You’ve Been Had!

3 dollar bill

A bill of goods. That is what this nation has been sold by the person of the current President of the US. We’ve been deceived, swindled, and taken advantage of by the administration as pledge after pledge has been negated by the actions taken by this President and his henchmen. And yet, his loyal followers hold out their bowls, and plead, “Please, sir, may I have some more?”

How have we been deceived? Let’s examine a few areas where the actions of the President after inauguration are in complete contradiction to the pledges made during the campaign. First, let’s tackle the series of statements he made about the obscene influence of Goldman Sachs upon his opponents in the primary and general election. In January 2016, Donald Trump declared Ted Cruz to be under the control of Goldman Sachs, due to a million dollar loan Cruz had obtained from the bank, but hadn’t disclosed on a financial disclosure form. That was followed by Donald Trump declaring that Heidi Cruz, Ted’s wife, was also complicit and a creature of Wall Street since she was also employed by Goldman Sachs. This was followed by the general election, where we were treated to the image of Donald Trump berating Hillary Clinton for being paid for speeches to Goldman Sachs prior to her run for the presidency.

So, good then. One would imagine that the administration of Donald Trump would be devoid of the evil influence of Goldman Sachs, since it was integral to the efforts to destroy this country’s economic might through its globalization efforts. Let’s check the record:

Steve Bannon – Chief strategist. Former Goldman Sachs banker, left the organization in 1990 as a vice president.

Steve Mnuchin – Secretary of the Treasury. Goldman Sachs banker for 17 years, left as Chief Information Officer in 2002 before forming various hedge funds and purchasing IndyMac bank in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008.

Gary Cohn – Director of the National Economic Council. Served as Chief Operating Officer for Goldman Sachs from 2006 until his appointment in 2017.

We could go on with links with the underlings in the administration who came directly from Goldman Sachs, but this should suffice to show that instead of purging the evil Wall Street influence from the administration, this President has infused fresh banking blood into the halls of government agencies where the levers of power are rigged to favor the wealthy instead of the typical Trump voter. You’ve been had!

Ok, then, maybe Donald Trump wasn’t able to accomplish his campaign goals of ridding the swamp of its evil banker’s mantle. Let’s look at another promise of this President, to hire only the best people for positions in his administration.

“I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people,” he told Robert Costa in a phone interview at the time. “We want top of the line professionals.” This quote was from a  Sept. 2016 story in the Washington Post referencing an August 2016 interview. In campaign speech after speech, Trump boasted about knowing the best people and hiring only the best.

So how is this pledge working out? Well, splendidly, if your criteria is shortness of time within a position because one or more of these best people just didn’t work out. Let’s look at a few of the truly inept people that Donald Trump hired, only to busify them (busify – the act of throwing someone under the bus) within a few weeks or months of hiring.

Michael Flynn – the poster child for a Trump pick. Even while working on the campaign and after the election, this extreme version of incompetence was working with foreign players to enrich himself. When caught lying to the Vice President, his last lifeline was spent and he had to forfeit his National Security Advisor post

Tom Price – Supposedly his prescient knowledge of stock movements in a certain medical device stock had nothing to do with his position in the House as he introduced an act after the stock purchase that would have greatly enriched the company whose stock he had purchased. No, that type of dealing would have been welcome in the company of billionaires and wanna-be billionaires. Tom’s fatal flaw was having a predilection for chartered private jets that even the Trump administration could not stomach, after bills for hundreds of thousands of dollars emerged in the press. He was forced to leave his position as head of Health and Human Services.

Anthony Scaramucci – Mooch, we barely knew ye. Your tenure as the White House Director of Communications ended before it officially began. Over two weeks before he would have been sworn in, he was forced to not officially become the Director after giving an interview to a New Yorker reporter where he castigated several members of the administration in, shall we say, rather colorful language. One could make the case that he was actually communicating the occupant of the oval office’s feelings extremely well, since the targets of his language (Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon) were forced to leave White House employ shortly after the interview. Still, getting fired before you actually began the job represents a new peak in the (in)competence of Trump officials.

Sam Clovis – when you have a government agency that is responsible for billions of dollars in scientific research, involving the safety and integrity of the food supply, whom would you choose to lead this technically demanding position? Why, a former radio talk show host and a Doctor of Public Administration who happened to be the co-chairman of Trump’s campaign, of course. The fallacy of having a non-scientist appointed to a key scientific post never came to fruition, though. Unfortunately for Sam, he became associated with the self-admitted felon, George Papadopoulos. Sam becomes just another example of the best people that Donald Trump was able to attract.

Brett Talley – a name you may not yet be familiar with, but certainly a nominee for this august group of unqualified individuals appointed to government positions by Donald Trump. This individual has been nominated as a judge in the middle district of Alabama, and he has the unique qualifications of never having taken part in a trial, either as a judge, attorney, plaintiff, or defendant. Thus he is a complete tabula rasa, able to perform judicial duties without any preconceived notions. That must be why the American Bar Association gave Brett a rating of Not Qualified to be a judge. But did that matter to Donald Trump? No, especially since Brett’s wife is the chief of staff to the White House Counsel. Who needs stinkin’ qualifications when you’ve got the insiders track to the Donald’s ear? Just think, he may end up ruling over litigation affecting Roy Moore in the future.

 

Well, that’s just a partial listing of those folks who are excellent examples of “the best and most serious people” that Donald Trump pledged to attract to his service. We could give many more examples but space and time limitations prevent this.

To those who are Trump supporters, this is only the very first listing of the ways in which you’ve been had. There are many more examples of where Trump’s campaign pledges about helping the forgotten citizens have been turned on their head, and the policies being followed are harming the forgotten citizens, while enriching Trump’s true social class, the 0.01% club. This, the first missive in a series of posts about this administration, examines some of the personnel decisions that reflect the abysmal performance of our current President. You’ve Been Had!

