Sunday, November 24, 2019

The gaslighting of Ukraine.

Vasudevan Kumar | CC0 | Pixabay
Have you ever had a feeling of deja vu while watching a congressional hearing? Probably not. I don't think it has ever happened to me until this week.

This was on Wednesday, during the testimony of Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the European Union. Sondland had already changed his story once. He testified to the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors -- and then after reading about the testimony of some other witnesses, he "corrected" his own original testimony. So his public testimony before the committee last week was his third attempt to tell the truth.

While he was flinging his co-conspirators under the bus left and right, he said something that caught my ear. The comment came under questioning from committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA). Schiff was asking him to confirm that the US was withholding military aid and a White House meeting with President Trump until Ukraine agreed to look into two things: a Russian talking point that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in our 2016 election; and an investigation into corruption involving Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy exploration conglomerate, where Joe Biden's son was on the board of directors.

SCHIFF: He had to get those two investigations if that official act was going to take place, correct?
SONDLAND: [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] had to announce the investigations. He didn’t actually have to do them, as I understood it.
Under further questioning, Sondland explained that the conditions for the announcement kept changing. At first, a statement from the government would be enough. Then the statement would have to come from a Ukrainian official. Then the announcement had to come from Zelensky himself. And he would have to do it in public. Trump wanted Zelensky "in a box," Sondland explained.

I've been in that box.

So this is a story about Basement Guy. You may remember that nickname from Mom's House, as I mentioned him in passing. I had met him in grad school.

When I was still in broadcasting, child care was a constant worry. I worked nutty hours -- often different shifts around the clock in the same week, especially after I went to Mutual-NBC Radio News -- and traditional child care just didn't cut it. I was always having to patch together something in addition to before-school care and after-school care. An au pair would have been perfect, but I couldn't afford to hire one on my salary.

When Basement Guy moved in, I asked him sometimes to watch the kids for me. His son was close in age to my daughters, so I figured it wouldn't be too heavy a lift for him. But he always balked (which in hindsight was a good thing, as he turned out to be a sociopath).

At last he came up with an offer: He would watch my kids for the summer if I'd buy him a truck. A used truck was okay. He was going to spend a couple of weeks in Costa Rica to do research, he said, so I'd have time to find him one while he was gone.

The offer appealed to me because a) I needed the help and b) he'd been using my car. So I said okay. I even asked a friend who had a friend who frequented auto auctions to keep an eye out for a truck for BG.

But then his request kept changing. He didn't just want any old truck -- he wanted a Ford F-150. It had to be black. It couldn't be any older than a certain model year. It could be a work truck, but not too beat up, and the seat shouldn't be all sat out. And he told his son about how cool it would be when I picked him up at the airport in his new-to-him truck.

In short, he was setting me up to fail. He'd boxed me in. The odds of my finding the specific truck he was looking for were slim to none. The friend-of-a-friend's report confirmed my misgivings: There were no trucks like that at the auction.

So I picked up BG at the airport in my car. He insisted that he drive, so I moved over and let him take the wheel. On the way back to my place, he said, "I guess you didn't get me a truck."

"No, I didn't," I said.

He was silent for a few moments. Then he said, "Well, I wasn't going to watch your kids this summer anyway."

Which is how I know in my gut that Trump was never going to give Ukraine the military aid, and he was never going to give him the White House visit. There would always be one more condition put on the things that were so valuable to Zelensky -- one more "favor to ask, though."

The only reason Ukraine got the military aid in the end is because of the whistleblower. The one who uncovered Trump's scheme to gaslight a foreign government in order to get dirt on a domestic political rival. The one Trump wants to meet face-to-face.

I hope that whistleblower is already in witness protection.

The NaNo project continues apace. I got behind this week due to having a life (how dare I!) but I caught up a bit yesterday. I'm less than 15,000 words away from winning, which is totally doable, given I'll be off work starting Thursday for Thanksgiving.

In fact, let me get on that...

These moments of bloggy deja vu have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends and fans!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

OK Boomers, get over yourselves.

Full disclosure: I am a Baby Boomer, born at the end of 1957. In just three short weeks, I will qualify for Social Security (a.k.a. early retirement - my full retirement age is another 3.5 years away, assuming Congress doesn't dink around with the date in the meantime). So when the kids say, "OK Boomer," they're aiming it at me.

Not me personally, of course. But yeah, I'm one of the people in their crosshairs.

Let's go back. This whole OK Boomer business, as I understand it, began as a reaction to a viral video in which some idiot of an old guy criticized Millennials and Generation Z for having Peter Pan syndrome -- in other words, he claimed, they don't want to grow up. This was early last year, I guess. Who knows why this particular criticism tipped the scales, and not the avocado toast thing or the why-don't-you-work-your-way-through-college thing or the "Millennials have ruined fill-in-the-blank for everyone" thing? In any case, it did -- and like generations of young people before them, Millennials came up with a snappy comeback to all the clueless old farts everywhere:

The phrase has become shorthand, and it's aimed not just at Baby Boomers (those born between 1942 and 1963, give or take a year on either side), but at cranky old farts in general. It has finally gotten to be a big enough thing that the mainstream media -- the newspapers and magazines that, ahem, Boomers love to read -- have been doing features on it.

