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.

Video doesn’t lie—or does it?

A video of a police shooting has been going viral on social media today. Yesterday, a police officer in a neighboring city shot a male subject while bystanders recorded the incident. The officer has already been found guilty of murder by countless users of social media. After all, they all saw the video of the shooting and video doesn’t lie. That may be true but video can be very deceiving.

Here is the video that was making the rounds on facebook but I warn you to not play it if you do not want to see a person shot:

That looks pretty incriminating against the police officer, doesn’t it? But what the video does not tell you is the full story. An officer from the Huntington Beach Police Department contacted the subject outside a 7/11 store. As the officer began to talk to the subject, a verbal confrontation began and the subject refused to listen to any commands given by the officer. As the incident escalated and became physically violent, the officer attempted several force options, including his taser, which were all ineffective. The subject violently attacked and assaulted the officer when a struggle over the officer’s gun belt ensued. The officer tried to retain his weapon while the subject continued to grab at the officer’s belt. The subject then removed a piece of equipment from the officer’s gun belt. It was then that the officer fired his weapon at the subject.

Presenting a longer version of the incident from a different angle that corroborates the details presented in the previous paragraph, here’s a different video of the same shooting:

Huntington Beach Shooting – WARNING – GRAPHIC CONTENT!!!
(Embedding disabled by request)

As you can see, this video paints a very different picture of the shooting than the first video does. Let me be explicit that I am not claiming the officer was blameless in this shooting. Even the longer video provides insufficient information for me to reach that conclusion. But by the same token, the shorter video is insufficient for a multitude of armchair cops to leap to the conclusion that the shooting was unjustified.

My point is that even a video does not necessarily provide a comprehensive understanding of all facts related to the subject of the video. In fact, a video clip can even distort the truth on the matter. So we should reserve our convictions of people in the video until the incident has been fully investigated and a we have studied a complete accounting of the results of the investigation.

Even a dog has the sense to get out of the rain

I’m watching NBC News report on Hurricane Irma making landfall near Naples with a life-threatening storm surge on TV and I’m getting irritated. In all fairness, the hypocrisy of the reporting is not limited to NBC.  Just about every major news broadcast is guilty of what I’m watching. Nonetheless, it’s folly and it’s unfair to first responders.

NBC’s Kerry Sanders is reporting from the exposed top deck of a parking structure where the eye of the hurricane is about to make landfall. The wind is blowing so hard that he can barely stay on his feet. Rain is falling almost horizontally and I can see debris flying through the camera shot.

Sanders can barely hear the anchor through his ear monitor and the roar of the storm is almost drowning out Sanders’ voice in the broadcast. But I can hear he’s reporting that the wind is blowing very hard and the rain is falling in a deluge. He’s telling us that the ocean is beginning to rapidly rise onto land and it’s going to be a record storm surge.  It’s very dangerous to be outside, so everyone should have evacuated the area, he says.

Meanwhile, who are the only people cavalier enough to be out in Naples? That’s right—the NBC news crew (and I’m sure other networks’ crews). But we don’t need to see Sanders standing outside in a Category 2 hurricane to realize that the wind is blowing very hard and the rain is falling in a deluge. It’s a hurricane and that’s what they do. NBC has been telling us for days that the storm surge could be twenty feet high when Irma makes landfall in Florida.

The local authorities have already told everyone to evacuate because of the extreme danger in riding out the storm. The authorities warned that anyone who chooses to shelter in place should not expect any response to emergency calls that come in while the winds are high and the waters rising. They have been warning residents that there will be no rescues during the brunt of the storm because doing so risks the life and safety of the first responders. Police officers, firemen, and other emergency workers will need to be healthy to move into the devastation as soon the winds die down.

However, you can bet that Sanders and other news crews would expect immediate treatment in the overburdened hospital if one of them got struck in the head by the debris we can see flying by at over 100 miles per hour. Even though these reporters willfully and knowingly put themselves into this danger just to make a report that is no more informative than it would be from a hardened shelter, they would call 911 if they suddenly found themselves in an emergency situation. And they would want a Coast Guard rescue helicopter to be there if the storm surge took them by surprise and swept them away.

