Fish(y) on Friday

My elementary school would serve fish on Friday, even though we were not a Catholic school. Of course, elementary school cooking would not be confused with haute cuisine.

Adding the letter “y” to fish would lead us to what the US House committees are investigating. Although Republican legislators continue to rationalize the indefensible, the White House is building its own case against the president. It is so fishy, there may be grounds for impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate.

In other words, if Trump sycophants have the nerve, the evidence for removal of the US president is becoming readily apparent bolstered by testimony and the White House’s own statements.

The latest came from Mick Mulvaney, the Chief of Staff, who announced yesterday there was a quid pro quo with respect to getting help with a debunked conspiracy theory. Then later he said it was the media’s fault for mishearing what he said. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Another conservative lawyer group called “Checks and Balances” has joined “Republicans for the Rule of Law” to assert the legitimacy of the impeachment inquiry. We should heed the testimony of the courageous diplomats and staff who have testified under oath knowing the president is a vindictive person. People like Maria Yovanovitch and Fiona Hill are what heroes look like.

As an independent and former Republican, I support the impeachment inquiry. We must get to the bottom of this to confirm if the president abused his powers. There seems to have be an effort to hide this phone call and obstruct the story behind it. Why? Having read the Mueller report, this latest series of events give me concern. We all should be concerned.

Talking to Strangers – another good read by Malcolm Gladwell

I just finished reading “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell and highly recommend it. Gladwell is one of my favorite non-fiction authors and has penned multiple best sellers such as “Outliers,” “Blink,” and “The Tipping Point.” His style is to season examples with a touch of data and analysis, without infringing on the story.

“Talking to Strangers” shares numerous examples and data that we humans tend not to read strangers very well. The main reason is we “default to truth.” In other words, we give more benefit of the doubt to strangers than we should. A healthy dose of skepticism would help in this regard. Without giving too many of his examples away, here are few to think about.

  • Neville Chamberlain wanted to meet Adolph Hitler to see if he could be trusted at his word. It should be noted that Chamberlain was not the only person to meet Hitler and misread him. The ones who saw Hitler more clearly never met him.
  • Amanda Knox was convicted of a crime she did not commit on very flimsy evidence, primarily because she did not react to the news of her roommate’s murder as the Italian police expected her to. Her manner convinced them she had something to hide.
  • Bernie Madoff did not come across as someone who was running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. When investigators met him they could not believe he was so doing. Yet, a man who had not met Madoff named Nat Simons handed the case to the investigators years before they paid attention – he saw too may red flags and dug deeper.
  • Fidel Castro had seven double agents working in the CIA that went unnoticed for years until the US allies caught a key Cuban agent in Europe. The CIA dismissed what would have been red flags rationalizing that the lie detector was picking up a false positive, for example.
  • Brock Turner was convicted of raping a co-ed at Stanford, primarily on the evidence that two Swedish grad students came upon him having sex with a comatose women near a dumpster. Gladwell notes meeting a stranger at a college party is bad enough, but made far worse when both have been drinking.
  • The Penn State president and Athletic Directors could not believe coach Jerry Sandusky was a prolific pedophile. People gravitated to all the good he had done without heeding the first witness to have observed something. The witness was not forceful enough to follow-up and make sure something was done.
  • Sandra Bland was arrested on a very minor traffic offense in a conversation that went awry when it needed not. There were too many incidences where the conversation could have been diffused, yet was not. She was taking a job at Prairie State University in Texas and her Illinois license plates gave Officer Brian Encinia pause. She committed suicide in her jail cell.

Gladwell highlights a study that concluded through tests that we tend to think people who are innocent, but nervous or anxious, as guilty and tend to give a free pass to the good bluffer who is guilty. The folks inbetween, we tend to judge a little better. Given the above CIA and other intelligence, judicial and police examples, those who say they are better at judging are not as good as they think.

One of the examples noted a computer algorithm looking at criminal history was far better than a judge who met the person at setting bail or releasing the offender. The judges released too many that should have had higher bail. Another noted the use of torture was not a good elictor of truth, as when people are tortured, they go into trauma and cannot recall the truth very well.

