Trump vs Facts

It shouldn’t have been a big deal … but it was.  It shouldn’t have received the attention of the international press … but it did.  It was stupid, foolish, but relative to the news of the day, irrelevant – just another example of the ignorance of the ‘man’ who sits in the Oval Office.  I mostly ignored it, save for a brief mention, but an ego was involved … perhaps the most bloated ego of any in the world … and thus it was blown up, mocked, and the ‘man’ in the Oval Office refused to simply say, “I made a mistake”.

I try hard not to waste my voice here on my blog with irrelevancy, unless it is to bring a smile, a laugh, a bit of levity to my readers.  But, what was irrelevant has now become yet another sign of the despotism that flows around the White House today.

The incident, of course, is the one that began last Sunday, September 1st, when Trump tweeted …

“In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!”

The fallacy was that Alabama was not in the path of Hurricane Dorian.  Within an hour, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a statement correcting Trump:

“Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”

And then the sh*t hit the proverbial fan.  Had it been left there, it would likely have died before the next round of late-night television shows, for there were more important things to worry about.  But, Trump can never be contradicted, can never be told he is wrong about anything, despite the fact that he has been proven wrong about most everything.  The notice by the NWS was important and necessary, for Trump’s statement could have sent Alabama residents into a frenzy, wondering why they hadn’t been warned and running out stripping the store shelves of bottled water and other essential supplies.  It was the responsible thing for the NWS to do.

So, Trump couldn’t let it lie, took one of the official maps showing the likely trajectories of Hurricane Dorian, and with a Sharpie pen, drew an additional line to include Alabama in the path of the storm.  It was as if a 5-year-old child had done it, was obviously a stupid thing, but … well, Trump’s ego, y’know.  And then the whole thing blew up.altered-map.jpgTrump continued to defend his tweet and complain about the flak he’s received over media reports that point out that he was wrong, his vile rhetoric becoming more ludicrous with each tweet.  He tweeted a doctored video of a CNN segment that noted Alabama might feel the effects of the hurricane.  WHAT PRESIDENT DOES THIS???  Where is the professionalism of the office?  Where is the dignity?  For six straight days, he tweeted obsessively about the whole thing, even demanding an apology.

But, on Friday this truly became a serious issue, and one that should have every person in this nation up in arms.  On Friday afternoon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the parent agency of the National Weather Service, issued a statement declaring that its Birmingham, Alabama office was wrong to dispute the president’s warning that Alabama “will most likely be hit” by the hurricane despite forecasts to the contrary.

“The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

Yes, my friends, a government agency tasked with reporting facts, tasked with the safety of the nation under severe weather conditions, was forced to bow to the whims of a megalomaniac for the sake of salving his ego.  Let that one sink in a minute.

This is no longer a laughing matter, for it is further evidence that the safety of this nation matters less than the ego of Donald Trump.  This only happens in autocracies, it does not happen in democratic nations.  It is but one in a long line of such incidents, but this one received the notoriety to put it front and center and the perfidy cannot be ignored.

The biggest issue facing every industrialized nation on the globe is climate change, yet because Trump says it is a “Chinese hoax”, our government doesn’t talk about climate change.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has removed all references to climate change from every one of its documents.  The EPA has also removed the Climate Science page from its website.  All to stroke the ego of a madman who just happens to be the highest-ranking official in our government.  And now, our National Weather Service is not allowed to give us accurate warnings when a devastating, life-threatening storm is looming.

Can we ever again trust anything we are told by any government agency?  No.  We now know that Trump manipulates the information given by every agency under his control, and we should not take a single thing at face value.  Yesterday, the Bureau of Labour Statistics released their report for August, saying that the U.S. had added some 130,000 jobs during the month.  I do not believe it for one minute.  What if we actually lost 50,000 jobs?  Trump is apprised of the report before it is made public.  What if he said, “NO … we didn’t lose jobs, we added jobs — lots of beautiful jobs — great jobs!  This report is ‘fake news!!!’  Then, would the Labour Department have changed the numbers to match Trump’s whim?  I posit that no new jobs were added in August, and that the Labour Department report has no validity.  For the duration of Trump’s term in office, I shall not believe another piece of data that comes out of our federal government.

It is a damn shame when one ‘man’, in just under three years, can completely shred the credibility of the entire federal government, but that is exactly what has happened.  Would we receive proper warning if there were a pending threat from another nation?  Maybe, maybe not.  Depends on what Donald Trump wants us to know.  This is a dangerous and disturbing situation.  Next time there’s a hurricane, the NWS will ask Trump where he would like them to draw the projected trajectory.  I can envision a number of scenarios where lives would be placed in danger, lives perhaps lost, to protect the fragile ego of a man-child.  Think about it.

