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.

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’.

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’.

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. 

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.

Wednesday/ Trump gets a scolding

The House overwhelmingly (354-60) approved a resolution, that formally rebukes Trump, over his sudden and disastrous pull-out of American troops from northern Syria. (The damage has been done, of course — to America’s reputation, to the Kurds that had fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans against ISIS, and to the stability in the region).

‘All roads with you, lead to Putin!’ is reportedly what Nancy Pelosi told Trump at a meeting in the White House, when this picture was taken.

P.S. A recent blog post from Terri Kanefield explains a lot to me. Here is just the end of her explanation regarding the Mueller findings, and why impeachment then, would not have been viable.

Back when Trump appeared to be trying to goad the House into impeachment, it was when impeachment would have been basically about the Mueller findings.

With the Mueller stuff, Trump knew how to control the narrative because he knew the parameters. This was what the “impeach right now” people didn’t understand.

Legally, the House can keep impeaching. Politically, it would be insane. Imagine this: a prosecutor brings charges (obstruction of justice, for example) in June. The jury acquits. Then in September, the prosecutor says, “I have more evidence on that guy! Let’s have another trial!”

See how that looks?

The public was bored with the Russia investigation, and didn’t want to hear about things Trump had done before he was elected president. Scholars on impeachment say that traditional crimes are not what impeachment is about. Impeachment is for a president so abusing his power that removing him in the election may not be an option, or even possible.

If Trump had been impeached last spring, the Senate would have acquitted, and Trump would have declared himself Completely Exonerated.

The House would have looked silly impeaching again.

Trump knew once he was impeached and acquitted, he would would have been insulated from any additional impeachments.

In other words, he would have been untouchable.

Pelosi has decades of Intel experience. A lot of the Ukraine stuff happened in the open. What’s happening now is much more serious and compelling.

Pelosi waited for this or something like it to come out.

Check mate.

Either Pelosi got lucky or she knew what she was doing. Given that she’s the one of the most experienced and savvy people in politics, I’ll take Door #2.

Being a woman complicates this. People are less likely to assume she knows what she’s doing. 

Saturday/ why the truth is so hard to find

‘We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are’.
– from Seduction of the Minotaur, by Anais Nin (1961)

The entire Sept. issue of Scientific American is dedicated to the topic on the front page in bold letters: Truth, Lies & Uncertainty: Searching for Reality in Unreal Times. The articles are heavy on science and general philosophies about what is real and what is virtual. For example: to this day, philosophers cannot agree on whether mathematical objects (say, the number ‘7’) exist, or are pure fictions.

A summary of the article by Prof. Anil K. Seth that goes with the picture below, goes like this:
‘The reality we perceive is not a direct reflection of the external objective world. Instead it is the product of the brain’s predictions about the causes of incoming sensory signals. The property of realness that accompanies our perceptions may serve to guide our behavior so that we respond appropriately to the sources of sensory signals’.

So throw in Presidents that lie every day, greedy corporations with profit incentives, and worldwide social media networks ⁠— and holy cow: it’s more important than ever before to try to verify if something uncertain or new that we come across, is ‘true’.

Our realities are constructed by our brains, and no two brains are exactly alike.

Thursday/ under every rock, a spider

As someone said on TV today: this impeachment inquiry all feels like Watergate in reverse. We have the-crook-that-says-he’s-not-a-crook (Trump), and the smoking gun (the transcript of his phone call). Now, every day, new details and new accomplices are uncovered, and reported by news organizations.

On Thursday two Giuliani associates were nabbed at Dulles International Airport. They made illegal campaign contributions to Trump’s campaign, and were also carrying out Trump’s scheme to pressure Ukraine to investigate his domestic rivals.

Monday/ ‘President Z’ and the quid pro quo

To start with, there is the $391 million in security aid for Ukraine that Trump tried to withhold and leverage for his personal gain (Ukraine to ‘investigate’ Joe Biden).
Trump and his accomplices knew it was wrong, because they tried to hide the transcript of the phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. It also appears that Trump fired Marie Yovanovitch, US ambassador to Ukraine, after Rudy Giuliani complained that she was blocking his efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden.
Then the first whistleblower came forward.  The White House published the transcript of the call, and said ‘Look! We did nothing wrong, and there was no quid pro quo‘. (Favor or advantage expected, in return for something). There clearly was a quid pro quo, stated in encrypted text messages from Kurt Volker, Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine).
So this is a textbook case for impeachment.

There is now a second whistleblower, reportedly with first-hand information of what happened.
There are also serious questions of possible corruption related to the Ukraine gas company Naftogaz, that involves Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and the US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland.

