the dumb creepy uncle who became president

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So Trump is in the middle of an investigation of his administration’s ties to the Russian government and potential collusion with Russians to win the election. This is what he does:

Meets Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in the White House, and does not invite the US press, but allows Russia’s TASS news agency in. Thanks to photos published by TASS, we know that Russian Ambassador Kislyak was there (the one with whom the now fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn discussed the upcoming election).

  • Trump reveals highly classified information to the Russians during this meeting.
  • Also during the meeting, he tells Russians that he got rid of that “nut job” FBI Director James Comey. Trump tells them he was under “great pressure” because of Comey and the Russian thing.

That’s right. He fired the man leading the FBI investigation of the Trump/Russia connection. The White House said it was because of a memo describing Comey’s poor handling of the Clinton email investigation. 🙂  Then Trump said he was going to fire him anyway because “this Russia thing” is a made-up story.

How many times do we have to be hit over the head with the reality that Trump is as incompetent as he seemed to be all along? Even if he has no sinister ties with Russia, it will be hard to believe it after this. It’s only May and he already looks like someone who got his foot stuck in a bucket, and he’s clomping around the house, running into things, with a fallen curtain over his head. 

If only he was a Russian oligarch himself, he could order the murder of his enemies, consolidate his power, and shut down the press. He could freely indulge in his genital-grabbing predilections. I don’t think he can get away with any of that here. I’m an optimist.

seattle area winter

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I’ve been sadly neglectful of this blog. I’ll post a few photos from the long cloudy winter:

Ebey’s Landing in February

Rattlesnake Ledge in March

A rare bit of snow seen from our deck in December

An obstructed view of Space Needle fireworks on New Years

Dreaming of a purple Christmas

our republican president – our terrible mess

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In case for some reason I want to look back on this amazing moment in history, I’ve compiled some of the consequences of electing an incompetent president. Here are a few examples of the mess:

Refugee and immigration ban – doomed to failure

The executive order barred entry to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries (newly arriving immigrants and refugees from these countries would be deported), detained and interrogated green card holders from those countries, suspended the U.S. refugee admission program, and revoked 60,000 visas.  That was the idea, anyway. Details of how to carry out the order and exactly who it applied to were unclear. 

The vague executive order created immediate chaos at airports around the country as travelers, immigration attorneys, airlines, and customs workers tried to understand it. Legal U.S. residents were detained. Returning students were blocked. People who risked their lives for the U.S. in Iraq and were promised resettlement here were barred from the country. Ironically, people from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (home of the 9/11 terrorists) were untouched by the ruling.

The poorly written and conceived order was easily subject to legal challenges. A federal judge in New York immediately ordered a stay on deportations of people with valid visas. Another federal judge placed a temporary stay on the travel ban. A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously ruled against reinstating the ban. 

The Michael Flynn debacle

Let’s start with chronological list of events.

  1. On 12/29/16, the U.S. put sanctions on Russia for interfering with the U.S. election, and expelled diplomats.
  2. The next day, Flynn (Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor) called Russian ambassador Kislyak and discussed the sanctions, possibly undermining Obama, who was still in office. (Private citizens cannot negotiate on behalf of the U.S. The secret discussions also opened Flynn to potential blackmail by Russians.)
  3. That same day, Putin announced that Russia would take no action in retaliation to the expulsion, which is unprecedented. Almost immediately afterward, Trump sent out a Tweet:  “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”
  4. Flynn denies (to press spokesman Sean Spicer and Vice President Pence) that he discussed the sanctions.
  5. 1/20/17. Flynn becomes National Security Advisor.
  6. The FBI has recordings of Flynn’s phone calls and knows he’s been lying. The Trump team is informed. Flynn is allowed to continue to attend security briefings anyway. 
  7. After a Washington Post report, Flynn acknowledged that he had “inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador.”
  8. Flynn is out, setting the record for the shortest tenure of a National Security Advisor.

Interesting details – Why are FBI and NSA listening in on these conversations? Since 1981, the FBI and NSA have had authority to monitor the calls and emails of foreign officials within the U.S. and have been doing so. Flynn should have known his conversation would likely be recorded. Kislyak certainly knew.

Per regulations, if the conversations had been innocent and routine, Flynn’s part of the conversation would have been deleted. However, something that was said in the call flagged an intelligence analyst to move it up to the next level of analysis. And the next level. And then it went to James Comey, FBI Director, and his deputy, who had to decide if the communication needed more investigation, and they thought that it did.

