes and he will now be moved to a position in the parent company, Tronc.  And the OCR continues to retrench with an announcement that a significant number of staff members will be laid off in coming weeks.  This is bad news for the OCR which has already slashed its coverage (and staff) and now relies heavily on generic news that could go in any of its newspapers anytime regardless of location.  The good news at the OCR is that the news division now sometimes reprints stories from the NYT, AP, and Washington Post.  Even the editorial page is lightening up and occasionally presents counterpoint to what used to be only right wing mantra.
 
How Does San Clemenete Spend its Edison Money?   In recognition of the danger that San Onofre presents to nearby communities,  Edison was forced to pay San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point, and Oceanside significant sums to help the towns prepare for radiation emergencies after Edison leaves and the cities are on their own. Last year, San Clemente received 193,000 but ended up returning $30 unspent.  The program runs two more years but San Clemente will get less next year because it failed to spend everything last year.   A Public Records Act was needed to find out details on how the rest was spent and it is unclear if the money was spent wisely or used as a slush fund for other town priorities.  True, there is need for training now that Edison is gradually leaving the scene.  Edison has asked for (and received) many exemptions from the NRC (such as no fire department, fewer guards on security, and no off-site radiation monitoring) so the future burdens of accidents will fall on local towns.  But why does Edison money go to managers of recreation and golf courses, for example?  What the town should be investing in is radiation monitoring.  There is no off-site monitoring which is real time and publicly available. When the radioactive fallout comes, there is no way to know how much, where, and which radionuclides.  Should we believe the authorities when an accident happens?  In all major radiation catastrophes in the past, authorities have lied to the public about radiation levels and it is safe to assume they will do the same thing here.
 
Government by the Rich.  Trump claims to be interested in American workers but when it comes to running the government he leans heavily on Wall Street billionaires, hence the term “Government Sachs.” Advisors coming from Goldman Sachs include Steven Mnuchin (Treasury), Gary Cohn (National Economics Council), Dina Powell (National Security) and even Steve Bannon.  But Goldman Sachs has fallen on hard times.  Co-President David Solomon likes to collect wine and has 1,000 bottles stored in his Manhattan residence.  Recently some were stolen including a single bottle of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti which he bought for $133,650.  How nice to be able to spend $100,00 on a bottle of wine but what a pity when the rich have to suffer losing their wine bottles.  Speaking of billionaires, Betsy DeVos has a fleet 16 private airplanes including: 1 Boeing Business Jet, 5 Gulfstream G550s, 1 Gulfstream G450, 2 Bombardier Challenger 350s, 3 Cessna Citation CJ4s, and 4 helicopters.  She is Secretary of Education in spite of the fact that she never attended a public school in her life (she is using her position to advance the interests of private and charter schools).  If you haven’t heard of her, she is the sister of Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater USA. The Trump insiders have truly amazing stories.
 
Is Trump a Country Club Republican?  Trump has spent more than a third of his Presidency at his private residences including his country club golf courses.  Does this reveal his true values?  Michael Goldfarb says “Donald Trump is a man of his class- the nouveau riche, country club class. Louder and more obnoxious….”  Read more.
 
Is Trump a Racist?  Read Charles Blow: “Trump is a Racist. Period.”   If you want a list of his racist statements, read David Leonhardt: “A Definitive List of Donald Trump’s Racist Statements.”  
 
Who Gains from the New Tax Laws?  Smart marketing by the Trump administration boasts about how the new tax laws are a windfall for the average worker. They don’t mention that half of the 11,000 lobbyists in Washington worked vigorously to get deals representing their clients (not you). Who benefited?  Look at the one-time $1000 bonuses workers are getting at Walmart and Bank of America!  The truth is that corporations are raking in huge windfall profits and doling out peanuts.  BOA will rake in an additional $2.7 billion this year and will dole out a mere $145 million to its employees.  Apple will rake in an additional $40 billion and dole out $300 million to employees.  Hold your nose and read on. 
 
Why Do Some People Love Trump?  Speaking of holding your nose, many agree that he is disgusting and dishonest but they support him anyway because they love his policies, especially those that benefit them personally (never mind if the rest of the country suffers).  Usually they talk about how they are benefiting from the stock market, and usually they don’t like to talk about some of the other things like racism, sexism, anti-environment, anti-democracy, anti-education, anti-poor people, anti-science, anti-foreigner, the list is long.  But are we talking about Trump values or are these now the values of the Republican Party?  Many were shocked in the Alabama election when the die-hard Republican evangelicals were enthusiastic in their support for a racist pedophile liar who abused women.  It is worth taking a look at the selective vision of people who love Trump and don’t care about his warts.  On January 18 the NYT devoted an entire page to people who wanted to explain their thinking and values.
 
The Trump Insult List.  On Jan. 29, the NYT devoted 2 full pages to 425 people and organizations insulted by Trump. For personal abusive insults, Hillary Clinton was the winner followed by guess what  former president.  For organizations, the media came in first place for insults followed by the Democrats, New York Times, and CNN.  Check to see if you made the list
Evolution Washington Style.  Did you know that Dinosaurs roamed Washington and Maryland 100 million years ago?  Footprints from the Cretaceous era were recently discovered under the grounds of NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center not far north of the nation’s capital.  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/31/science/dinosaurs-footprints-nasa.html  Turns out that Washington D.C. was once a swamp.  Still is a swamp according to many. But Donald Trump is working hard to carry out at least one of his campaign promises: drain the swamp.  He has done an excellent job.  Gone are Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Omarosa Newman, Dina Powell, Michael Flynn, Tom Price, Sebastian Gorka, Anthony Scaramucci, Michael Short, Angella Reid, and of course ethics director Walter Shaub.  Speaking of purging the system,  the Guggenheim Museum offered to lend the president a solid gold toilet.  They even offered to hook it up and make it flush.  Trump refused
 
Real Evolution  Scientists previously thought that homo sapiens first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago and started to migrate out about 50,000 years ago.  New fossil remains discovered in Israel were dated at 180,000 years so the history of the human race has to be revised.  And in Morocco, fossil remains discovered last June revealed modern looking humans about 350,000 years old. We are much older than anyone thought!    On the bad side,  some scientists predict that the human race has only about 100 years to live.   But don’t worry, researchers in China have successfully cloned monkeys so presumably we can someday clone humans from cells in a petri dish.  
 

In the News, January 2018

 
 Some of the choice reading in recent months has been the Letters to the Editor.  Here are several dozen juicy letters from the NYT, LAT, and OCR even including one from a troublemaker in San Clemente.
 
Letters to the Editor,  New York Times
Are Republicans now politically homeless?
David Brooks says Republicans are realizing that they are “politically homeless.” Nonsense. As a proud former Republican, I can say I have a political home. I am now a Democrat. It is that simple.
LAWRENCE A. HUSICK
SOUTHEASTERN, PA.
Are Estate Taxes reform or a gift to the super rich?
The fortunes of billionaires are often based on unrealized capital gains on stock or real estate. Therefore, taxes have never been paid on these assets. The pending tax bill keeps the “step-up in basis” at death, which wipes out the need for heirs to pay capital gains taxes on the appreciated value. The phasing out of the estate tax, along with a “step-up in basis,” is a double gift for the children of the 1 percent. How is this a benefit for the middle class? Shame on Republicans for this giveaway.
STUART L. STEIN, SANTA FE, N.M.
The writer is a retired tax attorney.
 
The Republican Party:  Government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich
 Re “With Few Hurdles Left, G.O.P. Sprints to Send Tax Overhaul to Trump” (front page, Dec. 3):
 
It is often said that the core guiding principle of the Republican Party is the conviction that the purpose of government is to benefit the rich.  The Republican tax plan is a perfect example.
 
Never have the Republicans fought so fiercely for an opportunity to transfer even more wealth to the rich.  They compounded their shameful actions by not only ramrodding it through Congress but also by concealing the contents and lying about the consequences.
 
It is too easy to place all the blame on an already tarnished President Trump.  It is clearly the unprincipled Republicans in Congress who disgraced the institutions of government.
 
ROGER JOHNSON,  SAN CLEMENTE, CALIF.
  
Is there a long history to government lies about radiation dangers?
Re “Veterans Feel Cost of U.S. Nuclear Tests” (front page, Jan. 29):
In 1956, I was in the Army stationed on Enewetak, an atoll in the Pacific. Unlike the military men stationed there between 1977 and 1980, we were always warned about impending dangers. But incorrectly. We were told that everyone would receive radiation goggles to protect our eyes (or we’d go blind). One of my jobs was to requisition items needed for the tests, which included goggles. I was instructed to cancel the order for enlisted men (though not officers) to make room on the planes for new furniture for the colonel’s house.
We were told to face away from the mushroom cloud to protect our eyes before Test 1 (Codename: Lacrosse) of Operation Redwing in May 1956. The pilot hit the wrong target, and the bomb exploded in front of us (sans goggles). We were informed that there would never be fallout on Enewetak. There were many such instances. Each time, we were instructed over loudspeakers to go inside immediately and close all windows tightly. But the aluminum windows were defective and wouldn’t close. We were told before the tests began that the island would be evacuated if radiation levels were higher than 3.9 roentgens. When that happened, the allowable dose was increased to 7 roentgens.
I saw Navy men arrive at the island hospital after cleaning up contaminated islands. I saw them leave in body bags.
MICHAEL HARRIS, New York
The writer is the author of “The Atomic Times: My H-Bomb Year at the Pacific Proving Ground.”
 
