In the News

In the News, Fall 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choice Letters to the Editor

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Roger Johnson, San Clemente

In the News, Early Summer 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Brewers Are Squeezing Out Craft Beer Read more.

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

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

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

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

Trump’s Lies About Job Creation Exposed 

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

The Republican Trumpcare Bill Insults Women 

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

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

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

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

Choice Letters to the Editor

Gangster Presidency, LAT May 11

To the Editor:

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

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

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

 

Charter Schools, NYT May 7

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

JANICE GEWIRTZ,   Mountain Lakes, N.J.

 

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

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

DAVID BERMAN,  New York

 

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

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To the Editor:

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

RICHARD WILLIAMS,   DAVIS, CALIF.

 

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

To the Editor:

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

Let the impeachment proceedings begin.

Roger Johnson, San Clemente CA

 

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

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Johnson,  San Clemente

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the News February – March 2017

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 socprogressives@gmail.com.  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.

DAVID BERMAN

New York

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!”

 

In the News, January 2017

Is This the Beginning of the End?  The warning signs are everywhere.  Many have noted the similarities of the rise of Fascism in the 1930s to what is happening today in the U.S. (and elsewhere in the world).  Parallels have also been made to the fall of the Roman Empire.  Can our democracy protect us against tyranny of the powerful when they defy laws and trash institutions from the inside while maintaining a façade of normalcy?  See what Paul Krugman has written about this in his recent piece called “How Republics End.

More on Flip Flops.   The SOCP December invitation satirized 45 Flip Flops that Donald Trump has gotten away with (so far).  NBC News has now published a list of 141 Trump campaign promises.  They helped get him elected, but now it appears that he has flip flopped on many of them or lied about what he promised.   

The Electoral College and the Myth of American Democracy. How did Hillary Clinton win the election by 2.9 million votes yet not get elected?  Trump is now the biggest loser in history to gain the White House.  Remember when the Constitution of the United States stated that slaves would be considered only 3/5 of a person when it comes to voting (or that women were not allowed to vote at all)?  With the electoral college, it remains something like that today.  If you live in Alaska, you essentially get to vote twice compared to someone who votes in California.  UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky wrote a nice piece about this for the OCR (after which the OCR Letter Editor chose to publish endless personal attacks on him).

How Trump Supports American Workers.  Simple.  He doesn’t.  He siphons American jobs off to China and other countries and then brags that he does the opposite.  See the front page NYT piece Dec. 28 about how he avoids “Made in USA.” Almost all of the Ivanka Trump line of clothes and shoes is made with cheap labor in places like Vietnam, Indonesia, and China. Trump hats are made in Pakistan. Read all about it.

Trump vs American Women.  Trump’s war on women continues, especially after the nomination of Tom Pierce as Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Allison Hoffman writes “The Coming War on Women’s Health”    PS:  Why did only 51% of educated women and 39% of non-college degree women vote for Hillary?  Women could have carried Hillary to the White House but they did not.  And if there was such a nationwide hunger for a change in Washington, why not elect a woman?  That would change things in Washington faster than electing someone whose claim to fame is operating gambling casinos and beauty pageants.

The Trump Foundation Scam.  Remember how Trump attacked the Clinton Foundation?  Turns out that the Clinton Foundation (unlike the Trump Foundation) does lots of charitable work. Trump now wants to dissolve the Trump Foundation not because of conflict of interest but because it has been charged with illegal activities by NY State attorney general Eric Schneiderman.  Trump lied about his contributions to his foundation (he contributed nothing) and instead used other people’s money to benefit himself.  For example, Trump withdrew $258,000 of foundation funds to pay his legal expenses in a lawsuit.  He withdrew $20,000 to commission a 6 foot portrait of himself, $12,000 for an autographed  Tim Tebow football helmet, $25,000 to fund a political action committee, etc.  Here is delicate question:  If Trump becomes a convicted criminal will he go to the White House or to jail? Will  his attorney general argue that criminal activity is allowable if you are President? 

Trump Appointee Diminishes Hope for Middle East Peace.  Trump continues his disastrous appointments to key government posts.  We get an unhinged Dr. Strangelove as National Security Advisor, a climate change denier as head of environmental protection, and attorney general who views the Voting Rights Act as “intrusive” (he was previously rejected by other administrations because of his history of racism).  Who did Trump pick as ambassador to Israel?  David Friedman, and orthodox Jewish lawyer who is deeply involved in funding settlements such as Beit El.  (So is the Trump Foundation).  Departing Secretary of State Kerry recently stated that Israel’s determination to build more settlements is the number one cause of the failure to achieve a peace agreement. NYT headline: “Kerry says Israel keeps sabotaging peace prospects.”  Subhead: “Two-state plan nears the end of its shelf life.”  Trump has taken a bad situation and made it worse.  More commentary.

Worried about Obamacare?  Republicans also want to Trash Medicare,  Medicaid, and Social Security.  It is no secret that Republicans are smacking their lips over finally getting a chance to gut, dismantle, and privatize all of these programs.  Read about the war on Medicaid.

FOX News Continues its Fake News.  FOX News has a long history of lying about news and creating fake news.  During the election, CEO Roger Ailes ordered all news anchors to repeat 4 times in every program (A) Benghazi; (B) Hillary emails.  It worked, and gullible FOX News viewers concluded that Hillary was even more dishonest than Donald Trump.  Of course Ailes is now gone because his 20 years of sexual molestation of female workers was finally exposed (but FOX gave him $40 million as a reward when he left).  The latest fake news from FOX is its big splash claiming that food stamps for the poor waste $70 million.  FOX has no evidence to back up this claim.  The USDA which administers the program states that fraud is about 1%, an all-time low.  This attack on the poor is a continuation of a long standing Republican code language racist strategy. Remember them calling Obama the “Food Stamp President?”  FOX is doing the same thing that Trump does: use anecdotes and ignore facts. What FOX doesn’t do is investigative reporting on the real news about fraud:  the Pentagon’s attempt to suppress a report about $125 billion in military waste. Trumps plans to greatly increase military spending so we can be sure that the concern about government wasteful spending is phony. See what Crooks and Liars has to say about the food stamp embarrassment at FOX. 

