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Don the Con Violates the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause and Gets Away With It

2017-05-15

The New York Times has written in an editorial that Don the Con’s Washington hotel, located in a government building, has suddenly started doing big business since the election.  Before that, the hotel was deserted, with rooms going at steep discounts.  Naturally, a naive person would think that the President owning a hotel in Washington that serves international government clientele (who are rushing to book rooms) is an obvious violation of the emoluments clause, which states that elected officials may not receive anything of value from foreign governments without the explicit permission of Congress.

That would be naive.   Even though, in this case, a specific clause in the contract for the hotel (in an historic government building) prohibits elected officials from having “any share” or “any benefit” from running it.  However, Don the Con’s appointed leadership in the General Services Administration has stated that they have no problems with his ownership.  The only way to punish Don for this contract violation and unconstitutional behavior is to impeach him, which will not happen until there is a Democratic majority in the House.

Someone has filed suit against Don in federal court for this little bit of self-dealing, but it is too little and too late because the profits have started rolling in to his hotel.  Foreign diplomats and roving officials have “thronged” the place, moving their parties in from other hotels.  Don is profiting, bigly, from his Electoral College victory.

Syria’s al-Assad is Murdering so many People that He has to Cremate his Victims: When does WW III Officially Begin?

2017-05-15

According to the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs at the State Department, the Syrian government has built a crematory at its military prison outside Damascus to dispose of the bodies from the mass executions that it has been carrying out there.  If this is true, it will show clearly that Bashar al-Assad and his administration are guilty of mass murder.  This is an irresistible reminder of a certain German dictator responsible for WW II.  Details on Syria’s incinerators can be found in this NYT article.  I’d like to see Donald tweet about this.

I’m not kidding– this is a historic revelation.  No-one who supports al-Assad is clean.  The Iranians and the Russians are helping a mass murderer.  The world is descending into another period that can only be described as the beginning of WW III.   The Syrian government has responded to its devastating drought by oppressing its starving citizens and has now reached the logical conclusion that it needs to kill most of them.

In a completely separate but somehow intimately related situation in South America, a country is collapsing without an invasion: Venezuela’s economy shrank by ten percent last year, faring as badly as Syria.  Venezuela’s autocratic leader and its elite have been feuding for twenty years and oppressing the citizenry with savage bands of thugs who kill demonstrators in the streets.

In yet a third totally unrelated country, North Korea, the unresolved enmity of a war left over from the retreat of Japanese forces at the end of WW II has led to an Orwellian situation for twenty-five million people.  Their “dear leader” is threatening the US with nuclear weapons so he can counter our threats to annihilate him.

Thirty years ago, North Korea experienced a famine that required UN food aid.  The US response to that crisis ( and to the crisis in Africa involving Hutu-Tutsi massacres ) was grossly inadequate and foreshadowed our failure to respond to current famines.   Failure to respond to crises like these has led to a downward spiral of more oppressive local leadership and further deterioration of infrastructure.

These and other situations in the world today are at their roots related to fights over oil resources (Venezuela thought it could prosper purely on oil exports but failed to maintain its producing infrastructure because of corruption) and climate change that is causing severe droughts in the Near East and Africa (Syria has been in a drought for fifteen years that is said to be the worst in 500 years –see this Vice article.)

The basic problem is that the world is too crowded and too dependent on oil production; not enough emphasis has been put on developing agriculture, renewable power resources, and equitable distribution of goods.  The US has not helped: instead of exporting our excess food and contraceptive technology, we have been getting fatter while poor people procreate and starve.  The world is heating up and billions could die in a war that would make WW II look like a skirmish.

 

Nuedexta: A New Pharmaceutical Cash Cow and a New Entry For “Absurd Products”

2017-05-14

The story below is another example of how unrestrained capitalism can distort markets by creating enormous profits for a few while gouging many.  Medicine is one area of life where the profit motive should not be allowed to reign supreme.  Putting a high price on relief of suffering diminishes human lives.

Nuedexta is a combination of dextromethorphan and quinidine, two cheap generic drugs, that is effective for “pseudobulbar affect” (PBA), a disorder characterized by excessive or involuntary laughing and crying.  The disorder is uncommon and often misdiagnosed; it is usually brought on by a small stroke or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease.)  It is estimated to affect 2 million Americans.

