Saturday, December 01, 2018

Swamp water is rising with Trump administration

by Tom Maertens

Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counter-terrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11.

Donald Trump promised he was going to drain the swamp. Instead he has created one of the most corrupt administrations in history.

It started even before the election. Five of Trump’s campaign officials, including his campaign chairman and deputy chairman, have been convicted or pleaded guilty to felonies; his National Security Advisor and his lawyer have also pleaded guilty to felonies.

More than 164 former lobbyists work in the administration, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, including several who are regulating the industries where they once worked.

Nine cabinet officials have left the administration, including Tom Price, former HHS secretary who resigned under pressure after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal flights.

David Shulkin, former VA secretary, charged taxpayers for a European trip that included visits to Wimbledon and Westminster Abbey, and a river cruise for him and his wife.

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spent over $1 million in taxpayer money flying around the country aboard military jets, often for personal purposes, according to a nonpartisan watchdog group.

The former EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, resigned after 13 separate investigations were instituted against him, mostly involving corruption for personal gain.

The acting EPA head, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal lobbyist whose firm was paid millions of dollars by companies he now regulates.

Another Trump EPA appointee, Onis Glenn, was arrested for helping the coal company he had worked for dodge an EPA-mandated cleanup bill.

FEMA let a $156 million food contract to a company with a single employee which had been barred from government work. Another case against the FEMA chief, for misusing government personnel and vehicles, has been referred to federal prosecutors.

Brenda Fitzgerald, the former CDC director, owned shares in several tobacco companies and even purchased more shares after taking charge of an agency that aims to reduce smoking.

There will be more resignations. There have been 17 investigations of the Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, including a $300 million no-bid contract that went to friends at a two-person company from his home town, and a private land-deal there with the chairman of Halliburton.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been accused of cheating former associates out of more than $120 million, and trading on insider information. Forbes reported that he met with Chevron while his wife owned more than $250,000 in company stock.

Betsy DeVos, a longtime investor in for-profit colleges, has attempted as Education Secretary to protect them by disbanding a team investigating fraudulent activities at for-profit colleges, like Trump University (which cost Trump $25 million to settle fraud claims).

The most corrupt of all is Donald Trump. He has been credibly accused of abuse of power, obstruction of justice, violating campaign finance laws, tax fraud, violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, and conspiring with Russia to fix the 2016 elections. And like a mob boss, he is constantly railing at law enforcement for investigating him.

The former head of Russian Counterintelligence told Investigative journalist Craig Unger that Trump was one of roughly 300 assets and agents that Russia recruited in the United States.

Think about that: a former KGB General says the president of the U.S. is a Russian agent.

Unger details evidence that Trump has worked with the Russian mafia, which is controlled by the FSB/KGB, for more than 30 years. “He was profiting from them. They rescued him. They bailed him out. They took him from being $4 billion in debt to becoming a multibillionaire again….”

Besides Mueller’s investigations (see My View, Oct. 24), Trump is being investigated by the New York AG for tax fraud over 40 years. An 18 month investigation by The New York Times found that Trump’s parents transferred over $1 billion to their children, but used a series of illegal tax schemes to pay only 5 percent in taxes rather than the 55 percent due. Trump could owe $500 million plus penalties.

In June, the same AG sued to dissolve Trump’s charitable foundation on grounds it systematically violated the law for decades, including self-dealing, financing Trump’s campaign, and even paying his kids’ scouting fees.

Another lawsuit charges that the Trump Organization is a racketeering enterprise that received secret payments to promote Ponzi schemes that defrauded thousands of people for years.

Additionally, several lawsuits have been filed against Trump alleging foreign representatives and lobbyists are spending money at Trump properties to influence government decisions.

Democrats will take over the House in January, equipped with subpoena power to compel testimony, and to obtain Trump’s tax returns.

Maybe they can drain Trump’s swamp.

