To what extent is Donald Trump a surrogate of Vladimir Putin?

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Just before the Republican National Convention, the Republican party released their new platform for 2016. The New York Times called it “the most extreme Republican platform in memory.” Among other things, according to the Times, this new platform outlined positions “making no exceptions for rape or women’s health in cases of abortion; requiring the Bible to be taught in public high schools; selling coal as a ‘clean’ energy source; demanding a return of federal lands to the states; insisting that legislators use religion as a guide in lawmaking; appointing ‘family values’ judges; barring female soldiers from combat; and rejecting the need for stronger gun controls — despite the mass shootings afflicting the nation every week.” This apparently came to pass largely because Donald Trump, who would go on just a few days later to accept the party’s nomination for President, didn’t push back. With one notable exception, Trump and his team, accepted everything that was suggested without debate.

According to Talking Points Memo, “The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform. So party activists were able to write one of the most conservative platforms in history. Not with Trump’s backing but because he simply didn’t care. With one big exception: Trump’s team mobilized the nominee’s traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine.”

That’s right. They didn’t push back against any of the retrograde domestic policies, but, curiously, they insisted that proposed wording about our need to arm the Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces be stricken, “contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington,” according to the Washington Post.

And this is the first thing that came to mind this morning when I read Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager’s comments concerning the recent Wikileaks release of some 20,000 DNC emails which appear to show that those overseeing the Democratic primary process were biased in favor Clinton. Telling CNN’s Jake Tapper “I don’t think it’s coincidental that these emails were released on the eve of our convention,” Robby Mook went on to say that security experts have indicated that the hack was initiated in Russia. “What’s disturbing to us is that experts are telling us Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole these emails, and other experts are now saying that the Russians are releasing these emails for the purpose of actually of helping Donald Trump,” Mook said.

And, with that, I went down a rabbit hole leading me to the terrifying conclusion that Trump very well may be running as a proxy for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

I mean, I knew the two men had made statements in the past concerning their admiration for one another, but I had no idea just how deep the connections went. Take, for instance, the fact that Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had worked for many years for Viktor Yanukovych, the Putin-backed former president of Ukraine. Or, how about the fact that a good deal of Trump’s current wealth can be tracked backed to Russia?

Following are three points from Talking Points Memo about the financial connection between Trump and Russian oligarchs with ties to Putin.

1. All the other discussions of Trump’s finances aside, his debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million. This is in just one year while his liquid assets have also decreased. Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks.

2. Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin.

3. One example of this is the Trump Soho development in Manhattan, one of Trump’s largest recent endeavors. The project was the hit with a series of lawsuits in response to some typically Trumpian efforts to defraud investors by making fraudulent claims about the financial health of the project. Emerging out of that litigation however was news about secret financing for the project from Russia and Kazakhstan. Most attention about the project has focused on the presence of a twice imprisoned Russian immigrant with extensive ties to the Russian criminal underworld.

Relevant to the second point, here’s an interesting quote from Trump’s son, Donald Jr., as reported by the Washington Post earlier this year. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets… We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” [This, according to the article, was said at a 2008 real estate conference.] And Trump himself said in a 2007 deposition, “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment.”

So, having been turned away by every bank in the United States, where he’s known to be a crook and swindler, Trump apparently cozied up to Russians like Aras Agalarov, who was among those in 2013 to pony up a reported $14 million to bring Trump’s Miss Universe pageant to Moscow. [It’s been reported that Agalarov and Trump have also talked about building a Trump Tower in Moscow.]

