Category Archives: Venta

How a Minimalist Lifestyle Can Add to Your Green Efforts

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You may have seen the term “minimalism” being thrown around a lot lately, especially in the eco-friendly sphere. As more and more people have adopted minimalist lifestyles, the concept has begun to slowly creep to the forefront of our collective consciousness. But what exactly is minimalism? To be honest, it can be a little hard to pinpoint.

Minimalism means different things to different people — it’s unique to the person living it. The truth is, there’s no “one size fits all” to this approach. However, one thing that can be agreed upon is that living as a minimalist is far more earth-friendly than how the majority of Americans are currently getting by. Let’s take a closer look:

What Is Minimalism?

Ranging from apartment-dwelling urbanites to country homesteaders, minimalists come from vast walks of life. They might be single or have a large family, have a house full of treasured items or live out of a backpack. The common ground lies in the opposition to the American ideal of working more to make more, and spending more to have more.

The true essence of minimalism is determining what provides you the most value in life and removing everything that is simply excess. It’s a very intentional way of living that gives rise to positive changes in almost all aspects of life. Being a minimalist means choosing to live your life with great purpose.

Curbing the Consumer Mind-Set

Society’s greatest lie is that a good life is based on the accumulation and possession of as many material items as possible. Massive houses, expensive cars, grand yachts, glittering diamonds — you know, the Instagram-worthy, Kardashian-inspired lifestyle. When we believe that more is better, we fall prey to the notion that money can buy happiness. That’s where minimalism comes in. Minimalism frees us from the all-consuming desire to possess. It sidesteps consumerism and compels us to seek happiness in experiences and relationships. It encourages us to actually live a life instead of buying one.

Now, all this isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with owning material possessions. It’s more about throwing off the meaning we attribute to said possessions. To put it more plainly, acquiring more stuff shouldn’t come before our health, relationships or personal growth. If owning a house or a car is important to you, that’s perfectly fine. Minimalism is merely a method that supports you in making these decisions more thoughtfully.

When it comes to your possessions, adopting a minimalist lifestyle means being very intentional about what you own and not being distracted by material belongings. While you may want to start your minimalist journey by getting rid of a bunch of stuff, the focus of minimalism shouldn’t be on what you are throwing out, it should instead be on the benefit of removing what doesn’t bring value to your life. Though minimalism sounds like it’s all about having less, there’s actually a lot of “more” that comes along with it. You’ll have more time, more space, more peace and more freedom.

Minimalism Is Eco-Friendly

The basic tenets of minimalism are surprisingly in tune with the eco-friendly way of living. For instance, by making a conscious choice to only purchase what is absolutely needed, you’ll naturally consume less. The less gas, plastic and nonrecyclable materials you use on a regular basis, the fewer nonrenewable resources are used up in their production. Reuse allows you to take this even further, say by borrowing a book from the library instead of buying a new one.

Minimalism makes you more aware of how much waste you generate. Buying less means wasting less; the fewer purchases you make, the fewer boxes, bags and packing materials end up dumped in landfills. What’s more, when you produce less waste, sorting through it for recycling and composting purposes is far easier and more efficient.

Minimalism is helpful in overcoming perceived obsolescence. Perceived obsolescence is when an object is completely functional but is no longer perceived to be stylish or appropriate. It’s rendered obsolete by perception, rather than by function. Minimalism encourages you to purchase goods designed to last for a long period of time, and use them for their entire life span.

Though eighty-sixing excess possessions is a big part of minimalism, the concept goes far beyond what you own. Minimalism should be practiced in all areas of your life — determine what you value most and remove what stands in the way. Apply this to how you spend your time, who you have relationships with, what you eat and so on.

Minimalism, like so many things in life, comes in many forms — it’s a flexible concept. You can choose to adopt the aspects of minimalism that appeal to you most and adapt others to fit your lifestyle. And since it all depends on what adds value to your life in the moment, it’s bound to change over time. After all, what’s meaningful to you in your 20s is not always the same as what’s meaningful to you in your 50s. Just remember, the true aim of minimalism isn’t to deprive yourself of anything, it’s to focus on the things that bring you the most value, cultivate your relationships and live the best life you can.

To learn more about embracing minimalism, check out these fantastic minimalist blogs.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

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How a Minimalist Lifestyle Can Add to Your Green Efforts

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Surprisingly Sustainable: Oktoberfest’s Green Side

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Some celebrations are almost synonymous with waste. Picture the plastic-bead-strewn streets of New Orleans after Mardi Gras, or the mountains of plastic packaging and wrapping paper after Christmas. For the environmentally conscious, the incredible wastefulness of these occasions is enough to make a Scrooge out of even the most festive individual.

