Wednesday/ Impeachment Hearings, Day 1

‘If this is not impeachable conduct — what is?’
– Representative Adam B. Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee


Well, I watched the start of the public impeachment hearings of Donald J. Trump this morning, and then retired upstairs to the study with the TV left on low volume. Every time when there were some muted shouting or aggressive questioning, I knew those were Republicans, trying to portray the testimony* as unreliable hearsay.

*Testifying today were:
William B. Taylor Jr., top United States diplomat in Ukraine.
George P. Kent, senior State Department official in charge of Ukraine.

The facts of the impeachment case are not in dispute. Trump’s infamous July phone call to Ukraine President Zelensky was part of a wider campaign by Trump, his administration, and Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens, which may have included Trump’s cancelling a scheduled trip to Ukraine by Vice President Mike Pence, and Trump withholding $400 million in military aid from Ukraine [Wikipedia: Trump–Ukraine scandal].

It is such an enormous and grotesque abuse of power, given that Ukraine is a vulnerable ally, that has to defend itself against Russia. So it’s hard to see how the House will not impeach Trump. What will then happen in the Senate with Moscow Mitch in charge there, is anyone’s guess.

Schematic from the New York Times from a few weeks ago. We’re on our way to that first red box. From Wikipedia: in the Senate trial, each side has the right to call witnesses and perform cross-examinations. The House members, who are given the collective title of managers during the course of the trial, present the prosecution case, and the impeached official has the right to mount a defense with his or her own attorneys as well. Senators must also take an oath or affirmation that they will perform their duties honestly and with due diligence. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (John Roberts) resides over the proceedings.

Tuesday/ tornado!

Big, destructive tornadoes are a rare sight in South Africa, but one touched down near the town of New Hanover in KwaZulu-Natal province on Tuesday at 4 pm local time.

No fatalities have been reported so far, but some 30 houses and an electrical substation were damaged.

Tornado spotted near New Hanover in KwaZulu-Natal. This is some 40 miles from the port city of Durban, as the crow flies. The outlines of the Mersey electrical substation is visible in the picture. I could not find a report of its strength, but it could have been F-1 (73-112 mph winds). [Picture Credit: The still frame is from a clip posted on Twitter @StormReportSA1]

Monday/ fixing it up

Here’s a cute house on my block that is getting a little bit of a makeover. So many beautiful old houses get torn down, so it’s nice to see this one getting fixed up.

The house was built in 1906. I love the bay window. It has already gotten new roof tiles and new gutters, and a nice coat of dark gray and white highlight paint down below. I wonder if the gray paint color was picked to so closely match the roof tiles. It will be interesting to see what color is chosen for the door, for the porch stairs and for the second floor. I will post another picture when those are done.

Sunday/ Seattle Sounders: top of the heap

The Sounders MLS Cup tifo. (Tifo: a choreographed display in which fans in a sports stadium raise a large banner together or simultaneously hold up signs that together form a large images). [Picture Credit: Charles Boehm/ mlssoccer.com]
The Seattle Sounders beat out Toronto today, for the 2019 Major League Soccer Cup in front of their home crowd, 3-1. CenturyLink Field Stadium was packed with more than 69,000 spectators, the most ever for any event there.

Here is how the goals came about, as the game unfolded:
57′ Kelvin Leerdam (SEA)
76′ Víctor Rodríguez (SEA)
90′ Raúl Ruidíaz (SEA)
93′ Jozy Altidore (TOR)
Final Score: SEA 3- TOR 1

Seattle Sounders captain and midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro lifts the MLS Cup after their win today. Lodeiro is from Uruguay, and it is his third full season with the Sounders. On the right, that’s goal scorer Raúl (nickname ‘The Flea’) Ruidíaz with the red & white flag from Peru over his shoulders. To his right is Kelvin Leerdam from Suriname. Yes, it’s the ‘United Nations’ on the team, but at least there is also Jordan Morris – from Mercer Island, a stone’s throw from Seattle.  [Picture Credit: Seattle Sounders on Twitter@SoundersFC]

Saturday/ the fall of the Berlin Wall +30 yrs

Saturday marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Construction of the Wall was started by the then-German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) on 13 Aug. 1961.  It came to symbolize — metaphorically and physically — the ‘Iron Curtain’ that separated Western Europe and the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.

