Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Donald's Date with Cinderella

On Thursday, January 26, a grim announcement  ticked across the news wires and internet but was buried to the point of near-obscurity by the blitz of executive orders and incessant accusations by the new administration of widespread voter fraud and media manipulation of  inaugural crowd reporting.

On November 14, 2016, an interview of Noam Chomsky— linguistics scholar, political philosopher, and public intellectual—by C. J. Polychroniou was published on the website of political news outlet Truthout. In the interview, Chomsky made the assertion that the Republican Party had become the most dangerous organization in world history. The assertion expectedly drew criticism for being preposterously partisan hyperbole, and some other things not quite so nice.

Chomsky’s point was made on observations about the two most potentially destructive human creations ever, each having within its exclusive characteristic to cause “catastrophes that could wipe out all of humanity or, at least, devastate modern civilization.” Either of the two acting alone and left unimpeded could fulfill  its nightmarish potential in due course. Those two Frankensteins-in-waiting are Anthropogenic Global Warming (climate change) and nuclear war. And to those, the members of the Republican Party either—on the subject of climate change—sneer at the overwhelming consensus of individual researchers and the esteemed agencies of NOAA, NASA, and many others based internationally, or—in the case of nuclear weapons—make frequent loose-lipped referrals and jingoistic threats to nukes as possible solutions to conflict, as did Sen. Ted Cruz did in recommending “making the sand glow” in combating ISIS; or the even more ominous suggestions to restart the arms race to add even further destructive power to those running the show.

The announcement Thursday was made by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the publication of a group that is comprised of physicists and environmentalist working in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which currently sits 15 Nobel Laureates—including luminaries Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss. The Bulletin originated at the University of Chicago by some of the same scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the first nuclear bomb. In 1947, reports The Bulletin on its information webpage,

the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors...

"The clock was initially based on the threat of nuclear conflagration only, but in 2007 was expanded to include other potential civilization-altering calamities including climate change, and cyber-and biological warfare. It was first set at 7 minutes before midnight, and has been reset 20-odd times in the last 70 years. The furthest from midnight was in 1991 when the SALT agreement was signed by the U. S. and Moscow, soon followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The closest it was moved toward the bewitching hour was 11:58—just two minutes shy—in 1953, when the U. S. tested its first thermonuclear device, followed in the same year by the Soviets."

Thursday’s announcement advanced the clock to two and one-half minutes before twelve, the nearest it has been since that “two-minute warning” in 1953. The symbolic time-setters at The Bulletin have no supernatural ability to foresee the future, but given their familiarity with the history of this project, and the serious nature of their opinions and the effects of their pronouncements, one could only hope they make them only after rigorous evaluation and with religious regard the weighty consequences involved in their interpretation. Reasons for advancing the clock this year were: “the rise of nationalism, here and in Europe; the threat of a new arms race between the U. S. and Russia, along with heightened tensions in eastern Europe and NATO; President Trump’s comments on nuclear weapons; and the disbelief in the scientific consensus on climate change by the Trump administration.”

You would think Noam Chomsky was on the Board of Sponsors, having basically said much of the same thing two months earlier. Chomsky might wish, however, to rephrase his comment about the Republican Party to include the volatile and unknowable Trump as its leader as being a major factor in making his judgement. Such an amendment could change what seemed preposterous partisan hyperbole for some to an undeniable truism for all.

Your Government Takes Shape

Committees sent these Trump nominees to the full Senate today:

Betsy DeVos - Education
Rick Perry - Energy
Never taught  in public schools; never ran a public school. Wants to siphon tax dollars from public schools to private schools without requiring the private schools to meet state standards.
Proclaimed he wanted to shut down the Department of Energy, until he was offered this job. Staffers had to explain to him what the department actually does.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Malicious Counterproductive and Inept

"Malicious, counterproductive and inept," is how Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson characterized President Trump's recent travel directive. Formerly a policy adviser at the Heritage Foundation, and for five years a speechwriter for George W.  Bush, Gerson is hardly a "bleeding-heart liberal." No doubt there are Republicans and other conservatives who support the president's order, but criticism from both the left and right has deservedly reached vitriolic levels.

Gerson further described the Trump administration's travel ban as "the half-baked work of amateurs who know little about security, little about immigration law and nothing about compassion." "Every U.S. president since World War II has disagreed with the stunted and self-defeating view of the country now held by Trump," he criticizes. He ends his essay with, "When Donald Trump speaks on foreign policy, tyrants rest easier and dissidents and refugees lose hope."

This seems an apt summary of our situation. It would be bad enough if the President and his cabinet were merely inexperienced tinkerers, but the current administration are not so harmless as that. They have real goals and objectives, and suffer from the delusion that they know how to achieve them. This delusion runs so deep that the administration aren't even aware of their need to check with staffers who actually understand how immigration, national security, or the global economy work. Having chosen, on day one, to make enemies of the press, they have no way to explain themselves to the public. Having chosen similarly to make enemies of multiple intelligence agencies and replace knowledgeable staffers with sycophants, there is no expertise on hand to guide them.

I fear for America, and now I fear America.

Thinking About Consequences

In a Public Radio interview this morning, Aaron Levie, CEO of cloud storage company Box, had this to say about Trump's immigration directive:

"I'm very sensitive to the need to keep the U.S. secure, and also highly driven by data and logic and thinking that through. There's no data to suggest that anything about this particular ban would improve our security.  In fact, most of the bright minds on the subject reinforce and suggest this will harm our security in its ability to fan the flames of our enemies and, importantly, divide us from our allies."
(Listen to the Marketplace Podcast here).

This is a particularly brilliant quote from a CEO of a successful enterprise. Note the emphasis on something radically missing within the current administration: let's start with DATA, rather than campaign rhetoric; let's apply LOGIC and THINK THINGS THROUGH; let's consider the consequences of our actions; let's check with the BRIGHT MINDS, people who actually know how things work and have demonstrated a tendency for incisive and rational thought.

