Trump Presidency Careens out of Control

We are now a month into the Trump presidency, and I think it is time to acknowledge that he is incapable of learning the art of administering a democratic country. He has had his chance to prove that he can learn to govern, and he has blown it.

Trump is an authoritarian at heart, but fortunately, he is an incompetent authoritarian. To give him his due, he does appear to have jawboned a few large companies into retaining or creating jobs in the United States, but those decisions were made before Donald Trump assumed office, and he has nothing else to show for his month in White House. He has blustered and issued orders right and left, and nothing has happened.

The biggest failure of this presidency is Donald Trump’s inability to recognize the need to work with others to get things done. He seems to be under the impression that all he has to do is to issue orders, and things will happen. Things are not happening. He requires the advice of smart and informed people, but as Donald Trump never tires of insisting, he believes he is smarter than all of the experts. He refuses to listen to others’ ideas.

Yes, President Trump did manage to create chaos for about a week with his poorly-thought-out travel ban, but even that attempt at creating continuing pandemonium has been overturned by the courts. His other promises—tax reform, building a wall on the Mexican border, replacing Obamacare, imposing tariffs on imports, renegotiating NAFTA, renegotiating the Iran nuclear deal, taking the oil from ISIS, etc.—are not even be in the preliminary planning stages. He has no idea how to do any of those things, and he refuses to listen to anyone who might have some knowledge about those subjects.

There is a reason why nothing is happening in the White House. Donald Trump believes that he can do everything by himself, and he cannot. Complex problems require the work of a large number of people, people with brains and expertise. Take replacing Obamacare as an example. Designing a replacement program will require a large team of lawyers, healthcare experts, politicians, pollsters, managers, etc. Donald Trump has no idea how to put such a team together, and if he could put together such a team, he wouldn’t listen to it. As imperfect as it is, look for Obamacare to still be in existence when Donald Trump is eventually kicked out of office.

Donald Trump has no plan to fulfill any of his promises and very few people on whom he could rely to help him do so. Hundreds of support jobs in the administration remain unfilled for two reasons: Trump refuses to hire people who do not unquestionably recognize his genius, and Donald Trump has implemented a 90-day hiring freeze for government jobs. Tax cheats are celebrating, because the Internal Revenue Service is unable to hire people to enforce tax laws.

Rather than accept the blame for the chaos and inaction in his administration, Donald Trump insists that the White House is “running like a well-oiled machine.” It is running like a well-oiled machine with a maniac at the controls. Not true, Donald Trump insists. The lying press refuses to report the wonderful things that his administration has accomplished, things such as….well, Donald Trump seems unable to come up with a list of those wonderful things at the moment, but Donald Trump insists that there are such accomplishments, even if he cannot name them.

Donald Trump’s attacks on the press are reminiscent of similar attacks on the fourth estate by authoritarian rulers in Venezuela, Russia, Turkey, and Poland. All presidents have disagreed with the press, but until now, all presidents have conceded that the press has a right to criticize and to disagree with the administration. Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime to label the press an enemy of the people. Even Harry Truman, who was in a constant battle with the press, never questioned the press’s right to disagree with him.

Yesterday at a rally in Melbourne, Florida Trump said, “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden … Sweden … who would believe this? Sweden, they took in large numbers, they are having problems like they never thought possible.”

Sweden? Did the lying media refuse to report a terrorist attack in Sweden? Nope! Trump’s claim of a major problem in Sweden the night before was pure malarkey. Donald Trump not only mangled the grammar of the English language, he mangled the facts. As Sweden’s prime minister Carl Bildt tweeted, “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.” Indeed! What has Donald Trump been smoking?”

In an interview broadcast on “Meet the Press” this morning, Arizona senior senator John McCain stated, “…if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.” He went on to add that he was not accusing Donald Trump of being a dictator, but he was certainly accusing Trump of using typical dictatorial tactics.

The presidential election taught many of us to distrust polls. Polls are obviously inexact, but they can give a estimate of public sentiment. Depending on which poll numbers one wants to cite, somewhere between thirty and forty percent of Americans approve of the job that Donald Trump is doing. How can that be? Are we so poorly educated and so poorly informed that we do not recognize that the head of our government is a nut job whose administration is careening out of control? Apparently that is the case.

The fact that the Trump presidency exists at all is a melancholy commentary on United States democracy. The fact that almost forty percent of Americans do not recognize that the administration is dysfunctional portends an even more gloomy future for our country. As Donald Trump might tweet: SAD!

US Losing Scientific Leadership Under Trump

The United States is not only the leading economic and military power in the world, it has also long led the world in science and technology. Now, ideologically-driven politics and the Trump administration threaten to destroy this county’s leadership in the fields of science and technology.

