It’s spawning season for the common Politicianus localis here. The species is parasitic in the adult form as it attaches itself inextricably to its food source (the American dollar) and becomes very difficult to eradicate. But it’s a real pest during spawning season in Irvine because you can see the larvae sprouting out of the lawns by the thousands, making the street side very unsightly. The larval form is about 2′ x 3′ but completely flat, typically displaying colorful red, white, & blue lettering. Fortunately, most larvae do not survive to become fully fledged politicians and they will be gone from the lawns by the end of November.

The conservative Resistance

While it’s true that congressional Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan consistently provide political cover to president Donald Trump, don’t assume that conservative Americans are a monolith of support for him. When you see criticism of Trump on social media, you’ll also see his supporters leaping to the conclusion that the critics could not possibly be conservative. They refute the criticism by calling the critics “Dumbocrats” or “libtards” rather than responding to the substance of the criticism.

But there are plenty of conservative icons who strongly oppose Trump. And when you see someone you’ve never heard of complaining about the president, they might very well be conservative too—they might even be Republican. Before you dismiss my point as “fake news” simply because I’m progressive, research how the following notable conservative minds feel about Trump:

I came up with this long list of conservatives and Republicans who are part of the Resistance off the top of my head. A little investigation will uncover plenty more widely known people on the Right who criticize Trump. And for every famous conservative on this list, there are millions of everyday American conservatives who are appalled by the actions of president Trump. So before you pop off at his critics assuming that they are hating on Trump only because Hillary Clinton lost the election, stop and consider the possibility that they are very much like you ideologically (other than not being in the thrall of Trump).

My “ ” pet peeve

It irritates me when I hear a layperson say a particular phrase. But it really gets on my nerve when someone who speaks for a living says it. A professional should know better than to use this spoken phrase but I still hear it all…the…time. The phrase that peeves me to hear is “quote unquote.”

To be clear, I have no problem with people quoting others. It’s the spoken construction of the quote that bothers me. When someone speaks the words “quote unquote” followed by the quotation, it’s confusing and makes the speaker sound dimwitted.

The spoken words “quote” and “unquote” should be used the same way quotation marks are used in writing. When you write a quotation, you write the open quote character followed by the quotation and then end with the close quote character. That way, the reader knows the words between the quotation marks are a direct quote.

But you would never write the open quote character followed immediately by the close quote character then write the quotation. If you did, it would look like the way I intentionally titled this blog as an example of what not to do. The way I titled this blog is confusing and makes me appear to be dimwitted. Instead, you would write the open quote character followed immediately by the quotation then write the close quote character at the end of the quote. It would look like this: My “pet peeve.”

Speaking a quotation should work the same way. Say “quote” in place of the written open quote character, state the quotation, then say “unquote” in place of the close quote character. For example, the correct way to speak the title of this blog would be “my quote pet peeve unquote.”

Of course, you don’t always have to say “unquote.” If it’s clear from the context of the quotation where it ends or if you stop speaking at the end of the quotation, you can drop the word “unquote” from the end of the quotation. But you should always precede a spoken quotation with just the one word “quote.” That’s all it takes to make me unpeeved.

Economies in mirror appear larger than they are

During the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump promised Americans that, as their president, he would usher in “tremendous” economic expansion of as much as six percent. While that growth rate has not materialized, the USA’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annual rate of 4.1% in the second quarter of 2018. That’s respectable growth, so president Trump boasted that “we have accomplished an economic turnaround of historic proportions.” That’s true if you look back only the year and a half that Trump has occupied the Oval Office. However, if your historical perspective is longer, the proportion of the GDP’s growth is not so large after all (click chart below to view full size).

Quarterly GDP change higher than 4 percent
Highlighted quarters had greater than four percent GDP growth (annualized)

Other than Q2 2018, the GDP has grown less than three percent each quarter since Trump’s inauguration. In comparison:

  • There were four quarters during president Barack Obama’s term in which the growth rate exceeded 4.1%—once even surpassing five percent. And Obama had to start his term with the economy mired in the Great Recession that president Bush handed off to him.
  • The GDP growth was larger yet during president Bill Clinton’s administration. Trump’s best quarter so far would have been only the thirteenth best quarter during Clinton’s term, when eight quarters were larger than five percent and one even reached 7.5%. Now that’s HUGE by historic proportions!

It’s also important to understand that the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports quarterly results on an annualized basis. That means the growth rate it reports for each quarter is the amount the GDP would grow if the rate in the given quarter were to be sustained for an entire fiscal year. So the 4.1% annual growth rate Trump is touting is much larger than the actual rate the GDP has grown for any full year he has been POTUS.

Yes, growth was strong in Q2 2018. But the GDP only grew 2.2% (annualized) in the first quarter of this year. Therefore, for the GDP to achieve an actual growth rate of 4.1% for the full fiscal year 2018, the quarterly growth will have to average over five percent (annualized) in both of the remaining quarters of fiscal year 2018. It would be nice for the economy to grow that fast this year but, with the growing headwinds of an escalating trade war, it will be a very tall order.

So Americans should be pleased to see the strong growth the GDP underwent last quarter. But they need to keep in mind that it’s only a snapshot of a single quarter. In retrospect, the growth of the GDP appears larger than it was.

