Amazon Strikes Again

I don’t want to be seen as having some kind of crazy consumer’s vendetta against #Amazon, because I don’t. But I do believe that a company of Amazon’s scale has an obligation to conduct its business with some regard for its environmental impact. It appears to be failing at that and, given all the threats to the environment by the Trump administration and companies that place corporate interests ahead of the planet’s welfare, this warrants a call-out.

In an earlier post, I complained about what I saw as wasteful packaging procedures involving the use of boxes significantly larger than necessary to move the items in question. Since then, I have placed an order for eight items from Amazon Prime Pantry. The Pantry is the name @Amazon chose for grocery-like items that it now sells. “Grocery-like” is my term but is generally accurate for this service, except that there are many items “located” there that are also sold in drug stores like CVS.

Here is what I found when I opened the enormous box:

The photos tell the story. I was stunned at the size of the box used to ship the eight items which, together, occupied 2040 cubic inches (just shy of 1.2 cubic feet) of space. The box holds 4663.75 cubic inches of space (2.7 cubic feet), more than twice what was necessary for the items in question. The remainder of the space was filled with 4” x 7” plastic air bags, 85 of them!

I understand that it is sometimes unreasonable to expect the packaging to match precisely the combined size of the contents, but that was not the case here. Not even close. This and the package covered in the previous post are not the only times I have seen this.

Compare this photo of a recent coffee order received from Keurig, where the seven boxes almost exactly fit the outer box:

Amazon must do better at operating consistently with the interests of the planet and not just to maximize profits, though one would think that wasting packaging material on this scale leads to higher than necessary costs. You would think self-interest would drive the company to operate more efficiently. Maybe it would if enough customers complained. Amazon, don’t make me come down there!

Sleight of Hand by MLB and Facebook

The Washington Nationals are fighting for their 2018 lives from six games behind Atlanta or Philadelphia (varies by week as to who is in first place). Today, the Nats finish a 4-game homestand against Atlanta and they are down 2 games to 1. The final game of the set is today, playing as I write. To my complete surprise, the game is not being broadcast by MLB-TV through normal channels. Instead, as so cleverly put by MLB-at-Bat, to which I subscribe along with MLB-TV so I can watch the Nats games while living in New York City, the game is being live-streamed on Facebook as part of what is called the MLB-Facebook “partnership.” See screenshot below:

So, I did what I was prompted to do, but not my phone. I did it on the larger iMac screen. And, well, well, what do we have here but a collection of mandatory “free” subscriptions to various streaming services, including a demand for full credit card information even while  being assured that the card will not be charged.

 

Depending on which viewing option you select, you are presented with a mandatory signup for a “trial membership:”

Not a chance. If I wanted my credit card information in the hands of random streaming services, I would seek them out. MLB is using its “partnership to try to leverage fans into these services. I might not have been so offended by this abuse if, in announcing that today’s game would only be available by streaming on Facebook, MLB had disclosed that viewing the game that way would require opening a “free” account with a livestreaming service other than MLB-TV.

It seems likely that this scheme will induce some fans to sign up for these streaming services and on that basis MLB and Facebook will record the scheme as a win for them. What they will not count are the fans like me who are deeply disturbed by this game-playing with subscribers. This deal ranks right down there with what I was told a year ago – that I could purchase post-season tickets only if I also bought a block of tickets for the next season. I rejected that ridiculous proposal as well and added it to the reservoir of resentment against MLB teams’ manipulative schemes to force people to buy tickets.

As a fan, I want the Nationals to prosper and be competitive and also want the game of baseball to succeed. But, MLB is flirting with the limits of greed already, with obscene player salaries, sky-high ticket prices and concession stand charges that can kill your appetite faster than a cold plate of greasy nachos.

Dodge Ball on Capitol Hill

If you were fortunate enough to miss the coverage of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing at which Michael Pompeo, the current Secretary of State, testified, you missed little of substance.