The company that bought the patent from the researchers who discovered it was sold for $3.5 billion in 2014 and sales of the drug earned $218 million last year.  Sales are lucrative because the drug combination costs about $700 a month (while the generic ingredients sell for less than $20.)

Sales have been driven by TV advertising, including a particularly effective spot done by the actor Danny Glover.  Pharmaceutical companies spent a total of $6.4 billion on advertising last year, and anyone who watches cable TV news will attest to the ubiquity of drug ads.  The US is one of only two companies in the world that allows TV advertising of drugs.

(All the above is sourced from an article in the New York Times from today.)

In order to give fair remuneration to those who researched the combination of these two drugs while at the same time not over-burdening the consumer, a patent on the mixture can be granted as per routine, but the price of the combination should be regulated so as not to produce an absurd result– a markup of over 3000%.  Perhaps a 300% surcharge would be more reasonable.  These issues call for fine judgements, not “whatever the market will bear.”

Crying in the Wilderness

2017-05-14

As an officially retired person, on Social Security and Medicare because of arthritis, I believe it is my duty to get up every morning at dawn and go for a walk.  I also believe it is my duty to express my opinion, because I haven’t survived 63 years as of April 26 without gaining some experience.  Whether I have learned anything useful in that time is an open question.  I will leave it to you, the lonely reader, to decide.

First, I feel obliged to enter an opinion on the subject that is on everyone’s lips and trending on Twitter, namely, Don the Con.  Need I say more?

Second, I will say that I get it– the majority of the people in the rural, white, uneducated portion of this country are all for Don.  Why?  Because of propaganda, partly Russian propaganda, and nothing else.

Third, I will say that although I fortunately live in a blue state (in a depressed red county), I understand that the voters in this state are not much more educated than those in the red states.  They just didn’t get as much propaganda because the Republicans didn’t bother to waste their money on a solidly blue state that happens to be minority white.  They didn’t even bother to saturate my county, a red county, with propaganda because they knew it wouldn’t matter in a blue state.

As a long-term issue, however, I believe that Democrats need a strategy.  They must first adopt the exact same methods (those used by Cambridge Analytica) and tailor their campaigns to get the most effective microtargeting of propaganda.  And they must have good propaganda, 30-second spots that are punchy, truthful, and put the Democrats in a good light with the Republicans as the (not so terrible) villains.

The most long-term strategy, however, is a what-if: what if the Republicans manage to call a Constitutional Convention?   They are only a couple of states short of having the votes already.  If so, the Democrats must be prepared with a plan to demand new elections prior to the convention, based on new rules that emphasize one-man, one-vote, no gerrymandering, and universal participation.  It is essential that we have 100% of the people voting in the convention– the 50% participation rate in presidential elections is unacceptable for purely democratic reasons.  The Convention must be fully televised with multiple live streams.

Democrats should stand for a platform that includes the retention of virtually all of the original Constitution and allows for a few additions and revisions but essentially no deletions.  None of the freedoms in the Bill of Rights can be touched (Sorry, folks, that includes the Second Amendment; the advocates of this one are in the minority, but they are armed, and I don’t think you want to argue with them.)  The powers of Congress should be redefined to include matters that involve more than one state (as well as interstate commerce).  An Inspector General and inspector’s office should be included in every department.  Whistleblowers should be constitutionally protected.  Adequate but not excessive regulation, checks and balances, should be understood to be the price for allowing capitalism as a monetary system (remember that our original constitution makes no mention of capitalism.)  A progressive income tax should be enshrined in the Constitution, to pay for all those things that everyone depends on, and to substitute for regressive sales taxes and property taxes at the state level.  Research and science have to have preservation by Constitutional wording (remember that God is not mentioned in the Constitution and we should resist all attempts to add His name as a sop to religious conservatives who will use it to drive a wedge through our society.)

These are things that an old man thinks about for the future.  Oh yeah, and unions need support too, because they vote.  Democrats must always support the majority of the people while preserving the civil rights of the minority.  Republicans can say that they hold better opinions than Democrats, but if they’re truthfully in the minority (the way Don the Con is, by 3 million legitimate votes), they’re going to have to compromise on Democratic terms.

