Four disasters this week

Between the horrible earthquake outside of Mexico City and Hurricane Maria, two disasters are harming people. This is on top of the two terrible hurricanes that hit Texas (Harvey) and Florida and the Caribbean Islands (Irma) in the past three weeks. We need to help those impacted and who may still be impacted as Maria continues onward. At last count, 245 people in Mexico City and the area have died from the earthquake and Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, etc. have been decimated by Maria.

While it is highly likely man-influenced climate change has made the hurricanes more powerful, two other disasters are clearly man-made and harmful to people. For one, we have to travel to Myanmar and Bangladesh as the government of Myanmar is doing an ethnic cleansing of a minority group of Muslims called Rohingyas. Over 400,000 Rohingyas have sought refuge in Bangladesh to escape the raping, killing, beating and burning of their homes. Sadly, the leader of Myanmar is Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel Prize for standing up to the military rulers she has replaced, has stood silent.

The other disaster was embodied in the US President who did his best impersonation of former USSR Premier Nikita Khrushchev. During the Cold War, Khrushchev beat on his table with his shoe and announced to the United Nations crowd that if you don’t watch out “We will bury you.” This is beyond the pale of decorum and tact and painted the Soviet Leader as a pariah, rightfully so.

Scrolling forward fifty plus years to this week, the current White House incumbent spoke to other world leaders at the United Nations in a bombastic manner that could not be confused with civil discourse or diplomacy. Compared to low expectations, Trump had some presentable parts of his speech, yet he falls way short when compared to his predecessors. Beating on his chest, he told the world he would have no problem in killing tens of millions of North Koreans wiping the country from the face of the earth.

While a few more controlling leaders are OK with Trump’s bombast, many leaders have been critical of the Nikita-like speech. I have witnessed in interviews the UN Leader, the President of France, the Leader of the International Monetary Fund, the current Mayor of New Orleans and the former Mayor of New York each show their dismay over Trump’s words and bombast. There are others. Watching the body language of General Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, during the speech was very telling.

Long before this, Trump has shown to other leaders, he is not trustworthy or knowledgeable about global affairs. A Republican global advisor to Mitt Romney even used the word “ignoramus” to define the President’s foreign policy. Trudy Rubin, one of the best writers on global affairs, said Trump “Does not care to learn what he does not know.”

But, Trump has done even more, as evidenced by his speech. He has made America out to be a pariah in the world. That is highly frustrating to this American. I clearly recognize North Korea is a dilemma. I also fear the man who will make our decisions on this as he has little understanding of the situation and will likely stir up matters where cooler heads are needed.

When boys with toys start comparing egos and name calling, it makes military action a higher probability. We should not confuse being tough or having seriousness of purpose with sounding tough – the White House incumbent does not understand this. And, one thing Americans, the majority of whom support military action, need to think about is the other side will shoot back and millions will die in South Korea, Japan and maybe in the US. We only need to watch the documentary series on The Vietnam War to understand what happens when we think we are invincible and don’t tell the truth to the American people. Let’s seek diplomatic solutions.

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Coastal collaborations

One good, one bad. One founded on truth, one founded to perpetuate a lie. Two recent articles in The Charlotte Observer shed a spotlight on the coastal threat of man-influenced climate change and these two collaborations.

First, the bad. North Carolina realtors who sell coastal properties have banded together to fight those who want to plan for climate change induced sea rise. They have successfully lobbied the passage of a law in the General Assembly that repeals the requirement that builders reflect the impact of climate change on their structures and placement.

This adversarial relationship with science has followed a history of the GOP led General Assembly toward climate change. The more memorable moment was the General Assembly’s refusal to accept a peer reviewed scientific report that said sea levels would rise by 39 inches by the end of the century, accepting one that looked backwards limiting the increase to 8 inches. The former report had been accepted by Virginia and Louisiana. Stephen Colbert ridiculed the NCGA on one of his shows for the absurdity in NC.

Realtors are supposed to tell the truth, although there are some who embellish too much. Yet, to try to hold back the ocean with paperwork is not good business. When leaders hide the truth, people suffer. I encourage buyers to do research with reputable sources, including their ability to insure their potential properties. Owners on NC’s Bald Head Island realized the hard way what happens when property is built too close and without buffers.

Now, the good. In response to an executive order by the current White House incumbent to do seismic testing in advance of offshore oil development off our Atlantic Coast, a building bipartisan coalition has formed. Six coastal states’ governors (two Republican) have joined with numerous mayors and business people to fight this oil exploration.

They estimate the coastal tourism business is about $95 Billion per year. Then, there is the fishing industry which is exposed. And, we should not lose sight of homebuyers who want to retire or have property near the ocean. It should be noted that the Florida and Georgia governors are silent on these issues, which is viewed as a positive by this group.