If, for example, you were hoping that the Secretary of State would illuminate the recent “private” meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, about which no reliable information, indeed no information of any kind, has heretofore been revealed, your hopes were dashed. While Pompeo claims to have been fully briefed by Trump regarding the pas de deux with Putin, he provided no substantive insights, raising the possibility, stated by several senators, that in fact he had not been actually briefed and that, in any case, he could not be sure that Trump was telling the truth.

To say that the exchanges were testy to the point of personal hostility would be an understatement. This is not altogether surprising. In constitutional theory, the Senate is part of the checks and balances against the substantial power of the Executive Branch. History teaches that the Executive Branch, while uttering the usual niceties, is often unhappy being called to account before the Congress. Rough and tumble exchanges are common and the Pompeo hearing was no exception.

Try though he might, however, Pompeo, like Rex Tillerson before him and like the other Trump enablers in the Cabinet, cannot make sense of Trump’s approach to leadership. When confronted with blatantly contradictory statements from Trump, Pompeo tried to say that both were in fact statements of U.S. policy and that both statements, though flatly contradictory, were true. Yes is the same as No. Up is the same as Down.

That is, of course, right out of the Trump Chaos Playbook. He doesn’t care whether what he says is true or false because, like his role as bullying chief executive of his business empire, he knows the Republican Party will not hold him to account.  In Trump’s world a lie is just as good, often better, than the truth. That may explain why he lies so often and so consistently about almost everything to do with the government and his businesses.  Pompeo went out of his way to “assure” the Senate committee that Trump was personally and tightly in control of everything that was going on in the Executive Branch.

This was likely Pompeo’s way of signaling Trump that he was loyal to the core. The point has other implications, of course. If it is true, and Pompeo was emphatic about it, Trump has been deprived of any Nixonian claim that he didn’t know what was going on, that no one told him. Pompeo made clear that Trump is aware of everything and decides everything. This means that Trump is personally responsible for the destruction of the environment at the hands of the EPA, for the undermining of American public education at the hands of the very rich but apparently quite stupid Secretary of Education and for the Republican undermining of the health insurance system. Hearing Pompeo, Trump was doubtless beaming like the Cheshire Cat. Trump’s Humpty Dumpty style of “leadership,” where words mean whatever he or his enabler-of-the-day says they mean including nothing at all, may play well with his political base but he could be due for a big fall from the wall. Especially if Michael Cohen, former Trump “fixer,” can make stick his reported claim that Trump knew about and approved the Trump Tower meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. We can reasonably assume that Special Prosecutor Mueller has taken note of Pompeo’s tagging of Trump

BRAKING NEWS: Transcript of Private Trump-Putin Meeting Leaked

Washington, D.C. (former capitol of the United States) July 21, 2018

A partial transcript of the “no witnesses” meeting in Helsinki between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin has been provided to select media. It is reported that upon seeing the transcript, Fox News mouthpiece Sean Hannityovich said, “gaaahhorgggahiyi” and collapsed on the floor with foam streaming from his mouth. He was rushed to the local Minute Clinic and there is no official report on his condition.

The transcript is now believed to have been obtained and leaked by Melania Trump, First Lady of the former United States. It reads as follows:

[Trump & Putin shake hands and sit down; translators sit down also]

Trump: Well, Vladimir, here we are at last, just like I promised. Just you and me, babe. What do you want to talk about?

Putin: Donald, let’s cut to the chase, ok?

Trump: Wait, hold on! You speak English?

Putin: Of course, I do, Donald. What do you think I was doing all those years in the KGB? I am totally conversant in your language. It will be a shame when we have to ban it.

Trump: Wow. You really speak good English. As good as me and I have the very best words.  Everyone says so. I am impressed, Vladimir. I always knew you were smart. Not as smart as me, of course, but still pretty …

Putin: Enough about you, Donald. In fact, how about you just shut up for a few minutes so we can get some work done. I did not agree to this meeting just to make you look good.

Trump: Ok, ok, Vlad, don’t be upset. Whatever you want is ok with me.

Putin: Good. I thought it would be since you are president only because of the interference in the U.S. election that I ordered.

Trump: Well, that’s a little harsh, don’t you think? I mean, look at how many electoral votes I got….