Science depends upon truth, research, facts, evidence, and analytical thinking. Donald Trump is an enemy of all of these values. In the double-speak of the Trump administration, facts are labeled “fake news,” and lies are called “alternative facts.” Evidence is labeled an invention of the “lying press,” and science is called a Chinese plot designed to prevent “America” from making itself great again.

A government that does not value truth cannot value science. Donald Trump despises both evidence and truth. He has thrown out such fabrications as:

… the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years, right?  Did you know that?  Forty-seven years.  I used to use that — I’d say that in a speech and everybody was surprised, because the press doesn’t tell it like it is.  It wasn’t to their advantage to say that. But the murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, from 45 to 47 years.

There is a reason why the press does not report that “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 45 to 47 years.” It is a lie! Trump’s falsehood is easily disproved by anyone with the brains to do a simple Google search. It is true that the murder rate inched up to 4.9 murders per 100,000 people in 2015, but that was far less than half of the its historical high of 10.2 per 100,000 people in 1980. It is also true that there are occasional upticks in the US murder rate, but in the past “45 to 47 years,” the murder rate in the United States has fallen drastically. Contrary to Trump’s lie, the murder rate in 2015 was the second-lowest in 50 years. If you are willing to check the evidence, you can verify that for yourself.

Two days ago, Donald Trump crowed about his Electoral College victory in a press conference by stating, “I guess it’s the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.” Wrong! A reporter in the audience promptly pointed out that Donald Trump’s 304 electoral votes were much lower than the 365 that Barack Obama received in this first term. Donald Trump backtracked by saying he was referring to Republican presidents, but George Bush Senior received a whopping 426 electoral votes when he was elected president. Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory pales by comparison.

Michael Eisen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California Berkeley has announced that he will run for a US Senate seat in 2018 to represent California. Asked why he is running, he answered:

I’m worried that the basic and critical role of science in policy making is under a bigger threat than at any point in my lifetime. We have a new administration and portions of Congress that don’t just reject science in a narrow sense, but they reject the fundamental idea that under-girds science: That we need to make observations about the world and make our decisions based on reality, not on what we want it to be.

The key point in the above statement is that we need to “make our decisions based on reality, not on what we want it to be.” That contradicts the views of Donald Trump and many, mainly Republican members of Congress who push scientific truth aside as inconvenient “fake news.” In the double think that prevails in Trumplandia, anything that can be proved to be true must necessarily be false, and any Trump statement that can be demonstrated to be a lie is true.

For many decades, the United States has attracted the best scientists and technologists from all over the world. Under Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies and his blatant hostility to science, that is changing. Many scientist from abroad now find it harder to get permission to carry on their research in the United States, and even scientists who already live in this country feel that their freedom to follow the scientific method may soon be curtailed. They are also afraid to attend scientific conference outside the United States out of fear of not being allowed to re-enter the country.

Can it be that things have changed so drastically in less than four weeks? Barack Obama had great respect for science. Donald Trump despises it. He has labeled climate science an invention of the Chinese and even backed the oft-reputed supposed link between vaccination and autism. Thanks to Donald Trump and his ilk, fewer parents will have their children vaccinated, and more children will die.

However, Donald Trump does not deserve all of the blame. Even during the Obama administration, a growing anti-science attitude among the Republicans in Congress was evident. Evidence-based science was also called into question by evangelical Christians, especially when it comes to climate change and evolution.

Perhaps it is not correct to call Donald Trump a science skeptic. It would be more accurate to call him a science ignoramus. When it comes to science and fact-based thinking, Donald Trump does not have a clue. He has named no scientific adviser to his staff, because he does not care about science, and he shows no desire of learning anything about it.

Last year, all six Nobel Prizes that went to universities in the United States went to immigrants. Nevertheless, an estimated 16,000 science students at United States universities were affected by Donald Trump’s travel ban. One of the was Hani Goodarzi, a biologist at the University of California in San Francisco who does cancer research. The Monday after Donald Trump issued his travel ban, Professor Goodarzi was to speak at a conference in Calgary. He is a legal United States resident but not yet a citizen. If he had gone to Calgary, he feared that he would not be able to return to the United States, so he cancelled the trip. Of course, the courts later put Donald Trump’s travel ban on hold, but if they had not and Professor Goodarzi had traveled to Canada, he would likely have been stuck outside the country as happened to countless other green card holders. Numerous scientists and students of science were detained in United States airports or in other countries during that short period that Donald Trump’s travel ban was in effect, and President Trump has promised to issue a new travel ban within days.