 

Requiem, Aeternam

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 Photo of the West Virginia Symphony Chorus.(from the WVSO web site)

You have to be a bit of a masochist to want to sing in a symphony chorus when you are over 60. We just completed performing the Verdi Requiem with the West Virginia Symphony, and over the past 3 days, we sang the choral parts or performed the 85 minute requiem a total of 5 times. Sat in the back of a bus going from Charleston to Morgantown, a 3 hour ride each way on Friday. Was shoehorned into seats on the stage – we had nearly 320 singers, soloists, and symphony members on the stage for last night’s performance in Charleston. About 250 of those were chorus members, waiting for their chance to sing Verdi’s dramatic and poignant melodies.

For us, the work on the Requiem began last spring, as we were finishing up the chorus year and received our copies of the work. We familiarized ourselves with the scores then, and followed up our introduction with a late summer workshop where we went through the entire work. Then each Monday evening after Labor Day we had rehearsals, up through this past Monday (November 6) for two hours. All of us undoubtedly put in extra time cuing up the Requiem on YouTube, working with our scores to help ensure familiarity with each difficult part. Then came the Thursday through Saturday marathon where it all came together.

There really is very little time to put together a massive work like this. The main reason is money – each session with the orchestra for rehearsal or for a performance must be paid. The orchestra musicians put in much more independent time with the scores, since they are professionals and are compensated for their work and time on stage. But the amateurs who are chorus singers had no opportunity to come together until our first rehearsal with the orchestra. We had 5 different choruses join forces for this work. Our Symphony Chorus, and the choruses from 4 different colleges and universities across West Virginia were all represented on the stage.

So on Thursday, we had little more than an hour to practice together without an orchestra, then the orchestra players came in after their contractually mandated dinner break. A 2 1/2 hour session on Thursday, then an afternoon session on Friday after our bus drive up. Two rehearsals was all that we had together as an ensemble to piece together this exquisite work.

Why do we do it? What motivates us to invest the time and energy and money in order to support our singing habit? I’ve seen much writing about music, and its energizing and motivating force. Let me just say that you’ve never felt music’s full power until you are sitting directly behind a professional orchestra, playing some of the most lyrical and powerful music ever written. Then you are invited, nay, urged to lend your voice to the mélange, and not only that, but to sing with full expression and full power as you plead with God to keep from sending you to the pits of hell.

This type of music is difficult. It is always a challenge to sing a fugue, where each vocal part is echoing the other sections, melodies intertwining throughout the section, and it can be devilishly difficult to keep on tempo, and have the correct Latin words come out of your mouth. The challenge is one of the main reasons for doing this – it is because you can, and you are confident enough in your own abilities that you believe you will not crash the concert due to your own mistakes. For although you as a chorus singer cannot make the concert wonderful on your own, each of us had the ability to create huge mistakes that would have ruined at least a part of the performance.

It is difficult to describe the connection between a conductor and a chorus, when both are in synch. The conductor has control of everything going on, and with a dramatic work like the Verdi, our conductor played up the dramatic pauses. We watched, totally engaged and concentrating, as he demonstrated when to begin a phrase where we sang a capella, and when to stop and place the final consonant. That is another reason to do a work like the Verdi, it forces you to concentrate and be fully alive in the moment. There’s not many experiences in life that engage you to that extent.

The main reason, though, that I continue to perform music like this is because it allows me to participate in the creation of beauty that represents the peak of Western civilization (in my opinion). Choral masterworks, especially those of a sacred nature, touch at human emotions in their most naked form. Pathos and pleading to God for mercy for our sinful nature. Lyrical melodies that will stay in my head for months and years as we sang about the lamb of God. Verdi was an opera composer, and is acknowledged as one of the best of all time, but many say that his Requiem was his greatest opera. To be a participant in a performance of such a work is exhilarating to the soul, even though it saps the body and causes knees to ache and feet to throb. That is why I said at the start that you have to be a masochist to participate in such a work, especially if you have a bit of wear and tear on your body. Singing is a physical activity, and the young, especially college students, are best suited to deal with its demands. I do not know how long I will be able to stand its challenges myself, but the rewards of creating and hearing beautiful music from the center of its creation is still worth the pains it creates.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Verdi Requiem, please go to YouTube and enter it. You will see hundreds of performances that have been loaded to the web. Try it, and if you have an ear for romantic music, you will fall under Verdi’s spell as I have.

 

Balanced Between Summer and Winter

fall Summer is hanging on doggedly, not wanting to surrender the stage to the coming frosts and freezes. We were able to enjoy cafe society and eat al fresco on November 5 in South Charleston, WV. Normally the tables and chairs are stacked up awaiting spring by this time at our favorite Mexican restaurant. We even followed our dinner up with a pitcher of frozen drinks in the early evening on our front porch, a bit of our own farewell to our rituals of summer. But each time I say that, along comes yet another warm spell, and we extend our outdoor living room’s life just one more day.

No, it is true, we are sliding inexorably into our cold season. This weekend was the peak for leaf color for us. The picture on the top of this post shows maple trees through our bay window. The plants we had on our front porch have migrated inside, where they will stay cozily on the wood of our bay window. All of the plants had grown significantly during the summer. We barely had enough room to place all of the foliage.

The cats have definitely noticed the change. We didn’t have the heat on until about October 20, but as soon as it came on, our cat Blinky assumed his post in front of the heating vent. It is this time of the year when the cat reminds me of my thermodynamics course describing black body radiation. He absorbs the heat from a warmer temperature, then reradiates the heat back into the room at a lower temperature once the furnace stops.

blinky

The cats are definitely slowing down with age. They are both just at 12 years old now, and they sleep much more, and are less eager to head outside, although yesterday they did share the warmth of the evening with us. The cats are about to have their lives upended, because on Thanksgiving week our younger son will be coming to visit, and will be bringing his 8 month old kittens with him. As my wife has said, there will be much weeping and gnashing of kitty teeth during this time. Should be fun.