Putin: Yeah, but what about her emails?

Trump: You got my message just right. I said, “Russia, if you’re listening …

Putin: I know what you said, Donald. Your American news media play it on TV every damn day! Listen to me. I have a very important thing to say.

Trump: [leaning in] I’m all ears, Vlad. What’s that?

Putin: You are going to invite me to visit the United States.

Trump: Sure, no problem. When you’re a star, they let you do what you want….

Putin: And while I’m there, I am going to defect.

Trump: …. Uh…er….

Putin: I am serious, Donald. You can close your mouth now. You remember when you made that comment about shithole countries? Well, Russia is one. I am sick of the winters here, the intrigues that never stop, people trying to stab you in the back, literally. All my opponents keep committing suicide, making me look bad. And, besides, I’ve always wanted to own a real democracy.

Trump: But, Vlad, I mean, uh, what would that do?

Putin: Nothing that you need to concern yourself with, Donald. You will move back to New York City, play golf every day, if you like. Live the life you always wanted.

Trump: They hate me in New York.

Putin: Yeah, well, what goes around comes around. But, listen, Donald, they are going to put you in jail. You have violated their constitution and made a hash of the U.S. government. I know how to run things efficiently. I will move into the White House. Melania can stay there if she wants. You know she sounds more like a Russian than an American. All will be well. Believe me.

[end of transcript]

Treason – Why Do They Do It?

The events of the past few days do not need recounting. By now, anyone who is awake is aware that the President of the United States adhered to and gave aid and comfort to an enemy of the United States. I define “enemy” here as a country that interferes in the internal politics of our democracy to prejudice the outcome of an election. My view is that because the Constitution sets out three separate forms of treason, only one of which involves “war” as such, it is possible to commit treason with a country as to which the United States is not technically “at war.” And I believe Trump clearly did that in Helsinki. No amount of later backpedaling and doubletalk can cancel what he did, especially recognizing that he insisted on a no-witnesses meeting with Putin that lasted for several hours.

The Constitutional definition of “treason” is stated as follows in Article III, Paragraph 3:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open court.”

I am aware that there is a lot of debate among legal scholars and historians about the exact meaning of Article III’s definitions and I don’t propose to recount or resolve them here. Instead, I am interested in the underlying question: why does anyone commit treason? In simpler terms, what would motivate an officer of the United States, and in particular the highest officer, to side with a foreign country engaged in hostile acts against his country when such alignment is resisted by most or all of his most senior and experienced advisors?

That question has now risen in importance as a result of the travesty of Donald Trump bowing and scraping before Vladimir Putin at the Finland joint press conference. Even members of Trump’s own party are asking the question because they conceive of no explanation that makes sense. His later “I meant ‘wouldn’t’ instead of ‘would’” warrants no more comment or analysis than just “look at the video and you will see he meant what he said: ‘would.’

The possible reasons for committing what I, and many knowledgeable commenters, believe was an act of treason include at least the following:

  • Ideological alignment on issues of overriding importance to the actor
  • Mental illness such as to fundamentally impair his ability to make decisions
  • Stupidity
  • Money/Avarice
  • Power
  • Blackmail

There may be some I haven’t thought of but for now this is the list. Let’s consider them one by one.

Ideological alignment on issues of overriding importance to the actor: I dismiss this one out of hand because Trump appears not to have a consistent ideology of any kind. He adopted the mantle of Conservative Republican when it suited his political ambitions but historically he has been all over the place on matters of ideology. There is no reason I have seen (confessing I might have missed it) that he would be attracted to communism or socialism. Ultra-right fascism is definitely a possibility, given his pre- and post-election tendency to morally equate the actions of white supremacist/Nazi/alt-Right extremists with those of the progressive Left. He clearly is attracted to authoritarian leaders – aside from Putin, Duterte of the Philippines comes to mind. Trump’s business history is that of a bully who pushes around and cheats people who are not in a position to fight back on an equal footing. 

