Monthly Archives: December 2018

Republican House Members Baying at the Moon

I have just finished reading the entire 235-page transcript of the Executive Session Committee on the Judiciary, Joint with the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, U.S. House of Representatives, December 7, 2018 in which the Republican majority questioned James Comey, former Director of the FBI about the same set of issues related to his public statements during the runup to the 2016 election and to his explanation of why former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not charged with criminal conduct related to her misuse of emails.

Suffice to say, the Republicans failed yet again to lay a glove on Comey, and I say that recognizing that many people, myself included, disagree strongly with his decision to tell the world, on the eve of the election, that the FBI had reopened its investigation of Clinton because of the discovery of a trove of her emails on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, husband of Clinton aide, Huma Abedin

After all the questioning and posturing, only two things emerged that are even interesting at this point in time.

One was the effort by Rep. Trey Gowdy, to compare unfavorably the treatment of Clinton regarding whether she had simply “made a mistake” and the treatment of President Trump and General Michael Flynn on the question whether on the question of his potential attempt at obstruction of justice by asking Comey to drop the Flynn matter. Recall that Comey immediately prepared a memo about Trump’s demand and shared it with senior people at the FBI.

In classic fashion for the Republicans, Gowdy suggested that a statement by former President Obama had stated, while in office, that “the target of an investigation that was ongoing simply made a mistake and lacked the requisite criminal intent.” Gowdy demanded to know whether Comey didn’t think that Obama’s statement was “potentially obstruction of justice.”

“Mr. Comey. I didn’t see it as — through the lens of obstruction of justice. I saw it as threatening our ability to credibly complete the investigation.

Mr. Gowdy. In what way?

Mr. Comey. The President of the United States offering a view on a matter or a case that’s under investigation, when that President is of the same party as the subject of the investigation and working for her election, would tend to cast doubt in reasonable people’s minds about whether the investigation had been conducted and completed fairly, competently, and independently…. It concerns me whenever the Chief Executive comments on pending criminal investigations, something we see a lot today, which is why it concerned me when President Obama did it.

Mr. Gowdy. Well, it concerns me too, Director Comey. I’m also concerned that people treat similarly situated people the same. And did you make a memo after President Obama said she made a mistake and lacked the requisite criminal intent?

Mr. Comey. He said that on FOX News.

Mr. Gowdy. Right.

Mr. Comey. I did not make a memo about the FOX News broadcast.

BOOM!

The second instance occurred when Jim Jordan made much about the fact that James Baker, then General Counsel of the FBI, had testified earlier that it was a unique circumstance that anyone would approach him directly with evidence of someone’s wrongdoing that the discloser claimed would warrant an FBI investigation. What Jordan did not do was acknowledge that Baker had in fact returned alter to clarify that he did remember another case, a completely different matter, in which precisely that had occurred. It was left to the Democrats (Ms.  Sachsman Grooms in this case, she being Deputy Staff Director for Rep. Elijah Cummings of MD) to ask what amounted to redirect questions to fully develop the record that the Republicans were trying to create with partial information from a prior hearing.

Overall, despite all the sturm und drang from the Republicans, it was the same old same old. This is not part of an investigation designed to get at the truth about some threat to the country. It is an entirely partisan attempt to buttress the President against the ugly truth that he tried to obstruct justice by directly asking the Director of the FBI to drop a criminal investigation involving the National Security Advisor that Trump had appointed. The hearing will resume on December 17.

Trey Gowdy, soon to retire from the House, has little time left to restore himself to the good graces of the President who tolerance for independent thought is below zero. Read the history of Trump-Gowdy here: “Trump allies gang up on Gowdy,” https://politi.co/2Lgl1SZ  It’s pretty amusing. We can expect more “fireworks” from the Republicans in the next round with Comey who must be getting pretty tired of answering the same stupid questions over and over. But that’s what the President’s sycophants do. They have nothing else.

Racism at Ground Level

My wife and I emerged from a Broadway show into a cold downpour. The weather folks had predicted it and this time they were right. We had coats and umbrellas, of course, but the wind was strong and puddles were everywhere among the thousands of people on the street in Times Square, many of them without any apparent protection against either the cold or the rain. Tourists? New Yorkers who simply won’t yield to reality? No way to know and we really didn’t care.

Our first plan was to go to the closest subway station and take the train to Columbus Circle, from which it is just over a long block walk to our apartment. As fate would have it, both of the nearby stations were locked shut, due, we later learned, to “track improvements.”

Nothing for it but to walk the 10 or so blocks to our building and we set out. But just two blocks later, a taxi with top light on pulled up to the stoplight right in front of us. The diminutive driver signaled us into the cab and away we went. Sort of. Traffic was, of course, in total gridlock with a lot of angry horn honking and jockeying for position among the yellow cabs and the other cars that, for whatever unimaginable reason, had chosen to drive into the Times Square area that evening. This is to be expected. In every rainstorm since the automobile arrived in New York, there has been gridlock, horn honking and jockeying for position. Everyone knows it’s going to happen.