It’s All About Me … Right?

Melania-jacketSo … the government has been shutdown for almost two weeks?  So what? I haven’t noticed any difference … and really, my friends, it is all about MOI, right?  We each see to our own happiness, so I’m sorry, but I see no disruption of my life, so in the words of our gracious {choke, cough, spit, sputter} First Lady {choke, cough, spit, sputter} Melania, “I really don’t care, do U?”

They say there is a build up of trash and debris in the National Parks, but … I haven’t been hiking for a year-and-a-half now, so what do I care, right?  I am, after all, still getting my mail.  They say people cannot sign up for food stamps, as the staff of the Food and Nutrition Service branch of the USDA (Department of Agriculture) is only minimally staffed, but what do I care, for I don’t receive food stamps anyway. overflowing-trash.jpgMy Social Security check was deposited to my account yesterday, so why should I worry?  What’s that you say?  The power station that serves my neighborhood isn’t being monitored?  So what?  I have electricity – I know this because every light in my house is burning brightly!

800,000 people aren’t getting paid?  Oh piffle, but really … I got my social security check, so why should I worry, right?  And after all … surely they have enough money in the bank to carry them over the hump? And anyway, I heard that they will get backpay when the government is open again, so what’s the big deal, Lucille?  And anyway, I’ve heard they’re only democrats, so … who cares, right?

Sorry, I cannot even keep up that charade any longer, for it is making me want to smack myself upside the head!  I just thought I’d try it on for size, but I don’t know how people like that live with their consciences at the end of the day, when all is quiet.

Note, my friends, that the above is not just a figment of my imagination but is the attitude of a large portion of the people in this country.  It is also not exclusively a republican attitude, but I have heard very similar statements from democrats.  It is not only an attitude shared by the un-and-under-educated or the ignorant, for just recently I heard a similar statement from somebody who I know to be well-educated and intelligent.  Indeed, this attitude crosses all divisions:  party, race, religion, etc. In some cases, it is a true disdain for others, or a stubborn ‘faith’ that whatever happens today does not matter and will be righted by some magical force at some point.  But, I believe that in the majority of cases it is simply a case of overload leading to apathy.

So much has happened in the last two years in this nation, almost all of it with negative impact, that what once would have been horrifying has now become the norm.  People tire of it, they learn to tune it out, for it wears on the psyche, steals their good humour, their Zen, if you will.  So, we hunker down and concern ourselves only with our immediate family, our present situation, and try to ignore the rest.  It is understandable, but dangerous, for we need people to not only be aware and informed, but we need them to care. We need them to care deeply enough to write those letters to their congressmen and women, to stand up and say, “Hey, this isn’t right!”

One of my biggest concerns is that over the next two years people will become so inured that when the 2020 election rolls around, they won’t even bother to vote, and that could very well lead us to a place I don’t even wish to contemplate.  Yesterday I read a piece in The Guardian by Robert Reich, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, and author of numerous books.  His thoughts tie in with my own, and I share his words here.

Robert ReichAfter his first bizarre year, his apologists told us Donald Trump was growing into the job and that in his second year he’d be more restrained and respectful of democratic institutions. Wrong. He’s been worse.

Exhibit one: the “Wall.” After torpedoing Mitch McConnell’s temporary spending deal to avert a shutdown, he’s holding hostage over 800,000 government employees (“mostly Democrats,” he calls them, disparagingly) while subjecting the rest of America to untoward dangers.

On-site inspections at power plants have been halted. Hazardous waste cleanup efforts at Superfund sites are on hold. Reviews of toxic substances and pesticides have been stopped. Justice Department cases are in limbo.

Meanwhile, now working without pay are thousands of air traffic controllers and aviation and railroad safety inspectors, nearly 54,000 Customs and Border Protection agents, 42,000 Coast Guard employees, 53,000 TSA agents, 17,000 correctional officers, 14,000 FBI agents, 4,000 Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and some 5,000 firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service.

Having run the Department of Labor during the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns, I’m confident most of these public servants will continue to report for duty because they care about the missions they’re upholding. But going without pay will strain their family budgets to the point that some will not be able to.

Shame on Trump for jeopardizing America this way in order to fund his wall—which is nothing but a trumped-up solution to a trumped-up problem designed only to fuel his base.

In his second year he’s also done even more damage to the nation’s judicial-criminal system than he did before. At least twice in the past month he’s reportedly raged against his acting attorney general for allowing federal prosecutors to reference him in the crimes his former bagman Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to committing.