Mr. Levie and many other leaders in the High Tech sector understand something that President Trump and his Cabinet simply do not: that U.S. isolationism is not an option in today's global economy. Sadly, the incompetence with which Friday's new immigration rules were put into place is fast becoming the hallmark of Trump's administration. With the most experienced people gone, and with ideologues and propagandists calling the shots, no one bothered to consider the difficulties that might be caused by the Presidential Order, or even whether the order could pass constitutional scrutiny.

I've written before about manufacturing in the 21st century, which is often a global process for even the simplest of products. Many service businesses as well are international in scope, and many more rely on the free travel of sales people, scientists, and technical experts from around the world. A large part of the grocery business in the United States relies on imported goods. The administration seems unwilling to acknowledge that basic facts of modern life. Or perhaps modern life itself is what they want to stop. 

In the hands of amateurs such as now govern these United States, there is grave danger. The complex web of exports and imports of goods and services has never been planned out at a high level. It has, rather, developed organically, emerging from millions of independent decisions to buy a certain product from a certain source or hire an individual with a specific set of qualifications. By changing the flow of personnel, altering the availability of information, and changing import taxes, the Trump administration is making massive changes in the economic web, apparently with little thought to the consequences. The economic web will respond as organically as it developed. Markets will seek lower costs, new sources and new customers will be found, tariffs will be met with tariffs, qualified experts will go to different employers. This will happen nation by nation, company by company, and buyer by buyer, and not even President Trump can stop it.

I hope Americans are willing to give up their bananas, avocados, and cellphones.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Poetry Corner

Sometimes the worst of times brings out the best of us in one way or another.  Angst and trepidation have been inspirations for all forms of artistic release, and often serve as beginnings for previously latent or suppressed talent. The editors at Life in the Trumpocene are not sure if the author of the following poem would claim any of those circumstances as his personally, but know he is on the right track. Check out this free verse styling  from  local Jared Elliot:

Oompa Loompa what did y'all doopity doo? Trump's signed another Executive Order without thinking shit through. Orange leathery looks like a shoe; booted brown people from the country, cause they got the wrong hue. Stranded banned wondering what the hell to do. Fuck you Donald Trump, the ACLU is gonna sue you. America will not stand for that radioactive nutria teeth colored tan. Man, you glow like weapons grade shot straight up from Iran, but we know Chernobyl is where Putin slipped the ring up on that tiny hand.
We do not speak your language, your values give us anguish. You will not take us back to the white washed utopia that you languish. So with red canisters in our hand, we resist, cue white foam, bye girl, you're...... 

Friday, January 27, 2017

In Case You're Counting...

Mark Rudd, an activist in the New Left in the 60's, is still active, though not quite as militant as in the days of the SDS, and published this list on his Facebook page earlier today. The authors of this blog do not claim to have fact checked this list, but have no reason to doubt that most of the claims could be verified. (This side has enough alternative real facts.) Not to mention the last couple of days worth of bad news, including, but not limited to, reaffirmations of the voter fraud case by administration spokesmen, executive orders banning suspected terrorists and people from suspect countries, beginning of border war and "end" of border wall with Mexico, and  Vip Pence as clarion and evangelical bitch of anti-choice at a large anti-choice rally in D. C. 

Several very close friends contend that there's ultimately no difference between Republicans and Democrats. Here's a list of actions taken by Trump or his advisors in the last few days. Read them and weep. Amazing. It's the complete ultimate rightwing agenda.
This is from a guy at Amherst:
For those who wanted to give Trump a chance, see below. I take no pleasure, no self-satisfaction in saying I'm not surprised; this is what I expected. We're only four days into his administration and with the conservative Republican agenda now empowered by this maverick, we could feel the effects, the repression for decades to come.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the DOJ’s Violence Against Women programs.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Minority Business Development Agency.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Economic Development Administration.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the International Trade Administration.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Legal Services Corporation.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the DOJ.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Electricity Deliverability and Energy Reliability.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Fossil Energy.
* On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered all regulatory powers of all federal agencies frozen.
* On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered the National Parks Service to stop using social media after RTing factual, side by side photos of the crowds for the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations.
* On January 20th, 2017, roughly 230 protestors were arrested in DC and face unprecedented felony riot charges. Among them were legal observers, journalists, and medics.
* On January 20th, 2017, a member of the International Workers of the World was shot in the stomach at an anti-fascist protest in Seattle. He remains in critical condition.
* On January 21st, 2017, DT brought a group of 40 cheerleaders to a meeting with the CIA to cheer for him during a speech that consisted almost entirely of framing himself as the victim of dishonest press.
* On January 21st, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference largely to attack the press for accurately reporting the size of attendance at the inaugural festivities, saying that the inauguration had the largest audience of any in history, “period.”
* On January 22nd, 2017, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway defended Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts” on national television news.
* On January 22nd, 2017, DT appeared to blow a kiss to director James Comey during a meeting with the FBI, and then opened his arms in a gesture of strange, paternal affection, before hugging him with a pat on the back.
* On January 23rd, 2017, DT reinstated the global gag order, which defunds international organizations that even mention abortion as a medical option.
* On January 23rd, 2017, Spicer said that the US will not tolerate China’s expansion onto islands in the South China Sea, essentially threatening war with China.
* On January 23rd, 2017, DT repeated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing him the popular vote.
* On January 23rd, 2017, it was announced that the man who shot the anti-fascist protester in Seattle was released without charges, despite turning himself in.
* On January 24th, 2017, Spicer reiterated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing DT the popular vote.
* On January 24th, 2017, DT tweeted a picture from his personal Twitter account of a photo he says depicts the crowd at his inauguration and will hang in the White House press room. The photo is of the 2009 inauguration of 44th President Barack Obama, and is curiously dated January 21st, 2017, the day AFTER the inauguration and the day of the Women’s March, the largest inauguration related protest in history.
* On January 24th, 2017, the EPA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to freeze all grants and contracts.
* On January 24th, 2017, the USDA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to stop publishing any papers or research. All communication with the press would also have to be authorized and vetted by the White House.
* On January 24th, 2017, HR7, a bill that would prohibit federal funding not only to abortion service providers, but to any insurance coverage, including Medicaid, that provides abortion coverage, went to the floor of the House for a vote.
* On January 24th, 2017, DT ordered the resumption of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, while the North Dakota state congress considers a bill that would legalize hitting and killing protestors with cars if they are on roadways.
* On January 24th, 2017, it was discovered that police officers had used confiscated cell phones to search the emails and messages of the 230 demonstrators now facing felony riot charges for protesting on January 20th, including lawyers and journalists whose email accounts contain privileged information of clients and sources