We slowly made our way across town toward 8th Avenue which would take us directly to Columbus Circle. Then, while still on West 51st Street our driver and the driver of a larger van-style car came side by side of each other. Looks were exchanged and then our driver lowered his window and began shouting at the other driver who returned the favor with his middle finger. Our driver said something about how the other guy should learn to drive “like a gentleman, you Pakistani m*****f***r!” Fortunately, that was the end of the exchange. I suspect that if it had not been raining so hard, these two men might have faced off in the street, while their passengers were ignored in favor of settling the racial score that had erupted between them. I don’t know if the other driver was working a ride-hailing service like Uber or was just out in the evening for other reasons. I have seen serious words exchanged by NY cabbies with Uber drivers before, but never in these circumstances. In this case it was hard to understand how our driver could tell anything about the other one through the downpour but he was clear enough about what he thought.

Had it not been raining, we would have left the cab with the fare unpaid. But it was and we didn’t. The drive, however, got only a nominal tip, for picking us up in the first place. This is not the experience anyone should have in a public conveyance. I well understand some of the bad blood between the taxis and the ride-hailing services, but even today many of the New York cabs are neither clean nor comfortable and the cabbies often seem to pride themselves on being surly. This episode was a sad reminder of the hostilities and tensions that stain our world.

Occam’s Razor – Trump Explained

The thinking segment of the American population, myself included, continues to wonder, often involuntarily, what forces could produce a person as unworthy as Donald Trump and then elect him to the most powerful political leadership position on earth. With each passing day, the conundrum grows as his conduct becomes even more horrific and dishonest than the day before than the day before ….

The principle of Occam’s Razor says, in its simplest form, that of two alternative explanations for something, it is usually the simpler one that is correct. More accurately, it is Ockham’s razor, named after a philosopher whose adulthood was spent in the 14th Century. The concept has other names, such as the law of economy.

In any case, if you apply that principle, Donald Trump is easy to understand.

Trump is a rich, over-privileged man who has always had his way by bullying, threatening and lying, using his wealth (handed to him by Daddy & later ill-gotten) to file lawsuits, abuse the bankruptcy laws to thwart paying off creditors and generally demanding and getting whatever he wanted. He is accustomed to being catered to by employees desperate to keep their jobs even at the expense of their dignity and by women seeking the “benefits” of being around a rich guy who lavished them with gifts in return from whatever they were willing to provide, including, most recently, their silence so that his campaign to be president would not face the inconvenience of revealed extramarital affairs.

Now, most people in Trump’s shoes conduct their perfidy in private, because obscurity serves to protect them from exposure for the type of people they really are. The recent spate of disclosures in the #metoo movement show how that has worked in the past. Hopefully, no more. But Trump has never shied away from public display of his crassness, witness his gold apartment in New York, or making excuses for his numerous business failures. He simply lies about them, denies everything and moves on to the next misadventure funded by his money and other people’s money who were foolish enough to ignore the evidence of his incompetence.

Trump is the perfect example, I suggest, of the Occam’s razor principle, which is exemplified perfectly in a quotation attributed to Coco Chanel: “There are people who have money and people who are rich.” Trump is the former.

In the normal course of human events, it is rare to come across someone who is openly a serial liar, racist, homophobe, nativist and the more we see of Trump, the more people wonder: how can this be true, that one person could so publicly display his duplicity, lack of morality, aversion to kindness hostility toward people less fortunate than himself and on and on. People seem to believe there is more to the man; there simply must be. No one can be this shallow and empty a soul and still have friends and still be respected by people who, superficially at least, are themselves respectable.

I suggest again that the search for a complex solution to these questions is hopeless and pointless. Trump is exactly what he appears to be and there is zero chance that he will change. The life forces that produced this person are not likely to suddenly produce a revelation in which Trump will come to understand how horrible a person he is. He will simply deny everything and carry on as before. If imprisoned ultimately for his crimes against the country and against humanity, he will be led away in chains proclaiming that the American system of justice was rigged against him, that he is in fact the greatest victim of all time. Look at me! Look at me!

Much has been made of Trump’s appetite for cheap hamburgers and of his apparent inability to spell or use complete English sentences in his speech. Again, this is finding complexity when a simpler and more obvious explanation exists. Trump’s malapropisms and misspelled/misused words in his tweet tantrums are, I suggest, deliberate acts to draw attention to him and away from both his “policies” and his treasonous guilt. The more Trump gets people guffawing over his style mistakes, the less they will focus on his misconduct and incompetence.

Granted, this strategy is only partially successful. Trump’s substantive failings get plenty of attention in the Twitterverse and in the political media, but that attention is a fraction of what it might be if he were not, metaphorically, dressed in a clown suit, squeezing his nose while making honking sounds and all the other distractions on which he trades.

