Eyes Wide Shut

3 dollar bill

When I worked at a chemical plant, and was involved in statistical testing, I learned one lesson. Never try to extrapolate two data points into a line. Always use at least three data points to determine the slope of a line. Given the dire nature of what we are seeing in the government response to protests across the country, I am violating my long-held prohibition against use of only two data points.

Lafayette Park and Portland. In both cases, the Federal government has used law enforcement personnel that were unidentified, save for a single word:  POLICE. The first time these unidentified forces were used, it was to clear the way for our great leader to pose in front of an Episcopal church with a Bible held high. That was bad enough.

But in Portland, things have taken a darker turn, and now we have these unidentifiable troops snatching people off of the streets, throwing them into unmarked vehicles, and whisking them away into detention. At least these individuals have been released promptly and no charges have been filed.

Here’s where the need exists to not allow another data point to be created. That data point will likely involve similar government-sponsored kidnappings, followed by disappearances of the arrested protesters. Or, it will involve non-government groups using tactics similar to these government groups, where they take people off of the street to enforce their own brand of justice. We cannot allow this illegal and immoral effort to expand to any other location across this country, not if we want even a sliver of our Constitutional freedoms to stay intact. When the Federal government believes they have the right to abduct those who have participated in protests, and use the human equivalent of unmarked cars as their enforcers, then all of us are in grave danger. The stated goal is to prevent damage to Federal facilities. But as the tactics used in Portland have shown, any relationship between protection of Federal facilities and the abductions of people off of the streets of a city is purely coincidental.

We are unfortunate that we have a commander in chief who is desperate to create a distraction from his abysmal performance as a leader against “this invisible enemy”. Resurrecting the ghost of George Wallace, he believes that only a strong hand against disorder can save his electoral hopes. Thus he will be increasingly unrestrained in his use of force going forward from here. And should the next election somehow come out in his favor, then he will have his storm troopers in place, with their practices established, and he will be ready to unleash them on any dissent whatsoever. Heaven help all of us who still believe in the rule of law when the person at the top of the Federal pyramid has corrupted the tools of government to only further his own misshapen fever dreams of converting this into a Great America.

Now, as I’ve sat on this post for a while before uploading, we’ve seen the list of cities expanding where Federal forces are to be applied whether they are requested or not. It is happening before our very eyes, and we cannot stand idly by as the nation gets dragged further and further into self-induced chaos and authoritarian dictums. Use your voice to protest this ongoing usurpation of the nation under this President.

Successfully Jumping Sharks

Trump's world

The words of Charles Mckay from 1841 ring as true today as they did then:  “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.” Thus it has been with the slow recovery from the election of 2016, where the electorate went just enough insane to select the disruptor in chief, thinking that their choice would at the very most, place a thumb in the eye of the establishment. Little did they know that their choice was in fact an existential one.

Finally, though, the event we were waiting for happened last week. The President jumped the shark! By staging that photo op event of holding a generic Bible in front of an Episcopal Church, then inviting his enablers to stand beside him to join in this glorious display, this reality star performed his sit-com equivalent of Fonzie jumping the shark on water skis. Perhaps this is the only image this ratings-obsessed creation can understand. His act has gone stale, and the blatant hypocrisy involved in using mounted police to purge demonstrators from Lafayette Park while simultaneously declaring himself to be the ally of peaceful protestors everywhere, served as the last straw for many of his former allies. Add to this the story of his call to governors where he called for the domination of the streets and threatening to send the nations active military to any location that failed to maintain “LAW AND ORDER”, the mask came off and his true nature became apparent to all.

Thus it was that during the week we were shown one after another of the military men who had graced both this and former administrations, moved to denounce the anti-constitutional nature of the current occupant of the mansion on Black Lives Matter Plaza. Next will come the tell-all to be released by the owner of the walrus mustache. Expect others who have taken part in this immoral and chaotic administration to slowly dribble their truths out into the media maelstrom over the summer and into the fall, until only those who still believe in the racism and evil that Trump personifies stick with him into the election.

Of course, we will have the benefit of seeing Darwinian evolution in actual practice, as the mass gatherings of Trump supporters will soon be back in vogue. When you are washed in the blood of the Donald, you need fear no virus. None would dare harm any of his followers. Or so he would have you believe. After all, the entire virus was nothing but a nothing burger. Don’t believe what you see on the TV. They only work to deceive you by directing attention away from the glorious economic recovery happening day by day. So when the smattering of contact tracers go back, they will find mass spreading events that coincide with Trump’s rallies. That’s a prediction for the future.

The events of the past few months have defied belief. This is how you know that time travel back to the past does not exist. If it did exist, someone would have come back at the start of the year and warned us of what we were to face. I don’t remember anyone that called for a pandemic plague, an economic catastrophe, and a racial explosion reminiscent of the late ’60’s. Maybe I just wasn’t listening hard enough to hear the rumblings beneath the surface of the serene waters of the DC swamp.

It’s Called Exponential Growth, Stupid

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The world and universe we live in operates according to scientific principles. That governs things like the rates of infection from a virus humanity has never before encountered. The response from humanity to exposure to this new virus is similar to when Native Americans were exposed to viruses like smallpox where there was no community immunity. It decimated the native population.

When this sort of illness is unleashed upon our population, mathematical relationships and principles become extremely important. In this case, the two figures are the infectivity rate, or Rowhich is the number of people that each carrier of the virus may be expected to infect, and the mortality rate, or fraction of people who will die once they contract the virus. In the journal Nature, this chart shows how the new virus stacks up against some of the other diseases feared by mankind.