Thursday, January 26, 2017

It's as BAD as we thought it would be!

Barely three weeks ago Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway was rightly ridiculed after she complained that the media "want to go with what’s come out of his mouth rather than what’s in his heart.” She was, of course, asking a great deal of the press and public. Obviously, voters ought to judge any and every candidate for elected office by the words that come out of the candidate's mouth, doubly so for a candidate with no political history to evaluate.

The words of candidate Trump were as inflammatory as they were vague. President-Elect Trump's words were often self-contradictory, as he flip-flopped his way through his own shock that he'd actually won. Conway didn't want us to judge those words, but Trump is no longer a mere candidate or electee. Trump is now President of the United States of America, and his words are fast becoming deeds. The reality his words are weaving is a horror to behold. The heart that Conway wanted us to image is now laid bare. It isn't pretty.

The beast he is conjuring is now taking shape. The wall along the Mexican border was not just idle campaign rhetoric but is now a presidential order, a vast boondoggle to be paid for by American taxpayers. Some unspecified reprisals will be made against the economic well-being of Mexico just so Trump can claim to have made Mexico foot the bill. Trump is now trying to run aspects of the U.S. economy by command, a totalitarian experiment in economics with outcomes none can predict. Science has been subordinated to political propaganda by the sweep of the presidential pen, requiring studies and publications to be approved by members of Trump's cabinet. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will be defunded because Trump in particular and Republicans in general disapprove of that high-brow, cultural stuff.  Parts of the Department of Justice that focus on protecting women and minorities, including the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) are on the chopping block. The list goes on and daily expands.

Day by day Trump's beast will take on more form. Gleeful minions will chant "Trump! Trump! Trump!" even as the beast turns and gores them. No matter. The minions are quite willing to immolate themselves as long as those "others" are destroyed too, as long as scary brown people and Muslims are kept out of "our" country, as long as globalism and internationalism and the development of other economies are all curtailed, as long as women go back to the kitchen and queers go back in the closet and those nasty intellectuals get their comeuppance, as long as we can all say "Merry Christmas" again instead of "Happy Holidays." Welcome to the Trumpocene!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"Arendt" that Twain

One of my longtime favorite recognitions to fellow conversationalists' interesting stories and anecdotal experiences replete with strange twists or surprise endings has been at times an approving nod—but almost always adding this brief note of poetical contrast:
"Yes, truth is stranger than fiction."
The wisdom expressed in the sublimely short one-line should be recognized as the work of Mark Twain, one of America's fininest in the art of letters, lecturing, journalism, storytelling, and satire. Itis one of just many on the subject of truth (and its contradiction, falsity) penned by the mustachioed wordsmith.
"When in doubt tell the truth.
If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.
One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.
Get your facts first,then you can distort them as you please.
Carlyle said 'a lie cannot live.' It shows that he did not know how to tell them.
There are lies, damned lies and statistics."
I admittedly had been missing what now I find more interesting in that aphorism: the second part,
"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't,"
because it touches closely on two threads in the fabric of history of the campaign, transition, and now, presidency of Donald Trump. One thread is the misrepresentations, falsehoods, alternative facts, conspiracy theories, and just. plain. lies—fictions, in other words, have need to have been at least possibilities. The other thread is the fact—the "truth"—is the invariable failure to disavow, admit to, or contradict the fictions, even when presented with uncontroversial and unambiguous evidence of their falsity. This is the truth of the impossible, the truth that is not limited to the possible: perhaps a truth important to him for other goals that may need justifying, perhaps a truth to be held onto as evidence of his own genuineness, his infallibility. Perhaps confronting and bowing to the facts would, in his mind, be a show of weakness or lack of heroic character.
Or maybe this "truth unobliged to the possible" is a page from an old playbook, a dictator's handbook of sorts. Some interesting quotations from Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism and other troubling comparisons were among a recent reading on the Open Culture website.
"The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied t them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness."
"The great analysts of truth and language in politics," writes McGill University political philosophy professor Jacob T. Levy "including George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel can help us recognize this kind of lie for what it is...saying something untrue, and making your subordinates repeat it with a straight face in their own voice, is a startling display of power over them. (This is displayed in the co-mouthpieces of the Trump administration, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spice. Each capable of out-trumpeting Trump himself when called on.) It's something that was endemic to totalitarianism."

The sheer number of deceits plays a role n the process of control. The following may be the most insidious of all propaganda and psycho-manipulative techniques. "She [Arendt] also recognized the function of an avalanche of lies to render a populace powerless to resist, the phenomenon we now refer to as "gaslighting"

The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed." 
This deserves repeating: "the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world..is being destroyed." The stability of our collective psyche is being tested. Our individual neuroses are being aggravated; and increased stress within the self and among our fellow citizens is finding expression through harmful avenues of release.