Climate change is a real threat that is no longer futuristic. Miami is the most at risk city in the world in terms of assets and sees daily flooding even without hurricanes. The latter are now more severe  in strength, while droughts and forest fires are more in number and extremity. These are predicted in climate change models.

I am disappointed in these coastal realtors, the NC General Assembly and the White House. Ignoring scientific experts on this topic puts people in harm’s way. We must plan accordingly. I praise highly the courage and wisdom of these governors, mayors and business people. They see climate change as a threat and offshore fossil fuel development as a risk.

Vehement and attacking denials

I watched the first of two episodes on the PBS news series “Frontline” regarding the NFL’s cover up of concussions being caused by the money-making game of professional football. Having seen Will Smith star as Dr. Bennett Omalu, the Nigerian born and well schooled forensic-pathologist, who broke the story in the movie “Concussion,” this show caught my eye.

In short, autopsies performed on several deceased players, who had died before age fifty, revealed recurring concussive brain injuries that led to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which caused dementia in these players. Yet, the NFL went out of its way to deny, denigrate and demonize this man and his findings. The NFL conducted its own studies and were able to get them published even when they did not measure up to scientific peer review standards. As a result more players got hurt. Eventually, the NFL settled a lawsuit for $1 Billion payable to the players. This settlement was upheld by the Supreme Court last December.

I mention this story as other entities have followed the vehement and attacking denial approach. You may recall the tobacco industry denied for years that nicotine was addictive, when they had studies in their files dating back to 1964 that told them it was. After years of denying other studies, often denigrating and demonizing the group doing the study, eight CEOs of tobacco companies testified under oath to a Congressional Committee that nicotine was not addictive. That bald face lie was too much for some and insiders began to tell the real story. In 1998, the big four tobacco companies agreed to a settlement with 46 state attorney generals for $206 Billion, payable over 25 years.

President Richard Nixon used a similar approach to attack The Washington Post, in particular Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, for their investigative reporting which linked the Watergate break-in to the White House and the detailed cover-up of various crimes. Nixon threatened them, the publisher and editor attacking their credibility. And, when Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox was getting too close, he had Cox fired, but only after the Saturday Night Massacre, when two of Cox’s superiors refused to fire him – Elliott Richardson and William Ruckelshaus – and resigned. While Nixon was pardoned after resigning, over twenty of Nixon’s staff went to jail.

Today, we have two entities that are following suit. Exxon Mobil has attacked critics and scientists for years on climate change using the same PR strategy and firm that the tobacco Industry used. Apparently, they did not read the ending. They dared scientists to look at their data. A Harvard group of scientists did and found that 83% of the scientific papers done by Exxon Mobil’s scientists confirmed that climate change is an existential threat and is man-influenced.

Not ironically, management’s public positions said the climate change science is unclear 81% of the time, the exact opposite conclusion. Exxon Mobil denigrated the Harvard scientists who just completed their work, but are failing to remember a current class action suit by employees and another by shareholders alleging the company is undervalued due to management’s misrepresentation of climate change impact. Right now, two state attorney generals and the SEC are investigating this very issue. If the AGs and SEC find Exxon Mobil did mislead shareholders, Exxon Mobil will be guilty of the crime of securities fraud.

The other entity is one Donald J. Trump, the current occupant of the White House. He has attacked everyone who dares criticize him or suggests that the Russians not only hacked the election, that he may have culpability in colluding with them. Trump says routinely and often the media is lying and consists of bad people. Senators, Congress members, and others, even from his own party, are met with some negative attack, if they dare be critical of him. Like Archibald Cox, there is a very capable Special Prosecutor named Robert Mueller who is investigating further into all the President’s men and women. Like these other entities, the attacks are vehement and brutal. Like these other entities, the stories seem to change as more details come out. And, like others, I believe the President is guilty of collusion. Why? His history, first and foremost, but if he was not guilty, why is acting so guilty?

So, the story line has yet to be written, but the more vehement, relentless and negative the attacks are and the more the denial stories change, the more likely the party doing the attacking is guilty.

Do complete that survey

Since I live in the suburbs and am an Independent voter, I receive all kinds of surveys, usually quite biased in nature. This afternoon I received one on the Trump Agenda from the Republican National Conmmittee.

I did what I have done previously, filling it out and making comments in the margins. For example, the top priorities are listed and I was asked to rank them, with only one place for an “other.” Frankly, several things are included which should not be done at all or greatly over-simplify a complex issue. And, other needs are not even mentioned, a problem I remedied with several “other issues.”

But, what I also did was what I would encourage others to do, if given the chance. I wrote that Congress needs to censure this President for his recent remarks on white supremacists and neo-Nazis and actions unbecoming the office. I also mentioned that Congress may need to consider impeachment if the Russian investigation reveals what I fear.

Use these vehicles to communicate. My guess is I am not the only one who did this. Right now, the incumbent in the White House has diminished and defamed to office. We need to share our voice to say we demand honor, morality and leadership from our President, none of which we are getting from this man.