Nature chart

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00758-2

This chart shows that the infectivity is estimated to be both much higher than the seasonal flu, and that the death rate is far, far higher. Higher even than the 1918 pandemic flu which was the last time humanity faced a global pandemic. Given these estimates, and observing the exponential growth in infections, it is the height of folly to believe that we will be able to “open up the country for business” in just over two weeks.

But that is what is being peddled by those who value money more than life. We face an enemy that has the potential to inflict more casualties than all the foreign wars the US has engaged in, during the timeframe of a few months. This wave of potential chaos sweeping across our nation’s health care infrastructure will finally open the eyes of this nation to the raging incompetence of the current administration.

It is certain that this administration has deliberately taken an approach that is aimed at protecting the popularity and electability of this President instead of focusing on the public health crisis we face. And now the evil is oozing out of those on the right on a daily basis, resulting in people saying that the “cure” (social distancing, closure of businesses), will have worse effects than the pandemic will cause. Thus we rescue our economy at the potential expense of millions of victims if we relax our social controls.

Only in an administration where the leader is violently anti-science would such virulent nonsense be allowed to be even breathed as potential policy. Only those who value the economy over the lives of so many future victims would dare to utter such folly. But that is the world we live in at present, where the fear of the deep state has overwhelmed the ability to respond to a real crisis that will not be bullied.

The real pity is that even with the duplicity and incompetence of this President on daily display, support for him is actually growing. Maybe part of that is a desire to pull together, and take common action against an invader. Maybe the naming of this virus by its location of origin is playing at the xenophobic gene, allowing us to turn against that country and all of its residents. Why blame our lax and inadequate response to this virus on the actions of our leaders when we can blame the Chinese?

It is not the bluster and false statements coming from this President that will decide the final outcome. Even if we do everything perfectly, and are able to slow the curve, we will likely have hundreds of thousands dying from this virus. But if we yield to the voices of incompetence and evil, and relax our vigilance just at the time when it matters most, we will be smothered by millions of bodies as the coronavirus tsunami withdraws from our shores. The difference between these future courses will be directly determined by the actions that our leaders take over these next few weeks and months. May we have the wisdom to choose the right course.

Thomas Beckett and Donald Trump

3 dollar bill

“Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” This statement, changed slightly over the centuries, was attributed to King Henry II of England in 1170 A.D. While not explicitly ordering someone to go out and murder the Archbishop of Canterbury, that indirect request caused four knights to travel to the cathedral where they murdered Thomas Beckett. It is perhaps the most famous example where actions were brought about due to the statements of a powerful man. Yet no one could hold the King as being directly responsible for the death. After all, he did not order anyone to commit the act. Still, the statement of this monarch was directly responsible for blood to be spilled.

Over the history of civilized man, the desires of the monarch have been put into action by those who wish to curry favor with those who hold power. It has been an implicit meme in our society, made resonant with all of the portrayals of the mafia kingpin whose utterances of a desire are carried out in deadly spays of lead. Yet the kingpin could claim clean hands, since his hand did not touch the gun that applied the fatal touch.

So now, with the current administration, we have a President who excels in indirect commands. You will not find his fingerprints on a decree requiring the Ukraine to publicly announce the commencement of investigations into allegations of malfeasance by those who wished the Don ill back in 2016. You will not find his voice recording explicitly stating that if the Don heard the dulcet magic phrases referring to the commencement of investigations, the Don could make life for Ukraine so much better. No, in the manner of those Mafia Dons of the past, this Donald made his wishes known by indirection. And since he did not explicitly state his must-haves, he could proclaim that his conversations were “perfect”, and that he had done nothing wrong.

So thoroughly have his sycophants adjusted to life under the sway of this man, they race to face cameras where they chant the magic phrases of “no quid pro quo, conversation was perfect, nothing to see here, move along.” The division of the country along party lines continues, and within the chamber that will serve as jurors, no one expects enough defections to result in the removal of the charlatan occupying the office of the Presidency. The sole question is whether enough Republicans will vote to convict to result in a bare majority of Senators agreeing that the egregious acts of this President deserve the ultimate constitutional rebuke. The entire nation will get to see the leader of the Supreme Court serve in a constitutionally-proscribed role as the Chief Justice. And we will get to see whether anyone even gives a crap about what is being discussed before them.

The one statement that Donald Trump made back in 2016, that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any of his supporters, still rings true. Seeing all of his adoring throngs at yet another of his campaign rallies, watching interviews of these supporters either crying at the thought of the unfairness of Donald’s persecution, or wax indignant about the unfairness of the process of impeachment, gives a glimpse into the mindset of those who still believe that this President is working on their behalf.

I never believed, as I grew up and learned about US history in school, that I would ever see an administration simultaneously so completely incompetent and corrupt. To those who believe that the unraveling of the decades of regulation is good, it is my sincere wish that you get to enjoy the fruits of environmental degradation in the years to come. I took part in the very first Earth Day. As I recall, we went around alleys in our city of Lincoln and helped to clean some stuff up. But that was back when Lake Erie was a dying, fetid pool of water. That was when a feeder stream to Lake Erie had enough hydrocarbons on its surface to burn. That was barely 20 years since deadly smog enveloped a town along the Monangahela river. My father-in-law was going to college only a few miles away from that environmental disaster. I was proud that through the combination of technology and regulation, we’ve been able to get to the point where the air and water in this nation are much cleaner than they were. But this President and this administration obviously views all environmental laws as an unjustified taking from the businesses which would flower once again if only they were freed from the dictates of Washington.

It has been said by those who apologize for this President’s behavior, that we must judge this President by what he has done rather than by what he says. So, with that in mind, let me recite a few of the accomplishments of this administration.