Surprisingly, an environmental hero has arisen from a most unlikely holiday. A celebration that seems to have no other purpose than excessive drinking. No, not St. Patty’s Day (although there are ways to go green then, too!). Friends, we’re talking about Oktoberfest.

Yes. Really.

The Environmental Oscars

Here’s a tidbit that might shock you — it certainly surprised us. Oktoberfest — the real one, that is, held in Munich, Germany, each autumn — is one of the most environmentally friendly events out there. So much so, in fact, that it was awarded the Environmental Oscar in 1997 for its efforts to be as minimally wasteful as possible.

How have Oktoberfest organizers achieved this? Three main aspects contribute to their environmental success:

Disposing of Disposables

In 1991, the city of Munich banned disposable servingware. No more paper plates, no more plastic forks. Instead, food was served on real plates, with real silverware. Drinks were served in glasses, rather than plastic tumblers. This one change reduced waste at the annual festival by over 90 percent. It’s an encouraging statistic for festivals worldwide, especially those that think that waste-free celebrations are beyond their capabilities. After all, Oktoberfest is hardly a small-time operation; it hosts six million visitors each year. If they can go without one-time-use tableware, surely your next backyard barbecue can too!

Organics & Recycling

Gray water from washing all these dishes doesn’t just go down the drain, either. In almost half the festival tents, gray water is reused to flush the toilets (I’ve always wondered why we don’t do this everywhere). Reusing water like this drastically reduces the need for fresh water, and ensures that Oktoberfest gets the most use out of every drop. Much of the food served at Oktoberfest — including the meat — is also organically sourced. And while we could definitely make a strong case for reducing the amount of meat eaten at the bacchanalian beer fest (each year, attendees devour tons of sausages and almost 500,000 chickens), choosing poultry that’s been organically raised does make a huge difference.

Renewable Rejoicing

Since the year 2000, streetlights, toilets and all other public areas of the festival have been powered by renewable energy, making the festival one of the greenest in terms of how it powers its raucous celebrations. This attitude of environmental awareness has filtered through to its vendors, too — approximately 60 percent of them have followed suit and also chosen renewable power sources.

Oktoberfest is one of the purest festivals out there when you look at pure intent. It was originally celebrated to mark the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to the Saxon-Hildburghausen Princess Therese on Oct. 12, 1810. These days, it’s a chance to celebrate good beer, great brats and dudes in lederhosen. But the way Munich has focused on creating sustainable Oktoberfest celebrations is an example to all of us that life needn’t be dour and stark to be eco-friendly. In fact, quite the opposite.

Your Own Green Event

So, how can you bring a little of Munich’s environmental sensibilities to your own Oktoberfest celebrations — or any other party, for that matter? It is possible, even if you can’t use gray water to flush your toilet or suddenly switch to renewable energy:

Use e-vite sites like Green Envelope or Paperless Post to create online invites instead of mailing paper ones.
Follow Oktoberfest’s lead and ditch the disposable plates, cups and silverware. If you’re worried about tipsy guests breaking your good dishes, pick up an inexpensive set at Goodwill or Value Village. It’ll likely be the same price as (or cheaper than) disposable stuff, and you can reuse for many parties down the road. Just remember to wash well before use.
Provide bins for compost, recycling and garbage. Often just providing guests options for eco-friendly waste disposal is all you need to do to decrease the amount of waste your party produces.
If you’re going all out for the celebration, rent a costume instead of buying one. Good lederhosen don’t come cheap, and cheap ones won’t last long. Get into the spirit by renting a costume that’ll help you dress the part without taking up space in your closet the rest of the year.
If it’s in your budget, offer your guests organic refreshments and food — organic and/or local chickens, sausage and even beer if you can find it!

We hope you have a fantastic time celebrating good beer, great friends and the crisp arrival of fall. Happy Oktoberfest!

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Surprisingly Sustainable: Oktoberfest’s Green Side

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5 Strategies to Choose the Right Solar Panel Installer

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As solar energy explodes in popularity, there are more solar installation crews mounting solar panels on rooftops and tinkering with home electrical panels. Having the right solar panel installer can really make or break the experience of going solar.

When improperly installed, roof leaks are one of the most common complaints from solar homeowners. By contrast, solar systems can be installed in ways that don’t void roof warranties and actually help protect the roof from the elements. I’ve seen homes where the solar panels protected the roof from hail damage and the panels remain unscathed.

The technical expertise, solar equipment quality and solar system warranties all vary widely by the installer. The good news is that there are many reputable solar installation companies across the country to choose from. Here are some things to look for when finding the winners.