A march on Washington by scientists is being planned. Many scientists believe that the American public has no idea of the damage that Donald Trump’s policies are doing to American scientific research. A chant has even been proposed for the march: “What do we want? Evidence-based policy! When do we want it? After peer review!”

That may not be a catchy chant, but the nerds who came up with it have a point. In these days when the United States is in danger of losing its scientific, moral, and political leadership in the world, it is important to point out that science must be based of evidence and not on political ideology.

Will Donald Trump Encourage Nuclear Proliferation?

Until now, NATO countries have complacently assumed that the NATO alliance and the overwhelming military power of the United States would protect them from Russian aggression. Now, some European countries are questioning that belief and asking themselves if they shouldn’t develop their own nuclear defense.

The countries of Eastern Europe feel themselves especially vulnerable. Poland is re-evaluating its defense strategy after Russia installed short-range missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave isolated from the rest of Russia and surrounded by Poland, Belarus and Lithuania. Those missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads and could easily reach Warsaw, Poland’s capital city.

Europe has relied upon the American nuclear umbrella to deter Russian attacks for 70 years, although the United Kingdom and France have developed their own nuclear defenses. Now, other European countries are asking themselves if they also need the nuclear bomb after Donald Trump called NATO “obsolete.” In other words, Donald Trump’s presidency has precipitated a radical rethinking of Europe’s defense strategy.

The wisdom of European countries’ developing their own nuclear capabilities is being discussed this week behind the scenes in the Security Conference in Munich. United States defense secretary Jim Mattis will try to reassure our NATO allies of our commitment to their defense, but his reassurance will be undercut by Donald Trump’s remarks  tweets, and kissing up to Vladamir Putin.

Russia has already invaded Georgia and Ukraine, and other European countries are asking themselves which of them is next if Russia no longer fears American reprisals. Not only are Poland and the Baltic contemplating devoloping their own nuclear capabilities, such discussions are also being carried on in Turkey, Italy, Spain, and even pacifist Germany, all of which have reason to fear Russian military pressure.

 Once the United States and Russia agreed that nuclear weapons would only be used as a last resort in case of a conflict. Under Vladimir Putin, that has changed. Since 2013, Russia has threatened to use nuclear arms as tactical weapons if Russia feels threatened. A paranoid Russian government could launch a missile with a nuclear warhead at the slightest provocation.

The United Kingdom is about to begin the process of leaving the European Union, causing the future British commitment to European defense to be questioned. That British commitment is one of the points to be negotiated during the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

France’s commitment to a European nuclear strategy is also in question. French taxpayers subsidize the country’s nuclear capability to the tune of three billion euros per year, and a proposed modernization project promises to be even more costly. No one knows how willing the French will be to spend large quantities of money to continue to support a nuclear defense for the rest of Europe. The German government, which has until now strongly rejected any nuclear capability of its own, is now asking itself if it should participate in  the French nuclear program in order to obtain weapons for its own protection. Other countries may also chip in in exchange for nuclear weapons of their own.

No one knows what the European countries will decide about the continent’s nuclear future, but there is one thing we do know: Donald Trump’s remarks about NATO threaten to proliferate nuclear weapons and contribute to the insecurity in the world.

Is Donald Trump a Traitor to his Country?

Every morning when I awake, I turn on the radio with trepidation, fearing to learn about another illegal, stupid, or scandalous act committed by someone in the Trump administration. Unfortunately, my fears are almost always realized. This morning’s revelation involved alleged communication between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian intelligence agency prior to the presidential election.

Donald Trump has countered the accusations against him and people on his campaign and White House staff by decrying leaks to the press. Perhaps the leaks are illegal; I am unable to judge that. However, without the leaks we, the citizens of the United States, would not know how dysfunctional, craven, and incompetent the executive branch of our government is. Thank goodness that we continue to receive information about the scandalous goings-on in the presidential branch of our government.

So far, the only illegal collaboration that has been proven is former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States in which Mr. Flynn hinted that Obama-imposed sanctions against Russia would be reversed after Trump’s inauguration. Those conversations violated an ancient law prohibiting private US citizens from negotiating with foreign governments, a law that admittedly has never been enforced. The public does not yet know whether Michael Flynn violated this law with the knowledge or even encouragement of Donald Trump. In any case, President Trump knew about Mr. Flynn’s behavior weeks ago but took no action against him until his behavior was revealed in the press. Donald Trump still blames the press for Michael Flynn’s resignation. From Donald Trump’s viewpoint, Michael Flynn’s illegal behavior is not responsible for his resignation. The blame lies with the press for reporting that behavior.

