The Clinton Foundation–Doing Good and NOT a Political BFD

Clinton Foundation logoSo, 85 of 154 non-governmental meetings Hillary Clinton had were with donors to the Clinton Foundation, according to an AP story. If so, SO WHAT! Pay for play? NO! Quid pro quo? NO! Illegality? NO! More political theater as Trump goes off the rails asking for a special prosecutor etc.

  • She had 1,700 other meetings–during her time as Secretary of State
  • She drew no salary from the Foundation
  • She received no money, gifts or other favors from those she met with
  • There is no indication that any of these meetings resulted in the donors benefitting personally in any way
  • The Foundation is well-regarded by charity watchdog groups–getting an A from Charity Watch and a platinum rating from GuideStar
  • It IS a nonprofit organization; it’s not set up to make money for any member of the Clinton family
  • The Foundation has done great work around the world and in the US since its creation–as detailed in this story on CNN:
In more than 70 countries, according to the foundation, it helps 11.5 million people, including 800,000 children, with HIV/AIDS get their medication at 90% lower cost — more than half the adults and three-quarters of the children getting treatment in the world today.
But it does all kinds of other work as well. For instance, it helps East African farmers get better seeds and fertilizers. It supported Nepal’s reconstruction after the 2015 earthquakes. And it has connected more than 500,000 Latin Americans to job training and entrepreneurship opportunities.
The Clinton Foundation does tons of work in the US, too. Some examples: It has a school program that operates in every state, affecting more than 31,000 schools and 18 million students by its count. That program is to improve physical education, child nutrition, health education and staff wellness programs. They also work on prescription drug addiction. The foundation wants to halve the number of opioid overdoses — right now those drugs kill more Americans than car accidents.

 

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Quantum Computer Cybersecurity Issues Coming

Kiplinger’s Tech Alerts has some interesting news in today’s letter. In addition to the threat posed by the advent of quantum computing, the issue has these items:  A turning point for the computer chip industry. Free advice on ransomware attacks. Tech stocks continue to please Wall Street. Africa set to add a quarter-billion web users. The U.K.’s tech sector takes a hit.

So what’s a quantum computer? You don’t really want to know the details of the what, but here’s a simple answer: It’s no longer just binary (0 or 1) but like the quantum state, it can be both. It stores data in qubits.  So? Well it will make today’s supercomputers seem as slow as the PCs that ran Windows 3.1.

What’s the risk? Code cracking; note that astronomical speed increase. As the article points out,

A working quantum computer could break the world’s best digital security software, which is widely used to protect financial transactions, medical data, online communications and much more. Quantum computers use the unique properties of subatomic particles to help speed up computations of huge amounts of data.

It will be years before they are available and even then at very high prices. So it won’t be your typical hacker that uses them but those that have the resources to make use of them–governments or very large but criminal corporations. In the meantime, hackers could store encrypted data they stole and wait for the quantum computers that will enable them to break the codes. So the race is on to develop more robust defenses.

Read the article for more on this and the other topics.

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Fixing WordPress when Jetpack Is Being Difficult

Hurray, NO politics today (here anyway)! Jetpack fun instead. No telling why the “display recent posts” widget couldn’t get posts from my John Maberry’s Writing site to this one or to  my Eagle Peak Press site. If YOU have a similar problem, here’s a workaround. Use the RSS widget (another Jetpack item) to grab a feed (you have to have one–Google now owns/runs Feedburner but there are others) from one of your sites to put on another one. Worked here.   😎

happy computerWant to post excerpts? Use the Jetpack “text widget” to insert script from your feed (Feedburner “BuzzBoost” will get you that; no doubt other RSS feeds will do so as well) to put them wherever you like. I used that for Eagle Peak Press. You will see the excerpts from John Maberry’s Writings in column 2 of the black background bottom area of that site.

The WordPress forum, while responsive, couldn’t find the problem with the display recent posts. Nor could Jetpack support resolve it. So I did it myself (picture me patting myself on my back).  😆

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Make Gotham Great Again?