Some minimize or flatly deny any motivation of the Trumpian campaign of mendacity—claiming his obsession with picayunish details of crowd sizes (particularly at his inauguration) and his popular vote count in the general election—to nothing more than an innocent but hyper-inflated ego rationalizing away the unfavorable numbers. Just Trump being Trump. But an examination of these seemingly trivial obsessions uncovers a codified language at the ugly heart of this charade, a message of jingoistic nationalism,revulsion to the dark-skinned hoards overrunning America, his intentions to control public information, and subordination the value, usefulness and honesty of entire networks of intergovernmental agencies and departments. For the authoritarian personality, mere victory is not enough, not short of total victory is necessary.
"Arendt's analysis of propaganda and the function of lies seems particularly relevant at this moment. The kinds of blatant lies she wrote of might become so commonplace as to become banal. We might begin to think they are an irrelevant sideshow. This, she suggests, would be a mistake.

Thelonious Monk, another American genius in the arts—jazz composer, pianist, and band leader, once said "The piano ain't got no bad notes." His contemporary and fellow musical genius Miles Davis offered this modification: "There are no wrong notes in jazz; only notes in the wrong places." Though words contain more information, notes in a musical composition function in a similar way to words in a sentence or paragraph , serving as individual elements resulting in an emergent creation when grouped together, larger and more complex than the sum of their individual elements. So while any word we choose in making statements of fact or opinion is both possible and acceptable (Monk), the arrangement (Davis) can end up being a thing of beauty, incomprehensible gobbledegook, or anti-truths and alt-facts.

Mark Twain, witnessing todays's power abuses through communicative manipulations might say we are in immediate need of music lessons; while at the same time he would relish the manna of fresh material for maxims on truth and lies.

Monday, January 23, 2017

"We want to make our products here?"

In a meeting with business leaders this morning, Trump reiterated his goal of bringing manufacturing "back" to America. "We want to make our products here," he stated. The President seems determined to implement policies he feels will bring this about, through a program of massive deregulation and one or another kind of import tariffs. These are in line with major campaign promises.

Increasing jobs in the U.S. is a laudable goal. But many would feel better about this if Mr. Trump were an economist, or himself knew something about manufacturing and trade in the 21st century, or had appointed people with such expertise to his cabinet.  Sadly, no such expertise is in evidence.

There's a certain kind of logic here, albeit vague. In theory, just the right mix of import duties and eliminated regulations could increase manufacturing jobs in the United States. But the scenarios with that outcome would also tend to reduce workers' wages and increase environmental pollution. While that would also tend to make U.S. goods affordable worldwide, retaliatory import tariffs by other countries could easily cancel that out.

The administration seems to be under the sway of a number of myths, a few of which are explored below.

MYTH#1: "Burdensome" regulations were invented out of thin air by ivory-tower intellectuals.

One can argue any particular regulation endlessly, but the fact is that many regulations placed on manufacturing and other business activities have arisen from experience and necessity. Such regulations include things like minimum wage laws, workplace safety regulations, fines for environmental contamination, honesty in advertising, and warranties of product fitness. The elimination of "70 to 80 percent" of existing regulations (Trump's words), will have consequences to businesses and to the well-being of most Americans.

MYTH#2: There are millions of good manufacturing jobs out there waiting to "return" to the United States.

The "offshoring" of manufacturing certainly has moved jobs out of the U.S. and into other countries. But it is important to remember that at the same time both the productivity of manufacturing workers and the skills they need have dramatically risen worldwide. A factory that once needed thousands of minimally skilled workers today needs a few hundred workers with significantly greater technical skills. The result is that returning manufacturing operations to the United States will never recreate anywhere near the same number or kinds of jobs that existed here as recently as the 1960s.

MYTH #3: There is such a thing as "manufactured here" in the 21st century.

Consider this graphic from the Warwick Business School in the U.K.:
The chart illustrates the supply chain for a relatively simple and inexpensive product, tennis balls used at Wimbledon. It shows that ten different countries are involved. Wool from New Zealand is shipped to the U.K. where it is turned into felt weaving that is shipped to the Philippines. Also shipped to the factory in the Philippines are clay from the U.S., silica from Greece, petroleum byproducts from China, sulfur from South Korea, zinc oxide from Thailand, and more. These materials are formed into tennis balls in the Philippines, then go to Indonesia for packaging in the familiar tins, and these are then sent to Wimbledon.

Companies do this because it is cost-effective, resulting in a final product that is price-competitive in a given market. The cost factors that accumulate through the supply chain are many, including the wages and benefits of different kinds of workers in different countries, environmental protections and worker safety regulations, import duties, taxes, and transportation costs. Yet the total costs remain low to a degree that probably could not be achieved by a single business operating within a single country.

Tinkering with these systems is one thing. A major revamp, executed by people with limited understanding of how things really work, is terrifying. A critical consideration is that both regulations and multi-national supply chains have tended to develop organically, rather than through big-picture planning. That is, each regulation has tended to arise in response to a real-world problem at a particular place and time, and each step in a supply chain has tended to develop from the immediate needs of one particular part of the system, without regard to other steps or players. The risks of allowing amateurs to attempt a deliberate reorganization of the entire system are high.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

From Protest to Power

Participating in the Women's March this Saturday was a powerfully uplifting experience. The March in my town, as in so many others, exceded attendence expectations, giving thousands locally a chance to stand in solidarity with millions globally. As so many of the speakers in Washington emphasized, we must now do more to move from protest to power. Resistance must be ongoing if we are to limit the certain excesses of Trump and his cadre of oligarchs.

To reemphasize some of what others have already emphasized, we need to join groups that are doing the things we think are important and are now at more risk than ever. The groups we choose depend on individual budgets and values, but could include the ACLU, the NAACP, NARAL, NOW, Planned Parenthood, labor unions and those advocating fair treatment of immigrants. One of the most important features of these groups is that they publish newsletters and other information about legislation and other government action affecting their members.

