We Blew It

Discouraged Nurse
The Current State of our Health Care Professionals

As a nation, there’s no avoiding stating the obvious and dispiriting truth about the COVID-19 pandemic, “We Blew It.”

We had a chance to act, back in early January, when our intelligence agencies alerted us to the deadly pandemic coming out of China.  US Intelligence Agencies Report Pandemic on Jan 3rd

We could have, like the South Koreans, started a massive testing program, identifying those with the virus, tracking and locating all who they had contacted, and quarantining only those people. The rest of the population would go about their business, albeit wearing a mask outdoors until the crisis has passed. Sadly, we didn’t act.

Who caused us to fail so grievously? There’s an old adage: “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.” The orphan, in this case, is none other than President Donald Trump.

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, previously the CEO of ExxonMobile, called Trump “a fucking moron” after a disastrous meeting with military leaders at which Trump insulted all the generals in the room. Trump fired Tillerson after one year of service, but Tillerson never denied that he made the “fucking moron” comment.

For me, I’d describe Trump in the immortal words of the character Ruth Langmore in the Netflix series Ozarks: “He doesn’t know shit about fuck!

Ruth Langmore
Julia Garner as Ruth Langmore from the Ozarks

All those stories about Trump being a narcissistic dotard and not knowing “shit about fuck,” is it “Fake News?”

To answer that, you have to know how journalism works and, more specifically, how White House journalism operates. An excellent example of a working White House correspondent is NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell, who has been on the White House beat for years.

Kelly O'Donnell
NBC News White House Correspondent Kelly O’Donnell

Journalism emphasizes the five W’s: Who, What, Why, When, and Where. The journalist gets to the bottom of any story by interviewing “sources” who are guaranteed anonymity to spill what they know. Professors teach that you never publish until you get other sources to corroborate the original scoop. When they do publish a juicy tidbit, it’s usually described as from a “highly-placed White House source.”

We see Kelly and her colleagues in action when they ask questions at a televised press briefing or at one of Trump’s helicopter harangues. At other times, she has an office in the West Wing and prowls its halls and those of the Executive Office Building next door. Kelly and her colleagues chat up the staff and visitors to the President’s Oval Office and pump them for information. That’s how it works, and Oh, how these people talk about their boss Trump.

What White House correspondents have found out about Trump over the last 3 ½ years is disheartening. All the President’s Men and Women describe a lazy man, who shows up for work at noon, refuses to read intelligence briefings, disdains science, and is prone to witless speculation such as “Can you nuke a hurricane?  windmills cause cancer, or can you inject disinfectants into the human body?”

Aides have learned to keep information given to the President to less than one page in length, with pictures of Trump to catch his attention. He apparently has the attention span of a goldfish and the intellectual curiosity of a tapeworm.

There have been scores of newspapers, magazine articles, and books about Trump’s incompetence. One book, “Fire and Fury,” written by Michael Wolff, whom Trump had foolishly given access to the White House staff, was positively incendiary. In an NPR review by Annalisa Quinn, she said in her review:  NPR Review

“I’ll get all the good stuff out of the way first: President Trump likes to eat cheeseburgers in bed; his hair is the result of scalp reduction surgery and deft, even architectural, styling; he has three TVs in his bedroom; his advisers speculate about whether or not he can read; Steve Bannon called Ivanka “dumb as a brick”; Trump called Sally Yates a “c***”; Hope Hicks and Corey Lewandowski had an affair that ended in a street fight; and Trump’s inner circle walks around in a state of “queasy sheepishness, if not constant incredulity” at the president’s behavior. You’re welcome.”

Rick Wilson
Rick Wilson, Scourge of Donald Trump

There’s no more celebrated critic of Donald Trump than Tallahassee’s Rick Wilson. Rick, a former Republican operative, is no angel. He engineered a campaign against Senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam war double amputee, claiming that Max was soft on terrorism. Yet, he has turned on Trump and seems to always get under Trump’s skin. Wilson is famous for the observation that “Everything Trump Touches, Dies.

In his book “ Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America from Trump–and Democrats from Themselves,” Rick opined:

“Trump’s short temper, lack of knowledge or experience in national security matters, and inability to see beyond the time horizon of his next tweet will, in the event of a more kinetic crisis, leave American forces and interests at risk. God forbid an American warship fails in battle, or a Special Forces unit can’t complete a mission. He’ll likely declare them enemies of the people and issue a tweet to mock their shortcomings. The bad guys know the same things our allies know: This is a weak man in a weak White House. He is unreliable, untruthful, and unmanageable. No matter how many flyovers and tank displays are arranged to keep him clapping like a toddler, and no matter how tough he talks on Twitter, they’ve got his number…and America in their sights.”

What’s more dispiriting is what has been revealed about Trump’s motivations for his actions (or inaction) about the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s only interested in what affects him, his family, and his business. Trump could care less about you and your family, for he’s the quintessential narcissist.

Had we a competent leader, the following actions could have been taken, starting in early January. Impossible, you say? Turns out, this is pretty much what the South Koreans did.

  • Immediately accept the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 test recipe.
  • Order anyone who tests positive to “shelter-at-home.” Find and check everybody they have been in contact with and “shelter them at home” if needed.
  • Set up a simple government website to allow any business that has lost an employee to “shelter-at-home” mandates to continue to pay their salary (plus tips) directly from the US Treasury.
  • Provide funds directly from the US Treasury to tide businesses over during any temporary enforced shutdowns. So far, Secretary Steven Mnuchin has distributed those funds mostly to his wealthy friends.
  • Have Medicare cover any and all required COVID-19 treatments. Nobody would go bankrupt due to COVID-19.
  • Utilize the Defense Production Act (DPA) to compel pharmaceutical manufacturers to mass-produce these COVID-19 tests and distribute them everywhere (doctor’s offices, hospitals, etc.).
  • Utilize the DPA to compel all US manufacturers of personal protective equipment (PPE) to halt all overseas shipments and run these factories 24/7 to produce all the supplies our hospitals need.
  • Use the Army Corps of Engineers to expand hospital capacity in hot spots (this has been implemented in a few places).
  • Protect the imperiled. Provide funds and programs to prevent vulnerable populations, such as myself (elderly, pre-existing conditions) from being infected. Provide food delivery, checking on their health, and other needs.