Mental Illness:  Many experts and non-experts alike have addressed the question whether Trump has a “mental illness,” a “personality disorder,” or dementia of some kind. I don’t know the answer, of course, but am reluctant to argue that the fact of Trump’s seeing everything differently than I do is evidence of any of those things. Certainly, his behavior evinces a monstrously large ego, massive insecurity and need for approval and similar considerations, but whether those obvious characteristics would lead a person to commit treason seems weak. The same for his propensity to bully everyone to show that he is the bigger man, the most important person in the room/world.

Stupidity: To be clear, I believe Trump acts like an ignorant fool most all the time. He knows little or no history, reads little or nothing, declines to be briefed and appears to believe his massive intelligence overshadows all experts in all fields so that no one has anything useful to tell him. Still, can we conclude that he is just plain dumb? On the surface, at least, he is (was) an educated person. And he has had the resources to continue to be educated, though he seems to have affirmatively avoided taking in new information for decades. Trump is willfully uninformed about the important elements of his job, but does that mean his is too stupid, too ignorant to understand that aligning with a historical enemy of his country, run by a dictator (spare me the baloney about how Putin was “elected” in a democratic process in Russia)?

Money/Avarice:  Considering Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, the mounting evidence of secret business deals with Russians, his numerous lies about whether or not he has business relationships in Russia, and his and his family’s continuing to profit from incomes fed to his business empire by foreign interests, a plausible argument can be made that Trump would sell out his country simply to secure his business interests. It is possible that much of his past business activities have been funded by Russian interests. On the other hand, Trump is a very rich man and getting richer every day, often at the expense of the American taxpayer. So, would he commit treason for still more money? Possibly, because, for people like Trump, there is never enough money. The more they get, the more they want more. Always more.

Power: The president of the United States is reputedly the most powerful person in the world. What additional power would he expect to get by supporting a hostile foreign power against his own country? His party controls both houses of Congress already. He knows that cozying up to Vladimir Putin is worrisome or worse to even many Republican members of Congress who are otherwise slavering all over him to prove their loyalty (that he appears to value above all else, including competence). Yet, to borrow a contemporary meme, he persists. The power explanation rings true somewhat, especially when combined with the Money/Avarice option. It may be that my list oversimplifies a multi-element explanation. The answer may be a combination of personality disorder/willful ignorance/grasping for more personal and family wealth and power. Could be. But there is at least one other choice.

Blackmail: Since the disclosure of the Steele dossier (see https://bit.ly/2nFuZn4), rumors and stories have continued to surface about Trump being a Russian asset or at least subject to blackmail related either to personal misconduct in Russia or corrupt business dealings there. These views have gained new momentum in the wake of Trump’s bending the knee to Putin in Helsinki. There is no known way at the moment to verify this, although one hopes that the Mueller investigation is looking very deeply into the web of Trump-Russia connections and Trump’s inexplicable fondness for a historically hostile power. The extraordinary detail in the indictment of the 12 Russian hackers is an indication of the sophistication and thoroughness of U.S. counterintelligence expertise when aggressively applied in the hunt for traitors and their enablers.

Bottom Line: Spoiler alert: anticlimax coming.

I suspect that the awful reality is that, as suggested above, the explanation for Trump’s conduct toward Russia and Putin has multiple sources. Treason, especially by a president, is so serious that we must not yield to the temptation to believe in the simplest “explanation,” an “obvious” single cause.

Avoiding impatience is also important. Having conducted a corruption investigation early in my career, involving confidential “inside” sources, a conspiracy among multiple parties, some with “stellar reputations,” and serious efforts by numerous parties to hide the truth, I can attest to the importance of letting the painstaking, often tedious, investigative work proceed to whatever conclusion it will reach. The demands of Trump’s Republican enablers in Congress and elsewhere to “end the investigation” because it “has produced no evidence of collusion” are simply partisan and delusional wishful thinking. They have no idea what information is building inside the Mueller investigation and will not know, as we will not, until Mueller decides to conclude his work and report his findings.