In the Alabama election, why were Christian Evangelicals the strongest supporters of a racist misogynist liar?
Re “Liberals Fighting for Their Faith” (front page, June 11):
The movement being led by the Rev. William J. Barber II, featured in your article, is important, not least because he understands that Christianity is more than a series of ethical demands. Religion is primarily a lens for meaning, and in our chaotic, increasingly globalized world, we on the left need this more than ever.
Jesus preached a sophisticated message that disrupts false binaries and upends conventional notions of how power works. If we on the Christian left better understood and were more fluent in discussing this aspect of our faith, we would not struggle as we do with the challenges inherent in having a diverse membership. We would not feel that we need to lean on the Democratic Party to fight our battles for us. And we would easily rebut baseless allegations by the Christian right that our faith is “Christian Lite.”
(REV.) ELIZABETH M. EDMAN
NEW YORK
The writer is an Episcopal priest.
 
Why is the Trump Environmental Protection  Agency dismantling itself?  
With all of the turmoil in the Trump administration, it is easy to overlook how efficient and effective Scott Pruitt has been at dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency. Industry insiders are shaping policy. Coal is back as a primary energy source. The proposed budget for the E.P.A. would mark a 40-year low, adjusted for inflation.
The objective seems to be returning to the environment of my youth. Polluted streams and rivers where nothing could live, lakes so polluted that they caught fire, air thick with smog, acid rain, toxic waste dumps and carcinogenic building materials. If you think Mr. Pruitt is on the right track, please write and tell him so. However, if you have a different vision of the world for your children and grandchildren, please at least tell your members of Congress. And don’t wait too long.
BARRY LURIE, BALA CYNWYD, PA.
 
Why is the Trump Dept. of Education Anti-Education?
Of all Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments so far, the one that threatens the future of our democracy the most is that of Betsy DeVos. Her appointment signals the desire of those on the right to dismantle all public goods, and especially public schools. Too often we forget that public education is a necessary cornerstone of democratic governance. In a democracy, citizens must have the knowledge and ability to make good decisions for themselves and for the greater good of the country. The more educated people are, the better equipped they are to understand the decisions of their leaders and the more likely they are to engage in civic life themselves.
Donald Trump’s statement early in the campaign that he loves the poorly educated was not just idiosyncratic blather; it was a harbinger of the policies Ms. DeVos will pursue to make education less accessible to people who cannot afford private education. Of course, Ms. DeVos and Mr. Trump will say they are all about better quality education for all children. But don’t be fooled. They benefit from ensuring that the very best educational options are available only to the affluent, and they see no reason to make education available to those who can’t afford to pay for it.
TAMARA LUCAS
Weehawken, N.J.
The writer is dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Montclair State University.
 
Generals who lie should not be questioned.
Re “Video Disproves Story Kelly Told About Lawmaker” (front page, Oct. 21):
Let me see if I have this straight. John Kelly’s description of a speech by Representative Frederica Wilson is contradicted by a video recording. Mr. Kelly, who was present at the speech, is at best mistaken. The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, says it is “highly inappropriate” to question Mr. Kelly because he is a former four-star general.  So Mr. Kelly can say, “Up is down, and down is up,” and according to Ms. Sanders should not be questioned. Someone needs to tell her that George Orwell’s “1984” is a novel, not an instruction manual.
CLEM BERNE, NEW YORK
 
California Congresswoman blasts Pentagon waste.
Re “The Pentagon Is Not a Sacred Cow” (editorial, Dec. 14): The Times editorial board is exactly right. For decades, Congress has funneled trillions of dollars into the Pentagon’s coffers without a second thought, while self-proclaimed “deficit hawks” chip away at our health care, education and anti-poverty programs.
As the author of H.R. 3079, the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2017, I refuse to blindly accept the status quo of waste, fraud and abuse at the Pentagon. If Defense Secretary Jim Mattis truly believes that his agency needs upward of $650 billion a year, at the very least he needs to show us where the money is going.
I’m encouraged by the Pentagon’s announcement that the Defense Department will release its first annual financial audit next fall, but Congress needs to step up as well. It’s time for us to end the open-spigot approach to military spending and bring some much needed scrutiny to the bloated Pentagon budget.
BARBARA LEE, WASHINGTON
The writer, a Democrat, represents California’s 13th Congressional District.
 
The Republican philosophy that government is the enemy of the people goes back to Ronald Reagan. 
As Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein point out in their excellent article, President Trump is not an outlier but rather a direct descendant of the modern Republican Party. However, this demonization of government did not start, as the authors suggest, in the 1990s; the current devolution of the Republican Party stems directly from Ronald Reagan, who at his very first Inaugural Address stated, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” This sentiment has only been amplified through subsequent Republican administrations as they encouraged the extreme wing of their party until it actually took over the party and eradicated the moderate voices.
Donald Trump is the political offspring of Ronald Reagan.
VICTOR OWEN SCHWARTZ
NEW YORK
 
The Republican Party has done irreparable damage to the political system in America. 
Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein are certainly correct that the Republican Party “has done unique, extensive and possible irreparable damage to the American political system,” and they are right to point to the pernicious impact of right-wing media since the 1980s. The factors leading to this dangerous situation began a half century ago. In the mid-1960s, the G.O.P. could still claim to be the party of Lincoln, its congressional members having voted in larger percentages than their Democratic counterparts for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. That changed when Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy brought the Dixiecrats into the Republican Party, thus setting the stage for a party marinating in toxic racism.
When Ronald Reagan subsequently courted the Christian right, he added to this mix a strain of authoritarian thinking by religious bigots unwilling to find common ground with people who differ from them. And given that the party’s donor class has condoned such a shift, the prospects of its becoming once again a principled center-right party appear dim.
PETER KIVISTO
ROCK ISLAND, ILL.
 
Why does anyone pay attention let alone believe gossip boards like Facebook and Twitter?
While reports of entities associated with the Russian government posting propagandistic material on social media outlets are undoubtedly true, those reports are neither surprising nor significant. It is no secret that outlets such as Facebook and Twitter are online gossip boards rather than journalistic or scholarly venues. What is surprising is that people would base important decisions on social media postings since verification of their accuracy is virtually impossible. Doing so is intellectually lazy at best.
PAUL ROMERO, OAKLAND, CALIF.
 
Government lies about civilian casualties of war.
Re “The Truth About the Cost of War” (editorial, Nov. 24):
I was in a unit in Vietnam in 1969 that called in air and artillery strikes on “free fire zones” in III Corps, northwest of Saigon. I asked an Army officer how we knew that the people we fired on were all the enemy. “By definition,” he said, “if we kill them, they are the enemy.” Part of the truth in your editorial isn’t that civilian casualties are underreported but that their deaths in battle are seen as irrelevant.
BRUCE W. RIDER, GRAPEVINE, TEX.
 
The media emphasis on false equivalence and negative stories about Clinton led to her defeat. 
Re “Clinton Says She Regrets Not Hitting Back at Comey” (news article, Sept. 8):
Upon reading your report on Hillary Clinton’s new book, I would expand her criticism of The New York Times’s negative reporting on her campaign to the media in general. As Paul Krugman has often observed, coverage of her campaign never failed to emphasize the negative: her “untrustworthiness,” her overweening ambition (talk about sexist) and the grossly exaggerated problem with her emails.
Drawing false equivalence between the two candidates diverted the public’s attention away from Mrs. Clinton’s experience, her competence and the other formidable strengths she would have brought to the presidency. By never failing to point out Mrs. Clinton’s “failings” — which were negligible and barely worth mentioning alongside Mr. Trump’s — I believe that the media created in voters’ minds a dislike and distrust of Mrs. Clinton that led to her defeat and the ghastly situation with Mr. Trump as president that the country is now in.
LINDA R. SILVER, LYNDHURST, OHIO
 Letters to the Editor, Los Angeles Times
The Trump/Bannon strategy is the same old Republican strategy
If I were a Republican strategist, I would hardly be losing sleep over the insurgency of the Bannon and Trump wing of the party. (“Has the Trump wing of the GOP handed Democrats an opening to retake the Senate?” Oct. 26) What they are offering is basically an updated, slightly cruder version of the traditional Republican campaign playbook since the time of President Nixon: Use divisive, often race-based tactics to stir up fear and anger among core voters, then once the election is won, pivot to serving the interests of your wealthy donors.  Trump is the modern master of this two-pronged approach, and there’s little evidence it won’t continue to be effective for Republicans, regardless of a few GOP senators suddenly discovering their conscience.
Jonathan Goetze, Pearblossom, Calif.
 