So much anger. So much hatred. So much blame. Four days of the Republican National Convention. With only a few glimmers of light or hope. In his dystopian view of America Donald J. Trump sees the entire Country as Gotham.  A lawless place where terrorists from Islamic countries, murderers and rapists from Mexico, Black Lives Matters-inspired cop shooters and other evildoers  roam the streets preying on innocent Americans. Fear no more–Trump and the GOP (at least many of the delegates at the Republican National Convention who are office holders) will quickly make it safe again!

But how?

Well, in the minds of Trump, Congressional Republicans and many of the attendees at the convention, the rise of terrorism is all the fault of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The two Democrats probably recruited Osama bin Laden to organize the 9/11 attacks just to make George Bush look bad! So the first step is locking up Hillary Clinton, as the Rudelicans at the convention yelled over and over again. Or she could be shot by a firing squad if Al Baldasaro, Trump supporter and New Hampshire state representative has his way. Or she could be hung on the Mall in Washington, DC, if United Airlines pilot and member of the West Virginia House of Delegates Michael Folk has his way. United Airlines suspended Folk from flying. The Secret Service is investigating Baldasaro. If Trump is elected, Obama will be gone, of course, and Trump will change everything on Inaugural Day, January 20, 2017–instantaneously!

Seems unlikely at best but read on. The plans will come later of course; just trust him–but how can we when he lies cheats and steals so much (more on that later) and can’t even run as important an event as his own convention without screwing up so many things. Like Melania’s plagiarism, Ted Cruz taking his revenge for the Donald’s slander of Ted’s wife and father–just to mention a couple of the biggies. So if he couldn’t get this four-day event for himself right, how can he lead the country? Anyway, based on what we know now and what we might imagine could be on tap, here’s what to expect. Continue reading Make Gotham Great Again?

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Maintain the 2nd Amendment AND Stop Gun Violence

Flintlock pistol, circa 1790The U.S. Bill of Rights, including the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, was adopted in 1791. Little did the Founding Fathers anticipate the technological advances in weaponry. Back then, rifles and handguns were flintlocks; single shots only with the next one requiring more gunpowder and a new ball. Today in America people and groups like the NRA clamor for their 2nd amendment rights against any restrictions such as background checks, assault weapon bans, etc. They get laws passed allowing them to carry weapons openly. They base their position on the 2nd Amendment. It’s all about American history and supposed support for the revolutionary zeal against the overreach of the King of England. So what if we applied the historical homage to the weapons that could be openly carried or even possessed? Here’s what would, or in some cases, could happen:

  • No more mass shootings–you can’t kill people in a crowd if you have to reload after every round fired!
  • Military and law enforcement could keep their advanced weaponry to better protect themselves and the rest of the population.
  • Gun owners would have to turn in their weapons–perhaps to benefit designated charities or to help restock federal, state and local law enforcement.
  • Gun manufacturers would take a heavy hit financially as they would have to focus exclusively on sales to military and law enforcement for advanced weapons.
  • The NRA would lose its power over Congress after it goes completely bonkers in trying to oppose such a move while rationalizing their historical justifications for the 2nd amendment.

What, you think this is just a joke? Well, it is a tad facetious. But when Hillary Clinton nominates some new justices for the Supreme Court, such laws could get upheld–assuming they could make it through Congress. So there’s the rub.

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Kill the Will to Kill

Two black men killed by police officers within 24 hours. Five police officers killed in Dallas and seven wounded shortly thereafter in apparent retaliation. The problem of “us and them;” the dehumanization of others who we view as less than us or our enemies. They disrespect, disregard or devalue our lives so we will do the same. There is another way.

“It is enough,” said Shakyamuni (also known as Siddhartha Gautama–the historical Buddha), “to kill the will to kill.”

His words came as a response to this question: “We are told that life is precious. And yet all people live by killing and eating other living beings. Which living beings may we kill and which living beings must we not kill?”