The start of an opinion piece by the New York Times Editorial Board.

Monday morning/ last stop: Oslo

The flight to Oslo on Norwegian Airlines is almost due north, and 1 hr 25 mins.
The S-bahn (regional) train at Jungfernstieg station. It pays to read the overhead sign: it says the first three cars go to the airport, and the others to Poppenbuttel.
Der Spiegel cover at the newsstand: ‘One Deal Too Many: Why The Ukraine Affair Could Cost Trump The Presidency’.

I am at Hamburg airport, on my way to Oslo for a few days. It will be my final stop before going home.


Tuesday/ no deal, to Johnson’s no-deal Brexit

Stephen Castle writes from London, for the New York Times:
British lawmakers forced Johnson’s hand by voting by 328 to 301 to take control of Parliament away from the government and vote on legislation as soon as Wednesday that would block the prime minister from making good on his threat of a no-deal Brexit.

That prompted an angry response from the prime minister.
“I don’t want an election, the public don’t want an election, but if the House votes for this bill tomorrow, the public will have to choose who goes to Brussels on Oct. 17 to sort this out and take this country forward,” Mr. Johnson said, referring to the next European Union summit.

Comment from a Times reader. I agree 100%: easy to argue that representative democracy has run its course. Do members of the United States Congress think they can solve problems? They should not think so, because they cannot. (Affordable healthcare, mass shootings, climate change, broken immigration system, trillion dollar deficits, corrupting influence of money in politics, withdrawing the US from international treaties).  For all the so-called checks and balances built into the American democracy machinery: in 2016 it produced as President of the United States an incompetent, criminal, immoral monster called Trump. And now there is no opposition from the Republicans (the Trump party) for his monstrous policies. Time for a benevolent dictator instead?

Saturday/ what a crazy week ..

Rick Wilson writes in the New York Daily News:
“Our great American companies are hereby ordered…”
The subtle meter in Americans’ brains that tracks the degree to which the universe seems off its axis has been in a state of constant flux since Donald
Trump’s election in 2016, but this week the needle slammed hard into the peg on the right side of the gauge. Red warning lights are flashing across Washington as even the now-typical levels of uncertainty and political chaos reach epic proportions.

It’s almost as if we need a recalibration of the insanity of the Trump era, a new set of definitions about what comprises normal presidential behavior.

Because what’s happening now left normal five towns back, stopped for smokes and brown liquor, and tossed the GPS out the window. This week wasn’t normal, and no amount of whistling past the graveyard will make it any different.

This is the week in which Trump had wanted to buy Greenland, and insulted Denmark’s PM. He proclaimed himself ‘King of Israel’ and the ‘Chosen One’ (to deal with China, but is that not blasphemy?). He proposed on-again, off-again payroll tax cuts & capital gains tax indexing. Compared the Fed Chairman to Xi Jinping as an ‘enemy of the state’. The craziest one of all came on Friday: a tweet that ‘ordered’ – ordered? say whaaat? – all American companies to retreat out of China immediately. So now the USA is a command economy, run the way the dictators of Cuba and North Korea run theirs?

Wednesday/ about Greenland

I just had to check out Greenland again on my Earth globe (with the stupid and completely unnecessary flap created around it, and all ⁠— by You-Know-Who in the White House).

Greenland is the world’s largest island and is a semi-autonomous country of the Kingdom of Denmark. It has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for more than a millennium.

Greenland sits almost due north of the United States. It has some 56,000 inhabitants, 1/4 of which live in the capital, Nuuk. Ethnicity of its people: 88% Greenlandic Inuit (including Inuit-Danish mixed); 12% Danes and other Europeans. Insets: Coat-of-arms (a polar bear) and national flag.
It’s fun to use Google Streetview to do virtual tours of Greenland. In a few places they mounted the Streetview camera on a boat and recorded some views. This one in the bay by Narsaq.
Here is a little store in the capital Nuuk. Let’s see what the Danish translate into: Møbler: furniture, gaveartikler: gifts, slik & chokolade: sweets & candy, festartikler: party items, friske blomster: fresh flowers.
.. and a little Danish design flair for a new apartment building. Very nice.

Thursday/ where the brutality of American capitalism comes from

The New York Times has launched a project called the 1619 Project. ‘The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are’.

Here is an excerpt from an essay written by Matthew Desmond, professor of sociology at Princeton University for the Times’s 1619 Project.

‘Those searching for reasons the American economy is uniquely severe and unbridled have found answers in many places (religion, politics, culture). But recently, historians have pointed persuasively to the gnatty fields of Georgia and Alabama, to the cotton houses and slave auction blocks, as the birthplace of America’s low-road approach to capitalism.