Why do Republicans love the new tax bill?
It looks as though congressional Republicans are going to get what they want for Christmas: a major piece of legislation to which President Trump will eagerly affix his flamboyant signature.
The massive tax reform bill that has been concocted on the fly with no hearings, no input from Democrats and scant public support now has enough Republican votes to pass the House and Senate (barring any last-minute defections from the Republican ranks). After nearly a year of legislative failures, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan are as gleeful as kids on Christmas morning. Finally, they are fulfilling a campaign pledge to slash taxes and are delivering a major hit to Obamacare as well, because the tax bill cancels the mandate that everyone buy health insurance, a key pillar of the Affordable Care Act. The GOP leadership even managed to slip a proviso into the bill that opens up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The thing is a veritable Christmas tree for conservatives!
Under that tree, though, pretty much all of the presents are tagged for big corporations and very wealthy Americans. For everyone else, taxes may even go up over the life of the legislation. And for the kids? Well, there is a $1.4-trillion bill waiting for them down the road, because the tax cuts are expected to add that much to the federal deficit.
David Horsey cartoons
Why Republicans are so happy to pass a bill that is incredibly unpopular with most Americans is a bit of a mystery. Maybe they think people will forget about what they have done by the time midterm elections roll around next November. Or, more likely, they think they can continue to spin a massive transfer of wealth to those who are already wealthy as a boost to the economy.
They may be making a safe bet. After all, about a third of Americans have proved gullible enough to believe Trump when he claims this tax bill will be a great burden to him and his billionaire buddies when, of course, the opposite is true. Add to the votes of those Trumpian true believers the ballots of those who are simply not paying attention, count on the largesse of grateful dark-money donors with even more cash to contribute, thanks to the tax bill, and rely on all the gerrymandered districts across the country that have given the GOP far greater representation that their vote totals warrant — put all that together and 2018 may not look so bad for Republicans.
David Horsey,  Los Angeles
 
Remember the Republicans like Issa who went overboard to trash everything about Obama?
It was hard not to pass out while reading this essay, what with my eyes rolling at about 1,000 RPM through the whole thing. (“I worked with Republicans to hound Obama. I wish they would give Jared Kushner the same treatment,” Sept. 14) Kurt Bardella worked for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), the guy who spent years trying desperately to make a scandal out of anything and everything in the Obama administration, no matter how speculative, poorly sourced or false it was. This trivialization of the investigatory powers of Congress helped lead us directly to this moment: If everything is a scandal, then nothing is a scandal.
Now, the president and his family members shamelessly use the White House for personal profit, and the result is a national shrug. Instead of showing contrition for his role in this dangerous tuning out, Bardella has the chutzpah to cast judgment. I’ll start taking him seriously when he apologizes publicly for his role in demonizing President Obama to this nation’s profound detriment.
Branden Frankel, Encino

The entire Republican part is complicit in the degradation of America
It’s so great that Republican Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) have finally found the backbone to point out that our nation is being “debased” by President Trump and his infantile approach to governing, and that his behavior is “reckless, outrageous and undignified.” (“What rift? Republicans in Congress try to push forward on priorities despite acrimony,” Oct. 25)
But the entire Republican Party — the two retiring senators included — is complicit in the degradation of America. It has been ever since the debasement and coarsening began in the 1990s with Newt Gingrich and his Contract on America. (Oh, sorry, I meant “Contract With America.”) These men may, as the Trump henchman and former top White House advisor Stephen K. Bannon predicts, “reap the whirlwind.” But the whirlwind has been blowing in their direction for 25 years. Our present debacle is merely the logical result of the whirlwind of the rabid right.
Barbara Carlton, El Cajon
 
There might be two exceptions for the Republican degradation of America
While I applaud both Corker and Flake for speaking out against Trump and the damage he has done to the presidency, civil discourse in this country and the political process, I do not believe that by choosing to retire from public office instead of running for reelection they are courageous in any way.
In fact, they are walking away from the fight, as if they do not have the strength to participate. It looks like they are afraid to lose. Corker and Flake are creating a vacuum for more extreme right-wing voices to fill the void.  I understand that winning a Senate race in any climate is an expensive proposition, but if they truly had the courage of their convictions, they would speak out now and during a Senate race.
Wendy Prober-Cohen, Tarzana
 
Trump demands mandatory pseudo-patriotism
I’ve been struck by photos of pro football players during the pre-game national anthem.  If I were required to stand, I’d refuse on principle.  Manditory patriotism is about as un-American as you can get.
Diane Mitchell, Hemet
 
Iran is the voice of reason compared to Trump
Now that we have a reality-TV star as president, the leader of Iran comes across as a voice of reason at the U.N.  We’ve sunk far in less than a year.
Mike Greene, Tustin
 
Trump uses his daughter as a prop to promote image over substance.
James Kirchick nails it regarding the role Ivanka Trump appears poised to play in her father’s administration. For all her seeming intellect and prudence, Ivanka will function as President-elect Donald Trump’s deceptive prop, one Kirchick foresees as “providing feminine cover and a bogus veil of responsibility for the most crudely misogynistic and immature man ever to occupy the Oval Office.” (“Ivanka Trump is not going to save us,” Opinion, Dec. 29)
It’s all part of the president-elect’s push to elevate image over substance to manipulate public opinion. This tactic may work, given Americans’ love of “reality” TV shows and social media tripe. Grooming Ivanka to distract the gullible masses merely reinforces what most insightful observers already perceive in her father: a veritable caricature of a president, one who displays all the integrity and composure of a banana republic strongman. 
Gene Martinez, Orcutt, Calif.
 
Letters to the Editor, Orange County Register
Obama is the worst President ever
 Re: “How do you assess Obama’s legacy?” [Opinion, Dec. 3]: The legacy of President Obama will define him as the worst president in the history of this great nation. As he leaves office race relations have never been this divisive, our foreign policy or lack thereof has emboldened ISIS to expand and Putin to exercise control in the Middle East and threaten to be a controlling power in Europe. Obama’s pandering to the Black Lives Matter has increased the killing of our law enforcement officers, and his pandering to the Muslim Brotherhood has caused upheaval in the Middle East. Our debt has been tripled under his watch to over 20 trillion dollars. His lies to get Obamacare passed will haunt his legacy now that rates are going through the roof. His heinous and odorous excuse for Benghazi and the needless loss of four American lives should be laid at his doorstep. January 20th cannot come to soon. The swamp Obama created indeed needs to be drained.
— Ron Williams, Irvine
 
 
The Real legacy of President Obama
Creating 16 million jobs, getting 20 million more Americans affordable health care, cutting unemployment in half, killing Osama Bin Laden, saving the Detroit automotive industry, record stock market, bailing out the banks before total collapse, bringing troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, nuclear arms agreement, reconnecting with Cuba, all this and more after inheriting a total mess from the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney disaster. Thank You for standing up to the land grab of right-wing dictator Netanyahu in Israel and Donald Trump’s partner in Russia.
Thank you for standing up to the oil, coal, and gas companies and preserving our environment. I understand you will be moving to California we welcome you to the sold blue, liberal, progressive, secular state in the union.
— Ed Pyle, Laguna Niguel
 
It’s OK for Republicans to raise the national debt but not for Democrats
 In response to your question of the week, I find it disturbing that of all of the subjects that you broached regarding Obama’s legacy, you never brought up his biggest failure, the national debt. In just eight short years, he has taken us from $10 trillion to $20 trillion in debt. Democrats are like teenagers with daddy’s credit card, spending on whatever they want and never worrying about who has to pay the bill.
— Steven Cook,  Rancho Santa Margarita
 
 

 

In the News, Late Fall 2017

Life With Donald PART 1   Donald’s (Trump, not Duck) first wife has written a memoire called Raising Trump which reveals new slants on old news.  We learn that Donald had a poodle named Chappy but Donald didn’t like the dog. We learn that Donald did not want to name his son Don Jr. in case he turned out to be a “looser.”  Ivana goes on about how seldom they had sex and about Don’s affairs with showgirls.   Here is Gail Collin’s review of the book. She concludes that the happiest member of the Trump family was the dog.

Life With Donald PART 2   The Editorial Board of the New York Times decided to itemize just a few of the many outrageous behaviors by Trump which have embarrassed the country and its reputation around the world.  In a long half-page editorial called “The Republican’s Guide to Presidential Etiquette” the editors compiled a list of 68 Trump actions including:

 
* Refusing to release tax returns
* Concealing the White House visitors’ list from the public
* Vacationing at one of his private residences every weekend at public expense
* Appointing his family wedding planner to head a federal housing office
* Shoving aside a head of state to get in front of him at a photo-op
* Telling lies on an average of five times a day
* Using an unsecured personal cellphone
* Publicly criticizing businesses which dropped Trump family products
* Discussing highly sensitive intelligence openly at a restaurant
* Allowing the officer with the nuclear missile codes to be photographed and identified
* Calling the media “the enemy of the American people”
* Pardoning convicted criminals
* Continuing to repeat false stores about an American general committing war crimes
* Mocking the mayor of a major world city which was attacked by terrorists
* Stating that there are some “very fine people” among white supremacists and neo-Nazis
* Lowering ethical standards to the point where the government’s top ethics enforcer said that the United States is now “close to a laughingstock when it comes to ethics”
* Mocking a female television anchor’s appearance saying that she was “Bleeding badly from a face lift”
* Joking that his groping of women’s genitals is acceptable locker room behavior
* Calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel”
* Welcoming to the White House a man who threatened to assassinate Pres. Obama
* Calling Hillary Clinton a “worthless bitch”
* Forcing cabinet members to extoll Trump virtues before TV cameras
* Delivering a speech to the Boy Scouts which included references to sexual orgies and mockery of previous presidents
* Claiming with a complete lie that the head of the Boy Scouts said that the Trump speech was the best ever in Boy Scout history
* Spending a third of his time as president visiting his own properties
* Publicly humiliating the Attorney General for recusing himself from an investigation of Trump campaign abuses
* Saying nothing when a foreign leader’s bodyguards brutally attacked peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C.
* Criticizing victims of a hurricane.  Throwing paper towels to them to show he is helping
* Attacking a senator battling terminal cancer
* Using Twitter to threaten nuclear war
This list includes Trump behaviors only up until May 17, 2017
 
