Donald Trump – The Matryoshka Candidate?

I am amazed at the number, scope, and continuous flow of speculations about Donald Trump, as president-elect.  Now we have an American, billionaire, capitalist, accused of being a Russian sympathizer, and even a collaborator with Russia’s Putin to win the election.  Does that sound like the Russian version of “The Manchurian Candidate” to you?  (FYI:  a Matryoshka is one of those hollow, Russian, nested, wooden dolls with smaller and smaller dolls inside.)  I guess there are no limits on imagination, enmity, paranoia, malice, and disappointment.

Those who oppose Donald Trump, and those who are left bitter, dazed, angry, and confused by his election as President do not need to be rational in their relentless attacks on anything Trump.  Those accusing him of being soft on Russia, a Putin sycophant, and naïve about our enemies might take a minute to reflect on how silly that sounds.

Is it soft to sell some rich Russians overpriced condos and land in the US?  Is it sycophantic to use Putin to criticize political opponents as being weak?  Is it naïve to get the Russians to pay premium prices to have the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow?  Do I hear a no?

Until now, Mr. Trump’s interest in Russia has been limited to money, i.e. making money, not losing it, and not giving it away.  All his dealings with Russians have been real estate in the US, or visiting Moscow for a US-based beauty pageant.  Trump has never met Putin face-to-face, or made any deals with him.  Putin even cancelled a scheduled meeting with Trump during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.  Does that sound like love to you?  I believe Trump could continue to make money from Russians without being President, and without being friends with Putin; therefore, I do not think there is a sinister link. What else would he have to gain?

Some cite the friendly, respectful tone of comments and letters between the men.  A friendly demeanor is not the same as friendship; sometimes negotiations can benefit from pleasant diplomacy.

Others suggest that Putin sees Trump as weaker than Clinton.  Do we have some evidence that Trump is as passive as Obama has been in foreign matters, such as Crimea and Syria?  Or maybe evidence that Putin is afraid of Hillary after meeting her as Secretary of State?

Let us see what happens after January 20th.

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The Divided States of America

America is an idea; a concept; an agreement; a contract; not a structure; not separate from its citizens; not invincible; not divine.  America is the sum of us; e pluribus unum; one nation; under God; a work in progress.

Now, our unity is deeply wounded; the cut is painful; we blame each other; we separate; we abandon trust; we lose our faith; we suffer; we fear; we lash out; we seek redemption; we want to be healed.

Staying together as a nation is hard; we are attacked; we are blamed; we question our beliefs; we question our leaders; we question ourselves; we become angry; we defend ourselves from each other.

Our children watch us; they trust us; they copy us; they love us; they grow up; they have love; they have work; they have families; they have children; they have the life you gave them; they inherited the America of today; they do not know what to do.

Too much everything intoxicates Americans; too much abundance; too much safety; too much power; too much food; too much information; too much ignorance; too much entertainment; too much violence; too much vulgarity; too much separation; too much taking; too much hurting; too much lust; too much abandoning; too much hate; too much racism; too much chemistry; too much addiction; too much medication; too much advertising; too much preaching; too much teaching; too much attitude; too much Satan; too much to handle.

Not enough truth demeans and degrades Americans; not enough knowledge; not enough love; not enough wisdom; not enough peace; not enough grace; not enough nature; not enough helping; not enough learning; not enough vocabulary; not enough strength; not enough compassion; not enough praying; not enough intimacy; not enough sharing; not enough family; not enough courage; not enough community; not enough contact; not enough respect; not enough God; not enough to thrive.

Some wounds are slow to heal; some feuds are hard to end; but America is ours to mend.

Who Examines Presidents? – Whoever They Choose

 

Americans deserve and need to know the health of our President, and our Vice-President; but we do not.

That is right:  There is no impartial national medical team for our country’s top executives, or those who seek those positions.  Each president and vice-president picks their own doctors, and decides what medical information they disclose.  In fact, several presidents have withheld and even falsified their health conditions to the public.  Kind of scary to not know the health of the most powerful politician in the world.  And, a heartbeat away, it also makes knowing the health of the Vice-President more than a casual concern.

The 25th amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides emergency options, should the president be incapacitated.  It lays out protocols for the vice president to take over, temporarily, when the president is stricken.  Why rely on such extraordinary measures when we can anticipate, and avoid problems by knowing the health of our president?  We have the technology.

In a 1993 edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association, former President Jimmy Carter advocated “the creation of a ‘nonpartisan group’ of physicians to help decide when a president’s illness affects his judgment.”   Apparently, doctors of previous presidents said presidential disability was a terrible problem.