  • Abandoned diplomacy by leaving many positions in the State Department unfilled, and denigrating many remaining employees as not being sufficiently faithful to the President.
  • Appointing many to Federal judgeships who were either designated as being unqualified, or appointing those whose positions lie at the extreme of the conservative spectrum.
  • Abandonment of scientific principles by pulling out of international agreements aimed at solving environmental problems.
  • Allowing meat processors to undergo self-inspection, with the role of Federal inspectors reduced to oversight, thus unleashing future disease outbreaks in the consuming public.
  • Implementing simplistic and incapable policies to control immigration and asylum on the southern border, resulting in the imprisonment of families and enforced separation of family members, with no plans to enable these families to reunite.
  • Undergoing naive diplomatic efforts (since we obviously don’t need diplomats) thus worsening the situation in both Iran and North Korea.
  • Ensuring that those who were defrauded by for-profit educational institutions remain on the hook for the funds borrowed for their bogus education.

I could go on reciting the wonderful accomplishments of this administration, but at this time I do not see the point. For each of the points I list, there are some who say, yes, that is exactly what I wanted our Federal government to do. I wanted it to get out of the way of business and for us to reduce our involvement with international agencies. All I can say is that I hope those people enjoy their salmonella-enhanced diet, while former allies abandon us in future disputes, and while North Korea spreads its nuclear tentacles over the Pacific Ocean. And while the enhanced fires burn across our country, spreading smoke and dust into the lungs of hundreds of millions, those same people can dip their toes in the flooding along our eastern coastal cities that now occurs in synch with the lunar cycle. Maybe a little salt water intrusion will let them know that they indeed made the correct choice back in 2016.

 

Transition to Medicare

health insurance

There must be one heck of a lot of money to be made in signing people up for Medicare Advantage and/or Medigap policies. Otherwise, I would not have been subjected to literally hundreds of phone calls over recent months leading up to my 65th birthday. I have been extremely fortunate, having held family health insurance since retiring from my corporate job nearly 5 years ago. So I had been insulated from any external sales pressure trying to entice me to buy health insurance. That ended this year, when hordes descended on my phone lines (both land-line and cell), attempting to get me to establish a relationship with someone who cold-called me asking if they could be my friend to assist me in choosing Medicare supplemental insurance coverage.

I was fortunate in that my employer, anxious to shed me from their legacy cost structure, offered both a stipend for ongoing medical insurance, and the assistance of a contractor that steered me through the enrollment process. The stipend will not cover the total amount of Medigap and Medicare part D insurance, but it will pay a good portion of it. I am now through the process, although I now am vulnerable to the annual enrollment period for Medicare recipients where I can change my supplemental carrier, if I so desire. Having had all of 2 months of coverage, so far I do not have adequate experience to want to change carriers.

The summer months, though, were filled with calls asking if I needed assistance. It became obvious that the coverage rates were high enough to justify scores of call centers placing calls to me, solely because I was identifiable in their databases as a 64 year old and therefore needing their assistance. The best one was one that my wife fielded when I was not available, where they asked her if she was the one in the family who made health care decisions. We are phone luddites, with both a land line and cell phones, and the land line does not have caller ID, so any call was at least answered. In most cases when I could learn their purpose in calling me, I said firmly but politely, “I’m sorry, I’m not interested,” then hung up before someone could begin their sales pitch. I feel sorry for those whose job is in a call center, since they encounter the worst of humanity. I definitely do not wish to inflict them with additional angst from an uninterested caller.

What is interesting in this day is that we are hearing a call for adoption of a Medicare for All program as part of several candidate’s platforms. These platforms also call for the abolishment of private health insurance as part of an implementation plan to convert to a single-payer system. Well, the current Medicare system certainly has room for private insurance plans to fill in the gaps around the basic core. And it is clear that a government mandate to forcibly give up current insurance coverage, however inadequate it has become due to higher deductibles and higher copayments, will create significant resistance among many American voters. What would seem to be a better way would be to create an alternative option for health care coverage. For those who currently hold health insurance, a mandate could be placed upon employers that they offer the public option as one of the available options for employees to choose, and that employers have to provide a subsidy equivalent to what they are providing with their current insurance package. Then the public option would be enabled to begin to unravel the excessive overhead found in current for-profit insurance coverage. Over time, this will result in the public option costing employees less, while providing better coverage due to reduced deductibles and co-payments.

For those who do not currently have employer-based health insurance, this public option would be placed upon the health care exchanges, and people would be able to select a plan with greatly-reduced premiums. If the marketplace is allowed to function properly, the competition from a public option will result in insurance providers trying to match the public pricing. The cost for health care will bend lower over time, and if the public option ends up becoming the preferred option, then we may find ourselves in a situation where a Medicare for All system is the de facto choice, without it ever being mandated as a de jure choice.

The march towards progressivism in the Democratic party at present has flaws built into its logic. It presumes that there is such a pent-up demand for their prescriptive solutions to the ailments of our society that this nation will choose a mandated big-government program. My fear is that if such a proposal is adopted officially by the Democratic nominee, the disgust that permeates US society towards Federal Government mandates will result in the re-election of the current President. That would be the greatest tragedy of all.

 

Holding the Centre

debris

 

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

W. B. Yeats wrote this in a poem 100 years ago today. His was the generation that fought, slogged, and bled through WWI. Yet the prescience of his words shine today like gems glittering on a crown crushed underneath the treads of some mechanized machine. Those who believe the world is not under the sway of evil forces and conspiracy theories are pushed aside in the public space by those who are convinced of the existence and omnipotent control of these malevolent actors. Those who are on the fringes of belief in this world are the most strident in proclaiming their thoughts, especially with the tools of the internet aiding and abetting their efforts.

