Sunday, January 22, 2017

Millions March & Spicer's "Alternative Facts"

500,000+ marchers gathered on the National Mall in D.C.
Throughout the course of the 2016 presidential campaign Donald Trump spent a lot of time boasting about having built a populist movement.

But yesterday was a rude awakening for The Grabber-in-Chief as he and other conservatives got a first-hand lesson in just what a genuine populist movement really looks like.

One that couldn't simply be dismissed with fake news.

Less than 24 hours after being sworn into office in front of a crowd estimated to be less than half of the 1.8 million who came out to see President Obama sworn in back in 2009, millions of people around the world took to the streets of cities and towns large and small to march in support of women and express opposition to Trump's election, conduct, statements, policies and Cabinet choices.

Aside from major American cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Washington D.C., cities like Atlanta, Austin, Seattle, Sacramento, Nashville all saw sizable turnout that some estimate could be as high as four to five million people nationally.

It could be higher, there were over 600 different marches in the U.S., including 51 in California alone - there were marches on every continent of the globe in places like Paris, London, Berlin, Melbourne, Australia as well as in New Zealand and Nigeria as well.

And contrary to commonly held assumptions about America being divided by conservatives in the mid-west and south, and pockets of "liberals" ensconced in large urban cities and on both coasts, as a Twitter user named Mel noted in a Tweet, "Don't ever tell me that Arkansas doesn't care. Don't write us all off as ignorant rednecks. We are out here. #Women'sMarch" reminding people that folks in "Red States" like Arkansas also came out to march on Saturday.

Another Twitter user named Diane Kaplan from Anchorage, Alaska observed, "Largest crowd I've ever seen in 33 years in Anchorage and it's 15 degrees out and white-out conditions."

Thousands gather in front of the State House in
Trenton, NJ on Saturday morning.
It wasn't nearly as cold as that on Saturday morning in Trenton, New Jersey but it was still a cool and damp January morning.

I was up at 7am and picked up my 82-year-old mother and two of her friends from Princeton, an elderly Jewish couple, as well as my mother's neighbor from across the hall - an elderly Jewish woman.

We found ample parking in the lots outside the state office complexes and it was about a five-minute walk to the Trenton War Memorial where the march began with a rally and some speeches.

The march was orderly, well-planned and peaceful; it was the epitome of textbook non-violent resistance.

On the sidewalk as we followed the crowds to the War Memorial, a representative from the ACLU was handing out small blue cards with instructions on what to do if in case of being stopped by the police; which proved unnecessary as everyone was peaceful.

Marchers, including me, actually went out of their way to wave at the Trenton police officers who were guarding various intersections, and greet them and thank them.

By the time we reached the steps in front of the Trenton War Memorial, over 1,900 people had already packed the theater inside where the speeches took place.

An overflow room inside was also filled to capacity with another 1,000 marchers, but large speakers had been set up outside the building where the stairs and plaza in front were packed with marchers.

Crowds listen to speeches at the Trenton War
Memorial before marching.
While my mother did manage to make it inside the theater, I ended up outside on the plaza in front of the building as I'd lingered outside to take some photos of the crowd.

You can see my vantage point from the photo I took at the left where I stood near the rear of the plaza balcony next to the flagpole.

To my right and left hundreds of other people stood packed together listening to the speeches, and behind and below the plaza were thousands of more people stretching back over five hundred yards.

It's not easy to describe the feeling that I had being shoulder to shoulder with people of different ages, races, religions, sexual orientations and socio-economic backgrounds.

Any such differences were instantly rendered meaningless in the face of our common mission, not just to march.

But to stand up for women's rights and express our collective opposition to Trump.

There was a common sense of purpose, a feeling of optimism and reassurance after weeks of anxiety about Trump's winning the election.

While it was a March for Women, that issue was like a solid platform that held a wide range of progressive issues including climate change, mass incarceration, immigration policy, voting rights and racial equality.

I was standing behind a blond-haired white guy in his 20's wearing a gray sweatshirt with "Black Lives Matter" hand-written in black marker on the back - I was actually surprised at how many white people I saw wearing messages or holding signs supporting Black Lives Matter.

(Remember the elderly Jewish couple I drove to the march? They told me they had a Black Lives Matter sign alongside a Hillary Clinton sign outside their Princeton home - both signs were defaced.)