We need to invest time and energy in communicating with our representatives in state and federal government. Elected officials conduct a great deal of government business on the assumption that their constituents neither know nor care what is going on; it is up to us to let them know that is not the case. Every call, email, and letter counts. Too many of us, especially with more progressive values, are shy about this. Now more than ever we need to practice active citizenship.

Above all, we need to stay informed. Since Trump's opponents have been by far the better informed and more politically aware portion of the electorate, we are at risk of complacency. We need to rise above that. The battle is no longer just about the ignorance and inexperience of Trump and his appointees. The entire administration will be cutting and establishing programs, setting public policy, and spinning disinformation along the way. We need to make a conscious effort to consume reliable sources of news and information, to be willing to dig into the history of issues and debates, to understand how ordinary Americans are affected by the changes that are sure to happen. We need to bring what we know forward into our interactions with others, especially our elected representatives. Drop the crap from your Facebook feed. Set Google News, if you use it, to favor the sources you prefer. Spend less time reading the fringe news, whether on the Left or the Right, and put more time into reading deeply from the Center. Individual choices may vary, but I've come to rely heavily on the Washington Post, the Guardian, BBC, The Hill, and The Atlantic.

Women's March

Tom Toles' Cartoon:


Friday, January 20, 2017

School Daze

We are all going back to school..somewhere.


American Experiment Takes a Detour

A 550-Word History


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“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” Shakespeare, Macbeth

Father Fred. Queens. Rental housing. Department of Justice. Housing discrimination settlement. Manhattan envy. Loan. Trump Organization. Trump brand. Casinos. Hotels. Trump Tower. Trump Princess (yacht). Junk bonds. Bankruptcies (x6). Over-leveraged. Central Park. Rape. Murder. Central Park 5 (Black youth).  NY Times full-page ad. Trump :restore death penalty. Convictions overturned. Trump Shuttle. Trump Place. Trump Steaks. Trump Wine. Trump University. Trump ego. The Apprentice. WWE. Don King. New Jersey Generals. Dennis Rodman. Miss Universe. Dressing rooms. Celebrity Trump. Trump lawsuits: 3500 (plaintiff/defendant combined). Stiffing workers. Short-paying suppliers. Trump resorts. Trump golf courses and clubs. Trump hair. Mar-a-Lago compound. Lawsuit. Municipal tax credits manipulator. Twenty-five million dollar Trump University settlement. Billion dollar business loss. Unknown IRS tax credit. Non-disclosure of Federal Income Tax filings. Audit in progress. Reform Party. Birtherism. Long-form birth certificate. Investigators to Hawaii. Make America Great Again. Mexico. Rapists. Crime. Drugs. The Wall. NAFTA. TPP. Paying for shipping jobs out. Tweets.Terrorism. Ban Muslims. Register Muslims. Monitor mosques. Deportation force. Bomb ISIS. Torture. Muslims in New Jersey seen celebrating 9/11 attacks. Waterboard. Take out the families. Populist. Right wing. Rallies. Hooliganism. Xenophobia. Nationalism. Orange tan. Obamacare repeal. Great plan to replace. Executive order cancellations. Climate change denial. Exit Paris Climate Agreement. Brexit booster. Trade wars. Border taxes. America First. Lower taxes on corporations. Increase military spending. Spend more. Tax less. Reduce deficit. Dismantle Iran nuclear agreement. Nuclear Triad. Supports West Bank settlement. Tough on crime. Blue lives matter. Urban blacks. What’s to lose? Second Amendment and 2 Corinthians buff. No birthright citizenship. Pro-life. Women should pay. Megyn Kelly. Bias. Blood. Eyes. Wherever. Victim of press. Snowflake. Lying Press. Blacklisted news outlets. Washington Post . Buzzfeed. Huffington Post. Politico. Loose cannon. Lyin’ Ted. Little Marco. Low-energy Jeb. Small hands, big...Loosen libel laws. Mock disabled reporters. Deny. Bully. Paul Manifort, campaign director. Russia. Melania plagiarism. Mitt Romney’s malleable  conscience. Crooked Hillary. Emails. Benghazi. Find emails, Russia! Russian finds emails. Clinton Foundation. Play-to-pay. Bernie Sanders. Socialist. Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton victims. Sexual harassment. Locker room talk. Groping. More accusations. Late night Tweets. Attack pageant contestant. Lawsuits. Trump narcissism. Trump abuses. Election rigged if he loses. FBI announces looking at Weiner’s emails. Hillary emails. Trump wins. Margin: -2.8 million votes. More tweets. Unhinged. Election rigged. Campaigned for electoral swing state vote. Ben Carson. Mock knife/belt buckle story. Nominated for HUD Secretary. Chris Christie. Bridgegate. First selection for VP. Prosecuted Jared Kushner’s father. Pushed out of transition team. Rudy Giuliani played for sucker duh. Rick Perry, Dept. of Energy (yikes nukes). Betsy DeVoss, Public Ed enemy No.1 and grizzly-shootin’ head school marm. Steve Bannon. Breitbart. Rabble-rousing possible supremacist. Mike Flynn. Islamaphobe. Mnuchin, empathy-free mortgage buzzard. Secretary of Treasury. Rex Tillerson, Exxon Texan. Putin podnah. Sarah Palin who? Saving 800≠2000 Carrier jobs.  CIA, FBI, others reveal Russian hacking of DNC. Election not rigged. Someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds. Dangling participle or fat-shaming. Or the Chinese. Putin denies. Shawn Spicer. Latino-free cabinet is no problem. Buzzfeed reports Russian dossier on Trump activities. Russian hotel. Trump. Peeing prostitutes. Fake news. Disgrace. CNN denied questions in press conference. Star-studless inaugural fĂȘte. Women’s March possible larger draw. Lowest-ever approval rating. Highest ever IQ presidential cabinet. Many positions still unfilled. Hit the ground running. Monday.