Print ad in the Tagesspiegel newspaper on Saturday, showing the scene at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin shortly after Nov. 9, 1989*. Germany was officially unified again in Oct. 1990. (Even so, many observe that the true unification of West and East Germany is an ongoing process to this day).   *The Gate was soon hereafter refurbished at a cost of €6 million (from private donations), and reopened in 2002.

Friday/ light rail to U-district

I took the light rail up north to University District today, to go check in at the second-hand bookstore there. I have so many books that I have yet to read, though, that I allowed myself to buy only one book!

Shades of teal on one of the three new apartment buildings by the Capitol Hill train station. The first renters should be able to move in early in the new year.
Here’s the corner of University Way and NE 43rd Street. An entrance to the future University District light rail station can be seen, in the distance, in the middle of the picture. I will have to be patient: the station is only scheduled for opening in Sept. 2021.
The Varsity movie theater in the Meister building on University Way. The building was constructed in 1921, and designed by architect William White.
Here is the brand-new building for the storied Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. The Burke Museum was founded in 1885 by the Young Naturalists, a group of curious teenagers inspired by seeing the young city of Seattle transform before their eyes. This building opened just last month, and I need to go and check it out.

Thursday/ to run, or not to run

Word is that Michael Bloomberg is (again) mulling a run for the Presidency in 2020 (as a Democrat). Several Democratic candidates have dropped out already, but the field is still historically large.

This updated chart from the New York Times came in very handy for me today.  It’s easy to forget that there are actually four Republican candidates. Will the one that is (probably) getting impeached by year-end, still run in 2020? Time will tell.

P.S. Here’s an opinion from Scott Galloway that writes under No Mercy/ No Malice:  ‘.. up until yesterday, it was looking as if 46 would be 45, Trump. The soft facism of Trump, wrapped in a good economy, would decimate the soft socialism of Elizabeth Warren. We Democrats are too polite to acknowledge the truth, as it’s politically incorrect: In 2020 America, a 78-year-old man who just had a heart attack will not be president, and, worse, neither will a woman’.

Wednesday/ still no rain

Wednesday marked the 12th day with no rain here in the Pacific Northwest, unusual for this time of year. There is a stubborn stationary high pressure system to the north, that keeps the rain away.

Picture & text from NWS Seattle (@NWSSeattle on Twitter): Moonrise over Lake Washington, last light on Mount Rainier and Kelvin-Helmholtz wave clouds over Seattle at sunset late this afternoon. Sunset is now at 4.43 pm.

Tuesday/ election results start to come in

Today was election day in many cities and states in the United States. Here in Seattle, the early count tally has Egan Orion leading Kshama Sawant (in the contentious city council race for District 3).

It seems the measure to cut car tab fees back to $30 will pass. Boo! Boo-oo! This spells a lot of trouble for the funding of public transportation systems such as light rail & buses, and also for the Washington State ferries, and even for snow plows.

Far, far away, in the state of Kentucky, the Republican governor lost his race against his Democratic challenger. This is an almost impossible feat by the Republican: the state voted for Trump by a margin of 30% in 2016. Trump even held a rally for him in Lexington KY last night to drum up support. But that did not undo the damage done by the governor that had pushed to cut teachers off from their pensions, and threatened to kick 400,000 Kentuckians off their healthcare.

Kshama Sawant poster on a lamp post. The local elections here are officially non-partisan, but I seriously doubt we have closet Republicans on the Seattle city council.  But yes, for sure: rich Republicans use their money to support candidates. It’s legal to donate limited sums of money to political action committees, or PACs, as we call them. Then there are super PACs, that the US Supreme Court (in their infinite wisdom) allowed to collect unlimited amounts of money, with the only caveat that they are ‘not permitted to contribute to, or coordinate directly, with parties or candidates’.

Monday/ The Silvian, then and now

I walk by The Silvian apartment building on 10th Ave & Harrison every now and then. I love the lettering and the trim on the bricks at the top. Let’s see if there is an earlier photo of the building online, I thought.

It turned out that the original form of the building was much grander, right after its completion in 1912.

NOW: Here is the simple but elegant building name and trim at the top brick line, today.
THEN: The Silvian Apartments, circa 1911. (Photo Courtesy: Bill Burden). The bay windows on the front, and the overhangs at the top are no longer there. And look at the beautiful trim at the top of the brickwork. The original building had 2,3,4 & 5-room apartments, at $40/ month for a 2-room in 1929. Then the Great Depression struck, and a decade later a 2-room aptmt could be had for $22/ month. Here’s more at Seattle Now & Then by Paul Dorpat.

