Thursday/ another day of the Trump trial

I have not been watching the Trump impeachment trial that has been on TV since Tuesday. I have heard it all before: Trump and his co-conspirators used taxpayer money to the tune of $400 million, to pressure the Ukraine president to smear Joe Biden, so that Trump can win in November.

So Trump — now impeached — really should to be found guilty of the two articles of impeachment, and be removed from office. So say 51% of Americans. That is not going to happen, though.  The Constitution requires that two-thirds of all Senators (67 of 100), find Trump guilty and convict him on at least one article of impeachment.  The U.S. Senate has 53 Republicans.

The best one can hope for is that the Republicans pay a price for voting to keep Trump in office, in November 2020, and long after that.

Wednesday/ another debate .. yawn

A panel of opinion writers at the Times gave Elizabeth Warren the nod as the winner of the debate. Is anybody paying any attention anymore? Debate host CNN caught some flak for setting up a Sanders-Warren feud and fanning the flames, about the electability of a woman as president. (Sanders denied he said that explicitly, Warren insists that he did).

There was another Democratic debate on TV on Tuesday night. There have been too many.
If we are to believe the polls, these are the top contenders, in no particular order –
Joe Biden
Bernie Sanders
Elizabeth Warren
Pete Buttigieg
Tom Steyer
Amy Klobuchar

Joe Biden is not a good debater, but he’s still most likely to be the Democrats’ nominee to face Trump in the 2020 election. (Yes, it really does not look as if Moscow Mitch and his jellyfish caucus of Republican Senators will allow witnesses & a fair hearing to oust the criminal and immoral President of the United States in the upcoming impeachment trial in the US Senate).

Tuesday/ the Trump Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report

The House Intelligence Committee’s Impeachment Inquiry Report was published today, and handed to the Judiciary Committee.  President-That-Never-Should-Have-Been-President Trump is surely on his way to impeachment by the House of Representatives.

The only remaining guessing games towards that state of affairs are:
1.  How many articles of impeachment will be put forth by the Judiciary Committee, and
2.  When the House will vote on those articles (the plan is to do that before the year is out).

Here is the index of the Impeachment Inquiry Report.  It’s high crimes and misdemeanors, every step of the way.

1. The President’s Misconduct: The President Conditioned a White House Meeting and Military Aid to Ukraine on a Public Announcement of Investigations Beneficial to his Reelection Campaign
• The President’s Request for a Political Favor
• The President Removed Anti-Corruption Champion Ambassador Yovanovitch
• The President’s Hand-picked Agents Begin the Scheme
• President Trump Froze Vital Military Assistance
• The President Conditioned a White House Meeting on Investigations
• The President’s Agents Pursued a “Drug Deal”
• President Trump Pressed President Zelensky to Do a Political Favor
• The President’s Representatives Ratcheted up Pressure on the Ukrainian President
• Ukrainians Inquired about the President’s Hold on Security Assistance
• The President’s Security Assistance Hold Became Public
• The President’s Scheme Unraveled
• The President’s Chief of Staff Confirmed Aid was Conditioned on Investigations

2. The President’s Obstruction of the House of Representatives’ Impeachment Inquiry: The President Obstructed the Impeachment Inquiry by Instructing Witnesses and Agencies to Ignore Subpoenas for Documents and Testimony
• An Unprecedented Effort to Obstruct an Impeachment Inquiry
• Constitutional Authority for Congressional Oversight and Impeachment
• The President’s Categorical Refusal to Comply
• The President’s Refusal to Produce Any and All Subpoenaed Documents
• The President’s Refusal to Allow Top Aides to Testify
• The President’s Unsuccessful Attempts to Block Other Key Witnesses
• The President’s Intimidation of Witnesses

Monday/ here comes Mike Bloomberg

plu·to·crat
/ˈplo͞odəˌkrat/

noun (slightly derogatory)
a person whose power derives from their wealth, as in “If only the plutocrats can afford to run for public office, are we still a democracy?”
Similar: rich person, capitalist, tycoon, magnate, nabob, billionaire


So three-time New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg (77, net worth US $58 billion) is joining the Democratic field as a moderate candidate for President 2020. Umm. He’s late, and the race is still crowded. And do Democrats want or need a plutocrat to join the race for the Democratic nominee for President? I think not. In so many ways, America is already a plutocracy (run by rich companies and rich people, that have wa-ay too much power).

There’s another problem. Here is what Matt Yglesias of explain-the-news website Vox says:
‘The key is that in recent years, moderates who’ve successfully fended off the left wing of the Democratic Party have done so with the support of black and Latino voters, who tend to be more moderate on the whole than white Democrats. But Bloomberg’s specific political career gives him little access to this constituency and thus little hope of securing the nomination’.

I will say: Mike Bloomberg’s introductory video on his campaign website is very impressive.

Wednesday/ Sondland: no longer Trump’s amigo

Trump’s ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland (and one of the ‘three amigos’), came clean today in his impeachment testimony. He had to: he is dangerously close to being indicted for perjury, and as a co-conspirator for bribery in the Ukraine scandal.

In the process, he blew up several phony-baloney defenses that Trump & Republicans had tried to peddle to us so far. Yes, there was a quid pro quo (which we knew already). There was no ‘back channel’ for foreign policy – ‘everyone was in the loop’. So cabinet members such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Trump right-hand man Rudy Giuliani, and even Vice President Mike Pence, knew what was going on.
‘We followed the President’s orders’.

Tuesday/ the billionaires under attack

The 2020 presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren & Bernie Sanders are making no secret of their disdain for out-of-control capitalism on the campaign trail. Warren in particular, is feisty about it. A recent tweet: ‘The billionaires can whine all they want. That won’t stop us from fighting for big, structural change to make our economy work for the people’.

So now the Wall Street-cheerleader channel CNBC, seems to invite a billionaire onto the set every week, and ask each what he (it’s always a he) thinks about the proposed Warren wealth tax, and the state of American capitalism, and if Fortune 500 CEOs get paid too much. The answers (in my humble opinion) are very clear and very simple. Yes, the wealthy should pay more taxes (though a wealth tax might not be be best solution). Capitalism in the USA is brutal, and leaves many, many people falling ever further behind, with no hope to ever make ends meet.  And yes, of course CEOs get paid too much (compared to the rank-and-file workers).

Billionaire Lloyd Blankfein, chairman of Goldman Sachs, on CNBC this morning. When he says he ‘fears for the US political process’ he means that in 2020 a far-left candidate might become president, and put ‘damaging policies’ in place – policies that will damage the American economy. Nary a word about the damaging policies of the Trump Administration. To name a few: 1. Trump cut taxes when the economy did not need it. In fact, the US is now adding $US 1 trillion annually to the national debt.  2. Trump interferes with the Fed Chairman doing his job and pressures him to cut interest rates. 3. Trump started a trade war with China, to which there is no end in sight.

 

P.S. I just had to look up the famous Rolling Stone magazine article about Goldman Sachs being a ‘vampire squid’ after the interview with Lloyd Blankfein. Here it is.
‘The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. In fact, the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled dry American empire, reads like a Who’s Who of Goldman Sachs graduates’. – Matt Taibbi, in an essay titled ‘The Great American Bubble Machine’ in Rolling Stone magazine, Apr. 5, 2010.

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 that 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.