The GOP is Now the Party of Trump. Traditional Republicans, even staunch conservatives, are being forced out the GOP according to a front page story by the NYT subtitled “Acquiesce or Go Home.”  Critics are caving in and being squeezed out of the party which no longer wants a “big tent” but instead demands blind fealty to der Leader.  Steve Bannon, White Supremacist and long-time Trump aide, continues his attack on traditional Republican values.  The only Republicans courageous enough to speak out about what has happened to their party are those leaving office (Corker, McCain, and Flake).  Corker, for example, said that Trump is given to irresponsible outbursts and that he is a political novice who can’t make the transition from show business to politics. Trump singled them out with vicious attacks similar to what he did to other Republicans during the primary season.  Other Republicans are now afraid to come to their defense.  Even the Orange County Register ran a subtitle saying that nearly all Republicans now say “Good Riddance” to anyone criticizing Trump. And according to the Los Angeles Times, the way Flake was forced not to run for office again shows what happens to Republicans who cross Trump.  In the Governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey, both Republican candidates have started attacking immigrants in order to curry favor with Trump and avoid his wrath.  Trumps values (see the list above) now define what it means to be a Republican. Meantime, FOX News has become the Donald Trump Channel.  Tune in any night to see FOX extolling Trump virtues and airing anything that promotes him.  Like their idol, FOX rarely apologizes for its fake news.  
 
Trump Dossier Commissioned by Republicans.  It turns out that the controversial British Intelligence dossier documenting Trump’s collusion with Russians was first funded by Republicans, not Democrats (the Democrats later picked up the opposition research after Trump became the Republican candidate).  The 35 page report, still only partly verified, is full of embarrassing details that Putin could use to Blackmail Trump.  Some believe that Trump is terrified about this possibility which is why he praises the Russian autocrat, refuses to criticize him, and instead condemns Mueller investigation.  The entire dossier was published in Buzzfeed and is mostly about Trump’s attempts to bribe officials and get them to help swing the American presidential election.  Also revealed are Russian claims to have videotapes his sex orgies in St. Petersburg and having “golden showers” parties with prostitutes in Moscow. Trump’s claim is that the whole report is nothing but lies because it was funded by Democrats.  Now that is debunked because it was the Republicans not the Democrats who initiated the intelligence report.  
 
Dana Rohrabacher Cultivates Ties with the Kremlin.  Congressman Rohrabacher who represents CA-48 continues to be (after Trump) one of the leading Republican apologists for Putin.   Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy once said that both Rohrabacher and Trump are on the Putin payroll. Rohrabacher frequently visited Russia where he met with high-level officials to plot ways to reduce U.S. sanctions against Russia.  (Rohrabacher allegedly met with Trump’s son to discuss this.)  Recently Rohrabacher became the first member of Congress to go abroad to meet with Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder who released the Clinton emails supposedly obtained by Russian intelligence.  Formerly a Reagan Republican, Rohrabacher has changed and is now a Trump Republican.   http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-friedersdorf-rohrabacher-oc-20171026-story.html
 
New Report:  Economic Growth Benefits Mainly the Rich.  The Federal Research Board released a report showing that wealth in American continues to be concentrated mainly among the rich. The richest 1% of Americans now control 38.6% of the wealth, a figure that has increased over the last 4 years. In contrast, the bottom 90% control only 22.8% of the wealth. (By the way, the top 1% is 80% male and 96% white.)  An analysis of the Trump/Republican tax “cut” plan found that those with incomes over $730,000 would get 50% of benefit. In 10 years they would be getting 80% of the benefits.  True, the stock market has gone up nicely, but very few Americans own stock outside of their retirement accounts.  The wealth gap continues to grow.  Could it be true when they say: “The purpose of government is to benefit the rich?”  Read what the Washington Post and NYT have to say about this.
 
Equifax Scandal  Equifax Inc. continues to get mud on its face.  About 143 million Americans may have been affected not only by the sloppy (and greedy) way it conducted business but also by what it did after the hacking was discovered.  Names, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers, you name it.  All this happened when Equifax was busy trying to make consumers give up their rights to sue the company. Equifax quickly went into action to make money off the breach.  It convinced the IRS to fund a $7.3 million no-bid contract so they could tell the government who they defrauded. The company also acted quickly when the breach was discovered: top executives immediately sold thousands of shares. But they deliberately stalled on informing the public of the breach.  GEO Richard Smith finally stepped down but why not? He fully retains his nice $18.4 million pension.  Read about rewarding incompetence and dishonesty
 
Republicans Overturn Consumer Protection Regulation.  Banks, credit card companies, corporations, and even doctors have been lobbying furiously to prevent people from joining class action lawsuits (read your agreements).  Their efforts have finally paid off with a one vote victory in Congress.  The Senate was deadlocked in a tie vote on allowing people to join class action lawsuits. To the glee of Republicans it was Vice President Pence who broke the tie so that corporations can now force arbitration (which they generally win) and avoid class action suits (which they often lose).  Now everyone is free to sue a corporation on their own.  Good luck fighting an army of million dollar lawyers.  The creep toward Plutocracy continues (Merriam-Webster definition: government by the wealthy).  
 
Ralph Nader Weighs In.  Remember Ralph Nader? Some remember him as a consumer advocate, others remember him for his disruptive entry into presidential elections which may have handed the White House over to George Bush.  At age 83 he recently had an Op-Ed entitled, “Trump Is Hurting Regular People.”  
 
Trump Turns Parts of National Monuments Over to Developers.  Ever been to the beautiful Bears Ears or Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah?  Trump plans to revoke their boundaries and also reduce the size of 8 other National Monuments comprising the West’s 500 million acres of public domain. 
The Republicans are also salivating over the prospects for opening the Arctic Reserves to oil drilling.    All this comes after the administration decided to allow coal miners to dump more pollution into rivers.
 
Chemical Industry Insider at EPA Now Allows Carcinogens  Nancy Beck used to be on the Executive Council of the American Chemistry Council.  That was until the Trump administration picked her to manage EPA’s Office of Water.  She promptly rolled back more than a dozen regulations so that it would be harder to track adverse health consequences of carcinogenic chemicals, much to the delight of her pals she used to work with. Toxic chemicals are enjoying a new renaissance at the EPA.  
 
Secretary of Education Betsy Devos Focuses on Religious and Charter Schools.  Major Republican Party contributor Betsy Devos (her brother Eric Prince founded Blackwater) is a billionaire who is now in charge of education even though she never attended a public school in her life.  About 90% of American children attend public schools, but Devos spends most of her time trying to divert money away from public schools and into vouchers which benefit religious and charter schools (at tax payer expense).  Among her achievements so far are rescinding 72 policy documents on the rights of students with disabilities.  Recently she campaigned to make it harder to prosecute college students accused of sexual assault.   Donald Trump has appointed yet another billionaire whose mission is to destroy the institution she is supposed to protect. She won her confirmation by one vote (again, VP Pence broke the tie).  Republicans love her and voted for her while Democrats voted against her.  More evidence of what it now means to be a Republican (see above).  
 
The “Me Too” Movement Expands but Not to the White House.  The lead front page story on the LAT for Oct. 29 describes how women are coming out in droves with stories about sexual harassment. But most reporters are afraid to pursue stories about Trump’s sexual assaults on women.  Trump was caught on tape during the election bragging about groping women by the genitals, even claiming that women enjoyed it.  When asked about this recently, the president’s press secretary said that the president’s position is that all of these women are liars.  
 
New Window on the Universe.  After all the sordid and depressing news about Trump, here is some truly important news:  the collision of neutron stars. On Oct. 16, scientists announced that they have verified such an event.  When stars much larger than the sun exhaust their hydrogen, they begin to collapse.  The collapse accelerates quickly and sets off cataclysmic explosions known as supernovas. The pressure from what is left over is so gargantuan that electrons and protons are squeezed together forming neutrons. A thimble full of a neutron star would weigh as much as millions of elephants. When these stars collide, they set off extreme magnetic and gravitational fields as well as bursts of intense radiation, just as Einstein predicted a century ago.  Scientists have now been able to detect this activity.  It will allow further refinement of how galaxies and solar systems came to be filled with elements that became planets, plants, people, and everything else.  The collision of neutron stars also explains the creation of heavy elements like gold, platinum, and uranium. 
 
 

In the News, Fall 2017

In the News Briefly
Due to Global Warming, tanker ships can now traverse the frozen arctic without an icebreaker. The 984 ft. Christophe de Margerie became the first tanker to complete the new Northern Sea Route as countries fight over arctic rights. And in late August a rowing team called Polar Row broke 11 world records by rowing a boat from Norway to desolate islands in the Arctic Ocean. Meanwhile, pine beetles are killing the stately pine forests of the Northeast. Previously the beetles never got north of Delaware because cold temperatures killed them off each winter. Recent winters have been much warmer so the beetle feast moves northward. And speaking of shrinking natural beauty, President Trump wants to end environmental protection for National Monuments in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Maine. This would open these public lands up for mining and drilling by private developers.