This op-ed was also published in the Mankato Free Press Nov 28, 2018.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In 2020, climate change will be on the ballot

by Leigh Pomeroy

Leigh Pomeroy is a board member of the Southcentral Minnesota Clean Energy Council and sits on the Southeast Steering Committee of Clean Energy Resource Teams, part of the University of Minnesota Extension. His opinions are his own.

In this past mid-term election, climate change wasn’t a huge issue. Measures dealing directly or indirectly with climate change in states like Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Washington were soundly rejected, thanks to fossil fuel companies spending tens of millions of dollars to defeat them.

The 2020 elections will be different. In two years the consequences of human-caused climate change will be forefront in many voters’ minds. By then the catastrophic consequences of the increased intensity of hurricanes and frequency of wildfires will have become commonplace news.

The effect of the heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been known since 1896, when Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius correctly predicted that the burning of coal would warm the planet. So man-made climate change is not “fake news” or even “new news” — it’s old news.

Climate change came to the forefront in the U.S. on a hot summer day in 1988 when NASA climate scientist James Hansen testified before Congress that the planet was warming and that the cause was human made.

Thirty years later, the evidence is overwhelming: from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Defense, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — that is, where sources have not been blocked by the Trump Administration.

Some politicians and fossil fuel advocates have tried to obfuscate the issue for their own and their funders’ economic gain. But they are traitors to the future generations who will be suffering the consequences from the energy and economic largesse we currently enjoy from fossil fuel burning.

The science of climate change is deceptively simple: Our planetary system is based on a delicate balance not unlike that of human and other biological systems. Modern human civilization has developed over the last 10,000 years due to an interglacial warming period.

In other words, earth is normally colder than it is now, but due to factors including the elliptical nature of the Earth’s orbit (its distance from the sun), the angle of its axis and the wobble of that axis — collectively known as the Milankovitch cycles — it entered into a warming period about 11,000 to 12,000 years ago.

Climate scientists have determined that, because of the Milankovitch cycles, the planet should be cooling. But it is not. It is warming. Why?

After eliminating all other factors, scientists deduced that the transfer of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide to the atmosphere from their stored places in the earth have caused that change. The primary agents of that transfer? Human beings.

Let us draw an analogy. Human bodies need iron in small amounts. Too much iron creates hemochromatosis and other excess iron diseases. Too little creates iron deficiency anemia. Either way can lead to serious health problems, even death.

Our planet and its climate are much the same: Little differences can mean huge, even catastrophic consequences.

Let us look at the facts: Human-created climate change is a reality. It is affecting certain parts of the world more than others. In the upper Midwest we are not as influenced as is the U.S. southeast and west and other parts of the planet. Yet climate change will — and already has — affected heat, rainfall and the growing season in Minnesota. Just ask any farmer.

Much is being done at the local and state levels to move from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. Yet much more needs to be done, both at the state and, particularly, the federal level.

Minnesota is small potatoes in the world scheme of addressing climate change. Yet like the valid argument that every vote counts, every attempt to address the challenge that our energy profligacy has created must be embraced, even if it is one small step at a time.

The next election will occur in another two years. But it is time now to influence legislators — whether you agree with them or not — as to what is important for our kids and their kids.

Let them know that science and facts are fundamental to our democracy. Impress upon them that climate change is real and that we all must do something about it … now.

This piece appeared in the Mankato Free Press, Tuesday, November 20, 2018.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Gerrymandering, voter fraud and tax cut lies: the GOP campaign strategy for 2018

by Tom Maertens

Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counter-terrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11.

Remember when Donald Trump promised to pay off the national debt in eight years?

Instead, the debt-to-GDP ratio has reached its highest level since after World War II, according to the Congressional Budget Office; under current law, the national debt will equal the size of the economy by 2028. Servicing the debt cost $500 billion in 2018 and, as interest rates rise, could surpass our military budget.

The October CBO report makes clear that Trump’s 2017 tax cut is the cause.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin described the supply-side con last year: “Not only will this tax cut pay for itself, but it will pay down the debt.”