Slavery was undeniably a font of phenomenal wealth. By the eve of the Civil War, the Mississippi Valley was home to more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the United States. Cotton grown and picked by enslaved workers was the nation’s most valuable export. The combined value of enslaved people exceeded that of all the railroads and factories in the nation. New Orleans boasted a denser concentration of banking capital than New York City. What made the cotton economy boom in the United States, and not in all the other far-flung parts of the world with climates and soil suitable to the crop, was our nation’s unflinching willingness to use violence on non-white people and to exert its will on seemingly endless supplies of land and labor. Given the choice between modernity and barbarism, prosperity and poverty, lawfulness and cruelty, democracy and totalitarianism, America chose all of the above’.

Monday/ fake speech! fake speech!

Trump read something from the teleprompter today as a response to the mass shootings. I turned the TV off as soon as he came on.

Afterwards, I saw on Twitter that he couldn’t even read his fake speech right – a speech in which he blamed video games & mental illness for the shootings, and said nothing about any new legislation that could make a difference.

The teleprompter said “May God bless the memory of those who perished in Texas and Ohio….”. Trump read it as “May God bless the memory of those who perished in Toledo….” and didn’t even bother to correct himself. Picture from Reuters, tweet by Andrew Feinberg. 

Saturday/ Sandy Hook 2012, now already long gone

The massacres continue unabated here in the United States.
Saturday at an El Paso Walmart: 20 dead, dozens wounded. 
Early Sunday in Dayton, Ohio: 9 dead, 27 wounded.
Both are acts of domestic terrorism, committed by home-grown white nationalist Americans.

The Republicans and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell have repeatedly blocked laws passed by the House in the Senate.

The New York Times notes: “In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

It should be noted, though, that in 2013, Connecticut State lawmakers did make sweeping changes to the state’s gun laws. It did not impact gun sales very much, but today Connecticut has one of the lowest gun death rates in the nation. (‘Lowest gun death rates’ is still a problem).

The United States of America with its lax gun laws: Awash in guns, awash in mass murderers. P.S. 2019 figures: 393 million guns in America, population 327 million.

Tuesday/ the Democratic debates, Round 2

CNN is hosting the second round of Democratic candidate debates this week. I played tennis and could not watch last night, but I saw the highlights.  The lowlights would be Trump’s Twitter responses that continued into Wednesday.

Here’s the dumbest man on television, commenting on the debates via his classic Twitter style: go for 4th grader insults that use ‘the worst’, ‘the dumbest’ .. and throw in distortions and lies. Side Note: New polls show that 51% of all Americans say that Trump is a racist. A shockingly high 46% say he is not.

Sunday/ a few ‘very fine’ people, marching

I encountered a small group of ‘very fine’* Trump supporters on Broadway today, flanked by a large contingent of police officers (to protect them from a much larger group of protesters, I suppose).

From where I was standing, a much larger group of people followed along on the opposite sidewalk, all the time yelling loudly ‘FASCISTS, GO HOME! FASCISTS, GO HOME!

*Trump’s characterization of the Charlottesville white nationalist protesters, made when he talked to the press on Aug. 15, 2017.

The little group of ‘very fine’ Trump supporters were all of 7 or 8 people. That’s the yellow Gadsden flag with the rattlesnake on, and the words ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ (so are you all snakes?). Two Trumpsters carried Stars & Stripes flags, and two had Trump flags.

Thursday/ Washington, we have a problem

The buzz on the cable news programs about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s un-spectacular testimony on Capitol Hill (about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016  Presidential  Election, continued on Thursday.

No question: Trump is 100% guilty of welcoming the help of the Russians, of then obstructing the investigation into it, and of repeatedly lying about it. But his Attorney-General and the Republicans under Senate Leader McConnell do not care, and are completely supporting Trump.

What will the Democrats do next? I say start impeachment hearings. I’m with Charles Blow that writes in the New York Times:

People were told that opening an impeachment inquiry would be a mistake because that’s what Trump wants to energize his base — particularly a failure to convict in the Senate — and that it would virtually guarantee his re-election.

None of this washes with me. While Democrats worry about tearing the country apart, Trump is doing just that in real time. His base doesn’t need further energizing; they’re juiced up on sexism, xenophobia, racism and nationalism.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow to Adam Schiff, chairman of House Committee on Intelligence : ‘He (Mueller) persistently seemed – um – old’. Aw. (He’s 74). I have to agree, though. He looked worn out, and looked like a reluctant witness. Many of his answers were just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘that is correct’. But he did say working with the Russians was ‘a crime’ .