In an article posted just recently on The Atlantic’s site titled It’s Official: Hillary Clinton Is Running Against Vladimir Putin, Jeffrey Goldberg put’s it this way. “I am not suggesting that Donald Trump is employed by Putin… I am arguing that Trump’s understanding of America’s role in the world aligns with Russia’s geostrategic interests; that his critique of American democracy is in accord with the Kremlin’s critique of American democracy; and that he shares numerous ideological and dispositional proclivities with Putin—for one thing, an obsession with the sort of ‘strength’ often associated with dictators. Trump is making it clear that, as president, he would allow Russia to advance its hegemonic interests across Europe and the Middle East. His election would immediately trigger a wave of global instability—much worse than anything we are seeing today—because America’s allies understand that Trump would likely dismantle the post-World War II U.S.-created international order. Many of these countries, feeling abandoned, would likely pursue nuclear weapons programs on their own, leading to a nightmare of proliferation.”

And it seems to be getting worse. Just recently, in an interview with Maggie Haberman and David Sanger of The New York Times, Trump suggested that we may have to reduce our military presence in the world. He even went so far as to say that, if he were president, he may not automatically honor the security guarantees we have with other NATO nations. “He even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back,” wrote Habermas and Sanger. “For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations ‘have fulfilled their obligations to us’.”

So this goes a little bit deeper than Trump just saying that he admires Putin and the way he “handles” journalists, and Putin making complimentary comments in response… Just how financially beholden is Trump to Putin and his fellow oligarchs? I don’t know. But, given everything outlined above, I’d say that it’s at least possible that there are Russian forces other forces pushing Trump toward the White House. I know it’s unlikely, but, the more I read, and the more I think back about all of the insane things that Trump has said over the past year, the more I wonder if, just maybe, he’s been trying this whole time to throw the election and get out of some agreement he’s had with Putin, only to find his polling numbers jumping every time he calls a woman a “pig” or makes fun of a handicapped reporter. What if, beneath it all, Trump’s a decent man who just can’t get free of the Russian mob?

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[I made the image at the top, but this one is from an old article in New York Magazine.]

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The Disinformants, Crime Victims and Nick Zomparelli usher in Totally Awesome Fest 2016 …on episode 45 of the Saturday Six Pack

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Every year, in late April, a free, all-ages, multi-venue festival of weirdness called Totally Awesome Fest descends upon the sleepy little midwestern hamlet of Ypsilanti. There’s no escape from it. No one is immune. Like it or not, you will experience beauty and magic. It permeates every element of village life. Walking through town, one might encounter anything, from a magical cart appearing out of nowhere to dispense fee hot dogs, to an inter-species basketball game at a local park. Bands, it seems, are playing in every backyard, and weirdness lurks around every corner. And, for the past few years, some of that weirdness and magic has been broadcast into the universe by way of the Saturday Six Pack. What you are about to hear is this year’s transmission, which, I’m told, has now reached the edge of our solar system.

[If you would like to listen to episode 45 of The Saturday Six Pack, you can either download it from iTunes or scroll the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the Soundcloud file embedded.]

What you are about to hear isn’t like any other episode of the Saturday Six Pack. There is no deep, thoughtful talk about pressing matters of the day. There are no brilliant, probing questions. No, there’s just droning noise and full-throated screaming against a backdrop of clinking beer bottles, and it’s kind of lovely… if you can get around the sound quality.

After a quick conversation with festival founder Patrick Elkins, we jumped right into things with Anthony Gentile, Larry Johnson and Jeremy Jack of the Disinformants. Here’s festival founder Patrick Elkins trying to explain why it is, since this was billed as a multi-continent event, we’ve yet to see any evidence of bands playing outside of Ypsilanti.

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And here are the guys in the Disinformants, who did their best to entertain us, even though we didn’t have a PA for vocals. [They begin at the 4:00 minute mark.] But that’s the charm of Totally Awesome Fest, right? [note: That’s also Anthony singing his lungs out in the header at the top of this post.]

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At some point, half-way through their set, our old friend Peter Larson called in live from Kenya to perform a song for us live. It sounded as though he was calling from a tin can on the other end of a slack, thousand mile long piece of string, but it was absolutely lovely, and very much in keeping with the fly by the seat of your pants spirit of Totally Awesome Fest. [Pete’s song can be heard at the 14 minute mark.]