Sunday/ the giant red ones are here

They did come up: the giant red fly agaric mushrooms, in my backyard. Those other paler, smaller ones from earlier in October might be a different species or subspecies of mushroom. I made sure I took a few pictures before the squirrels took large bites out of it, the way they do sometimes.

Here’s a very large fly agaric (Scientific name: Amanita muscaria), the iconic ‘toadstool mushroom’, with its bright red cap and its white spots. This one is about 9 in. (23 cm) across.
A peek from below, revealing the fine white gills. Spores for propagating the mushroom are produced by specialized cells called basidia on the flat surfaces of the gills.
There he is: Mr Squirrel*, eyeing me from his perch in the Douglas fir above the mushroom. ‘Please don’t fall on me – we will both squeal like squirrels’, I thought. *Western Gray Squirrel (Scientific name: Sciurus griseus).

Saturday/ the Springboks have it!

The South African rugby team made it #3 today with their upset win in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final against England. They won in 1995 against New Zealand, and in 2007 against England.

There were two beautiful Springbok tries in the second half, one by left wing Makazole Mapimpi, and one by quicksilver right wing Cheslin Kolbe. The final score was 32-12.

Springbok captain Siya Kolisi lifts the Rugby World Cup trophy, flanked by the littlest guys in the team: scrum-half Faf de Klerk, 5′ 8″, 194 lbs (left) and right wing Cheslin Kolbe, 5′ 7″, 176 lbs.
Cute cartoon in the Daily Mail. (Croydon is just 15 mi south of London, and the Final was played in Yokohama, Japan). Alas, the English fans had to return home very disappointed.

Friday/ House impeachment: now almost certain

Trump and his allies, and his propaganda TV network (Fox News) are engaging in a disinformation campaign, the likes of which I am sure, the United States has never seen. Has the country has ever had a President that deserves impeachment so richly? I don’t think so. Here is Trump tweeting his ‘innocence’ on Twitter for the nth time, and getting a smart response back from Congressman Eric Swalwell.

The House of Representatives approved the rules and guidelines for the impeachment inquiry into Trump on Thursday. I see there is already an up-to-date Wikipedia entry about the impeachment inquiry.

Here is the start of it:
An impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump, President of the United States, was initiated on September 24, 2019, by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.It began after a whistleblower alleged that President Trump and other top government officials had pressured the leaders of foreign nations, most notably Ukraine, to investigate former U.S. vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter—abusing the power of the presidency to advance Trump’s personal and political interests. These allegations have been corroborated by testimony so far, by U.S. top-envoy-to-Ukraine Bill Taylor, Laura Cooper (the top Pentagon official overseeing Ukraine-related U.S. policy), White House administration official Fiona Hill, at least six additional White House officials, and many other witnesses. 

Wednesday/ the Fed cuts rates, again

The Federal Reserve on cut interest rates today, the third time since July. Chairman Jerome Powell says that they are likely done, for now. The federal funds rate is now at 1.50-1.75%, still a lot higher than the 0% of the European Central Bank, though.

Germany’s 10-year Bund yield is now at -0.35% (up from a record low of -0.61%), showing that investors there are still desperate for safe assets. They are really not confident about the economic prospects of the Eurozone.  Besides, Germans tend to hoard money in savings, instead of investing it.

‘How Germany Saves: The Federal Republic counts under the richest countries in the world. Even so, the average person benefits little from that. The problem: Germans hoard money, instead of investing it’. The donut at the bottom shows that Germans keep an astonishing 39.7% of their money in cash and deposits. Another 37.3% goes to ‘Versiecherungen’ which I believe would be capital life insurance policies or pension plans. Equities and equity funds: 8.7%. What do Germans save for (bottom right)? 23% Old age care/ insurance, 20% Emergency funds, 12% General purchases, 7% Discretionary spending, 6% Vacation & Travel, 4% Buy or Build a House, 3% Buy a Car, 3% Children or Family. [Source: Der Tagesspiegel newspaper online]

Tuesday/ the internet was almost the ‘cat-enet’

It was 50 years ago, to the day, that the first remote login from one terminal to another was done, on what was then called Arpanet. And so the internet was born, say the pundits.

