In the News
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.
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.
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.
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
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 Betsy. Click 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.
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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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?
ROCK ISLAND, ILL.
The entire Republican part is complicit in the degradation of America
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:
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
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.
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
Voters Vent Anger at Town Hall Meetings Voters across the country continue to stage massive protests against the Trump administration and its policies. The movement was nationwide. The lead story on the front page of the LA Times on Feb. 23 read: “Voters across U.S. overrun town halls. They vent anger at Republicans at district meetings – when the lawmakers are brave enough to hold them.”
This Town Hall effort follows some of the largest protests in history in January organized by women’s groups. Visit the photo gallery tab on this website for numerous pictures of local gatherings – maybe you are there carrying a sign! More photos are needed of other protests, so if you have any to share please mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Locally, Darrell Issa did not show up at his own Town Hall meeting. Hundreds packed the Jim Porter Recreation Center while over a thousand outside chanted “Where is Darrell??”
Another Way to Protest It is no secret that Donald Trump takes every opportunity to promote himself and the Trump brand. In a more sinister way he goes well beyond that demanding that people boycott particular newspapers, particular reporters, particular TV stations (except of course FOX News, the main source of fake news), particular movie stars, etc. Taking a page from Trump tactics, people are fighting back. Even Michael Moore is wearing (and plugging) Nordstrom jacket (after they dropped the Trump line). Check out www.grabyourwallet.org which asks you to boycott companies from Amazon and Walmart to Coors and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The woman behind this effort is Shannon Coulter who became enraged when Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. Working from her basement in San Francisco, she decided to do something about it.
Should We Blame Trump or Blame Those Who Voted for Him? Trump is an easy target (watch Steven Colbert any night on CBS at 11:30) and Trump’s approval ratings are in the toilet but who should we blame? Here is a LTE which is food for thought:
To the Editor NYT:
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.
Books in the News: The Politics of Resentment The letter above raises some troubling questions that many people are not asking. There have always been crooked and even evil politicians and it is easy to blame them for everything. But is there something fundamentally wrong with American society where so many people don’t object to bigotry, racism, and attacks on women and minorities (or even worse, they are attracted to such values)? One interesting analysis is a book by Univ. of Wisconsin professor Katherine Cramer called “The Politics of Resentment.” It focuses on Wisconsin and how a demagogue like Scott Walker became popular but it could apply anywhere and it might shed some light on the popularity of Donald Trump. Yes, there are a lot of disaffected folks with limited understanding of the complexities of national government and world affairs. They blame their own problems on the chattering class and the elites of the media and the big coastal cities. Resentment runs deep, and the simple-minded solution is to lash out and try to bring everything crashing down even if it ends up hurting themselves in the long run. A demagogue like Trump is perfect for this resentment. So perfect that they overlook the fact that he is an unprincipled, lying, and scheming Manhattan billionaire with expertise in beauty contests and gambling casinos. If you have enough resentment, who cares if he molests women (and brags about it), cheats on his taxes, and is ruthless and greedy beyond belief?
How do you talk to people who admire Trump? Here is another engaging book by Berkeley professor George Lakoff entitled “Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.” This book gives a lot of advice on how to articulate and frame your values and how to talk to conservatives. It was the focus of the League of Women Voters book club meeting recently.
But let’s lighten up. Are you a foodie (who isn’t)? Take a look at the recent book “Real Food, Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You are Eating and What You Can Do About It.” Author Larry Olmsted is the food and travel editor of Forbes. If you want to know what is really in your seafood, beef, olive oil, cheese, or wine, check out this book.
What Does It Mean To Be A Conservative? The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) made news recently by inviting Steve Bannon and uninviting pedophiliac Milo Yiannopoulous. Previously banned from CPAP, Bannon now became the keynote speaker. Bannon joked that Reince Priebus, White House Chief of Staff, was making the trains run on time, an obvious reference to fascist dictator Benito Mussolini who made that expression famous. Also attending was white supremacist Richard Spenser, famous for his Heil Trump salute when Trump was elected. So what does it mean in the age of Trump to be a conservative? Is it a big tent or a circus tent?