Their efforts did succeed in the election of the current president of the US. He has since then worked to both confirm and fulfill the conspiracy theory beliefs. Most of the time this has caused significant damage to the world order. The one effort capable of causing the most permanent damage has been the unraveling of the international order. The institutions put in place by the US leadership in the post-war environment have undoubtedly cost much for the taxpayers of this nation. Yet the costs saved by not having destruction brought to our shores, were worth orders of magnitude more than what we had paid.

Today though, we face the hard truth that our position of privilege in the world order is at risk. Because of the misguided beliefs of the current President, his administration has systematically applied a sledgehammer to the institutions and relationships forming the foundation of the international order. Trade deficits with a country? They’re cheating us. Tack on tariffs. Self-defense organization? Show me the money from the participants. They’re cheating us, freeloading off of our hard-working taxpayers. A people fighting alongside of our troops, working to maintain a safe haven amidst a series of nations bent on eliminating their presence? They didn’t fight with us at Normandy. Therefore it is perfectly fine to abandon them to the mercies of yet another despot found in Ankara.

As we climb out of the rubble-strewn remains of the international order after this President has completed his reign, we will have the difficult task of reconstructing the structures torn down as an act of vanity. One can only hope that the shards of the political system in this country will realize that there actually are things more important than party. There are truly existential crises we face, and if we keep punting them down the field, one day we will find that we’ve run out of room to kick. Reality will attack us, the laws of physics will strike, and we will find ourselves defenseless against the onslaught we’ve brought onto ourselves. One can only hope that the world can begin to rectify the problems we face without resorting to using our most destructive weaponry, because then we will really see what rubble looks like.

Like it or not, we have to act communally as a species. We do not have the luxury of being able to pretend we are an island unto ourselves, able to withdraw into our turtle shell and avoid uncomfortable interactions with those heathens living outside of our borders. Technology and population growth have conspired to ensure that we must face our problems together rather than as separate cells.

In the past 60 years, we’ve gained a perspective on our place in the universe. Photos from space have shown our planet is just a cosmic speck, and we are truly alone in our region of space. We’ve also gained the technology to show that though we can identify hundreds of exoplanets beyond our solar system, not one has shown itself to be capable of sustaining the type of life we take for granted. We should have gained the wisdom to realize we have to fix our problems by ourselves, since there will not be help provided from afar if we muck things up too badly on our planet. But rather than generating a movement to foster common action, we seem to be splintering into self-interested corners of our globe and putting up barriers against “others”.

Damn it, we must look beyond the shallow appeal of ethno-nationalism and race-baiting. We must realize we are unique, and special, and humanity has much more in common than we differ. Let’s throw off the shackles we keep trying to apply to ourselves, limiting our vision and reach. Let’s work together to make this a truly wonderful planet, where all groups can work to achieve great things. Will it be easy? No, especially since the politics of opportunism seem to be replaying the events of the 1930’s. But what we must all realize is that shared sacrifice is better than running headlong into a wall of warfare. The culture of Ayn Rand inspired greed has infected the US and the Republican party over the past few decades, and there is less appetite for communal action. It is now past time to reverse this trend.

A study of history (I know, that discredited tool of the elites) shows societies almost never fail by being taken over from without. Overthrow happens when there is a significant underclass that develops in a nation that does not share in the benefits of the society. The underclass eventually seizes control through normally bloody means. The recent elections showed the stirring under the surface that such an underclass is forming and will not put up with their continued neglect. Having elected one president who pandered to this underclass, but has not delivered on his economic promises despite his protestations about it being the best economy ever, they are likely to reach out for unreasonable hopes on the left side of the political spectrum. It is the center, where practical solutions to real problems exist, which will be pushed aside as ever more desperate hopes are expressed on both sides of the political spectrum. The energy on the right will reach out to engage the energy on the left, and those in the middle will be caught without their own hope of escape of the carnage unleashed upon society.

 

A Tsunami of Justice

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So we had the first wave of the tsunami overwhelming the Trump administration this past week. The waters are now receding, flowing back out over the wreckage of denials and those who sacrificed their reputations to try to tear down the reputation of Cohen. Soon will come the next set of waves, breaking over the damaged golf turf near the sea, then plowing further inland over previously undisturbed tales of innocence. Whether due to hubris, or due to ignorance of the effects of physical phenomena, it is now apparent that the Trump administration will be overwashed with ongoing disclosures of deceit, debt manipulations, and decay of institutional norms.

What did we learn last week? Not much in the way of new facts. We learned we had a person at the heart of the Trump organization who acknowledged much of what had become common knowledge about the Trump family, but this information was not explosive. What we did learn is what strategy the Republicans will use to discredit the testimony of those opposed to Trump. And that was revelatory. Apparently schoolyard taunts are considered to be the best form of criticism against a Trump opponent. Liar, liar, pants on fire. I’m rubber, you’re glue. A fitting riposte for a morally and intellectually bankrupt party that sold its soul for the 40 pieces of silver received in the tax reduction act of 2017. Given that the Republicans were well aware of the scope of testimony coming from Cohen, they chose to attack the messenger rather than attack the message.

Unfortunately, the Trump cult has not understood that their time has passed, and they are now the hunted. What we saw this weekend with literal flag-hugging on the stage of the largest conglomeration of Trump sycophants was that there is no form of debasement that will not be met with cheers of acclamation in a mass forum. The Donald returned from his debacle in Hanoi, where the lack of preparation prior to a summit conference manifested itself in the Donald’s disengagement from discussion with a horrendous individual from North Korea. At least he did not agree to concessions that would haunt the western alliance for years to come. Of course, it is possible his attention to the events in Hanoi were distracted due to his watching the testimony of his former chief confidant in the House Oversight Committee hearing. But neutral observers would bet that the lack of an agreement coming out of this ersatz summit was the best possible outcome, given the lack of preparation from an administration convinced that all obstacles can be overcome by DJT’s force of personality.