In the end, it’s not going to work. Robert Mueller’s investigation seems itself to be an example of Occam’s razor at work. Mueller’s team is sifting through mountains of evidence to get at simple truths that state, yes, he is guilty. Stated metaphorically, when there is this much smoke, one of two explanations is true: there is fire or there is not. Bet on “not” at your peril and keep your day job.

Amazon & Pop-Secret Redux

You may recall that I recently wrote about Amazon’s delivery of a roll of industrial “contact paper” in lieu of the 6-pack of Pop-Secret Popcorn that I had ordered. Amazon had informed me, in the way that Amazon does, that I could not return the roll of paper but that it would re-send the popcorn I had originally ordered.

Well … the box came, it seemed a bit heavy, but, again, I was prepared to accept that popcorn weighed more than I expected. And, again, I opened the outer box and, again, nestled inside was the Pop-Secret-branded box containing … wait for it … another roll of industrial contact paper identical to the previous one. To quote Dave Barry, I am not making this up. I promise.

Here is the replacement popcorn:

It turns out that Amazon’s website is not programmed to deal with a repeat failure of this nature. Trying to communicate locked me into an endless loop. The site “believed” I was trying to return the popcorn that it had recorded as being delivered and rejected the return of a food product. So even though the Online Returns Center said you could return a “wrong item,” in fact you can’t in these circumstances. The computer thinks you received replacement popcorn and that, as the saying goes, is the end of that.

Well, not quite. I contacted the always reliable American Express on whose card the popcorn had been charged. An astonished but cooperative agent credited the popcorn charge back to my account. Eventually, I assume Amazon’s computers will “discover” that they haven’t been paid for the popcorn and inquire of me about it. Or not. To paraphrase Melania, I really don’t care.

But, I still want the popcorn. We love popcorn. Rightly or wrongly, we believe it’s a “good for you” snack. We eat a lot of popcorn. Sometimes we eat too much popcorn. Sometimes other do. In fairness to Amazon, it does seem clear now that the problem is not with Amazon but with Pop-Secret itself. So, I sent this message to Pop-Secret using the sense of humor for which I have become unjustly famous:

Houston, we have a problem. You should first read the part of this related to Amazon: https://shiningseausa.com/2018/11/23/black-friday-american-commerce-amazon-best-buy-cvs-whole-foods/   Amazon rejected my attempt to return the item & said it was shipping a new order of popcorn. That replacement order arrived 2 days ago. See attached photos. Clearly, there is a breakdown in the “food chain” somewhere. Since the inner boxes in the shipment bear your logo and are sealed when they arrive, it seems likely that the problem rests with you, not Amazon, though one would hope they’d wonder why the contents of a popcorn order shift around inside the box and weighs a lot more than popcorn. In any case, Amazon has no mechanism for returning or even addressing a 2nd delivery of the wrong product so I had no choice but to dispute the original charge. Maybe that will get their attention. Meanwhile, all we wanted was a reliable supply of your delicious popcorn for the holidays; our local market often runs out. We are frustrated and no longer amused by this strange business. I cannot begin to explain how rolls of industrial tape get into sealed Pop-Secret branded boxes. Perhaps you know. So that’s the story. Bizarre but true. Look forward to hearing from you.

After a brief silence, Pop-Secret responded:

We are sorry to hear about your experience with Pop Secret and we really appreciate you letting us know about it. We will pass this information and your comments along to our Quality Assurance Team, and also keep a record of it. [Somehow, I didn’t find this reassuring.]

Unfortunately, we are unable to explain why you rec’d the item you did through Amazon. [Very not reassuring] I will have the Sales & Marketing staff review and follow up with Amazon as best they can into this matter. [Really not reassuring]

We are sending a few free product coupons your way believing that you will have a great experience with our product next time. [Nothing like belief in the face of hard contrary evidence to make one feel right again] Thanks, again, for letting us know about this. You can expect the coupons to arrive shortly. [Shortly, eh] .… Please let us know if you have any further concerns or comments.

Unable to leave bad enough alone, I did have “further concerns or comments:”

You understand, I trust, that this happened twice, spaced a couple of weeks apart. My first reaction, as evidenced by my blog post, was that this was an Amazon problem, but when it happened a second time, in exactly the same way, I concluded it most likely was a problem that originated at Pop-Secret. I doubt, for example, that Amazon actually packages your 6-pack product into Pop-Secret branded boxes. That activity must occur where your product originates. Amazon then takes your branded boxes and puts them in Amazon boxes for shipment to its customers.

I appreciate the offer of coupons but I would like to know how the investigation ends. I plan to write about this again in my blog and want to be fair, and accurate.

Four days have passed and no reply. Now, we all know from past experience that, rightly or wrongly, I have a problem with being ignored. Sooo, I am recounting this saga here, fairly and accurately, as promised.

What happens next, the human mind may never imagine. Perhaps the promised coupons will arrive and they won’t say “good only on Amazon.com.” Maybe nothing will happen. Meanwhile, find something more useful to do with your time.