What Does It Mean to Be a Republican? The very first thing that House Republicans did Jan. 2 after taking office was to approve a measure to gut the House ethics committee. The purpose was to allow crooked members of Congress avoid scrutiny, or to put it bluntly, to fill the swamp. Then the Republicans wanted a huge sell-off of millions of acres of government land. Private developers, especially those with close ties to the Republican Party licked their chops. Fortunately, this did not go anywhere because the folks back home, even in red states, protested loudly. This (and the anti-Trump rallies) shows how out of touch Republicans are with average voters, even in their own party. The Republicans in congress quickly voted to allow the mentally ill to buy guns. While schizophrenics now have freedom to own guns, transgender students are regulated on where they can go to the bathroom. Republicans are eager to cut health care for women, repeal the affordable health care act, build walls, block immigration, favor pollution (especially if the polluters donate heavily to the Republican Party) and forcibly expel people who belong to groups or religions the Republicans don’t like. Their priorities are obviously anti-woman, anti-teacher, anti-labor, anti-Mexican, anti-refugees, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, and anti-media. The list is long and the focus on hatred is obvious.
But this was only the beginning. The target list broadens. The hated New York Times recently reported that Republicans want to eliminate Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation (free legal assistance for people earning less than $14,713 per year),
The National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, American Public Radio, and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Since 1994, over a million AmeriCorps volunteers have provided service at 21,600 sites in the country including nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country. Over a dozen bills have been introduced by Republicans to strip consumer protection laws such as the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Law and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which protects consumers from financial fraud by banks, insurance companies, and Wall Street corporations. Republicans want to emasculate clean air and water regulations and consumer protections offered by the Food and Drug Administration. One of the first priorities of the Republican Congress was to overturn the Stream Protection Act so that polluters will be free to dump toxic waste into rivers. Trump quickly signed the bill. Another top Republican priority is to gut the Environmental Protection Agency, reverse action on global warming, and more generally eliminate as many government regulations as possible. All of these program cuts will have a minimal effect on the federal budget (although Trump will claim the opposite). As Steve Bannon bragged recently at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the goal of this administration is “Deconstruction” of government. But don’t worry, the Republicans are not against everything. They love prisons for profit (see below). And of course top priority, as always, remains tax cuts for the rich and big increases in military spending (military contractors donate overwhelmingly to the Republican Party). Donald Trump has helped cement what it means to be a Republican. Remember to watch what the Republicans do, not what they say.
Who is in Charge of the Country? Is Steve Bannon the real President and so-called President Donald Trump the fake president? On Jan. 30, the NYTimes lead editorial was President Bannon? Columnist Thomas Friedman calls Bannon the undisputed boss of the Trump Crazies in the White House. Many feel that Bannon is running the country. As Chief Political Strategist with an office next to Trump, he is out of the public limelight but calls many of the shots. Trump made Bannon a permanent member of the National Security Council even though he is only a political appointee (something unheard of in our history). Bannon’s goal is to be a disruptive flame-thrower in order to create chaos and keep opponents off balance with seemingly irrational moves. This would explain many of Trump’s bizarre and contradictory statements. Bannon hates checks and balances and wants an authoritarian strong leader who cannot be challenged. Or as senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller recently stated: “The president’s power will not be questioned!”
Creeping Fascism Many have quickly noted how Trump has adopted the tactics used by fascist dictators in the past. The first thing dictators do is to portray the world as a chaotic mess in need of a strong Leader who demands blind obedience to authority. The You portray the Leader as infallible, a man who is always right, never apologizes, and can do no wrong. Check. Next, you inflame hated and blame foreign enemies. In Hitler’s case it was the Jews. In Trump’s case it is Muslims, Mexicans, and immigrants. It is important to have big enemies. Check. Next, you destroy government from within. Attack the courts, Congress, the FBI, the intelligence community. You hire people who swear loyalty and obedience and promise to carry out the will of the great Leader. Why else would Trump nominate an education secretary who is the enemy of public education, and environmental secretary who is anti-environment, a labor secretary who is anti-labor, an attorney general with a racist background, etc.? Check. Finally, you undermine and attack the free press and the media. Do not trust the media! The free press is the enemy of the American people, says Trump. The media must be censored and anyone who does not agree with the great Leader should shut up and listen, says Steve Bannon. Check.