Like all Gladwell books, “Talking to Strangers” is a quick read. Yet, I hope you will walk away with a few nuggets of knowledge as I did.

 

Republicans should lead the impeachment effort

Whistleblowers should be heeded because of the risk. We have been told by the DNI acting director that this one is credible. The partially released phone call is indicting enough per Judge Napolitano on Fox whose opinion is supported by other legal people per Shep Smith, a Fox news person.

But, what should give Americans and Republicans pause are these three things:

– multiple sources in the White House felt the president abused his powers;
– the White House lawyers tried to classify the call and move it to a national security data base – why?
– this is not the first time it has occurred.

In my view, based on this and the obstruction of justice and lying by the president portrayed in the Mueller report, the Republicans should be leading the impeachment process. You simply cannot be the self-portrayed party of law and let this president not be impeached. Trump is a wounded animal and this will get far worse. Yesterday’s press conference where the president accused all of his accusers with ill-intent or bad behavior is just one example.

As an independent and former Republican, I have consistently shared my concerns over this regal-minded president with Senators and their staff. I see him as a clear and present danger to our democracy, our planet and the Republican party. What people fail to realize is the president has never reported to anyone besides his father. His regal behavior has been cultivated for many years.

But, the question that should scare the crap out of Mitch McConnell, et al is what will you have to defend next week, next month or next year? And, its scary corollary is you don’t know if he has already committed such a sin or if it is to be committed. (I have been saying this for months even before the latest Ukraine issue).

I have said all along, the president’s worst enemy looks back at him when he shaves. That image reveals an untruthful, unaccountable and (proudly) unprepared bully. And, it is proven recurringly, he does not think he ever does anything wrong, even when evidence to the contrary clearly exists.

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Note: It was reported today: “Fox News anchor Chris Wallace called out ‘astonishing’ and ‘deeply misleading’ spin from President Donald Trump’s defenders over the whistleblower complaint on his contacts with Ukraine.”

 

 

Toys in the ATTIC

When Republican presidential candidate and former Congressman Joe Walsh made it to Fox News for an interview, even he was stunned when the host said he did not think the current president lies. The truth is not only does the president lie, he lies more than he does not with a tally of over 12,000 lies and counting while in office.

While many of the lies are akin to a toddler denying he said or did something (even with his hand in the cookie jar), the ones that trouble me most are those that impact policy or our global standing. On the latter, the US is less trusted because the president is untrustworthy. On the former, people are harmed physically or financially.

With this in mind, here are five lies that may be “toys in the attic,” to the childish president, but are detrimental to people. ATTIC is the acronym to help even a Fox News host to remember them.

A = Amazon: Trump blew off the G7 meeting on the burning Amazon forests and climate change saying he was meeting with the leaders of Germany and India. Trouble is they were in the meeting he blew off.

T= Tariffs: In a repetitive lie, the president continues to say China is paying for the tariffs and each time it is refuted by economists. US importers pay the tariffs and pass most of the cost to consumers. The Congressional Budget Office says the average American (not Chinese) citizen will pay an extra $1,000 due to tariffs.

T= Transgender: This is the president at his worst. Per the book “Fear,” by two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author Bob Woodward, defense staff and leadership awaited the president for a 10 am meeting to brief him on four options for handling transgender issues. While they waited, the president sent out two tweets around 9:05 am. The tweets said the generals had already briefed him and it was a consensus to choose the most aggressive option. This made Defense Secretary James Mattis so furious as it was untrue and wasted time and effort, he said he would not take orders from a tweet.

I = India: This was yet another unforced error the president brought on himself. While at a press conference with the Pakistan leader, the president said he was asked by the India prime minister to broker discussions between the two leaders over recurring tensions in Kashmir. Within the hour, the India PM put out a release saying “no such request was made.” The White House staff was eerily silent after the president’s comment and India’s response. In an interview on NPR, I heard how this damaged our relationship with India.

C = Co-pays: This lie relates to the president cutting funding to reimburse insurers for co-pays and deductibles for people making less than 2 1/2 times the poverty limit under the ACA. Trump said, untruthfully, this would only impact insurer profits. The CBO said it would increase the deficit by $10 billion per annum as premiums would increase. Further, those not getting a premium subsidy would see an increase. If that were not enough, BCBS of North Carolina noted they were not going to have a rate increase in 2018 before the president edict, but increased premiums afterwards.