In his 1991 lecture on The Age of “Soft Power” and Inner-Motivated Philosophy, delivered at Harvard University, SGI leader Daisaku Ikeda said this about Shakyamuni’s words:

Shakyamuni’s response is neither evasion nor deception. . . . He is telling us that, in seeking the kind of harmonious relationship expressed in the idea of respect for the sanctity of life, we must not limit ourselves to the phenomenal level where conflict and hostility undeniably exist–the conflict, in this case, of which living beings it is acceptable to kill and which not. We must seek it on a deeper level–a level where it is truly possible to “kill the will to kill.” Read more here.

Ironically, it was just six months before Ikeda’s lecture that Rodney King was severely beaten by Los Angeles Police (who were later acquitted on state charges of assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force but two of whom were found guilty of federal civil rights violations). The acquittal of the officers of state charges led to riots in Los Angeles in which 55 people died and 2,000 were injured. During the riots, King said, “can’t we just get along.” 

Dehumanization and the Us vs. Them dichotomy inevitably leads to the arguments and counterarguments between Black Lives Matter proponents and law and order proponents who deny that there’s a problem or the scope of it. Few, if any, are in possession of 100% truth nor are few 100% wrong. They just have an understandable but often less than helpful perspective. Here’s another excerpt from Ikeda’s Harvard Lecture, the second paragraph excerpted is the lead-in to the quote above explaining Shakyamuni’s response:

One of the most important Buddhist concepts, dependent origination holds that all beings and phenomena exist or occur in relation to other beings or phenomena. Everything is linked in an intricate web of causation and connection and nothing–whether in the realm of human affairs or of natural phenomena–can exist or occur solely of its own accord.

. . . .

As I mentioned in discussing encounters between different cultures, not all relationships are amicable. The reality of opposing interests and even hostility must be acknowledged. What can be done to encourage and promote harmonious relations?

In Ikeda’s first quote above, I intentionally left out his second sentence, in which he observes that Shakyamuni’s response is based on the concept of dependent origination. We are all, like it or not, interconnected. We are all human, living on this earth at the same time. When we interact we can choose to find hate others or blame them for our misfortune. Or we can choose a different view. In over 35 years of marriage between myself, a white male, and a black female, we have traveled through most of the 50 states in America, to Canada and to Japan. We can count on the fingers of one hand the times that we have perceived any overt or perceptible discrimination against us by people of any other race. Why? Because we don’t regard others that way AND because we overcame opposition to our marriage from her father.

So, it is enough to kill the will to kill. But it is even better not to hate at all.

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Honest and Trustworthy–Donald or Hillary?

It’s 17 weeks until the U.S. Presidential Election. I have tired of offering political commentary. Those few of you who regularly read this blog will note that there have been far fewer as time has passed over a few years ago. So here’s the deal: Four political posts from now until the election. About one per week. That’s it; no more.

So, an MSNBC/Wall Street Journal poll says 41% find Donald Trump to be honest and straightforward. Really?!  Hillary just 25%! Well, after FBI Director Comey’s no indictment broadside, looks like he’s in the low end. But let’s look at the  ratings of supposedly factual statements of Donald and Hillary by the nonpartisan group, Politifact.

Politifact found that only 23% of Trump’s statements were true, mostly true or half true. The remaining 77% were mostly false, false or “pants on fire” falsehoods. Basically, he makes stuff up. Like that Rubio’s father had some involvement in JFK’s assassination. He says things and then denies he said them, like calling women “fat pigs.” He calls Hillary crooked. But how many lawsuits has he lost, settled or been involved in regarding deceptive or fraudulent business practices? Way more than Secretary Clinton. He knows little about anything other than how to start businesses with other people’s money and bail when they fail. How can anyone go bankrupt running a casino (four times!) when the house always wins? So he lies and calls other people names. Oh, his “pants on fire” percentage was 20%—one in five of the items that Politifact checked!