Bad Guys in Brief.  Gleaned from recent pages in the NYT there is not much good news.  Turns out that the sugar industry pays academics to publish journal articles discrediting health guidelines about the dangers of sugar consumption….Princess Cruise Lines admits dumping waste into the ocean….The Saudi royal family imposes austerity on public spending but continues lavish spending on palaces and Lambourghinis….When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, she was a champion of world-wide efforts to promote gender equality. The new Trump transition team recently demanded that the State Dept. provide a list of all efforts about “gender-related staffing, programming, and funding.”  Officials at the State Dept. are “freaked out” at this request which they fear means that Trump wants to reverse these efforts for women.  The Trump team also requested a list of names of anyone in the energy department who worked on climate change, presumably an effort to silence or punish them….Many American towns are extracting private profit from public works. In Bayonne, NJ, for example, Wall Street financiers made a deal for new underground water pipes that resulted in residents getting $500 water bills.  The Wall Street investment company replied that they have to provide their investors with nice healthy profits….Airlines are shrinking the size of bathrooms in order to cram in more seats (and more profit)….Drug companies continue to enrich themselves at public expense with price gouging.  Example:  Acthar Gel has risen from $40 per vial to $38,000 per vial. Thankyou Mallinckrodt PLC of St. Louis.  About a third of its $3.4 billion in sales comes from Acthar….Students in Taiwan dress up as Nazi storm troopers and stage a parade with swastika banners….A North Korean official told reporters that because Trump was escalating nuclear threats against China, 2017 promises to be a great year for advancing its nuclear missile program….  Meanwhile, China responded to Trump threats and raised the stakes by moving an aircraft carrier into the South China Sea….Worst and most reckless act of the year:  Donald Trump wants to undo decades of arms reduction agreements.  He just announced that he wants to start a new arms race and expand nuclear weapons.

 

 

 

 

 

In the News, December 2016

More FOX News Dirt from Megyn Kelly.  In her new book “Settle for More,” Kelly unloads about what goes on at FOX, the Republican “news” cable channel run for years by CEO Roger Ailes.  Ailes, former top consultant for Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Giuliani, apparently sexually harassed her for years.  Meanwhile, Trump and Ailes were in constant contact about how to present Trump favorably on FOX.  Aisles instructed all programs to mention at least four times per hour (A) Hillary’s emails; (B) Benghazi.  Trump disliked Kelly and was alarmed that she would interview him.  On the night of the TV debate, Ailes sent a limo for Kelly and the driver insisted they stop for coffee.  An hour later,  Kelly suddenly became violently ill and was throwing up.  Now she is claiming that they drugged her.

Fake News on Google and Facebook.  Speaking of fake news, critics have lashed out at other “news” sources such as Google and Facebook.  They claim that both of them carried phony news in an attempt to sway the election.  Facebook “news” for example spread a false story about Donald Trump being endorsed by the Pope.  

Your cellphone number compromises your privacy.  Information mining companies (banks, social networks) are now storing (and selling) information about you based on your cellphone number.

Is it OK to Eat Food Off the Floor?    A doctor says yes.    Microbiologists have studied bacteria on all kinds of surfaces and discovered for example that the floor is actually cleaner than the average kitchen counter.  Refrigerator handles are twice as contaminated.  Three times worse is the faucet handle but that is nothing compared to the toilet flush handle.  What’s really bad? The cell phones of health care workers which are right up there with dollar bills.  And then there are gas pump handles, ATM buttons, remote controls, and computer keyboards.  But you have to read the article to see what is the dirtiest of all with 20 million colonies per square inch.

Gene La Rocque, Decorated Veteran Who Condemned Waste of War, Dies at 98.  Admiral LaRocque was a much decorated Navy veteran who spoke out against the wastes of war.  He founded the Center for Defense Information which performed informed opinion about the Pentagon, worked toward averting nuclear war,  and attempted to scrutinize the military-industrial complex.  He will be missed.

Are Supplements Beneficial?  The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 allows the diet supplement industry to market anything they want without evidence that these products are safe or effective.  The result?  A $30 billion dollar a year industry.  Unfortunately, studies show little benefit.

Letters to the Editor: Children and the Trump Effect

To the Editor:

On Tuesday at the drinking fountain, my 10-year-old biracial son overheard a white student taunt an Asian student, “If Trump wins today, you’ll be going back to China.” He wasn’t even Chinese. The day before, at my 15-year-old daughter’s school, a cafeteria table full of girls started chanting, “Build the wall!” as she and her African-American and Muslim friends sat silently staring.

Many students have taken to social media with similar language, like “send the minorities back.” I live in New York, not a Southern or rust belt state. I’m not a historian, but this is a very scary moment in time.    MICHELLE CAIOLA,  Mamaroneck, N.Y.

 

To the Editor:

My 10-year-old daughter learned a lot during the election campaign: that most of the time it’s O.K. to lie; that not paying your debts and taxes is just fine; that people who are different are suspect; that having a stranger grope you is no big deal; that reading and preparedness are overrated and that science is a hoax. Also, that it’s O.K. never to admit mistakes; that bullying pays off; and that ugliness, hatred and violence are appropriate responses to disagreement.

This is apparently how more than 60 million Americans feel: enough to elect Donald Trump president. Nevertheless, I will do my best to counter these twisted beliefs and encourage my daughter to treat all people fairly and to choose only leaders who respect the law, embrace difference and give more than they take.  CHRIS BELDEN,   Ridgefield, Conn.

Russian Meddling.  Remember back in July when Trump asked Russia to hack into Hillary’s emails?  Apparently they did so.  The Kremlin also launched a barrage of fake negative news about Hillary.  The Director Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence both said they were confident of Russian interference.  Both the NYT and the LAT recently featured lead editorials about this, but only Democrats are asking for an investigation.  Apparently Pres. Obama knew about this long ago but was reluctant to do anything because it might make it appear that he was trying to help Hillary.  Other U.S. officials may want to play this down for fear that they would look incompetent.  Or perhaps they don’t want anyone remembering  how U.S. intelligence was deeply involved in setting up (and tearing down) dictators in other countries.  Nevertheless, the thought of Russia being able to throw the U.S. election is deeply disturbing.  Why can’t anyone hack the emails of the Trump family? Or Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Steve Bannon, etc.  Can you imagine what vile things would come to light?

Hate Crimes Rise After Trump Election.  A few weeks after the election, the Denver Post featured a front page banner headline Anxious In America .  It described the sudden increase in hate crimes against people of color, gays, Muslims, and even women.  Apparently this is a national trend as racists and their like felt vindicated by the election and viewed it as a green light to engage in hate crimes.  Governor Hickenlooper called for calm and urged Trump and his followers to take steps to soothe fears.