You are now entering the Trumpocene. Prepare to eject.

Inaugurating Putin

Puppet and Puppeteer, by Mike Lukovich

Another byV. C. Rogers:

V.C. Rogers
Independent Weekly
Jan 18, 2017

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Why Bother with Qualifications?

It might be unfair to pick on former Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry. He has long been one of the lesser intellects of the Republican establishment. But there seems to be a pattern here, and a point needs to be made.

Trump wants Perry to be Secretary of Energy, meaning Perry would be running a major department that he swore he would abolish when he was running for president in 2012. But he now says, "after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination." Perry thought the new job would involve being some kind of ambassador for American gas and oil, and was unaware of the department's oversight of nuclear weapons and research into new methods of generating energy. He has effectively admitted that he didn't know what the department did back when he wanted to shut it down, and came to understand the breadth of its functions only after accepting Trump's nomination.

One of the most impressive aspects of modern American politics is that being revealed as woefully ignorant or unqualified generates no shame.

Then there's Betsy DeVos, Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education. Long an activist for "School Choice," a euphemism for siphoning tax dollars away from public schools and into the hands of privately-held corporations, Ms. DeVos has never taught in a public school nor run a school nor managed education standards nor grappled with the many support issues that schools must face, such as transportation or the National School Lunch Program. For her, the department she has been nominated to run has always been an enemy, a stumbling block, that federal agency that might dare to say a publicly funded school can't discriminate against pregnant or LGBTQ teens, or can't organize students into officially led prayer groups.

Ben Carson is an air-head, regardless of whether or not he's directing the department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some of Trump's nominees are, no doubt, better prepared to run major federal departments, but many of his picks are odd in exactly this way. We should not be surprised, as Mr. Trump himself is in much the same category. He has no government experience, and his rhetoric has evinced only the vaguest comprehension of what government does or why. He probably knows a thing or two about agencies that have directly impacted his business dealings, but entities like the Departments of Energy, Department of Education, and Department of Housing and Urban and Development are quite beyond his ken. No President has ever been an expert in all those areas, but most are smart enough to compensate for that by putting experienced, knowledgeable people in key positions. Not so Mr. Trump.

Welcome to the Trumpocene!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The View from There is Much Like the View from Here

The anxiety and painful anticipation of the transfer of power to this person is becoming unbearable. It weighs on the world political psyche like facing a locked and loaded Luger, silently taunting the strong and pretenders alike to "make its day."
An examination and diagnosis from this article from Der Spiegel reveals a “second opinion” that uses some insights from the storied Continental tradition in psycho-analytics  confirming the countless reports from the US media: a hopelessly extreme and “remarkable” variety of narcissism. The good news: he is predictable.

Just feed the beast, it says. Vladimir Putin figured this out early.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Trump's Health Insurance Miracle

Given the President-Elect's interview with the Washington Post this weekend, I find myself as skeptical as I am curious. Firmly committed to the proposition that one plus one must always equal two, even in Washington, and unwilling to accept tales of unicorns or fairy dust, I doubt Trump can deliver on his promises.

Not that we've seen the details of the alleged plans of either Trump or congressional Republicans, but Trump SAYS his plan will provide "insurance for everybody," that it will have "much lower deductibles," that it will be "simplified," "much less expensive," and "much better," presumably in comparison with insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Much of the reduced costs are to come from price negotiations with pharmaceutical companies. He specifically rejected the philosophy of "if you can't afford it, you don't get it," saying "that's not going to happen with us." He clarified that his plan does not involve cuts to Medicare. The whole plan is "very much formulated down to the final strokes," so we should be seeing the details soon. In the same interview Trump talked about "great middle-class tax cuts," and building the wall on the border with Mexico.

Given Trump's already established history of later denying words we've all heard and actions we've all seen, I think it is important to document carefully what he's promised here.

"Everybody" is a lot of people. He didn't say it explicitly, but "everybody" presumably includes people with preexisting medical conditions, always an expensive stumbling block. If insurers can't deny applicants who already have medical needs, then presumably the Trump plan will require younger and healthier people to buy insurance. This comes under that heading of "one plus one must equal two," since the increased expenditures by insurers must somewhere be offset by increased income or by reduced costs. The government could, of course, directly subsidize insurance for applicants with preexisting conditions, but with a major tax cut also promised, this seems unlikely.

However the Trump plan accomplishes this, we must presume the overall package will be radically different from the existing Affordable Care Act, still slated for demolition. Odd, though, that day by day the supposed "replacements" for the ACA come to look more and more like the ACA.

Whether or not the GOP will put up with any of this is far from clear. Frankly, Trump is proposing a major government intervention in the health insurance and pharmaceuticals markets. Accomplishing what he's promised, by any means, would be nearly miraculous. Accomplishing what he's promised while operating within free-market economics might amount to an invisible dragon in the garage.

The United States has one of the most expensive, least efficient, least accessible health care systems in the world. Families are still routinely bankrupted by catastrophic illnesses. Any significant steps to bring the U.S. more in line with other industrialized nations would be welcome. But success will be measured by tangible results, not by the number of magical spells uttered.


