What Are They Up To Today ?????

candlesThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is, lest you think otherwise, alive and well.  And they are on top of the really, really important things!  But beware!!!  They are coming for your candles!  The agency that once issued memos about carbon pollution from power plants and the threat that they posed to public health, is now warning that burning candles and incense can irritate the lungs of asthma sufferers.  Oh yes, and beware, too, of those summer bonfires, as the wood smoke can trigger asthma attacks.  Isn’t it wonderful that an agency with an $8 billion budget is spending our money to warn us about the dangers of candles and wood smoke?

As one who has had asthma since birth, I can assure you that candles burning in my home are not a problem.  My two biggest problems are the air outdoors when it is warm and humid, and flowers.  Ohhhh … I better watch what I say there, or perhaps the EPA will come dig up all my flowers!!!

Just days after the announcement about candles and incense, the EPA also announced that it would seek a two-year delay in the implementation of a rule requiring oil and gas companies to detect and repair leaks of methane and other air pollutants from oil and gas wells. In announcing the delay, the EPA acknowledged that it could have a disproportionate impact on the health of children, but argued that delay was worthwhile because it would save the oil and gas industry roughly $173 million.

Liz Purchia, a former EPA communications official under the Obama administration:

“They are just distracting from the larger issues by focusing on the really small ones. I’d love to see the last time they talked about carbon pollution from power plants and the threat that they posed to public health. It’s pretty unbelievable. They are using smoke and mirrors to make it appear like they are trying to protect public health, and meanwhile they are doing everything that they can do rollback regulations and work with the fossil fuel industry to bend to their will. They are showing a willful blindness towards the health of the American public.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has not, as of yet, taken any legal action against incense or scented candle manufacturers.


In other EPA news …

The Environmental Protection Agency has given notice to dozens of scientists that they will not be renewed in their roles in advising the agency. Members of the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) whose terms end in August will not see them renewed, according to an email sent to members this week. They may re-apply, but were given a June 30 deadline to do so. The BOSC functions as an advisory board for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and helps the office make sure that it is using sufficiently rigorous science in its research and development programs.

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists:

“The Board of Scientific Counselors was formed to make sure the EPA does the best possible scientific work with limited taxpayer dollars. This independent advice is needed now more than ever. By sacking dozens of scientific counselors, Pruitt is showing that he doesn’t value scientific input and the benefits it offers the public.”

Is anybody surprised by that?

In May, when Pruitt announced the terminations of nine scientists, his spokesman, J. P. Freire, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, such as the chemical, oil and gas industries. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community.”  Putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop?


And in other climate news …

At an Energy and Natural Resources Committee budget hearing earlier this week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke came under fire from Senator Al Franken over his inane comments that “the vanishing glaciers at Glacier National Park have undergone a “consistent melt” since the end of the last ice age”.  Franken informed Zinke that “scientists who work for you” have found the melting has “dramatically accelerated” in recent decades.

Franken: “Can you tell me how much warming government scientists predict for the end of the century under a business-as-usual scenario?”

Zinke: “The Paris accord, in the president and my judgement, it wasn’t about climate change, it was about a bad deal.”

Huh???

Franken interrupted to ask Zinke to answer the question.

Zinke: “I don’t think the government scientists can predict with certainty. There isn’t a model that existed it can predict today’s weather given all the data. If everyone adhered to the Paris climate accord, that change would be roughly 0.2°, which is insignificant.”

Franken: “No, no, no!  I just want you to answer the question that I asked you. That’s all I want you to do.”

And so it continued, as nauseam. Keep in mind that Mr. Zinke is the head of the Department of Interior, a position that pays in the $100,000 per year range, yet intellectually I would pit almost any 8th grader against him in a debate.


Meanwhile, out in the real world …

The Southwest is experiencing its worst heat wave in decades. Excessive heat warnings have been in effect from Arizona to California and will be for the remainder of the week. On Monday, temperatures in Phoenix hit 118 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, which announced the record-tying heat.

heatIt was so hot that dozens of flights have been canceled this week at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

My vote is for sending Trump, Pruitt and Zinke to Phoenix, make them stand on the airport tarmac for about three hours in their suits and ties, then ask if they still believe climate change is a ‘hoax’.

And The Pile Of Lies Grows … As Does Pinocchio’s Nose

In my post yesterday, A Session with Sessions , I claimed in no uncertain terms that I firmly believed Jeff Sessions lied under oath on Tuesday, 13 June 2017.  I was fairly confident at that time that proof of his lies would be forthcoming, but I had no idea that it would come so soon.