So now we wait for the new waves forming offshore. The waves of investigations of the finances of a thoroughly corrupt business enterprise, uncovering the nastiness of accepting torrents of tainted Russian money in exchange for the commodity Trump had to give – real estate, and a new start for suspect monies. Tiny portions of towers enabling money to flow from the former Soviet empire to the new Trumpian empire, helping to tie the US real estate entity to those of Russia who wished to plunder the wealth of their collapsing empire. Even with a decaying empire, there is much wealth to be mined from the wreckage. And the Trumps positioned themselves to benefit from the flow of monies from the East to the West.

Those of us who watched the hearing of last week saw the mask being ripped off of the facade of the Trump towers. An organization which ran for decades unencumbered by morality or the niceties of the law, now sees its methods and tactics scrutinized by the law. We can, and should, bemoan the fact that the Trump organization escaped legal peril for so long. It was only because the practices of this family became so engrained, that it believed it could export its methods to the Federal government. Unfortunately for the Trumps, and for the nation, is that the basic modus operandi of this family lay outside of what is legal. It may be acceptable to strong arm suppliers into accepting a pittance for work performed in good faith, when the matter concerns only work done for a casino. But this practice skirts legality, and the fact that someone estimated he threatened individuals or organizations up to 500 times in 10 years reveals a business living on threats and intimidation.

And they wonder why these tactics are reviled when they were brought into the White House? The basic premise that DJT has continually stated that he did not collude with Russia is probably correct. All he had to do was say “Wouldn’t that be great” when he was informed of the impending dump of e-mails from Wikileaks. Those who understood the code of the family knew he was giving his consent for the action, without ever once having to place his own fingerprints upon a piece of evidence proving his assent. It was those who understood the code that performed the actions.

We now are in the part of the story where there are two approaches to the demands of the family. Either those under investigation maintain their code of silence when confronted, and suffer the legal consequences of their silence, or they become rats and sing out. The question is whether anyone who still is convinced of the sanctity of the Trump crusade will ever accept the perfidy of the man and his associates. In order to Make America Great Again, we must first regain the ability to be revulsed by moral turpitude. Given the decline in moral standards reflected in the first family, and an electorate which narrowly selected this man, I’m afraid that this nation has lost its ability to be revulsed by evil. I hope I am wrong.

 

The Apprenticeship

3 dollar bill

I am almost feeling sorry for the man. Imagine that you have been trapped all of your life in a search for approval, yet never have been satisfied. First you tried to gain the approval of your father, and even though you were showered with wealth, you continually had to return to your real sugar daddy to bail you out of one bad investment, one bad deal after another. The father whose approval you never could truly take for granted cast a huge shadow on the psyche of the son.

Then you tried to gain the approval of the true elites, those exemplars of the highest of the high class in Manhattan. But even though you moved your real estate empire to that island, and built your gilded trophy, those who really counted in the world turned their back to you, and worse than that, actually laughed at you. Oh, the pain!

You couldn’t even join the club of sports franchise owners. Oh, you did own one for a brief time, couldn’t even claim a New York name but had to call it a New Jersey moniker. Yes, you did hire one of the greatest players coming out of college, and your upstart league had pretensions of horning in on the big boys of the NFL. But you yourself forced the league from its smaller but seemingly successful niche of spring football, into a head-to-head battle royale with the NFL. Challenging them in the fall with your schedule, and leading a challenge in court against the big boys on anti-trust grounds. If ever there was a case of winning the battle, and losing the war, it was your league’s victory against the NFL – and then the court laughed at you by giving you damages of $1. No wonder you have not been a fan of the justice system for a long time.

We could go on. The disastrous bet on Atlantic City, doubled down when you took on the failed construction project you named the Taj Mahal, though it lacked any traces of the grandeur of the original structure of that name. Having to be bailed out once more by your father, who spent millions for casino chips one day, a day before your next loan payment due date. But even your father could not save you from your own hubris and you lost your entire casino stake as the overall market in this small gambling mecca declined and faded.

Eventually you found your niche. Marketing yourself, the dream of the glitz and glamour of one of the world’s most egotistic billionaires. So much into yourself that you were prompted to make self-promoting calls to journalists, posing as someone other than yourself, in order to keep your name in the news and to extol your praises. You grabbed lightning in a bottle when the book that you “wrote” took off, and solidified your reputation as a canny and world-class dealmaker. You found that your name on a brand was a guaranteed money-maker, as those who are easily impressed by wealth and status try to grab a little of yours by buying a shirt, or a tie, or a steak, from one of your licensed vendors. You built your empire up despite the crashing down of portions of your portfolio through multiple bankruptcies. Ah, but you yourself never held the bag after these public humiliations. It was always someone else who took the loss, someone else who you could blame for the ultimate loss in the marketplace.

You never had to account for your actions to anyone else at all. Once your father died, there was no one mightier than you. You surrounded yourself with a crowd of sycophants, who were only too happy to let you know that they agreed with everything you said. You were told that your knowledge was vast, your command of the situation, whatever situation you wished to weigh in on, was superior to anyone else in the world. If only those who had power would listen to you, how much better this country and the world would be. These thoughts began to saturate your mind, began to whisper to you that you and you alone could fix these things that you see are wrong.