And, at about the 30 minute mark, Totally Awesome Fest co-chair Amber Fellows joins us to take about the historic events of the night before, and hint around about incredible things to come. Here’s Amber.

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And, then, we had Crime Victims (Ian Fulcher, Eric Wozniak, Cellik Adams) join us at the 36 minute mark to chat for a while, play some “dissociative drone” for us, and urge everyone in the audience to forget societal norms and allow themselves to dream. Here they are, in their first-ever pre-midnight performance. [Colin Moorhouse, I should add, helped Wozniak turn knobs.]

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[The band would like me to remind you that they’re available to perform at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and yoga classes.]

And then we had on multi-instrumentalist Nick Zomparelli and his loop pedals, performing as NODATA. [He begins setup at 1:19, and we chat until 1:35, when the music starts.]

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And we ended the show by talking with Manhole’s Stephen Jolley who came on to cancel a wine and cheese smooth jazz party at his house in Brighton.

Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show and station owner Brian Robb for running the board, making sure the bills paid, and insuring that the toilet paper and bleach stays stocked, and staff photographer Kate de Fuccio for documenting the festivities.

If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.

Now, if you haven’t already, please listen for yourself, and experience the magic firsthand.

[Episode 45 of the Saturday Six Pack was recorded live on April 16, 2016, in historic downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan, in the studies of AM1700 Radio.]

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George Harrison’s estate, saying it was “offensive” to play “Here Comes the Sun” at the RNC, suggests they should have played “Beware of Darkness”

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I’d rather not get into specifics, but I had kind of a difficult day yesterday. And, knowing this, Clementine and Linette made me a nice dinner that started with a big gin and tonic, some time alone on the couch with George Harrison, and a big bowl of homemade artichoke dip. [During times of stress, I’m known to seek out Harrison’s 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass.] Interestingly, later that night, as I was catching up on the news, Harrison would come back to me in a story about the Republican National Convention. It would seem that, just before Trump’s daughter Ivanka took the stage to declare her father “the people’s champion,” they played Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun”. And, as you might imagine, the musician’s family was not terribly pleased… Following are two tweets sent out by the Harrison estate.

The first references their displeasure with the Trump campaign for using “Here Comes the Sun”.

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And the second suggests a song that might have been better suited for the occasion, Harrison’s “Beware of Darkness,” which I’ve also quoted in the graphic at the top of the post.

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And, here, if you’re unfamiliar with the song, is video of Harrison and his friends performing “Beware of Darkness” at The Concert For Bangladesh [Madison Square Garden, 1971].

From now on, whenever I hear Trump’s name mentioned, I know what I’ll be humming.

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Elected leaders and civil rights organizers join Sheriff Clayton to discuss the policing of communities of color at Unity Town Hall

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This evening I attended the Unity Town Hall at Eastern Michigan Union, during which Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Black Lives Matter Organizer Myles McGuire, Wahstenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, Mark Fancher of the Michigan ACLU’s Racial Justice Project, and Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie sat before an audience of about 250, responding to questions about civil rights, policing, and what actions are being taken across our community to ensure that no one dies needlessly at the hands of police in Washtenaw County. Following are six highlights.

1. In response to a question from the audience about how officers are trained to de-escalate situations, Clayton talks about how strategies are evolving. In the past, he says, officers were trained to resolve issues as quickly as possible and move on. Now, he says, they’re beginning to give people more space (which he refers to as “tactical repositioning”), and allowing for things to calm down. He also says that, starting in September, officers will be receiving a special two-day training in how to better interact with individuals who are mentally ill, under the influence of narcotics, or suffering from dementia. Fancher says that Clayton has the right idea, but then adds that what’s taught at the police academy, and in classes such as this, is often cast aside on the street, once new recruits are partnered with veterans who tell them that, in communities of color, they need to be rough and “establish control” if they want to survive. Clayton agrees that this can happen, but says that cultures can be changed when department leadership, from top to bottom, is in line, policies are clearly articulated, and unwanted behaviors are addressed.