Breitbart News Strikes Again Steve Bannon was the former CEO of Breitbart News. It specialized in alternative facts, fake news, and conspiracy theories. Under Bannon, Brietbart championed right-wing extremist views including White Supremacy, Anti-Semetism, and Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Muslim, Anti-African American, Anti-Latino, anti-Asian, and misogynic views. No wonder Trump chose him as his top advisor. But now there is a new wrinkle. Another one of Bannon’s achievements was to hire conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulous as a senior editor at Breitbart. Milo’s job was to inflame and divide. Conservatives loved him. The American Conservative Union invited him (and later had to uninvited him) to be a key speaker at its convention. A few conservatives had reservations such as Charlie Sykes, conservative talk show personality. He said “We’ve created a competition for being the most offensive and the most outrageous in order to stay relevant”(Sykes is the author of “How the Right Lost Its Mind”). But outrageous right wing rhetoric finally caught up with Milos when he went on a podcast called “The Drunken Peasants” and condoned pedophilia. Used to creating outrage, he was now the target of outrage. On Feb. 21 he resigned from Breitbart News. He claimed that it was his own decision and not because Breitbart found any offense in what he said. “Breitbart News has stood by me when others caved,” he said.
The Russian Connection Just how deep is Trump’s involvement with Russia? How do we explain why Trump sounds like a big hawk (or is he a chicken hawk)? Everyone knows that Putin is an autocratic dictator, authoritarian demagogue, ruthless in his pursuit of money and power, former head of the KGB whose goal is to weaken and divide NATO and all Western democracies. Is Trump in bed with him because Trump admires Putin and wants to be like him? Or has Trump already been black mailed? Maybe Putin has videos of Trump cavorting with Russian prostitutes as alleged by a reliable British intelligence agent. Maybe Putin has evidence of criminal activity by Trump or his close associates. Maybe Trump conspired with Putin to throw the election. We already know that a number of Trump’s closest confidants made repeated contacts with many Russian officials over a long period of time well before the election. We know that Trump is making a big effort to silence any investigation of the Russian Connection. We know that the White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (sent by Trump?) secretly (and illegally) went to the FBI to try to squash the investigation. Maybe Trump knows that he better play ball with Russia or Putin will spill the beans and end Trump’s career. Click here for some theories about Trump’s Russian motives.
Orange County: Key to Control of Congress in 2018 Closer to home, things are changing in Orange County. The LATimes reports Democratic voter registration is up sharply and way above Republican registration which continues to decline and is barely above the numbers for voters with no party affiliation. There are more voters in Orange County than all of Iowa. Darrell Issa barely won the closest House race in the country, a contest which was the last one to be decided. Many other Republicans could fall in the next election.
Pajama Games On Feb 5, a NYT reporter wrote about how Trump spends his evenings now that his wife and son remain in NY. Apparently he quits work at 6:30, has dinner, then watches TV and wanders around the White House in his bathrobe. Trump was furious. The White House immediately attacked not the reports but the newspaper itself calling the NYTimes a failing newspaper with dishonest reporters writing fake news. This kind of venom probably means the story is true.
The bathrobe episode brings to mind President Reagan when he began to display symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. His son Ronald recounted how his father began to lose his mental sharpness even before the end of his first term in office (Ronald tried to convince him not to run for office a second time). President Reagan sometimes lost his train of thought and stumbled while speaking. He read from note cards when speaking to people on the phone and it was reported that he could not remember the name of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. President Reagan famously dozed off in many meetings and he once even joked that he might put a sign above the Cabinet Room “Reagan Slept Here.”
More serious were stories by high White House aides that Reagan was dangerously inept and inattentive and spent many hours watching old Hollywood movies and wandering around in his pajamas. Aides said that he wouldn’t read papers and briefings given to him, something for which President Trump is already famous. Concern about President Reagan’s mental stability was so serious that Chief of Staff James Baker looked into the possibility of having the President declared incompetent and removed from office under the 25thAmendment of the Constitution. In March of 1987, Baker, James Cannon (who later confirmed the incident) and two aides spent a day closely observing the President. They finally concluded that he was competent enough to continue in office and did not need to be removed. Maybe President Trump should undergo the same test. Psychiatrist Jeffrey Freedman asks, “Should the President Be Seen by a Psychiatrist?” Other mental health professionals also warn about Trump.