And I guess the phrase has made some Boomers crankier. About a week ago, Abigail Disney, heir to the Disney fortune (Walt was her great-uncle), had had enough. In a series of tweets, she told her fellow Boomers to stop being so "easily triggered." And she continued, "All things pass, you are old and you need to let history do what history does: move on."

That noise you here is me, standing and cheering.

Boomers really have made a mess of things. We were the generation of peace, love and understanding. The generation that recognized war was good for absolutely nothing. The generation that protested to end the Vietnam War, started the sexual revolution thanks to the Pill, and fought for water that was fit to drink and air that was fit to breathe. Remember Woodstock? Remember "don't trust anyone over 30"?

Then a bunch of us got haircuts and went to work for the Man, and somehow it all went to hell.

Now there's a cohort of Boomers trying to tell young adults that climate change isn't a real thing. They're unconcerned that Millennials have trouble getting jobs with benefits like health insurance, and they criticize them for not buying houses, even though rent payments eat up half their income and student loan payments take most of what's left. Boomers scoff at young adults who say the system is rigged, and recoil in horror when young people say socialism doesn't scare them. But these Boomers refuse to recognize that the world is different now -- and we (as well as the Greatest Generation) are responsible for it.

The thing is, I'm right there with the younger generations. (I keep wanting to call them kids, but they're not. Millennials were born from 1981 through 1996. The oldest Millennials are pushing 40.) So I feel compelled to explain that not all Boomers are the monsters we're made out to be. Not all of us watch Fox News (yeeeeesh). Many of us supported Bernie. Some of us even like avocado toast. (Guac on toast is even better.)

But from now on, I'm going to let the "OK Boomer" comments go. No, wait, I've got a better idea. I'm going to treat them as a call to action.

NaNoWriMo update: The word count widget is fixed - yay! And while I got a bit behind earlier this week, I spent the weekend catching up. I'm now at 28,522 words on Book 4 of the Elemental Keys series. This coming week will be challenging, with two nights tied up with meetings and stuff. But I'm hoping to keep pace -- and as always, Thanksgiving weekend will be waiting to bail me out.

These moments of generational blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Pity the poor billionaires.

SIphotography | DepositPhotos
Oh, woe is our poor billionaire class. Someone has suggested that they've amassed too much wealth and wants to take it from them -- and that someone has a shot at winning the presidency next year. Why, she has even come up with a plan to tax a portion of their wealth -- not their income, their wealth -- so the government can spend it however it sees fit.

The candidate is Elizabeth Warren, and since she announced her wealth tax plan, the country's billionaires, and those who serve them, have cranked up their P.R. efforts to discount her proposal. Now as you all know, this is not a political blog. So I'm not going to talk about the plan itself. Instead, I'd like to talk about the billionaires -- and this one billionaire in particular: Leon Cooperman, chairman of Omega Advisors, a hedge fund based in New York.

As you might imagine, Cooperman doesn't much like Warren's plan. He was quoted in Politico as saying her attacks on the wealthy are unfair. "What is wrong with billionaires?" he asked. And then he said, "I believe in a progressive income tax and the rich paying more. But this is the fucking American dream she is shitting on."

Warren fired back in a tweet: "Leon, you were able to succeed because of the opportunities this country gave you. Now why don’t you pitch in a bit more so everyone else has a chance at the American dream, too?"

In response, Cooperman sent her a five-page letter to say she had him all wrong. Billionaires have done great things for this country. Moreover, he's a signatory to a billionaires' Giving Pledge that promises they will give away half of their fortunes, and in fact he pledged to give away all of his.

In the wake of this letter, Cooperman was interviewed on a CNBC program this past Monday. And on the show, he teared up while talking about Warren's plan.

I'll be honest: I've read about Warren's plan, and I think I may have read the Politico story when it was published, but I didn't know about this spat between Warren and Cooperman until I saw the story about his CNBC appearance. And I didn't watch the interview until tonight.

Besides the part where he tears up, there's another section that I thought was key. You can watch it yourself at the link I posted above. Scroll down the page to the second video -- the 12-minute-long one. The quote that struck me starts at the 6:44 mark: "She's screwing with the wrong guy. I want to give it all away. Not 50-60% -- I want to give it all away. But I want to control the decision. I don't need the government giving away my money."

(By the bye, he's actually not giving it all away. He's giving away half in his lifetime, and putting the other half in a trust for his family to give away as they see fit after his death.)

Warren responded to all this in another tweet, pointing out that Cooperman is on the board of Navient, a student loan company that, she says, "has cheated borrowers and used abusive, misleading tactics. He even went so far as to ask how I might impact his investment in the last earnings call with Navient." And while he's worried about protecting his billions, young people can't pursue their dreams due to crushing student loan debt. The American dream worked great for him, Warren says, but on the backs of American students who now can't get ahead.

