In the News Winter 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Happiest Town in the World? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choice Letters to the Editor NYT

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

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

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

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

Art Saluk,  Pembroke Pines, Fla.

To the Editor Re The Wall

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

It’s about telling lies nearly every day.

It’s about trying to kill Obamacare.

It’s about separating migrant toddlers from their families.

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

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

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

It’s about defending white supremacists.

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

It’s about hiding tax returns.

It’s about being a jerk for two years.

William Goldman, Palos Verdes Estates, CA


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

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

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

Larry Macedo, West Hills

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

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

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


To the Editor:

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


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