Then, in 2004, the opportunity of a lifetime came around for you. With your reputation as a world-class businessman secure, no matter how hollow that reputation was, you were tabbed to be the centerpiece of yet another reality TV series. The Apprentice became your trusted companion for 12 years, allowing you to express your wisdom and discernment to an audience that came to believe in you. They believed in your charisma, in your reputation as a canny businessman, they believed you were a strong leader who was more than capable of telling someone to his or her face that they were fired. You entered their homes year after year, and as your fame grew, so did your conviction that you really could grab the gilded brass ring.

You thought about 2012, but the conditions were not right, and you sensed you could not successfully challenge Obama. Ah, but you could cast aspersions against him. Imagine, someone who looked like him claiming to be a real American. It was easy to buy into the rumors on the internet that he had actually been born in Africa, and it was only through a plot extending back to 1961 that his birth was reported in a Hawaiian newspaper in real time. Why should we believe our eyes when it was so much more satisfying to stir up the pot, and the emotions of millions by claiming that the President was not eligible under the rules of the Constitution. This is where you learned how much your words resonated with a significant portion of the American public. So you kept your profile high, but your active political pursuit was placed on hold.

Now, in 2015, you pounced. You went all-in, and started to position yourself as the business outsider who would drain the swamp, who would bring back the greatness of America when the culture was white, and the recovery from the war unleashed the cornucopia of growth as far as the eye could see. You and you alone would redress the issues of the forgotten men and women of flyover country. You and you alone sensed the palpable disgust of this group as they saw their prosperity stolen from them, by hordes of illegals who stole their jobs, or subsisted on welfare taken from their paychecks. The disgust from the people who realized that it was the global economy and global elites that had taken their factory jobs, and moved them over to Mexico, or China, or somewhere else and stolen their chance to make a decent living. What was left were the dregs of the economy, and dregs are difficult to swallow if that’s all you have to eat.

Like so many before you, you realized you had a talent for whipping crowds up into a frenzy. All it took was a few easily repeated single syllable words, that you could start and then let the crowd chant it ad infinitum, building the momentum for these barely defined ideas. “Build the wall!” “Lock her up!” It did not matter that there was no definition behind these catch phrases, they had captured a life of their own. And then, it was time to take down the challengers. These sissies who had grown up in the rarified world of politics, where it was expected that people would behave rationally and with at least a semblance of politeness, they were naive waifs when confronted by a real man, one who had been tested in the world of New York real estate. All it took was pairing up a candidate’s name with a derogatory adjective, and the image formed then took hold in the public’s mind. One by one, you knocked them out of the ring, until only you remained.

You never believed you would get this far. You had gotten into this chase as a vanity project, and to help your own brand, but now that you had the nomination, you had to at least pretend that you were serious. But that did not mean that you really wanted to dwell in the mundane minutia of building a transition team. No, let Chris Christie do that. You can always pull the rug out from under him later. All you needed was your family, and those advisors you’ve had for a while. But it was always you who was the most important one. It was your knowledge, it was your wisdom, it was your negotiating skills that would save the day.

So, it came to election day, and all of the things you had given tacit approval to – the links with the Russians to mine for emails, the coordination of campaign data with the social media teams in St. Petersburg, all of these things had kicked in and to your surprise, pushed you over the top. You found yourself a winner of the greatest prize in electoral politics.

Well, maybe you were right. You don’t need all of those swamp creatures in all of these government offices. So you plan to leave many positions empty, just don’t even nominate someone for them. For the courts? Outsource your selection to the Federalist Society. That way your supporters who may not like you, but have hungered for reversing the liberal bench legislation, and will sell their souls for Supreme Court seats. They will stay happy and overlook your other faults.

Except you have no faults. You know that you have been the most successful President EVAH! Even though you’ve only been in office for two years, you are already determining how to fit your visage onto Rushmore.

Ah, but those critics. Why do they keep yammering at me? Why do they insist that I’ve done something wrong? I’ve never done anything wrong, ever. I’ve always been honest, and humble, and trustworthy. If you think I’ve been inconsistent, you just didn’t know what I meant. Mexico was never intended to write a check for that wall. That wall was never supposed to be 30 feet tall, and beautiful concrete. No one ever asked the Russians to do anything to help our campaign. We shouldn’t ever apply sanctions to the Russians, they have done so much for me and my businesses over the years. They buy my apartments. Of course I like them.

Now it’s that harridan, Nancy. She and that new uppity woman from Queens. Nobody good ever came from Queens. They are after me. I even gave them candy, which they took but wouldn’t give me my wall. Well anyone can see now, they’re taking Dodge Caravans, driving them right over the border and turning left. Only I can fix it.

We are nearing the point in the movie when Captain Queeg in the Caine Mutiny is on the stand in the court martial, where Captain Queeg breaks down discussing the theft of the strawberries, and pulls out his stainless steel ball bearings, running them back and forth in his hand for comfort. When will the breakdown come when Donald pulls out his stainless steel balls and mumbles about the theft of the country, and only he can fix it? Some of us are ready to see the end credits of this reality show. But by the end of the Caine Mutiny, you are left with some feelings of sorrow for Captain Queeg. Will we have similar feelings at the end of the current season of The Apprentice?

 

The Rise of Willful Ignorance

skeletons

This is the third in a series of posts that discuss in more detail what I perceive to be threats to humanity today. It expands upon the discussion started in my original post that covered seven different risks. It concerns the rise of willful ignorance. This is a disease that may yet cause the extinction of the human race. We can see the effects when the government of a nation consists of individuals who are proud to admit that they are disregarding all scientific evidence, since after all, the scientists have their political agendas that just may show that the preferred action to avoid tragedy will cost a favored political ally some money. And we can’t have that. The recent superb book, The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, shows what risks are increased if an administration takes over the reins of power of our complex government without any interest in the functions of the government agencies they now administer. Not only do they not have interest, they exhibit no curiosity as to what might happen if the risks they are supposedly managing actually bear fruit. They actively campaign to reverse the work undertaken during previous administrations aimed at reducing risk, like when they proposed spending 20% less on global nuclear materials security in a recent budget proposal.