On Tuesday, Jeff Sessions testified, under oath, that he did not believe he had any contacts with lobbyists working for Russian interests over the course of Trump’s campaign. Today, two days later, Richard Burt, a lobbyist who has represented Russian interests in Washington, confirmed that he attended two dinners hosted by Jeff Sessions during the 2016 campaign.

Not only that, but Burt advised then candidate Trump on his first major foreign policy speech, a role that brought him into contact with Sessions personally. The speech on which Mr. Burt corroborated was delivered … wait for it … at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on 27 April 2016, the very date that Mr. Sessions denies having had any contact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Well, he actually said he ‘doesn’t remember’ any conversation with Kislyak … I suppose there is a difference.

According to a report by The Guardian …

“Burt, who previously served on the advisory board of Alfa Capital Partners, a private equity fund where Russia’s Alfa Bank was an investor and last year was lobbying on behalf of a pipeline company that is now controlled by Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy conglomerate, first told Politico in October that he had been invited to two dinners that were hosted by Sessions last summer, at the height of the presidential campaign.

Sessions, a former senator for Alabama who was chairman of the Trump campaign’s national security committee, reportedly invited Burt so that he could discuss issues of national security and foreign policy.”

Mr. Sessions … do you know the meaning of the word ‘perjury’?

Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser whose interactions with Russia are under FBI investigation and who is known to have been a liaison between the Trump campaign and Russian officials last year, said he found “the entire line of questioning to be near the pinnacle of witch hunt tactics. In the grand scheme of things, the severe civil rights abuses by Clinton-Obama-Comey regime carried out against myself and other supporters of the Trump campaign in their illegal attempts to influence the 2016 election will help clarify how irrelevant all these petty side-questions are.”

Who knew there was even a “Clinton-Obama-Comey regime”?  And who knew they were on a witch hunt to bring down poor Mr. Page and the Trump supporters?  Mr. Page, it should be noted, has written or is writing a book.

Truth:  that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality; a fact or belief that is accepted as true.

The concept of truth, of fact, has been blurred or completely lost in Trump’s world of alternative facts.  We can never believe a single word, without first checking to confirm the veracity, that is emitted from the mouths of Trump and his minions.  The dwindling number of Trump supporters still claim to believe, to hang on his every word, but … are they trying to kid us, or are they trying to convince themselves?

In less than five months, Trump, Sessions, Tillerson, Kushner and the rest have turned what was once a fairly stable democracy into a shambles, a joke.  There is no transparency, there is not even any longer a pretense of operating the government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’We The People have been shoved aside, not important in the grand scheme of things. Donald J. Trump is not a president, but a wanna-be king, and his hopes are that the likes of Vladimir Putin can help him find his crown. His goal was never to “make America great again” … it was always to “make Trump rich again”. And if achieving that goal requires lies, corruption, scandal and other crimes against the nation, so be it, for Donald aims to have his way.

lies.jpgLike an animal caught in a trap, Trump is lashing out at his critics.  On Thursday, he again tweeted that he was the victim of a massive “witch hunt”.  I know I am tired of hearing his “oh poor me” tweets of woe, but apparently even some of his own are tired of it.  Republican Senator John Thune was asked on “Morning Joe” Thursday if Bob Mueller is a man of integrity and whether he had done anything so far in the conduct of the investigation that lead him (Thune) to believe Mueller is conducting a witch hunt.  Thune’s response:

“No, he is a man of integrity, Mark, and he needs to be able to do his work. And I think it’s better for all of us if that work continues. It’s — obviously he is going to get to the bottom and he is going to find the facts, and I think that’s his role. And I think we ought to let him continue to do that and I assume at some point there will be an end to all this. He’ll have done his investigation and there will be whatever findings there are.”

Even Trump lapdog Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could not support or defend Trump’s tweet, saying only, “I typically don’t comment on the president’s tweeting habits.”

I have nothing but pity and contempt for any who still believe, or claim to believe, the lies of Trump, Sessions and the rest, for they are the ones who wrought upon this nation the utter chaos under which we are now forced to live, and they have only themselves to blame for the destruction of our democracy, our society, and our sanity.