Examples of hidden conditions:

Ronald Reagan

Reagan fought hard to dispel any rumors about his ill health, even after surviving an assassination attempt and colon cancer.  Some historians speculate the 40th president suffered from dementia  while he was in office.  He was publicly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease before his death in 2004.

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy presented the image of youthful vigor, but was in chronic pain due to back troubles from a World War II injury and constantly fatigued from Addison’s Disease (a chronic insufficiency of the adrenal glands).

Franklin D. Roosevelt

FDR hid the severity of his polio until after his death in 1945. Roosevelt was barely able to stand as he governed through World War II.

Woodrow Wilson

Wilson concealed the fact that he had three minor strokes leading up to his run for the presidency.  During his second term, Wilson suffered a massive stroke that left him paralyzed and blinded on the left side of his body.  He couldn’t have a cabinet meeting for nine months.

His vice president, Thomas Marshall, refused to take over; Wilson could only manage his presidential duties with the help of his wife, Edith, who decided which issues deserved the president’s attention.

In this case voters were denied knowledge of conditions that seriously limited Wilson’s ability to govern.

William Henry Harrison

The 9th president of the United States died in his first month in office of “bilious pleurisy” which appeared as “inflamed lungs,” an “engorged liver,” and a “delirious mental state.”

We want to know that our top leaders are healthy enough to perform their vital roles.  As we approach the 2016 election, Americans are concerned that we have no reliable way to learn about the physical and mental health of the presidential candidates, and their running mates.  Right now, with no other mechanism in place, only the candidates can relieve our concerns.

$20 million to Destroy $11 million of ISIS Trucks and Oil?

This weekend, U.S.-led coalition aircraft destroyed an estimated $11 million worth of oil and trucks over the weekend in the largest single airstrike this year against the Islamic State’s black market oil trade in Syria.

“You’re going to have multiple effects from this one strike,” Air Force Lt. Gen, Jeffrey Harrigian, commander in the Middle East, said Tuesday. “We’ll have to see what this does to their ability to generate fighters.”

Waves of aircraft destroyed 83 oil tankers sitting in the open in Sunday’s attack.

The attacks were ordered after a pilot spotted some vehicles gathering in Deir ez-Zor province, a key oil-producing region in Syria controlled by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

The coalition command sent a surveillance aircraft over the area. The command then quickly directed A-10 attack planes, F-16s and two coalition aircraft, which together launched more than 80 weapons, including bombing and strafing runs, at the vehicles.”

Air-to-ground missiles, A-10’s, F-16’s, drones, satellites, technicians, pilots, all cost money – a lot of money.  One first generation Hellfire missile costs about $100,000; an F-16 costs $165 million each, plus $30,000 per hour to fly; drones cost $100,000+ to build and take a large infrastructure to operate.

I am not saying that we should not use our resources to take out the enemy, just quit warning them ahead of time and hold off on the bragging.  If all we are doing is destroying trucks, it may cost us as much as it costs them.  And are these people our enemies? Do we always fire a few warning shots so the experienced operators and soldiers can escape? Is this some weird video game war? Yes, I am serious:

“In the initial Tidal Wave II strikes last year, the coalition dropped leaflets on oil tankers before launching attacks, encouraging the drivers to flee their vehicles.

New military rules don’t require leaflets to be dropped, but pilots fire warning shots, typically consisting of bombs or rockets that are not aimed directly at the convoy.

“We’ll do that … to give them a chance to run,” Harrigian said.”  Jim Michaels – USA Today

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/08/09/islamic-state-oil-trucks-destroyed-massive-strike/88459864/

Sure, we can outspend ISIS; their $2 billion annual budget is peanuts compared the money we are prepared to spend to put them out of business.  But are we really serious about defeating the enemy?

Royalty Revealed – Hardened Arteries of the Powerful Establishment’s Heart

 

The 2016 presidential campaign harkens back to the earliest years of our nation.  Democracy, Republic, Three Branches of Government, Bicameral Legislature, By The People, Checks and Balances were new ideas.  Did everyone agree?  Not in the slightest.  And they had not invented political correctness in the middle of the 18th century.

No; instead, anonymous, pamphlets of slanderous accusations and invectives, swirled like blizzards across the newly formed Unites States of America.  The reins of power were not certain or predictable. Contenders for office came from all walks of life with no “party” to promote them.

The evolution of America’s two major political parties took some time, but those in power were hardly poor or neutral; power is the ultimate opioid.  Despite conflicts, Democrats and Republicans play the same games; they expect to win and lose from time to time, but both sides know the rules of placating the masses by making them think they have a voice in what goes on.

Until recently, the pretense of two radically separate political bodies survived, and thrived.  Now, two is not enough, talk is not enough, rhetoric is not enough.  Americans are tired of the same old crap: “They” are bad, “We” are good.  We will fix (what they broke, again).  They found out that there is just one old machine with two faces; they do not want it anymore.