The leaves are at peak, and since you can’t ever stay balanced on such a peak of color, the rain that we had overnight seemed determined to start stripping the golds and reds off of the branches. This is the time of year when I have to make the decision of whether to rake the same area multiple times, or wait for the large mass of leaves to fall before tackling the removal process. Since I abhor leaf blowers, it is the old fashioned arm power that gathers the leaves and carries them to the compost pile. I keep two piles going back behind the fence. One pile holds last year’s leaves and this year’s weeds, and it has decomposed down to a good powdery dirt. The leaves from this fall will enrich the vegetable gardens in 2019.

I’ll be making an investment in a deeper raised bed in one of our vegetable gardens. When I designed the gardens, I put in three 4’x4’x4″ beds in the space allotted. That did not leave enough space between the beds, and 4″ is not high enough to alleviate knee and back pain. So I will order a 3’x4’x15″ bed for the middle slot. One thing is for sure, you do not plan for a positive dollar return on investment with back yard vegetable gardens. The gardening infrastructure is pretty much just a sunk cost, but the benefits of picking your own produce makes it worthwhile. I figure out that if I get enough produce out to offset the cost of the seeds, it’s a good enough return for me.

I completed my annual task of digging up daffodil bulb clusters that had worked up to ground level. I spent an hour or so dividing them up into plastic bags holding a dozen bulbs each, and offered them to whoever wanted them after church one Sunday in October. I figure that I distributed about 750 daffodil bulbs this year, and hope that they bring smiles all over the valley once they bloom next spring.

In another week or two, the trees will be bare. They will hold no memory of what they looked like with their mantle of greenery. Their bare fingers extend into the air, awaiting the falling snowflakes they know are coming. And the earth will sleep until it awakens again in spring.

With Deregulation You Get – RINO’s?

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General Kelly enunciated a list of things that American’s used to hold sacred back in the days when “America was great”. I do believe he missed one important item. We used to hold sacred the responsibility for our broadcasters to present a balanced and unbiased perspective. But in 1987, the Federal Communications Commission stopped enforcing the fairness doctrine, which required maintaining a balance in broadcasted opinions. This was part of the first Republican deregulation wave, during the Reagan Presidency. Now, with the benefit of 30 years of experience, we can see the effects of this phase of deregulation.

Once the airwaves were unshackled, broadcasters searched for ways to remain relevant. AM radio in particular needed resuscitation, since it had become much less relevant with the advent of FM radio which had poached its music monopoly. Experimentation began, with syndication of certain voices becoming more frequent. First among his rivals, Rush Limbaugh began syndication in 1988. He found a loyal following among those conservative listeners who began their political involvement by their adherence to the principles espoused by groups like the John Birch Society. This right fringe of the political spectrum found its way to the AM radio dial, and by serving as a dedicated audience, provided the opportunity for others to start their own talk show empires.

It was not long before these purveyors of group think began to affect the popular culture. Dittohead became a common descriptor for those who followed Rush, and people wore it as a badge of honor. It served as a symbol of their liberation from having to think for themselves. Now they could outsource their own need to analyze anything for themselves, allowing the radio to establish their own beliefs. On reflection, it is not surprising that many followers of conservative talk radio are also Evangelical Christians. In their church environment, they also are relieved of having to think about their principles and beliefs. Instead they are told in no uncertain terms about the fifty shades of black and white. The two populations (Evangelical Christians and conservative talk radio listeners) would have a significant overlap if analyzed via a Venn diagram.

Meanwhile, the left or progressive side of the political spectrum did not have a similar movement develop in the broadcast media. For whatever reason, liberals tend to form their beliefs through self-reflection, or through their experiences in the world, rather than have their beliefs spoon fed to them by a larger than life figure. As a result, the language of outrage that developed in conservative talk circles was allowed to serve unopposed as the descriptors for liberals over time. Liberals abdicated the field of linguistic battle, and by the time they noticed the language being used against them, the battle had been won by the conservatives. Witness the common descriptions for liberals and progressives today: libtards; snowflakes; and SJW. These are used as terms of disparagement, intended to insult those to whom the comments were directed.

The final piece of the media establishment that created a haven for conservatives was the birth of Fox News in 1996. In this comfortable environment, conservatives could feel their egos being massaged by a plethora of hosts and guests, all reinforcing the belief systems of the conservatives that they alone were God’s chosen. It reinforced their world view that their steadfastness to the principles and beliefs broadcast on a Fox tape loop was all that stood between them and the chaos that would result if liberals gained ascendancy. More and more people became adherents to the world view of the Foxes and Rushes, and they continued the demonization of the left via the bastardization of the language that they celebrate. They formed what I call the radical right.

The Republican establishment encouraged the growth of this new group that seemed amenable to their party. The establishment offered a wink, wink, nod, nod at the radical right, feigning lip service to the goals of reversing Roe v Wade, pretending to open their arms to welcome the cultural conservatives who ruled the talk show and Fox circles. All the while, the establishment’s true agenda of cutting taxes on the donor class got carried out under W when the surplus amassed under the Clinton years was squandered in the Bush tax cuts compounded with the war on terrorism conveniently left outside of the budgetary process.

This fake adherence to the goals of the radical right festered within the souls of that group. The resentment exploded after the near collapse of the economy in 2008, and with the failure to seek criminal prosecution of the Wall Street collaborators who steered the economy into the iceberg. The Tea Party emerged as an inchoate political movement, seizing on the opposition to big government solutions as being failed policies that landed so many people into an economic morass. That the new leader of the Federal government was a half-black interloper who dared to have an international background, allowed the Tea Party to frame their opposition to the establishment as opposition to President Obama.

The radical right never forgave the slights from the Republican establishment. Thus began the movement to classify establishment Republicans as RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only. Indeed, the vocabulary of the radical right against their own supposed allies was as vindictive as the names they invoked against the left. So we have cuckservatives and RINOs and cucks as derogatory terms used against those establishment Republicans.

At this time, it appears that the radical right wing of the party formerly known as Republicans is rising ascendant. This group does not seem to realize that they are truly a small fraction of the total population of this nation. Instead, they are reveling in each victory against a Flake, or a Corker, as evidence of their superiority.