The care & feeding of immigrant children

The separation of children from their parents at the border has been dominating the news cycle recently. It has resulted in a great deal of exposure of the plight of these children. It’s important to be aware of what goes on inside the brains of children separated from their parents.

Many people are already doing a good job making Americans aware of what these immigrant children are going through. So I found it interesting when a letter from a paramedic at the Texas border revealed another side to the immigration issue. Lee Whitt shined a light on what it’s like for him and his colleagues to care for these children on the border. This letter helped me to recognize that the rank & file at the front line of this crisis should not be thought of in the same light as their leadership in president Trump’s administration:

The issues he raises have been reported in the media but I encourage you to read Whitt’s post anyway because his anecdotes really add important color to the narrative. The media have corroborated that the people working directly with these children are doing a yeoman’s job with the minimal resources they have and under the challenging constraints their leadership have imposed on them. I think Americans should give more recognition to them and the heartbreaking work they’re doing.

I also agree with Whitt’s statement that “I could care less what you think of President Trump but where I draw the line is when we start taking down innocent people and painting them as villains in an effort to destroy someone else.” The irony is that president Trump is the chief person I see taking down innocent people and painting them as villains. His rhetoric explicitly painting immigrants as an infestation of MS-13 gang members, drug dealers, murderers, and rapists is meant to dehumanize immigrants and stoke xenophobia.

So take a minute to look away from Trump’s divisive and heartless actions and recognize the people at the border caring for the immigrant children Trump has detained in their hands.

The latest best “seller” spy thriller

Why bother reading a long Tom Clancy novel when you can read USA v. Internet Research Agency (PDF) in only 37 double-spaced pages. This indictment of thirteen Russian nationals by special prosecutor Robert Mueller reads like spy fiction. But it’s a true story of the subversion of USA’s 2016 federal election by Russia and its American agents.

The part that caught my attention is the clause that says “defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States.” The defendants are now in Russia and will never see the inside of an American courtroom on this matter. So why would Mueller indict them? The indictment lays the foundation of the crime out to the American people for later when Mueller charges the Americans who conspired with the Russian agents.

So who are the conspirators “known and unknown to the Grand Jury”? One thing you can be sure of is that the court filings Mueller has made to date are just the tip of the iceberg of evidence he has already assembled.

As we know, president Donald Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn has already pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI and will cooperate with the Russia inquiry, as has a member of candidate Trump’s foreign policy advisory panel George Papadopoulos (PDF). Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort has been indicted on multiple related counts including conspiracy against the USA. And Manafort’s campaign deputy Rick Gates is close to a plea deal with Mueller.

The conspirators unknown to the Grand Jury are part of the Mueller iceberg we can’t see (yet). I think we will find that they are associates of the ones we already know about. They will likely include Donald Trump Jr. and president Trump’s senior adviser (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner, among other people involved in the Trump campaign or working in the West Wing. But there’s one key person who is centrally related to all of the aforementioned gang of crooks—the Fraudster in Chief, Donald Trump himself.

As fascinating as the USA v. Internet Research Agency indictment is, I’m really looking forward to its sequel. That will be the articles of impeachment against president Trump.

Spectrum deception

Spectrum offered me cable TV service unsolicited by mailing me the flier shown below. It seemed like a reasonable offer for the price they quoted. As you can see in The Spectrum Advantage column of the table showing the terms of their offer, they assured me there would be “No added taxes or extra fees with Spectrum TV.” Confident that Spectrum would charge me no more than $39.99 for cable TV service, I signed up.

Flyer from Spectrum offering cable TV service
Spectrum offer

Upon receiving the first bill, I discovered that they were not honoring their offer. Instead of a flat $39.99 for the cable TV portion of my bill (see image below), Spectrum was billing me $55.93 per month! That total does not include the cable boxes and the DVR service—I have no problem with Spectrum charging me additional fees for them. But I do have a problem with them charging me a total of $8.44 in three extra fees under the Spectrum TV service. They also snuck in a $7.50 “Broadcast TV Surcharge.” But calling it a “surcharge” didn’t fool me. The word “surcharge” is literally defined as an extra fee—just the thing Spectrum assured me would not be billed in their offer of “no added taxes or extra fees.”

Cropped page of Spectrum bill showing section with extra fees
Spectrum bill

So I contacted Spectrum’s customer service representative to have them honor the terms they offered me and remove the extra fees from my bill. But all I got was double-talk. Regarding the surcharge, she tried to tell me that “it says added fee and that’s not part of that category. If you remove cable service it will go away.” If you remove cable service and it will go away, that means it is an extra fee specifically on Spectrum TV—exactly what they said I would not have. She was trying to justify not honoring their offer with a fallacy called begging the question. And regarding the other fees, she simply insisted that they could not remove them. I suggested giving me a credit each month to reimburse me for the extra fees if they could not be removed but she refused that suggestion as well.

What Spectrum did is lure me into subscribing for their service with a standard price of $56 per month by telling me they would only charge me $40 for it. But after they connected the service and without any notice, they billed me $56 anyway—the classic bait & switch. It would have been acceptable if I had known going into the deal that they were going to charge me their standard rate but it is not acceptable when the only reason I subscribed is because they approached me unsolicited and offered it to me for $39.99. The moral of the story is that you cannot trust Spectrum to honor the terms they agree on with you.