Sign I got from New Jersey Working Families
But there was also a feeling of humor and wit at the march too as people used creativity to channel their frustrations and anger over Trump and the extremist Republicans who've coopted our government through misinformation, voter suppression, character slander, fake news and gerrymandering onto signs.

But perhaps the most important thing about the march was that it was real and it was happening less than 24 hours after the inauguration ceremony.

During the speeches, which included Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman and representatives from the National Organization for Women (NOW), Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the Democratic Party and various local grass roots organizations, people in the crowd were sharing updates on other marches taking place around the world.

It was a living, breathing expression of Democracy in it's purest form.

It was an unmistakable message, and a clear warning, letting the Republicans who control the White House, Senate and House know that they do NOT have some kind of blank mandate to do anything they want - and a reminder that Trump lost the popular vote by millions.

It was also a visual reminder to Republicans that Congressional mid-term elections are only two years away, and while Trump won the presidential election, his reprehensible behavior, massive conflicts of interest, refusal to release his tax returns, open embrace of bigotry and vilification of the press have ignited the progressive independent and Democratic voter base and brought them closer together.

As Madonna noted during a fiery speech from Washington:

"It took this darkness to wake us the f*** up."

Sean Spicer's "Alternative Facts" - MAGA!
It's common knowledge that the Republican Party, in cooperation with the Russian government under the orders of Vladimir Putin used intentionally fake news online news stories as part of a broader effort to manipulate the outcome of the presidential election.

So it was laughable that new White House press secretary Sean Spicer had the gall to come to the White House briefing room on Saturday and literally lie.

Not just about Trump's inauguration attendance numbers being far less than President Obama's, but as the New York Times noted, he also lied about total Metro ridership on Trump's inauguration day and tried to dismiss the turnout for the Marches for Women that took place all over the globe.

Faced with widespread criticism from the media in the face of overwhelming photographic evidence and facts that exposed Spicer's claims as lies, quasi-delusional White House spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway was quickly dispatched to appear on NBC's Meet the Press this morning where she doubled down on the Trump administration's policy of ignoring truth and facts and defending Spicer by saying that he didn't lie, he "gave alternative facts."

Trump and his top aides can try and justify their lying all they want, they can even introduce a new term for it into the lexicon as Conway did this morning - but the millions of people around the globe who marched on Saturday know the smell of a lie when they hear or read it.

As the Trump administration begins it's first Monday in office tomorrow, you can be sure they'll be slinging a lot of "alternative facts" in the coming days as they try to downplay that fact that a majority of Americans (and millions around the globe) soundly rejected Trump on Saturday.
As Trump likes to Tweet, "So sad".

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Asterisk President

Well I can't say that I grinned, but I did manage to bear the entirety of Donald Trump's inaugural speech earlier today.

It wasn't the longest inaugural speech in history, William Henry Harrison spoke for a grueling one hour and 45 minutes on March 4, 1841.

Nor was it the shortest, that honor goes to George Washington's two paragraph speech for his second inaugural address.

After all of Trump's divisive campaign rhetoric and alienation of large segments of the American populace, many were expecting to hear something that at least remotely resembled a call for national unity from today's inaugural address.

But his roughly 20-minute speech turned out to be little more than a pitch to his base (the 38% of Americans who approve of him), a pitch that we've heard before.

From my perspective, it was mostly an unremarkable repetition of the exact same lofty campaign promises that Trump has used over and over during his campaign rallies.

And just like his often rambling speaking style, today's speech was laced with simplistic kinds of pie-in-the-sky promises and devoid of any kinds of policy specifics - lot's of colorful frosting but very little cake. 

There was no shortage of the vague platitudes or blatant hypocrisy that have become his hallmarks.

Kellyanne Conway rocks retro-Republican chic
On the one hand he opened the speech with lofty, almost pious assurances about power being returned to the people.

He talked about bringing back jobs, reigniting hopes and dreams and repeated the same promises he's made to his support base in the rust belt and rural regions of the country.

Trump assured the crowd that, "We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, and never do anything about it."

But then just hours after making those comments, as Alan Pyke reported for Trump sat down with congressional leaders and promptly revoked a cut in fee rates for mortgages that the Department of Housing and Urban Development passed eleven days ago.

The cut in fee rates would have saved mostly poor homeowners with loans insured through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) up to $500 a year and would have made it easier for homeowners with poor credit to obtain mortgages.