What I find supremely interesting is that a direct association can be drawn between an act of deregulation (ceasing enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine), and the wave of political polarization washing over this nation thirty years later. As this administration keeps working to roll back regulations developed over decades, it is instructive to keep in mind that these actions can have unintended consequences. And those consequences can be quite destructive, but it may take 30 years for the effects to be fully developed. Be careful what you ask for – you may just get it.

 

Confused, not Dazed

Trump's world

I’m confused. I always thought sincerity and empathy were two highly-valued traits in our leadership. I thought that honesty, devotion to duty, personal sacrifice for our country, and having a shared love of country was honorable and desirable. But then I encounter the brave new world of politics in the post-reality environment we now find ourselves in, and I wonder how we have migrated so far off of the tracks.

I’m confused. I thought overt racism and tiki-torch marches in favor of white nationalism was a relic of the past in this and in other countries. I believed that we were evolving into becoming one human race, instead of fragmenting ourselves into artificial divides based upon minor genetic differences. Now I see moral equivalence declared between liberal protestors, and the followers of Richard Spencer. I see the white race proclaimed as being the savior of the human race, since obviously no other race has ever made any contribution to civilization.

I’m confused. I thought our culture had long gotten past the point where women had validated their worth to society, past the point where they were viewed as merely eye candy and were subject to being considered as the property of their alpha males. I thought that women in our country had earned the right to govern their own reproductive processes without governmental coercion. But now I see misogyny celebrated, declared to be “not politically correct” and exclaimed with adulation, while at the same time women’s rights to control their own body are dying the death of a thousand legislative cuts at the hands of males who ask their mistresses to get an abortion because a pregnancy would not be convenient to the male legislator.

I’m confused. I thought with the near total collapse of communism, that would enable the world to devote some of the excessive expenditures for armaments and armies into works to benefit the mass of humanity. I believed that beating swords into plowshares was good for humanity. I didn’t expect to see ever increasing funding for more and more complex weapons systems, and I didn’t expect to see a call for a return to the nuclear weapon level of the 1970’s.

I’m confused. I thought with the rapid advances in technology and communications, fostered by advances in science, we would be enabled to have a shared vision of reality as defined through science. But now we see alternative facts extolled even though objective reality denies their existence. We see individuals proclaim their right to their own reality, even though that reality may in fact cause risk to their own families and to society (anti-vaccines). We see legislative mandates to “teach the controversy” of evolution when there is no controversy there. We see the denial of all of the evidence of a warming world, and we declare that since trace gases in our atmosphere are such a tiny fraction, there is no way they can influence climate.

I’m confused. I thought Evangelical Christians took a firm moral stand against greed, and vanity, and lust, and unchastity, and wrath, and pride. Yet when presented with a candidate who embodies these traits wholly and completely, they unhesitatingly supported him in the Presidential election. This in support of someone whose familiarity with Christian rituals ended with the death of Norman Vincent Peale, and someone who enjoys only having his little wine and little cracker when at a service.

I’m confused. I thought this country had made substantial improvements in our environment from the days of my youth, when rivers caught fire, and soot-based smog choked the life out of unfortunate people in Pennsylvania (actually before my time). I thought that the return of the bald eagles represented the triumph of wise stewardship of the earth, and I looked forward to exporting these environmental improvements to other countries through provisions in trade pacts. But now I see wholesale and rapid abandonment of environmental progress and trade pacts, all in the name of increasing profits for business (and maybe reclaiming jobs until dwindling resources disappear).

I’m confused. I’ve heard the Republican drumbeats calling out the evils of deficits, and the need to ensure austerity in order to prevent the collapse of our government into a pile of indebted rubble. I’ve seen balanced budgets at the Federal level only once in my lifetime, under a Democratic administration. Yet I see the Republican’s gleefully hop onto a runaway train of tax cuts, aimed not at reforming our tax system, but instead swelling the assets of the top 1% while tossing animal crackers to the masses in order to persuade them of the generosity of their tax cut.

I’m confused. I thought leaders were those who were able to display the trait of reasonableness, and who were able to enunciate the principles for which they stand. I thought they would engage the nation and the legislators with cogent thoughts and well-reasoned opinions. But now I see what passes for Presidential prose as 140-character cartoon bubbles, devoid of depth, internally inconsistent, and lacking in human sensitivity. I see wrath-filled tweets sent during hours when most should be sleeping. I see covfefe extolled as gospel emanating from the fingers of the tweeter-in-chief.

I’m confused. I thought that even with the ongoing decline in educational and moral standards of this country, there was no way the people of this nation would elect a charlatan and singularly vile representative of humanity as its President. I was wrong.

 

Some will say that this commentary represents a sense of denial about the election. Let me say, no, it does not. I see the election of Donald Trump as the last stand of those who are unable to adjust to a changing world. This President has lived up to every one of my expectations of his behavior and policies. I just didn’t realize the pain that the embodiment of his misguided policies would cause as the administration lurches from one self-induced crisis to another, all the while denying there are any problems with their agenda (and besides, it’s all McConnell’s fault). My sincere hope is that for those who still believe that Donald Trump is working for the benefit of any other than the billionaire class, I hope they come to their senses and realize that Donald Trump has a singular achievement that may never be duplicated. He committed the greatest con job ever on the citizens of the US.

The Decline and Fall of Which Empire?

Nebraska stadium

Empires die, if they are lucky, with a whimper, not a bang. On October 14, 2017, Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Nebraska let out a huge whimper. On that night, the team representing the University of Nebraska laid down and allowed Ohio State to eviscerate the Husker’s defense. Meanwhile, the Ohio State defense smothered the offense, eventually allowing meaningless second half touchdowns, but shutting out the home team throughout the first half while amassing a 35 point total when they were not stopped once. Five possessions, five scoring drives.

The whimper was heard in the second quarter. A tradition of Nebraska football is that fans purchase red helium balloons, and release them when the first score happens for the home team. In the middle of the second quarter, the Huskers gained their second first down of the game. First a trickle, then a flood of balloons started to dance in the strong north wind, signifying the depression that the fans felt due to the humiliation they were witnessing.