Obama Hands a Gift to Trump.  During the election campaign, Trump repeatedly called the economy a disaster and blamed it on Obama and the Democrats.  Low information Trump supporters actually believed this lie.  Everyone (except Trump supporters) knows that President George W. Bush had the worst economic record of any president since Hoover. He holds the worst performance for GDP growth, stock market performance and job creation of any president of at least the most recent 11 presidents, and is near the bottom of the lists for most other measures. President Bush left office with the S&P 500 being worth 1/3 less than it was when he entered office. The Republicans left the country in a downward spiral and handed Obama a horrible economic record.  Fortunately, Obama was able to turn it around.  See the front page of the NYT Dec. 3:  President Obama is Handing a Strong Economy to his Successor 

Trump Makes the World Tilt.  Also during the election campaign, Donald Trump expressed his admiration for Putin and openly encouraged Putin to meddle in the election (which Putin did).  Putin was overjoyed when Trump expressed a desire to weaken the 28 country NATO alliance, the cornerstone of American security and foreign policy efforts since 1949.  The world is getting the message that under Trump the United States will no longer be a great leader.  In the Far East, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines are starting to tilt toward China.  And the recent election in France indicates that Europe is tilting toward Russia French Election Hints at European Tilt Toward Russia (NYT Nov. 30)      Meanwhile, Trump breaches diplomatic protocol and goes out of his way to insult China  or you could read this analysis from Nov. 29 called The End of the Anglo-American World  (Trump is not even in office yet and he is already turning the world upside down.  How much serious damage can he do to our country and the world in 4 (or 8) years?  If you want to spoil your holidays (and maybe the remainder of this century), read Harvard Professor Yascha Mounk’s in the forthcoming issue of the journal Democracy.  He concludes that democracies are not as secure as people think.  According to him, “The warning signs are flashing red.”  Will Trump provide the dynamite to blow up the free world? 

What Does ‘Alt-Right’ Really Mean?  When Trump appointed Steve Bannon, champion of white supremacists, to become the chief White House strategist,  the term ‘Alt-Right’ began to appear with alarming frequency.  The term was coined in 2010 by white supremacist leader Richard Spenser as a euphemism for hate groups (Nazis, anti-Semites, anti-Muslim, anti-gay, racists, and even some women haters).  Now there is a backlash and a dispute in the main stream media over what to call this movement.  A raging debate broke out in the Washington Post recently illustrated by this reader who wrote:  “Stop calling them ‘Alt-Right!’  They are racists, white supremicists, and Nazis!”  See: News Outlets Rethink the Usage of ‘Alt-Right” NYT Nov. 29.

H.L Mencken Comments on Donald Trump.  How is that possible?? Mencken died in 1956! Thanks to Lois Rothschild for this gem:

dec16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Court Reopens Dispute Over Who Pays for Edison’s Blunders.  The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will review the controversial decision by the CPUC to soak taxpayers for the failed San Onofre steam generators.  Citizens’ Oversight has sued to block the decision to have ratepayers charged for 70% of the $4.7 billion costs.  Jeff McDonald wrote a good summer which appeared as a big spread in both the LATimes and the San Diego U-T.   Meanwhile, the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) in New Mexico has still not reopened after fires and explosions there on Feb. 14, 2014.  The tab is over $2 billion and still running making it one of the most expensive nuclear disasters in the U.S. (about the same as the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979).  Think about this when someone says that nuclear is cheap! (They don’t count disasters.)  WIPP is the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository.  More worrisome is the talk about sticking it to Nevada and forcing the reopening of Yucca Mountain even though Nevada produces no nuclear waste and has been irradiated upside down and backwards by nuclear weapons testing. Republicans are hoping that Trump will get revenge on Harry Reid who is leaving office.  The Yucca  Mountain project was terminated because scientists concluded that there was no way to prevent deep underground radioactive contamination of the water tables (it is too small to hold the nation’s nuclear waste).

Choice Letters to the Editor

FILLING THE SWAMP, LAT Dec. 3

To the editor: Congratulations to those of you who voted for President-elect Donald Trump or failed to vote because you weren’t happy with the choices. (“Trump to preside over the richest Cabinet in U.S. history,” Dec. 1)

You didn’t get Hillary Clinton, but here’s what we all got:

  • Possibly the loss of health insurance for more than 20 million people and the loss of Medicare or Medicaid benefits to millions of the poor or elderly.
  •  A potential Environmental Protection Agency administrator who doesn’t believe in climate change.
  •  A billionaire who has never attended a public school as the next Education secretary.
  • A former Wall Street banker as the next Treasury secretary.
  • Another billionaire affectionately known as the “king of bankruptcy” as the next Commerce secretary.

But don’t worry. Trump said he wouldn’t be controlled by Wall Street or special interests. He said he owes no favors to anyone. Still, we know he will never fully separate himself or his family from the wealth he has amassed. We know that he will continue to profit from his overseas holdings, whether directly or into the pockets of his children. We know that his own interests could put our country in danger.

How do we know? Because about the only truth Trump has ever uttered is that winning at any cost is all that matters to him. And now that he has been elected, to hell with the rest of us.

 

Terrie McKinley, Aliso Viejo

SORE WINNERS,  NYT, Nov. 29

To the Editor:

We all know sore losers, but President-elect Donald Trump has reflected an unusual form of behavior, that of a sore winner. We try to teach our children to accept defeat with dignity as well as disappointment, and I wonder what they think of our future leader who cannot even bring himself to be gracious in victory.

DAVID NOCHIMSON

Santa Monica, Calif.

 

 

 

 

 

In the News November 2016

Hillary Easily Wins the Election  In the popular vote, the one used by most democratic countries, Hillary easily beat Trump by millions of votes.  Congratulations, Hillary!  Unfortunately, we don’t have a modern democratic system but rather an 18th century version which assures that mere voters cannot determine the outcome of a presidential election.  When George Bush was appointed President (another recent “President” who lost the popular vote) there was a huge outcry and widespread demand to eliminate the outmoded electoral system.  Now this is coming up yet again, but chances are slim.  Why?  It would need a Constitutional amendment which has to be approved by the states.  There are about 13 states where anyone voting gets more than one vote.  How will they ever agree to give up their undemocratic supervoting status?