Those tax cuts will never pay for themselves. Republicans know it but run up the deficit in order to reward their rich donors and justify cutting social programs.

For 60 years, every Republican president has increased the debt/GDP ratio, and every Democrat has decreased it. Reagan tripled the national debt from $95 billion to $290 billion. When Bill Clinton left office the CBO projected a 10-year surplus of $5.6 trillion. Bush’s wars and tax cuts destroyed that projection and resulted in $11 trillion more debt and a $1.4 trillion yearly deficit. Obama cut the deficit by two-thirds. Now Republicans are running up the debt/deficit again and lying about it.

House Republicans passed a second round of tax cuts last month that would add $3.8 trillion to the federal debt over a decade, according to the Tax Policy Center.

In addition, Mnuchin is considering a plan to cut $100 billion in taxes by indexing capital gains to inflation, a move benefiting largely the rich. CNBC calls it a stealth tax cut.

Despite GOP claims about tax cuts, the reality, as the Washington Post reported, is that because of inflation, “In real terms, the weekly earnings of a typical working American fell $16.80, or 1.9 percent, during Donald Trump’s first 18 months as president.”

Republicans blame “entitlements,” Social Security and Medicare, for the deficit; but they are not entitlements; you pay for them with FICA taxes.

In order to pass Trump’s tax cuts, Republicans depend on racial resentment and culture war issues to mobilize voters, like kneeling for the national anthem, immigration, crime, and guns.

Voter suppression and gerrymandering are also essential to maintaining congressional majorities.

The GOP has falsely claimed widespread voting fraud for years to justify strict ID laws that disproportionately affect minority voters.

Republicans took control of 26 state legislatures in 2010; 22 of those states subsequently passed more restrictive voting laws — despite the fact that in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent.

Those same states purged millions of voters using “Interstate Crosscheck,” a voter suppression system instituted by Kansas Secretary of State Chris Kobach, which is used to eliminate “duplicate” minority-sounding names from state voter rolls. Researchers at both Harvard and Stanford found that Crosscheck makes it 99 percent more likely that a legitimate voter gets purged rather than an illegitimate one.

The AP recently reported that Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, who is running for governor against Stacey Abrams, a black woman, is refusing to register 53,000 mostly black voters. Kemp’s office has canceled more than 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012, and nearly 670,000 registrations in 2017 alone; official vote fraud ostensibly to prevent vote fraud.

Indiana recently removed at least 20,000 registered voters from state rolls in violation of a federal court order, and purged 469,000 in past years, according to investigative journalist Greg Palast.

North Dakota Republicans, in their zeal to suppress native American votes for Heidi Heitkamp, just rejected a U.S. passport as a valid ID — no street address.

The GAO found that new ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee had decreased turnout by 2 to 3 percent, principally among black, young, and new voters, who mostly vote Democratic.

Since Scott Walker was elected governor in Wisconsin, the state has passed 33 new election laws which make voting more difficult, especially for minorities.

Gerrymandering is also a part of the Republican playbook. Federal courts have repeatedly ruled against Republican-controlled Texas’ districting for discriminating against minorities; courts in several other states, including Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, have done the same. In 2012, Republican candidates in Pennsylvania won only 49 percent of the congressional vote, but gained 72 percent of the seats.

Because of gerrymandering, the Democrats need to win the mid-terms by 11 points to take the House, says the Brennan Center.

Gerrymandering, vote fraud and tax cut lies: the GOP campaign strategy for 2018.

This article was also published in the Mankato Free Press under the title "Debt runup, tax cut deception, voter repression part of GOP campaign" on Wednesday, October 24, 2018.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Why I'm (cautiously) optimistic about climate change

By Leigh Pomeroy

Leigh Pomeroy is a board member of the Southcentral Minnesota Clean Energy Council and sits on the Southeast Steering Committee of Clean Energy Resource Teams, part of the University of Minnesota Extension.