In other words, the recording of calls was routine, but there are specific requirements – hurdles to be jumped – before something is considered serious enough for the kind of attention Flynn got. We the public need to know more about what he said, and whether Trump knew and approved.

Source: http://www.newsweek.com/why-flynn-russia-affair-troubling-trump-559132

Outpouring of Lies

As with before the election, the President has spewed lies in a quantity not seen in any U.S. president in my lifetime and probably for many decades before that. Examples:

“I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.”
It was the 46th biggest win out of 58 elections.

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
There is no evidence to back up this claim.

“The murder rate in the United States is the largest that it’s been in 45 years.”
Highest rate was in 1980, the lowest was in 2014, and it’s still extremely low.

“Here in Philadelphia murder has been steady — I mean — just terribly increasing.”
Last year Philadelphia’s murder rate was the third lowest in the last 26 years.

“If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?”
Obama publicly denounced Russia for trying to influence the election on 10/7/2016, well before the election. 

Referring to a TV network that reported that 250,000 people attended Trump’s inauguration: “That’s not bad, but it’s a lie…there were people all the way back to the Washington Monument…So we caught them. And we caught them in a beauty. And I think they’re going to pay a big price.’’
Aerial photos clearly show there were not people going back the Monument (as they were at Obama’s inaugural) and judging by bus usage, the 250,000 number is close to the truth.

“I’m a very big person when it comes to the environment. I have received awards on the environment.”
One of his golf courses got a “green” award for landscaping that included a nature trail. If there are more, no one has found them.

Took credit for Ford’s decision not to open a new auto plant in Mexico.
Ford says they did it for business reasons, not for Trump.

Trump claimed that two people were fatally shot in Chicago during Obama’s last speech as president.
Nope.

Is there any reason to believe anything this president says, when he lies on an almost daily basis? Is this good for the country? Is he a good role model? If these are mistakes instead of lies, then he’s grossly incompetent. 

Murky Ties to Russia

Putin’s Russia tried to influence the U.S. election in favor of Trump by selective leaks of hacked data. Confirmed by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies.

Trump has been highly complimentary of Putin, who is likely responsible for the murder of many journalists and political opponents, has used the presidency to enrich himself, keep himself in power, quash opposition, and start wars of conquest. In Putin’s defense, Trump said, “Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too.” 

One-time Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort  has ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. He worked for Ukraine’s pro-Putin former president.

Trump held the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Russia and personally invited Putin. He has also been trying to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Trump’s former campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page advised Russian gas company,  Gazprom.

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn attended a gala for state media network RT with Putin, and later lost his job for talking to the Russian ambassador about U.S sanctions and then lying about it.

This month the New York Times reported about three men pushing for a back-channel peace deal between Russia and Ukraine. The men do not represent the U.S. government. Two of them are Trump business associate Felix Sater and Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen (who founded an ethanol business in the Ukraine). 

Donald Trump Jr., said at a real estate conference in 2008, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” 

Is there anything sinister or suspect about all these Russia ties? It would help to know how big Trump’s financial ties to Russia are, but he refuses to release his tax records, even after the election. Why? Also, how much of that 35-page dossier on Trump allegedly compiled by the Russian government is true? Citizens deserve clarity on these issues.

Draining the Swamp?

A few of Trump’s cabinet members and a strategist:

Rex Tillerson – Secretary of State. Former president and CEO of ExxonMobile, where he worked for over 40 years. Where is his experience as a diplomat, vs. a business deal maker? Made large business deal in 2011 with the Russian oil company Rosneft. Received the Order of Friendship from the Russian government in 2012. Under Tillerson, ExxonMobile paid a lobbying group almost $200,000 to oppose economic sanctions on Russia. Conflicts of interest?

Steven Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary. First hedge fund manager to run the treasury. Formerly of Goldman Sachs and CEO of OneWest Bank. He is known as the “Foreclosure King,” based on OneWest’s practice of buying distressed mortgages during the financial crisis and evicting thousands of homeowners. He helped create the swamp.

Scott Pruitt, EPA. Classic fox-guarding the henhouse situation. As Oklahoma Attorney General, he sued the EPA 14 times, including opposition to limits on environmental mercury, and anything that would fight global warming. He sent letters to the Interior Department and EPA that were written by energy lobbyists — simply putting his name at the bottom and using government stationery — indicating that he’s a puppet for industry, not a representative of voters. 