How many of the millions of Americans who have FHA-insured mortgages voted for Trump?

And remember folks, he did that just hours after taking office; try to imagine what next week is going to be like.

During the speech he also spoke of building roads, bridges and infrastructure, but how's he planning to do that with a do-nothing Republican congress that vilifies any type of government spending that isn't related to tax cuts for the 1%, military spending, or tax-payer funded subsidies for fossil fuel companies?

Is he aware that he's inheriting THE most unproductive congress in American history? The same one that totally rejected President Obama's proposals to pass a huge infrastructure spending bill (to do the same things Trump promised) and put Americans to work? 

Trump supporters cheer as Republican congressman
prepare to try and gut their Social Security
Instead of offering up an optimistic view of the country, he went back to his vision of a nation on the verge of sinking into the abyss.

The unemployment rate is the lowest in 40 years, the economy has been steadily growing and crime is the lowest it's been in decades, but as he did in his frightening speech at the RNC convention, he once again painted a dark and bleak picture of America.

As he spoke of crime, drugs and inner cities on the verge of the Apocalypse, Trump channeled his inner Dirty Harry and boasted, "This American carnage stops right here."

Remember that's from the same guy who pledged to revoke the federal ban on guns in school zones.

Oh and speaking of "American carnage", according to statistics and data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, in 2016 there were 385 mass shootings in the U.S. and 15,039 deaths related to firearms.

Over the course of the campaign, as Trump sought to push the buttons that energize the Republican voter base, he's been little more than a spineless lackey to the NRA - so I'm curious what his plan to stop the "carnage" is going to be.

As for the 3,780 American children between 0 - 17 years of age who were injured or killed by firearms in 2016, perhaps he's depending on a divine intervention; after all during the speech today he did say, "Most importantly we will be protected by God."

Let's hope so. We certainly won't be protected by this Republican congress who are essentially bought and paid for by the NRA; same congress who've killed over 100 pieces of gun control legislation introduced despite over 400,000 Americans losing their lives to firearms since 911

Nazi salutes were a common sign at Trump rallies
In the wake of Trump unleashing his inner Roy Cohn on Georgia Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis over the Martin Luther King holiday recently, one would have thought today's inauguration speech would've been an ideal opportunity for him to express some kind of desire for racial reconciliation or unity.

Instead he offered up a single vague sentence.

"When you open your heart to patriotism there's no room for prejudice." 

Maybe the white nationalists and Neo-Nazis who gave Nazi salutes at an alt-right conference in Washington back in November to celebrate Trump's election (or the Klan members who marched in celebration) will take that into consideration.

Trump neglected to mention the more than 800 incidents of hate and hate crimes that took place across the U.S. after he was elected; but perhaps the patriotism he repeatedly mentioned during the speech today will take care of that.

Speaking of patriotism there were some pretty strange authoritarian tones in the speech too, he exhorted the crowd to "Buy American and hire American." - despite the fact that the clothes that both he and his daughter Ivanka sell are made in other countries.

How all this is going to play out in a global economy remains to be seen.

Protesters in Washington, D.C. [Photo - Getty Images]
But it's clear that on the domestic front we're going to see varying degrees of chaos in the coming days - 95 people were arrested in D.C. during anti-Trump protests that rocked pockets of the city.

Trump's one day honeymoon is pretty much over, tomorrow hundreds of thousands of people in cities across America and the globe will be taking part in various extensions of the Women's March on Washington - including your's truly.

The mobilization of a sustained, nationwide progressive opposition to Trump and the Republican Party really starts tomorrow morning.

It's been a long week at work and I really wanted to sleep in on Saturday, instead I'm getting up at 7am to meet up with my mother, sister, niece and friends of the family to head into Trenton to march.

As President Obama reminded us, Democracy isn't easy, it's hard; and it's going to take hard work to unravel what's taken root in Washington and in state legislatures across the country.

For thousands of Americans, Saturday is a work day - I'll let you know how it goes in Trenton.

But regardless, the tone of the Republican campaign, the flood of fake news, the interference in our electoral process by Vladimir Putin and Comey's release of an FBI letter days before the election alleging evidence about Hillary Clinton's emails that turned out to have been nothing leave a dark cloud of illegitimacy over the man who was sworn into office today.