This is potentially the most direct obstruction of justice yet. He’s now pressuring an official whom he hand-picked and whose entire future depends on him, to take actions that would impair the independence of federal prosecutors.

Last month he blasted Judge Jon Tigar as an “Obama judge” after Tigar blocked the Administration’s limits on asylum eligibility to ports of entry, a decision summarily upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and sustained by the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Roberts issued a rare rebuke. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges,” he wrote, adding that an “independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

Which prompted his rejoinder: “Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’” followed by his baseless and incendiary claim that “they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country,” and their “rulings are making our country unsafe! Very dangerous and unwise!”

In his second year Trump displayed even less commitment to keeping the military nonpartisan than he did initially. During last month’s teleconference with U.S. troops and coast guard members he continued his rampage against the judiciary, calling the ninth circuit “a big thorn in our side” and “a disgrace.”

Then he turned last week’s surprise visit to American troops in Iraq and Germany into a political rally—praising troops wearing red “Make America Great Again” caps, signing a “Trump 2020” patch, and accusing Representative Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats of being weak on border security.

Some Americans are becoming so accustomed to these antics that they no longer see them for what they are—escalating attacks on America’s core democratic institutions.

Where would we be if a president could simply shut down the government when he doesn’t get his way? If he could stop federal prosecutions he doesn’t like and order those he wants? If he could whip up public anger against court decisions he disapproves of? If he could mobilize the military to support him, against Congress and the judiciary?

We would no longer live in a democracy. Like his increasing attacks on critics in the press, these are all aspects of his growing authoritarianism. We normalize them at our peril.

Our institutions remain strong, but I’m not sure they can endure two more years of this. He must be removed from office through impeachment, or his own decision to resign in the face of impeachment, as did Richard Nixon.

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What Next???

trump thinksWhat is he thinking???  Oh wait … Donald Trump does not think; Donald Trump acts purely on the emotion of the moment, said emotion typically being profit or revenge.

Today it is announced that he plans to ‘overhaul’ the federal government and the core of this ‘overhaul’ will be to combine the departments of Education and Labour.  Please note that while the fruits of one ultimately feed the other, these two absolutely do not go hand-in-hand.  It would be impossible to find a person to lead this new department, for what qualifies one does not the other.  Oh … that’s right … qualifications for a position are irrelevant in Trumplandia.  According to Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the two departments are “overlapping and duplicative”.  Mick, obviously, is not the brightest bulb in the pack.

Now, here is the really disturbing part for those of us who believe that the goal of education is to open minds, to teach young people to think, to understand the world (or at least try to) and to develop into active citizens who can participate and contribute to the democratic process and American society. The main goal, apparently, of this departmental merger is to “allow the Trump administration to focus its efforts to train students in vocational skills in one place.”  In other words, start preparing them at a very early age for their ‘vocation’ in life.  Rather than introducing them to a wide world of possibilities, train them, give them the skills for a job when they leave school.  Does anybody else feel a chill here?

school to workPicture this:  The ‘labour’ portion of the department determines that in ten years there will be a shortage of … oh, say bricklayers.  So, the ‘education’ side of the department begins focusing more on teaching bricklaying skills.  Yes, yes, that is a ridiculous example, but … you see my point?  Rather than opening young people’s minds, the focus appears to be on directing, or guiding young people into the bins the government decides they belong in.

The Education Department is the smallest Cabinet agency in number of employees, with just under 4,000, and a $68 billion budget. It oversees federal student loans, distributes K-12 education funding, and enforces federal civil rights laws at public schools and colleges.  Think about this:  your son/daughter is about to graduate high school and is planning for college.  He is undecided just what path he wants to take in life, so is planning to begin with a Liberal Arts program to gain some insight.  But … he cannot get a student loan.  He could get a student loan if he were interested in studying brick-laying, but the government directs what academic pathways it will or will not support.  So, the young person who wishes to study philosophy or history will only be able to do so if he can fund it himself.  The only people, ultimately, who would be well-educated enough to hold high public offices would be … wait for it … the wealthy!!!

I focus here on the effects this plan would have on education, but there are also concerns by trade unions and others that such things as worker safety, minimum wage laws and fair labour laws would suffer.