Sadly, Trump didn’t do any of these actions (save for the Army Corps of Engineers and a hospital ship) before it was too late. He wasted two full months with inaction and foolish promises that the coronavirus would “just go away.”

On January 22nd, Trump stated: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” CNBC interview

That, of course, was BS as the virus was coming in from China, Europe, and cruise ships, and spreading like wildfire in the United States.

Now that the death toll is rising to disastrous levels, killing more in two months than in the entire Vietnam war, Trump has changed his tune. Today, it’s “let’s open the country back up and take whatever losses that entails.” Or, in other words, asking granny to take one for the team. Whatever the final death toll is, Trump intends to say something like, “It could have been 2 million dead, so that’s a huge victory for me.”

Trump
President Trump – Who Doesn’t Know Shit About Fuck

So, thanks to this moronic President, the country faces a conundrum: continue to shelter-in-place or open up and take the death toll as a necessary sacrifice for the stock market.

I had a 45-year career in electrical engineering, so by nature, I am trained to be practical. The proper response to a pandemic is to quarantine those who are infected. This is only possible with extensive testing, something that Trump refused to do. In fact, Trump never called for any “shelter-in-place” measures.

The governors of those states with the worst outbreaks ordered the “stay at home” quarantines (New York, Washington, etc.). When you don’t have enough testing to identify those infected, the only recourse is to quarantine everybody. So, most of the nation entered a lockdown.

The problem is that such a lockdown can only last for a couple of months before all hell breaks loose. We now have near-depression levels of unemployment. It’s just a matter of weeks before families, with no income or food, are going to get eviction notices. Even with the lockdown lifted, how many people are really going to gamble going to a department store, restaurant, stadium, or movie theater. The collapse of demand will worsen the recession. This is going to be a disastrous third and fourth quarter.

I’m in the worst COVID-19 risk group (elderly, pacemaker, diabetes, arthritis, and weight issues). My only strategy is to hide out in my condo and hope that coronavirus doesn’t come through my front door, and that I live long enough to see an effective vaccine developed.

There is one other thing I intend to do. That’s to vote Trump and his band of grifters and incompetents out on November 3rd. That will include every Republican, from dogcatcher to Senator, who are guilty of enabling this incompetent and corrupt President.

We blew it in electing a moronic reality show huckster to run the country. We blew it, in not correctly responding to a dangerous global pandemic. But there’s one thing we can’t blow. It’s time to…

Flush the Turds on November 3rd.

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren
Senator Elizabeth Warren

I was planning to vote for her in the Florida Primary, Tuesday, March 17th. To me, she was the “gal with the plan.” I’ve been following her for years; appreciated her determination to eradicate corruption wherever she saw it, from Wells Fargo opening new accounts for customers without permission, to the 1000% APR rates charged by the loan shark “Payday Loans” industry. She was articulate, quick with the facts, and a memorable debater (just ask poor Mike Bloomberg).

So where did she go wrong? She came in a distant third or fourth in every caucus and primary so far. What happened?

This is just my opinion, of course, but I blame her foolish alliance with Bernie Sanders on the Medicare for All, Free College, Free Child Care, Eradication of Student Loan Debt, and other lofty ideas. When asked in a debate: “How will you pay for Medicare for All?” Warren quickly changed the subject and didn’t answer the question. That’s when I knew she was probably finished as a candidate.

You can’t tax the rich to pay for Medicare for All. There just isn’t enough money in that pot. The sad truth is that every working American will have to pay significantly more taxes to cover such a program. Unfortunately, Fox News and other Republican media outlets have been preaching for years that any tax increase is a mortal sin; it just can’t be considered.

I worked in England for one month every year for twenty two years. I lunched with my fellow employees, got to know how their National Health System (NHS) works. They pay more than twice the price we do for gasoline. The result of this taxation is that everyone in England buys manual-shift wind-up cars that are tiny by American standards. They’re OK with that. None of them told me that they wanted to get rid of the NHS.

I also exchanged a series of emails with a Norwegian engineer, on a technical issue, for sure. But the emails eventually went to a discussion of his standard of living. He owned a nice house, has six weeks of vacation, a generous retirement, and cradle-to-grave healthcare. If he was depressed, his doctors would send him to a spa in Turkey to recover. The clincher in the discussion was his admission that over 50% of his income went to the Norwegian government. He also was OK with that.

In today’s political environment, try telling American voters that their taxes are going to be raised to over 50% of income. They’ll vote you out in a flash.

The best way to gravitate to Medicare for All is to sneak it in, over a few decades, as something called the Public Option. That’s a government program to allows you to buy  Medicare insurance coverage for, say $7,000 a year. That’s about what most employers shell out for medical coverage, usually with them paying 75% of that as an inducement for you to stay as employees, and you paying the remainder.

With this Public Option plan, many companies will eventually switch to the government plan because the Feds assume all the risk. Corporations will enroll you and your family and pay 75% of the premium as an inducement for continued employment.

The United States spent $3.65 trillion dollars on health care in 2018. That’s more than the entire GDP of Canada, or Mexico, or the United Kingdom. Changing the very nature of this industry overnight as part of some cockamamie “revolution” is pure fantasy.