We as a civilization have created an extremely complex network of interdependencies. We have managed to limit risk to our population through the process of regulations, and through the transparency of government actions. Unfortunately, the mindset of many currently serving in government is that all regulation is wrong, and we must hide the truth from the citizens of our nation so that the increased risk we are taking does not become evident to our citizenry.

Part of what has led to this attitude came from those in the nation who reject all claims of knowledge by experts. Just because someone has dedicated their life to the pursuit of knowledge, whether within a government agency, or at a university, why should we believe that they know more about a subject that we do? We don’t need no steenkin’ math or science, do we? If we can’t learn all we need to know with a 5-minute perusal of the internet, then the subject has been made too complex and anyone’s opinion is just as good as anyone else’s. Thus we have government spokespeople coming out in support of alternate facts. We have conspiracy theories for beliefs that are easily disproven by an examination of the facts, but of course, those facts were reported by the main street media and they are biased and since they are saying that these are facts, we must believe the opposite.

This type of belief system is self-reinforcing. Psychologically, it is very comforting to enshroud yourself in a mantle of community, where all believe the same thing and are able to reinforce that belief through daily interactions. It is known as an echo chamber. The internet has played a huge role in allowing these communities to develop, and those who belong to these communities are nigh unto impossible to convince that their beliefs are wrong. This is what convinces individuals to drive hundreds of miles to a pizza restaurant in Washington and fire a gun in order to bring down the evil child sex trafficking ring known to exist in the basement of a building without a basement. It is why many believe there is an active military operation to spread aluminum salts and other mind-altering substances behind jet aircraft, leading to the chemtrails many swear are meant to numb the brains of honest Americans. It is what convinces many to believe that human emissions of greenhouse gases could never be responsible for any kind of adverse effect.

 

Of all of the risks that humanity faces, this may be the most intractable. Other problems may yield to research, or to spending money, or to creating a better climate for administering programs. But this one goes to the heart of humanity. That is, the belief that my knowledge is good, and since it is good, if you oppose it, you are evil. The psychological reassurance you get when an entire community of like believers reinforces you for being a part of the group who is truly in the know. The only known antidote to this sort of willful ignorance is to increase the scientific and mathematical literacy of the population as a whole, so that the folly of the beliefs of the former group becomes evident. However, it is hard to teach this type of literacy when we as a society continue to struggle to teach a basic standard of literacy. Look at communication means such as Twitter. By trying to limit public discourse to a maximum of (now) 280 characters, they contribute to the belief that all discussion can be simplified to fit within that type of strait-jacket. No one needs to understand anything at more than a superficial level, since the entire world is doing just fine using Twitter to conduct our national political discourse. One quote of H. L. Mencken comes to mind from nearly a century ago. He said, “As democracy is perfected, the office of President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” Would he be happy to know that at last, his prophesy had been fulfilled?

 

 

We’ve Been Had!

3 dollar bill

One year ago, I wrote a post titled You’ve Been Had!, highlighting the people that the administration had placed in positions of high responsibility, and detailing their (un)fitness for those same positions. It is now time to revisit this administration, showing how much (or little) progress has occurred in support of the stated objectives of Donald Trump, with a special emphasis upon how the actions taken are diametrically opposed to the goals espoused during the campaign. I would write more about the people involved, but most of the original list are either under indictment, or have left the administration in order to crawl back under the most convenient rock.

So what were the pledges that Donald Trump made that fully excited his base and enabled him to claim victory through the vicissitudes of the Electoral College. Here’s what I took away from the campaign in terms of pledges.

  • Build the wall. Build a physical barrier along the southern border of the US in order to reduce the 50% of the illegal immigrants to the country who physically cross the border
  • Lock her up. Appoint a special prosecutor in order to determine the basis for prosecuting Hillary Clinton for her E-mail pecadillos.
  • Drain the swamp. Run an administration that works for the forgotten people of this country who have been dominated by those coastal elites, who are probably Jewish
  • Eliminate all traces of the actions of that traitor, Obama

There were more, but these were the pledges that resonated most strongly with the base during the campaign events in 2016 (and 2017 and 2018). So now that we are two years into this administration, how are things going? How well have these pledges been fulfilled? Note that we are not discounting the one true accomplishment of this administration, that of turning our judicial branch of government over to the Federalist society to be remade in its own image. That is one that has been overwhelmingly successful, probably to the long-term detriment of the citizens of the US.

Build the Wall. Ban Muslims. Stop the invasion of the US by undocumented others. Well, after two full years, we have seen prototypes of physical wall designs installed near San Diego. We’ve fixed some of the existing barriers on the southern border. And we’ve sent thousands of active duty military to the Texas border where they are sitting awaiting the onslaught of, women and children and men who form a rag-tag army of pestilence aimed at inflicting gang violence upon an unprepared nation. Or so we heard in the lead-up to the mid-term election.

We’ve not had any fiscal authorization for a physical wall, even though Republicans have held a majority in both houses of Congress to this point. Maybe it is because even those Republicans who have had to link arms with the President in order to survive his famous tweets, realize that building a physical wall across thousands of miles of arid landscape makes zero sense. Who knows? But with the legendary negotiating skills of the Snowflake-In-Chief, we can expect a braying noise to begin hitting the airwaves about the absolute necessity to authorize funds for the wall. This is in order to allow a continuing resolution to be passed that will keep the Federal government operating in the near future.