2. Someone asks how things can change when police officers refuse to violate the “blue code,” call one another out for their behaviors, and demand accountability. Fancher says that’s the big question in all of this, adding that it should be on the police to clean this up, as they started all of this by killing innocent people. Clayton agrees that there needs to be more accountability from top to bottom. He also stresses that more than 90% of cops are essentially good. Asked how to fix the problem, Fancher says that so-called rogue cops need to be disciplined. “Police leadership cannot be intimidated by police unions,” he says. Furthermore, he says that we need to get to know the rank and file officers, and not just the same representatives of the police force that attend public events. Every local organization, he says, should invite beat cops in to talk. And these officers should be encouraged to change the “insular culture” within their departments. If officers hear things said by fellow officers that are inconsistent with the stated objectives of the department, Fancher says, they should be empowered to say something.

3. A student from Africa stood up and said that he’s lived here for two years, and that he’s scared. He didn’t know about racism before he came here, he said. “How should I live with fear?” he asked the members of the panel. “Help me understand what should I do.” After a short silence, and some discussion on the panel about how we all have to come together, Fancher said, “We’ve got no room for fear.” Black people, he told this young man, have conquered fear for generations. “Our ancestors would roll over in their graves if they heard that we were afraid after all that they went through,” he said, after noting the struggles of African Americans under slavery, and the threat of violence met by protestors during the civil rights era. “We stared down the barrels of guns with Dr. King without fear,” he said. Others on the panel echoed his sentiments.

4. Prosecutor Mackie was called out by several people. One man asked him directly, “How do black lives matter to you? And how do your practices reflect this?” Mackie responded by saying, “You’ve asked me many questions over the years” to the man who posed the question, to which the man responded, “And you haven’t answered any of them.” Mackie then responded that black lives matter to him because he cares about people, and that “black people are people.” He went on to say that he knows he isn’t much liked, but that prosecutors never are. While he clearly rubbed people the wrong way, he said several things over the course of the evening that I found noteworthy. First, he said that we’re at a period in American history when we have “an openly racist” candidate running for President, and that we need to look out for one another. Second, he told people that, while it’s true that a disproportionate number of those prosecuted by his office aren’t white, it’s also true that crime victims are disproportionately not white. He also noted that, “We are in the most violent state in the Midwest,” and added that 72% of murder victims during a recent year were African American. Third, he acknowledged that “things are not fair.” Public education, he said, is being systematically destroyed, and people, especially people of color, are finding that they have increasingly less economic opportunity in this country. And that, he says, “is going to lead to more participation in crime.” Furthermore, he said, not enough people were taking advantage of the educational opportunities that we do have. While we have Headstart and quality preschool available to everyone, he said, our attendance rates are abysmal, especially in kindergarten, which isn’t mandatory. Education should be mandatory, he said. “We need to educate everybody. That’s how we get better.” And, fourth, he acknowledged that we can do a better job both hiring prosecutors of color and getting juries that better reflect the demographics of our community. He says that finding prosecutors of color, however, is not an easy task, and that many who are called for jury duty don’t show up. On this same subject, he also said that the lists from which they select potential jurors are insufficient, and they need to find new ways to identify people, instead of just relying on tax records and utility bills. [Speaking of Mackie, he was asked directly about the killing of Aura Rosser by police in Ann Arbor and whether or not he had said that her killing was justified because she was mentally ill. He denied having said anything of the kind. The woman posing the question, however, insisted that he had. Another person in the audience said that his office had wrongfully accused two men of crimes that they did not commit. Others claimed that he had not responded to their inquiries concerning cases.]