The Sidestep — Trump’s New National Anthem

No need to worry about anyone taking a knee over Trump’s new national anthem. After witnessing Trump’s humiliation of himself and his country during the Appeasement Summit with Putin in Helsinki and the subsequent pathetic attempts to change what he said there, and his departure from the “non mea culpa” [not my fault] statement written for him by his staff, resulting in a “walk back” of the “walk back,” every coherent person anywhere in the world will acknowledge how perfectly this new anthem fits him.

It’s from the movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and is sung by the Texas governor who has been asked what he’s going to do about the Chicken Ranch, a whorehouse thriving in his state and which he had patronized himself on more than one occasion. Here is how it goes (for brevity, only one chorus fully spelled out):

“Fellow Texans, I am proudly standing here to humbly say.
I assure you, and I mean it- Now, who says I don’t speak out as plain as day?
And, fellow Texans, I’m for progress and the flag- long may it fly.
I’m a poor boy, come to greatness. So, it follows that I cannot tell a lie.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

Now my good friends, it behooves me to be solemn and declare,
I’m for goodness and for profit and for living clean and saying daily prayer.
And now, my good friends, you can sleep nights, I’ll continue to stand tall.
You can trust me, for I promise, I shall keep a watchful eye upon ya’ll…

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
….

Now, Miss Mona, I don’t know her, though I’ve heard the name, oh yes.
But, of course I’ve no close contact, so what she is doing I can only guess.
And now, Miss Mona, she’s a blemish on the face of that good town.
I am taking certain steps here, someone somewhere’s gonna have to close her down.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
….

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep…

And, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step…

Cut a little swathe and lead the people on.”

https://www.allmusicals.com/lyrics/bestlittlewhorehouseintexasthe/thesidestep.htm

Mueller’s Indictment of Russia Hackers — Updated

In the original post, I reported that paragraph 43(a) of the Mueller Russian hacking indictment stated that a “candidate for the U.S. Congress” asked for, and received, stolen emails from the Russia hackers posing as Gucifer 2.0. The information related to the candidate’s opponent.

There is related news. The Palmer Report has stated that the Congressman in question is likely to be Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). https://bit.ly/2NPvWVX The basis for the report is that Rod Rosenstein had advised Trump in advance that the Mueller Russian hacking indictments were imminent and had identified to Trump the Congressman referred to in paragraph 43(a). Apparently concerned about the fate of the Congressman, given his involvement in using the stolen materials from the Russia hack, Trump issued a tweet out of the blue while on his overseas trip:

“Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida is one of the finest and most talented people in Congress. Strong on Crime, the Border, Illegal Immigration, the 2nd Amendment, our great Military & Vets, Matt worked tirelessly on helping to get our Massive Tax Cuts. He has my Full Endorsement!”

Why Gaetz? Palmer Report suggests it’s because Gaetz is close to Roger Stone who has admitted that he, Stone, is the unnamed Trump associate mentioned in the indictment. Prior to the disclosure of the indictments, Gaetz was all over the news for months, complaining that the Mueller investigation was biased. No wonder Trump likes him.

Back on June 14 Politico reported that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was among the chorus of Republicans wetting themselves (I said that, not Politico) over the Justice Department’s inspector general report about FBI agent Strozk, saying:

“It is smoking-gun evidence that the Mueller probe is built on a rotten foundation,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a freshman lawmaker on the House Judiciary Committee who has also earned Trump’s praise for his criticism of the Russia inquiry.”

https://politi.co/2uwkohy

Curiously, though, I can find no indication that Gaetz has had anything to say since the indictments were released and Trump effectively outed him. There is nothing on his official congressional website.

There is some element of speculation in all this but it is mighty curious that Trump would suddenly rush to Gaetz’s defense when no one else but Mueller/Rosenstein knew Gaetz was the Congressman mentioned in the indictment.

So, the plot thickens. And the Republican enablers of Trump’s treasonous conduct continue to berate the investigators.  None of those Republicans can answer the question: if Trump is guilty, what difference does it make that some of the investigators that collected the evidence were opposed to his presidency? Their logic is that it is only important that he’s guilty if he’s exposed by evidence collected by people who have no opinion on whether he is, or even might be, guilty. The thing is that people with no functioning minds are not very good at collecting evidence.