Politifact found this about Hillary’s “facts”: 73% were true, mostly true or half true (almost the complete opposite of Trump!) Only 27% of her statements were mostly false, false or pants on fire. Notably, on 1% fell into the pants on fire category. So who’s honest and straightforward? The winner is Hillary, even adding in FBI Director Comey’s remarks.

Just in case there’s any doubt, I am not nonpartisan. Here’s my John Oliver/HBO cap to prove it.

Me wearing Make Donald Drumpf Again cap

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Go North–to Alaska and the Yukon

In 1865, Horace Greeley said, “Go west young man.” Greeley was enamored of Manifest Destiny and American expansion to the west. We, in 2016, were excited about going north to the Land of the Midnight Sun. There to see Denali in all its glory and abundant wildlife. To take a cruise through Glacier Bay. To go even to the Yukon–Canada’s far north. The experience turned into one of our most memorable and rewarding vacations. Full details will have to wait for a travel feature in the September Eagle Peak Quarterly. There we will offer many more photos and some recommendations on what to see and do. For now, here’s some highlights.

We traveled by air, by rail, by motorcoach and bus (the former a more luxurious version of the latter, of course) and finally by cruise ship. It all added up to lots of money, but you’ve seen those bumper stickers that say, “We’re spending our kids inheritance?” Not quite that extreme, but the money turned out to be well spent. Alaska is twice the size of Texas and larger than all but 18 sovereign nations so for the first time ever we took a package tour vacation. We had exceptional weather, with only a few sprinkles here and there. Most days were in the mid 50s at the low end and as high as 70, although if you were out early enough it could be chillier and the wind could be brisk on occasion.

  • June 5/6–Anchorage. We arrived a day early before our tour would start. Anchorage has a great museum not to be missed. Historical stuff of First Nation people, explorers, settlers, miners and more–like this contemporary art by the indigenous people.Word piece from Anchorage Museum
  • June 7–On to Denali, via the McKinley Explorer, a domed rail car with great food and views of the scenery between Anchorage and the national park. The railcars are owned by Carnival, which owns Holland America, Princess, Cunard, Seabourn and Costa cruise lines. We were on a Holland America package (we liked them; few news reports of problems like some of their sister lines).
  • June 8–a Tundra Wilderness Tour (7 hours or so) on basically a large school bus operated by Aramark–the predominant vendor of food and services at most of America’s national parks. We were fortunate to have a driver with 24 years of experience at the park who could tell us about its history, its flora and fauna, its ecology and more. Along the road, which is closed to private vehicles except for occasional photographers with special permits, we saw the many snow capped peaks. We also saw caribou, moose, a nesting gyrfalcon AND a mama grizzly with two cubs–just 150 feet from the road. Here’s mama by herself.

adult female grizzly bear

    • June 9–to Fairbanks via motorcoach. Great views along the way. Our first encounter with the Midnight Sun. Sunset at 12:30 AM; sunrise at 3 AM. Room darkening shades essential.
    • June 10–a visit to Gold Dredge 8, an historic site with a monster machine that floated in a pond it kept enlarging as it gobbled dirt at one end and pushed out processed ore from the other end. There we tried our hand at gold panning, learned how miners in the 19th and early 20th century dug 50 feet or more into the permafrost to extract gold-bearing ore (in 50 below zero winter) which they waited to process the following summer. Also saw a segment of the Trans Alaska Pipeline which currently carries an average of about 535,000 barrels of oil per day the 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. It’s about 5 feet and diameter on the outside with lots of insulation and 11 pumps to keep the oil moving.
    • June 11–We took an hour-long flight to Dawson City, Yukon on an aging 737 charter plane. There we landed on a gravel/hard packed dirt runway (have to contend with permafrost; no paving). Dawson is a quaint little town with a maximum population of 1,900 year round (probably less). All the streets are dirt. In the 1890s it was all about mining the Klondike. Today it’s mostly tourism, although there still is gold mining going on. While there we saw a Highlands Game–including that ever popular “caber toss.” We also took a trip on the Yukon River via a paddlewheeler and caught a performance of “the Dangerous Days of ’98.” The latter chronicled the escapades of William Jefferson “Soapy” Smith whose goons robbed would-be miners on the Chilkoot Trail and whose saloon took much of what remained. Tourism? Judge for yourself by the picture of downtown Dawson, a hotel from the Gold Rush with (yes) mannequins in the window. So no, there are no women of negotiable affections available in 21st century Dawson.