Steve Bannon, Chief Strategist. A founder and former CEO of Breitbart News. Under Bannon, Breitbart published lies about Obama being a Muslim and being born in Kenya; lies about the “Pizzagate” child sex ring; lies about Hillary Clinton health issues; and lies about a mob of migrants setting fire to a church in Germany. Chief Strategist and Liar?

Danger Man

Our Republican president seems terribly unstable. He throws around insults with abandon in off-the-wall rants. Anything he doesn’t agree with is “fake news.” He continually talks about how great he is. Hangs up on the Australian prime minister. Privately brags about assaulting women. Sends angry Tweets about a department store. He acts like a spoiled, vindictive child.

Consider this – the actions of the worst president in recent history (Republican George W. Bush) left hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children dead and injured. The useless invasion of Iraq is one of the biggest and most horrendous blunders in American history. Yet Bush’s personality isn’t nearly as unhinged as Trump’s. Should we expect even worse from the new president?

Trump’s command of the military and the nuclear codes could cause utter devastation. A childish bully is the wrong man to hold this power. There is no predicting what he might do. Surely the leaders of ISIS see that provoking the man could cause an overreaction that would bring them plenty of recruits. Trump may also come to see war as a way to rally people around him. 

no questions

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I spent a couple of hours distributing dinners to homeless people on Christmas day. Thai Siam restaurant feeds about 700 people each year, both on the premises and through deliveries. We picked up between 50-60 dinners (turkey and meatloaf) and a large bag of sandwiches, plus another bag full of cookies.

We were not asked to visit any place in particular, so we went looking for people who seemed like they might be sleeping outside or in a shelter. First stop, the University District. Next: Native Park near the Pike Street Market. Lastly, the Pioneer Square area.

I perfected a non-threatening, no-assumptions gambit when approaching people. “Hey, we’ve got a bunch of food to give away.” I don’t ask, “Do you need food?” or “Are you hungry?”

Back at the restaurant, the people at Thai Siam know this secret. No questions for those filing in for meal just treat everyone as if they deserve some dignity, and it works out.

REI wants me to stop buying stuff (except for the things that really matter)

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I received an 8-1/2″ x 11″ color booklet in the mail from REI. On the second page it tells about the pitfalls of wanting more stuff. It says that if something doesn’t make us “laugh and sweat and surprise ourselves” then it’s just another thing. We’re also told:

“As malls fill up and credit cards overheat, let’s get back to what really matters.”

So I turned the pages to find out what really matters. As it turns out, what really matters is a $350 YETI brand cooler that keeps snacks ice cold and dry. Also, lots of expensive shirts, jackets, and shoes. A $400 GoPro camera really matters. As does a $35 “Stanley Shaker Happy Hour System.”

REI, please don’t pretend you are somehow morally superior regarding consumerism, while at the same time suggesting that we buy your costly YETI coolers. Just admit that you’re no different than any other retailer trying to cash in on the holidays. We’ll respect you more.

If you really want to be different, make “opted out” the default for receiving glossy paper catalogs from you. Stop making your name so prominent on clothing and gear that I can’t use it without feeling like a walking billboard. 

Finally, if you’re worried about credit cards overheating, stop asking me to get an REI-branded credit card. 

i want to be the anti-trump

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Now that we’ll have a new Republican president who spent five years spreading the lie that President Obama was not a citizen, who spent $20k of Trump Foundation charity money on a six-foot portrait of himself, who admires Vladimir Putin, who brags about groping women, who Tweets crazy stuff in the middle of the night about a former Miss Universe, and will soon have the codes to unleash the U.S. nuclear arsenal …

Now that the KKK and neo-Nazis are celebrating the new Republican president …

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Now that we’ll have a Republican vice president who doesn’t seem to accept the reality of evolution or global warming, and who believes in preposterous “gay reparative” therapy …

Now that the last three years have averaged the hottest global temperatures ever recorded, and Arctic sea ice has declined by more than 30% in just 25 years, and we are likely to have a global warming denier heading up the EPA …

Now that we’ll have a new Republican Secretary of Health and Human Services who belongs to a group (AAPS) that pushes anti-vaccine and other fringe propaganda, and once co-sponsored a bill to define human life as beginning at the moment of conception, which, if passed, could have had birth control pills classified as murder weapons …

Now that our new Republican president has selected for Treasury secretary a Wall Street insider, former Goldman Sachs partner, and hedge-fund manager who’s profited from predatory lending (and Trump says he’s “draining the swamp” in D.C.) …

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Now that we’ve elected the guy who swore the election was rigged against him, and still makes the delusional, evidence-free claim that millions voted illegally …

Now that all that is happening, I have to do something to make me feel like I’m countering the crazy.

