Thursday/ don’t do it, Howard

Howard Schultz (65) was CEO of Starbucks from 1986 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2017.

Howard Schultz, billionaire ex-CEO of Starbucks Coffee Co. has been making the rounds on morning shows and talk shows, announcing that he is thinking of entering the 2020 presidential race as a ‘centrist independent candidate’.

He is not off to a good start. Democrats fear he will draw away critical support needed to defeat Trump, from the Democratic candidate in a three-way race. Schultz also criticized liberal Democratic policy positions right out of the gate (healthcare for all, free college, more taxes on the rich).
Others say that a being a billionaire in the 2020 race is a non-starter – given how spectacularly out of touch the billionaire-in-chief in the White House and his billionaire Wall Street cronies are, with the plight of most Americans trying to make a living*.

*Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ‘just did not understand’ last week why federal employees missing two paychecks would visit food banks, when they could ‘simply take out loans to pay their bills during this time of a liquidity crisis’.

I found this somewhat bizarre Starbucks-themed objets d’art at the Starbucks Roastery here on Capitol Hill. The Starbucks mermaid with the Simpsons’ googly eyes can be had for $4,500, and the other two smaller ones are $476 each. (I like the coffee-drinking rabbit with the pig snout). ‘Celebrating the new Milano roastery’ says the sign in the front. OK .. but seems it would also be ideal for a billionaire coffee-lover wanting to celebrate the New Gilded Age we are said to be living in.

Friday/ Trump gets nothing

Early this morning the FBI arrested yet another Trump campaign adviser.
Later in the day, with airport delays reported due to Day #35 of the government shutdown, Trump gave in and surrendered to the insistence of the Democratic leadership that he open the government before discussions about border security can start. He got no money for his wall, and no concessions.

Remarked NBC reporter Peter Alexander: Question for the President- How can you cast this as anything other than a wasted five weeks of (financial) pain for Americans, caused by you? 

Dirty trickster and gadfly Roger Stone (in the middle on the left) was arrested this morning by the FBI. He faces charges for witness tampering, obstruction of an official proceeding and making false statements. He worked on the Trump campaign and has been a Trump supporter and confidante for decades. Said WH Press Secretary Sarah Sanders today: ‘Stone’s arrest has nothing to do with Trump’. Oh really? We don’t believe you, Sarah. [Graphic by the New York Times from a report by ].

Thursday/ Venezuela’s turbulence

Wow .. not good, the riots in the streets in Caracas over the disputed presidential elections of 2018.  By many accounts, interim president Nicolás Maduro stole the 2018 elections with widespread fraud and support from the military. He and his supporters are refusing to let the National Assembly’s declaration & swearing in of Juan Guaidó stand.

The Trump Administration declared support for opposition leader Guaidó (so not the dictator Maduro – a surprise. Why is that? wonder observers, given that Trump fawns over and supports dictators Putin, Erdoğan, Duterte & Kim Jong-un).

In the meantime, the citizenry has to deal with an utterly destroyed economy. Nine out of ten Venezuelans live in poverty, despite the country’s vast oil reserves. Inflation in 2018 was 1,300,000%. So your money there is not worth the paper it is printed on.

From the New York Times online, Friday 1/25.
History is repeating itself, says cartoonist Eduardo Sanabria (aka Edo) in this cartoon. On Jan 23, 1958, a civilian-military movement overthrew the government of Gen. Marcos Pérez Jiménez. La Vaca Sagrada (The Sacred Cow) was the name of the airplane with which he flew to the Dominican Republic. Come Jan 23, 2019, and the rioting citizens in the streets aim to chase out two ‘sacred cows’ again. The big guy with the moustache is Nicolás Maduro which by many accounts stole the 2018 election. The little guy might be Diosdado Cabello, a supporter & Venezuelan politician.

Tuesday/ Day 32 of the Trump Shutdown

The US government shutdown dragged on into Day 32 on Tuesday, and come midnight, the deadline had passed for issuing another pay period’s checks to hundreds of thousands of essential government workers.

