Category: rants

deep in the political swamp, with slimy tendrils around our legs

“Drain the swamp!” was a frequent chant at Donald Trump’s campaign rallies. Then there was an election, and we have the swampiest administration seen in decades, if not ever.

Creatures from the Swamp

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spent $25,000 on a sound proof phone booth in his office. He took a $40,000 tax-payer paid trip to Morocco to explain the benefits of importing liquid natural gas from the USA. Turns out there’s only one liquid natural gas exporter in the USA, and Scott Pruitt has been living in a condo owned by that company’s lobbyist. And what does this have to do with the Environmental Protection Agency in the first place? Pruitt, by the way, flies first class on our dime because he needs the extra “security” provided by first class.

Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, spent $53,000 on three helicopter trips last year, including one to go horseback riding with Vice President Pence. On another occasion he spent $12,000 for a single charter plane flight from Las Vegas to Montana. By the way, Zinke requires that his “secretarial flag” be raised on the flagpole of his building when he is in the office and taken down when he leaves.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned after spending at least $400,000 on private jet trips for himself and his staff.

In other swamp drainage news, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin spent $800,000 on military plane trips when he could have flown on airlines for $20,000. He requested a military plane for his honeymoon in Europe, but changed his mind when the media (taxpayers) got wind of his greed. He took a government plane to Kentucky for a day trip to watch the solar eclipse. His wife posted a picture of them getting off the plane on Instagram, saying, “Great #daytrip to #Kentucky! #nicest #people #countryside #rolandmouret pants, #tomford sunnies, #hermesscarf #valentinorockstudheels #valentino #usa.” The items you might not recognize are designer clothing.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was stopped before spending $31,000 of taxpayer money for a new dining set. Carson blamed his wife.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior advisor, met in the White House with two large financial companies (Apollo and Citigroup) to allegedly discuss infrastructure and trade policy. After the meetings, Kushner’s private companies received very large loans from both institutions.

The Swamp Master

No one is surprised by the above, except, apparently, most of the people who voted for Trump. They didn’t notice his history of bankruptcies, of stiffing his contractors, of turning to Russian oligarchs for funding his projects, and settling a $25,000 lawsuit brought by thousands of students who’d been defrauded by a scam called “Trump University.” I guess these voters also didn’t notice Trump’s many years of stupidly claiming Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

But now his character must be well-known to even those who supported him, right? I mean, he filled the government with industry lobbyists who now “regulate” the industries they used to work for. Then there are his relations with a porn star and a Playboy Playmate and the hush money,

He promoted and passed a tax bill that would benefit him personally. He even put the presidential seal on golf tee markers at Mar-a-Lago golf course! Called Vladimir Putin and said, in effect, “Congratulations on winning your phony election, come visit me at the White House, and … ha ha … are you going to poison anyone else?”

Haven’t yet mentioned his sliming of a U.S. judge because of his Mexican heritage, his “shithole” country remarks, his “grab them by the pussy” remarks, and his “very fine people on both sides” comment about a white nationalist event. Does anyone still vouch for his character?

It’s no surprise that he would hire like-minded people for his administration. We are deep in the swamp now, and will be lucky if we can get out.

Corruption, not Russia is Trump’s Greatest Political Liability

The Many Scandals of Donald Trump

The Racism of Donald Trump: the Definitive List

 

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good guys with guns

Problem

Gun wielding people mowing down large numbers of school kids, church-goers, movie patrons, and night club visitors.

Solution

If we made following scenarios true, the U.S would be the safest damn country on earth, according to the NRA and many politicians.

  • School teachers with assault rifles strapped to their backs.
  • Librarians carrying AR-15s.
  • Ministers with a civilian-model “Spectre” M4 submachine sitting on their pulpits.
  • Movie projectionists with sniper rifles.
  • DJs with a loaded shotgun next to the turntable.

We could turn up the safety factor even more by allowing open carry of lethal weapons in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. In courtrooms, let the judge, jury, and audience carry assault rifles for super security.

It may already be legal to carry weapons in some basketball and baseball stadiums — but do they sell guns and ammo at the concession stands? We’d all be safer if they did. Let’s make it happen at the next Super Bowl.

Alcohol, rock and roll, and semi-automatics make a great combo, so the more firearms at concerts, the better. At the symphony, the piccolo players, with their lightweight instruments, could carry heavy, blockbuster weapons, while the tuba and euphonium players would have a handgun that fits in the pocket, because they have to handle larger instruments.

As soon as kids are old enough to hold a small pistol, they ought to be given a tiny G42 Glock handgun for protection (and in case they need to fight government or playground tyranny). 

In 2015, firearms killed 13,286 people in the U.S. (excluding suicides). Where do you think that number would go if we quadrupled the number of people carrying guns?

 

whose land of the free?

During the last U.S. presidential election season, Russians attempted to hack their way into voter registration and election systems in 21 states, organized political rallies here, and spent more than a million dollars per month trolling social media sites, and, in general, bamboozling large numbers of citizens.

I’ve seen American reactions that range from being positively impressed at how effective they were, to wanting to strike back at them in vengeance. I’m somewhere in the middle on that, but it’s reminded me about our own history of overturning democracies in other countries, installing dictatorships, invading, and interfering.

Here’s a short list of selected actions. I’ve left out all interventions before 1950 — and that’s a large number that includes Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines, Honduras, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and more — and I’ve also limited myself to some of the best documented interventions. 

1953. The U.S. and U.K. overthrew the elected Prime Minister of Iran, who was replaced by a brutal, U.S-backed dictator, the Shah. The coup was designed to undo the Iranian nationalization of a large British oil company (that had previously exploited its workers and cheated Iran of profits) and to give the U.S. and U.K. control of Iranian oil. 