And as former White House ethics lawyers Richard Painter and Norm Eisen discussed on an episode of NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross the other night, Trump's conflicts of interests related to his businesses are so extensive and unknown that he could very well find his time in office marred by investigations or charges related to violations of the Constitution.

He is, in the minds of many, a president with a large asterisk. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Eve of the Unknown in America

Mexican-American protestor in December
An America which voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton by over 3 million votes in the popular election is about to take a hard right tomorrow.

After watching the parade of ultra wealthy right-wing conservatives (some of whom haven't even been properly vetted) that will form the new cabinet face confirmation hearings these past two weeks, there's no telling where we're going to end up.

It's still pretty hard for me to put the word 'inauguration' and 'Trump' in the same sentence without shuddering, but here we are.

Poised on the eve of an inauguration ceremony where a man with the lowest approval rating of any incoming U.S. president in history will be sworn into office.

A few minutes ago I was looking at short video clip posted on Twitter by CNN's Jake Tapper.

There was no written commentary or anything, just a brief camera sweep from the stage of Trump's inauguration-eve concert held in front of the Lincoln Memorial, to the noticeably sparse crowds in attendance.

Sparse crowds show for Trump concert
No comment was really necessary.

Aside from a smattering of conspicuoulsy-seated military personnel (who were probably ordered to go) the turnout was pretty weak.

Tonight's affair was a far cry from the more than 500,000 who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial back on January 19, 2009 for Obama's hope-filled speech and musical performances from the likes of U2, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Beyonce Knowles the night before 44's historic inauguration.

Take a look at the photo above looking out from the front steps of the Lincoln Memorial as Trump's inauguration concert got underway this evening.

TMZ's Anthony Dominic shared photos of the underwhelming turnout posted on his Twitter account, including a comparison shot of Obama's inauguration when up to a million people filled that same area in 2009.

The mood of tonight's event took a starkly different tone than the excitement and hope that surrounded Obama's inauguration.

78-year-old actor Jon Voight took the stage to whine about the "barrage of lies" the notoriously truth-adverse PEOTUS has had to endure before insisting that "God answered all our prayers."

From the estimates I've read online, tonight's spotty attendance of approximately 10,000 people is a reflection not just of the notoriously weak musical lineup (Three Doors Down?), it's also a painful indicator of the overall lack of enthusiasm Americans are feeling for the inauguration of the orange-haired one tomorrow.

A scant 38% of Americans approve of this conniving PEOTUS, and if social media is any indicator, his inauguration tomorrow could be the first in history that's overshadowed by the millions of people, including at least 60 Democratic Congressmen and women, who will be either boycotting the ceremony tomorrow, or protesting it in some way.

Millions more (including me) will be taking part in various anti-Trump Women's Marches taking place in cities and towns around the nation on Saturday.

After listening to NPR throughout most of the day I came home from work, changed clothes, fed my cat and turned on WRTI for some soothing jazz.

Tonight I'm going to just try and stay positive to ward off this gloomy feeling of anxiety shared by millions of people around the globe.

Instead of getting bogged down by the unreleased tax returns, the flagrant conflict of interests represented by Trump's refusal to turn his businesses over to a blind trust, the parade of billionaires assuming cabinet leadership positions and the normalization of misogyny, bigotry and xenophobia, I'm going to take a page from President Obama's inauguration speech in 2009.

I'm going to remember that Democracy isn't easy, it's hard - and there's a lot of work ahead.

But I'm not alone and like President Obama, I've got hope - even on the eve of the unknown.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

DeVos & Mnuchin: A Peek Inside the (Republican) Cabinet

Trump's exclusive Bild interview [Photo - Getty Images]
With the uninformed and divisive rhetoric of the soon-to-be inaugurated PEOTUS now inspiring ripples of uncertainty and fear across the European continent in the wake of his Sunday interview published in the Times of London and Germany's Bild in which he described the 67 year-old NATO alliance of 28 countries as "obsolete", the world is finally grasping the sense of unease felt by millions of Americans.

Welcome to our world Europe.

Much of the political amd media establishment's attention was justifiably focused on the contentious confirmation hearings of Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, a politically conservative billionaire with no actual education experience who has given large political donations to five of the same Republican Senators sitting on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee tasked with approving her nomination. (Drain that swamp!)