News in Brief.   Scientists have discovered that lots of small quakes (200 recently in the Salton Sea area) tend to raise the risk of larger ones.  They have revised the chances of a 7.0 or greater quake near the San Andreas fault from 1 in 6000 to 1 in 100….Did you know that the seldom used third stanza of the Star Spangled Banner contains racist language?  Francis Scott Key was angry at slaves who joined the British in return for a promise of freedom….A 600 year old oak tree in Basking Ridge, NJ, perhaps the oldest in the country, finally died.  I was alive when Christopher “discovered” America.  George Washington was said to have picnicked under it….The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the Earth’s record breaking heat streak is over.  For 16 months in a row the temperature was the hottest in recorded history. But September broke the strek because it was only the second hottest on record – by a few hundredths of a degree….Carrie Tolstedt, the Wells Fargo executive who oversaw the program where 5,300 employees scammed customers with fraudulent bank accounts, retired with a $124,6 golden parachute….In the year 2000, 32.8 million people lived in poverty.  In 2015 the figure was 43.1 million.

Where Did Humans Come From?  Scientists recently published in the journal Nature the results of a study using genetic sequencing of DNA from people all over the world. We now know that the human race originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago and began to migrate out of Africa about 50-80,000 years ago.  All modern humans no matter where they live trace their ancestry to Africa.  What about the universe and its origins?  NASA recently announced that the Hubble space telescope found 10 times more galaxies than previously thought.  Scientists now estimate about 2 trillion galaxies in the universe.  Some galaxies contain a trillion stars, but our puny Milky Way has only about 300 billion.  You do the math to find the number of stars:  two trillion X one trillion, and then multiply times the number of planets around each star (they now say there is a newly discovered planet in our own solar system).  After digesting this, contemplate the importance of Earth in the greater scheme of things.

Chapman University Survey of Fears 2016.  In case you wondered how many people really believe in conspiracy theories, consider this random sample of 1,511 Americans nationwide.  Here is the percent of those who believe that the government is concealing what they know about alien encounters (42.6%), Obama’s birth certificate (30.2%), the 911 attacks (54.3%), the plans for a one world government (32.9%), and the death of supreme court justice Antonin Scalia (27.8%).  Only 26% disagreed with all 9 most popular conspiracy theories. Those most likely to believe in conspiracy theories tended to be Republican, Catholic (or Biblical literalist), and those with a low education level. Those who believed in a lot of conspiracies tended to distrust others, fear Obamacare (57.3%), were more likely to buy guns, and believed that the world would end during their lifetime.

Laos War Exposed.  You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that some government lies are real.  Remember the war on Laos that never happened?  President Obama recently declared that it was time to acknowledge what was concealed at the time of the Vietnam War.  The U.S. dropped over 2 million tons of bombs on Laos, more than all the munitions dropped on Germany and Japan in World War II. Turns out that Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the history of the planet.  

Do Gun Control Laws Reduce Violence?  Yes.  Although denied by the gun lobby, research now shows the benefits of gun control legislation.

Does the ‘Trump Effect’ Teach Prejudice?  Are children adopting some of the negative attitudes and prejudices espoused by Donald Trump?  A developmental psychologist says that children are cultural sponges.  Research shows that by the time they reach kindergarten they can adopt implicit racial attitudes and attribute positive or negative values based on gender, race, or wealth.

Teacher Pension Rip-Offs.  The NYT has been running a series about how teachers get ripped off by bad pension plans that have hidden high commissions.  Look up Tara Siegel Bernard and check out one of her recent posts.

Did You Make the Trump Insult List?  On Oct. 24, the NYT ran a double page spread in tiny print of the 282  “people, places, and things” that Trump insulted in the last few months.  Check to see if you made the list.

14 Reasons Not to Vote for Trump.  The New York Daily News has a marvelous expose on the Trump campaign. Thanks to Chuck Reutter for this gem.

Judge Rules in Favor of Citizens Oversight.  San Diego superior court judge Joel Wohlfeil ruled in favor of Ray Lutz and Citizens Oversight Projects (COPs) in their lawsuit against San Diego County Registrar Michael Vu, et al. The ruling finds that ALL Vote-By-Mail ballots must be included in the 1% manual tally audit, a move that will help insure election integrity.  Congratulations, Ray!

 

 

 

In the News, October 2016

 

First the Bad News.  We are now just finding out that the sugar industry paid medical doctors back in 1967 to publish deceptive research intended to shift blame for heart disease on fat rather than on its own sugar….Adblock Plus started out as a way to avoid intrusive ads online and is now used on 100 million devices. But with deceptive stealth it now rakes in tons of money doing the opposite: allowing ads in….American Airlines, Southwest, United, and Alaska Airlines were fined by the FAA for deliberately deceiving passengers about their rights after they got bumped from flights….Apple has been dodging taxes not only from the U.S. but from the European Union (they are technically “located” in Ireland) which is demanding $14.5 billion in back taxes. A law professor comments that U.S. companies are the grandmasters of tax avoidance….Speaking of tax cheats, we are now hearing the Republican ritual of demanding an end to the estate tax (which Republicans call the “death tax”).  “No family will have to pay the death tax. We will repeal it,” said Trump in Detroit. This tax kicks in only for estates of more than $10.9 million. It benefits no one but the super rich one-percenters like Trump who want more of the pie for themselves….Who is king of tax avoidance?  Here is the NYT front page headline for Sept. 18: “Trump Built His Empire As King of the Tax Break”….  Cancer has now replaced heart disease as the number one killer in California….Your worst nightmare of mergers: Bayer is taking over Monsanto….Exxon Mobile quietly researched global warming but they did not like the results which found it was real.  They suppressed the science and instead funded global warming deniers….And finally the brazen sham at Wells Fargo.  Thousands of employees were pressured to open millions of illegal phony bank accounts without customer knowledge or permission.  When the scam was revealed, CEO John Stumpf “took responsibility” by firing the low-level employees and rewarding those who managed the program (the executive who ran the program departed with a $124.6 million bonus).  And now JPMorgan Chase is being investigated for bribery. Reports are that the bank made special efforts to hire the children of China’s ruling elites.  Are there any honest banks out there?

Football and Conformity.  Remember the familiar expression, “When everyone thinks alike, no one thinks at all.”  It is amazing how many people were upset when a professional athlete chose to protest  by not saluting the flag.  Too many people conflate patriotism with flag waving rituals (or militarism).  Here is what a stockbroker had to say.  And if you haven’t seen the movie Snoden, go have a look and think about whether he should be vilified as a criminal or celebrated as a hero.