For decades climate scientists have warned about the effects of humankind’s propensity to shift carbon from its stored state in the earth to the atmosphere, with the results being rising ocean and atmospheric temperatures; higher sea levels; more dangerous storms; flooding from severe rain events; ocean acidification; and melting glaciers and ice caps in Greenland, the Arctic and Antarctic.

It is now apparent that we are seeing these events today, as detailed in a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. What were once reported as future effects are happening now.

We know these changes are only going to get worse with negative effects on fresh water systems, agricultural production, forests and biodiversity. Livability in many parts of our planet will be impacted by unbearable heat, flooded coastal areas and desertification, leading to populations trying to move to less affected areas, creating conflict and instability.

So why the title of this piece? Why am I “optimistic”?

The reason is that we’ve reached a turning point in the climate change debate. Except for a handful of politicians in our nation’s capital (and some even in Minnesota), gone are the man-made climate change disbelievers. Around the world, the science of human created climate change is accepted without argument.

Fortunately, many people are doing something in an attempt to ward off the worst effects of climate change. Cities, counties, states and other nations are striving to become carbon-free. Led by the technology industry, businesses are actively working to lower their greenhouse gas emissions. Electric utilities are deploying wind and solar while shutting down aging coal-fired plants. Much research is being done on how to make our electric grid more efficient, interconnected and decentralized so as to accommodate new renewable energy technologies and energy storage systems.

Just recently, a group of billionaires under the name Breakthrough Energy Ventures has funded new companies that are breaking the mold in developing clean energy solutions, including ways to pull carbon out of the atmosphere — the holy grail for dealing with our carbon addiction.

Methods for reducing carbon and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are available, for example, in the book Drawdown and at Some of these solutions are very simple, like planting trees — lots of trees. Others are more complex and, for the moment, farfetched, like small-scale nuclear fusion.

Local, agricultural related methods to reduce greenhouse gasses were presented at the recent Gustavus Adolphus College Nobel Conference on soil. By minimizing tillage, planting cover crops and implementing broader crop rotation, Minnesota farmers can reduce the amount of carbon and nitrogen that are emitted from the soil into the atmosphere — all the while maintaining or increasing yields at a lower cost for fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides, and using less fuel for farm equipment.

Fortunately, Minnesota is ahead of the curve in implementing energy efficiency and renewable energy programs as a result of the state renewable energy standard adopted by the legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty in 2007. Our electric utilities are taking up the call, as Xcel Energy has recently committed to using 60 percent renewable energy sources and to be 85 percent carbon-free by 2030.

Locally, because of energy use reduction and commitments to community solar, the City of Mankato is now getting nearly 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Plus, North Mankato, Blue Earth County and Nicollet County have all signed contracts to receive energy from community solar projects.

Pessimists may scoff that this is not enough. What about China? What about our country’s current administration and majority party in Congress, both of which refuse to recognize climate science altogether?

China is today the world’s largest producer of solar panels and has built a number of massive wind projects. And all it takes is an election or two to change the U.S. ship of state.

To continue the ship analogy, it takes a long time to alter the direction of a large freighter at sea. Changing our direction on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions will take a while as well. We may not avoid future catastrophes, but today we are finally taking steps to at least try to avoid them.

Minnesota may not be a big player in the worldwide game, but in our own small way we can be a leader. And since Minnesota has often been a leader among states, isn’t working towards a healthy planet the right way to lead?

NOTE: This article was also published in the Mankato Free Press.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Trump is reeling and in trouble

By Tom Maertens

Tom Maertens worked on Soviet and then Russian affairs for a dozen years, inside the State Department, at the U.S. Consulate General in Leningrad, and as Minister-Counselor for Science, Environment and Technology at U.S. Embassy Moscow.

Donald Trump is running scared: He is telling 32 lies (1) per day, according to the Washington Post, much higher than the 8.3 daily lies earlier in his term.