That's a pretty scary thought for advocates of public education as well as the bedrock Constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.

According to an extensively researched and well written article posted today on Mother by Kristina Rizga, in a 2001 interview, when asked if Christian schools should continue to rely on the kinds of philanthropic donations ($50 million between 1999 - 2104) she and her husband give to Christian schools and organizations, DeVos famously said:

"Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God's kingdom."

As Forbes reported earlier this evening, during questioning Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders reminded DeVos that millions of Americans are troubled by the idea of a small handful of conservative billionaires forming an oligarchy that ostensibly controls the country.

He then asked DeVos how much her family has contributed to the Republican party.

She said it's "possible" her family has donated $200 million to various Republican politicians.

"Advance God's kingdom" indeed...

For those who may shudder at the idea of a crusading charter school advocate and Republican rainmaker whose father-in-law (Amway founder Richard DeVos) is worth over $5 billion being given the keys to the Department of Education, today the federal government only contributes about 10% of the funds for American public schools.

So the reality is that there is really only so much damage that she can actually do if she is nominated to the post.

More worrisome was her testimony that she wants to see more control over schools established at the local level.

I'm not an expert on education by any means, but I do believe strongly in the need for federal standards and guidelines for schools, curriculums, teachers, administrators and students.

Should administrators, teachers and parents have influence on the local level?

Absolutely, but when DeVos uses language like shifting control of schools to the local level, it reflects the growing disparity and segregation (both socio-economic and racial) in American schools that stems largely from the steady decline of federal funding for public schools that has taken place since the 1960's.

Back in June I touched on this subject in a blog post after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie advocated for a "Fairness Formula" that would cap per-pupil spending in New Jersey public schools regardless of the school district.

NJ Gov. Chris Christie
Like DeVos, Christie was in essence arguing for the kind of public school funding that we have here in NJ - for the most part wealthier school districts with higher tax bases are able to fund higher quality public school education than urban areas coping with trickier fiscal challenges, less concentration of higher paying jobs, less tax revenue and the steady drain of human capital to the suburbs.

I don't think DeVos is a bad person or anything.

I just don't think it's a good idea to put someone in charge of the Department of Education who never attended public schools, didn't educate her kids in public schools, has money invested in for-profit education and has no degree in education - or ever worked in education in a professional capacity.

Did I mention that she thinks that teachers are overpaid?

Yes, she whose family has given $200 million to the Republican party.

Speaking of controversial cabinet picks by the embattled PEOTUS, the nominee for Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin has certainly raised eyebrows.

Remember during the presidential campaign when Trump berated both Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton for their ties to Goldman-Sachs?

Steven Mnuchin
In addition to Mnuchin, Trump now has no less than four key advisors and cabinet picks who are former Goldman-Sachs employees; including his pick to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, Manhattan attorney Jay Clayton.

As has been widely reported, it's not just the fact that the 53-year-old Mnuchin is a former partner at Goldman-Sachs.

His fitness to be placed in charge of the U.S. Treasury has been called into question over his role as part of the management team that purchased the notoriously troubled lender IndyMac during the housing crisis in 2009.

As Kim Masters reported in an excellent article on Mnuchin's rise from Goldman-Sachs to film financier in a recent issue of the Hollywood Reporter, Mnuchin and his investors paid $1.5 billion for IndyMac, renamed it OneWest, then pocketed a tidy $1.9 billion profit after selling it to the CIT Group in 2014 for $3.4 billion.

As Max Kutner reported in an article for Newsweek back in December, some critics and former homeowners charge that Mnuchin ran OneWest when it was a "foreclosure machine" that systematically (and heartlessly) kicked thousands of California homeowners out of their homes in an effort to squeeze profits for investors via the mortgage crisis that almost wrecked the economy.

Mnuchin later became Trump's campaign finance chairman - and presto, is now possibly the man who will take over the Treasury Department.

Take a few minutes to click the link above and read Kim Master's THR article on Mnuchin and his move to Los Angeles, very interesting read.

Is he fit to be Secretary of the Treasury?

By the standards of the political and financial establishment, Yale graduate, Goldman-Sachs partner, he is - he's clearly a smart guy.