Trump had thrown a sham proposal on the table on Saturday, ‘offering’ to end the shutdown and to ‘protect’ DACA recipients (immigrant children). These are simply reinstating protections he had stripped from them in 2017. Other changes in the proposed bill with funds for his stupid wall, include massive reductions of the asylum rules in place for Central Americans.

A reminder: this manufactured ‘border crisis’ for the 2018 midterm elections had failed to impress the voters. And it wasn’t enough that the Trump Administration took kids from families seeking asylum, and lied to Congress about it. No – Trump & Senate Leader Mitch McConnell shut down the United States government. They impact and stress out hundreds of thousands of federal workers directly, including TSA officials and air traffic controllers, food inspectors, FBI investigators, federal court judges, environmental protection agents, and more. What a mess.

Thursday/ foreign agent or useful idiot .. which one?

There have now been so many revelations about the Trump 2016 campaign’s collusion with the Russians, and so many pro-Russia, pro-Putin actions that Trump had taken in plain sight, that it really appears that the President of the United States can only be 1. an agent for Russia or 2. a useful idiot.

Writes Garrett M. Graff in Wired magazine:
In short, we’ve reached a point in the Mueller probe where there are only two scenarios left: Either the president is compromised by the Russian government and has been working covertly to cooperate with Vladimir Putin after Russia helped win him the 2016 election—or Trump will go down in history as the world’s most famous “useful idiot,” as communists used to call those who could be co-opted to the cause without realizing it.

So we are in a place way, way beyond Nixon.

Tuesday/ deal or no deal?

Now there is political chaos on both sides of the Atlantic, with the historic defeat of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the House of Commons today – and with the United States Government shutdown deadlock dragging on to Day 26.

Only time will tell what happens next, in both cases.

Reporting from the New York Times, Jan 15.
Tweets from Donald Tusk (President of the European Council), and Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Union Commission, responding to the vote in the House of Commons that soundly rejected May’s deal with the EU.

Monday/ Trump’s ‘Bottomless Pinocchio’ statements

From The Washington Post today: ‘The Fact Checker’ has evaluated false statements President Trump has made repeatedly and analyzed how often he reiterates them. The claims included here – which we’re calling “Bottomless Pinocchios” – are limited to ones that he has repeated 20 times and were rated as Three or Four Pinocchios by the Fact Checker.

  • The Trump tax cut was the biggest in history – Trump repeated some version of this claim 123 times
  • Overstating the size of U.S. trade deficits – Trump repeated some version of this claim 117 times
  • The U.S. economy has never been stronger – Trump repeated some version of this claim 99 times
  • Inflating our NATO spending – Trump repeated some version of this claim 87 times
  • The U.S. has started building the wall -Trump repeated some version of this claim 86 times
  • The U.S. has the loosest immigration laws in the world — thanks to Democrats – Trump repeated some version of this claim 52 times
  • Democrats colluded with Russia during the campaign – Trump repeated some version of this claim 42 times
  • The border wall will stop drug trafficking – Trump repeated some version of this claim 40 times
  • U.S. Steel is building many new plants – Trump repeated some version of this claim 37 times
  • The U.S. has spent $6 trillion (or more) on Middle East wars – Trump repeated some version of this claim 36 times
  • Thousands of MS-13 members have been removed from the country – Trump repeated some version of this claim 33 times
  • McCain’s vote was the only thing that blocked repeal of the Affordable Care Act – Trump repeated some version of this claim 30 times
  • Robert S. Mueller III is biased because of conflicts of interest – Trump repeated some version of this claim 30 times
  • Inflating gains from a 2017 trip to Saudi Arabia – Trump repeated some version of this claim 23 times

Saturday/ 2019, as a Star Wars opening crawl

A someone on Twitter says, this summary of Trump & his presidency heading into 2019, from the Washington Post (by Robert Costa and Philip Rucker), reads like a Star Wars opening crawl:
‘Facing the dawn of his third year in office and his bid for reelection, Trump is stepping into a political hailstorm. Democrats are preparing to seize control of the House in January with subpoena power to investigate corruption. Global markets are reeling from his trade war. The United States is isolated from its traditional partners. The investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference is intensifying. And court filings Friday in a separate federal case implicated Trump in a felony’.