The Illegitimate Pot Calling the Kettle Black

Nick Anderson
Houston Chronicle
Jan 17, 2017

Monday, January 16, 2017

Every Duffer's Hero

With the inauguration of Trumplestiltskin only three days away, it’s about time—overdue, in fact— we found something nice to say about him, don’t you think? There must be something, because common wisdom tells us that no one can be the 100 percent embodiment of evil, right?
After a few hours of intermittent thought on the matter, I was unable to come up with anything from my recollections of any attributes on the plus side about him, so set about scouring the WWWeb and chanced upon this this from The New Yorker: it turns out the president-elect will be—if not the best—one of the best golfing presidents we have ever had. Someone has actually set up some abstract system for rating this skill among presidents.
It should be to no one’s surprise, I think, being that a large part of his his gilded empire is made up of golfing clubs and resorts located in the United State and internationally, and his involvement with them may have evolved from his love of the game, or else, at a minimum, given him unique scenic vistas of his own creation to practice, practice, practice.
But with every glimpse into his life with short, personal stories writers have reported about him, as the author of this shared golf outing, we get a brush with some of the previously unknown rough edges of the subject; and occasionally one of the better symbolically accurate metaphors of the Trump character:
“...Trump: a ten-year old boy who, for unknown reasons, had been given a real airplane and a billion dollars.
Even at 70, the sport of the idyll rich has not yet passed by Trump.

Impeachment? Probably Not!

I’ve written before about the possibility that Trump might resign after inauguration, perhaps out of frustration with the impossibility of ruling by fiat or of silencing his critics. My own opinion is that impeachment is another real possibility, but probably not very likely.

If impeachment were to happen, it would come from the Republican party, since Democrats just don’t have enough votes in the House or Senate. The first question, then, is whether or not the GOP would take such a step against a president who is, even if only theoretically, their own. The clear answer to this question is a resounding “yes.” The party accepted Trump’s candidacy because it had no one else who could win, and faced big losses in the House and Senate if no presidential coattails could be provided upon which other candidates could ride. But the unmanageable Trump is hardly a tried and true Republican. The moment he is inaugurated, he becomes more of a liability than an asset to the party, which would be far better off with the more predictable and controllable Mike Pence in the Oval Office.

Could the GOP find grounds for impeachment? That seems inevitable. As was demonstrated by the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the charges don’t have to be especially serious or even germane to the duties of the presidency. They just have to be marketable to the public. With Trump, it seems almost certain some such conflicts will occur, and quite early in his administration. Between large and complex business dealings, a stated intent to overstep the powers of the office, and an affection for foreign influence, it will be hard for him to avoid breaking the rules in important ways.

If it seems likely that the Republican party would want to remove Trump and would have the necessary charges, what could get in the way? It seems to me there are two major stumbling blocks, and the first of these is the simple fact that Trump would likely play hardball. Admittedly, he’s out of his element when it comes to Washington politics, but he is nothing if not a street brawler, and it is easy to imagine him deciding to take as many Republican officials down with him as he can. This, too, was demonstrated during the impeachment of Bill Clinton, so there is real cause for caution here. The party might have to be willing to sacrifice a few of its own players to get rid of Trump, meaning that they’ll have to perceive the net gain as worth those losses.

The second and more serious stumbling block is that Republicans would have to cooperate with Democrats to remove Trump from office, complicating the matter greatly. Republicans have a majority in the House, so impeachment (bringing charges) would be easy. But conviction and removal requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and with 52 seats out of 100, Republicans just can’t do it alone. Assuming all Republican Senators would vote to convict, they’d still need 14 Democratic votes to make the minimum of 66. Alternatively, Republicans could try to persuade a sufficient number of Democratic senators to be absent when the vote is taken, so that their 52 Republican votes, or whatever number they actually had, added up to the necessary two-thirds (the two-thirds is calculated from the number of senators present for the vote, not the total number of 100).

This places Democratic senators in a difficult position. On the one hand, why would a Democratic senator NOT vote to convict Trump, if Republicans provided the opportunity to do so? But Republicans impeaching a Republican president might be a mess worth staying out of. Removing Trump will do nothing to change Republican control of the House and Senate, and would make Mike Pence president. Democrats realize no real gain by cooperating with Republicans on this.

A fully theatrical impeachment such as the that of Bill Clinton is feasible when one party goes after the other party’s President with no real intent to convict. Republicans prosecuting a Republican President would be a far more serious matter. They’d have to be very certain they can get the votes to convict before even calling for votes to impeach. The future is not predictable, but I suspect the difficulties described here will make it far less likely that an impeachment of Trump will be attempted.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Protests Expected to be Large on Jan 21st.

This coming Friday, January 20th, Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of these United States. Many of the millions of Americans who find this turn of history utterly barbaric will express themselves in protest marches and gatherings across the country, especially on Saturday, January 21st.

The largest of the protests will undoubtedly be the Women's March on Washington (womensmarch.com), now an amalgamated response by many groups and open to any participants believing in the dignity and equality of all. Today The Guardian reported that the "Women's March on Washington [is] set to be one of America's biggest protests." Roughly 200 different groups will participate, including individuals likely to number in the hundreds of thousands.  At the same time some 300 supporting marches will take place in all 50 states and in 30 other countries, The Guardian reports. Most of the local marches are listed on a page of the D.C. march's website.

In the town of this blogger's residence, the Women's March New Orleans will start at 1 PM in Washington Square Park, 700 Elysian Fields Avenue.

Chosing to attend or not attend a protest march is, of course, a personal matter. This particular set of protests is important and worthy of consideration by anyone so inclined. We must remind Trump and his minions that their divisive and discriminatory words and actions are deeply resented by millions of Americans.