By the way, Don the Con has fulfilled one of his promises.  He has set up a committee to investigate voter fraud, led by an advocate of strict Voter ID’s.  Let’s see if they really investigate, and if they do, what they will turn up.  Attorney General Sessions has tried this before, on a state level as a prosecutor, and he turned up a few prosecutions –all of black people– that were all shot down by juries.  Doesn’t reality suck, Mr. Sessions?

Comment of the Day: Don the Con’s Money Connections to Russia

2017-05-12

This comment appeared in the New York Times attached to an editorial about Russian connections already known:  (the sale of the Palm Beach mansion at a 171% profit in 2008 is especially noteworthy, because the sale occurred during a real estate crash known as the Great Recession.  In addition, Don the Con’s positive comments about Russia date back to this time.)

David Parsons

San Francisco CA

Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev purchased Trump’s Palm Beach mansion for almost $95 million in 2008, right in the middle of a global real estate and financial crisis.

The transaction made headlines because he paid almost $60 million more than Trump had, a return of 171% in just 4 years.

Dmitry Rybolovlev is the largest shareholder of the Bank of Cyprus, the same bank Paul Manafort used to bank his 12.7 million slush fund from Putin.

Donald Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross bought into the bank 3 years ago and was the Vice Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus.

In 2015 Ross sold the bank’s Russia-based businesses were sold to a Russian banker and consultant, Artem Avetisyan, who had ties to both the Russian president and Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank.

At the time, Sberbank was under US and EU sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

After the election, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, met with the CEO of Russia’s state-owned Vnesheconombank in December 2016 to obtain financing for his building 666 5th Avenue.

Follow the money, follow the cyber-hacking, follow the disinformation.

For the President to fire the Head of the independent FBI during the middle of his investigation is a Constitutional crisis.

Comment of the Day: “This will not end well.”

2017-05-09

KM

SF, CA

Conservatives have been conducting a slow motion “coup d’etat” over the past 30 years. Gerrymandering. Voter suppression. Judicial manipulation. Propaganda programs to misinform and confuse large swaths of the voting public. The removal of Comey in the midst of of crucial investigation of the President and his enablers is one more step towards the inevitable: the perversion and ultimate destruction of democracy in the US leading to permanent conservative control of the country. This will not end well.

The commenter appears to have a highly pessimistic view of the situation.

What we can say is that it is unclear what mishandling of the Clinton email investigation Trump is referring to?  Personally, I think the handling Don the Con would have preferred is a recommendation for indictment of Hillary to the Justice Department– the attempts to tilt public sentiment against Hillary in the absence of sufficient evidence to indict were, in Don’s view, inadequate.

A Short Essay on Mental Illness and the Presidency

2017-05-08

This is just thrown together off the top of my head, based on a thought I had while drinking tea on the porch.

 

The eventual subject of this essay is already obvious, but I will digress a bit if you will allow me.

Historically, there have been several instances of mental or physical/mental illness that adversely affected the operation of the Executive Branch of our government.

Arbitrarily starting at a hundred years ago, we have the example of Woodrow Wilson, a vastly learned and thoughtful man, who kept us out of WW I as long as possible so that we would have time to prepare.  The result was a spectacular victory spearheaded by our bravest young men, the end of a war that cost at least 11 million soldiers and 7 million civilians their lives (Google.)  Unfortunately, after the war and while touring the country to push a fatally flawed treaty in a hopeless attempt to get the Senate to agree to join the League of Nations Wilson suffered a disabling stroke that left him helpless for the rest of his presidency.  The stroke was dated October 2, 1919, although Wilson had numerous “mini-strokes” during September.   Wilson continued in office until March 20, 1921.

Wilson’s wife, a much younger woman who had taken over after his first wife died, took over the exercise of the executive power to the extent that she was able, with the assistance of Colonel House.  For the next  year and a half, Wilson’s illness was hidden from the press and the public.  Incredibly, Wilson thought he still had the vigor to serve a third term (which was legal in those days.)  News of the president’s stroke began to leak to the papers in February of 1920.  At that time, there was no legal mechanism to “retire” a president who had suffered a disabling illness but was till alive– and who refused to admit that he was, in fact, disabled.  The 25th Amendment, which provided clearer legal guidance, was not ratified until 1967.