Fox News Exposed.  It is not just the sexual harassment at Fox which is now revealed but also lengths to which they go to distort the news.  Now we learn that their broadcasters were ordered to repeat four times an hour “news” about Benghazi and Clinton’s email.  Roger Ailes discovered long ago that if you repeat lies over and over that eventually people will believe them (Trump learned from Ailes and uses the same tactic).  But now there is blowback even by conservative Republicans.  Fox is partly responsible for promoting Trump uncritically and the result may be the destruction of the Republican Party.

False Equivalence.  There are some who argue that the earth is flat, the holocaust never happened, and climate change is a hoax.  Should their views be covered and promoted equally by the media so they can claim that they cover both sides of an issue?  Those who seek to minimize the enormous number of lies told by Trump argue that Clinton is just the same (equivalent) because of her emails.   The press buys into this and the result is that both candidates are seen by many as equally flawed.   In the Clinton vs. Donald race (which the media call Hillary vs. Trump) the media carry much responsibility for the sorry state of affairs in this election.

Letter to the Editor of the Month

To the Editor:

After reading Roger Cohen’s column about Donald Trump’s appeal in coal country, my reaction was: What makes them think they’re special? Since 2014, almost 200,000 Americans have lost their oil industry jobs. Dell, Cisco, IBM and other tech giants have each laid off thousands; one Wall Street analyst says more than 350,000 tech industry jobs could be lost this year alone. Even Walmart announced 16,000 job cuts.

I cannot think of any job that hasn’t changed dramatically or been eliminated in the last 20 years, including my own. Somehow a certain portion of underemployed Americans blame President Obama and think Donald Trump can fix their lives. Perhaps if close to 40 percent of newspaper journalists hadn’t also lost their jobs in the last decade, we might have a more realistic, better informed public.

SHEILA SORVARI

Austin, Tex.

 

In the News, September 2016

Tax Breaks for Corporations.  Many have seen the CBS Reports sting operation in which a fake corrupt billionaire from Africa made the rounds of NYC lawyers to seek their help for illegal tax evasion.  Most were eager to teach him how to create fake anonymous shell companies. Now the story breaks that European regulators want Apple Inc. to cough up $14.5 billion in back taxes.  This is because Apple made a deal with Ireland that it would move subsidiaries there in return for paying no taxes. So from 2003 to 2014, Apple paid almost no taxes at all ($50 taxes for every $1 million in profit).  Starbucks, Amazon, and McDonalds are doing the same thing.  But don’t feel sorry for Apple.  They made $230 billion last year.  USC law school professor Edward Kleinbard observes that US companies are the grandmasters of tax avoidance. He says that they put as much energy into tax avoidance policies as they did into industrial design. 

 

NFL Stadiums a rip-off for Vegas and San Diego.  Michael Hiltzik writes that corporate welfare is on full display as obscenely rich corporations squeeze the public for free handouts.  Case in point: Sheldon Adelson net worth $28.7 billion partnered with the Oakland Raiders and wants to raise taxes  to pay for moving the team to a public-financed stadium in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, billionaire Alex Spanos wants San Diego to do the same thing to and give his Chargers a new stadium.  The issue will be a ballot measure in November.

 

The Disaster at Fukushima Gets Worse.  Just as we are about to start building the San Onofre Nuclear Waste Dump (also called the Darrell Issa Nuclear Waste Dump),  news trickles out about the failure of the $320 million high tech ice wall at Fukushima which was supposed to contain 800,000 tons of radioactive water.  The one mile long ice dam 100 feet deep consumes enormous amounts of power, uses a highly corrosive brine solution which can crack/break the cooling pipes, and sections switched on 4 months ago have yet to freeze. The system also does not contain Tritium (radioactive hydrogen) and TEPCO has no idea what to do about water contaminated with tritium.  40,000 gallons of ground water continue to pour into the contaminated reactors every day with nowhere to go (just like San Onofre nuclear waste has nowhere to go).  Five robots have been sent into the reactor buildings and all failed to return.  The government is in panic mode because Prime Minister Abe promised that Fukushima contamination will be under control by 2020 when Japan hosts the Olympics.

 

Nuclear Disasters Here in the US.   Turning to our own nuclear disasters, the LAT recently ran a front page lead story about the fires and explosions at the nation’s only nuclear waste repository.   The deep underground explosions from plutonium drums at the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) in Carlsbad, NM on Feb. 14, 2014 caused massive long term damage to the facility.  The DOE initially trivialized the incident but what is now leaking out (in addition to radiation) is that the accident was much worse than previously disclosed. This follows the same pattern of lies about every nuclear incident (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, etc.).  The WIPP incident is among the most costly nuclear accident in US history.  The current tab is $ 2 billion and still running.  The facility is crucial for the military because it is the final resting place for nuclear weapons waste going back to World War II.  It was supposed to be accepting 277,000 drums of nuclear waste from Hanford and the Idaho National Laboratory but now it cannot do so.  It costs about $200 million/year to operate the dump but it was never designed to operate in a contaminated state.  Designers assumed there would never be an accident. Spokesmen have suggested that the dump might never be able to resume full operations.  This mirrors the current plight of civilian nuclear waste from nuclear power plants:  it is all in temporary storage on site with no place to take it.

 

Don’t Forget Old Nuclear Disasters.  A few months ago the NYT rehashed the Jan 17, 1966 refueling accident which caused a B-52 bomber to drop 4 H-bomb on a Spanish town.  They did not explode but they covered the countryside with plutonium dust.  The US rushed 1600 airmen in to dig up and cart away the contaminated soil.  The US denied there was a nuclear accident and lied about the radiation dangers not only to the villagers but also to the airmen.  They did not want the airmen to use protective gear because that might lead people to think that something was dangerous.  They forced the soldiers to eat tomatoes from the contaminated farms to prove that there was nothing to worry about.  They delayed an investigation, then botched it and destroyed evidence, then cancelled a program to treat the soldiers that got cancer.  As more and more of them die of cancer, the US still refuses to treat them claiming lack of evidence.  The official way to deal with radiation disasters remains simple:  lie about it. The public was routinely deceived about the atomic bomb tests, the downwinders,  the Human Radiation Experiments, Three Mile Island and contamination at hundreds of places like Rocky Flats, Santa Susana, Uravan, Rancho Seco and Hanford.   It is pretty clear that all future radiation disasters will be handled the same way.