But his personal choices and his role in the sale of OneWest call into question what his priorities will be as head of the U.S. Treasury - like Betsy DeVos, I'm highly skeptical that it will be the interests of the American people who are not members of the 1%.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Petra Laszlo Gets Three-Year Suspended Sentence

Petra Laszlo tripping Osama Abdul Mohsen and
his seven year-old son Zaid
It's been just over 16 months since Hungarian camerawoman Petra Laszlo made global headlines during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe.

Laszlo was one of many journalists capturing images of terrified Syrian refugees desperately trying to evade capture by police in a field near a makeshift relocation camp outside the Hungarian village of Roszke next to the Serbian border.

But instead of just using her camera, Laszlo famously stuck out her leg and tried to kick at the legs of a little girl holding the hand of her father.

Laszlo didn't stop there, she successfully tripped a 56-year-old Syrian football coach named Osama Abdul Mohsen, sending him toppling to the ground on top of  his terrified seven year-old son Zaid (pictured above).

Unbeknownst to Laszlo, another journalist captured video footage of her intentionally trying to trip the little girl, and another journalist took photos her tripping Mohsen and his son.

The video of the incident went viral, and the footage captured not just Laszlo's reprehensible actions, but the heart-rendering images and sounds of crying, traumatized children and adults who've fled war-torn Syria trying to pass through Hungary to find sanctuary in Europe.

News of her actions exploded across social media and her name and photo quickly spread to mainstream media as well, earning widespread condemnation from people across the globe.

Xenophobic Camerawoman Petra Laszlo
It was soon revealed that Laszlo was actually working for N1TV, an Internet news channel with ties to Hungary's right-wing anti-immigrant Jobbik party.

In November the UK's Independent reported that the Jobbik party was conditionally supporting a constitutional amendment submitted to the Hungarian parliament that would permanently ban the resettlement of refugees in Hungary.

As Robert Mackey reported in an article in the New York Times, as outrage swelled over Laszlo's actions, N1TV, which functions as a something of a propaganda arm for the Jobbik party, fired her; saying that she had "behaved in an unacceptable manner" in a statement.

Last Thursday Laszlo appeared at a hearing via video link in Szeged district court in Hungary to answer for her actions.

As Vladimir Kozlov and Nick Holdsworth reported for The Hollywood Reporter, a judge rejected Laszlo's absurd claim that she tripped and kicked fleeing Syrian refugees in self defense and gave her a three year suspended sentence and ordered her to pay a fine equal to about $183.

It's delayed justice but it is a measure of justice for innocent refugees.

Osama and Zaid Mohsen
But more importantly at a time when right-wing populist political movements are gaining traction and influence in different parts of Europe, and Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric has stirred up xenophobia here in America, Hungary's court system deserves credit for holding Laszlo accountable for her actions.

Nothing can fix the trauma seven year-old Zaid Mohsen experienced on that day in Hungary, but at least what he and his father experienced brought global attention to the plight of Syrian refugees.

And the Hungarian legal system made clear that unwarranted acts of hate or prejudice against refugees will not be tolerated.

That said, at least this particular story has a somewhat happy ending.

As Nicolas Lupo Sonnabend reported for last February, a week after he and his son were tripped by Laszlo, they were able to make their way to Spain.

Today they live in the town of Getafe near Madrid, where he works as a football coach at the CENAFE football coach academy - and more importantly, has a legal residency permit.

He is still trying to cut through regulatory red tape to get his wife and other two children in the country from Turkey.

In a reflection of the complexity of issues facing refugees fleeing war or political persecution, to get his wife and other children into the country legally, Spanish law requires that Mohsen obtain documents from the Syrian embassy in Beirut.

But because he has expressed open criticism of the Syrian regime, he could be risking his life and freedom to go the Syrian embassy - opponents of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad face persecution, jail, torture or worse.

But for now, unlike thousands of other refugees from the mid-east and Africa, Osama and Zaid Mohsen are safe in Spain.

Despite the best efforts of Petra Laszlo.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Point of No Return? Republican's Environmental Agenda

EPA nominee Scott Pruitt addresses the 2014
Annual Meeting of ALEC (Yes, that ALEC)
Being somewhat superstitious by nature, it comes as something of a relief to have Friday the 13th off - even if it does mean I have to work on a chilly Saturday when we're expecting snow.

Tonight it's supposed to dip back down into the upper 20's here in central New Jersey, a far cry from yesterday when it got up into the lower 60's.