‘Trump Wars’ The Year 2019. The Washington Post reporting as a Star Wars opening crawl. (I popped the text into a tool online that creates Star Wars opening crawls, with dramatic music in the background). Will we live in ‘interesting times’, as the old Chinese curse says?

Thursday/ more (really big) Trump lies exposed

Trump had lied for years about his dealings with the Russians, after his visit there in 2013 at the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. (Repeatedly saying ‘No business with the Russians’, ‘I have no connections to the Russians’).

Today, Michael Cohen (ex-Trump Right Hand Man & Fixer) pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump’s connections to Russia. Cohen had in fact been negotiating with the Russians about the Trump Moscow Tower hotel all the way through June 2016.  Trump was already the Republican nominee for President at that time.

Also, from Buzzfeed News: President Trump’s company planned to give a $50 million penthouse at the proposed Trump Tower Moscow to Vladimir Putin, as the company negotiated the luxury real estate development during the 2016 campaign.

The point is that beside these shady business dealings (sanctioned Russian state bank VTB Bank was to finance Trump Tower), we also know the Russians had hacked the Clinton campaign’s e-mails, and that the Trump campaign & Don Jr met with them to discuss it in June 2016. The Russians exploited Facebook to interfere mightily with the 2016 presidential election. How extensive was Trump’s involvement and knowledge of all this?

Reporting from today’s New York Times. History might very well look back at April 2018 (when Michael Cohen’s home was raided by the FBI), as the start of Trump’s undoing as President.

Friday/ Brexit’s never-ending drama (that has to end March 29)

Cartoon from the Dutch newspaper ‘NRC Handelsblad’, titled ‘Eritreans in the Netherlands’. Says the Eritrean guy: ‘Brexit is especially difficult’. I think the joke is that the Eritrean guy has 100 other bigger things to worry about (as an immigrant), than Brexit. Brexit will be both good and bad for the Netherlands. Dutch people feel they will lose an ally in the Brits and will be ‘left alone’ with the German and the French, and trade relations with the UK will become more complicated. On the other hand, the port of Rotterdam, businesses and the economy might benefit from the UK leaving the EU.

It was a rough week for British Prime Minister Theresa May. She finally has a Brexit deal with the EU27 (European Union minus the UK), but now the hard-line Brexiteers in her own Conservative Party are revolting.  The deal has the UK stay in the European Union Customs Union, and parts of the single market. This way an international border and customs would not be needed between Ireland (Europe) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK).

The UK Parliament still has to approve the deal. Instead, the hard-liners are pushing for a no-deal Brexit. This ‘jumping over the cliff’ type of exit will have all kinds of economic and other repercussions.    Consumers, businesses and public bodies would have to respond immediately to changes as result of leaving the EU, and it’s unsure what controls will be put in place a the Ireland-Northern Ireland border.

What if Parliament does not approve the deal? Some say there may be a second referendum, then, already called the People’s Vote. (Pollsters say the Remain vote has shifted from 48% to 54% over the last 18 months).

Thursday/ a visit to the U-District

The No 48 bus makes for an easy run up to the University (of Washington) District for me, and I did that today. (The main draw there for me is the big university bookstore, and the smaller second-hand bookstores, as well).

In another two years or so, the new Light Rail train station right there will be completed, and then I can take the train instead. That would be great!

Even though these apartments on University Way are painted in pastel colors, they are still a little wild (I think). Cool ginkgo tree in front of it, leaves in yellow fall color. Ginkgo trees are living fossil plants: they are found in fossils dating back 270 million years. So they were dinosaur food.
Oh man .. I hope the author is wrong about the thesis of his book. Yes, we want another great president. How about a decent one, at least? (The author basically says being President of the United States has become too arduous a job, and that our expectations are too high. He also wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post in 2014 titled ‘Barack Obama, disappointer in chief’. Mr Miller! Distinguished scholar that you are, we would like your opinion of President Donald Trump, please. My opinion: catastrophic disaster in chief).
This dog-eared picture is in Magus Bookstore. The guy is Russian, I’m sure, I thought, and famous, but I did not know who he is. Google Images to the rescue: it’s playwright Anton Chekhov (born 1860-died 1904, much too young, at 44, from tuberculosis).
The beautiful entrance on 15th Ave NE, to the University Temple United Methodist Church. The building was completed in 1927.