Some solar panel installers are more experienced than others. Photo: Shutterstock

1. NABCEP-Certification Installer

The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners certifies energy installers, including solar PV technicians. The requirements include passing a written test and having a certain amount of solar installation field experience. Although certification doesn’t guarantee good workmanship, it does ensure a certain level of knowledge and experience. Ideally, your solar installation will be overseen by a NABCEP-certified professional or, even better, have a NABCEP-certified crew member on the job.

2. Good Company Reputation

When looking for a solar panel installer, find one with a successful track record. If you have friends and acquaintances with a solar system, find out if they were happy with their installer.

Online consumer reviews are another way to find out more about a company. Solar Reviews is a useful source of information on solar installers and equipment, based on consumer reviews.

It’s also good to find out if the solar installer outsources its labor. If so, the quality of the installation might be less predictable.

3. Ideal Solar Equipment Options

In most areas, there are at least two reputable solar companies to choose from. Getting multiple bids can improve the quality of the finished product and possibly the out-of-pocket cost. For example, some installers take a one-size-fits-all approach to solar system design, while another company might customize your installation based on your needs, goals and the property. If installing your solar system is more complicated, it is especially helpful to find an installer that customizes your solar system design by selecting the best equipment and installation approach.

For help comparing options, EnergySage is funded by the Department of Energy and provides a suite of online tools and resources that assist consumers in researching and shopping for solar. Another service, UnderstandSolar, links solar shoppers to top-rated solar installers for personalized solar estimates. Various installers commonly offer different technology options to their customers. Perhaps you are willing to splurge on some sleek solar panels because they have such a long warranty or you want an inverter with backup power supply when the grid is down. By speaking with different solar panel installers, you can familiarize yourself with the different equipment choices.

4. Comprehensive Solar System Warranty

Various solar equipment comes with different manufacturer warranties, and installers often guarantee their work as well. Because solar is a pretty hefty investment, it is wise to protect yourself with a warranty.

Workmanship warranties can vary widely between installers but often last between one to 10 years. The solar equipment has additional warranties that are provided by the manufacturer. Solar panels typically have an equipment guarantee for a certain length of time in addition to a power performance guarantee for energy production. Other components, such as the inverter, can have very short warranties of just a few years or ones that last 25 years. Make sure you are clear about warranties before signing a contract with a solar panel installer.

5. Turnaround Time

Because solar energy has exploded in popularity in recent years, many solar installers have jam-packed installation schedules for months. If you want a solar system installed soon, it is wise to ask what their schedule looks like before signing a contract.

Keep in mind that the timing of when the solar system is installed impacts the availability of the 30 percent federal tax credit. For example, if you install a solar system in February, you need to wait much longer to use the tax credit than if you installed the system in November.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

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5 Strategies to Choose the Right Solar Panel Installer

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That’s It For Today

Mother Jones

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This is my last post for the day. Starting in a few minutes we’ll be replacing the guts of our website with something newer and better than what we have now, and no one at MoJo is allowed to edit the site until we’re done. That will be Tuesday morning according to our tech boffins.

I fully expect everything to go flawlessly during this conversion, because that’s how things usually go with computers. Right? Still, there’s an outside chance of something going wrong, which might mean I don’t show up for blogging duty on Tuesday. If that happens, don’t panic. Leave that to us professionals. We’ll get it all sorted.

In the meantime, I have important robot research to do and even more important vacation planning to do. See you Tuesday.

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That’s It For Today

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The Intercept Discloses Top-Secret NSA Document on Russia Hacking Aimed at US Voting System

Mother Jones

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On Monday, the Intercept published a classified internal NSA document noting that Russian military intelligence mounted an operation to hack at least one US voting software supplier—which provided software related to voter registration files—in the months prior to last year’s presidential contest. It has previously been reported that Russia attempted to hack into voter registration systems, but this NSA document provides details of how one such operation occurred.

According to the Intercept:

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the US election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed US government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A US intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive.

The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into US voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document:

Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. … The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.

Go read the whole thing.

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The Intercept Discloses Top-Secret NSA Document on Russia Hacking Aimed at US Voting System

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Chart of the Day: Health Care Spending as a Percentage of GDP

Mother Jones

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This is apropos of nothing in particular. I was over at the World Bank site fiddling around with some stuff and happened to look at their chart for health care spending. There’s a good case to be made that as GDP rises, the share devoted to health care also rises. This is because richer countries have more “spare” income and health care is what they spend it on.

But Sweden and Switzerland have per-capita GDPs as high as ours, and they still spend a whole lot less. The sooner we start reining in the growth of health care spending the better.