5. With all of the additional duties we’re asking our police officers take on, a woman asks, how are you able to do it all? How can police officers be expected to know mental health, social work, and everything else, all while having their funding cut? (Mackie says that Washtenaw County at one point had over 600 officers, but now has roughly 500.) “The whole system is jacked up,” she says… In response, Clayton talks about increasing coordination with other entities. He notes a program in Seattle that gives officers the flexibility to hand off first-time non-violent drug offenders to case workers who can offer services in lieu of jail, and says he’d like to explore it here. This not only gets them the help they need, he says, but it keeps them out of the criminal justice system. Fancher says this is where the real potential is. While it’s good to get officers out of their cars and playing basketball with neighborhood kids, he says, this is the kind of thing that will lead to real, meaningful progress… getting officers working at the street level with professionals from different fields, creating a support ecosystem that actually works for citizens.

6. And there was talk about what people can do to lessen their chances of being killed by an officer during routine traffic stops. Clayton says at some point this would have been an easy thing for him to answer. Now, though, he says he’s not so sure. Saying, “I’m being honest with you,” he tells us what he’s told his three sons. Listen to the officers, and don’t make any sudden movements, he says. If you do that, he says, “Most times you’ll be ok.” “If I didn’t think that,” he adds, “I wouldn’t be in the profession.” He goes on to say, however, that it’s not 100%. There are bad cops, he says, and it’s difficult to tell them from the good ones. “You can’t guarantee that you’re going to walk away whole,” he says. “I’m just being honest with you,” he adds. A women in the audience says that, if an officer tries to stop her, she intends to drive to a well-lit public space before pulling over. She also says that she’ll likely call 911 and keep them on the line while she’s interacting with the officer. Fancher suggests that people in the audience may also want to download the ACLU’s Mobile Justice app, which you can use to stream video of your police encounter directly to the ACLU.

There was a lot more. There was a guy in the audience who yelled “All Lives Matter,” only to be told by McGuire that he sounded like someone running up to a firefighter trying to put out a house fire and saying, “All houses matter.” There was also the moment when, in a discussion about prison reform, Debbie Dingell said that we might have common cause with some on the right. After saying that she didn’t think she’d ever utter these words, Dingell said, “The Koch brothers can bring about real change.” And there was a short discussion about Citizen Oversight Committees. (Clayton says that his department has a Citizen Advisory Committee now, but that he has concerns about broad citizen oversight. When asked why, he mentions that, in some instances, they’ve led to terrible results that have required federal intervention.) And there were discussions about white guilt, gun control, any number of other things. If you were at the event and would like to add to my notes, please leave a comment. As I said at the outset, I know these notes of mine are insufficient, but I at least wanted to get the ball rolling.

[For those of you who would like to know more about the local conversations that are taking place regarding race and policing, I’d encourage you to also read about last week’s meeting of the Ypsilanti joint task force on police/community relations.]

Posted in Ann Arbor, Civil Liberties, Michigan, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Mike Pence, who believes smoking doesn’t kill, global warming is a myth, and there’s no such thing as evolution, may become the most powerful Vice President in American history

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There are so many things I could write this evening about Donald Trump, the events unfolding in Cleveland, and what it all means for the future of humanity. I could write about last night’s seemingly accidental Nazi salute. [See Laura Ingrham above.] I could write about Congressman Steve King’s suggestion that minorities, which he referred to a “sub groups”, haven’t contributed anything of value to the world. I could write about the intense whiteness of the proceedings (from the elevators to the the interns). I could write about the plagiarised speech given by Melania Trump and the fact that the Trump employee who took the blame likely doesn’t exist. I could write about Cruz’s betrayal, Giuliani’s apoplectic hate screech, and the fact that, as Clint Eastwood wasn’t available to communicate with furniture this year, the RNC arranged to have the young man who exposed panties with his mind in the 1982 film “Zapped” take the stage and repeat the word “America” until everyone in the hall became damp with excitement. I could write about the alarming bigotry of the Republican platform. I could write about the hastily made campaign logo that appeared to fuck itself. I could write about the heavily armed men engaged in soldier role play outside the convention center. But, instead, I want to share this Facebook post that was written by veteran newsman Dan Rather a few days ago on the subject of science, and its conspicuous absence from the the conservative political discourse of today. Here, before we get to it, though, is a video clip of Donald Trump’s recently announced running mate Mike Pence refusing to say that he believes in evolution.