Expansion of the Chris Rock Solution

One of the funniest, yet provocative routines performed by the comedian Chris Rock is his proposal to solve gun violence. Price the bullets at $5,000 per bullet. He goes on to describe, as only he can, that shooters will become very judicious with how they use ammunition at that price point.

I was thinking of his idea today and thought it might be a good strategy on other things that are causing problems in America. Civil protest need only require a permit, yet if you bring a weapon that will cost extra. Bring a bat, baton or stick and that will be $5,000 per weapon per person. Bring a knife, sword, dagger, etc., that will be $10,000. Bring a hand gun or rifle that will be $25,000. Someone has to pay for the police cost.

If Congress wants to fund raise on our tax dollars, that will be $5,000 for two hours worth of calling payable by the political party. In person fund raising will be $10,000. If a lobbyist wants to talk with you, they must pay Treasury $25,000.

As for making people tell the truth, if a news agency tells a falsehood and doesn’t visibly retract a story, $100,000 fine. If a President or member of Congress tells a falsehood without a visible retraction, $25,000. If a story is repeated, the fine is tripled. If the politician hits ten lies, the fine is tripled, as well.

The job to collect national fines will be imposed on the Secretary of the Treasury. Local fines can be collected by the City Tax Collectors. Failure to pay, will double the fine and require public disclosure by name and party. This may cause folks to think about how they use their time. It would also help with our deficit and debt.

It is all about the money

People want your money. Some want it through legitimate marketing means doing a good job for as many customers as possible. Some embellish their story overselling their wares with terms like “new and improved.” And, there are those who do anything to get your money lying, cheating, causing fear, extorting, etc. I will stop of short of people who steal it outright. It is the category above thief that concerns me given their reach.

John Oliver on his show “Last Week Tonight,” offers some of the best reporting on subjects as he focuses his comedic lens at the hypocrisy and inanity. He did an excellent piece on con artists disguised as televangelists as they artfully and persistently bilk their followers under the guise of a “prosperity ministry.” The only people getting rich is the one talking not the many listening.

Yet, his show this past Sunday night illuminated me to another con artist bilking people for money – none other than Alex Jones of Infowars. I am well aware of Jones’ inane and provocative conspiracy stories – Sandy Hook shooting being a hoax as one of his more famous ones. What I did not know is how Jones uses his show to raise money for his main cause – his own wealth. And, with 6 million followers, he does quite nicely.

Oliver illustrated the number of high margin products offered as sidebar commercials on Jones’ four hour show. Oliver showed examples where certain products peddled by Jones could be bought for 1/10 the price. Plus, Jones uses a so-called medical expert, with purported numerous degrees, including one from MIT, to help him sell his medicinal wares. As Oliver pointed out, the expert has no such degrees.

A great example of Jones’ selling style illustrated by Oliver demonstrates how it works. Jones went on a long rant about how the government was making us all gay by putting feminine hormones in the water system. So, the next day after raising alarm, Jones pitched a water purification system that will rid your water of all unwanted chemicals and hormones. He scares you first, then he sells you a cure or a solution.

So, in addition to being a conspiracy crazed shock jock, at the heart of the show is another description of what Alex Jones is all about. As demonstrated by Oliver, Jones is an astute con artist.

A Beleaguered President

In his public attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the incumbent has given us the perfect word to define his Presidency. Beleaguered.

The beleaguered President has done more to undermine his own veracity than anyone else could possibly muster. His worst enemy is the man-child that looks back at him from the mirror when he shaves. And, man-child is the appropriate description.

The beleaguered President spoke to a large gathering of Boy Scouts. Yet, the key messaging of the key-note speaker was not one of honor, trustworthiness and service, it was one of lying, cheating, name-calling. It also included a healthy dose of braggadocio. The far more honorable part of the equation was in the audience, not behind the dais.

This man-child has a multitude of reasons why he should have never been elected. Those reasons continue as President. This is even before we see what he has done as President to make the US a less trustworthy country and what he is likely to have done with Russian influences to get elected.

Yet, two items should stick out which are examples of his character. He fired James Comey and announced to news sources before telling Comey was fired. That is extremely poor form.

The second is how he is bad mouthing Sessions in public. Mind you, Sessions is no day at the beach in my view, but he is being bullied into resigning. The adage of praise in public and criticize in private is lost on this man-child. The President asks for loyalty, but offers known in return. Per an attorney who worked for him, this is modus operandi. And, make no mistake, if his son or son-in-law become a liability, he will jettison them.

My hope is Robert Mueller will complete his work and find the trail of money, which makes the beleaguered President nervous. And, it should not be lost on anyone that the Senate and House have passed bills with only single digit dissent to sanction Russia and restrict the President’s ability to change them. That says loudly and clearly, “we do not trust you.” Neither should we.