The 9/11 attacks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mortgage fiascos, the collapse of investment banks, the explosion of college costs and debts, the Great Recession, the expansion of global terrorism, have shaken our confidence in America, in ourselves, and in our institutions.

We have lost the super in superpower.  Our military is so weak, we have to send the same soldiers back into combat again and again until they break; we spend millions of dollars on a drone strike to kill a dozen enemy soldiers so we can avoid American casualties.  The all-professional military means that average citizens are not involved; we do not feel like we are really at war.  What would make us think that?

The same old promises will not work on brand new problems any better than they did on the old problems.  Conspiracies seem to explain current events better than the lame “official” excuses and falsehoods WikiLeaks keeps uncovering.  And just maybe the truth is not that far off.

We have lost the attention span to take politicians seriously.  Incumbents no longer offer us advantages. Hence the wave of populism, barely dodged by the Democrats secret machine, and now staring the Republicans in the face.  The political czars are going to any length, including crossing over to the other side to avoid losing control of the constituencies they have cultivated.

The trouble is, the new constituencies are awakened, vocal, mobilized, and revolting against Big Brother.  They want purpose, they want independence, they want liberty, and at least a passing chance in their pursuit of happiness.

It looks like the machine, with all its money, influence, propaganda, connections, and experience may win again this time.  I am unhappy that my country, with all its advantages, cannot cultivate enough honorable leaders to field worthy candidates for president, and remain loyal when the voters speak.

The Throat of a Priest – Another Victim

Fear and distrust of “Muslims” feeds on horrific events like a cutthroat murder of a poor 85-year-old priest giving mass today in Saint-Etienne-Du-Rouvray, France.  What can Muslims do about ISIS besides decry, denounce, and deny involvement?  I do not have the answers either.

To complicate matters, Islamic sects attack other Muslims they believe are not “true believers.”  In addition, turmoil, fragmentation, propaganda, and disenchantment, can divert young minds from seeing other people as human beings if they represent “The Enemy,” “The Satan,” or any name they regard as worthy of killing.

Some of the greatest scientific, mathematical, and poetic minds in the history of humanity came from the Middle East.  I do not believe that the Muslim community lacks the abilities or resources to thwart such despicable members of their faith.  I believe that we lack trust and cooperation with each other.

Would it be “profiling” for predominately Muslim communities to join together and purposely organize to identify these murderers in their midst?  No one knows the signs and subtle indicators of violence on any streets better than the people who live there.

We already have analogous problems in predominately black neighborhoods – no one talks because they are afraid of reprisals.  I am not sure that is the problem in the Muslim community, but something is in the way of finding and stopping these monsters.

Please, do not leave this problem on the doorsteps of condolences and denial; it does not matter what you believe, or how you practice your beliefs, join us to stop this madness.

Tools from Carl Sagan’s BS Detection Kit

We are in an age of hyper-information/persuasion/spin about all aspects of our lives, from what we eat, to what we buy, to what we attend, to whom we choose as leaders.  Now, as always, we can benefit from screening the inputs to our lives, and weighing our beliefs on a scale of clarity, and verity.  Carl Sagan gave us some sage tools to evaluate and detect fallacies of arguments, and false claims.  After the quote, I will try to translate, without bias, his precise language, and references, into reasonably understandable terms.

A. Evaluate Ideas to Approach the Truth:

  1. Wherever possible,there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science, there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
  4. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
  5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
  6. Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
  7. If there’s a chain of argument,every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
  8. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the dataequally well to choose the simpler.
  9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
  1. Avoid Common Pitfalls of Common Sense

Just as important as learning these helpful tools, however, is unlearning and avoiding the most common pitfalls of common sense. Reminding us of where society is most vulnerable to those, Sagan writes:

In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating a claim to knowledge, any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do. It helps us recognize the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric. Many good examples can be found in religion and politics, because their practitioners are so often obliged to justify two contradictory propositions.

He admonishes against the twenty most common and perilous ones — many rooted in our chronic discomfort with ambiguity — with examples of each in action:

  1. ad hominem— Latin for “to the man,” attacking the arguer and not the argument (e.g., The Reverend Dr. Smith is a known Biblical fundamentalist, so her objections to evolution need not be taken seriously)
  2. argument from authority(e.g., President Richard Nixon should be re-elected because he has a secret plan to end the war in Southeast Asia — but because it was secret, there was no way for the electorate to evaluate it on its merits; the argument amounted to trusting him because he was President: a mistake, as it turned out)
  3. argument from adverse consequences(e.g., A God meting out punishment and reward must exist, because if He didn’t, society would be much more lawless and dangerous — perhaps even ungovernable. Or: The defendant in a widely publicized murder trial must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an encouragement for other men to murder their wives)
  4. appeal to ignorance— the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore, UFOs exist — and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we’re still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
  5. special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble(e.g.,How can a merciful God condemn future generations to torment because, against orders, one woman induced one man to eat an apple? Special plead: you don’t understand the subtle Doctrine of Free Will. Or: How can there be an equally godlike Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same Person? Special plead: You don’t understand the Divine Mystery of the Trinity. Or: How could God permit the followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — each in their own way enjoined to heroic measures of loving kindness and compassion — to have perpetrated so much cruelty for so long? Special plead: You don’t understand Free Will again. And anyway, God moves in mysterious ways.)
  6. begging the question, also called assuming the answer (e.g., We must institute the death penalty to discourage violent crime. But does the violent crime rate in fact fall when the death penalty is imposed? Or: The stock market fell yesterday because of a technical adjustment and profit-taking by investors — but is there any independent evidence for the causal role of “adjustment” and profit-taking; have we learned anything at all from this purported explanation?)
  7. observational selection, also calledthe enumeration of favorable circumstances, or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and forgetting the misses (e.g., A state boasts of the Presidents it has produced, but is silent on its serial killers)
  8. statistics of small numbers— a close relative of observational selection(e.g., “They say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese. Yours truly.” Or: “I’ve thrown three sevens in a row. Tonight I can’t lose.”)
  9. misunderstanding of the nature of statistics(e.g., President Dwight Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence);
  10. inconsistency(e.g., Prudently plan for the worst of which a potential military adversary is capable, but thriftily ignore scientific projections on environmental dangers because they’re not “proved.” Or: Attribute the declining life expectancy in the former Soviet Union to the failures of communism many years ago, but never attribute the high infant mortality rate in the United States (now highest of the major industrial nations) to the failures of capitalism. Or: Consider it reasonable for the Universe to continue to exist forever into the future, but judge absurd the possibility that it has infinite duration into the past);
  11. non sequitur— Latin for “It doesn’t follow” (e.g., Our nation will prevail because God is great. But nearly every nation pretends this to be true; the German formulation was “Gott mit uns”). Often those falling into the non sequitur fallacy have simply failed to recognize alternative possibilities;
  12. post hoc, ergo propter hoc— Latin for “It happened after, so it was caused by” (e.g., Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila: “I know of … a 26-year-old who looks 60 because she takes [contraceptive] pills.” Or: Before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons)
  13. meaningless question(e.g., What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? But if there is such a thing as an irresistible force there can be no immovable objects, and vice versa)
  14. excluded middle, or false dichotomy — considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities (e.g., “Sure, take his side; my husband’s perfect; I’m always wrong.” Or: “Either you love your country or you hate it.” Or: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”)
  15. short-term vs. long-term— a subset of the excluded middle, but so important I’ve pulled it out for special attention (e.g., We can’t afford programs to feed malnourished children and educate pre-school kids. We need to urgently deal with crime on the streets.  Or: Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?);
  16. slippery slope, related to excluded middle (e.g.,If we allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, it will be impossible to prevent the killing of a full-term infant. Or, conversely: If the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month, it will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception);
  17. confusion of correlation and causation(e.g., A survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual than those with lesser education; therefore, education makes people gay. Or: Andean earthquakes are correlated with closest approaches of the planet Uranus; therefore — despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer, more massive planet Jupiter — the latter causes the former)
  18. straw man— caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack (e.g., Scientists suppose that living things simply fell together by chance — a formulation that willfully ignores the central Darwinian insight, that Nature ratchets up by saving what works and discarding what doesn’t. Or — this is also a short-term/long-term fallacy — environmentalists care more for snail darters and spotted owls than they do for people)
  19. suppressed evidence, or half-truths (e.g., An amazingly accurate and widely quoted “prophecy” of the assassination attempt on President Reagan is shown on television; but — an important detail — was it recorded before or after the event? Or:  These government abuses demand revolution, even if you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Yes, but is this likely to be a revolution in which far more people are killed than under the previous regime? What does the experience of other revolutions suggest? Are all revolutions against oppressive regimes desirable and in the interests of the people?)
  20. weasel words(e.g., The separation of powers of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct a war without a declaration by Congress. On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected. Presidents of either political party may therefore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the flag and calling the wars something else — “police actions,” “armed incursions,” “protective reaction strikes,” “pacification,” “safeguarding American interests,” and a wide variety of “operations,” such as “Operation Just Cause.” Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes. Talleyrand said, “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”)

Like all tools, the baloney detection kit can be misused, applied out of context, or even employed as a rote alternative to thinking. But applied judiciously, it can make all the difference in the world — not least in evaluating our own arguments before we present them to others.”