Just in time for Halloween: Meihejia Funny Cowboy Jacket Suit, available on Amazon for US$16.

Research papers into the late 70’s referred to these linked terminals as the ‘catenet model’ (concatenated terminals). It was only in the early 80’s with the arrival of the Transmission Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) protocol that the term ‘internet’ was settled on.

And it would be until the mid-90’s, before the public-at-large would get drawn into the internet — by the likes of America Online and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Amazon (1997*), Netflix (2002), Google (2004), Facebook (2012) and Twitter (2013) would follow.

*The years the companies went public.

Monday/ the growing problem of wildfires

The Kincade fire, burning in Sonoma County near Geyserville, Calif., which burned through 10,000 acres within hours of igniting on Wednesday. [Picture from the New York Times online. Photo credit: Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images]
Here we are again, with national coverage of the massive wildfires in California, and scenes of their total destruction. I’m not sure the preventive power outages from Pacific Gas & Electric have helped that much. (The largest ever: 2 million+ people without power for 5 days of intentional outages).

It seems it will take a combination of hardening PG&E’s electric grid (example: metal powerline poles instead of wood), aggressive cutting of trees & shrubs near power lines, and designating high-risk areas as out-of-bounds for new development or even for rebuilding.  The last few years, Governor Gavin Newsom and his predecessor have already poured an extra $1.2 billion into new planes, helicopters, more firetrucks and vegetation thinning.

Hurricane-strength winds (more than 80 mph), had made several of the fires spread rapidly, making them into blow torches that light up the tinder-dry vegetation.

There is going to be a pause in the winds on Tuesday, says meteorologists, but then they will come back with a vengeance on Wednesday and Thursday. [Graphic: Paul Duginski/ Los Angeles Times]

Sunday/ a thousand oranges and yellows

I chase myself out of the house for a walk before dinner these days. By 6.00 pm the sun is gone.

A young maple tree on my block. The shadows are already long at 5.00 o’clock. The highs these days are about 54 °F (12 °C), but it’s still nice to go outside and get some sun.

Saturday/ the District 3 race

Seattle’s City Council is about to get a big makeover, with the impending Nov. 2019 elections. Of the 7 positions, 4 have no incumbents.

In District 3 (mine), it is hard to say who will win.  Socialist Kshama Sawant is running for a third term, but garnered only 37% of the votes in the 2019 primary.

Her opponent, Egan Orion, is an events coordinator, web designer and leader of PrideFest, an annual LGBTQ celebration in Seattle. He’s fully embraced a unity message, campaigning on a message of “It’s not us vs. them. It’s just us.” (All this information about him from The Stranger weekly newspaper).

In a way, the race is a referendum on corporate citizen Amazon as well: Sawant is an outspoken critic of Amazon (tax them, and the rich, she says); Orion is backed by Amazon and other businesses.

Kshama Sawant (left) and Egan Orion (right). Picture from The Stranger’s website. KELLY O/EGAN ORION CAMPAIGN
Campaign poster for Kshama Sawant. Yes, everyone should have a home, but while rent control solves some problems, it creates others. Housing subsidies for low-income people might be better.

Friday/ dogs & cats, on Tik Tok

Young people are now flocking to the social media app called Tik Tok. (It is used to create video clips set to snappy music: clowning for the camera, falling down on your skateboard, shooting hoops, driving golf carts, stuff like that).

Trouble is, the servers are based in China, and regulators fear that the app could pose a national security risk (used to spy on American citizens, used in political influence campaigns, or even used by ISIS terrorists for propaganda).

Anyway – let’s see what the fuss is about, I thought.  My initial take: yes, as easy as YouTube to waste a lot of time on it. I stumbled onto a few cute animal videos (stills below), and I like those the best.

Cutie pie doggos. They evidently have a HUGE following, with 375,000 likes (the little heart icon on the right).
Stryker The Cat is a serval (Afr. tierboskat), a wild cat native to sub-Saharan Africa. In the video, Stryker appeared in the doorway, and spotted the chicken on the carpet (carpet with leopard spots, and on the balloon! LOL). It hissed loudly, and pounced on the chicken, growling as it sank its fangs into it. I trust Stryker is more than 50% domesticated.
Here’s one more. I Am Puma the mountain lion facing off with the poor Sphynx cat that does not even have a coat to protect itself. Look at that intense look ..
Hiss-ss! Fang-gss for you! And then the Puma turned and walked away around the sofa.