Did you know that a gun is stolen in the U.S. every two minutes? Once stolen they are often sold in underground illegal markets and end up being used in violent crimes…Are you still using plastic bags? Human beings have created 9.1 billion tons of plastic pollution. It doesn’t degrade, and much of it accumulates in your local landfill and in oceans where it kills sea life. Kenya alone, for example, uses 100 million plastic bags per year. But the government of Kenya is fighting back: 4 years in jail or up to $38,000 in fines for those manufacturing or importing plastic bags….The top 25 best paid hedge fund managers earned over $11 billion in 2016. James Simons made $1.6 billion, Ray Dalio raked in $1.4 billion and Robert Mercer (big Trump backer) hauled in $125 million….Anti-Muslim hate and discrimination incidents in California have increased by 10% in the last year…Thomas Rutledge, CEO of Charter Communications makes $98 million a year. That is 2,617 times the average salary of American workers….Finally, MIT researchers have estimated that diesel cars in Europe will cause about 1200 premature deaths per year (diesel engines produce high levels of poisonous nitrogen oxide).

Business in the News. Japanese icon Toshiba is facing bankruptcy because of its disastrous foray into the nuclear power industry. Westinghouse, its troubled American nuclear power subsidiary, has already declared bankruptcy. After spending $9 billion, two nuclear power plants under construction in South Carolina have been abandoned. The projected tab escalated to $25 billion. Who said nuclear power is cheap? The nuclear “renaissance” appears to be over.

Speaking of companies taking a well-earned bath, Fox’s harassment settlements are going through the roof. The sexual harassment settlement for Roger Ailes cost Fox $40 million and the similar payout over the Bill O’Reilly case was another $25 million. Fox has also suspended longtime host Eric Bolling and fired top executive Jamie Horowitz on similar charges. In a recent court filing, Fox stated it spent $224 million last year on “employee transitions.” Corporate code language. Fox also told the court that these amounts would have no “material” effect on the company. But guess what industry is really hurting? It is the banking industry, according to Rob Nichols, president of the American Bankers Association. The beleaguered banks are pleading for “much-needed regulatory relief.” The Republicans in Congress have been quick to respond with measures to roll back financial reforms. David Lazarus of the LAT says Banks need relief? Really? Last year, U.S. banks reported a record annual profit of $171.3 billion. Only 4% of banks lost money, the lowest figure in 22 years. BOA earnings were up 40% in the first quarter of this year, and even troubled Wells Fargo reported a $5.5 billion profit for the same period. Lazarus calls all this the Oliver Twist tactic (“Please sir, I want some more!”).

The newspaper world was shocked on August 22 when the publisher and top editors of the Los Angeles Times were suddenly fired by Justin Dearborn, CEO of Tronrc which is the Chicago-based parent company of the LAT. The new publisher will be Ross Levinsohn, an executive from the Fox digital group. Jim Kirk of the Chicago Sun-Times will be the new executive editor. No one knows what this will mean for readers but the reasons given for the shake-up was not enough revenue coming in.

Supply Side Economics Fails Again. A familiar Republican mantra is tax cuts, tax cuts! They continue to argue with a straight face that it boosts economic growth (and they deny, also with a straight face, that the real reason is tax breaks for the rich). The Kansas experiment now tells the truth. With a conservative governor Brownback, a conservative state legislature, and the conservative Koch Brothers Inc., the state enacted sharp tax cuts back in 2011. The wealthy enjoyed the cuts, but the economic growth never came as they predicted. Misery followed. Spending on education was slashed so much that the state supreme court ruled that the neglect of education was unconstitutional. Grudgingly, the legislature enacted a tax increase and even overrode the governor’s veto. In the US Congress, no Republican has ever voted for a tax increase for 27 years. Will the Kansas experiment change their mind? Will Republicans now admit that Supply Side Economics is a hoax?

Can You Sue a Company? Banks are allowed class action lawsuits, but there is now pressure to prevent people from doing the same thing. The Republican House of Representatives recently passed a bill aimed at blocking class action law suits. Now the senate has to decide whether to protect corporations or to protect consumers. If you examine your “agreements” with your banks, credit cards, and even your doctors, notice that they are now requiring you to agree to mandatory arbitration. That is because corporations generally win arbitration cases, and it is tough for individuals to go up against teams of corporate lawyers (something you could do if you were allowed to join a class action lawsuit). Read more.

New Research on Heart Disease. A new drug that fights inflammation rather than cholesterol claims to greatly reduce the incidence of heart attacks, strokes, and possibly lung cancer. The NYT says that the “Findings Represent a Medical Milestone.” The new drug is intended for people with high levels of inflammation as measured by the C-reactive protein (CRP) blood test. The down side is that it is expensive and my affect the immune system.

Trump Pushes to Militarize Local Police Departments. Back in 2015, Pres. Obama blocked sale of military hardware to local police. He noted that a militarized police force gives people the feeling that the police are an occupying army rather than a local force. Trump has now rolled back this restriction so local police can now buy bayonets, rocket launchers, and armored vehicles designed for fighting wars. The Trump administration said that police need bayonets to help cut seatbelts in an emergency. Trump to Fully Restore Military Surplus Transfers to Police

Fascism, American Style is the title of a disturbing Op-Ed by Paul Krugman as he reflects on creeping acceptance of fascism and the pardon of convicted criminal white supremacist sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio boasted of arresting Latinos and sending them to Tent City where conditions were brutal and temperatures often reached 145 degrees. He liked to call it his “concentration camp.” Krugman reminds us that when political criminals round up minority groups and send them to concentration camps it is usually called fascism. More troubling, says Krugman, are the Republicans in Congress who look the other way and tacitly support racist lawbreakers. He calls them collaborators.

Trump Hotel at Night. Lobbyists, Cabinet Members, and $60 Steaks. Reporter Katie Rogers visits the Trump Hotel in Washington which has become a power center for Republicans, lobbyists, foreign businessmen, and anyone seeking favors from the White House. Although the hotel is owned by American taxpayers (Trump leases it from the GSA) Trump has profited $20 million over the last 15 months. This violates the emoluments clause of the Constitution which forbids government employees from personally profiting from foreign governments. Money, $2500 bottles of champagne, and favors flow freely at this Republican gathering place which some now call the Swamp. Here is Katie’s report from the NYT plus a report from the Washington Post entitled “How the Trump Hotel Changed Washington’s Culture of Influence.”  Another lengthy report describes the pitfalls of a president who splits time between his commercial empire and his day job. In his first four months in office, President Trump has visited his family-owned golf clubs 25 times. Read “Ethical Hazards Dot the President’s Fairways.” 

Is Trump Unfit for Office? The 25th Amendment to the Constitution describes how presidents can be dismissed, but is it ever going to happen? Should it be a clinical judgment or a political decision? The issue came up when President Reagan was failing and when Nixon was facing impeachment. Two psychiatrists weigh in.  Here is another piece from the LAT also questioning Trump’s mental fitness.

Why Do the Streets in France Run with Wine? Enough about Trump, now for some serious news. French winemakers in Languedoc are up in arms about cheap wine imported from Spain which gets relabeled as “French.” French winemakers commandeered huge tank trucks filled with Spanish wine and emptied them on highways! Mon dieu! 

Choice Letters to the Editor

To the Editor (OCR):
There is a great contrast between George Washington and Donald Trump. George Washington never told a lie, and Donald Trump never tells the truth.
Edward Sussman, Fountain Valley

 

To the Editor (NYTimes):
I think we are all missing the boat. Donald Trump really does not want to be president. He wants his old life back. This president business is too much trouble. It interrupts his golf schedule. He will resign. All the better for us.
June Lee, Easton, CT

 

To the Editor (LAT)
Arpaio was not convicted for “doing his job. He was convicted for refusing to obey a court order to discontinue his patently racist and unconstitutional practice of racial profiling and illegal arrests.
Ken Levy, Los Angeles

 

To the Editor (LAT):
Arpaio deserved not only a pardon but a Medal of Freedom for his courageous effort to protect his constituents from illegal immigrants despite the efforts of the criminal alien lobby to demonize him.
Kemp Richardson, Santa Clarita

 

To the Editor (rejected by the LAT):
While Donald Trump has failed miserably on almost all of his campaign promises, there is one he is keeping: the pledge to drain the swamp. Gone are Steve Bannon, Anthony Scaramucci, Sebastian Gorka, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Michael Flynn, and a host of others. Keep up the good work!

Roger Johnson, San Clemente

In the News, Early Summer 2017

Trump’s First 100 Days  By some measures, Trump is easily beating previous presidents.  For example, did you know that the Office of Government Ethics has received about 30 times as many complaints about the Trump administration compared to the same period for the Obama administration?   How should we rate Trump so far?  Nicholas Kristof rates the first 100 days.