1954. The CIA helped overthrow the democratically elected president of Guatemala, paving the way for a pro-U.S. military dictator. The U.S. had been heavily lobbied by the powerful United Fruit Company, whose usual business of bribes and exploitation had been interrupted by the Guatemalan government. Our involvement continued for decades, including training and supporting the military of the Guatemalan government throughout a civil war, despite the government’s slaughter of more than 200,000 civilians.

1961.The CIA engineered a failed invasion of Cuba (Bay of Pigs) I’ve read different estimates of the casualties, ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand killed, including fighters on both sides. The U.S. also plotted many failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.  

1964.The U.S. opposed the growing influence of communism in Vietnam, and wanted an excuse to increase its existing military presence and role. It used two incidents in the Gulf of Tonkin (one fake, one misreported) to justify increased troop levels and then carried out an invasion and war, which devastated the nation, spread into neighboring countries, and cost millions of lives. 

1964. The U.S. helped depose the elected president of Brazil in a military coup, leading to a series of repressive right-wing dictators. Brazil’s president had planned to nationalize many large U.S-involved companies and the country was also seen as a potential socialist/communist threat. 

1973. The CIA helped overthrow Chile’s elected president Allende, ending 40 years of democracy and creating a brutal dictatorship. Allende’s supporters were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. The new dictator was more business-friendly to the U.S. 

1980s. The U.S. attempted to overthrow the government of Nicaragua by funding and training murderous Contra terrorist groups. After Congress cut off funding, they were covertly supported when the Reagan administration sold weapons to Iran and funneled the earnings to the Contras. Also, Contra drug sales in the U.S. and Central America helped fund the war.

1980s. The U.S. interfered in a civil war in El Salvador to suppress leftists, heavily arming both the government’s military and covert death squads. Key death squad personnel were trained in methods of torture and execution at Ft. Benning, Georgia. The death squads were responsible for 85% of civilian deaths, including religious leaders and hundreds, or possibly thousands, of children.

1989. The U.S. invaded Panama and ousted former CIA-informant, President Manuel Noriega. There were about 475 military personnel killed, and at least 500 civilians. 

2003. The U.S. invaded Iraq on a pretext regarding non-existent “weapons of mass destruction.” Meant to bolster U.S. military and economic power in the Middle East, the invasion resulted in killing and injuring hundreds of thousands, and the conflict continues today. The invasion fomented radicalization of militants across the region, leading to the formation of groups such as ISIS.

I love the USA, but it isn’t blind love, and I feel the need to call attention to the darkest elements here. We can and should put a stop to Russian election meddling. Meanwhile, there are lessons to learn about the depravity of taking down other nations whenever it suits our economic interests.

 

 

the council for manhood speaks

Above: Man attempts to open a pickle jar.

Recently an organization with the entertaining name of the Council for Christian Manhood and Womanhood met in Nashville and released a document called the Nashville Statement. This document claimed to speak on behalf of a God that does not sanction “same-sex attraction or transgender self-conception.” It made the news for a bit.

The mayor of Nashville quickly made it clear that this statement was not a city-condoned proclamation. One of the Nashville Statement signers, David French, wrote an editorial in the National Review. He writes that for some people, separation of church and state “is just a pit stop on the road to de-Christianizing America.”

Obviously the mayor was not invoking the separation clause; just trying to protect the city’s reputation. But it’s interesting to see this writer describe the very idea of upholding the Constitution as a way to “de-Christianize.”

French goes on to summarize the Nashville Statement: “We believe the Bible is the word of God, and the word of God declares that sexual intimacy is reserved for the lifelong union of a man and a woman in marriage.” And also for men and concubines, right? Because in that book, people like Abraham, Gideon, and Solomon had concubines, too. There is a pile of polygamy in the Bible.

Then there was God’s order to Moses about dealing with the Midianites (Numbers 31). “Now kill all the boys,” says the Lord. “And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” So the spoils of war are okay for men, also. If the Nashville Statement signers don’t accept these practices as well, then maybe their statement is just a wishy-washy modern reinterpretation of Biblical family values.

French’s editorial goes on to say, “There are powerful peer and cultural pressures that are pushing Christians to compromise on core principles. In some parts of the country, Christians are social pariahs if they admit to their Biblical views.”

I wonder if he means people who admit to the Biblical views displayed in Judges 19:22-24. That’s the one where wicked men surround a house and demand that the homeowner send one of his guests out of the house so they could have sex with him. But the homeowner is righteous. He protects his guest, and says, “No, take instead my virgin daughter and my guest’s concubine and do what you want with them.” I suppose people who admire this passage might become pariahs.

French writes that today’s Christian liberals subject “God’s word” to a cultural and political test. He says that today, “One can reject even His clearest commands if those commands are ‘mean’ or ‘intolerant.’” Maybe a good example is how the Bible clearly condones slavery (including the sale of one’s daughter) and stoning people to death for infidelity or disobeying parents. We can only assume French is not a wimpy-ass liberal and fully accepts these clearly stated principles.

The article also claims that in today’s society, punitive reprisals are made against “moral” businesses. “They will re-educate or ruin small-business owners who won’t lend their creative talents to celebrate gay weddings.” By this logic, opposing and prohibiting a whites-only lunch counter is an unfair punitive reprisal.

Another shining example from French’s article: “They [liberal Christians] will publicly reject basic statements of Christian theology, and they will do it in the name of comprehensive social engineering.”

I suppose he considers the entire history of civil rights, including the prohibition of slavery, to be social engineering. Maybe so, but they represent the ending of tyranny. It’s amazing the lengths someone will go to justify the desire to mistreat fellow humans.

the dumb creepy uncle who became president

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.

our republican president – our terrible mess

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. 

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.