What’s got him rattled is five investigations, a separate lawsuit by two state attorneys general, multiple civil lawsuits with potentially damaging discovery proceedings and several associates who have flipped.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump conspired with Russia to alter the 2016 election, and whether he obstructed justice — as he virtually admitted to Lester Holt on NBC.

Trump has attacked Mueller’s investigation in increasingly deranged tweets, but Mueller has brought 187 criminal charges against 34 people and three organizations. He has obtained eight convictions/guilty pleas, including Trump's campaign chairman (Paul Manafort), his deputy campaign chairman (Rick Gates); his former attorney (Michael Cohen); former National Security Advisor (Michael Flynn) and advisor (George Papadopolous).

Ominously for Trump, all have agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, including Manafort, who participated in the June 2016 Treason Summit in Trump Tower where collusion with Russia was discussed.

Mueller has also indicted 12 Russian intelligence (GRU) officers, 13 Russian government hackers, a Russian "swallow" (Butina), "businessmen" Alex van der Zwaan, Richard Penedo, Konstantin Kliminik, Sam Patten and three Russian organizations.

His lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to crimes "in co-ordination with, and at the direction of" Donald Trump, which would make Trump a co-conspirator in a federal crime.

Separately, the New York attorney general has filed charges against the Trump Foundation, the Trump Campaign and Michael Cohen for fraud and violating campaign finance laws.

Simultaneously, Trump is being sued by the Maryland and D.C. attorneys general for violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

Additionally, the publisher of The National Enquirer, David Pecker, has been given immunity to testify about possibly illegal campaign contributions he made by paying to suppress stories unfavorable to Trump.

Adding to Trump’s nightmare, his long-time accountant (Allen Weisselberg) has been given immunity to testify.

Investigative journalist Craig Unger (House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia) reports that Trump dealt with the Russian Mafia, an extension of the Russian government, for three decades, and that its American headquarters were in Trump Tower.

During that time, anonymous Russians bought 1300 Trump condos, paid for in cash, according to Buzzfeed, a sign of probable money laundering.

Unger concludes that “it is fair to say that without the Russian Mafia’s move into New York, Donald Trump would not have become president.”

Unger lists 59 people who served as intermediaries between Trump and Russia. The Moscow Project, in turn, has compiled a list of 87 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. (2)

Astonishingly, Trump campaign officials issued at least 51 categorical denials that there were ANY contacts with Russia. (3)

Trump’s servility toward Putin has been on display for all to see, especially at the Helsinki Summit. The press even asked Trump if Putin had compromising information on him, to which he answered that Putin would have already released it if he did. No, that’s the opposite of how blackmail works.

Ex-KGB Gen. Oleg Kalugin, former head of counterintelligence, told Unger that Trump was probably compromised during his 1987 trip to Russia, and possibly again in 1994. Kalugin said the KGB regularly supplied young women to visitors in order to entrap them. Former GRU agent Viktor Suvorov confirmed that such activities were under 24-hour surveillance.

Trump’s vulnerabilities would have been obvious to the KGB; he has repeatedly bragged about his sexual exploits.

In a 1998 interview with Howard Stern, Trump compared his sex life to serving in Vietnam and asserted that he should have gotten the Congressional Medal of Honor.

More damning, former columnist A.J. Benza told GQ that Trump “used to call me when I was a columnist and say, ‘I was just in Russia, the girls have no morals, you gotta get out there.’”

In 2017, Trump told a press conference, “Be very careful, because in your hotel rooms and no matter where you go, you’re gonna probably have cameras. I’m not referring just to Russia, but I would certainly put them in that category.”

Those comments are a giveaway. As a long-time Russia hand, I consider it virtually certain that the KGB surveilled his hotel room; the comments show that Trump knows that embarrassing tapes exist.

This would explain his obsequiousness toward Putin and his frantic lying about his Russia ties.





Sunday, August 26, 2018

What does my bank or credit union do with my money?

Find out where your money is going at BankLocal.

