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.

 

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.

Past Performance Is No Predictor of Future Performance

 

Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins. This adage has meaning beyond its original intent when considering our current world. Like it or not, since the earth is now crowded with billions more folks than it had 50 or 100 or more years ago, and thus the free range of motion of our own arms has shrunk. We no longer can pull our nation’s head and legs into our own shell and exist on our own island. The fallacy of this isolationistic perspective is being tested with the self-defeating policies that the Trump administration is attempting to implement.

According to the Trump doctrine, in order to make America great again, it is necessary to reverse decades of stitching together the nations of the world in greater interdependence so as to allow American exceptionalism to reign supreme. The world we knew when everyone who wanted entree into the middle class could walk into the nearby factory and punch their timecard in a manufacturing plant, that world no longer exists. We can mourn the absence of the world that existed when the US served as the only intact manufacturing entity after WWII, and thus held an immeasurable competitive advantage for decades. Those were the decades of greatness that the America First agenda wishes to bring back.

It is always foolhardy to craft national policy on the basis of nostalgia, but that apparently is what is motivating the America First crowd. Instead of looking behind us for inspiration (Immigration Act of 1924, Leave It to Beaver, Homestead Works of Pittsburgh belching sparks and smoke), I prefer an attempt to steer our country and its economy towards the future. What does the future hold? Where are the opportunities for new jobs that can provide a true middle-class lifestyle?

First, let’s acknowledge that many of the jobs of the future look a lot like the jobs of the past. In particular, skilled craftsmen and women have a bright future ahead of them. Manufacturers cannot get enough skilled welders. An industry trade group projects that the nation will need 290,000 new welders by 2020 in order to accommodate those welders who will retire, plus handle the new jobs being created within manufacturing and the energy industry. There will always be opportunities for plumbers, and electricians, and for skilled carpenters. These professions also offer the chance to become an entrepreneur, since most opportunities in these fields are local. The demographic wave of the baby boom generation crested long ago, and that wave is withdrawing from the shores of the labor market. The vacuum in the labor market must be filled, and for those who have desires to work with their hands, there are opportunities. What is needed is strong vocational training and/or apprentice programs to transition folks from novices to skilled craftsmen and women.

Next, let’s talk about energy. This field runs the gamut from solar panel installation, to wind turbine construction and maintenance, to electrical grid modernization, to drilling rig worker, and to pipeline construction worker. In my state of West Virginia, where the coal industry has scalped the tops of our small mountains, leaving behind ground denuded of topsoil, but a relatively flat surface, we have the opportunity to develop large-scale solar farms. These farms can be integrated with small scale agriculture intended to take advantage of the shade provided (ginseng, anyone?), and can serve as a career option for the last generation of coal miners and those who currently have no hope and are surrendering their future to oxycontin and heroin.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room – the Republican-led conspiracy to deny that changes in energy policy are necessary, in order to mitigate a warming environment due to burning fossil fuels. I’ve seen the entire range of beliefs of those who refuse to acknowledge that atmospheric effects from anthropogenic emissions are changing the thermometer setpoint of the earth. Some of their stated beliefs are possibly correct (example – we may be entering a solar minimum period that may overwhelm any changes from atmospheric composition). Some of their beliefs are simply incorrect (temperature records are invalid since they represent a change from rural to urban temperature measurements, and besides, climate scientists have fudged their records, and besides, you know, thermodynamics is just so wrong). Some of their beliefs are based upon religious claims, like mankind has no capability of overruling God’s control over our environment. And some are purely conspiratorial in nature, such as the belief that claims of global warming are a tool of the one-world agenda deep state that wishes to impose political control over each and every aspect of life in our country, causing us to cede our sovereignty to a one-world government.

To refute each of these beliefs would take more space than my blog normally uses, and besides, my argument is that in order to transition away from fossil fuels, it is actually necessary to use one version of fossil fuels more extensively than we have in the past. Of course, that fuel is natural gas or methane, which has the virtue of emitting much less carbon dioxide per kilogram of input than any other hydrocarbon. Simply put, displacement of a high carbon fuel source (coal) with methane is the main reason why the US has reduced CO2 emissions over recent years. According to the US Energy Information Administration, CO2 emissions in the US decreased 12% between 2005 and 2015, and the drop is mainly attributed to replacement of coal by natural gas in electric power generation. So if we are waiting for renewable energy to take its place as the primary power source , or if we are awaiting for advancements in either fusion or fission (see thorium reactor cycle) in nuclear energy, then methane serves as a reliable bridge fuel.