Senate Passes Bill To Bar President From Arbitrarily Lifting Sanctions Against Russia

Yesterday we saw something that we have not seen in Congress for a very long time … bipartisanship. The Senate voted 97-2 to impose further sanctions on Russia AND … even more importantly … to prevent the president from eliminating sanctions against Russia. This is important, and blogger-friend Gronda has done such an excellent job in reporting and explaining the significance of this action that I am sharing her post with you. Please take a minute to read, because this sort of bipartisan action is crucial to our foundation of governance. Thank you, Gronda, for an excellent post and for permission to re-blog!

Gronda Morin

Image result for photos of senate passing sanctions bill Crapo-backed Russia sanctions bill passes Senate

I have made it known in several of my past blogs that I am personally convinced that all of the republican President Donald Trump’s bizarre bromance with Russia is due to him being highly motivated to have the 2014 sanctions lifted which were imposed on Russia due its unprovoked incursion into Crimea, Ukraine.

It is my contention that somehow, both the president and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as Exxon’s former CEO, stand to benefit financially if these sanctions were lifted which would be contrary to the US national security interests.

Image result for photo of tillerson with putin and sechinMr. Tillerson’s interests are due to Exxon potentially benefiting by lifting Russian sanctions:

Around 2012,  Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson had been hard at work, negotiating and closing on a deal with Russia’s oil company Rosneft for oil exploration and drilling in the arctic area, valued by experts at upwards of $500 billion…

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Good People Doing Good Things – Michael Bloomberg

The past several weeks I have focused on good works on a smaller scale, ordinary people going out of their way to make the world just a little bit better for someone. But today I want to shine a spotlight on someone doing some pretty big things, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Many outside the New York area may not be aware of how much good Bloomberg does, but over his lifetime he has given away more than $4.3 billion!  His contributions range from something as small and simple as painting a roof, to the $1 billion he has given to Johns Hopkins University. I have always had rather a soft spot for Mr. Bloomberg, knew he was a good man, but even I had no idea just how much he has given back to the world.

His philosophy on giving is to give to organizations that seek to bring about change on a local level but serve a broader purpose. The majority of his contributions are in the fields of Environment, Public Health, the Arts, Government Innovation, Education, Women’s Economic Development in Africa. Mr. Bloomberg has also signed the Giving Pledge started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, vowing to give away at least half of his wealth over the course of his lifetime. Between 2004 and 2011, Bloomberg was listed as a top 10 American philanthropist each year.

Let us take a brief look at some of the causes he supports:

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  • Environment
    • Focused on combating climate change and moving toward clean energy sources. In 2011, the foundation partnered with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign and as of this writing he has given more than $80 million to that cause.
    • Partners with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group to curb carbon emissions in major cities around the world.
    • Committed $53 million to Vibrant Oceans Initiative over the course of five years to help reform fisheries and increase sustainable populations.
    • Invested $5 million in Little Sun, a solar-powered lamp company founded by artist Olafur Eliasson and entrepreneur Frederik Ottesen.
  • Wed-Bloomberg-healthPublic Health
    • Donated $100 million to help the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation eradicate polio worldwide.
    • Pledged to donate $600 million to curb tobacco use in low- and middle-income countries.
    • Partnered with the World Health Organization to donate $125 million to reduce traffic-related fatalities, and committed an additional $125 million to combat road traffic deaths in low- and middle-income cities.
    • Committed $50 million to the Global Family Planning Initiative, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation program focused on providing obstetric care and contraceptives to women in developing countries.
    • Pledged $250,000 to support Planned Parenthood, and also donated $8 million to the Bloomberg Philanthropies Maternal Health Program, which focuses on reducing maternal deaths in Tanzania, Africa and Latin America.
  • Education
    • Launched a $10 million program to help top-performing students from low- and middle-income families apply to and graduate from the nation’s top colleges.
  • Women’s Economic Development
    • Works with nonprofit advocacy organizations including Women for Women International and Sustainable Harvest to create economic opportunities for women in Sub-Saharan Africa.
    • Recently announced a $10 million grant to the Relationship Coffee Institute to support the expansion of its ongoing women’s economic development initiatives in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
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Monet’s Water Lilies

  • Arts
    • Announced a $15 million grant to five institutions — Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Botanical Garden, and Guggenheim Museum — as part of the Bloomberg Arts Engagement Initiative to develop mobile applications for visitors.
    • Committed a total of $83 million to cultural institutions around the world.
    • Launched the Public Art Challenge, a competition that invited local leaders and arts organizations to collaborate on temporary public art projects that would celebrate creativity and drive economic development.
  • Other
    • Donated $50 million to the Museum of Science in Boston.
    • Bloomberg has donated $1.1 billion to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, making him the most generous living donor to any education institution in the country.