Last night I stepped out for a few beers at my local, as I stood outside in a short sleeve shirt admiring the exceptional brightness of January's full moon (also known as the Wolf Moon), I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that this is the last full moon under a rational president with actual experience as an elected leader.

It was, to say the least, a rather sobering thought that sent a chill down my spine.

Experiencing mild spring-like weather in the middle of January reminded me that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump's new pick to head up the Environmental Protection Agency, is on record as denying the scientific consensus that human activity affects global warming.

Pruitt, a former college baseball player whose professional resume includes stints as a lawyer, general managing partner of a AAA baseball team, state politician and attorney general, is not a scientist - so maybe he should read Jeff Goodell's interview with James Hansen, the former head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in the latest issue of Rolling Stone.

As Goodell notes in his RS article, Hansen, one of the world's leading experts on climate change and the first scientist to present hard data that human activity related to the burning of fossil fuels is heating up the Earth's atmosphere, warns that mankind is dangerously close to a 'point of no return' unless massive systematic changes to how we govern ourselves, consume energy and appropriate resources can be enacted.

As Hansen observes, "We're close to that point of no return, Whether we've passed it or not, I don't know...We've passed it in the sense that some climate impacts are going to occur, but we have not necessarily hit the disastrous level, which would knock down global economies and leave us with an ungovernable planet. But we are close."

Seriously, what part of "ungovernable planet" do Republicans who deny climate change not get?

Chart tracking temperature changes as recorded by four
international science agencies including NASA & NOAA
According to studies of climate change research conducted by NASA (folks who actually ARE rocket scientists), "Multiple studies conducted in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97% or more of actively publishing scientists agree: Climate warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities." 

But Scott Pruitt disagrees with stuff like scientific research based on facts.

Pruitt was one of a group of Republican attorneys general from other states with Republican governors and majority-Republican legislatures that formed secretive alliances with some of the nation's biggest energy companies to challenge federal regulations that protect water, soil and air from pollution caused by fossil fuel extraction and production.

As Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton reported in a New York Times article back in December, Pruitt is on record as saying, "Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connections to the actions of mankind. That debate should be encouraged - in classrooms, public forums and the halls of Congress."

Actually, it's not a debate, but that's the mindset that this lackey of the fossil fuel industry and member of the American Legislative Exchange Council will bring to the EPA - nominated by a man who thinks climate change is a "hoax."
Clinton email Obsession? GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz
But it's not just the federal regulatory agencies that will be impacted by radical conservative ideology.

You can be certain that the Republican-majority 115th Congress is already at work chipping away at laws that protect environmental safety, or making it more difficult to hold those who commit environmental crimes accountable.

Increases in subsidies to oil and natural gas companies are almost a given.

Remember the crusading Republican Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz who chairs the powerful House Oversight Committee?

Same guy who did everything he could to theatrically draw out a Congressional investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a personal server to store emails during the presidential campaign season?

Despite multiple Congressional investigations of the same issue for over a year, in addition to a lengthy and highly public FBI investigation that concluded that nothing illegal had taken place, Chaffetz recently announced that he will continue his dogged pursuit to further investigate Clinton's emails.

As CNN reported, Chaffetz said, "Just because there was a political election doesn't mean it goes away." 

But what's interesting about Chaffetz's apparently unquenchable thirst for the truth is that it magically (and for conservatives) conveniently seems to coincide with the broader partisan political needs of the Republican Party.

Republicans stopped investigating this?
Oh and speaking of thirst...

Just one day after the Trump transition team cancelled a planned December 15th press conference where the new PEOTUS would lay out a plan to sever his ties from his hundreds of businesses amid public outrage and media frenzy over his potential unprecedented conflicts of interest, Chaffetz quietly and quickly decided to end a Congressional investigation into the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Which of course was caused by Republican Governor Rick Snyder and other state Republican politicians and officials who stripped Flint citizens of the right to govern themselves by appointing an "emergency manager" for the city who ordered Flint's fresh water supply to be switched to the polluted Flint River.


As part of an effort to slash state spending on government in order to fund tax cuts for the wealthy; fiscally irresponsible efforts which have proved disastrous in Kansas and were designed by none other than the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Remember, the Flint water crisis resulted in people dying, and exposed thousands of Flint residents to toxic levels of lead poisoning - and it's still going on.