Tuesday night/ got the House

The Democrats have taken back the House! Yes!
This is of monumental importance. The Speaker and the House Committee chairs are going to be Democrats. There will be a real check on Trump’s excesses and the appalling Republican legislation that have come out of Congress.  For the first time, there will be more than 100 women among the 435 House of Representatives.

The Republicans will retain the Senate. A bitter disappointment for Democrats in the Senate races, was that Texas star and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke’s inspiring campaign against incumbent Republican Texas senator Ted Cruz, came up short.

Monday/ tomorrow is almost here

Alright.  If 2016 was the Year of the Angry Older White Male in American politics, maybe 2018 is the Year of the Female College Graduate, says Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report. These suburban and younger women take a very dim view of our 45th president. (As do I).

The Democrats really need to win the House. Hopefully they will not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, like they did in 2016.
It is unlikely they will win the Senate.

There are also some very interesting gubernatorial (state governors) races. For my fellow citizens in red states (Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin): some free advice.
DO NOT vote for a Republican governor.
Republicans DO NOT CARE FOR PEOPLE, not even for you. 

Update Wed 11/7: The Dems got the house, but not the Senate. Michigan, Pennsylvania & Wisconsin voted in Democratic governors.

Katy Tur interviewing a die-hard Trump supporter. She says nothing has changed at these Trump rallies since 2016. Trump supporters don’t follow the news, or simply say: ‘Why is all the coverage so negative? We don’t believe it’. (Psst. The reporting on Trump is negative because what Trump does flies in the face of American values, democracy and decency).

Thursday/ all-out lies & propaganda

Five days to go before November 6, and Trump’s lies and propaganda are reaching a fever pitch.

1. Migrant caravans with Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Nicaraguans in Mexico, walking to the US border, are going to ‘invade’ the country. The Pentagon was told to ready as many as 15,000 troops to go to the Mexican border.
Fact: The threat is very small. Only a small percentage of the migrants will make it to the border, is the Pentagon’s assessment.

2. The Republican Party will protect our healthcare.
Fact: Twenty Republican governors are suing the Federal Government right now, seeking end to Obamacare. Trump supported the wholesale repeal of Obamacare.

3. Trump will reduce middle-income taxes by 10% before the midterm elections.
Fact: Congress is not even in session. A pipedream and laughable lie.

4. Trump will end birthright citizenship, presumably by executive order.
Fact: Pfft. Not going to happen. He will have to get Congress to overturn the 14th Amendment.

5. Trump warns of widespread voter fraud.
Fact: The only widespread voter fraud is that which is committed by Republican governors and legislators. They are working flat-out to prevent voters from minority groups and others that support Democrats, to vote. This is in addition to a long tradition of gerrymandering districts in many states.

A page from an unclassified document (but for official use only), that was leaked to Newsweek today. The U.S. Army projects that only a small percentage of the 7,000 migrants will actually reach the border. And those that do, will have done nothing illegal. That is how international amnesty laws work: you show up at the border IN PERSON, and apply for amnesty. These people are desperate and fleeing violence, misery and a drought that has caused major crop losses in Central America.

Tuesday/ the Facebook dilemma

I just watched the two episodes on the public television channel called ‘The Facebook Dilemma*’ – and did not find it reassuring.  Facebook has a long history of being too late to address disastrous uses of their platform: for hate speech, for spreading lies, for sowing distrust and division. Should anyone trust them again, ever?

*Facebook should be reinvented (run with different functionality & algorithms) or even be shut down, but it has become too big and powerful.

Congress – and the citizenry – have a responsibility as well. Do we care enough? Here’s former Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos: “We’ve had two years since the main part of the Russian attack against the 2016 election, and very little has been done as a country, as a government, to protect ourselves,” Stamos told FRONTLINE. “We have signaled to the rest of the world that interfering in our elections is something that we won’t really punish or react to.”