Sadly, there are so many more to choose from. When I heard this supposed news person say the president does not lie, it was and is highly offensive. Three attorneys who worked for the president have said the following about the president’s lack of truthfulness.

-Thomas Wells said before the election in an article “Donald Trump lies every day even about things of no consequence.”

– Michael Cohen said under oath “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con artist and he is a cheat.”

– Don McGahn, former White House counsel, resigned rather follow Trump orders to obstruct justice (and lie about being so instructed) per the Mueller report.

Lies are toys in the ATTIC to the president. He has so many toys, they just pile up. But, the truth is these “toys” are painful realities to us and the rest of the world.

Alleged Mark Twain quotes

Mark Twain is alleged to have said the following two quotes.

“It It is easier to fool people than convince them they have been fooled.”

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Whether he is the author is moot, as they sure sound like they came out of his brain or mouth. Twain was not just an author, he was a fabulous and witty orator.

These quotes resonate as it alarms me how too many people read, listen and watch pseudo-news that tell them what they want to hear or see. I fault these pseudo-news outlets, salivating readers and watchers and politicians such as the president who know they can be loose with the truth.

As someone who is fiscally conservative and socially progressive, I do not mind people being more conservative or liberal than I. What I do mind is people spouting arguments from sources known for spin-doctoring, misinformation and disinformation. We must get away from hyper-rationalization of untruthful or even bizarre statements made by their party. With a very untruthful president and his sycophants, the rationalization is rampant.

We must be the navigators of our customer service, which includes our news. We must look at multiple sources that do not spend so much time on nonsensical conspiracy theories and provide errata statements when they get it wrong. Another sure sign of less-than-aurhentic news is the glee in what is being presented or an opinion meant to flavor what we just heard.

We must be truthseekers. It is not an easy job. Yet, if we don’t do our part, we might prove Mark Twain correct.

Credit risk appraiser Moody’s buys a firm that assesses climate change risk

Even for those not very familiar with Moody’s, this headline speaks volumes about the impact of the risk of climate change on our country and planet. In a July 24, 2019 article in The New York Times by Christopher Flavelle called “Moody’s Buys Climate Data Firm, Signaling New Scrutiny of Climate Risks,” the company that measures credit risks for bond investors in companies, cities, counties, states and countries, has added to its expertise. Per Flavelle’s article

“Moody’s Corporation has purchased a controlling stake in a firm that measures the physical risks of climate change, the latest indication that global warming can threaten the creditworthiness of governments and companies around the world.

The rating agency bought a majority share in Four Twenty Seven, a California-based company that measures a range of hazards, including extreme rainfall, hurricanes, heat stress and sea level rise, and tracks their impact on 2,000 companies and 196 countries. In the US, the data covers 761 cities and more than 3,000 counties.

‘We are taking these risks very seriously,’ said Myriam Durand, global head of assessments at Moody’s Investor Service, who said the purchase would allow its credit analysts to be more precise in their review of climate-related risks. ‘You can’t mitigate what you don’t understand.’

Sudden shocks such as floods, wildfires, or storms can hurt businesses and send residents fleeing, taking away the tax revenue that government s use to pay debts. And, longer term threats – such as rising seas or higher temperatures – can make those places less desirable to live in, hurting property values and, in turn, the amount raised by taxes.”

To illustrate this risk, the same day I read a reprint of this article in The Charlotte Observer, the local paper ran a story on the town of Fair Bluff, NC which has been flooded twice in that past four years due to Hurricanes Matthew and Florence which lingered over their area. Sitting near the Lumber River, the citizens of Fair Bluff saw the river rise well beyond flood range. The previous flood of this magnitude occurred 90 years before. Sadly, the population and business is declining due to rebuilding costs. As a result, so is the tax revenue to provide services.

There is a huge financial impact of climate change on the lives and business of people and communities. Rebuilding a town that may continue to be in harms way adds to the risk and some people are choosing to relocate. And, It is not just small towns. Houston has had two major floods over the past five years, as well. Houston has felt on a larger scale what Fair Bluff has felt. Not only do the rains of the Hurricane sit over them, the rivers upstate overfill and flow toward the sea. This causes extra flooding.