Why Should I Use a Local Bank?

Local banks and credit unions work within established localities and reinvest depositors' money into local businesses, farms, and individuals. To put it simply, they often use your money more responsibly than large megabanks, and your community benefits.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Resource Watch — check it out!

The latest website we recommend:

Resource Watch

Resource Watch is a dynamic platform that provides trusted and timely data for a sustainable future. Resource Watch features hundreds of data sets all in one place on the state of the planet’s resources and citizens. Users can visualize challenges facing people and the planet, from climate change to poverty, water risk to state instability, air pollution to human migration, and more.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Vox Verax authors moving their information sharing to Twitter and Facebook

As we've stated before, Vox Verax authors/editors Tom Maertens and Leigh Pomeroy are rarely posting on this site anymore, finding sharing information via Twitter and Facebook both easier and quicker. Further, the audience appears to be larger on those sites than for Vox Verax.

Thus, if you want to know what we're thinking, please click on the links under Vox Verax editors to the upper right.


Leigh Pomeroy and Tom Maertens

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Washington isn't the only bullshit generator

(LP note: I taught for nearly 30 years in higher ed and, boy, does this ring true.)

Education Is Drowning in BS

By Christian Smith
Chronicle of Higher Education
JANUARY 09, 2018

Christian Smith is a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame.

I have had nearly enough bullshit. The manure has piled up so deep in the hallways, classrooms, and administration buildings of American higher education that I am not sure how much longer I can wade through it and retain my sanity and integrity.

Even worse, the accumulated effects of all the academic BS are contributing to this country’s disastrous political condition and, ultimately, putting at risk the very viability and character of decent civilization. What do I mean by BS?

BS is the university’s loss of capacity to grapple with life’s Big Questions, because of our crisis of faith in truth, reality, reason, evidence, argument, civility, and our common humanity.

BS is the farce of what are actually "fragmentversities" claiming to be universities, of hyperspecialization and academic disciplines unable to talk with each other about obvious shared concerns.

BS is the expectation that a good education can be provided by institutions modeled organizationally on factories, state bureaucracies, and shopping malls — that is, by enormous universities processing hordes of students as if they were livestock, numbers waiting in line, and shopping consumers.

(Continued here.)

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Sustainable finance: the year ahead

From Bloomberg:

Sustainable investing went global in 2017 and is poised to continue that momentum with greater investor demand and corporate disclosure out of Asia, and more ESG-focused funds launched in the U.S. and Europe, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Gregory Elders. In last year's bull market, ESG indexes that excluded fossil-fuel companies or used an ESG tilt strategy to emphasize companies with better sustainability metrics, such as the MSCI USA ESG Select Leaders Index, showed some of the strongest returns versus broad benchmarks.

(The article is here.)

Friday, December 15, 2017

If you think winters are getting warmer, it's because they are

Mankato has second-fastest warming winters in nation

By Tim Krohn

MANKATO — If you needed more confirmation that our winters are increasingly wimpier, the nonprofit group Climate Central shows Mankato is the second-fastest warming city in the nation.

The report, released by the New Princeton, New Jersey-based group of scientists, found that winters have warmed the fastest in the Great Plains and the Great Lakes region.

Since 1970, Mankato winters have warmed by an average 6 degrees. That ties with Minneapolis. Only winters in Burlington, Vermont, have warmed faster, rising 7 degrees.

(Continued here. Note: This website — — done years ago by an Minnesota State University Mankato professor to teach his students not to trust the internet, may now be prophetic.)

Friday, December 08, 2017

Climate change and the need for alternative energy

Address to the Mankato Area Lifelong Learners, Thursday, Dec. 7: These true American patriots get it!

On Thursday I addressed the Mankato Area Lifelong Learners at the Snell Motors Community Room. The notes on my address can be found at

Interesting note: When I asked how many drove hybrid vehicles, about one-third raised their hands. In the U.S. the number is less than five percent.

— LP