 

Does Living Near a Nuclear Power Plant Increase Cancer Risks?  We may never know.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently blocked a scientific research study that the National Academy of Sciences wanted to do in the 31 mile radius around San Onofre.  For details about this, go back to In the News for Summer of 2016.  To protest, sign the petition to restart this research.

 

How Do the Chinese Deal with Radioactive Threats?  Here is a modern morality play, a truly inspirational saga coming from Lianyungang, China, a coastal town north of Shanghai.  In two reports in August, the NYT covered the massive protests that went on as citizens took to the streets to oppose a nuclear waste plant that the government wanted to build with Areva.  Thousands of residents including families and children confronted police and gathered  at the city center chanting “Oppose Nuclear Waste” and “Defend Our Home.”  A survey of 1,616 residents found that 84% said they “worried about improper handling of nuclear waste.” Officials warned that the government will strike hard against lawbreakers and those spreading rumors about the dangers of nuclear waste. Citizens protested not only in person but on the internet with symbols such as the radiation sign with a red X across it.  “The people of Lianyungnag don’t want radiation!”

Guess what?  After days of passionate street protests, the government backed down and announced on Aug. 10 that it will halt any plans to build a nuclear plant in Lianyungage. Put this in perspective: The residents of this Chinese town are very well-informed about nuclear issues. They strongly oppose nuclear waste plants.  They are willing to engage in massive protests in the streets. They stand up to authority.

Now compare this with cities and towns in Orange and San Diego counties where most people are ill-informed about nuclear waste, show little interest or concern, and are quite willing to accept what they are told by the government and the nuclear industry.  Except for a relatively small number of activists, most people are compliant and would never think of protesting.  The net result:  A huge nuclear waste dump (several thousand tons of uranium and plutonium) is now being crammed down the throat of the residents of southern California. The Chinese would never stand for this but apparently the Americans will.

Protests against nuke waste in China:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/09/world/asia/china-nuclear-waste-protest-lianyungang.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/11/world/asia/china-nuclear-fuel-lianyungang.html

Summer 2016

Does Living Near a Nuclear Power Plant Increase the Risk of Cancer?

 The NRC has terminated an important cancer study so we may never find out

 Roger Johnson, PhD

About 47 million Americans live within 31 miles of a nuclear power plant (NPP) and 112 million live within 50 miles.  About 2.5 million live within 31 miles of San Onofre.  The 31 mile (50 km) radius starts at Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Santa Ana, and Irvine in the north and circles around all of Camp Pendleton to Temecula, Vista, San Marcos, Escondido all the way to Encinitas and Solana Beach to the south.

Why the 31 mile radius?  That was the area chosen by scientists from the prestigious National Academy of Science (NAS) to be included in a study of cancer risks for people living near San Onofre.  The purpose was to see if just living near a nuclear power plant (NPP) may increase the risk of cancer, especially in children.  Why San Onofre? The NAS research scientists proposed a nationwide pilot study and picked San Onofre as one of six NPP in the United States to be included.  It was the only one selected west of the Mississippi River.

This study is not related to issues like accidents, radiation leaks, equipment failures, human error,  earthquakes, the possibility of a terrorist attacks, or the current plan to store for the indefinite future almost 2,000 tons of radioactive spent fuel waste consisting of plutonium, uranium, and their radioactive fission products. Rather it is because San Onofre (like all NPP), regularly releases low-level radiation into the atmosphere and ocean.  The NAS wanted to find out if there are health consequences for residents regularly exposed to radiation. The NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) bases its guidelines for allowable radiation exposure on the standard adult male.  This ignores the fact that women are much more vulnerable to radiation than men, and children are even more vulnerable.  By far the largest radiation risk is for the human fetus which is 50 times more vulnerable than the adult male.  Because of the special risk to children, the proposed NAS study features a particular emphasis on risks for children.  Previous studies of radiation exposure from NPP in the U.S. failed to focus on women, children, and the unborn.

Radiation and Cancer

The issue is controversial worldwide but not widely recognized in the U.S. There are many causes of cancer, most of them environmental, but it is not known what levels of radiation cause cancer and if the radiation released from NPP can cause cancer.  There is no question that radiation can adversely affect cell DNA and lead to a host of medical problems which may not show up for decades.   According to the American Cancer Society, about one out of four deaths in California are caused by cancer.  Cancer kills more children under 14 than any other disease and about 1.5 million living residents of California have a history of cancer.  In 2016 it is predicted that there will be 173,200 new cases of cancer in California and 59,000 are expected to die.

There are many sources of radiation, but not all radiation is harmful.  What is harmful is ionizing radiation, a type of radiation at the high-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum.  X-rays are a good example: a type of radiation that passes right through your body.  Everyone knows that X-rays can be dangerous to living tissue which is why you wear a shield in the dentist office (and why the technicians flee the room).  The opposite end of the electromagnetic spectrum includes radio and TV waves, microwave radiation, and the spectrum of visible light.

High levels of ionizing radiation are extremely dangerous but less is known about low levels of ionizing radiation such as what is released at NPPs.  The nuclear industry promotes the view that radiation below certain levels is harmless.  Many scientists disagree.  The most definitive analysis of this issue comes from a volume entitled Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation VII, better known as the BEIR-7 Report (http://www.nap.edu/read/11340/chapter/2#2).  The report was carried out by scientists at the National Research Council who state in their summary that “radiation is one of the most thoroughly studied potential hazards to humans.” They concluded that there is no threshold below which radiation is harmless.  In addition, their research emphasizes that the effects of radiation are cumulative.  This means that a single exposure might not be harmful, but each exposure adds to all previous exposures.   Nuclear proponents like to trivialize radiation and cite how little radiation there is in single exposures like eating a banana or flying at high altitude to Denver.  But since every exposure is cumulative, doctors warn us to avoid repeated, unnecessary, and excessive exposures.

Radiation Releases from San Onofre

What can exposure do over a lifetime?  San Onofre has been releasing radiation into the environment since 1968.  Southern California Edison (SCE) claims that their releases are allowable under guidelines created by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).  The NRC makes NPP operators follow a regulation named after the aspirational acronym ALARA which means permitting radiation releases “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.”  They are careful to refer to these releases as “permissible” rather than “safe.”

The effluent releases are unannounced and carried out on a regular basis.  Air ejectors blast radioactive gaseous effluents into the atmosphere and prevailing winds usually carry this eastward over populated areas.  San Onofre also has huge pipes 18 ft. in diameter where radioactive liquid effluents are added to water pumped into the ocean at a million gallons per minute.   Plant operators are required to file quarterly averages about these discharges according to federal regulations 10 CFR 50.36a.