[It’s worth noting that Pence also believes “smoking doesn’t kill” and “global warming is a myth“… Oh, and, completely unrelated, Scott Baio had sex with one of the young girls he looked after on Charles in Charge.]

From Dan Rather:

I understand Donald Trump and Mike Pence are scheduled to appear in a joint interview on 60 Minutes tonight – their first. There are so many questions to ask them of course, but one that I want answered, perhaps more than any other, might surprise you – “do you believe in evolution?”

I can hear the cackles from the political establishment – such a niche topic, so trivial, so off topic. Some might consider it a “gotcha” question. Surely this couldn’t be as important as probing what Pence thinks about the multiple published reports that Trump almost dumped him at the last minute, or the very odd rally yesterday that officially announced Pence as the vice presidential choice. Serious-minded journalists will want to ask serious questions concerning the recent terror attacks, or the attempted coup in Turkey, or about Pence’s record on LGBT and women’s rights. And well they should.

But I also firmly believe it is long past time that we inject science into the national debate. Perhaps one of the reasons why we haven’t traditionally was that it never seemed so controversial. Now, sadly, it is. Pence has equivocated in the past on whether he believes in evolution, particularly in response to a tough, fair, and a bit incredulous line of questioning from my good friend Chris Matthews. We need to ask him again.

Science is central to so many of the issues facing this country, and when it comes to understanding life on earth everything begins with acknowledging evolution. We want leaders to come up with plans to fight diseases like Ebola and Zika, to protect us from bioterrorism, to promote agriculture, drug development, our biotech industries and so much more. We want to keep our place as the world leader in biomedical research – with all the economic advantages that has afforded us, not to mention the betterment of human life. The scientists who are going to help us do all this take evolution as a given. Much of their work doesn’t make sense without it.

And after bearing down on evolution, I would ask Trump and Pence about climate change. If the best minds in the Pentagon are thinking about how a changing climate might very well lead to conflict, shouldn’t we have a Commander in Chief who acknowledges reality?

If this was just about the specific scientific topics listed above, that would be sufficient. But asking about evolution also is a shorthand for exploring a person’s worldview. There are opinions and there are facts. On the first, fair minded people can disagree. On the latter, we undermine empiricism at our peril. A fidelity to reason, to impartial data, to the power of learning and observation is what led mankind out of the Dark Ages and onto a path towards enlightenment. It was this path that inspired our Founding Fathers in their vision for our nation. And much of the social progress we have made as a country since that time was due to reason winning out over ignorance.
I am not sure if I will have a chance this election season to sit down with any of the candidates for national office. But if I do, I intend to ask about their science policy. If it were up to me, we would dedicate part of one of the presidential debates to science. But I am not going to hold my breath…

And, given the story the broke yesterday about how Trump, if elected, may be planning to place his Vice President in charge of all policy, both foreign and domestic, while he focuses on “making America great again”, it becomes even more of an issue. We aren’t just being asked to vote for the least qualified Presidential candidate in American history, but we’re being asked to vote for a candidate who, upon being elected, would likely hand control over to a man who, it would seem, has less appreciation for science and facts than even George W Bush. [When Donald Trump Jr. reached out to John Katich on behalf of his father to offer the position of Vice President, Trump reportedly asked, “Do you want to be the most powerful Vice President in history? When asked what he meant, the younger Trump responded that his father had no interest in either domestic of foreign policy and would leave that to his Vice President.]

For what it’s worth, it’s not just Trump’s running mate that’s anti-science. I know it’s not exactly a scientific study, but, yesterday, when the band Third Eye Blind played at the Republican National Convention, they introduced their set by saying, “Raise your hand if you believe in science,” and no one raised their hand. They then proceeded to play none of their hits, pissing off the attending Republicans no end.

Posted in Politics, Science, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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