Republicans Celebrate the Millions Who Will Lose Their Health Insurance  Shorty after the house barely passed (by 4 votes) a bill to completely change American health care, Republicans gathered at the White House to whoop it up and celebrate.  After so many failures in the first 100 days, it was a desperate and mandatory drill to give Trump something (anything) to brag about. Why are Republicans fighting so hard to take away health care?  The back story widely circulated is that they want to cut billions so that they will be in a position to enact their # 1 priority:  a huge tax cut for the rich.  So who are the winners and losers in the Republican health care act?  It turns out the bill is crafted to benefit those earning over $250,000, people without pre-existing conditions (especially rich people), people who don’t want medical insurance, large employers, and medical industry companies.  The losers?  Older people, poor people, people with pre-existing conditions, hospitals and state governments, and women.  Now it goes to the Senate where majority leader McConnell carefully picked only staunchly conservative white male Republicans to serve on the 13 man committee that will work out a deal with the house Republicans. No women or blacks allowed.  Very telling. Read about it.

Trump’s Flip Flops  Trump lavishly praises the FBI director, then fires him.  Trump ridicules Chris Christie, George Romney, Ted Cruz, then invites them to the White House. Etc.  He appears to many as a man of no convictions.

Trump’s List of Firsts  Don’t believe that Trump has no firsts or that he is not the greatest.  After all, he has the greatest disapproval rating of any president in history.  The LATimes recently examined his accomplishments in an editorial entitled Trump’s List of Firsts.     Here is the same author, this time in the NYT, opining about how the party of stupid created Donald Trump.   And here is yet another LATimes editorial entitled, Let’s Count the Ways Donald Trump has Gone Where No President Has Gone Before.

Billionaires and Millionaires are Filling the Swamp  Another Trump first: the Trump administration is the wealthiest in American history.  Check out the worth of these 36 top Republican officials.

Who is Out of Touch? A Gallup Poll reported that most Americans think that Congress is out of touch with average Americans and that Congress focuses too much on the needs of special interests. Really?  Is the government out of touch with the people or is it the other way around?  Why did voters make it worse by electing Trump and his entourage?  Exactly who identifies with the Rich at Play in Washington? This brings up the old question, how do you get people to vote against their own economic interests?  Trump is an expert at this.

The Link Between Sleep, Sunlight, and Mood  Read The Sleeping Cure.

Trump’s War on Science  Back to the Dark Ages.  It is well-known that Trump is anti-environment and a climate change denier.  But more broadly and more dangerously he is clearly anti-science.  He is cutting funds for research left and right,  removing scientists from review boards (and replacing them with his pet industry friends), and reducing funding for nearly all government agencies that support scientific research.  He had slashed funding for the National Institutes of Mental Health, EPA, USDA, NOAA, DOE, NIST, USGS, and NASA earth science. What funding goes up (way up)?  Military spending.

The War on Journalism Ever wonder why a free press was singled out to be protected in the First Amendment of the Constitution?  One of the first things a dictator or tyrant does when assuming power is try to stifle, intimidate, or censor the press.  We are used to that in Russia and China but now it is happening in Turkey, Egypt, and the Philippines. And now Trump is doing his best right here to marginalize the media.  He labels anything critical of him as fake news and calls journalists “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.”  He echoes Joseph Stalin by calling journalists “enemies of the people.”  Trump rewards reporters who rave about him and blocks from briefings major news organizations he doesn’t like.  He blocked the press corps from accompanying Secretary of State Tillerson on his Asia trip. In a completely unprecedented shocker on May 10, Trump gave a VIP White House welcome to top Russian officials including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.  All American news media were forbidden but the official Russian news agency TASS was invited to cover the event.  The meeting took place in the Oval Office and the Russians immediately publicized it and made a huge propaganda coup.  U.S. security officials are worried that with all the Russians in the Oval Office whether someone had planted a listening device.

Trump’s idea of sound journalism?  Tabloids, gossip columnists, Howard Stern, and his cheerleading crew at FOX News who loves everything Trump.  When FOX’s Bill O’Reilly was fired for sexual harassment, Trump celebrated him and said that O’Reilly “is a good man” and “I don’t think he did anything wrong.”  In the mean time, Summer Zervos, a contestant on The Apprentice (remember the good old days when Trump liked to barge into the women’s dressing rooms?) sued Trump for sexual harassment.  Trump says that reports about what happened are “100% fabricated.”  (Remember the video clip of him bragging about being able to sexually assault women at will?)  His lawyers now take the position that as President he is immune from such lawsuits while he is in office.  Recently the LAT ran a series of editorials called The Problem with Trump.  This one is called The War on Journalism.

More on the Media  Are we entering an era where truth has no meaning, a world of “alternative truths” as Kelly Ann Conway put it?  Older Americans tend to be news junkies, regular consumers of newspapers or reputable TV news programs where outright lies are quickly detected.  But newspaper readership continue to decline, down to 23% according to Pew Research.  They say that young people today do not read newspapers, watch TV news, or visit news web sites.  They may glance at breaking news headlines or stories with good visuals, but mostly they check out social networks.  The result, according to Pew Research, is a narrow awareness of the world which is incidental and passive.  This presents a perfect environment not only for disinformation and fake news, but also for being oblivious to what is going on in the world.

A Day in the News Compare what one might learn on the social media with reading one newspaper.  Take for example one particular day in the news: Tuesday April 20 (the New York Times version).  Of course there are the usual widely covered stories such as the headline about FOX News and O’Reilly, background on France’s Emmanuel Macron, Trump’s foreign policy adviser Carter Page lying about Russia connections, protests in Turkey and Venezuela, general elections in the UK, the US Navy armada is going the wrong way, Ann Coulter at Berkeley, Arkansas trying to hurry up and execute more prisoners, etc.

But read on:  A new study finds that 8 million tons of plastic gets into the oceans each year and much of it ends up in the arctic….Noam Scheiber interviews coal miners who voted for Trump and are beginning to realize that they have been had….Nebraska passes a state law to close liquor stores near Indian reservations (but not elsewhere)….Big story about how Democrats in rural Montana are getting organized and energized….Disclosure of what billionaires donated to the $107 million Trump inaugural fund (see below) and what they got in return.  Much of the money is now unaccounted for and remains in an illegal Trump slush fund….Dennis Overbye describes a newly discovered exoplanet about the size of Earth orbiting nearby star LHS 1140 in its Goldilocks zone. It is likely to contain life.  And Jonah Bromwich tells about how a 2,000 ft long asteroid that narrowly missed Earth at 8:30 AM EST on April 19. Elsewhere in science, Carl Zimmer reports new research on oldfield mice peromyscus polionotus.  They are not only cute but they are one of the few mammals which are monogamous.  They actually found a gene for monogamy.  No doubt drug companies are salivating over patent rights….Trump Towers is violating zoning ordinances resulting in $14,000 worth of fines.  Turns out that Trump has illegally removed benches in public spaces and replaced them with Kiosks hawking Trump T shirts and other Trump crap. OMG, is he profiting from being President??? Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Republican chairman of the powerful House oversight committee, decided to quit Congress….The Shetland Islands got pawned off to Scotland in 1469 in exchange for a nice wedding dowry for the daughter of Christian I of Denmark…. Javier Duarte, fugitive former governor of the Mexican state of Veracruz, is arrested in a Florentine restaurant and extradited from Italy.  Will he get off like other criminal politicians?  On the Op-Ed pages, Brent Staples asks, “Where did all the black teachers go?”  Tim Wu tells how to stop drug companies from gouging.  Kristof warns about how Trump might be blundering into another Korean War, and Gail Collins wails on about how Trump lost his huge aircraft carrier armada:  “What we want to do is take away your crayons and say Good Boy. Now why don’t you go off and nominate some ambassadors for a change? And go find your boats.”  Finally, Ann Beeson has a piece called “Texans Gone Wild.”  It is about what happens when Republicans get all three branches of government.  A Texan drawled that the only thing standing between Texas and the Middle Ages is Joe Straus of San Antonio.

About That Inauguration….  Remember when Trump boasted that he won the popular election by a huge margin (in fact he lost by a huge margin of almost 3 million voters).  Or that attendance at his inauguration was the greatest in history?  That was until actual photos revealed that the crowds were far bigger at Obama’s inauguration.  But he is right about one record:  the Republicans collected a record setting amount of “dark money” for the inauguration, $107 million, which is double what Obama raised.  But with a far smaller inauguration and presumably far fewer expenses, what happened to the majority of that money?  Is it now in an illegal Republican slush fund being used for who knows what kinds of dirty tricks.  What billionaires rushed to throw money at Trump and what favors do they seek?  Huge sums of money came from NFL teams:  Dallas, LA Rams, Washington “Redskins” (a continuing disgrace), Houston, NY Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tampa Bay.  Not to be outdone, American League Baseball and the Chicago Cubs kicked in huge sums. Sheldon Adelson, gambling casino magnate, gave a record $5 million. Phil Ruffin, casino industry pal of Trump kicked in $1 million and Wynn Resorts donated almost as much. Donor lists were a who’s who in the oil, gas, coal, and energy industries.  Then there were chemical industries, those involved in drilling, mining, and fossil fuels and of course Kelcy Warren, head of the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline. Also flush with slush money was the Venezuelan oil and gas industry, Lockheed Martin, and the New York catering company that Trump uses. So it appears that the main priority for Trump on Day One was to start filling the swamp with Pay to Play.  Lots of anonymous contributors gladly poured in money because inaugural committees can accept secret contributions.  Read.