If you watch a Bernie Sanders rally, you can see disturbing similarities to a Trump rage-fest. Both Trump and Bernie feed off the energy and abject adulation of the adoring crowds. Both make bold promises that neither have a clue how to implement.

It was a mistake for Elizabeth Warren to throw in with the Bernie crowd. Sadly, that’s what probably sunk her at the polls this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nancy Pelosi Trap

We’ve all seen it from the Rambo and Tarzan movies; it’s called the Punji trap. You dig a pit about six feet deep, fill the bottom with dozens of  sharpened bamboo sticks, and then span the top with thin branches, fern leaves, and so forth to disguise the pit. The unsuspecting enemy walks over the Punji trap and falls in, becoming a human kebab, very grisly and very effective. So the question is, has Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi laid a Punji trap for President Trump and the Republicans?

Trap.JPG
Punji Trap

Let’s start with a bit of history. In making a routine diplomatic phone call from the White House to newly-elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, professional staffers from the State Department and Intelligence agencies listened in, to take notes and maybe advise President Trump. During one of these phone calls, President Trump drifted far from the carefully-prepared topics. He attempted a shake-down of Zelensky to get Ukraine to investigate a nutty conspiracy theory, dreamed up by the Russians, to manufacture dirt on his most prominent political rival, Joe Biden.

You know the story, Trump withheld Congress-approved military aid until Zelensky agreed to announce these bogus investigations. One of the professional employees from the Intelligence services was so disturbed by Trump’s action that he filed a whistle blower’s report that Trump’s Attorney General tried to bury. In the end, Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Adam Schiff found out about it, and the impeachment of Donald Trump commenced very rapidly.

Nancy Pelosy Clapping
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

Now you might ask, why bother with impeachment when it’s evident that the Republican Senate will never vote to convict and remove President Trump? Trump is a raving racist and lunatic. Still, the Republicans love the gutting of government regulations,  the appointing of far-right, mostly unqualified judges, and the trillion-dollar tax cut for the extremely rich. So, there is no way they are going to vote to convict in the Senate.

In the shadow of guaranteed dismissal by the Senate, Nancy Pelosi pressed on, and the House of Representatives sent two articles of impeachment to the Senate floor. The House Managers, led by the articulate and quick-thinking Congressman Adam Schiff, made a masterful case against Trump, causing Republican Senator Lamar Alexander to admit:

It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law.

Anyone who watched the impeachment trial (I watched as much as I could stand) knows that the White House lawyers and Republican Senators never defended Trump against the charges, they rambled on and on about process, most of their points being outright lies. Nobody defended Trump’s character or involvement in this Ukraine mess. He is as guilty as hell, even in Republican eyes. They say: “Maybe he is guilty, but I’m not voting to remove him from office.”

When the Republican Senate lets Trump skate away scot-free later in the week, is that the end of it?

Nope, not a chance. Nancy has sprung her Punji trap on the Senate Republicans. Here’s how it might work.

  • Trump will continue to get more and more lawless and crazy

Do you think Trump will stop lying? His weekly hate-rallies are getting more and more bizarre, with insults, sniffing (Adderall), slurred words, and unabashed racism. His policies, favoring his good buddy Vladimir Putin, will get more extreme. Look at how Russia is now calling the shots in the Middle East. Trump’s impeachment team did not disclose that Pat Cipollone, White House counsel  and member of the impeachment defense team, was himself a witness to the Ukrainian political scheme. That’s lying to Congress under oath and probably a reason to disbar Cipollone.

  • Trump’s economic policies only help the hyper-rich

The supposed tax cut went solely to the mega-rich, and by 2025 will increase taxes on the middle class. The stupid trade wars have been a bust also, with Trump backing down to earlier trade deals. Farm bankruptcies are incredibly high this year. Even the $25 billion Trump spent to bail out farmers went mostly to the big corporate farms. The family farms got screwed royally.

  • Trump’s hatred of non-whites will get worse

Trump’s immigration policies, already a paragon of cruelty, will get worse as the election approaches. His plans seem prompted by what works best at his rallies, so railing against immigrants of color will inevitably get worse, with the MAGA-hatted cult eating it up.

  • This situation will be portrayed as the fault of the Senate Republicans

Here’s where Nancy Pelosi’s trap is brilliant. Assuming that there’s a groundswell to vote Trump out, the Democrats can hang the yoke of the Trump impeachment acquittal on every Republican Senator up for reelection. They’ll say, for example, to Senator Cory Gardner: “Where were you when the nation needed you?” If Trump continues to get worse, Gardner will look like a spineless sycophant, a Trump lick-spittle. In swing states, this may make all the difference. It’s not that we have to vote out Trump. To repair the Trump damage to the nation, The Democrats have to get control of both the House and Senate. Only then will the country be healed.

Of course, this Pelosi trap requires one thing. President Donald Trump continues to get worse. Frankly, I think that’s a pretty sure bet. As we run-up to November, the slogan a majority will be muttering under their breath will be:

FLUSH THE TURD ON NOVEMBER 3RD

 Maybe I’ll buy one of these T-shirts.

Flush the Turd

 

 

Impeach the President

Trump_and_Stormy
President Trump and Stormy Daniels

Today is impeachment day. As I write this, the US House of Representatives is about to start debate and vote on two Articles of Impeachment against the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. The two articles are: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. You can read the actual articles here:   Articles of Impeachment

In our highly partisan political environment, the outcome is predetermined: The House will impeach the President and the Senate will quickly acquit him. So how did this happen?

On July 25th of this year, President Trump called the newly elected President of the Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to congratulate him on his recent election victory.