At half time, the wind picked up considerably. The huge American flag flying over the north stadium snapped loudly in the breeze as it stood straight out as if starched. The noise of the wind muffled the whimper being sounded by the hordes of fans filing down out of the stands, and eventually out of the stadium to face the cold strong wind. I joined the exiting throngs along with my brother’s family.

As we wound our way back through the campus, we heard the roar of the stadium at our back as the team managed to strike with a lone long touchdown pass. But nothing could disguise the utter demolition of a team with a proud history by one of the few teams with even a prouder history. That pride has shown itself through the 55 years of consecutive sell-outs of the stadium, longest sell-out streak ever in either college or pro sports. If the performance of the team continues to match that of the last two games, even that tattered remnant of empire will fade away, if not this year then certainly next season. But the rise and fall of a college football empire will affect only a small fraction of the population of this country, and does not represent an existential crisis.

Empires do have a finite life. Empires fade when the cost of maintaining the empire exceeds the tribute brought in. They may be overthrown from without, or within. But until this year, I never heard of an empire being overthrown by its own government. With its initial effort, the new President withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade treaty. That treaty, intended to align nations in the Pacific watershed away from the growing maw of China, was a symbol of the American empire of commercial dominance. However, the new administration believes all trade agreements are win/lose propositions, and that the verdict of history is that the US has lost with all of its trade agreements. What this administration does not realize is that the US has used its position as the owner of the global reserve currency to enable this country to run both substantial trade deficits and Federal governmental deficits. The reserve currency is the symbol of the American empire, since it ensures demand for US dollars and US debt instruments. Imagine what the cost of imported goods would be if the US dollar suddenly was not required for international transactions?

Yet the current administration ignores these macroeconomic factors, arguing instead that all of our trading partners are taking advantage of us since we do run trade deficits. This administration believes that if we just pull back from international engagements, trans-national agreements, and treaties, we will be able to set our own trade terms and retreat into a world of US sourced products that fulfill all of the nation’s needs.

The effects of this near-sighted policy is already making itself felt. China is pressing Saudi Arabia to accept yuan as a mode of payment for its oil imports. When that happens, look for other countries to follow suit and then the whole house of cards propping up the US economy will be left teetering in mid-air. Other signs of the US ceding its international role are showing with Europe turning inward as the US President disparages NATO and other treaty obligations. A fundamental misreading of the Iran nuclear treaty shows that this administration does not recognize the treaty as only having jurisdiction over nuclear matters. No, this administration insists that Iran is not adhering to the spirit of the treaty by invoking factors that were never included in the treaty.

And then there is the elephant in the room (sorry, Republicans, you didn’t make the cut). How do you solve a problem like Kim Jong-un? Apparently, this President believes that intimidation and crude insults trump all other choices, like, maybe diplomacy? After all, intimidation and crude insults helped him triumph over all of the other prospective Republican candidates. Why wouldn’t the same tactics work with the still-young heir to the North Korean political dynasty? Everyone fears the US military!  We’re invincible (but we must do something about the appalling lack of nuclear weaponry. What have we been doing since the 1970’s anyhow?). No, North Korea is not a problem you can bluster your way through.

The history of the US empire post WWII took a wrong turn after the end of the cold war. Instead of using the opportunity to begin limited withdrawal of US forces from the excessive number of bases we maintain overseas, we felt the need to expand our footprint. The events of September 2001 enabled the US to go even further to increase our presence throughout the world, and all in the name of the war on terror. We should pursue reductions in bases and overseas presence of our military. It now is viewed as divisive across the world instead of being a soothing presence. But with an administration whose head decries diplomacy, and threatens fire and fury, do not look for this empire to go gently into that dark night.

When you have an empire replete with a naked emperor, and simpering sycophants in his party who still fear the tweet of doom, nothing good will happen. I can only wish that the American Empire does not go out with a bang. Yet I fear that, for once, cooler heads will not prevail, and we will find ourselves in a conflict with unimaginable casualties, and unprecedented global consequences.

Swallowtail Chaos

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You have to wonder. Does former President Obama rue the roasting he gave to Donald Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondent’s Dinner? Was that the final motivation that a fragile yet swollen ego required to forge the decision to go all in on a future run for the Presidency? Was the public humiliation of Donald Trump the equivalent of the butterfly flapping it’s wings, magnifying its effects through chaos, and eventually resulting in the hurricane which now envelops us?

No, this one single event did not trigger the madness. Donald Trump had for decades revealed himself to be a small-time hustler who used the modern media environment to peddle his brand image. Each media conquest fed that ego, as he gained the fawning attention of the B-list celebrities who tried to resuscitate their brands by playing as apprentices. That was one reason why the jabs at the Correspondent’s dinner hurt so much – they were true, and the joking reference to decisions as to who to fire on the show would cause President Obama to spend sleepless nights tore at the shredded remnants of Donald Trump’s psyche. And all the while, the President knew that the operation to take out Osama Bin Laden was taking shape during the dinner.

All that Donald Trump could perceive at that moment was that he was once more, not a true member of the club. He was an object of ridicule. They weren’t laughing with him, they were laughing at him. You can tell from the stern look on his face as he faced his taunters from the podium. He was plotting his revenge. And to the dismay of those who prefer peace to fire and fury, he now is fulfilling that primal urge.

We can all ponder the madness of the electorate in 2015 and 2016 as this shallow ideologue harangued his campaign rallies, providing the spark for the disaffected of the nation to strike back at all of the misery caused by the elites. No one would ever mistake Donald Trump as an elite figure. His boorish manners, his stunted vocabulary, his appeal to the baser emotions of his core of supporters, all of these tactics showed his adoring fans that HE was one of THEM! And they lapped it up – calling out “Lock Her Up!”, turning on the press as he called them “LYING”. No, it is not surprising that Donald has kept up with a need to feed off of crowds at rallies, far away from any election. The emotion that feeds him also feeds his crowds, making them feel real emotions and allowing them to imbibe in the energy of the mob. Donald Trump’s success came from his ability to tap into this inchoate dissatisfaction with the world, and enabled him to ride the wave of anger his movement unleashed.