The Republican Party has long wanted to do away with the Department of Education altogether. In 2016, Donald Trump said that the Department of Education “is massive and it can be largely eliminated.”  This from a man who is ‘largely’ uneducated and cannot manage to string together a coherent sentence! And his choice for Secretary of this department, Betsy DeVos, has long advocated elimination of the department. DevosDetails have not been made available, so I can only generalize here, but I have grave concerns, knowing the mentality of the current administration, of any reorganization attempts.  We have come to understand that the intentions of Trump & Co are not pure, do not have the best interests of the nation and its people at heart, and that we are being lied to multiple times every single day.  Think about this one for a moment:  It is much easier to pull the wool over the eyes of the un-and-under-educated than those who have been exposed to a wealth of ideas and know how to interpret data and think for themselves.

Most analysts believe that Trump’s attempt to merge these two departments will fail, for it requires the approval of Congress, and with the mid-terms on the horizon, it is not likely to be a popular proposal.  Nonetheless, I am disturbed that it is even being proposed.  What next?

Finally … A Good Pick? Maybe …

Last night (Wednesday), Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labour, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration. The reason is likely that he did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving his confirmation hearing, scheduled for Thursday, after even Mitch McConnell, the chief boot-licker in Congress, said that Puzder could not possibly win enough votes for confirmation.  I wrote about Puzder  back in early January, and did not view him as a good fit for the office.  But my concerns, such as the fact that he is against raising minimum wage rates, supports repealing ACA, criticizes sick leave policies, and uses sexist advertising in his businesses, are not what doomed his nomination.  No, what doomed his nomination was that he came out in support of legalized immigration!  The man finally said one thing that made sense, and he is politically murdered for it!  No less than seven Republican senators said they would not vote to confirm Puzder.  Five of these seven actually voted to confirm the likes of DeVos and Sessions, however.

But Puzder is gone … good riddance … and this brings me to a potential bright spot on the otherwise dark horizon:  Alexander Acosta, Trump’s choice to replace Puzder as nominee for Secretary of Labour.  Everything I have read about Mr. Acosta points to a man who seeks to serve justice rather than to ‘win at all costs’.  He appears to be a man who has the courage of his convictions, and I only wish he had been nominated for the position of Attorney General rather than the racist lout who was placed in that all-important position.

A bit about Acosta’s background:

  • He is a Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for Judge Samuel Alito, at that time a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, for a year after graduation.
  • He then worked for a D.C. law firm where he specialized in employment and labor issues.
  • Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he served on the National Labour Relations Board.
  • In 2003, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.
  • In 2005, he was appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he served until 2009.
  • Since 2009 he has served as Dean of dean of Florida International University College of Law.
  • In 2012, Acosta participated in a panel discussion called Immigration Policy and the Hispanic Workforce, and he talked about the importance of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

I am particularly impressed by the stands he has taken in the area of civil rights, particularly the rights of immigrants.  In 2011, Acosta testified before Congress about the importance of protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans. He said to the committee that “we are a nation build [sic] on principles of freedom, and high on the list of freedoms is freedom of religious expression. Indeed, as is well known to this Committee, this freedom pre-dates our Constitution.”  He goes on to talk about the importance of the president speaking up to defend Muslims.

“Our nation is strong because we respond to attack with resolve. History has shown the need, however, for leadership that tempers resolve with wisdom. President George W. Bush understood this, when on September 17, 2001, he visited the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. to remind a resolute nation that ‘those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger…should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.’ This was not the message many Americans wanted to hear at that time, but the President chose to lead, rather than to be led.” 

The senate has confirmed Acosta three times in the past, which is certainly encouraging, however the Acosta nomination is not without problems.  The main one is likely to be the controversy over a plea bargain his office arranged in 2008 when he was a federal prosecutor in Miami.  A case was brought against wealthy financier, Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire investor accused of having sex with underage girls.  Acosta agreed not to file any federal charges if Epstein pled guilty to state charges involving soliciting prostitution and soliciting a minor for prostitution. Epstein served 13 months of an 18 month sentence.  The controversy came about because the teenagers Epstein paid for sex were never adequately consulted about the plea deal or given an opportunity to object to it. Not surprisingly, Trump has ties also to Epstein and while some claim that Trump and Epstein were friends, Trump denies it.

Setting the above controversy aside for the moment, it would otherwise seem that Acosta is, unlike all other Trump nominees, a good fit for the job.  He is an advocate of civil rights, and has served in various labour-related positions, including the NLRB. So what, exactly, does the position of Secretary of Labour involve?

According to the United States Department of Labour:

“The Department of Labor (DOL) fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements. In carrying out this mission, the Department administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support.”

I am not sure to what extent the Epstein controversy will play a role in Acosta’s confirmation hearings.  For the final conclusion, you will have to … stay tuned!