These are but a few of the good works being done by Michael Bloomberg and the Bloomberg Foundation. Note that in many instances Bloomberg Foundation partners with other organizations, such as Sierra Club or Sustainable Harvest.  “I’d think being a soloist falls apart,” he said. “I think there’s a limit to how much you can do on your own.”  And not all of his gestures are on the million-dollar scale, either.  He partnered with Al Gore once to paint a roof white in Queens, for which he was the subject of many jokes.  The reason for the roof-painting? White roofs, by reflecting heat rather than absorbing it, immediately reduced electricity bills and have since been replicated throughout the borough. His response to the mockers?  “We focused on things we could do in America that made a difference and were replicable elsewhere. It wasn’t solving all the problems. It wasn’t making India and China carbon-neutral, but it was something.”

Wed-Bloomberg-roof

One thing that makes Bloomberg stand out in the crowd of wealthy philanthropists is that he is willing to try new things rather than, like some, wait for what they think will be the perfect organization and miss a lot of opportunities along the way. For example, as part of his initiative to cut traffic deaths both here and in other countries, he helped Vietnam implement helmet laws. “I would have bet anything against the idea of getting the Vietnamese government to pass a helmet law and that people would obey to have helmets. They passed it. They did enforce it. They cut the number of traffic deaths by a third overnight.”

Bloomberg has come under fire from time to time, both as a politician and as a businessman.  It is inevitable … one does not live in the spotlight of being mayor of one of the largest cities in the U.S. for 11 years without coming into criticism.  Bloomberg is human, so I am certain that he wasn’t always right, either, but overall I believe he was a good mayor and is a good human being.

A couple of things made me want to spotlight Mr. Bloomberg at this particular time.  One is his focus on the environment, an extremely hot (pun sort of intended) topic at present, with the current administration determined to roll back the gains we have made in attempting to overcome human-caused climate change.  And the other was the fact that Mr. Bloomberg, in addition to being a philanthropist, is two things:  a politician and a very successful businessman.  In recent months, we have had every reason to trust neither politicians nor businessmen, but Mr. Bloomberg is the exception.  He is living proof that politicians and businessmen CAN also be good people.  I thought it important for us to remember that, especially now. I try to keep the Good People posts non-political, but as I mentioned when I first started this feature, to some extent that is not always possible, for sometimes the good people are doing their good things as a result of the political environment.

The exact opposite of what is needed

The U.S. is not being properly governed and the resulting chaos gets worse with each passing day. There are things that our nation needs, but the current administration is taking steps to ensure the exact opposite will occur. Blogger-friend Keith has neatly summarized some of these needs and the moves being made by Trump & Co. to ensure those needs will not be met. Please take a few moments to read his post, for it summarizes and clarifies some examples of the issues that are moving our country in the exact wrong direction. Thank you, Keith, for an excellent post and for permission to share!

musingsofanoldfart

Since tribal fervor gets in the way of good information sharing and debate, we end up with laws, bills and executive orders/ comments which are the exact opposite of what is needed. This troubles me greatly, as if you took the time to look at data and explained what the change would do, people would not be supportive of the change.

Here are a few working examples:

– Treating Muslim Americans poorly, blocking travel from Muslim countries, and criticizing the London Mayor who is an exemplar of successful Muslims in the western world make us less safer. Ostracizing Muslims feeds into the recruiting messaging for Islamic extremist groups; welcoming Muslims and involving them in conversations and diligence is making us safer.

– Defunding Planned Parenthood will increase the abortion rates, health care cost and poverty. Poverty is highly correlated with larger family size. Family planning reduces the number of unwanted…

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Who Says Protest Doesn’t Work?

In recent months we have seen a number of protests in the U.S., from the Women’s March on January 21st, to the People’s Climate March on April 29th, and most recently the March for Truth on June 3rd. Some have said these protests accomplish nothing, but I have disagreed, and today I have proof that organized protests DO sometimes make enough waves to bring about change.

uk-petition.jpgIn January, just a week after Trump’s inauguration, UK Prime Minister Theresa May invited Trump to make a state visit to the UK later this year, which he gladly accepted.  However, the good citizens of the UK do not want Donald Trump to visit … understandably.  Early on, citizens and members of Parliament called for May to rescind her invitation, which she refused to do. In February, a petition circulated and was signed by more than 1.8 million people, calling for Trump to be denied a state visit, saying he is not worthy of the honour. The petition prompted a debate in Westminster Hall, a debate that ended without a vote.