The same wave of anger has swelled in many nations at this time. Europe has a multitude of movements where the tendency is to pull inward, take care of those most like us, and show hatred for all who are different. Donald Trump is the manifestation of this impulse in the US. Unfortunately for all of the citizens of the world, he is the manifestation who has the accumulated power of the greatest military force in the world’s history at his beck and call. And thus we were treated to the image of President Trump, flanked by almost exclusively men in uniform and their women, as he referred to a gathering as the “Calm before the storm.” This is from the President who seems incapable of serious reflection, preferring instead to send out 140 character instruments of mass covfefe.

The nuclear response capability of the US is stuck back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, where rapidity of response would be required to ensure that our forces were unleashed before the incoming volleys from our prime adversary could land and take out our ability to retaliate. The premise was that there was a confirmed attack underway, and this speed in response was absolutely required. Thus, there are deliberately very few barriers in place between the time that a President determines nuclear response is required, and that response being activated. Now we have a President of the United States who has extremely poor impulse control, who internalizes any criticism as disloyalty to the nation (and himself), and who exhibits zero unscripted empathy (paper towels, anyone?). This President could unilaterally decide to plunge the world into nuclear destruction.  What could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, this President is exacting his revenge upon the legacy of his predecessor. Witness his pitiful attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Time and time again, he praised the latest Republican attempt as a wonderful plan, only to back away and claim it was a hateful plan once it failed to run the legislative gauntlet. He had zero input into these plans. Their only redeeming virtue in his mind was that they would eliminate that hated plan that Obama created.

So maybe it isn’t possible to directly delete the ACA via a frontal attack. Throw up administrative barriers to ensure that it fails. Anything to remove the legacy of that horrible president, who after all wasn’t born in the US. Where else can we undermine his actions? Of course, trade and treaties. Forget whether they are in the interest of the US, they were part of the legacy of that hated predecessor. Toss them out! And yes, any of the environmental actions taken during the last 8 years? Cease their enforcement, rescind their authority, and unleash a flood of fossil fuels to fill gas tanks for our nation.

Yes, one wonders whether President Obama wishes to apologize for his jibes and jabs during the 2011 Correspondent’s Dinner. His partner at the dais Seth Myers did apologize for his part in the taunting of Trump that night. Apologized for assisting in unleashing this madman on the nation. Of all of the symbols of President Obama’s legacy, it may be that steeling Donald Trump’s quest for revenge may be the most significant, if unintended, consequence.

Draining the Swamp

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“Pssst – Do you think they’ve given up?” The slime monster arose from the fetid waters of the Potomac swamp, trailing tendrils of foul-smelling algae from its scaly skin. “Do you think they’ve stopped trying to drain this wonderful environment?” the creature asked me, as I was sitting alongside the tidal basin on a fall afternoon.

“That’s difficult to say,” I replied, only slightly startled to be addressed by a creature that should have been typecast to come out of Tokyo Bay instead of DC. “It looks like their plan is proceeding very well, and succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. By using a master of distraction to rivet the nation’s attention, no one seems to be paying heed to all of the shenanigans happening behind the curtains.”

“That’s good to hear,” said Slimey (or so I named him, though he had not referred to him (or her)self as having a name). “Mind if I sit beside you? It gets a little cold down there in the water this time of year, and it’s good to warm my bones.”

“Help yourself,” I said, though I did scoot down a bit towards the end of the bench, as much to get away from the drips streaming from Slimey’s arms and torso instead of out of concern for Slimey’s clawed limbs. I said, “You know, we don’t often get to see your kind around here. What brings you out of the depths?”

Slimey stretched, wrapped his tail over the side railing of the bench, and sat silently for a bit, as if pondering the question. Then, he shrugged and said, “Last year we heard they wanted to drain the swamp in DC. Kept hearing it again and again. When he won, we figured that we needed to move somewhere else where we would be appreciated, like maybe lower Manhattan. But then, we heard about the people he brought in, and we kept going, that fellow isn’t going to drain the swamp. He’s going to expand it. We just didn’t get it.”

I nodded, understanding the confusion. I told Slimey, “We were surprised as well. He kept talking about how the nation was being taken over by Goldman Sachs during the campaign. Berating Ted Cruz for his and his wife’s ties to Goldman. Complaining about Hillary being beholden to Goldman since she gave a speech to them. Then, POW, onto the Trump team comes Cohn, and Mnuchin, and Bannon, and other underlings, all from Goldman Sachs. The art of deception. Say one thing, then quietly implement the opposite.”

Slimey sighed. “Then there’s all that talk about how bad the banks were during the campaign, how they were getting away with murder after the financial crisis, and he was going to break them up. Do something good for the little people. But once he took office, all we hear about is breaking up the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, and freeing up the banks from Dodd-Frank. ” Slimey held up a front limb to shield his eyes from the sun. “Don’t the “little people” see that he’s helping their enemies, and destroying their friends?”

I turned my head for a moment, looking back over the monuments of our nation’s history. I realized that never had our founders anticipated such a bizarre disruption of our national character when the avenues of this town were laid out. Then, realizing that Slimey was looking at me in anticipation of my answer, I said “Those “little people” don’t see it. They are used to only listening to their leaders on TV and the radio, and following what they say. They’ve lost their ability to analyze what they are hearing and seeing, they only believe what comes their way on Facebook. How else can they keep believing their ears when their eyes see the opposite?”

Slimey nodded, his crest flapping loosely atop his head. He turned to me and said, “There’s one thing I’m glad to see, though. That Pruitt guy at EPA, he seems like he’s our best friend.”

“How so?”, I asked.

“Well, he just seems to be turning the clock back on all of the environmental regulation of the past. We figure it’s just a matter of time before he rescinds the regulations on pollution in the Chesapeake watershed, and when he does, we’ll get all that luscious nitrogen and phosphorus coming back downstream. You wouldn’t believe how good that is for all of the green glop we love.” Slimey licked his chops as he thought of the bonanza he expects to come sliding on downstream in a year or two.