Zelenskyy.JPG
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine

On these kind of calls, a number of people listen in. Translators are essential, but Zelenskyy does speak English.  Those also listening are members of the President’s staff, representatives of the State Department and the Military, and other professional government employees. The White House released a call summary to the press, you can read it here:   Call Memorandum

To set the stage, President Zelenskyy knew that the $391 million aid package (Javalin missiles) was currently “on hold.” Without these anti-tank missiles, the Russian Army could quickly take over the Ukraine, if they wanted. So Zelensky addressed this specific issue:

President Zelenskyy:

We would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense. We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps, specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.

President Trump responded with a request for a favor, that being a Ukrainian investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

President Trump:

I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike. I guess you have one of your wealthy people. The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you said yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible. …

The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you ·can look into it. It sounds horrible to me.

As background, in 2014, Hunter had taken a cushy job with an energy company called Burisma making $50,000 a month as a member of the Board of Directors. While the optics of this are bad, there’s never been any evidence of any wrongdoing on Hunter’s part. The Crowdstrike mention by Trump is a real howler, a kooky conspiracy theory cooked up by the Russians. Read all about it here:  Russia Plants Crowdstrike Conspiracy Theory

When Trump hung up the phone on July 25th, almost everybody listening in on the call was shocked. Trump’s staff, according to sworn testimony, immediately locked up the recording, notes, and transcripts of the call on a super-secret server reserved for top secret data. They knew that the optics of the call looked bad.

The normal government employees who listened realized that Trump had veered from the planned agenda to what was essentially a mob-type shakedown of a foreign government for personal political gain. That started discussions about the call among themselves; these discussions triggered another government employee, the whistle blower, to write up a complaint and submit it to the Inspector General. Attorney General Bill Barr attempted to quash the whistle blower’s complaint, but somehow Adam Schiff got wind of it and demanded to see the whistle blower’s complaint.

Suddenly caught with his pants down, Trump quickly released the $391 million aid package to the Ukraine and released a call summary to the press, thinking that it was a “perfect call.” Nancy Pelosi authorized an impeachment investigation and Trump responded by forbidding anyone from the executive branch from testifying or releasing any requested documents. Fortunately, a few government employees defied Trump’s ban and testified before the House committees, essentially verifying all the whistle blower’s complaints.

So here we are. As I write this blog post, members of the House of Representatives are debating the two articles of impeachment: abuse of power, and obstruction of Congress.

Trump attempted to use the power of his office to coerce a foreign leader to start a bogus investigation of Joe Biden (a potential political rival) based on a Russia-inspired and totally debunked conspiracy theory. That’s abuse of power – attempting to get a foreign governments involved in our elections.

As a co-equal branch of government, the Congress has every right, guaranteed in our Constitution, to act as a check-and-balance on the Executive branch. Trump’s refusal to cooperate with lawful subpoenas for testimony and documents is a clear example of obstruction of Congress.

In my view, Trump is guilty as sin.

I accept that the trial in the Senate is already rigged. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made that clear. Nonetheless, I’m happy that in this dark hour for our democracy, at least some stood up and said “we won’t stand for this.” This will record for history that Donald J Trump is an impeached President, whose conduct was so abhorrent that the House of Representatives voted to eject him from the government.

Impeachment Hearings
Congressperson Jerry Nadler During the Impeachment Vote

If I was the Speaker of the House, I’d refuse to send the impeachment to the Senate on the grounds that Mitch McConnell has made it clear that the trial would be rigged. Nancy Pelosi should direct additional investigations into other possible grounds for impeachment, looking at Trump money laundering, violations of the emoluments clause, and hush money paid to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

Want to save our Democracy? Vote the Republicans out in 2020, from dog-catcher to President Trump.

Flush the Turd on November 3rd.

Greatest Economy Ever?

We’ve all heard him say it. “This is the greatest economy ever! Unemployment is at an all-time low. Stock market is at an all-time high. You’d be crazy not to vote for me.”

Trump01
President Trump Likes to Brag about the Economy

Now I will grant from the get-go that today’s economy is, in some ways, the best I’ve seen since I started work in 1968. That said, I’m not buying for a femptosecond that Trump had anything to do with it.

As Paul Krugman has said, “The stock market is NOT the economy.” Currently, about 54% of Americans own stocks, many of them indirectly in retirement funds and 401K plans that are invested in the stock market. Of that group, the upper 10% income group actively trades stocks and reap huge financial gains. 46% of Americans have no stocks at all. The stock market is generally a playground for the rich; a gambling operation that is rigged (I’ll save that for a later post).

The economy is not the stock market. The economy is the “Gross Domestic Product,” which is the sum total of all goods and services created by the American people in a year. Since our population is going up each year, you’d expect that the GDP would increase each year. In fact, that has been the case historically. A recent exception is the Bush crash of 2007 where the GDP actually went down.

President Obama inherited a crashed economy, frightening job losses, and a automobile industry on the brink of collapse. He pushed through a near trillion-dollar stimulus which reversed the Bush crash/recession, and saved GM and Chrysler with a government managed bankruptcy and bail-out. It took Obama one year to get the GDP back up to pre-Bush-Crash levels. Since then. the economy has been rolling along at a modest, but sustainable 2.5% increase in GDP. In other words, Trump has been riding the Obama wave and falsely taking credit for it.

Here’s a chart of quarterly increase of GDP since 1985; I have annotated it to show the performance of each administration.

GDP Growth Rate

What does this chart tell us? First, President Clinton did the best; curve fitting would put him in the 4% growth range. President Bush completely screwed up, crashing the economy, and driving the GDP growth to -8% range.

President Obama is the hero here. You can see the year it took him to restore the economy, and while his quarterly performance since has wider swings, a curve fit puts him in the 2.5% GDP growth range. Trump’s performance is just a continuation of Obama’s performance.