Since then, Trump has done absolutely nothing that would make him more palatable, more welcome to the citizens of the UK.  In fact, his announcement that he plans to withdraw from the Paris Accords did nothing to endear him to any other western nation, certainly not the UK, where even Theresa May, who has appeared to cozy up to Trump, was disappointed in his decision.  But then came the straw that broke the camel’s back.

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Mayor Sadiq Khan

A few short hours after the devastating terrorist attack in London on June 3rd, Trump took to his favoured communication tool, his twitting machine, and made false and highly critical claims about London Mayor Sadiq Khan.  The Brits, needless to say, were not amused.

“At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’” tweeted Trump.  But that was not at all what Mayor Sadiq said … he was telling Londoners not to be alarmed by the extra police presence they would see in the coming days.  Trump either did not bother to read what the good mayor said, or deliberately twisted his words.  Either way, he stirred outrage against the citizens in the UK and many of us here in the U.S. as well.

The Guardian reported this morning that Trump’s state visit had been “put on hold”.  Both Prime Minister May’s office and the White House deny this, though the White House spokesperson hemmed and hawed a bit, saying, according to the New York Times, that there may be other reasons Trump might delay his visit.  According to the story, Trump called PM May and indicated that he did not wish to visit if large-scale protests were likely, and that he preferred to wait “until the British public supports him coming.”  He will likely have a long wait!

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said on Twitter that Trump’s decision was “welcome, especially after his attack on London’s mayor & withdrawal from #ParisClimateDeal.”

An editorial yesterday in The Observer, the world’s oldest newspaper, established in 1791, begins …

“Donald Trump is not a fit and proper person to hold the office of president of the United States. That is a view widely held in the US and among America’s European allies, by politicians and diplomats in government and by rank-and-file voters repelled by his gross egoism, narcissism and what Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, has rightly termed his “stupefying ignorance”. It is a view we wholeheartedly share and have repeatedly expressed, before and after Trump’s narrow election victory last November.”

Trump has never before shied from contentious rallies and public events, but those were on his home turf, one in which he had ensured there would be enough of his supporters to muzzle the protesters.  But in the UK, he likely has few, if any supporters and would literally be hung out to dry.

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Hugh Muir, The Guardian

Guardian Associate Editor Hugh Muir made an interesting point when he said that if any other world leader backed out of a state visit for fear of his image, Trump would tweet, ““RAN from critics. A gift for crooked MSM. TOTAL pathetic loser!”  And we know Mr. Muir is right!  He can dish it out, but he cannot take it. Muir went on to say that “If he can’t bomb it or tweet against it, the cupboard of responses seems bare.”

As I said, there is some dispute about this conversation, though both sides confirm that there was a phone call, but both deny that the subject of Trump’s visit was discussed. I strongly suspect that it was.  There is rarely such a direct link to be drawn between public action and response from those with power, but each public protest speaks to the strength and tenor of opinion. Every one sets out a position and raises the stakes. So, protests, rallies and marches … they DO sometimes work!

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Donnie Dark Strikes Another Blow At Planet Earth … And Women

“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” – Mahatma Gandhi

There are currently some 7.5 billion people with whom we share a planet.  Think about that for a minute … 7.5.  Billion.  People.  That’s a lot of people.  The point of this post is not the over-population of earth, but we need to put this into perspective.  Most, myself included, would argue that we need to control population globally, not just in the underdeveloped nations, not just in the wealthier western nations, but globally.  Is there evidence that the earth is overpopulated?

The population of our earth only hit the one billion mark in the early 1800s, and it was only in the 1920s that we hit two billion.  And today, less than a century later, we are at the 7.5 billion mark and counting – growing.  Yay us … we learned to make babies. It is predicted that, given current growth rates, the human population of the earth will exceed 11 billion by the end of this century.  Can the earth support 11+ billion people?  Most scientists think it is doubtful.  Most believe the maximum sustainable population for this planet is somewhere between 9-10 billion.

Harvard University sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, bases his estimate on calculations of the Earth’s available resources. As Wilson pointed out in his book “The Future of Life” (Knopf, 2002), “The constraints of the biosphere are fixed.”