Summaries of averages mean that a few days of heavy releases are averaged with many days of low level releases or no releases, thus producing low average readings.  The dates of the releases are kept secret so surfers at San Onofre State Beach have no way of knowing if they are in the water near the pipes on a release date.  Some releases go on continuously for more than 24 hours.  Records reveal, for example, that in 2012 (when the reactors were not operating) there were 335.1 hours of liquid effluent releases. The longest one went on continuously for 28 hours and discharged 1.031 billion gallons into the ocean.

Is Low-Level Radiation Harmless?

The view that low-level radiation is harmless often stems from a study by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) conducted a quarter of a century ago.  By today’s standards, this research is heavily flawed and is now considered outdated.  The NCI studied only cancer deaths, not cancer incidence, and it studied only where people died, not where they lived or worked. It also averaged people living very near a NPP with those who lived far away.  For example, marines or their families living in Carlsbad were averaged with those living near the Mexican border because all were in San Diego County.  The health records of residents of San Clemente were considered the same as those living in Fullerton 40 miles away merely because available health records were organized by county.

The main takeaway from this study is that it failed to find a link between cancer and emissions from NPP.  The study did not establish, as some in the nuclear industry have implied, that NPP emissions are harmless.  A basic fact in scientific research is that the failure to find an effect never proves there is no effect.  A more parsimonious explanation is that failure to find an effect means poor methodology and that better studies are needed.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to conduct this kind of research. For example, in addition to man-made radiation there are many natural sources of radiation.  When people get cancer, it is extremely difficult to discover the source of their cancer.  In addition, accurate health records are hard to obtain and they are not organized in concentric circles around NPP. People move in and out and may work far from where they live. All of these issues are well-known.  Decades ago the research was not able to deal with these problems but newer scientific methodology is better at controlling these variables. This is why it is important to conduct new research using the latest techniques. Still another problem is that adverse health effects like cancer are sometimes not manifested for years or even decades.  In Japan, an estimated 2,000 people continue to die every year, not from old age, but from medical complications caused by the radiation they received as children in August of 1945 when they lived near Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

In recent years important scientific studies have been done in Europe using far better methodology than the 1990 National Cancer Institute study done in the U.S.  One study in France and another in Germany both revealed that children living near a nuclear power plant had twice the risk of child leukemia.  Another report in the British Medical Journal in 2015  (http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h5359 ) examined cancer in 407,391 workers at nuclear plants in 15 countries. They reported an excess risk of cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer stated that this study strengthens the evidence of a causal relationship between solid cancers and exposure to low doses of ionizing radiation. It went on to add that the findings are important not only for the protection of workers in the nuclear industry but also for the general public.

The National Academy of Sciences Research is Terminated by the NRC

Unfortunately there have been almost no recent studies done in the United States.  In 2010 the NRC finally decided not to conduct actual research on this issue but rather to study whether to study the problem. The result was a 412 page volume published two years later entitled Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Near Nuclear Facilities (http://www.nap.edu/catalog/18968/analysis-of-cancer-risks-in-populations-near-nuclear-facilities-phase).  The report summarized what is known and not known and recommended a pilot study to see whether a full study should be done.  The NAS enlisted leading scientific experts headed by epidemiologist Dr. Jon Samet, Professor of Preventative Medicine at USC Keck School of Medicine.  The research team came up with another report and submitted it to the NRC in Dec. of 2014.  It concluded that the research can be done, should be done, and it made a detailed research proposal on exactly how it should be done.

The NRC sat on this report for 10 months.  After five years of studying whether to study the problem the NRC refused to fund any actual research and instead terminated the project.   It suggested that nothing new would be learned and that it could not afford the $8 million out of its over $1 billion budget.  It was very clear that the nuclear industry did not want this research done.  To date, no other government agency has shown interest in funding this study leading some to believe that the nuclear industry has enormous clout with the entire government.

Does the NRC Protect People or Protect the Nuclear Industry?

It is easy to see why there is now a clash of opinions about the danger of low-level radiation.  The existence of the entire nuclear industry depends on convincing the public that that low-level radiation is harmless.  The NRC, the NEI (the Nuclear Energy Institute which is the powerful lobbying arm for the nuclear industry), and the utilities which profit are understandably reluctant to engage in research about the safety of the radiation. Theoretically, the purpose of the NRC is to protect the public. Their logo proudly states:  “Protecting People and the Environment,” but some wonder if the objective of the NRC is to protect the nuclear industry and its profits.  It is no secret that the NRC receives over 90% of its funding not from the government but from the very industry that it is supposed to regulate.  Officially it is a regulatory agency of the U.S. Government but many consider it the poster boy of a “captured” agency.  Its commissioners are vetted by the nuclear industry and ousted if they do not follow the nuclear industry agenda. The NRC generally acts in the interest of the industry rather than in the interests of the public it is supposed to protect.

Dr. Ourania Kosti, the National Academy of Sciences project director, says that the research project is still ready to go if Congress or another government agency provides the funding.  No one knows whether the study will ever be done.  The NRC continues to rely on the flawed 1990 NCI study which provides the results it likes.  Vice President Biden and President Obama hype a multi-billion dollar “Moon Shot” war against cancer but they make no effort to fund this NAS research on cancer.  In the meantime, about 584,800 Americans are expected to die this year from cancer (about 1,500 per day) yet the government refuses to fund basic cancer research which may shed light on its causes.