Methane also offers many opportunities for jobs. Since much of the methane resources available through fracking are not in areas with pipeline infrastructure, it is necessary to build new pipelines, and that is a key source of job opportunities. Fracking also requires many more drill rigs due to the rapid depletion of fracking hydrocarbon reservoirs. I know that there is much dispute over environmental damage done by pipelines and by fracking. But it is not realistic to transition directly from dependence upon coal, to a totally green energy solution. Methane offers a transition period that enables maintenance of the living standard we enjoy that relies upon intense consumption of energy. Those who rely upon and believe in the moral superiority of coal and oil will not give in easily, though. In West Virginia, one of the bumper stickers used by the proponents of coal is “Let the Bastards Freeze in the Dark”. Those stickers are often affixed to the bumpers of diesel pick-ups that have been fixed with special combustion controls that dump excess fuel into the cylinders, causing a cloud of black smoke that they use to obscure the visibility of Prius drivers, like myself. I’ve been coal rolled a few times.

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Photo of rolling coal from Jalopnik.com. Justin Westbrook credited on story.

Jobs in agriculture have been decreasing for generations. Many city dwellers are now several generations removed from the farm and from rural life. Yet amazingly, farming is now coming into the cities. High technology hydroponic farming is making it possible to use some of the urban real estate that used to house factories, and convert it into high-yielding produce farms. In the suburban/rural interface, high-tunnel greenhouses are allowing intensive cultivation on small plots, enabling small-scale farmers to supply the local produce markets for cities that want organic produce sourced locally. As western diets move away from corn and soy based food chains to more vegetables, look for the number of people making a living growing food to increase steadily.

One area where the job demand is increasing is also one where the wages earned do not reflect the value provided to society. That is in the personal care industry. Whether we are looking at home assistance provided to the elderly, or the labor needed for assisted living facilities and nursing homes, these workers provide a service that our society should value. The low wages provided for these workers shows that the current job market does not value these workers, and as a result, those who are in the field are often overworked. Abuse (either intentional or not) can result, since in our society we do not properly value this form of labor.

What should we not look for in the future job market? We should not look for low-value manufacturing to return to this country, regardless of the tariffs imposed on those exporters who are accused of manipulating their currency to hurt us in the US. It is unlikely that we will ever see inexpensive metal implements to be manufactured in the US again. It is also unlikely that we will see basic garment manufacture to be sourced domestically again – unless the manufacturing processes are automated to such an extent that the number of jobs associated with the manufacture is reduced by an order of magnitude from the old garment mills. US manufacturing jobs will increasingly be focused on huge, high-tech machinery, or on processes that can be completely automated. Either way, the new manufacturing worker must be educated and trained well beyond the existing labor forces capabilities.

What we will find as we swing our nation’s fists wildly in an attempt to protect ourselves from the rest of the worlds increasing integration, is that our fists are as likely to strike ourselves in the nose as we are to rain blows down upon our perceived adversaries. The world’s economies are too tightly interwoven to enable one country to extricate ourselves from the tentacles of commerce without ripping our own economy to shreds. Beware the effect of unintended consequences as we try to make America great again.

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy!

The story in the paper finally explained to me why I feel like an alien in the land of my birth and an alien in my chosen religion. Dr. Robert Jeffress, who had previously escaped my notice as a pastor of a megachurch in Dallas, explained to me how it is that Donald Trump is God’s weapon of choice to take out the evil exemplified in the North Korean government. “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”

That statement and the belief system underlying that statement are so alien to me that I am seeking vainly to forge any type of reality-based connection to someone who would make such a horrendous statement and issue it as speaking with the authority of God. How to begin? Well, first I would say that anyone who would defend the taking of military action resulting in the deaths of millions of humans is not speaking with the authority of God. Those who take the name of nuclear holocaust in vain share the unimaginable consequence of being responsible for the immense loss of life and the innumerable lives that will be changed due to the detonation of nuclear weapons. To think that such a consequence would be due to someone just demonstrating to Vladimir Putin that he has cojones makes the potential devastation just that much more sickening.