There are a lot of things we could do in this country if billionaires weren't sucking up nearly all of the country's wealth. CEOs at firms in the S&P 500 Index earned 361 times more than their average workers in 2017; back in the '50s, the ratio was 20-to-1. Taxes were a lot higher on the rich back then, too. PolitiFact says in 1952 and 1953, the top marginal tax rate was over 90%.

Back then, it didn't pay to be too rich; instead, company owners invested in their employees by paying them more. Now the rich want to pick who gets their money, instead of paying their employees more -- and instead of doing something to help the whole country. I'm just guessing here, but I'm pretty sure Cooperman isn't going to donate his fortune to people struggling to pay off their student loans.

These moments of non-political blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Curmudgeon's Corner: This is why we can't have nice things.

I shared a meme on Facebook this weekend that got a lot of comments. I can't swear to the accuracy of the information in the caption, but just look at that list of ingredients:

Morphine! Cannabis! 10% alcohol! As my father used to say, that stuff will put hair on your chest.

Yes, he would say that to me. Then I'd remind him that I was a girl and didn't want any hair on my chest, and he'd just chuckle. Today's dad jokes are lame in comparison.

Anyway, in chatting with a FB friend about this, I mentioned a particular cough syrup that my mother used to buy. Here's a photo of what the bottle looked like, back in the '60s:

Anybody else remember Cheracol D? It had codeine (an opiate, as is morphine) in it. Mom used to give it to me when I was little and had a cold. You could buy it off the shelf at the local drugstore. Then you started to have to ask the pharmacist for it. That lasted for a few years, and then you had to start signing the pharmacist's log book every time you bought a bottle. Now you need a prescription for it, and the warning list will curl your hair:
Codeine can slow or stop your breathing, and may be habit-forming. MISUSE OF THIS MEDICINE CAN CAUSE ADDICTION, OVERDOSE, OR DEATH, especially in a child or other person using the medicine without a prescription.
Do not give this medicine to anyone under 18.
Seriously? I was raised on this stuff. Now it'll kill you.

(In all seriousness, codeine can kill you. So can morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, heroin, and fentanyl -- they're all opioids, and lots of people have died from abusing them. In 2016, the death toll in the U.S. was more than 42,000, with nearly half of those deaths due to abusing fentanyl.)

There's an over-the-counter version of Cheracol D nowadays, but it doesn't have codeine in it. It might help you cough less, but you won't sleep like a baby on it, either.

Which reminds me of another thing: decongestants.

I'm allergic to a number of things: trees (specifically maple trees), dust, and mold. You know, stuff that's easy to avoid. The reaction is usually mild, except for the few weeks a year when the maples are sending their pollen everywhere. When I was in my mid-20s, I saw an allergist, had the pinprick tests (which is how I know what I'm allergic to), tried a bunch of different prescription antihistamines, and survived the series of shots. In my late 20s and early 30s, I had a bunch of sinus infections. Then we left Norfolk, VA, and things got a lot better -- I could basically get by with tissues. (Before you suggest it, I've tried a prescription steroid nose spray, but my nose got used to the regular dose too fast, so I quit using it. I've also tried a neti pot; I'm not a fan.)

But over the past year or so, it's gotten worse. I had a cold in the spring that morphed into a sinus infection, my first in years. Antibiotics knocked that back. But then this summer, I came down with another cold that overstayed its welcome, and I finally picked up a combined antihistamine and decongestant so that one wouldn't turn into a sinus infection, too.

It was heaven. I was able to breathe through both nostrils at the same time! I still had gunk pouring from my nose due to the cold, but now it could get out, instead of backing up into my ears!

Nearly all of the antihistamines I needed a prescription for in the '80s are now available over the counter. You used to be able to get the decongestant pseudoephedrine over the counter, too, but then some enterprising drug lords discovered that you could use pseudoephedrine to make crystal meth. So the decongestants containing pseudoephedrine went behind the pharmacist's counter, and you have to let the pharmacist scan your driver's license and promise that you're only buying it because you're sick.

Oh, you can buy decongestants off the shelf, but they contain phenylephrine hydrochloride, which in my opinion is pretty much useless.

I probably should lay off the decongestants, but it's just such a pleasure to breathe through both nostrils at once. I suspect the true cure will involve moving away from swampy DC to the much drier Southwest. But I expect I'll have just a few years of easy breathing before I develop an allergy to something out there.

Anyway, the point is that my life would be easier if I could get drugs that work when I need them, without having to jump through extra hoops. But too many people make big money by hooking people on dangerous drugs -- and that includes the big pharmaceutical companies that have made big money by hooking patients on opioids. My inconvenience is nothing compared to saving lives. So I guess I'll shut up now.

I might also be in a cranky mood because NaNoWriMo's word count widget is borked. The website got a major upgrade after CampNaNo in July, and the word count tracker is not playing nice with the new software. Supposedly fixing the bug is at the top of the programmers' to-do list, but I'm sure it's sharing that #1 spot with a host of other bugs that need to be fixed immediately if not sooner.

Anyway, I am at 5,417 words for Book 4 of the Elemental Keys series, which is right where I want to be. Someday the word counter on the NaNo site will be accurate, but this is not that day.

These moments of cranky blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell, who nevertheless is grateful for breathing freely.