Protecting the Press

As the Fourth Estate goes, so goes the power of the people. If there were only one thing (there are many) that de-legitimizes Trumpism, it's Agent Orange's outright attacks and more subtle techniques used to inhibit free expression and criticism in the public domain. He has and will continue to use the term "fake news"—a term, ironically, coined during the latter stages of the campaign to refer to the specious stories circulating on social media discrediting his opponents: an old Breitbart trick—against any and all revealing stories unfavorable to him. 
His goals as leader are doubtless centered around the all-encompassing ideal of blowing his own praises as self-evident in his promotion to this job: I got this job because I am great; getting this job proves it. A free and independent press will assure that he will be spending much of his time covering his own shitty tracks. 
Support the press, local and national. Buy a subscription—it costs to keep it going—and don't be dependent on others to do it. It may be the best investment one can make right now.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

End the Blame Game

Since November 9, the answer to the question "how could this have happened?" has been the quest of every political analyst, media pundit, and deeply concerned citizen in the Free World. But the search itself has more resembled a game of pin the tail on the donkey, each of the contestants stumbling about blindfolded, one hand extended feeling the way, the other armed with the metaphorical tail symbolizing the marker to be placed, once and for all, on the true donkey.
The stagnant economy has been one of the primary landing spots for the punctuating tail, but a recent study has shown much of the cause could be based on a much more primal, more sinister motivations of human nature: racism and sexism (and though not included in the study, very likely homophobia).
That Hillary was a "bad candidate" is probably traceable back to the motivation of sexism: she was a bad candidate because she is a woman. That a stagnant economy was a motivation is traceable to non-white immigrants invading the country and orientals trying to take over the world economy.

It's time to place the blame of Trump's election where it really belongs: on the undercurrent of racism and sexism in America and the voters who harbor it.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fact-checking Jabba the Trump's Press Conference

Very worthwhile article at the Washington Post, fact-checking some of the assertions made by Mr. Trump in today's (11 Jan 2016) press conference.


Preoccupations (Bennett Cartoon)

Clay Bennett
Chattanooga Times Free Press
Jan 11, 2017

More Question than Time Allows

If all goes as scheduled, the American people will hear the President-elect answer questions from the Washington press corps today (Jan. 11) in his first press conference in five months, his first since his election two months ago. The Agent Orange Emperor will stand before the world, without the clothing of privacy or the escape of a string of short tweets. He will answer questions on the involvement of Russian in election-hacking activities, and what he may have know about it; he will be asked about his business empire, and how he plans to dispatch any possibility of conflicts of interests; he will be asked about his appointments to key positions in his government, including members of his own family; and he will be asked about many of his campaign policy positions, probably foremost the repeal of the ACA. He will be asked those questions and whatever else may fit in the time. Some answers may satisfy, others not; and there may be much denial, deflection, deferral, and dismissal punctuating  tough patches of the public interview, because these topics can all be Pandora’s boxes, each on their own. These are on the A-list of questions, and demand answers before he takes control in less than two weeks.

If there were B-list of questions—a set of questions that could follow once that everything on the first list had been answered as satisfactorily as possible—what would it be? Check out a few of these, or come up with a few of your own. The guidelines are...well, there aren’t any guidelines: the apparent gravity (or lack thereof) of the question-answer needs to have no bearing on it’s place of order on your list. Like so: Mr. President-elect,
  • You have called for an expansion of our nuclear capability. We currently possess about 7,100 warheads, most of them more powerful than those used ending World War II. The outgoing president and the defense machine have pledged to spend $1Trillion on modernizing this capability in the next 30 years. This is not enough for you?
  • There is a history of the President distancing himself from the intelligence community and military chiefs of staff beginning back as early as WWII. Are you beginning this divorce even before you are sworn in to get your own group of personal advisors together early; or are you doing it to discredit the recent findings of the intelligence community about Russian hacking breaches? Or both?
  • Do you think there are a few extra bucks to be earned renting the Lincoln bedroom, with Melania serving as hostess-”model”? Maybe in one of those skimpy, lacy, maid outfits?
  • Will your solution to the murder rate in Chicago involve an overwhelming military troops or a clandestine group of snitches and undercover agents, or both?
  • Would you be able to have your architects and construction people erect a few full-scale prototypes of the Southern Wall so the public could see what it is paying for that Mexico will eventually pay them back? The Mall in Washington would be a good place to show them off.
  • If, in economics, r>g (as Piketty maintains), how do you expect to get most Americans good-paying jobs again without really shaking up the capitalist system? Also,have you considered a guaranteed Universal Income?
  • You do realize you are starting to look fat on TV, don’t you?
  • Does your infrastructure improvement idea include a commitment to green energy projects? No? I thought not.

Try this and you will find that once started, the questions will soon start rolling off your fingertips onto the keyboard. Having no guidelines helps, and adding  humor is a necessity for your sanity.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Sessions to Meet the Spirit of Teddy

You might expect someone with the given name Jefferson Beauregard would have been born somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line, or at least had parents from those parts, and you would be correct, 100%, if the Jefferson Beauregard is one and same as the shortened “Jeff”,  belonging to U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Al). Nothing in a name however makes the person fit some caricatured  version of a Deep South slave master of the mid-19th century. Except when it does.

Of course Mr. Sessions doesn’t herd human chattel on a cotton crop or peanut plantation down ‘Bamy Way, since that practice was banned about 150 years ago. But old habits die hard with the good ol’ boys down yonder, and  he has made his reputation in public office paying homage to the tradition of racial superiority.
In an opinion piece written for the Boston Globe, longtime Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy evokes the irony of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Mr. Sessions as PEOTUS Trump’s Attorney General. Leahy notes that the room has been named the Kennedy Caucus Room, in honor of Ted Kennedy, who led the opposition to the same Jeff that had been nominated for a U. S. District Court judgeship way back  in 1986. Sessions was subsequently rejected for the post.
Leahy lists questionable positions on bills and resolutions the nominee has taken more recently (in 2009, 2013, 2015) concerning civil rights protection for women, hate crimes, and religious qualification for entry into the U. S. since his reported reincarnation as a decent person. Extending voter rights and has been another pet peeve of his; and his severely Puritanical viewpoint on the use of marijuana has no equal in Congress.
May the ghost of Teddy fill the room tomorrow.