Aside from the limited availability of freshwater, there are indeed constraints on the amount of food that Earth can produce, just as Malthus argued more than 200 years ago. Even in the case of maximum efficiency, in which all the grains grown are dedicated to feeding humans (instead of livestock, which is an inefficient way to convert plant energy into food energy), there’s still a limit to how far the available quantities can stretch. “If everyone agreed to become vegetarian, leaving little or nothing for livestock, the present 1.4 billion hectares of arable land (3.5 billion acres) would support about 10 billion people,” Wilson wrote. – Live Science, 11 October 2011

David Satterthwaite, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, has a slightly different take on the issue of over-population:

“It is not the number of people on the planet that is the issue – but the number of consumers and the scale and nature of their consumption.”

He posits that since most of the growth over the next two decades is predicted to be in urban centres in what are currently low and middle-income countries, and those people consume little, then perhaps overpopulation isn’t quite the dire threat that other scientists think it to be.  While Satterthwaite’s reasoning may or may not be sound – I am certainly no scientist and therefore cannot say – it is, I believe, a rather inhumane argument — as long as we can keep the poor, poor, then we will have enough water, food, and energy for all. Either way, the earth is not expanding, nor is it likely to, and humans are expanding.

The United States is already overpopulated. As far back as 1972, the Presidential Commission on Population Growth and the American Future recommended population stabilization, saying that over-population is the root cause of land and resource shortages, ecological degradation and urban congestion. The current population of the United States is, as of this writing, 326,330,503 and growing by the minute. Granted, the rate of growth has slowed in recent years, but we still add about 2 million to our population each year.

The defenders of population growth are almost universally institutional, not individuals. The public is generally concerned about continued population growth. The discrepancy between citizen and institutional interests is clear. Individuals benefit from moderate population density, open spaces, and a healthy environment. Institutions benefit from increased membership and large consumer markets and labor pools.

I could easily write a couple of posts about the topic of human overpopulation alone, but again, that is not my purpose tonight, so let us move on.

At the end of May, the Trump administration drafted a proposal that would virtually remove the birth control mandate from the Affordable Care Act. Under current law, most all insurance plans are required to cover birth control.  If Trump’s proposed regulation is finalized, that mandate will, for all intents and purposes, be gone.  Any company, from non-profits to major publicly-held corporations, will be able to claim exemption from the rule if they simply state they have a ‘moral’ objection.  ‘Moral’ is not defined in the proposal.  This proposed regulation does not have to be approved by Congress, but like an executive order, becomes law upon being published.

We have just looked at the issue of over-population from a long-range, global view, and it should be obvious to anyone who can read and think that birth control is one means to slow the population growth rate.  But now let us zoom in and talk about it from a national, and also an individual level.  Nationwide, there are an estimated 12 million single-parent households in the U.S., half of which are below the poverty line.  These are families that do not need another mouth to feed, and they are also mothers who cannot afford to shell out up to $50 each month for birth control.

Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services, when asked by a reporter where low-income women would be left if the mandate was rolled back, replied, “Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one. The fact of the matter is this is a trampling on religious freedom and religious liberty in this country.”  Gem of a guy, don’t you think?  And now we see why Trump selected him to run “Health and HUMAN Services”. One problem is that since the administration is comprised almost exclusively of Trump’s millionaire buddies, they have no concept of how hard it can be for a family barely able to put food on the table, to scrape up $50/month for birth control pills!

The Trump administration has a similar response, claiming that women can turn to federally subsidized family planning programs.  But now think about this one.  They are also proposing cuts to Medicaid as well as threatening to entirely de-fund Planned Parenthood!  So where are all those “federally subsidized family planning programs”???

Trump-earthTrump & Co. have already proven their disdain for Planet Earth by removing environmental regulations via executive order, restarting oil pipeline projects without proper environmental impact studies, and announcing his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords.  This proposal to roll back the birth control mandate is yet another slap in the face to our planet, but also to every woman in the United States.  I understand that abortion is a thorny issue, and I understand why.  I am personally pro-choice, but I understand why abortion is a deal-breaker to many.  However … birth control should not be a controversial issue, and I DO NOT understand any moral objections, religious or otherwise.  And, for those who are so against abortion, the reality is that if we reduce women’s access to affordable birth control, we will see an increase in abortions.