Republicans on Capitol Hill famously fought efforts to provide $600 million in federal funding to fix Flint's toxic water supply system before eventually approving $170 million in relief.

Flint residents still get drinking water like this
So Jason Chaffetz ended a House Oversight investigation into an environmental crime of monumental proportions that affected 100,000 people and is still happening now as you read these words.

But he's continuing a bogus partisan witch hunt over how Hillary Clinton stored her private email correspondence when she was Secretary of State over three years ago?

That, and the nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA pretty much sums up the Republican stance on the environment in a nutshell and as hard as it is to imagine, James Hansen could be right.

The inauguration of Trump a week from today along with the clown car of kleptocrat cabinet picks he's bringing with him, coupled with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, plus a conservative-leaning Supreme Court doesn't bode well for our environment.

Should Trump follow through on his campaign pledge to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and causes other large-scale fossil fuel burners like China and India to pull out, it could very well mark the beginning of the 'Point of no return' for our environment and the climate.

All in the name of narrow-minded political ideology and short-term financial profits for a small fraction of the Earth's population.

"Making America Great Again?" Not so much.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

PEOTUS Falls Flat In Front of the Fourth Estate

Trump & props at the podium   [Photo - Getty Images]
From the moment incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer took the stage Wednesday morning to vent righteous conservative outrage over "fake news" I knew I wasn't going to make it through Donald Trump's first press conference since July.

It wasn't easy trying to swallow my lingering resentment and listen, but I gave it my best shot.

Hell it was a crapshoot whether the newly crowned PEOTUS would even show up.

His transition team abruptly cancelled a press conference back on December 15th that was intended to quell the growing unease about the unprecedented conflicts of interests his wide-ranging business interests would represent.

But as many pundits noted, there was no way that Trump's gargantuan ego and paper-thin skin could resist doing something to try and seize the media headlines from President Obama after he delivered an eloquent, stirring and emotional farewell address on Tuesday night in Chicago that made many pine for the class, intelligence, thoughtfulness and grace of the 44th President even before he departs the White House after two terms.

So after Spicer's angry repudiation of BuzzFeed's release of as-yet unverified documents allegedly written by a British intelligence agent showing that Russian intelligence has proof of PEOTUS in some disturbing compromising situations (think R-Kelly...), and a wet dishrag introduction by incoming VP Mike Pence - there Trump was at the podium.

Don Jr. & Eric get the keys to the business? Really?
In just the latest example of the orange-haired one's bogarting of Ronald Reagan's best moves, Trump stood next to a table theatrically piled high with folders of documents that we can only assume are his version of "proof" of his cutting his ties to his businesses.

It was meant to ape Reagan's use of big stacks of continuing resolutions as props as he did in the 1988 State of the Union address.

But for Trump it looked like a really cheap stunt, made worse by his assertion that he won't sell his assets, but instead put his two sons Don Jr. and Eric in charge of his hundreds of businesses.

(Funny, I don't seem to recall the indignant Sean Spicer expressing outrage over "fake news" when Eric Trump was re-Tweeting a phony story back in October about a man who claimed he was paid to protest at a Trump rally...)

In a scathing op-ed posted on The Guardian's Website Richard Wolffe eloquently summed up the impressions of many who watched some, or all of today's press conference.

He pronounced it an unequivocal "train wreck." 

Trump's tax attorney Sheri Dillon
As Wolffe observed, "After a rambling introduction about carmakers, veterans affairs and his inaugural celebrations, Trump finally arrived at his desired topic of the day: the non-resolution of the conflicts of interest that will embroil his presidency from now until he leaves the Oval Office."

When Trump said, "I will be the greatest jobs creator God ever created.", I considered turning it off.

Then when he brought attorney Sheri Dillon up to the podium to outline the plans for him to cut his ties to his business interests by placing his assets into a trust to be managed by his sons and executive Allen Weisselberg, I started shaking my head in disbelief.

Moments later when Trump returned to the podium and said he would have no conversations with his sons about any aspect of his businesses during his presidency, I just turned it off.

Overall my impression of Trump's performance at his press conference today is best summed up by a quote from a really interesting essay written a month ago by Sarah Kendzior on the Website that looks at how his controversial cabinet picks are shaping up to form a kleptocracy in the White House.

As she observed of Trump:

"He has a look I see on a lot of faces these days as people take in the news: the raw panic from knowing both too little and too much."