We’ve seen incredible incompetence in the implementation of the zero tolerance policy earlier this year leading to the family separation debacle. To think that children would be separated from their families without even a rudimentary way to connect the parties after separation occurred! To think that, if concern for children being brought into the country for exploitation was a reason for this policy, they would not have had a genetic testing program in place to confirm familial relationships. No, what we the people got in the implementation of this program was a totally incompetent effort that was fatally flawed in order to demonstrate the toughness of this administration. Incompetence that is continuing with the show of military force at the Texas border.

So all of the effort we see is aimed at the interdiction of people physically coming over the border from Mexico. Meanwhile, we see zero activity aimed at stopping the roughly 50% of those who are in the nation illegally due to overstaying their legitimate visas. That’s about par for this administration. Devote outlandish attention to their incompetence with one half of the problem while totally ignoring the other half of the problem as if it doesn’t exist. The people of the US applaud the efforts of this administration to rid us of the flood of illegals who are forcing us to eat tacos.

Lock her up! We will show the nation what we value by assigning a special prosecutor to take down that noted criminal, Hillary Clinton. What she did by exposing the secrets of this nation to the risk of discovery by having her unsecured e-mail server is a traitorous act. So how’s this effort going? Uhh, there doesn’t seem to be a special prosecutor anywhere in sight for Hillary, but the effort by Robert Mueller seems to be giving this President fits at this time. I never realized that the word collusion had to be preceded by the word no, but now I cannot separate the two words in my mind. Seems like the walls are closing in on this President, much like the walls of the garbage compactor in the first Star Wars movie. Once Roger Stone is indicted, and the facts show that he indeed was the link between the Russian operatives and the Trump campaign, feeding them tidbits about the upcoming release of scores of e-mails, the loop will be closed, and we will see the collusion duck waddle and quack in a very duck-like manner. But it is amazing how the line of Lock Her Up still elicits uproarious shouts each time it is brought out at one of the hundreds of copy-cat rallies this President uses to get his adrenaline fix.

Drain the swamp! Yeah, that isn’t quite working like people may have thought. Who could have foreseen that by draining the swamp, that would include gutting the efforts to enable for-profit college students who were defrauded by institutions that scarfed down the Federal student loans of their marks  students, from being able to gain relief from these loans? Why, didn’t Betsy DeVos appoint a program dean from DeVry University as head of the Student Aid Enforcement Agency? What could be better than to have someone intimately involved with one of the for-profit colleges being sued, to serve in an oversight and enforcement role for the debt forgiveness program? Is not the fox the best guard of the hen house?

Ok, maybe this was an isolated case. Let’s look at something that really does affect many of Donald Trump’s core supporters. Those who are suffering financial distress, and have to turn to payday lenders in order to meet an immediate need for cash. Unfortunately, due to the excessive fees and interest charges for these loans, many who use them as their last resort find themselves trapped in an endless series of rolled-over loans, each with additional service fees added. It is the perfect mechanism to squeeze profits out of those least able to pay.

The Federal agency working on behalf of consumers, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued regulations on October of last year that provided at least some regulation of this new financial product offering. The regulations would have ensured that the lenders make an assessment as to whether the person seeking the loan could pay it back, and set a limit on the number of times that a loan could be rolled over. Alas, the regulations were not to become effective until August of 2019.

In July of this year, Treasury Department urged the CFPB to rescind the rule, stating that it was not needed. The administrators of the Treasury Department, who have only the hearts and well-being of the public in mind, insist that it is the proper role of the states to set guidelines for the payday loan industry. Just like they had done so thoroughly before the Federal effort to set regulations in this area. Guess that the swamp drain got clogged up with all of those donations from the payday loan industry to receptive swampers.

Oh well, I guess it is going to be difficult to find cases where the swamp is actually being drained. Let’s go on to the last of our items, erasing all traces of Obama from the government. On this pledge, we can unequivocally state that the pledge is well on the way to being fulfilled. From the Iran nuclear deal, to the non-binding Paris Climate accord, to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and through a myriad of other actions, Donald Trump is demolishing all traces of his predecessor in office. And he’s not through there. He’s demolishing all traces of the past 73 years of the post-war diplomatic environment. Through his blatant disregard for diplomacy and for the necessity to understand that words have consequences, this china shop bull has smashed the crockery higgledy-piggledy. Throwing the weight of the US around, he unilaterally withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear control pact. Iran is now unencumbered from adhering to the limits and inspections imposed by the pact, and could restart their nuclear program.

But Iran is small potatoes compared to the signal diplomatic achievement of the Trump presidency to date. That is the love affair he is conducting with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. Who can forget the statements of affection between Donald and Kim? “A very worthy, smart negotiator, absolutely,” in the aftermath of the June meeting between the two men in Singapore. And, who can ever forget what was said in Wheeling, West Virginia in late September. “I was really being tough, and so was he. And we would go back and forth. And then we fell in love, okay? No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.” Of course, other than not conducting actual nuclear explosion tests, or new ballistic missile tests, there is absolutely no evidence that North Korea is taking any steps to denuclearize. Our inexperienced diplomat-in-chief, who knows more than all of the rest of the government put together, would never let himself be snookered by a tyrant whose only ambition is to keep his regime in power. I would bet that Kim has actually read Machiavelli. He certainly is using the playbook very well as he uses flattery to disarm the leader of the US until he can make his nuclear arsenal and its deployment a “fait accompli.”

No, even more so than when I wrote it in November 2017, it is clear that “We’ve been had.” The track record of nearly two years shows that we can only expect worse and worse as we wind our way to the next election cycle. At least there will be one chamber of the legislature that will not bow down to the leader of our nation, who is so afraid of a bad hair day that he would forego a centenary observance of the end of the first world war.