I pondered what this basin would look like festooned in green and blue growths of algae in the turgid waters. The odor it would create would match the mood in the city. Suddenly I grew tired of the conversation, and straightened my body against the bench. Slimey sensed my mood.

“Friend, I’m going to go on back to my kind” he said. “But before I go, there’s one thing I wish you’d help me to understand. Why was it that all of those evangelicals, who oppose the sins of the flesh, supported someone who cheated on his ex-wives, who curses in public, who oozes greed and lust? Someone who waxes wrath on twitter any time he’s criticized. I’ve never seen someone who epitomizes all seven of the deadly sins at once. And he’s the one with the control over the most massive military force the world has ever seen? Can you explain that to me?”

I nodded, finally having an answer that I know would satisfy this creature. “He wasn’t Hillary,”

Slimey stood up, bowed stiffly to me, and said. “Of course. That explains everything.” Then he stepped off into the tidal basin, disappearing into the dark waters, never to be seen again by me.

 

After Vietnam Protests at College, Streaking!

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Photo courtesy of the UT History Center of the crowd watching streakers in Austin, Texas.

Spring, in 1974. The cloying stench of Watergate hung over the nation’s senses. Vietnam remained in the nation’s conscience, even though US troops had pulled out the year before. In early March, an unseasonable warm spell brought the college students outside at the University of Nebraska. And the attention of the country was drawn to – Streaking!

I was a college sophomore at the time, trying to make it through my classes of organic chemistry, engineering calculations, classical physics, and partial differential equations. Meanwhile, my roommate who had a ROTC scholarship, but had decided by that time to deliberately flunk out since he would not have a service obligation if he didn’t finish his sophomore year, was drawn to the ongoing pursuit of women. He and I were polar opposites when it came to our success with women at that time. There was once when I went to bed in the bottom bunk, and awoke the next morning and found that the top bunk held two people, but I digress (I was a sound sleeper).

March 6 dawned chilly, but by the afternoon, had warmed up into the 70’s. The first warm day in spring on a college campus brings out the hedonism of the students. Blankets were stretched out in our quadrangle, and shirts are shed in order to soak up the first of the spring’s sun rays after the horrendous winter weather on the prairie. After supper, as we should have been studying, word started spreading from floor to floor, and from door to door. “Hey, they’re streaking around the fraternity houses”.

Our quadrangle was smack dab in the middle of campus. On the far side of our dorm, along 16th street, stood the large fraternity houses – Sigma Phi Epsilon, Sigma Nu, Kappa Alpha Psi, Phi Kappa Psi, Pi Kappa Phi. And then there were the sorority houses – Alpha Omicron Pi, Alpha Phi, Chi Omega, and others (Google Earth is great for reconstructing these sorts of memories). Beyond 16th street were other high rise dorms, so all in all, a critical mass of horniness and hormones flowed out onto the streets of Lincoln that night.

For those of us in our quadrangle dorm, we wore our non-Greekness as a badge of honor. In fact, I had penned a t-shirt with the symbols of ΣΦØ, or Sigma Phi Nothing. But if the Greeks were putting on a free show, me and a few thousand of my close friends were more than happy to share in the event. A group of us from our floor first fortified ourselves with a toke or two, and then joined the thronging crowd that quickly grew large enough to block the arterial 16th street. Lincoln suffered a traffic infarction that evening, as the campus police did nothing to disburse the crowd, but instead redirected traffic around the blocked artery. There were thousands of men and women out enjoying the warmth and the wild experience.

We were out there, wondering when the show was going to start, when suddenly a group of naked men dashed out of their fraternity and ran around the building, going back in through a side door. The crowd cheered as we inhaled the aroma of released inhibitions. Then at one of the sororities, someone appeared at the window, topless. The crowd surged towards the sorority house just as the fraternity’s show ended. Then another fraternity joined in the display, with a group of men jumping out from the bushes and taking a quick lap around their house. Back and forth went the show, and there was even a sorority house that joined in the naked laps. Eventually, though, the show quieted down, and folks drifted away. Traffic flow was reinstituted, and we went back to our own rooms to reflect upon the night’s events.

Not my roommate, though. He proceeded later in the night to streak the girls portion of the quadrangle, and was rewarded for his deed by having someone join him in a combined streak. He never did come back to our room that night.

Thus ended the great streaking surge at the University of Nebraska. Incidents of streaking broke out sporadically, but never again was there a huge surge in place to watch a few exhibitionists strut their stuff. It turns out that the first week of March 1974 was the peak of the streaking epidemic. Ray Stevens had his novelty hit The Streak that very month:

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiR3Jy3-MPWAhVJ9YMKHWP-DgoQyCkIKTAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DXtzoUu7w-YM&usg=AFQjCNHz9UXM8EvOFet2ryxAKe6y0f64fw

Though for a few years, some schools kept up the tradition, it now is a rarity for a streak to break out, and it will never be the phenomena it was in ’73-’74. And if a repeat were to happen today, the videos would be all over the internet instantly.

It makes me wonder what the next faddish behavior will be. A generation before I went to college, it was the era of the panty raid. My father had mentioned panty raids at Purdue when he had gone to school, but I never knew if he took part in one of those raids. One of the questions you wish you could ask, but never will be able to now.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Trump's world

 

Of course we knew it would work out well. Having our bully-in-chief in person addressing the UN General Assembly couldn’t possibly have any downside, could it? No, it went exactly as I expected. Vitriol was unleashed, the base went wild, and the Donald smiled his happy place smile.

I’m reminded of a paraphrase of one of my favorite movie lines from the Treasure of the Sierra Madre. “Diplomats? We don’t need no steenkin’ diplomats!” Tensions between the US and North Korea keep growing, yet as of today, we do not have a new ambassador in place in South Korea. The last headline I saw in late August indicated that Victor Cha would be named as that ambassador, but I do not see an official announcement, nor have there been Congressional hearings scheduled for this position. This inexcusable failure to staff one of the most critical diplomatic positions is typical of the complete and utter disorganization of the Trump administration, and the disdain that this administration holds for all solutions diplomatic.

