Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is Trump's America Increasingly isolated, and are Americans Exceptionally Stupid?



A Dutch friend just sent me an article by Mars van Grunsven in De Groene Amsterdammer (Make America Exceptional Again).

Its main thesis is that America is increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, and that Trump is speeding up this process. It also discusses, as so many have done in the past, the presumptuous belief of many Americans in “American exceptionalism.”

My comments:

1. Isolation? The assertion that America is increasingly isolated implies a dichotomous view of the world: America vs. the rest of the world. But this is nonsense. America is just one out of a couple of hundred countries, some friendly, some hostile, some indifferent. America may enter into new sorts of alliances, with nefarious dictators such as the Philippines’ president Duterte. It is best to see America as a primus inter pares, in the near future maybe secundus or even tertius...just one of the world’s relatively large countries, also a flawed country, as many other countries are. So, not all that exceptional.

2. The Future? If a small country like North Korea can insulate itself and persist in its insane ways for many decades, surely a huge place like America will be able to continue its idiosyncratic culture indefinitely (its attitudes towards guns, sex, race, the economy, science, religion, the environment and everything else). Read more...

Monday, June 19, 2017

With Trump’s Budget Cuts, Americans Should Worry About Their Health and Safety

By Morgan Statt **

We can spend all day taking a look at the way Trump behaves. The media loves to analyze his every move, so much so that it’s hard to forget when he essentially shoved the leader of Montenegro out of the way or that time he tweeted out “covfefe.” By the way, did you know an Illinois lawmaker is looking to turn into federal law a ‘COVFEFE’ bill focused on documenting Presidential activity?

There’s an understandable reason why the media wants to highlight his behavior. It enables us to find a bit of comical relief in the caricature of Trump as we cope with the realization that he’s actually our President. But, there comes a point when we need to remember that Trump isn’t just a dramatized photo we can marvel at. He’s our President, and the scope of changes he’s hoping to bring about could have a very damaging effect on our health and safety. For starters, his 2018 fiscal budget proposal should cause a high level of concern for American consumers. Read more...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

How Jared Kushner gets Rich off of the Backs of the Poor



You probably never heard of the ‘EB-5 Visa Investor Program’, but it is a favorite of real estate developers who are looking to fund their projects with low cost capital. The Program was created in 1990 and provides a method for Immigrant Investors (the majority are Chinese) to obtain to obtain United States visas as a path to permanent residence. By investing upwards of 1million dollars into a commercial enterprise, wealthy foreigners and their families are granted green cards, so long as the investor can prove that 10 U.S. jobs have been created as a result of his or her investment.

Originally intended to benefit poor and rural communities, called a Targeted Employment Area (TEA), where the jobless rate is 150% of the national average, it is now being used and abused by wealthy urban developers like Jared Kushner, the President’s son in law, as a way to finance real estate projects at a below market price. This is exactly how ‘Trump Bay Street’, on the Jersey City waterfront was financed at below market rates, through EB-5 investments. Kushner secured $50 million in funding from about 100 investors from China, South Korea and Vietnam.

That would already be cause for ethical concern, considering how Trump and hence his chief advisor, Jared Kushner, are railing against the Chinese takeover of our economy, but Kushner wanted to sweeten the deal. His investors, he announced, would only have to pay half of that million dollar to get a path to citizenship. Read more...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How Big is the Universe and How many Stars and Planets are there?



1. So far, the most distant body we know of in the universe is GN-z11, a galaxy about 13.4 billion light years away. In other words, what we see of GN-z11 today left that body 13.4 billion years ago, which is not long after the birth of the universe, which occurred 13.8 billion years ago (see: The Most Distant Objects; The Farthest Reaches; The Age of the Universe).

 2. Time: If the universe were 1 year old today, the sun and earth would have formed about three months ago; life on earth would have begun about two months ago; dinosaurs would have roamed around the world for about one hour yesterday, then disappeared; the first hominoids would have appeared an hour ago, Cro Magnon man one minute ago; Columbus would have crossed the Atlantic a second ago.

3. Distances: One light year is about 9.5 trillion kilometers. So GN-z11 is located at 13.4 billion x 9.5 trillion kilometers from us. This is 127,300,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilometers = One hundred and twenty-seven sextillion kilometers (1,273 x 10 to the twentieth power). Read more...

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump

 With Additional Research by
The title of this article is borrowed from a Dutch film which documents or alleges a worldwide web of criminal activities, with ties to the Trump organization. See The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump. These activities involve many men from the former Soviet Union (several said to be tied to or part of the “Russian Mob”). A helpful article is the Sacramento Bee, May 30, 2017; McClatchy Washington Bureau, Other sources include Mafia-linked Figures, Felix Sater, Forbes Billionaires, Trump and the Oligarch ‘Trio’ and The Diplomat.

What emerges is an incredibly colorful and complex worldwide net of criminal activities by shady characters from Kazakhstan, Russia, Israel, the Netherlands, the United States and elsewhere. These transactions involve billions of dollars in dozens of countries all over the globe.

The story reminds me of the Tintin capers I enjoyed so much as a boy, or intrigue a la James Bond and Jason Bourne, with a tinge of Don Corleone thrown in. I suppose this topic should be taken very seriously. But for now, just enjoy:

According to the McClatchy Washington Bureau, two fugitive oligarchs are accused of laundering Kazakh money in US real estate, some of it owned by Donald Trump. Read more...

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Let's Raise Taxes Already!



The Trump disaster is upon us. More specifically, the Trumponomics disaster is upon us. That is, the President and his Republican goons are going to try to pass a massive tax cut to benefit the super rich.

You don’t have to be an economist to see why this is a disaster. And I am not even talking about the immorality and  the injustice of making the rich even richer and the poor even poorer. No, what I am talking about is what this is going to do to the federal budget and the national economy.

One of America’s most obstinate problems is that its government is increasingly broke. It is broke  the same way that you would be broke if you kept increasing your debt year after year, and kept spending more and more of your income to finance your debt,  i.e. on  interest payments.  Each year you would have less  money left over to buy things. This is a vicious circle. Currently, Uncle Sam spends each year nearly  half a trillion (!) dollars  more than it collects  in taxes. Read more...

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Stories Cemetery



I went to the stories cemetery today. I had wrapped my latest story due for burial in a plastic cover, taking care that it would not wrinkle. I gave it a last gentle stroke with the palm of my hand before I carefully placed it in my bag.

It was one of those rainy, gloomy days, a perfect fit for my long overdue homage to all the stories that died a premature death. I walked down the unkempt lanes, weeds growing abundantly, partially covering some of the epitaphs. Some had been carved with great care, betraying the author’s ambivalence at having to let go. An ornamental gravestone read: ‘In loving memory of ‘the Crooked Warrior’. Died prematurely, due to lack of good diction.’ Another one, this one barely legible: ‘Here lies ‘the Missing Slippers ’. Died due to a lack of stamina’. ‘Died due to a bad plot’. ‘Died due to too many words’, etc. It was all so depressing, so I stopped reading.

I found our family plot, and looked for a good spot to lay my latest story to rest. The epitaph I had prepared read: ‘On this spot lies ‘the Weathervane’. Died prematurely at the tender age of 3 weeks, due to lack of inspiration.’ It took me a while to finish digging; my glasses began to fog up because of my tears, but I finally placed the plastic bag carefully in the grave and began to cover it with dirt.

I was about to pat down the earth, when I felt a small stirring under my hands. Did I bury a little creature together with my story by accident? I must have imagined it. So I kept going. Now, there was a distinct movement that I couldn’t ignore. The soil heaved and heaved, until I saw a small piece of plastic appear. Read more...