Mincing Words Donald Trump doesn’t mince words when he personally attacks his critics. But he has a thin skin when others do the same. Here is a sample of what some are writing about him. For example, Charles Blow, Op-Ed writer for the NYT writes that Donald Trump is number one in at least one category, the number of days it takes for recent presidents achieve majority disapproval ratings. It took Reagan 727 days, George H.W. Bush 1,136 days, Clinton 573days, George W. Bush 1,205 days, Obama 936 days but Trump trounced them all: only 8 days to achieve majority disapproval ratings. Blow goes on to comment “Donald Trump is a vulgar, uninformed anti-intellectual, extremely unpopular grifter (someone who cheats others out of money)….Unethical is too kind a word for these classless cretins. Furthermore, Trump has nominated and his Republican conspirators in the Senate have confirmed a rogues’ gallery of some of the least qualified and most questionable appointees in recenty memory.”
David Brooks, conservative columnist writers: “President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued….. To say that it is amateur hour at the White House is to slander amateurs…. it’s becoming increasingly clear that the aroma of bigotry infuses the whole operation, and anybody who aligns too closely will end up sharing in the stench…. it is hard to think of any administration in recent memory, on any level, whose identity is so tainted by cruelty. The Trump administration is often harsh and never kind.”
Paul Krugman: “Many Trump voters certainly thought they were choosing a smart businessman who would get things done. And even those who knew better may have hoped that the president-elect, his ego finally sated, would settle down to running the country — or at least delegate the boring business of governing America to people actually capable of doing the job….But it’s not happening. Mr. Trump hasn’t pivoted, matured, whatever term you prefer. He’s still the insecure, short-attention-span egomaniac he always was. Worse, he is surrounding himself with people who share many of his flaws — perhaps because they’re the sort of people with whom he is comfortable…. So there you have it: an administration unprecedented in its corruption, but also completely unprepared to govern. It’s going to be terrific, let me tell you.”
Former Bush administration official Eliot Cohen wrote in The Atlantic: “Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity — substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment.”
Here is columnist Timothy Egan: “Every day brings some fresh affront to decency, some assault on progress, some blow to the truth. The people who run the White House can’t spell, can’t govern, can’t get through a news cycle without insulting an ally or defaming a cherished institution. Republicans just shrug and move on, in lock step with a leader who wants to set the country back a century. From their view, things are going swimmingly…. Millions of reasonable people are appalled that a madman is in charge of the country. But tell that to Mitch McConnell when he cuts off the right of a fellow senator to speak. Or tell it to Paul Ryan when he can’t find his copy of the Constitution he has sworn to uphold. These invertebrate leaders don’t care if Trump’s residence is a house of lies. They don’t care that their president is a sexual predator, or that his family is using the office to enrich themselves. All they care about is the R stitched to his jersey.”
Nancy Pelosi: “This is our moment in history. This man in the White House is incoherent, incompetent and dangerous. And we have to protect children and other living things from him.”
Media Wars Donald Trump continues to viciously attack the media and labels any criticism as fake news. At news conferences, he ignores mainstream media reporters and calls on ones friendly to him in an obvious effort to slant the news. Recently, he blocked a New York Times reporter from a briefing, something which has never happened before. Trump has hauled in the top corporate brass of CNN and demanded more favorable coverage. The Wall Street Journal is reported to be having an internal struggle. The paper’s long reputation has been for a very right wing editorial page coupled with an independent news department famous for responsible reporting. But rumors have it that conservative WSJ top editor Gerard Baker is trying to “Murdoch-ize” the news department by politicizing the news. For example, a story about white supremacist support for Trump was deleted as were stories about Muslims, climate change and immigrants. They were replaced by glowing accounts of Trump. Newsroom editors are fighting back. Meanwhile, the former Orange County Register owners of Freedom Communications, the previous publisher of The Orange County Register and The Press-Enterprise newspapers, and their insurance brokers have been sued by company creditors over failed pension investments.