One thing I’m doing, which I planned before the election, is volunteering at a local youth tutoring program for kids. I help with skill building and homework. (I’ve been paired with an elementary school boy who is Muslim. His parents are probably immigrants. Hopefully in Seattle he isn’t a target for bullies and bigots.) I think that if I can instill some critical thinking in a youngster, I’ve done a small service.

I’ve also joined the ACLU – it’s been quite a few years since my membership lapsed, but I’m back on the rolls now.

I made a donation to Planned Parenthood, now that we could face the return of back alley             abortions if a near-future Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

I donated to the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.

That’s barely a drop in the bucket. I’ll be looking for other volunteer or political action opportunities – something to avoid the dystopia that seems to be in the offing.

The backsliding on social issues — like reproductive freedom for women — is likely to cause considerable harm and suffering. Meanwhile, the science denial among today’s Republicans is excruciating to hear. It’s like riding a bus in heavy traffic and watching the driver gleefully put on a blindfold. The wingnuts are behind the wheel.

The small bright spot we can point to is that the majority of voting citizens did not vote for Trump. The current count is 2.5 million more votes for Clinton. There is hope.

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have conspirators ruined reality for you?

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Is everything you thought you knew actually wrong? Have brilliant investigators looked behind the accepted stories of our times and exposed shadowy conspiracies? Actually, conspiracy theorists tend to fall into the Bozo the Clown category referred to in the quote below.

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

– Carl Sagan

Just like great geniuses, true conspiracies are few and far between. There’s a good way to screen out some of the silliest of them: figure out how many people would have to be in on the conspiracy for it to succeed. The more people required, the less likely it could be kept secret.

For example, take the “moon landings were faked” conspiracy. How many thousands of people would have to be in on something like this? Imagine what it would take to pull off six fake trips to the moon. Thousands of NASA workers silenced or fooled. A multitude of scientists and engineers for other companies hired by NASA, silenced or fooled. All those who studied the moon rocks that were brought back – silenced or fooled. The photos all faked, the landing sites that you can see from space, faked.

Ack! It would have been easier to actually go to the moon. The same goes for the 9/11 “Truther” claims. Even tossing aside all the contrary evidence, it would take a massive scheme the size and scope of the Manhattan Project to carry it out – with no one ever breaking ranks and exposing it. Ridiculous.

Human-caused global warming is not true and that fact is being covered up – another great example. It would need to be a worldwide conspiracy by almost all atmospheric scientists in every developed nation. Mass quantities of research would be faked or misrepresented, and the reviewers must be either fooled or complicit.

NASA – a gang of liars, faking the data! The members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences – a bunch of dupes. The American Geophysical Union membership – part of the cover up. The combined membership of the Geological Society of America, the American Meteorological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and all their counterparts across the world – a lot of know-nothings.

What brought this conspiracy topic up for me are the fact-free theories being floated by the Trump crowd, as mentioned in my last blog entry. Trump seems to believe the global warming conspiracy (except in his view, it was perpetrated by China).

Hillary Clinton, currently criss-crossing the U.S. giving speeches, is alleged to have Parkinson’s disease. I mentioned this in my last blog post, but this time I’ll expand it a little. One of the most filmed and photographed people on the planet right now is somehow keeping this illness from the public. The interviewers and photographers are fooled. The crowds she stands in front of are fooled. The TV audiences for all three debates – fooled. The foreign dignitaries she met with as Secretary of State – deceived. The physician’s statement provided to show her fitness to be president – lies and fakery.

The ones who say they know the truth about her health are professional bloviators, searching through hundreds of videos to find something they can claim is out of the ordinary. That includes a couple wing-nut doctors who have never examined her.

This conspiracy does not rise to the level of the moon landing nutters and the global warming deniers. Still, it’s very unlikely. If true, it would be an astonishing accomplishment to run for office, defeat her primary opponents, and possibly win the presidency, all while conspiring to hide an illness that allegedly makes her unfit for office. Her actions would seem to prove the opposite.

In the previous post, I covered other unsupported conspiracy theories: rigged elections and the “Clinton murders.” It’s a wonderland of confabulation and motivated reasoning out there.

I just want to point out that one useful tool is to ask, “What would it take for this conspiracy to be true, and how many individuals would have to be involved?”

Now it’s your turn. Take this conspiracy theory and analyze: Pharmaceutical companies have a cure for cancer, but they are keeping it under wraps because they make so much money on cancer treatment.

https://xkcd.com/966/