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Chart of the Day: Health Care Spending as a Percentage of GDP

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Trump’s Tweets Threaten His Travel Ban’s Chances in Court

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump began the week with a barrage of early-morning tweets blasting the courts for blocking his travel ban executive order. But in doing so, he may have just made it more likely that the courts will keep blocking the ban.

These tweets followed upon several from over the weekend about the ban and the terrorist attack in London, including this one from Saturday evening:

In January, Trump signed an executive order banning nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days, as well as halting the refugee resettlement program for 120 days (and indefinitely for Syrian refugees). When the courts blocked it, rather than appeal to the Supreme Court, Trump signed a modified version of the order. The new ban repealed the old one, reduced the number of banned countries from seven to six, and added exceptions and waivers. Still, federal courts in Maryland and Hawaii blocked it, and now the Justice Department has appealed to the Supreme Court to have this second version of the ban reinstated.

The biggest question in the litigation over the ban is whether the courts should focus solely on the text of the order or also consider Trump’s comments from the campaign trail, and even during his presidency, to determine whether the order uses national security as a pretext for banning Muslims from the country. The president’s lawyers argue that the courts should focus on the text of the order and defer to the president’s authority over national security. Trump’s tweets Monday morning and over the weekend make it harder for the courts to justify doing that.

The travel ban is supposed to be a temporary remedy until the government can review its vetting procedures. But Trump’s tweets make it appear that the ban itself is his goal. Trump repeatedly and defiantly uses the word “ban” when his administration has instead sought to call it a pause.

The tweets “undermine the government’s best argument—that courts ought not look beyond the four corners of the Executive Order itself,” Stephen Vladeck, an expert on national security and constitutional law at the University of Texas School of Law, says via email. “Whether or not then-Candidate Trump’s statements should matter (a point on which reasonable folks will likely continue to disagree), the more President Trump says while the litigation is ongoing tending to suggest that the Order is pretextual, the harder it is to convince even sympathetic judges and justices that only the text of the Order matters.” And once the courts start looking at the president’s statements, it’s not hard to find ones that raise questions about anti-Muslim motivations.

Even the president’s allies acknowledge his tweets are a problem. George Conway, the husband of top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, responded to Trump on Twitter by pointing out that the work of the Office of the Solicitor General—which is defending the travel ban in court—just got harder.

Conway, who recently withdrew his name from consideration for a post at the Justice Department, then followed up to clarify his position.

Trump may soon see his tweets used against him in court. Omar Jadwat, the ACLU attorney who argued the case before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, told the Washington Post this morning that the ACLU’s legal team is considering adding Trump’s tweets to its arguments before the Supreme Court. “The tweets really undermine the factual narrative that the president’s lawyers have been trying to put forth, which is that regardless of what the president has actually said in the past, the second ban is kosher if you look at it entirely on its own terms,” Jadwat told the Post.

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Trump’s Tweets Threaten His Travel Ban’s Chances in Court

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Trump Is Now Lying to His Own National Security Staff

Mother Jones

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In his NATO speech a week ago, Donald Trump declined to explicitly endorse Article 5, the provision that says an attack on one is an attack on all. I’m on record as suggesting that reaction to this was sort of overblown, but Susan Glasser provides some behind-the-scenes context to suggest it was quite a bit worse than I thought. It turns out that Trump’s entire national security team wanted him to offer a public endorsement:

National security adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all supported Trump doing so and had worked in the weeks leading up to the trip to make sure it was included in the speech, according to five sources familiar with the episode. They thought it was, and a White House aide even told The New York Times the day before the line was definitely included.

….The frantic, last-minute maneuvering over the speech, I’m told, included “MM&T,” as some now refer to the trio of Mattis, McMaster and Tillerson, lobbying in the days leading up to it to get a copy of the president’s planned remarks and then pushing hard once they obtained the draft to get the Article 5 language in it, only to see it removed again. All of which further confirms a level of White House dysfunction that veterans of both parties I’ve talked with in recent months say is beyond anything they can recall.

This is…astonishing. MM&T had to lobby just to get a copy of Trump’s remarks? And then, after getting the wording in, it was removed behind their backs? WTF?

“They had the right speech and it was cleared through McMaster,” said a source briefed by National Security Council officials in the immediate aftermath of the NATO meeting….“They didn’t know it had been removed,” said a third source of the Trump national security officials on hand for the ceremony. “It was only upon delivery.”

….The episode suggests that what has been portrayed—correctly—as a major rift within the 70-year-old Atlantic alliance is also a significant moment of rupture inside the Trump administration, with the president withholding crucial information from his top national security officials—and then embarrassing them by forcing them to go out in public with awkward, unconvincing, after-the-fact claims that the speech really did amount to a commitment they knew it did not make.