So the next time some MAGA cultist tells you that Trump is the savior of the economy, just reply, “Obama fixed the economy and handed Trump a stable, growing Gross Domestic Product. Thanks, Obama!

 

 

Our Movies Are Being Sanitized

There’s always somebody out to control your life. Jack Black addressed this in the 2003 movie “School of Rock.”

Jack Black as Dewey Finn in “School of Rock”

Dewey Finn Give up, just quit, because in this life, you can’t win. Yeah, you can try, but in the end you’re just gonna lose, big time, because the world is run by the Man.

Frankie : ” Who?”

Dewey Finn : ” The Man. Oh, you don’t know the Man? He’s everywhere. In the White House, down the hall… Ms. Mullins, she’s the Man. And the Man ruined the ozone, and he’s burning down the Amazon, and he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank! Okay? And there used to be a way to stick it to the Man, it was called rock ‘n roll. But guess what? Oh no. The Man ruined that, too, with a little thing called MTV! So don’t waste your time trying to make anything cool, or pure, or awesome, ’cause the Man is just gonna call you a fat washed up loser and crush your soul. So do yourselves a favor and just GIVE UP!”

Is the Man still at it, always out to get us? Are there people who are still trying to control how we think, how we reproduce, how we act at parties, sporting events, college functions, and so on? The answer is, of course, a resounding “yes” on an increasingly global scale.

I’m going to confine my discussion to just one area where the Man is so obviously at work: movies and to a lesser extent, television. I’m 74 years old and have seen media go from the very first cathode ray tube televisions to the high-definition smart TVs of today. I’ve watched movie theaters go from grainy black-and-white motion pictures to today’s iMax and Dolby theater systems. More importantly, the transition from celluloid film projectors to the Sony digital theater displays has made the movie business global in every respect. Nowadays, any famous movie produced here in America is simultaneously dubbed into Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, and other languages so that the motion picture can be premiered everywhere on the same day. To distribute the film, they download it via the Internet directly to the theater in New Delhi. The money to be made in this instant international marketplace is beyond the wildest dreams of avarice.

Today’s mass-market movies (and television) are being sanitized of any sexuality whatsoever. I’m not the first person to notice this. Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday addressed this in a summertime op-ed titled “Sex is disappearing from the big screen, and it’s making movies less pleasurable.” Here’s a link to her piece, though be warned that the Washington Post has a paywall.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/sex-is-disappearing-from-the-big-screen-and-its-making-movies-less-pleasurable/2019/06/06/37848090-82ed-11e9-933d-7501070ee669_story.html

In her essay, Hornaday lamented that ” U.S. audiences were flocking to see “John Wick 3,” in-between making “Avengers: Endgame” and “Aladdin” huge hits. One of them a dark, fetishistically violent thriller, one a live-action comic book, one a Disney fairy tale, all resolutely sex-free.”

Now I can understand Disney being resolutely sex-free, that’s always been their brand. Marvel Comics, on the other hand, has always been rebellious, with most of its female super heroes and villains erotically presented. That’s now gone with the wind after Disney bought Marvel lock, stock, and barrel a few years ago.

Likewise for Star Wars. Who can forget the sexiness of Princess Leia in her “slave Leia” costume in the Empire Strikes Back?

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in “The Empire Strikes Back”

So, do we see anything like that in the new Disney Star Wars films? Absolutely not, and I mean no disrespect for Daisy Ridley, who is quite enjoyable as Rey in the recent films.

I’m seeing the same desexualization in today’s television. After the sexual revolution of the sixties, it was commonplace for some TV performers to present themselves as sexually alluring. For instance, consider Farrah Fawcett of Charlie’s Angels and Jennifer Anniston of Friends.

Farrah Fawcett in Charlie’s Angels
Jennifer Aniston in Friends

Putting it more delicately, you can observe that these women have nipples, just like you and me. And sure, the “pokies,” as they are described today, are alluring, but so are the actresses’ perfect complexions, prominent limbal ring in their eyes, lustrous hair, washboard abs, and other elements of their beauty. Are we seeing anything like this in today’s television? Once again, absolutely not. If you look at TV shows and movies today, you’ll see the use of self-sticking silicone nipple shields to make female nipples disappear. These things are $25 on Amazon.

It’s not the end of the world if some actress’ nipples are subjected to an invisibility cloak. Still, I imagine that if I were an actress, I’d be irritated at being required to stick these things on while my male co-star was not.

The real question is “why is this happening, who is doing it, and what are the ramifications?”

You might think that this is the result of President Trump’s mob of evangelical red hats. Their leaders have always wanted to keep women home in their prairie dresses, pregnant, and cooking dinner, but I doubt they’re the culprits here. Every year, PornHub reports that, without fail, their best customers are the bible-belt states like Mississippi, Louisiana, and so on. They may nod their heads every Sunday as the preacher rails about the evils of pornography, but they go home and watch reruns of Daisy Duke in her busting at the seams T-shirts and short-shorts, and log on to Porn Hub when the wife has fallen asleep. Nope, I give them a pass here.

More than likely, the culprit is a person with an MBA degree running a spreadsheet for one of the media corporations, like Disney, Apple, Sony, Paramount, et. al. These people are motivated by greed only, never artistic expression. They research what movies will give the biggest rate-of-return. Sadly, the answer is consistently sequels and non-controversial, sex-free movies.

Green-lighting sequels makes good business sense. The sequel has a guaranteed audience, the actors are usually locked into a multi-picture deal, and the special effects department has gigabytes of visual-effects files available. The Star Wars, Star Trek, Avengers, Superman, Batman, and James Bond films are examples of lucrative sequel mongering; they are sure winners. The problem is that sequels are the bane of originality. You sit in the theater and wonder, “haven’t I seen this before?”