I have wondered how the group of folks associated loosely as evangelical Christians could ever have supported such an overt sinner as Donald Trump. Yes, I use the biblical term sinner to define his existence prior to seeking the Presidency. Donald Trump revealed himself to be a sinner as he failed to pay multitudes of small contractors what they were owed for services to his multiple properties. Why? Mainly because he could and it would be too expensive for a small contractor to demonstrate harm from the behemoth that was the Trump empire.

Donald Trump revealed himself to be a serial adulterer and as someone who used his position of power to extract sexual benefits during his association with the Miss Universe beauty pageants when he ran that obsolete version of an event aimed at objectifying women. For evangelistic Christians to overlook the multiple adulteries of Donald Trump while they crucify his predecessor for imagined sins of, well, I’m not sure what sins Barack Obama was actually accused of. I never heard an accusation of womanizing as he has been faithful to his only wife throughout his marriage. I never heard of an accusation where Barack Obama admitted to taking liberties with women because it was overlooked for those individuals who were blessed with power and status. Even taken from the biblical perspective of “he who has not sinned, let him cast the first stone” does not seem to apply to Donald Trump’s predecessor. Although Donald Trump certainly lobbed many paving stones at Barack Obama accusing him of being a less than 100% American born citizen.

Donald Trump demonstrated his ability to steal from his lessers when he established his ersatz Trump University. Can you imagine someone audacious enough to attempt to cash in on his bogus reputation as a master real estate developer by offering a cascading offering of real estate courses, each level purporting to reveal more and more secrets from the man himself (of course for a much higher price), only to reveal itself as a fraudulent enterprise aimed at preying on the dreams and aspirations of those who had been damaged beyond redemption by the financial crisis and the subsequent financial collapse. That Donald Trump was ever required to provide financial reparations for his rapacious greed is a miracle of contemporary jurisprudence.

Donald Trump demonstrated that he has no concept of the term of bearing false witness. Through innumerable statements he has made, he continues to bear false witness even against himself, due to the volume of falsehoods

he has made that he subsequently contradicts in a later statement. Or tweet. We haven’t even gotten into the issue of him using a new media offering as his unfiltered access to his base. Well, if he has a base, it is pure sodium hydroxide solution, and his credibility is softening into mush as it soaks in this solution.

No, what I realized when I saw the comments from Dr. Jeffress, is that Donald Trump is a manifestation of a phenomena that first revealed itself when I was a teenager. At that time, a Presidential candidate by the name of Richard Nixon invoked the Silent Majority as critical supporters of his bid for office. He was able to convince enough voters that his view of America as being intolerant of dissent, insufficiently strong to withstand opposing viewpoints, and convinced voters that he alone held the secret answers to solve the external problems that plagued America in the era of Vietnam and hippies.

The same divide that was enunciated in our culture in the 1970’s TV show All In The Family still shows up as fault lines in our current society. We are still divided into the hard hats and the hippies of those days. You either support Archie Bunker, or you support Meathead. The difference is that now both sides of the cultural divide have our own media environments to reinforce our biases with the 24/7 proclamations of our chosen media service. Since we can inoculate ourselves against exposure to opposing viewpoints, let’s do so now and therefore prevent us from ever considering that we may be wrong in our beliefs.

As I reflect upon the comment from Dr. Jeffress, I realize that indeed, the perspective he espouses could be found in the Bible – deep in the bowels of the Old Testament, where the sexploits of the leaders of the Israelites are documented. Where the cruelties inflicted upon the enemies of Israel are celebrated throughout the books of Judges and Kings, where the will of the Lord is reflected in an angel slaying one hundred and eighty-five thousand Syrians, leading the sons of the King of Syria to slay their own father. This is the mentality that is reflected in someone saying that it is the will of God to bring untold misery into the world by unsheathing the nuclear sword once more upon the world.

Much ink has spilled over the differences between conservatives and liberals. It seems to this follower of Jesus that the conservative position is for those who long for the Old Testament vengeful God, those who believe that strength defines right, those who believe in subjugation of the individual to the majesty of the government. The liberals favor the wisdoms revealed in the words of the Gospels, where the government is addressed as having authority (render unto Caesar), but the kingdom defined is not mainly of the government. Instead, the entreaty is to treat the stranger as a friend, to share with those who have the least, and to express righteous indignation at evil being done even in the house of worship. Of all of Jesus’s faults in the eyes of the Pharisees, the one that was unforgiveable was interfering with commerce in upsetting the tables of the moneychangers in the temple.