Congressional-oversightThere is a reason that our Constitution calls for three branches of federal government.  All presidents, bar none, have used executive orders and such to bypass Congress when action needed to be swift.  Some have abused the privilege, but I know of none who have taken the level of abuse to the extent that Trump has.  There is no valid justification for this latest regulation which, like so many of his other proposals, is destined to hurt the very people who supported and voted for him.  Fortunately, some states are taking counter actions, including California, Nevada, Illinois, Vermont and Maryland.  Hats off to them, and I hope every state jumps on this bandwagon!  Oh, and one final note … though not mandated, and not covered at 100%, most insurance policies DO cover some portion of the cost of Viagra.  Anybody still think it isn’t a ‘man’s world’????

mans world.jpg

Christopher Wray – Next Head Spy???

Amidst the chaos in his administration, Trump finally nominated a person to replace James Comey as Director of the FBI.  The man he named is Christopher Wray, a lawyer who served as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division under the George W. Bush administration, and is currently a litigation partner with the law firm King & Spalding.

While I had heard the name, I knew very little about Mr. Wray, so I went in search of information, and here is what I found:

  • While serving as Assistant Attorney General, he was actually under then Assistant Attorney General James Comey, the recently terminated FBI director whom Wray would be replacing if confirmed by the Senate.

  • Wray was one of the attorneys involved in prosecuting energy giant Enron.

  • Wray represented New Jersey governor Chris Christie over the ‘Bridgegate’ scandal in 2013, which could cause some concern in the Senate, as Christie has been one of Trump’s ‘boot-lickers’ since himself dropping out of the running last year.

  • Those who have worked closely with Wray say he is low key, but stands up for what he believes in, and that he would not be swayed by inappropriate requests from Trump or his minions.

  • In 2005, Wray received the Edmund J. Randolph Award, the Justice Department’s highest award for public service and leadership.

  • He graduated from Yale University in 1989, and from Yale Law School in 1992.

  • Though he has a reputation as being professionally non-partisan, he has donated to various republican candidates over the years, including John McCain and Mitt Romney. He did not, however, donate to Trump.

Wray seems like a straight shooter, however there are a couple of bits of controversy that we should consider, and about which the Senate will certainly have questions for Mr. Wray.  From 2001-2003, Wray was an associate deputy district attorney in the Justice Department.

As part of his job, he played a pivotal role in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks by overseeing operations. According to government documents since made public, he was made aware in February 2004 of the death of a C.I.A. detainee in Iraq that had been ruled a homicide and whose case was referred to the Justice Department.

Months later, Mr. Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had learned about the death from media reports and was not aware of a criminal referral from the Pentagon or the F.B.I., but did not say whether he knew of one from the C.I.A. That prompted Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, a Democrat, to accuse Mr. Wray of giving “less than a complete and truthful answer.”  The Washington Post, 07 June 2017

Certainly not a major scandal, but the Senate is going to work hard, I believe, to ensure that the next FBI director has a squeaky-clean slate, and that he will not be cowed by pressure from the White House.

Another issue could arise from the fact that his current law firm, King & Spalding, represents at least two Russian-controlled oil companies, Rosneft and Gazprom  (Am I the only person in the entire world without Russian connections???)  Now if the name Rosneft sets off alarm bells, it is because its CEO, Igor Sechin, was the one who offered Donald Trump, by way of Carter Page, a 19% stake in the company in exchange for lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia.

It is unclear whether Wray himself worked directly on the Rosneft and Gazprom cases, but it is certainly enough to ask some tough questions, and to be leery of adding yet another strand to the spider web that is already enmeshing almost every member of the administration.  Also, if Wray did in fact work on the Russian cases, it would automatically disqualify him from working on the Russian probe, as he would already be considered compromised.

If I were a senator, in addition to questions related to Bridgegate, 9/11 and Rosneft/Gazprom, I would have one other very important question:  Why do you want this job?  Given what Mr. Comey has had to put up with under Trump, and given that Trump is almost certain to continue attempting to interfere in the FBI investigations, I should think that only a fool would even consider taking this job.  And Mr. Wray is no fool, so why does he want the job?

One other notable advantage to Mr. Wray is that since he had no role in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails, perhaps we can stop hearing about “those damn emails”!!!