BTW, the same reporter who wrote about the inauguration also covered the enormous costs to taxpayers for providing security for the Trump family’s extravagant life style including all their visits to their own resorts and country clubs. (This should please all the unemployed coal miners who identify with the Trumps.)  Over $60 million alone goes to protect Trump Towers NYC and Trump’s private pay-to- play club Mara-a-Lago in Palm Beach.  In his first few months in office, Trump spent almost a third of his time at his golf resorts, country clubs, or other private properties, all at taxpayer expense.  

Disturbing Article about the Fishing Industry  “China wants fish, so Africa goes hungry.”

How to Deconstruct America Rumors are the Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief Political Strategist, is losing favor to insiders in the Trump Royal Family. But remember that one of his (i.e., Trump’s) basic strategies is to keep opponents off balance by doing the opposite of what is expected.  Bannon has been quoted as saying that he is like a Leninist who wants to “bring everything crashing down.”  His goal is to deconstruct the administrative state which explains why Trump appointed so many cabinet secretaries whose goal is to destroy from within the agencies they supposedly represent.  When lecturing to Silicon Valley executives in March, Bannon advised quick decision making and execution rather than thoughtful deliberation.  “Your job is to move fast and break things!”  In a nutshell, that is the Trump presidency so far.  Here is how Bannon thinks.

Are Your Sperm in Trouble?  Speaking of things broken, here is a disturbing piece about endocrine disrupters. The industry lies are reminiscent of how the tobacco industry fought smoking bans.

Why Are There No Pets in the White House? Almost all presidents have had pets in the White House. Alex Beam says that the lack of loveable animals in the White House may be Trump’s biggest mistake. He suggests that ferrets would be ideal for the Trumps.  It appears that Trump doesn’t like animals but perhaps he could fake it.  “Once you’ve learned to fake sincerity, the rest is easy.  Once Donald Trump learns to pretend to love animals he can move on to pretending to love the human race.”  

Choice Words for Trump  While Donald Trump makes strange friends (most corrupt dictators in the world), he is also noteworthy for those he alienates.  Take the very conservative Republican newspaper The Wall Street Journal.  The WSJ recently harshly rebuked Mr. Trump calling him “his own worst political enemy” and going on to assert that Trump has damaged the presidency “with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods….The President clings to his assertions like a drunk to an empty gin bottle.”  In the past, Trump has responded to criticism from the WSJ to fire its Editorial Board.  And remember NYC mayor Edward Koch?  The Koch family has recently discovered old letters revealing the mayor’s utter contempt for Trump when Trump repeatedly tried to buy favors from the city (such as trying to get the convention center named after himself).  Mayor Koch referred to Trump as a “self-serving egomaniac” who was “greedy, greedy, greedy.”  He went on to write that “Donald Trump is one of the least likable people I have met….I wouldn’t believe Donald Trump if his tongue were notarized.”

Big Brewers Are Squeezing Out Craft Beer Read more.

The Googlification of Education  Read how Google conquered the American Classroom.

The Superrich Pour Into Washington The Trump administration has brought about a new boom in wealth around the capitol.  There are now over 2,000 residents worth more than $30 million.  The print version title is “In Washington, the Wealthiest Settle In” while the web version title is “Washington Welcomes the Wealthiest.

Republican Health Care Bill Created to Permit Tax Cuts for the Rich Republicans are obsessed with tax cuts at the expense of good health care policy.  Read: “The Health Care Disaster Is Really  About Taxes.”

Profile of Orange County  According to the OCR, Orange County has 34 cities, a population of 3.2 million (8% of California’s population), and 13% of residents are below the poverty line.  Almost half (46%) speak a foreign language at home, 42% are non-Latino white, and 16% have no high school diploma.  The population is 35% Latino, 18% Asian, and about a third of Orange County is foreign born.  The cost of living in OC is double the U.S. average and 48% of children are not developmentally ready for kindergarten.  

Trump’s Lies About Job Creation Exposed 

Trump’s First 100 Days: The Worst of Any President Ever 

The Republican Trumpcare Bill Insults Women 

Republican Hypocrisy: 34 White House Standards Republicans Embrace  Remember when Republicans personally attacked President Obama for everything he did or said?  Here is a handy reference guide for what Republicans consider acceptable presidential behavior:  Opinion | The Republican’s Guide to Presidential Behavior

Briefly Noted Part I  EPA is dismissing scientists on review boards and replacing them with representatives from industries that are heavy polluters….The FDA now has only two dozen people overseeing the $37 billion pill supplement industry. Trump wants to cut their funds even more….White Supremacists have sharply increased activity on college campuses since Trump took office….Republicans have voted to dismantle internet privacy rules. Advertisers and internet companies will now be able to track your internet activity and browsing history without your permission….Los Angeles institutes pay-to-play jail cells.  Wealthy inmates can buy their way into cushier jail cells….During the Vietnam War. American B-52 bombers carpet bombed Cambodia.  Over 500,000 tons of bombs were dropped causing immense death and destruction. The U.S. then lent money to Cambodia to feed and house the refugees but now the Trump administration wants to be paid back plus interest….Harvard Business School graduate Duff McDonald indicts his alma mater in a new book, The Golden Passport. Duff says that the Harvard B school graduates now control much of the world of American capitalism.  Harvard remains intoxicated with its own importance and continues to teach greed rather than business ethics….Turkey has closed 15 universities, 1,000 schools, 28 TV channels, 66 newspapers, 19 magazines, 36 radio stations, five news agencies, and 26 publishing houses….Big tobacco is now buying e-cigarette companies and lobbying Congress not to regulate them….In recent mid-term elections, Republicans were 20 times more likely to vote than Democrats.  Between 2012 and 2016,  Republican gerrymandering gained about six times as many seats in state legislatures compared to Democratic gerrymandering….Remember civil rights hero Rosa Parks who refused to sit in the back of a bus in Montgomery? Her home was saved from destruction by donors who bought it and shipped it to Berlin, Germany where it has been warmly welcomed.

Briefly Noted Part II  Trump relishes in playing favorites with federal funds by rewarding districts that voted for him and punishing those that did not. He does the same thing in filling jobs.  George T. Conway III, husband of Kellyanne Conway, was recently hired to head the civil division of the Justice Department.  He will now have 1,000 lawyers under him charged with defending Trump against a variety of legal challenges….Meanwhile, the women in the Trump Royal Family are making their mark. While working closely with her father in the White House, Ivanka has not given up financial control of her business interests. Recently the Chinese government awarded her lucrative trademarks for her products in China the same day that she attended a state dinner with President Xi Jinping.  Nicole Kushner, sister of Jared Kusher (their father spent years in prison for tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions, and hiring prostitutes to blackmail enemies) is in the news.  She used her White House connections to promote a Jersey City development to Chinese investors gathered at the Beijing Ritz-Carlton. She promised that investors who came up with at least $500,000 could trade that for special favorable treatment in obtaining visas.  As for First Lady Melania Trump, she lives in Trump Towers which is costing the NYC police and fire departments (i.e., taxpayers) over $150,000 per day. But that is nothing compared to the $8 million it costs taxpayers every time the Trumps visit their own resort at Mar-a-Lago  (which is almost every weekend).  Everyone should be relieved to know that Melania won her lawsuit against the London Daily Mail. The Daily Mail had published an article about how Melania worked for an escort service when she was a model in the 1990s.  The report was based on allegations of Paolo Zampolli who ran the modeling agency….What is going on with Wells Fargo after it set up millions of fraudulent bank accounts, then fired lots of employees, pleaded guilty, and paid out $185 million in settlements?  Guess what? They rewarded former CEO John G. Stumpf with $83 million in stock options. Then they gave a huge bonus to the new CEO Timothy Sloan.  PS:  Did you notice that the Trump administration is packed with former Goldman Sachs brass?  They helped write Trumps tax plans which would sharply cut Goldman’s taxes and even better reduce government oversight. Result:  Goldman stock has shot up 36% since Trump was elected….To pay for loss the of revenue from corporations and the superrich, Trump has targeted the school lunch program for kids.  He has also targeted funds for special education in schools. And Secretary of Education Betsy Devos (net worth $1.5 billion) wants to cut provisions in the student loan program….While Trump campaigned to increase transparency in the White House, he has done the opposite (another flip flop on campaign promises).  He ordered a cut off of public access to visitor logs.  The move prevents the public ever from knowing which lobbyists, donors, business partners, cronies, and wheeler-dealers seek favors….Now for the good news:  the journal Nature just reported the discovery of mastodon bones near San Diego.  This means that prehistoric humans lived in California as long as 130,000 years ago which is far different from the accepted wisdom that the earliest people in the Americas date back only 15,000 years.  But modern humans migrated out of Africa about 50-80,000 years ago so probably we are not all related to the early Californians.  If you suspect anyone related to a mastodon, please call 911.