OK, so why then are movies and television being rendered sex-free? The answer is simple, China. China is the second-largest movie audience in the world. The potential for profit exhibiting movies in China is massive.

The problem is that China is also puritan. It is one of the most state-controlled societies on the planet. China’s government is heading into 1984 territory these days as there are Internet-connected cameras everywhere, doing facial recognition. If you participate in an unsanctioned demonstration (or refuse to go to a government event), they identify you and enter you into their database. They are creating a “citizen report card” where you are scored for being a good citizen or a trouble-maker. I’ve read that once in place, the citizen scorecard system will come with sanctions, including taxes for bad behavior.

A totalitarian government will always try to control all aspects of your life. This interference is nothing new; we’ve seen it for millennia with religion. The religion I was born into, Roman Catholicism, has a phrase “Your Life in Christ.” They have rules for every aspect of life, like sex and reproduction, foods, costumes, etc.

China may be an atheist society, but they act like any religion. They fostered a “one family – one child” regulation decades ago, and it failed miserably. Mainly, the restriction upset the 50/50 spread of males versus females born, shading to more males than females. Now there aren’t enough females available for men to marry; supposedly, there are over 30 million Chinese men who have no chance of finding a mate.

China is also prudish by our standards. I love Chinese movies and watch them all the time on Netflix and Prime Video. They are epic, with attractive people and dazzling special effects. That said, those movies are devoid of any sexuality (Girls don’t have nipples in Chinese films either). Explicit sex scenes are verboten in China.

The Wandering Earth is an Epic Science Fiction Film

So it looks like American movie studios are green-lighting big-budget films that cater to China’s censorship requirements. In effect, they are forcing American audiences to lower our movie standards to the least common denominator, material approved by the Chinese censor.

I believe that there should be movies and television shows for grownups. Films that present people and relationships honestly where characters curse like adults, have sex like adults, and deal with adult problems. These days, you can see this entertainment at Independent Cinema. This summer, a Julianne Moore film, Gloria Bell, played at my local theater for two weeks. It had an R-rated sex scene and only grossed just $11 million at the box office.

Julianne Moore in the film Gloria Bell

Another film I wanted to see, Susperia, only played at one theater 45 minutes away, for five days. Yeah, it had a witch’s orgy at the end but there were excellent performances from Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson.

You can see these indie films on Netflix and sometimes Amazon Prime videos, but they are slowly being excluded from the theater chains in favor of the sure-bet, Chinese approved sequels.

I have great admiration for the Chinese people and their contributions to science, the fine arts, transportation, manufacturing, and so on. I just don’t think they should have any control over what I can watch in a movie theater. If this keeps up, I’ll just quit attending movie theaters with their sex-free Chinese-approved movies and stick to streaming my entertainment.

Conspiracy Theories

Alex Jones
Alex Jones of Info Wars

Conspiracy theories have always been with us. As a teenager, I remember a story that a 100 miles-per-gallon carburetor had been developed and then buried by the automobile manufacturers because the oil industry wanted to sell more gasoline. Over the years, it became evident that this story was completely bogus. Still, a lot of people believed it.

When the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11th, high school friends of mine believed the conspiracy theory that the destruction of the Twin Towers was an “inside job” by the government; that explosives planted within the buildings brought them down. They pointed to photographs showing windows on the lower floors blowing outwards as the building above started collapsing towards the ground.

tower collapse
Window blowing out on the lower floor as the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11th, 2001

Of course, mechanical and civil engineers quickly explained this. The Twin Towers had poured-concrete floors supported around the perimeter by steel brackets. The burning jet fuel softened (not melted) these angle brackets. Eventually, they failed, and the blazing floor fell onto the floor below. Now the sheer weight of both slabs exceeded the load capacity of the support brackets, and they broke loose. The buildings had a large elevator shaft in the center running from top-to-bottom. As the floors pancaked towards the ground, you have the equivalent of a bicycle pump – the pancaked slabs acting as a giant piston, overpressuring the levels below as the building fell. Naturally, some of the windows blew out below, as shown by the above photograph. Try to explain that to proponents of this conspiracy theory, and they’ll call you “stupid liberal,” “snowflake,” “cuck,” or whatever.

While most of us would agree that the Internet is the greatest invention of our time (who doesn’t love Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Netflix), sadly, the Internet has weaponized the crazies among us. Websites such as Breitbart, 4chan, Stormfront, and InfoWars have gleefully participated in the creation and dissemination of idiotic conspiracy theories.

The poster child of conspiracy theorists is none other than Alex Jones, shown above, who runs a website called Info Wars. Donald Trump has appeared on his show, and Jones is a card-carrying member of the White House press corps. His conspiracies, espoused on his show, run from the entertainingly nutty to the outright cruel.

On one notable showing, Jones hosted a conspiracy nut, Robert David Steele, who claimed that NASA had a pedophile base on Mars where little children were held there as sex slaves. While Jones himself looked a bit skeptical at this one, nonetheless, he put this insanity on the air. A few days later, NASA had to release a statement that “No, we don’t have a pedophile base on Mars.” Here’s a link on this: Mars Slave Colony

The most horrifying Alex Jones conspiracy theory involved the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass killing. A deranged individual, Adam Lanza, murdered his mother, then entered the Sandy Hook school and killed twenty children and six staff members. This horrifying event energized the gun safety movement in the United States. The right-wing hellscape switched into overdrive to deflect the nation’s attention away from the tragedy by claiming that the whole thing was a “deep state” hoax. Alex Jones was front-and-center on this nonsense, and the resulting publicity caused grieving parents to start receiving death threats and other forms of harassment. Some fought back, sued Jones and Info Wars, and caused him to broadcast a retraction. This case is still under litigation, and Jones may someday find himself driven to bankruptcy.