If they were acting responsibly, news agencies would mount unmanned camera feeds out in the storm and have their reporters report the latest news from a safe and secure location. Nowadays, the most up-to-date information comes through telecommunications that would be most reliable indoors out of the storm, so their best reporting would come from such a location anyway. There’s even a possibility that reporters already on location during the storm could obstruct or distract the rescuers’ ingress. Hurricane reporting would actually be more valuable to viewers if the reporters moved in just after the first responders than it is when they are on site before the storm.

What good is the EPA?

President Trump recently proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget more than thirty percent but I have seen relatively little outrage voiced over these cuts. It seems that Americans are more concerned about the Supreme Court nomination and Trump’s ties to Russia. While they are both important issues, I expected a greater outcry about the environment since it will have a greater impact on Americans long after Trump’s nominee vacates the SCOTUS bench.

Then it occurred to me that Millennials have never known a time when the smog in LA was so thick that you could barely see the Hollywood sign from the Hollywood Freeway for the entire summer. And Baby Boomers are about the only Americans who remember the Cuyahoga River being so polluted that it literally caught on fire. So many Americans take the relatively clean condition of the United States for granted because it doesn’t seem as urgent an issue as it does to those of us who remember how badly polluted this country used to be.

But all you have to do to get an idea of what the environment could be like is to look at present-day China. It struggles with air pollution and photos of China’s water pollution show that its environment is worse than the USA ever was. But China’s central government does not regulate pollution like the EPA has for almost fifty years in the USA. So pollution goes on relatively unabated there.

Instead, capitalism has been the biggest driver of China’s pollution problems. The invisible hand of the free market generally works against a clean environment as it looks to maximize profits by minimizing the societal costs born by free enterprise. I’m as big a proponent of capitalism as the next American but I don’t deny that, although private businesses do not, the American people do bear the societal costs. And the societal cost of industry is pollution.

But as bad as I know from experience that pollution can get in the USA, it’s the least environmental concern younger Americans should have. They haven’t felt Global Warming sneaking up on them but they are the ones who will feel its impact the most in the future. Military experts say climate change poses a “significant risk” to national security, not terrorism. And although Global Mean Sea Level has risen 0.13 inches a year for the past couple of decades, that’s nothing compared to what we can expect in the years to come if we don’t curtail the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The rise of the oceans will accelerate to reach another two meters by the end of the century. Say goodbye to Miami, New Orleans, and much of Manhattan.

Yet president Trump has pledged to rip up the Paris climate agreement, which would likely lead to its demise. So it’s clear that the EPA will be getting no love from him either. Unless Americans protest cuts to the EPA, prepare for all of its good work to be undone and a slide back to the polluted states of America.

Two wrongs don’t make a right

I have not watched all of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing of Neil Gorsuch regarding his nomination by President Trump to be a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) but I’ve watched a substantial amount of it. I’ve also read criticisms and statements in support of Gorsuch’s nomination. In my opinion, nothing that we know of disqualifies Gorsuch for the highest bench and there’s no reason for the senate to withhold consent to the nomination.

Nonetheless, many Democrat senators would like to prevent or at least stall his confirmation. For the most part, it’s because the Republicans refused to even allow a vote on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the SCOTUS. I’ve already stated that the Republican senators’ refusal to consider Obama’s nomination was a dereliction of their duty to uphold the Constitution of the USA. But that applies equally to Democrat senators if they attempt to block Gorsuch’s nomination. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

For that reason, the senate should move to a vote on the nomination within a reasonable amount of time after Gorsuch’s hearing concludes. Democrats should not necessarily vote in favor of the nomination—they should vote their conscience. But unlike the way the Republicans treated Garland, Democrats should at least vote on the nomination. It is their duty and Gorsuch deserves it. Blocking the vote would only harm the Democrats in the senate.