So, Moody’s is improving their ability to assess repayment risk to bondholders. A city that has rebuilt or prepared poorly is at greater risk of flight of people, businesses and tax dollars. What should also be alarming to American citizens is while Moody’s is taking forward thinking action, the US government is stripping climate change reports from their websites and demoting, transferring or running off Ph.Ds who are expert in measuring and addressing climate change. In short, we are throwing away a technical advantage that could help the US and the world.

Repeating what Ms. Durand said above, “You can’t mitigate what you don’t understand.”  So, please ask all politicians what they plan to do about climate change including the US president. And, a question for those who still buy the hoax stuff, why is Moody’s spending all of that money on a hoax?

 

Of course, Trump is a racist

Of course, Donald Trump is a racist. The evidence is overwhelming dating well before he was president through today.*  He is the president of our country, so we need him to be one of our better angels, not our worst. He sets the tone, as does any person in a leadership position. So, we must encourage him to act like a leader.

Yet, what his actions say counter his words condemning four women of color telling them to leave the country, a dog whistle racist remark, while saying he “does not have a racist bone in his body.”

His actions say it is OK for a white man to criticize our country, even distort the truth in so doing. Make America Great Again was sold on denigrating the way it was.

His actions say it is OK for a white man to call people names like loser, failure, and ugly who criticize or accuse him rather than push back on the issues.

His actions say it is OK for a white man to be untruthful and bully people including our allies and trading partners at the same time getting cuddly with non-benign autocrats.

His actions say it is OK for a white man to try to obstruct justice or have active and numerous conversations with nefarious foreign sources to help win an election.

His actions say it is OK for a white man to grab any woman by her private parts or walk in on them while they are changing clothes as he has bragged of and been accused of. I won’t even speak of other accusations.

His actions say it is OK for a white man to call Mexicans rapists, ban people coming from Muslim majority countries, equate people wanting to preserve their civil rights with white nationalists who want to take them away and claim we don’t want immigrants from “shithole countries.”

And, his actions say it is OK for a white man to mock disabled people, demean a war hero because he was captured and insult a Gold Star family because they dared to criticize him.

I am not condoning any politician for cursing at another or being unfairly critical of a group of people based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religion, etc. We must demand civil discourse from our elected officials. But, it is OK to be critical of Israel policies just as it is OK to be critical of America’s just as the current president did when he was a private citizen.

We must call out racism when we see it. And, when someone has to preface that he is not a racist, look further. And, we need our leaders to be our better angels. Yet, that does not let us off the hook – we must be civil in our discourse.

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*Note: A few items to ponder:

  • Trump has settled the same court case twice for discriminatory renting practices to African-Americans, the second time when he was sued for failing to address items he promised to in the first settlement.
  • Trump took out a full page ad to sway public opinion on five black teens and young adults who were convicted and later exonerated by DNA for raping and killing a jogger in Central Park.
  • Trump made his political inroads by saying repeatedly for years that President Obama was not born in America. If this had been a white President, he would not have done such. When he finally said he was wrong years later, he blamed Hillary Clinton (I know the latter is not racist, it just shows that he is not accountable).
  • Trump has said Mexicans are rapists, banned travel from Muslim dominant countries, and noted we do not want immigrants from “shithole countries” naming a few of them along the way.
  • Trump equated people defending their rights to those of white nationalists who were saying the rights of non-whites do not matter during the Charlottesville protests – this led to the eventual resignation of Gary Cohn, his National Economic Advisor, who is Jewish and almost resigned immediately, but stayed onto get the Tax bill passed.
  • Trump treated Puerto Ricans differently and condescendingly after the hurricane disasters than he did people from Florida and Texas.
  • Trump is less concerned how refugees and immigrants trying to enter the US are treated once they are detained. It was thing to have a harder-line policy, but treat people like chattel is not very Christian-like.
  • Trump’s latest efforts are dog whistle comments that have been hurled at people of color or non-WASP ethnicity for multiple decades.