Sandy Hook
Carlee Soto (left) finding out that her sister, Vicky, was killed in the Sandy Hook Massacre.

These tragedies always involve real people dealing with the worst kind of heartbreak – the death of a child or sibling. The photograph above is Carlee Soto at the moment when she was told that her sister, Vicky, was killed in her first-grade classroom, trying to protect her children from the gunman’s bullets. To question her grief and anguish to shield the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby is vile beyond belief.

Which brings us to the conspiracy du jour, the Ukrainians hacked the Democratic National Committee’s web server. Grab yourself a cup of coffee as I take us through this flight of fancy.

On May 10, 2016, George Papadopoulos, one of Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisors, bragged at a London pub to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer that Russia had Hillary Clinton’s emails. Downer, to his credit, immediately tattled to the United States government, specifically the FBI and CIA. They got a FISA warrant to follow Papadopoulos, and the chase was on. Eventually, the FBI brought Papadopoulos in for an interview, and he lied to them. That’s a federal crime, and he was found guilty and served 12 days in prison.

George Paradoulous
George Papadopoulos, Trump advisor who started it all.

The FBI, with the assistance of the CIA, began an investigation of Russian meddling in the upcoming 2016 election. At the time, President Obama wanted to go public with the preliminary results. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected, and the whole thing remained under-the-radar up through the election.

Trump won, albeit an electoral college victory only (he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots). On assuming the Presidency in 2017, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was prosecuting Trump’s National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn (Mister Lock Her Up). Acting FBI Director Rod Rosenstein created a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, to continue the investigation.

Laboring for two years, Robert Mueller investigated the Russian election interference and published a 400-page report. His team identified the Russian facilities that did the hacking and social media manipulation, and the actual individuals who did the work. They have all been indicted and had better not attempt to travel to the USA. Mueller, being a stickler for DOJ rules, declined to indict Trump, but rather punted the football to Congress.

President Trump objected to the suggestion that his election might be tainted by Russian interference, and looked for some way to prove that the Russians are innocent in this election business. Lucky for him, the nutty conspiracy theory goons came up with a whopper: The Ukrainians Did It!

The “Ukrainians Did It” conspiracy has two major parts: the Bidens and Crowdstrike.

Vice President Joe Biden’s last surviving son, Hunter Biden, is a Washington lobbyist. In 2014, Hunter took a job as a member of the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company. His salary at Burisma was $50k per month. Ukrainian prosecutors have investigated Hunter’s activities and found nothing illegal.

Hunter Biden is no angel; the Navy discharged him for cocaine use. His divorce in 2016 was tabloid fodder. Although a Yale law graduate, Hunter was always in the shadow of his late brother Beau. He’s just someone using his Father’s notoriety to land a cushy job, something prevalent in Washington these days.

The Crowdstrike part of this conspiracy theory is a real howler. Cooked up by Steve Bannon, Breitbart, and other right-wing idiots, the story goes like this. The Ukrainians actually had the Democratic National Committee (DNC) server in Ukraine, hacked it themselves using the Ukrainian cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike, released the data to Wikileaks, et. al. to embarrass the Russians. This brilliant plan also allowed the Democrats to lose the election.

Here’s the truth. The DNC had several servers. Here’s a photo of one of them in their DC headquarters. It’s the small electronics rack on the table to the right of the file cabinets. As far as I can tell, none of these servers was in Ukraine.

DNC Server
One of the DNC’s Servers

So the Ruskies figured out the Internet address of this server, got in there, and copied the whole shebang (calling Julian Assange!). When the DNC got wind of this, they hired the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike to investigate. Crowdstrike worked with the FBI on the inquiry and, you guessed it, found out that the Russians did the hacking. One of Crowdstrike’s founders, Dmitri Alperovitch, is of Russian birth, coming to the USA as a child. It’s not a Ukrainian company. So why would the Democrats hack their DNC server, spill it’s contents to Wikileaks and others, to facilitate losing the election?

Only an idiot would believe this nutty story. Unfortunately, our Idiot-in-Chief, President Trump, believes it. He demanded that the new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky find this “server” and get the goods on the Bidens if he wanted to get the Javalin missiles that the Ukrainian Army so desperately needs. This mob-style shakedown of the Ukrainian President is, of course, the essence of the House Impeachment Investigation. I’ll comment on that in another blog post.

Concluding, I’d like to talk about lying. I’m a firm believer in the First Amendment –  freedom of speech. I’d go to the barricades with anybody to uphold that freedom. However, I don’t believe that Freedom of Speech grants you the right to lie.

Facebook has said that it’s not their job to police lying on their platform. Evil people, like Steve Bannon and his ilk, use social media voluminously to promulgate conspiracies that are demonstrably false to the general public on a massive scale. Grieving people, like the Sandy Hook parents, the family of Seth Rich, and others are then harassed and threatened by fools who believe these lies. The worst cases are the demented gunmen who, egged on by these conspiracy theories, have killed scores of innocents in the last couple of years.

These social media platforms are the root of the problem. They’ve made it too easy for the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, and others to manipulate the American public. Here are some ideas to reign in the influence of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

You Must Have a Social Security Number to be on Facebook, etc.

Force all American users of Facebook, Twitter, etc. to re-register with a name, address, and social security number. Have the Census Department provide a database to do this. This new arrangement will prevent bots from creating bogus users in the United States. You’ll know if the post you’re reading is from a foreign entity.

Eliminate the Share and Retweet Buttons

Eliminate the Facebook “Share” and Twitter “Retweet” buttons. You can send cat photos to your Facebook circle of friends, but they cannot send them on with a single click. This limitation wipes out the “chain reaction” effect of exploding memes and dishonest postings to everybody in the country and the world. If you want to pass on a post with your cousin’s baby pictures, you must take the time to create a message yourself. 