Holy shit. It’s one thing to lose a battle about what goes into a presidential speech—that happens all the time—but it’s quite another to agree to include something and then remove it without telling your top national security advisors. And then send them out to face the press.

This isn’t a case of Trump listening to the last guy in the room. It sounds more like Trump being unwilling to tell his national security team to their faces that he disagrees with them—and then screwing them behind their backs. How long can you keep working for a guy like that?

The bizarre thing is that what Trump did wasn’t entirely indefensible. It’s obviously not what I (or McMaster or Mattis or Tillerson) would have done, but Trump could have made the case that asking NATO partners nicely for increased defense spending hadn’t worked in the past, and he wanted to tighten the screws. The way to do it is to make everyone just a little nervous by saying nothing about Article 5 one way or the other.

MM&T would have disagreed, but Trump is president and he could have overruled them. Trump took office promising to disrupt the status quo, so they could hardly have been surprised if he had told them he wanted to play a little hardball and that they should be prepared for some blowback. At least then they would have known what to say afterward.

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Trump Is Now Lying to His Own National Security Staff

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Der Spiegel Just Published the Minutes From Trump’s Contentious Meeting With G7 Leaders

Mother Jones

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German magazine Der Spiegel has been given access to minutes from a contentious meeting of G7 leaders in Taormina, Sicily, at the end of May, in which they applied last-ditch pressure on President Donald Trump to stay in the Paris climate agreement.

The meeting came toward the end of Trump’s first trip abroad as president—and became an opportunity for world leaders to intensely lobby the American president before Trump’s final decision on whether the United States would leave the historic climate accord.

The leaders told Trump in no uncertain terms that if the United States abandoned the agreement, China would be the direct beneficiary.

“Climate change is real and it affects the poorest countries,” said Emmanuel Macron, the newly elected French president, at the outset of the private conversation.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau then told Trump that the success of repairing the ozone layer proved that industry could be persuaded to act on harmful emissions, according to the account.

Then, German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought up China: “If the world’s largest economic power were to pull out, the field would be left to the Chinese,” she said. According to Der Spiegel, Merkel added that Chinese President Xi Jinping was preparing to take advantage of the vacuum left by America’s exit. Even Saudi Arabia, she added, was preparing for a world without oil.

Trump was unmoved. “For me,” the president reportedly said, “it’s easier to stay in than step out,” adding that green regulations were killing American jobs.

As it became clear Trump would not budge, Macron admitted defeat, according to this account.

“Now China leads,” he said.

The account adds fresh details to the president’s fraught European trip. Following the meeting, the G7 broke with tradition to release a statement where six nations reaffirmed the Paris climate agreement, without the United States. The president also caused a diplomatic scuffle in Italy after accusing Germany of being “very bad” on trade and appeared to literally shove aside a leader of a NATO ally.

In a Rose Garden ceremony last Thursday, Trump announced that the United States would leave the historic Paris climate agreement—promising to “begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States.”

In response to the president’s announcement, President Macron of France released a video statement, saying, “If we do nothing, our children will know a world of migrations, of wars, of shortage. A dangerous world.”

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Der Spiegel Just Published the Minutes From Trump’s Contentious Meeting With G7 Leaders

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Donald Trump Doubles Down on Boorish Temper Tantrums

Mother Jones

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President Trump was busy during his early morning “Fox & Friends” time. Around 6 am there was this:

First he deliberately undermines his own Justice Department by needlessly calling his immigration EO a “travel ban.” Why? Because he got criticized for accidentally doing this over the weekend, and by God, that means he needs to double down. Having done that, he then proceeds to slam the Justice Department as if they worked for someone else. If he wanted them to stay with the original travel ban, he should have told them to. If he wussed out, it’s his fault, not theirs.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that we’re now in the fifth month of Trump’s childish refusal to go ahead with new travel regulations while we wait for the courts to rule on his temporary travel ban that was meant to give him time to write new travel regulations.

Then, after a bit of random whining, Trump decides to go back to the well on the mayor of London:

Even for Trump, this is close to unbelievable. His original tweet about this yesterday was a lie, and would have been wildly inappropriate even if it weren’t. The city of London had just been hit by a deadly terrorist attack! Trump got blasted for this breathtaking display of churlishness, of course, and that meant he had to hit back today even more boorishly in front of the whole world. Because Donald Trump never, ever, backs down from anything, no matter how stupid.

Holy hell. 43 months to go.

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Donald Trump Doubles Down on Boorish Temper Tantrums

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