Briefly Noted Part III  California locks up over 118,000 people in prisons. It costs taxpayers $79,812 per year per prisoner.  Corrections cost taxpayers $11 billion per year which is almost as much as the budget for higher education….Saudi Arabia paid lobbyists to defeat a law in Congress allowing victims of 911 to sue the Saudi government.  Some military veterans were paid to protest which they did illegally because many failed to disclose that they were being paid by a foreign government….The Senate confirmed Trump’s pick to head the Food and Drug Administration.  Dr. Scott Gottlieb has close ties with the companies he is now supposed to regulate….The head of the Dept. of Agriculture is normally a scientist with expertise in agricultural research.  Not under Trump who instead has picked Sam Clovis, former talk radio host, Trump supporter, and climate change denier….Trump has appointed Keith Noreika to head the Office of Comptroller and Currency.  As a lawyer with the New York law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Noreika has spent much of his career protecting the very banks that he is now charged with regulating.  He does not need to sign any ethics pledge.  His first moves were to indicate that he wants to undo Obama-era banking regulations….Billionaire Secretary of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was jeered when she gave a commencement address at Bethune Cookman University.  Many graduates turned their back on her.  DeVos has no experience in public education and is an activist who wants to take money away from public schools and give it to charter schools instead….Scientists have reported that bacteria in the gut may adversely affect seemingly unrelated organs in completely unexpected ways….According to the NYT, Trump “burns with frustration” over not getting more credit for his narrow fluke of an election win in spite of the fact that he lost the popular vote by a wide margin.  He hounds visitors to the White House with electoral maps of where he won.  He is “obsessed about proving that he’s legitimate.”

Choice Letters to the Editor

Gangster Presidency, LAT May 11

To the Editor:

President Trump does not understand the concept of checks and balances, which the founding fathers put in place to secure our democracy. He has always done whatever he wants and said whatever he wants. He answers to no one and surrounds himself with yes men and women. (“Absolutely nothing about James Comey’s firing passes the smell test,” editorial, May 9)

Trump conducts his presidency as if he were a gangster, rewarding those who are loyal to him regardless of what the facts are. I can just see Trump telling Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to come up with a legal basis for firing FBI Director James Comey; ironically Sessions and his deputy came up with something that happened months ago concerning Comey’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s email, the very thing Trump complimented him for doing during the campaign.

Trump has fired Comey, acting Atty. Gen. Sally Yates and U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara, all people of integrity whom Trump cannot control and were investigating the president. It’s time for members of Congress to stand up to Trump and protect the democratic process and the American people.     Alba Farfaglia, San Clemente

 

Charter Schools, NYT May 7

To the Editor:

David Leonhardt states, “Crucially, many charters are open to all comers, which means their success doesn’t stem from skimming off the best” (“School Choice Works While Vouchers Don’t,” column, May 2). In fact, charter schools do skim in several ways: Parents with the wherewithal to apply, which must often be done well in advance and by filling out many forms, have to be organized, aware and English-speaking and have the time to devote to it. That description may not apply to very poor, single-parent or struggling families.

Second, although charters often use a lottery system, many do not accept special-needs students on the grounds that they cannot meet those needs. In addition, charter schools such as the Success Academy network in New York City expel students whose behavior does not meet school standards — standards that have been shown to be punitive, harsh and controlling.

Charters do take money from the public education system; dollars follow each student who attends a charter. Many have additional funds from private sources, such as hedge funds, that public schools do not have.

Since success is largely measured by test results, charters often spend inordinate amounts of time on test preparation and drill, to the detriment of other subjects and the well-being of young children.

The original concept for charter schools imagined that they would serve as an experiment, and if successful, be an example that public schools could incorporate. As long as charters have more funding and are in direct competition with public schools, public schools will suffer. And have.

ANNETTE MARCUS, NEW YORK  The writer is a retired science teacher.

 

Nobody Knew Health Care Could Be So Complicated, NYT Feb. 28

To the Editor:

Re “Trump Concedes Health Overhaul Is a Thorny Task” (front page, Feb. 28):

On Monday, President Trump said: “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

Actually, everyone except Mr. Trump knew that. Only stubborn, willful ignorance could produce this startling remark.

Of course, knowing nothing did not keep Mr. Trump from making the repeal of Obamacare a central issue of his campaign or from blithely assuring his supporters that he would magically make the health care system better and cheaper. Sad.

JANICE GEWIRTZ,   Mountain Lakes, N.J.

 

Blame Trump or Those Who Voted for Him?  NYT.  Feb. 24

To the Editor:

Re “Fight Trump, Not His Voters” (column, Feb. 23):

It’s hard to disagree with Nicholas Kristof: Stereotyping is indefensible; demonizing the opposition feeds the dysfunction; and name-calling will win no votes. But it’s also entirely possible that Mr. Kristof has it backward: President Trump is not the true enemy; his voters are.

Donald Trump is an unabashed bigot, a baldfaced liar and someone who bragged about groping women. But as nightmarish as it seems to have those qualities in the White House, sooner or later his presidency will come to an end. And when it does, we will be faced with the true American nightmare: that almost 63 million of us, knowing full well who Donald Trump was, voted for him anyway.

They will not be smarter than they were in 2016 — they will have spent the interim being lied to constantly — and they will not be less angry, because the Trump presidency will certainly have failed them As all reasonable people know, trashing trade deals won’t bring industrial jobs back; building walls won’t make us safer; and market forces won’t deliver health care or educate our children.

So while Donald Trump is certainly the enemy of both reason and compassion, I’m much more frightened of the 63 million people who either didn’t know they were voting against everything this country stands for, or didn’t care.

DAVID BERMAN,  New York

 

Ivanka Trump: White House Adviser-in-Training,  NYT  May 6

To the Editor:

Re “A First Daughter Assembling a Vast Portfolio” (front page, May 3):

So a senior White House adviser says, “I’m still at the early stages of learning how everything works,” and “I’m really, really trying to learn.”

I’m willing to believe that Ivanka Trump is smart. Maybe she has done well in her career as entrepreneur and real estate developer. Yet, she frankly admits that she doesn’t have the knowledge, experience or training to do the job. The fact that she doesn’t take a salary doesn’t make it O.K. She has extraordinary power and influence.

It is profoundly disrespectful to ask the American people to be patient while she tries to educate herself. I feel sorry for the professionals with expertise and experience who are superbly prepared to work in the White House. Their heads must be spinning.

Good intentions are not enough. Being smart is not enough. We deserve better.

HEDY KALIKOFF, HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.

 

To the Editor:

Leaving aside issues of nepotism and Ivanka Trump’s lack of qualifications, is it not telling that our president requires such intervention? If Donald Trump had the slightest notion of what to do and say and how to behave, such babysitting would not be necessary.

RICHARD WILLIAMS,   DAVIS, CALIF.

 

Who is the Showboater and Grandstander?,  LTE not published in the NYT

To the Editor:

The news just keeps getting worse (President Shifts Rationale For Firing FBI Director, Calling Him a ‘Showboat,’ May 12).  The man in charge is a “grandstander” and “showboater.”  He left everyone in “virtual turmoil” and we have “lost confidence in him.”  Firing is the only solution.

Let the impeachment proceedings begin.

Roger Johnson, San Clemente CA

 

Will San Onofre Cause a Mushroom Cloud?  San Clemente Times May 11

To the Editor:

Two recent writers (Jay Gaskins, April 20-26 and Bill Kindel, April 27-May 3) have made mention of fleeing from “mushroom clouds” if there is an accident at San Onofre.  If this is a reference to a Hiroshima-like atomic explosion, Mr. Kindel is correct that there will never be such an explosion.  The nuclear waste they plan to store a few miles from us is not the highly-enriched weapons grade material used in nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, this nuclear waste can become fissile if attacked by missiles.  It is a very attractive target considering that the Hiroshima bomb was a little ball of U-235 about the size of a grapefruit.   Compare that with the nearly two thousand tons of uranium and plutonium that Edison wants to store in Zip Code 92672.

What is worrisome about both letters is a complete misunderstanding of the danger of nuclear waste.  The threat is massive amounts of radiation, not atomic explosions.  Each of the 150 canisters to be stored at San Onofre has more radioactive potential than all of the contamination from Chernobyl which covered much of Europe in 1986.  You can’t hide from radiation and you can’t run away from it.  Gamma radiation (similar to X-rays) will penetrate lead and several feet of reinforced concrete.  It will go right through your house, your car, and it will rearrange your cell DNA while it passes through your entire body.  Remember that women and children are much more vulnerable to radiation. The human fetus is about 50 times more vulnerable than the average adult male that the nuclear industry likes to use as its standard when measuring radiation danger.

Some people fear only things they can see or hear (like an explosion) or things that have an immediate effect (like a bullet).  There is no defense against radiation, and radiation-induced cancer often takes years or even decades to express itself.  Radiation exposure is cumulative over a lifetime, and many radionuclides do not decay to safe levels for hundreds of thousands of years (multiply the half-life of each element times ten).

If you own a hazmat suit, it might protect you from alpha radiation (unless you breathe or swallow potentially lethal alpha particles) but not from neutrons or gamma radiation. Unfortunately, hazmat suits become contaminated and have to be discarded after one use (and they don’t come in children’s sizes).  If your house or property becomes contaminated, everything you own becomes worthless (no insurance policy covers radioactive contamination).

So stop talking about mushroom clouds.  Think about what they have at Fukushima:  huge areas of land which have become contaminated and uninhabitable zones of exclusion.  All it takes is one cracked canister, one big earthquake, or maybe just a truck bomb, drone attack, or airplane crash.  Fortunately, there are quite a few people in San Clemente very upset about our area becoming a nuclear waste dump for the indefinite future.  The sad part is that some are not and many are clueless.

Roger Johnson,  San Clemente

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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