A Guide To The Results of an Election

Yesterday, there was an election in the UK, for those of you who may have been so tied up with the testimony of James Comey and waiting for Trump’s tweet-that-never-came. I have always been confused by UK politics … it doesn’t work quite like ours, though in some ways it does. Blogger and friend Roger, writing as heroicallybadwriter (even though he is actually a very GOOD writer) has written an analysis of the election, it’s outcome, and the likely ramifications of said outcome, that I am actually able to understand! For any of you who are confused by the politics of the UK, this is a must-read! Please take a minute to read … there are some laughs in here, too, so even if you don’t care about the politics, you will definitely get a chuckle from it! Thanks, Roger, for your lucid explanation and implied permission to share!

heroicallybadwriter

General Election 2017 (UK that is)

Dear neighbours in the WP community. The 2017 UK General Election results and implications made simple:

Reason Why We Had A General Election and Why They Were Bad Reasons

Prime Minister Theresa May:

Wanted to show she was The Lady. (Well….that kinda worked out for her…..because at the moment no one else in their right mind wants the lousy job, at present, but the Conservatives are deadly good at fiendish plots against their own leaders)

Wanted to throw out of her cabinet a bunch of folk she’d been stuck with after David Cameron quit. (That might have worked- but the wrong way…some of them didn’t get re-elected and Labour got their seats. She should have realised there are always ‘Shock Results’ and someone big loses their ‘seat’)

Wanted to make things worse for Labour than they already were. (Bad idea!…

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The ‘Grown-ups’ Speak???

While Trump and the bulk of his minions communicate their madness via Twitter, last week (30 May), two of his advisors decided to play at a more ‘grown-up’ table and communicate via an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Presumably, either they do not have twitting machines, do not like the constraints of speaking in 140-character spurts, or wanted to ensure that their audience was intelligent enough to actually read.  Either way …

McMaster

H.R. McMaster

When H.R. McMaster was confirmed on 15 March to fill the position of National Security Advisor, a position recently vacated by Michael Flynn who had resigned in shame, I knew little about McMaster.  However, my research led me to believe that he would be a good fit for the position, and had the backbone to do what he believed was right, rather than simply following Trump into the pits of hell. Today, I no longer believe that.

At the end of Trump’s fateful nine-day tour to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Europe last month, it was obvious to most sensible observers both in the US and the EU that Trump had ceded all rights for the US to be called the leader of the free world any longer.  We held the title since 1945 and though there have been many disagreements among western nations during that time, the US has never stepped away from the responsibilities that accompany that designation.  Until last month.

Those of us who are capable of thinking more globally were appalled and deeply shamed when he cuddled with Saudi Arabia, one of our chief antagonists, while berating our friends.  Further shame came when he rudely shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro aside during a NATO photo shoot.  And then he refused to commit to NATO Article 5 that calls for mutual defense of NATO nations in the event any one is attacked.  This, despite the fact that such language was in his prepared speech that had been approved by national security advisors. And then, the final blow, his announcement that he intends to retract the US’ commitment to the Paris Accords on climate change.

When General McMaster and chief economic advisor Gary Cohn wrote a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, they undertook to mitigate some of the damage Trump caused during his overseas jaunt.  They failed miserably.

According to McMaster and Cohn, the presidential trip was nothing less than “historic” and represents a “strategic shift”: “America First signals the restoration of American leadership … to enhance American security, promote American prosperity, and extend American influence around the world.” In sum: America First means America First, and not just in America, but everywhere on the globe. It is akin to me saying that I am the head, not only of my own household, but of yours, also.

The US is one of 195 or 196 nations on the globe.  Nobody died and left us boss of the world.  It is no surprise that Donald Trump entertains such delusions … we already knew that.  But it is not only a surprise, but also a major disappointment to find that H.R. McMaster, who we all hoped would bring a bit of oversight into the administration, is also a party to these delusions.

McMaster and Cohn continue …

“The world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations … engage and compete. …Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.” Translation: Might Makes Right.

“In Saudi Arabia, President Trump helped facilitate $110 billion in defense investments that will strengthen regional and American security and create American jobs.” Turns out this is not exactly true, but that is a topic unto itself.

“We are asking a lot of our allies and partners. But in return America will once again be a true friend to our partners and the worst foe to our enemies.”  Our allies are smarter than McMaster/Cohn give them credit for.

I seriously doubt that either McMaster or Cohn actually wrote the op-ed  but since their names are on it, they approved it and the words are theirs, whether they created them or not.  (If you cannot view the op-ed on the WSJ site, let me know and I will email you a transcript) 

No, Mr. McMaster and Mr. Cohn … Trump’s trip abroad was neither historic, at least in the traditional sense, nor was it a success.  It was a disastrous journey that set us back more than 70 years and stripped us of any right to be considered the ‘leader of the free world’.  The most likely candidates for that title are now Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, both of whom have shown compassion, intellect, and good sense. And with your defense of Trump’s words and deeds, you have cost yourselves whatever respect the thinking public may have had for you.