Is Facebook ready for the 2018 Midterm elections? The answer: Nobody really knows – nor does Facebook. Here’s the Facebook ‘War Room’ with the Facebook election team. The team will do real-time monitoring on election day, to monitor fake news stories and delete fake accounts. [Picture from Frontline at https://www.pbs.org]

Sunday

The official list of the victims killed in the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday:
Joyce Feinberg (75)
Richard Gottfried (65)
Rose Mallinger (97)
Jerry Rabinowitz (66)
Cecil Rosenthal (59)
David Rosenthal (54)
Bernice Simon (84)
Sylvan Simon (86)
Daniel Stein (71)
Melvin Wax (88)
Irving Younger (69)

Six people were injured, four of which were police.

Flags at half-staff on the White House and the Washington Monument.

Thursday/ don’t open that package

The count of pipe bombs sent to high-profile Democrats was up to 10 by Thursday. Authorities believe it is from the same person. The packages look similar and were sent from Florida. None of the devices has so far exploded. Investigators are trying to determine if the devices were even capable of detonating.

‘Fake mail bombs’, ‘a conspiracy from the left’ say right-wing conspiracy pushers & trolls on Twitter.  Trump blamed the mainstream media in a tweet. Nothing to do with his Democrats-are-the-mob speeches at rallies and his non-stop war with the media.

From the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC. It’s just a matter of time, then the FBI will find the sender, and lock him up for a long time. (Pretty sure it’s a him. It usually is). This is domestic terrorism.

Update Fri 10/26: Fervid Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc (56) was arrested outside a car-repair shop in the Miami area. He left a fingerprint from one of the bomb packages and DNA on two others. The van that he owned and drove around in, was festooned with delusional Trump propaganda on the windows, and pictures of his targets (Pres. Obama, Secretary Clinton, others) with gun scope crosshairs trained on them.

Tuesday/ ‘Yes’ for the carbon emissions fee

My Nov 6 ballot is in (we vote by mail in Washington State – no waiting in hours-long lines).  I voted ‘Yes’ for initiative I-1631 that proposes a carbon emissions fee. Starting in 2020, it would impose a $15 fee on large emitters of carbon, based on the carbon content of fossil fuels sold or used in the State, and electricity generated in, or imported, for use in the state.  The fee will increase by $2 increase each year until at least 2035.

Yes, it will raise gas prices and make homes more expensive to heat, and increase transportation costs. But at some point, someone needs to point the way to start to save what clean air we have left on the planet, and get serious about promoting clean energy.

As for every one the Republican candidates on my ballot: forget about it. Your party is grotesquely anti-democratic, and a lying, cheating, immoral scam of an outfit.

A sign here in my neighborhood in support of I-1631. It is the most expensive ballot initiative in Washington State’s history, because it threatens Big Oil’s Earth-destroying profit model. They have poured in $26 million to fight I-1631.

Friday/ what happened to Jamal Khashoggi?

‘The Greatest Stories from the Arabian Nights’: a childhood book that I have vivid memories of. Saudi society is difficult for outsiders to comprehend to this day. Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen in 2015 (with a coalition of other Arab states). The war has brought terrible suffering to Yemeni civilians (mass starvation), and is on-going. Osama bin Laden was a member of a wealthy Saudi family until 1994. And 15 of the 19 attackers on 9/11 in 2001, were Saudi Arabian nationals.

Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi (59) entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2, to obtain documents necessary to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.  He was not seen again after that.

Turkish authorities believed he was killed in the Consulate that same day. (He had often been critical of the Saudi government).

Was the killing ordered by someone in the Saudi government?
Will there be a ‘thorough, transparent, and timely investigation’ as promised by Saudi officials to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo?
Will there be ‘severe consequences’, as promised by President Trump?

The world is watching.

The front page of the Washington Post on Saturday. Says CNN Co-anchor Jim Sciutto on Twitter: ‘Having met Khashoggi, the idea of the 59-year-old bespectacled intellectual engaging in a physical fight with several intelligence agents is beyond the imagination’.