Today’s scandal is that someone leaked to the press details of a law-enforcement investigation involving Trump campaign workers’ communications with the Russian intelligence service. So far, there is no proof that Trump campaigners collaborated with Russian intelligence to the detriment of American democracy, but the question has to be asked: What other reason would Trump campaigners have for repeatedly contacting senior Russian intelligence officials? I am almost certain that they were not exchanging borscht recipes.

Still to be explained are exactly what information the Trump campaign passed onto Russian intelligence and how much Donald Trump knew about the affair. It seems likely that Donald Trump was complicit in traitorous acts that not only undermined Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the election but which also undermined American democracy. Donald Trump’s relationship and communication with the Russian government needs to be thoroughly investigated. If Donald Trump is revealed to have betrayed his country, he needs to be impeached and criminally tried as soon as possible.

The United States has had a number of incompetent (George W. Bush) and criminal (Richard Nixon) presidents during my lifetime, but this is the first time that our country has had a president who is suspected of selling out his country in exchange for assistance in winning an election.

Unfortunately, justice in this matter is far from assured. The new attorney general is a known racist and fawning Trump admirer named Jeff Sessions, who is likely to impede any FBI or other law-enforcement investigation into his boss’s possible illegal acts. As to Congress, it is dominated by Republicans who seem to view Donald Trump as one of their own who should be protected from justice, even though Mr. Trump was never a Republican of conviction and only ran on the Republican ticket as a flag of convenience. The attitude of congressional Republicans is incomprehensible. If Donald Trump is impeached and convicted, Mike Pence will take over as president, and he is a highly-partisan Republican. Logically, congressional Republicans should prefer a Pence presidency.

Although I do not approve of Vice President Pence’s radical right-wing ideology, he seems to be an honest person who would not drag the presidency through the slime of criminality as our current president seems to be doing. Although I disagree with Mike Pence’s political philosophy, which seems to favor the wealthy, I could live under his presidency.

Let us hope that Donald Trump’s apparent misdeeds are investigated and revealed to public scrutiny. It would be beneficial if this country had a president whose main concern was the welfare of the American people. Failing that, I think that most of us would settle for a president who is not a crook. It appears that the president we have now belongs behind bars and not in the White House.

However, do not expect speedy justice. Richard Nixon was re-elected to the presidency even when voters knew, or should have known, that he was a crook. It took a long time before his criminality eventually resulted in his impeachment and subsequent resignation. It may take a long time for most of the American public to realize that an immoral nut-job is running this country.

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Trump a Disaster for Working Class Americans

It is widely accepted that the reason that Donald Trump is in office is because of  overwhelming support from working-class Americans. Do working-class people recognize that some of the executive orders that Donald Trump has issued since assuming his office will make their lives more difficult and perhaps even shorter? Donald Trump is governing in the interests of the rich, not in the interest of the working class, whom he views as a bunch of yokels to be exploited.

  • More pollution, lowered life expectancy

I am from Pennsylvania. When I was growing up, all the rivers on the west side of the Allegheny Mountains in southwestern Pennsylvania carried bright orange water. The orange color was caused by the large load of sulfur flowing dissolved in the water. The sulfur, in turn, came from the ubiquitous coal mines. The poisonous water flowed not only toward the sea but also to downstream drinking water systems, which pumped polluted water out of the river and delivered it to people’s taps.

Today, Pennsylvania’s streams and rivers run relatively clear. I was surprised a number of years ago during a visit to Johnstown, Pennsylvania to see ducks swimming on the Stonycreek River. When I was a kid, the river was so polluted with mine runoff that any duck attempting to swim in it would have perished. How was the purity of southwestern Pennsylvania’s water so drastically improved? We have the federal government to thank.

No, the government has not managed to make the water in the Stonycreek completely clear; removing all of the sources of pollution is an impossible job. However, the river is now clean enough to be used for whitewater kayaking and fly fishing. And yes, ducks and even fish now swim in the river’s water.

Who knows how many premature deaths were caused by people downstream drinking the water polluted by the byproducts of coal mining? The Stonycreek joins the Little Conemaugh River at Johnstown to form the Conemaugh, which eventually empties into the Allegheny River, from which Pittsburgh draws its drinking water. We know that large numbers of people in Pittsburgh died of typhoid fever and cholera in Pittsburgh in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, but we do not know how many cancer deaths were caused by drinking chemical-laden river water polluted by the coal industry.