Buy Stock in the Prison Business The day after Trump “won” the election, stock in the Corrections Corporation of America jumped up 43%. Stock in its nearest competitor CEO Group leaped 23%. Stock in both companies are now up 100%. Both companies have doubled their revenue since 2006 (now well over $3 billion). New Attorney General Sessions announced as one of his first actions the return to prisons for profit. No wonder the Republicans favor harsh mandatory sentences and three strike laws. It’s a great way to get big returns for shareholders. President Obama was phasing out private prisons because research showed they performed worse than government prisons. Now there will be new incentives to lock up more people so private contractors in the prisoner business can make more money. The United States is by far the world leader in the percentage of its population in prison. It easily beats out Russia, Rwanda, and Turkmenistan who also imprison a lot of their people. The USA imprisons about 14 times as many people as countries such as Sweden, Finland, Japan, and Iceland. Sessions is already hard at work to lock up more people in order to make America great again!
Fukushima Radiation Contaminates the Pacific Ocean The disaster at Fukushima continues. Because the reactor is too hot to be sealed and the plant continues to leak 300 tons of radioactive waste into the ocean every day. According to this report, radioactive levels at California beaches have risen dramatically. Click here and here.
New Research Shows that Charter Schools Can Harm Students Charter schools, not public schools, are the priority for the new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. She never attended public school and has no experience with public education but she is extremely rich which is probably why Trump likes her. She is also famous for being the sister of Eric Prince, founder of Blackwater. In any case, read: “Dismal Results From Vouchers Surprise Researchers.”
Is There Life In Outer Space? Astronomers are pretty convinced. Last year, astronomers announced the discovery of an Earth-sized planet around Proxima Centauri, the closest star which is “only” 4.24 light years away (you could get there in 4 years if you traveled at a speed of 186,000 miles per second). More recently the Trappist-1 planetary system was discovered a bit farther, 39 light years away (still very close by galactic standards). They have identified 7 Earth like planets with climates that could sustain water and life. If you want to go for a visit on a jet plane, it would take you about 44 million years to get there. Scientists believe that probably every star in our Milky Way galaxy has at least one planet. That would mean 100,000 million planets. But there are at least 10 trillion galaxies. You do the math.
Briefly Noted FOX News is under investigation by United States attorneys for attempts to cover up payments in sexual harassment suits (including the $20 million payout to Roger Ailes). The allegation is that FOX tried to make the payments appear as “salaries” so they would not be reported.
A huge crack in an Antarctic ice shelf is moving about 500 yards a day. It is already 100 miles long, a third of a mile deep, and a chunk the size of Delaware threatens to break off and fall into the sea. Meanwhile, for the third year in a row planet Earth set a new heat record. And by the way, we now have a president who does not believe in Climate Change.
Larry Colburn has died. In case you don’t remember, he was the 18 year old helicopter pilot who stopped the My Lai massacre in 1968. When he saw American soldiers gunning down unarmed civilians he landed his chopper between the troops and the civilians who were about to be shot and pointed his guns at the Lt. William Calley and his troops. Colburn and his fellow pilot Hugh Thompson are true American heroes.
Trump has made the world a more dangerous place according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The Bulletin moved its famous Doomsday Clock to 2.5 minutes before Midnight.
Hate crimes are on the rise according to the OC Register with 58 hate incidents in Orange County since Trump was elected. In fact, the Hate Map compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center shows that southern California leads the nation when it comes to hate groups.
On Feb. 23, the OC Register reported that 27% of the children in Orange County live in poverty.
A new 10 year nationwide study of elderly women reported powerful evidence for a link between air pollution and dementia risk. Meanwhile, Trump issued an executive order to allow coal companies freedom to dump tons of mining waste and debris into rivers and valleys.
Sweden is in the news, not because of fake news about fake violence which a fake president heard on fake FOX News. It is about towns in Sweden worried about declining birth rates. According to the NYT, many towns are now considering giving municipal employees one hour of paid leave per week to go home and have sex! Not only would this nudge dwindling populations but it would also add spice to marriages, improve employee morale, and be a good form of exercise. In Denmark, concerned about the same issue, there is now an advertising campaign “Do It In Denmark!”