One wonders what opinions our former Presidents would have of this pathetic excuse for a leader. I can just see Teddy Roosevelt preparing to lift up his big stick to smite the person who is turning his famous aphorism about speaking softly on its head. And still, his base clamors for more baseness to chastise the coastal elites. More blasphemy for the international order to digest. The world watches as the US prepares to exit from any active role in world affairs – except, you know, to threaten other nations with complete and total annihilation.

I see the writings of his supporters. They are ecstatic as they consider how good of a job he is doing at draining the swamp. They relish the digs at those the base considers as their oppressors, cheering at the discomfort of those who are victimized by the cruelty inflicted by those whose racism has been unleashed through the phenomena of Trumpism. Personally, at this time, I think many of this President’s base are on acid.

What the election of Donald Trump as President has unleashed is the virulent strain of nativism and racism that long simmered beneath the surface in the US. President Obama started the fermentation of this strain merely by being non-white. His actions were seen through a lens of racial intentions, and he was viewed as being extremely racially divisive. The very thought that someone of mixed racial background would rise through his own merit and intelligence to occupy the presidency enervated those who believed that racial policy was a win/lose phenomena. If a non-white won, the white race lost.

Donald Trump has enabled those who hold racist and anti-intellectual, anti-elitist positions to crawl out from under the rocks and spew their venom indiscriminately. I see it on internet bulletin boards where references to the Protocols of Zion are mixed with diatribes against all blacks. I see it in the ongoing series of campaign rallies that Donald Trump uses to energize himself by wrapping himself in a mantle of adulation, while decrying the media as being fake. The echoes of the Nuremberg rallies resonate in each Trump rally. The only thing missing is a uniform dress code for his supporters to make the analogy complete (MAGA hats are just not enough of a fashion statement).

The anti-intellectual bent of this administration is alarming. In one department (USDA), Politico has just published the results of their reviews of nominees for positions within the agency. Here is the link to the article: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/21/trump-agriculture-department-usda-campaign-workers-242951    What Politico reveals is that a majority of the appointees may lack any Agricultural background or knowledge, but that lack is off-set by their personal loyalty to Donald Trump. Over half of the resumes reviewed by Politico showed Trump campaign experience as their most relevant qualification.  Actual knowledge of a subject matter just isn’t relevant in order to obtain a lucrative position in Trump world. It seems it is more of a disadvantage.

Scientific expertise is being especially dishonored. As of late September, President Trump has not named a science advisor. Unfortunately, in that absence of action, he is following in the footsteps of many previous Republican presidents. In his abbreviated second term in office, President Nixon abolished the position and the attendant committee that serves to provide guidance to the administration on scientific affairs. Both Presidents Reagan and President George W. Bush took actions that minimized the effectiveness of the advisory position. Why this reluctance to consider science as integral to policy? Probably because scientists have this peculiar habit of speaking truth to power, letting politicians know that their preferred policies are scientifically unfeasible, or will cause adverse consequences. See anthropogenic global warming.

So if you don’t care about science, and don’t believe that science is the engine that grows the economy, you punish the departments that rely upon scientists. Huge budget cuts are prescribed by the Trump administration for basic research and for the National Institute of Health. Of course, all funding that relates to climate monitoring is unnecessary, since it is proven that man cannot affect the climate (according to the Trumpistas). EPA? Overreach. Slash its budget by 30%, then drown it in the bathtub.

Just to show that there’s no hard feelings from the Trump administration, other government functions are severely hamstrung. The State Department takes the largest hit, with a 30% reduction in proposed funding. The administration is in effect implementing its objectives by simply not proposing nominees to many positions previously staffed in former administrations. If no one is working there, you don’t have to pay for their salaries. Voila! A fait accompli in reducing government spending.

And then there’s the holy grail of Republicanism, the dismantling of Federal government programs to support the people of the United States. Repeal and Replace is the mantra that was chanted by all card-carrying Republican politicians. Given the complete reins to power in the Federal government, they have so far proven incompetent in accomplishing their stated number one objective. Now in this next week we face one more spasm of Senatorial action aimed at undoing the previous administration’s signature accomplishment. It may be an unholy alliance of those who believe Graham-Cassidy is still too generous and a few Republican Senators who understand the severe implications of removing health care insurance from tens of millions, that alliance may be enough to derail this last best chance of throwing the health industry into chaos.

You see, Republicans have never ever been in favor of Medicaid. Ever since it was proposed by the known socialist Lyndon Johnson, it has been viewed as an affront to each and every Republican politician. The bills to end the ACA are the Trojan horse that will enable the death of Medicaid. It may take a decade to accomplish its goal, but the equine statue may actually be admitted behind the walls of government if only 50 Senators can scramble inside.

Meanwhile, the drumbeat of the Russia probe is starting to throb within the halls of the White House. The denials of any knowledge of, or business dealings of the Trump campaign and Trump family members with Russia or Russians always rang hollow. Now the Mueller investigation is encircling the White House, leaving enough investigative breadcrumbs in place for outsiders to discern his methodology. As reported this week, with the invasive search at Paul Manafort’s house, the investigation is behaving more like it is pursuing an organized crime family instead of a typical white collar criminal. Bill Moyers has documented a timeline showing the interactions of the Trump organization with Russia and Russians dating back decades. See this for more information on those ties that the family just keeps on forgetting:

http://billmoyers.com/story/trump-russia-timeline/

Still, the resilience of the Trump base to refuse to acknowledge the veracity of any failings of their dear leader keeps on plugging along. One of the truly insightful things that Donald Trump ever said was his claim that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and he wouldn’t lose voters. If an indictment does issue from Robert Mueller, and impeachment follows, the base of Donald Trump will not go gentle into that good night. Instead, they will rage, rage at the dying of the light.