The Democrats will face much more critical challenges in the future that they will need the GOP’s backing on. If the Democrat’s make blocking Gorsuch’s nomination an issue, the Republicans will simply make opposition to the Democrats automatic on future issues for purely partisan issues. It is likely that the senate will have sound, irrefutable grounds to impeach Trump before the end of his term as president but the senate will need the cooperation of the GOP to issue articles of impeachment. The senate will also need to deal with issues like health care, the budget, and immigration during the Trump administration. So I call on the Democrat senators to treat Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch in the same way they would have treated Obama’s nomination of Garland.

Focus the resistance

President Donald Trump is getting a lot of resistance since he was inaugurated—maybe too much. Complaints about the president going to Mira Lago every weekend, the amount of taxes he paid, and his latest tweet turning the blame for something he did on his target du jour are all over the media. But in the big scheme of things, these are trivial issues that have little import to the typical American. The ubiquity of these inconsequential issues becomes noise that drowns out the critical issues that Americans should be resisting.

Even Trump’s signature Wall is not worth the Resistance. Net illegal immigration from Mexico has hovered around zero for the past few years, so little would change with a wall on the border. There would continue to be a strong legal interchange of people, products, and culture across the border. The Wall would not stop the twelve-million undocumented Mexicans already in the USA from continuing to be our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors. Sure, it would be a waste of $20-billion, with all the more advanced technological solutions that could be deployed on the border, but that’s just a drop in the federal budget bucket.

Americans need to tamp down the noise and focus their resistance to the president’s agenda on the issues that are seriously detrimental to Americans. The most critical are his efforts to create a Trump autocracy. Muzzling the Fourth Estate and dictating what is legitimate press and what is fake news is the first step in implementing an autocracy. Trump’s constant distortion of the meaning of English words to fit his demagogic or authoritarian needs is an Orwellian page right out of 1984. His attempts to delegitimize the courts and claims that the president is immune to laws are tactics that would be taught in Autocracy 101.

It’s also important for Americans to see Trump’s tax returns. But it’s not so we can know how much taxes he paid. Any shrewd businessman will do their best to minimize their tax liability and they should not be criticized for doing so in a legal manner. We need to see his tax returns so we can learn how his personal finances could influence the actions he takes as president. What if Trump owes a Russian oligarch a large sum of money? What if he is trying to get permits to develop properties in China? What if he passes a law or removes a regulation that favors his companies in the USA? These are important things Americans can learn from Trump’s tax returns.

Americans need to resist Trump’s environmental agenda if they care about their children and grandchildren. The damage that would be caused if Trump is successful at rendering the Environmental Protection Agency impotent would be slow to notice but would endure for generations to come. Many Americans have forgotten or are too young to know that the skies of Los Angeles used to be so smoggy that you could rarely see the Hollywood Sign from the Hollywood Freeway and our waterways used to be so polluted that the Cuyahoga River in Ohio literally caught on fire. But Trump will reverse the gains we’ve made cleaning up the environment in recent decades if he is unchecked. And the international community must begin combating Global Warming immediately to prevent irreversible damage to the entire planet but Trump’s denial of Climate Change will jeopardize the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Health care is another issue of significant importance to Americans because we pay more than any other advanced country for our health care but have some of the worst outcomes. Both Democrat and Republican presidents tried for decades to reform health care for Americans. None of their efforts were successful until President Obama passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PDF) (ACA). The ACA is not perfect but it’s much preferable to the system we had before the law was passed. Yet the GOP is intent on repealing it and replacing it with a bill that would result in over twenty-million Americans losing their health care insurance and the costs rising even more dramatically—especially for seniors and Americans with disabilities or other pre-existing conditions.

There are other important issues that Americans face with Trump in the Oval Office and Americans need to resist all of the most harmful ones. But most of the criticisms levied against him in the media are relatively trivial compared to these. In fact, it might be a deliberate tactic on Trump’s part to get Americans talking about his tweets to distract them from things like his connections to Russia. Don’t let him get away with it. Stop posting every trivial criticism of his administration on facebook and focus your resistance on the issues that really matter.