Make Knowingly Lying on Social Media a Federal Crime

If you lie to the FBI, that’s a federal crime (ask Martha Stewart about that one). In the same light, it should be against the law to lie to you and me, especially if it’s on a social media platform. If anyone places a posting, meme, or statement on these platforms proven demonstrably false, the content creator (e.g., Alex Jones) and the content transmitter (e.g., Facebook) will be held legally accountable if the posting caused harassment or death threats to innocents. Put this concept into law and watch how fast Mark Zukerberg applies Artificial Intelligence (AI) to fact check every posting.

Lying has become too prevalent in today’s America. Maybe it’s time to stand up and say we’ve had enough of this mendacity. We could start by ridding ourselves of the biggest liar of them all, President Trump.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Swedish Stink Eye

Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg, 16 years-old, is from Stockholm, Sweden. She is slightly autistic (Asperger Syndrome) and doesn’t talk much. When she does, it’s about climate change and she is as blunt as a military general when expressing herself. She convinced her parents to change their lifestyle to a more climate-friendly carbon footprint (no more international air travel for her opera singer mother, vegan diets, and so forth). She now travels by train and sailboat.

In speaking to the United Nations today, she concluded her short remarks with this message:

“You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

Later, Greta encountered our President Trump at the United Nations. He did not see her, but she saw him and the look on her face mirrors what I think of the man – a greedy, stupid fool who once called the climate crisis a “Chinese Hoax.” Enjoy, if you will, what I call “The Swedish Stink Eye.”

The Swedish Stink Eye

Note: credit to The Guardian for the quote and the video.

 

 

 

Medicare for All (Elizabeth Warren Style)

Elizabeth Warren

I like Senator Elizabeth Warren. She’s smart, has an amazing recall of facts and financial minutiae, and has a real understanding of one sad truth about America these days. That truth being that a small cabal of hyper-wealthy billionaires and corporations have been stealing from all of us for over forty years and have essentially wiped out what was once a prosperous middle class. If this isn’t stopped, pretty soon most of us will be subsisting on a diet of rat soup.

Her campaign motto is “I have a plan for that!” Well, that’s great and most of those plans are brilliantly conceived and plausible. One plan though, Medicare for All, has a serious flaw. She cannot bring herself to explain how it will be funded.

I cringed last night watching her on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert evading all his attempts to get her to explain how this idea would be paid for. What’s the problem here?

This is a central problem with the entire Progressive movement, actually. We just can’t bring ourselves to admit that proposals like Medicare for All will cost all of us more money. You can’t just tax the rich to pay for a program like this. All of us will have to pay a lot more of our income to support something like true universal healthcare.

I have conversed with fellow engineers from many countries over the years. An engineer in Finland (a place that has cradle-to-grave healthcare for all) once told me that he pays over 50% of his income to the government. For that sacrifice, he gets healthcare, education, state-of-the-art railroads, roads, and bridges. “Is it worth it?” I asked him. “Absolutely, he replied.

So as Senator Warren gets closer and closer to attaining the Democratic nomination, expect her to be ganged up on this funding issue.

I’d like to humbly propose a different approach for Senator Warren to roll out. Let’s call it “Medicare for Sale.” Allow any citizen to buy into Medicare as their health care solution. Raise the Payroll Tax slightly and, of course, tax the rich to pay for those in lower income tax brackets where the cost would have to be proportionally less.

True, my idea would cause everybody’s taxes to raise a bit, but this would be much less expensive than trying to put the whole population on Medicare overnight.

What would eventually happen? I’d surmise that some small companies would encourage (or force) their employees to switch over to the Medicare plan. This effect would start slowly, but would eventually become a tsunami. All those greedy medical insurance companies would find themselves no longer competitive. It’ll take a few years, but we’d have Medicare for All in America, eventually.

 

 

 

I’m Ashamed to be an American, Part 1

The cruelty of President Trump has no upper bound. Consider the sad case of Jimmy Aldaoud, who was deported to Iraq and died last month of diabetes.

Jimmy Deported

Jimmy’s parents were Iraqi Chaldean Catholics, a branch of the Roman Catholic Church who trace their roots to ancient Mesopotamia. Jimmie’s parents fled Iraq 41 years ago as persecution against Christians increased under Saddam Hussein. Jimmy was born in a Greek refugee camp, then brought to the United States as an infant. Jimmy was a lawful permanent resident, not like his sisters who were born here and are US citizens.

To be honest, Jimmy was not a saint. He suffered from schizophrenia and other mental health issues, was homeless often, and had over twenty criminal convictions on his record. Being a permanent resident, he was ordered deported more than once. He was a Type 1 diabetic, requiring insulin and other care to survive. He spent a year and a half in ICE detention.

Trump’s Nazi-like obsession to get rid of all non-white immigrants led to a final decision to deport Jimmy to Iraq last month. Jimmy had never lived in Iraq, did not speak Arabic, did not know anybody there. He was homeless in Iraq, sleeping on airport benches, unable to get the medical care he needed. He died in just two weeks of insulin shock. Ironically, the ICE have allowed his body to be returned to the United States for burial.

I see no difference between deporting this man to a country he has never lived in, could not speak the language, had no family there, with a deadly medical condition and just having an ICE officer enter his cell and shooting him dead. In either case, the result is the same.

What discourages me is the so called Evangelical Christians who are OK with this. Any reading of the Gospels would tell you that Jesus always taught compassion and kindness to the vulnerable. Let’s not forget that Jesus and his family were refugees themselves, when they fled to Egypt to escape King Herod’s wrath. We should have kept Jimmy Aldaoud here in the United States, provided him medical care, and worked to rehabilitate him. Even if that failed, living his life in a US jail would have been better than deporting him to certain death.

How have we become so cruel?