The Flora Dora Hotel from 1890s

  •  June 12–on the road via motorcoach again, this time to Whitehorse. A town just a tad larger than Dawson and now the capital of the Yukon. A bit more to see and do here, but let’s save that for the travel feature. The big deal is travelling  the next morning to Frasier, where we board the Yukon and White Pass Route for the trip to Skagway. We stopped for lunch at this tiny place along the way called Minto. There I tried on for size some moose antlers. Moose must have some serious neck muscles–this was only a modest sized set but in the 30 pound range.

antlers cropped

  • June 13–White Pass and Yukon Route. A wonderful train ride along the canyons, passes and a couple tunnels that follow, for a time, the Chilkoot Trail (you can search the web for that or wait for the September feature), a treacherous route that thousands of gold seekers took in 1898 to get to the Yukon. The views from the train were magnificent and the ride smooth on the narrow gauge rail.

White Pass & Yukon train ready to round a bend

 

  • June 13–arrival in Skagway, Alaska. A tiny museum, an interesting bronze sculpture and flower garden and a gazillion jewelry stores, among other retailers, hawking their wares to the 3-5 cruise ships docking at this town of less than a 1,000 people. Still, Skagway has its virtues. Far easier to navigate than the larger Ketchikan. Even with a few thousand people per ship, many are onboard dining, shopping or doing other things. After 6 pm the streets are a ghost town as those who were there return for dinner to their respective cruise ships.
  • June 14–we checked out of room in Skagway and into our room on board Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam (WOW, that’s some boat!), got lunch and headed back into town for a “shore excursion.” The ship wouldn’t leave until 8:30 PM so we had a leisurely day to tour those local sights.  Again, there’s more here, but this post is for highlights. The next big one coming on board. Just a little more about the ship. About 1,900 passengers and half as many crew scattered among 11 decks. We were midships on deck 5, the first of the veranda decks, on the starboard side. That means we had a balcony to sit on. A king sized bed, a small sofa, a 32″ TV on the wall (we weren’t there to watch TV : ;-)) a mini-bar/fridge and closets for the luggage. Great selection of places to dine and plenty of activities, had we wanted to participate (for those who like cruises that’s important; we weren’t there for that).

The wife on the veranda taking pictures

  • June 15–Glacier Bay! Yes, lots of glaciers. With ship the size of the one we were on, we stayed a couple miles or so from the nearest one. Still, quite a deal.

glacier calving

  • Her camera and my cellphone take good pictures, that’s her’s above. This is us by someone else, at the foredeck on our cabin level.

on the deck in Glacier Bay

  • June 16–we traveled to Ketchikan overnight from Glacier Bay, arriving at around 6:30 AM. Unfortunately for us, a Celebrity cruise ship hit one of four berths at the harbor on June 3rd. Thankfully we weren’t on that ship, which encountered 45 mph winds before doing $2-5 million damage to the dock. The ship got a gouge in the hull which welders repaired and it went on its scheduled way the same night. WE, on the other hand, had to go ashore via a tender–those lifeboats you may have seen in the movie where Tom Hanks played Captain Phillips. Three other ships got a berth; we didn’t. Each tender holds 120-140 people so it worked well enough. Once ashore, we took a nice tour of the famous Creek Street and then to Totem Bight State Park where replicas of famous totems have been erected.

A totem pole

  • June 17 and 18–We cruised all day on the 17th, sightseeing on land all done. We had to have our luggage outside the door by 12 midnight on the 17th, making for some logistical complications. We arrived early the morning of the 18th in Vancouver for a series of transfers and passages through Canadian customs, American Customs, airport security, etc. The fun was over; back to the world of airport hassles. Complicated just a bit by a cold caught perhaps in Skagway or Ketchikan–meaning ears remaining unclear on descent for the first stop in Phoenix.