President John F. Kennedy had Addison’s Disease and had to take replacement doses of cortisone to substitute for his body’s inability to produce this essential hormone.  Cortisone, especially in high doses, can cause psychotic symptoms, but there is no evidence that occurred in Kennedy’s case.  Instead, the more popular drugs of the time such as dextroamphetamine, barbituates, and other wonder drugs did un-noticed damage to his decision-making ability.  He was relatively young, however, and there is no evidence of psychic disturbance.

President Johnson, on the other hand, became increasingly paranoid during the latter part of his second term.  He was known to carry lists of people he felt were “against him.”  He also had, on paper, inaccurate or simply false data about the course of the war that he thought represented the true state of affairs.  It is fortunate for the country that he gave up and announced on national television that he was not running for another term

President Nixon is famous for his drunken late-night reveries in which he spun out his paranoid fantasies to trusted staff members.  From the time that Nixon fired his special prosecutor to the time he resigned, the executive office was simply paralyzed.  Nixon wandered about the White House late at night, drinking and delusional.  Shortly after he resigned, he suffered a life-threatening illness (phlebitis) partly due to his alcoholism and inactivity.  He never expressed any contrition or even admitted that he had committed a criminal act, and only apologized (after he was pardoned) for “not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate…”

Our current president, unlike any previous cases, was already showing florid signs of mental disorder even before he was elected.  A debate has grown up among mental health professionals over whether it is appropriate to actually come out and say that Don the Con is sick.  There is rule, called the Goldwater Rule, which was instituted among almost all mental health professional associations after the election of 1964, in which there was public speculation by some psychiatrists that Goldwater was “megalomaniac”, “paranoid”, “grossly psychotic”, and so on.  The psychiatrists were responding to a poll mailed to them by a muckraking journalist, Ralph Ginzburg, who later lost a libel suit by Goldwater– and had to pay the equivalent of half a million dollars in today’s money.

Because of the potential for “libel” and more importantly, to protect the patient’s privacy, the rule requires a mental health professional to personally examine a patient and get their express consent before publicly making any statements about that patient’s mental health or diagnosis.  Matters of general psychiatric interest to the public can be freely discussed, but one cannot speculate about a specific person’s mental health without examining them.

Unfortunately, this rule falls afoul of two other rules.  The first over-riding rule is the duty to warn.  This rule requires a mental health professional to warn potential victims of a dangerous patient if they have been informed of a threat or serious dangerous situations.  The usual scenario in which this rule comes in play is when a patient reveals in the course of therapy that they have violent intentions towards another person that the therapist knows.  In this case, the threat is that Don the Con will cause the deaths of thousands of Americans by taking away their health insurance.  There are other threats that he has made, but this is probably the most urgent.

The second over-riding rule is more complex.  It relates to the fact that Don the Con lies with such apparent facility.  This makes it necessary to interview or at least read the assessments of others who, we hope, will be more truthful about what he intends.  In addition, it is also informative to consider Don the Con’s past behavior as it has been recorded in the news media and by eyewitnesses.  Thus, the rule makes it essential to consult other sources rather than examining him directly.

Therefore, it is ethically appropriate to warn Don the Con’s potential victims (and there are many) of his diagnosis and the extent of his dangerousness to them.  Thus, making statements in a newspaper article about Don the Con are permissible, if they are qualified and do not simply repeat the obvious extent of paranoia, delusions, and narcissistic orientation– these signs are almost universal among politicians (although they are more extreme in this case) and do not readily translate into public disapproval.  What matters are his sociopathic behaviors and his threatening speech about those whom he perceives to be enemies.  It is not just the petty insults– it is the threats to use the powers of government to oppress those whom he believes to have disapproved of him.

Thus, we must state clearly that when Don the Con makes threats to use his presidential powers in unconstitutional ways this is unacceptable regardless of his mental health or lack of it.  Combined with his self-dealing and pervasive corruption, it is more than enough to justify impeachment, and after removal from office, criminal prosecution.  The twenty-five million dollar fine imposed on Don the Con in the Trump University case is not enough to make clear to him that he is violating the norms of society.  Sending him to jail and confiscating his wealth are the only fit remedies for his behavior.