 

 

 

In the News, May 2016

Update on the LAT and Orange Country Register Update.   Gannett, a media conglomerate with over 100 newspapers including USA Today, tried to take over the Tribune Publishing Co. but the Tribune rejected the offers.  As for the OCR, it is still unclear what the new owners plan to do.  Some say they will try to flip it after a year or two.  Will there be a change in their editorial right wing slant?  On Sunday April 24 the opinion editor of the OCR (Brian Calle) wrote a long editorial which was circulated to PSOC stating that the “new” OCR was not beholden to any political party and would strive for diversity of opinion which represents the community.  The OCR has never shown diversity of opinion and has always been closely affiliated with right wing Republican positions even though about 2/3 of voters today are either Democrats or Independents.  Only one out of 17 of their OpEd commentators is liberal (Erwin Chemerinsky).  On Sat., April 30, all 6 LTE in the OCR addressed his editorial.  Five of the six praised the OCR for its balance, objectivity, and its current slant.  This seemed to suggest that the “new” OCR plans to stay the same as the old OCR.  Perhaps there are few people who dislike the OCR, or perhaps the OCR is determined not to change no matter what the public wants.  If you have any opinions, please write bcalle@ocregister.com.  On the same day the supporting letters were published, the only Op-Ed was by Mark Landsbaum who criticized Pres. Obama, praised Ted Cruz, praised Ronald Reagan, advocated tax cuts, advocated government spending cuts, and advocated more use of fossil fuels.  In following days, the OCR editorials argued against efforts to lower drug prices, argued in favor of keeping secret the donor lists for the right-wing Americans for Prosperity, and argued against raising minimum wages. Topics for Op-Ed pieces?  Again a strong argument for keeping worker wages as low as possible, a favorite theme of the OCR.…Another Op-Ed wants to cut the laws on water use regulation….George Will argued that those worried about climate change are authoritarian because they want to force their views on others….Next, the terrible things that will happen if Hillary gets elected….Then why Republicans like Ted Cruz followed by why California taxpayers should not support the Univ. of California because the university allow unions….More on how California is being ruined by high taxes plus a tirade of letters opposing UCI Law School Dean Chemerinsky because he argues that Pres. Obama should be able to nominate a new supreme court justice.  This is the OCR version of diversity of informed opinion representing Orange County. How can a newspaper succeed if it refuses to change with the times?

Mother Jones is a great magazine, well worth a subscription.  The current May-June issue is especially packed with goodies.  On the cover is a photo of a cute chicken and inside is an expose of the chicken factory farm business.  Did you know that almost all factory farms heavily dose chickens with antibiotics which are partly to blame the drug-resistant superbugs which sicken 2 million Americans every year?  The main big producer of chickens which does not use antibiotics is Perdue (because they can charge more and can increase profits)…. “Freshly Loaded” provides 10 pages of data on the ten largest corporations in the gun business including how many guns they make, what types they sell, and their global revenue.  Take #2 Remington Outdoor, the maker of the Bushmaster XM-15 used in the Newton, CT massacre.  In 2014 they made 1.47 million guns and their global revenue was $939 million.  Three of their top executives were given the NRA Golden Ring of Freedom award for donating over $1 million to the NRA.  Every resident of Alabama pays $14 to subsidize their Huntsville factory….The Truth about Tipping on p 77 tells the origins of the practice, how it has been abused to exploit restaurant workers (especially women), and how black servers are tipped less. And remember that when a waiter touches you it is because of a study done years ago showing that people tip more when they are touched….Next is an expose on California billionaires Lynda and Stewart Resnick who own the largest flower delivery service, Fiji water, PomWonderful pomegranate juice, Cuties and Halo oranges, lots of pistachio and almond farms, 140 square miles or orchards, and American’s second largest produce company.  They also diversified into the water business and now own the Kern Water Bank, an underground reservoir of 488 billion gallons.  The Resnicks use about 440 billion gallons of water per year, more than all the homes in Los Angles combined. They have carefully cultivated politicians and Hollywood stars,  and as good Democrats they gave huge contributions to Gov. Brown (and previous Gov. Schwarzenegger) to get business done. This story is a real eye-opener on how things work in CA….Other articles concern Flint, police violence, Kansas’ war on judges, judge Scalia’s legacy, and finally a delicate piece by Peggy Orenstein (author of Girls and Sex) about the waxing business.

Lamborghinis in the News.  China’s rapid economic rise has turned peasants into billionaires.  The new one per cent crowd in China likes to flaunt its wealth and look for ways to get their money out of the country.  Many of them send their kids to Canada with a blank check to spend as much as they want.  A favorite hobby is to collect Ferraris and Lamborghinis and there are now over 2500 cars in Vancouver valued at over $150,000.  “In Vancouver there are lots of kids of corrupt Chinese officials” said the Shi Yi, owner of Luxury Motor which caters to affluent Chinese.  Connecting the dots, all the stuff in Walmarts and other stores has transferred wealth from the American middle class to the new Chinese billionaires.

Anti-Muslim Bigotry Spreads.  Last month in Laguna Beach 7 women were ordered to leave the Urth Café because they wore head scarves.  They were accused of being “visibly Muslim.”  The women are suing the owner who in turn filed a countersuit against them.  Meanwhile a UC Berkeley student from Iraq traveling on Southwest Airlines called his father and conversed with him in Arabic.  Southwest ordered him removed from the plane.

Greed, cont.  How much did CBS pay CEO Leslie Moonves in 2015?  Answer: $56.8 million.  Meanwhile, United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek resigned amid a federal corruption investigation. His reward?  A free car, free flights for his lifetime, and $37 million in “compensation”….McDonald’s profits rose 35% last year but the company will not share its wealth with workers other than to offer them a measly $1 over minimum wages.  Workers cannot make ends meet, and it is estimated that the public pays $1.2 billion a year in public aid to those who work at McDonalds….CVS took over the pharmacy of Target and promptly raised drug prices….Quaker Oats claims to be 100% natural, but chemical analysis has found trades of glyphosate (RoundUp)…. A top VW executive made a powerpoint presentation way back in 2006 explaining how to cheat on emissions tests.  Meanwhile, Mitsubishi now admits that it lied about the fuel economy of 620,000 cars it produced….As Congress begins to investigate gouging in health care, the industry responded with a flurry of deals ($40 billion worth of deals announced last week) aimed at more monopoly of products to insure higher prices….

In Brief…. PEW Research continues to study public approval of the political parties.  The approval rating of the Democratic party remains unchanged but the approval rating of the Republican party continues to decline and is now at its lowest point in the last quarter century.  The biggest increase in Republican party disapproval comes from Republicans themselves.  Last week Senate Democrats proposed a bill which would have blocked airlines from further reducing the “size, width, padding, and pitch” of passenger seats.  Voting on party lines, the bill was killed by Republicans….Mormon university Brigham Young has a student “Moral Code” which espouses moral virtues such as chastity but it uses the code against victims of sex crimes.  Recently a 20 year old coed was held captive and raped.  When  she complained, the university responded by suspending her for violation of the “Honor Code:” On the upbeat,  kudos for Colette Bourlier who received her PhD at age 90. Finally, April 28 was designated Ed Balls day in the UK in honor of the member of Parliament who smashed records when he tweeted his own name.

 

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