Look for much more on the trip in the September issue of Eagle Peak Quarterly.

 

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Fighting Fear–Defeating ISIS

Tornados happen. Floods happen. Earthquakes happen. Wildfires happen. Car crashes happen. Mass shootings and terrorist attacks happen–like in the airport at Istanbul.

View of Istanbul Airport
From CNN.com

What?! Terrorist attacks happen? Yes, and more will certainly come. So what do we do about it?

Do people fear natural disasters? Some do, some more than others. Do they fear mass shooters and terrorists? Many more do, no doubt. Which is why they demand the government do something about it and politicians pander to those fears. In his 1933 inaugural speech, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said,

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.FDR in 1933

He spoke then of the people’s financial fears in the depths of the Great Depression, not of terrorism. But the notion applies well to our current state of affairs.

People who choose or who must live in the Tornado Belt have basement shelters, for the most part. People who live in areas prone to floods are prohibited by zoning laws from building other than playgrounds, parks and athletic fields in floodplains. People who live in areas known to be subject to earthquake must live and work in buildings that can survive them. New construction in Florida now must include roofs tied to the foundation and homes able to survive 160 mph winds of hurricanes. Trees and brush can be cleared around homes and building materials can be more fire-resistant. Still, nothing can prevent natural disasters, only lessen the consequences. People go on with their lives, unafraid of such potential catastrophes. In the wake of them, they rebuild–thankful their lives were spared even if their homes were not.

Few people stop driving cars in fear of crashes, despite the fact that they are far more likely to die or be seriously injured in one than be the victim of a terrorist attack. Few people stop going to the movies, to shopping malls, to airports, to stadiums, to work or to other places where masses of people congregate. Yet they still fear or at least demand government action to stop the terrorist attacks.

For decades, if not centuries, there have been those who would impose their will on others by the tactics of terror. They’re seldom successful in the long run. You can study the history of such movements on every continent of the world–save Antarctica. But our present concern is with ISIS and its fellow extremists extolling a perverted form of Islam as their guide. It’s only rarely mentioned that the goal of ISIS is to bring about the end of days in an apocalyptic war in the Middle East. As that goal eludes them, they become more desperate. Their finances have been diminished. They are losing at large scale warfare. They have lost Fallujah. White hat hackers are taking over websites and twitter accounts to mock or discredit them. In time, they will fade from existence and become an historical footnote of failure. But what should we do now, while the attacks continue?

The response of Turkey, in contrast to that of Belgium is instructive. The airport in Brussels remained closed for a week after the attack there. The airport in Istanbul has reopened in something like 14 hours, as cleanup and repairs progress. The more we cower in fear, the more we offer prescriptions for yet more ineffective screening such as, for example, inspections of all vehicles on roads headed toward airports once they get within a mile or two of the terminal?

In other words, consider the odds. We are all far more likely to die in any of those natural disasters than to even be in a 10 mile vicinity of a terrorist attack. Yes, continue going after ISIS and their ilk. Just stop being afraid and stop asking the government to do stuff that won’t work and will cost prodigious amounts of money that could be better spent on things that do–schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, etc.

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The Cacti Are Blooming

It’s that time of year when one after another starts popping up pretty flowers. Mostly yellow or magenta. If you care to think of agave, AKA century plants, as cacti, you can add their golden or reddish/orange pods. Didn’t see the second color until this year.  In virtually all cases, everything that looks lovely will hurt you severely if you mess with them. Needle sharp points, serrated edges and more. Look but don’t touch and watch out for turning or backing up. Most can penetrate the heaviest denim, as well as lighter boots and work gloves as well. But they are beautiful.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus

blooming cholla

Cholla

barrel cactus blooming

Barrel Cactus

agave blooming
Agave
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Seeing things as they really are, without the illusions or delusions

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