Of course, as I mentioned above, the pollution problem in southwestern Pennsylvania’s rivers has not been completely solved. Nevertheless, until recently, the work to make them cleaner continued. During the Obama Administration, the Interior Department issued an edict prohibiting coal mines from dumping mine waste into streams. Common sense says that the prohibition should have been in place decades ago in the interest of saving human lives. Even the most radical anti-environmentalist surely realizes that poisoning streams is a bad idea.

Now, in the Trump administration, the Republican-controlled Congress has passed a bill to reverse the prohibition. If president Trump signs the bill, as is expected, big coal companies will once again have a green light to pollute once-pristine mountain streams. To add insult to injury, Congress also wants to scrap rules on carbon dioxide emissions, which will encourage the burning of coal and shorten the lives an untold number of Americans.

Large coal companies such as Arch Coal and Peabody Energy will reap the benefits. Rescinding the rule against polluting streams will breath new life into the dying coal-mining industry and reward its rich stock holders. What about the men and women who do the back-breaking job of mining the coal? There may temporarily be more jobs for some of them, but they will also be drinking more polluted water and breathing more polluted air with a resultant decrease in their life expectancy. The desire of the current administration in Washington to increase income for the rich “Trumps” the reduced health and life expectancy of those who toil to support the Trump’s buddies.

  • Giving bankers the freedom to crash the economy.

We are still suffering from the effects of the economic collapse of the economic collapse of 2008. During the “Great Recession,” millions of Americans lost their jobs, homes, and even much of the money that they had set aside for retirement. Major causes of the recession were the lack of oversight of financial institutions and the dishonesty of many people working in the financial industry.

Lax lending standards in the United States gave financial employees the ability to write loans that could never be paid and led to the housing bubble, which was in turn the immediate cause of the worldwide economic collapse. Unscrupulous lenders persuaded unsophisticated home buyers to take out mortgages that had an adjustable interest rate. Initial loan payments were low, but after as little as two years, the interest rate and payments skyrocketed. Many borrowers could no longer afford to make the payments and lost their homes and all of the money they had invested in those homes.

There was a time when the people who had made the loans would have suffered losses, but in the early years of this century, the trade in financial securities gave the lenders a way to pass any financial risk on to others. The lenders sold the mortgages to large financial institutions such as banks, and the banks issued securities based on the mortgages, which they sold to unsuspecting investors, who thought they were buying a quality investment product. When the housing market collapsed and the mortgages went into default, these investors took heavy losses while the unscrupulous lenders managed to escape any financial liability. Some of the banks were in danger of going bankrupt, which would have likely triggered a full-blown depression, until most of those banks were rescued by the federal government.

After the housing market collapse triggered the Great Recession, rules were put into place in an attempt to keep such a situation from recurring. The measures are far from perfect, but they do offer a measure of protection against another deep recession. Now the Trump administration and many Republicans in Congress want to roll back those protections. Donald Trump has ordered a review of banking regulations introduced during the Obama administration that raised capital requirements, restricted the ability of banks to trade securities, and created the Financial Protection Bureau. If they succeed in removing financial oversight, the chance of another financial collapse will greatly increase.

The people who suffered under the last financial collapse were mostly ordinary working people, many of whom lost their jobs, their houses, and a good part of their investments in retirement accounts. The financial industry traders who created the problems largely kept the huge bonuses they had “earned” while the financial institutions they had worked for tottered on the brink of collapse.

  • Allowing financial advisers to rip off their clients

investment advisers and the brokers with whom they work have a bad reputation for steering their clients money into investments that earns them the largest commissions instead of looking out for their clients’ welfare. Take the case of the retirement plans that many Americans participate in. The “fiduciary rule,” implemented during the Obama administration and due to take effect in April, would require brokers to act in their clients’ best interests instead of their own when advising the clients about retirement plans.

Donald Trump has issued an order delaying the implementation of the fiduciary rule for 180 days. During that time, the U.S. Labor Department is ordered to review the rule and rescind it if it is inconsistent with Trump economic priorities, which consist of transferring wealth from ordinary Americans to the rich.

Rescinding the fiduciary rule would give brokers and financial advisers free rein to continue ripping off workers and employees who are attempting to save for their retirement. Rescinding the rule would play into the hands of the wealthy elite, people like Donald Trump and his advisers, and would cause great harm to the ordinary Americans who voted for Donald Trump.

The Trump administration recently labeled a betrayal the refusal of the former acting attorney general to vigorously enforce an executive order of dubious legality. The bigger betrayal is Donald Trump’s double-crossing of the people who innocently voted for him and largely still support him in blissful ignorance of the harm that Trump’s election will do to them. Will Trump supporters wake up to the fact that they are being manipulated by a wealthy individual whose only interest in working people is to exploit them? I hope so.