Maybe just gaining this perspective for myself can help me to deal with having to coexist with a segment of the population who share few of my values. At least I can understand their frame of reference, and maybe that is a start in trying to bridge the gap between two diametrically opposed perspectives. That it took referring to texts from thousands of years ago to gain this perspective, is indicative that the differences in perspectives has always existed, and we as a species are no closer to closing the gap between us. Only now, the stakes are higher since our tools of destruction have grown immeasurably more deadly.

 

Make! America! Great! Again!

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Let’s make America Great! How do we do that? First, let’s piss off every ally we’ve had for the past 75 years by insisting they all are out to rob us blind, and they don’t have the guts to fight terrorism the way we do. Next, let’s make it way harder for others to come to the US by implementing half-baked bans against certain religions to enter this country (we have to be oh so careful to be politically correct and not call them bans or the namby-pamby courts will rule against us, as if they actually are a co-equal branch of government).

We can make America great by creating our own sense of reality, where only what we say is the truth. And we can convey that sense of reality directly to the American People (We do love the people. They voted for us hugely.) in our tweets. Someday the tweets we make will be the basis for a little red book like that Chinese guy used to have. Everyone will wave a copy around to show how much they adore us.

We can make America great by leaving a lot of these government positions empty. Who needs all of these folks anyway. I can fire all of the US attorneys and not nominate anyone to fill the slots, and no one will notice. And diplomats? Do we really need diplomats, except for our favorite countries?

We can make America great by showing America how great leaders work. Like this guy Duterte in the Philippines. Wonderful how he’s leading by enabling those mobs to kill all of the druggies. Wish we could do something like that here.

We can make America great by cutting back on a bunch of silly spending. Why in the world do we need to invest in scientific research? What has science ever done for us? It’s not like our lives are longer than they used to be because of medical research. Or how is it that we gained anything from research into solid state physics. What a waste of time and money! Losers, all of them. Can’t wait to use my cell phone to post a tweet about not wasting money on basic research.

We can make America great by showing America how fake the media is. They won’t acknowledge our greatness all the time, so they are fake. Fake, fake, fake. We’d be better off if everyone just used my twitter feed to learn all they need to know about the world. Boy, I wish they wouldn’t keep asking those damn questions. Why do they keep harping on all of these things we did with our friends the Russians? You’d think they thought someone out there in the mid-west actually cared about selling out to the Russians. Love the mid-west. They voted for me when no one ever thought they would. Led to my huge electoral college victory. Biggest one ever for a Republican. Did you know I’m a Republican? I used to donate money to Democrats.

We can make America great by passing the biggest tax cut in history. I can get the Congress to do just what I want. Just give them the talking points and they take it from there. That’s Leadership! We haven’t had leadership in this country since Andrew Jackson. Tax cuts. Get rid of that stupid death tax. Do you know how much that would cost my children if we don’t get rid of that? Of course, I plan on living a long time. Did you see how my doctor said that I had the best health of any President EVER! No, we can just keep cutting the taxes and watch the money pour in. I can see 5%, 6% growth coming just because of these tax cuts. Just watch and see.

We can make America great by getting rid of that terrible thing Obamacare. Just get rid of it and we’ll have the greatest health care ever. Costs will go straight down. People won’t have to spend money on insurance since we will get rid of the requirement to have it. Shoot, I’ll just tell the IRS not to enforce the requirement. I can do that you know. I love to sign executive orders. I can get a huge crowd in the office just to hold one of these signing ceremonies. I love ceremonies. It’s like a parade, only just in one room. Did you see the parade for my inauguration? Biggest Parade and the Biggest Crowd ever! And those executive orders. Sometimes I read them before I sign them. Sometimes not. But we’re not going to cut Medicare or Social Security. That’s my pledge to the American people.

We can make America great by getting us out of all of these agreements and treaties with other countries. We never do well in these things. Get taken advantage of bigley. Like that NAFTA thing. Or was that the NATO thing? Both of them – worst treaties ever. Tear them up, start over, we’ll show them that you can’t take advantage of the United States! Did you see about those children over in Syria? I showed them who’s boss. Gave them a dose of Tomahawks! Just wait till that fat little punk in North Korea tries something. I’ll show him. Of course, it’s hard for a young kid to be running a country. I can understand why he’s had to be tough with folks, shooting them with anti-aircraft rounds. I know I could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, and my supporters would cheer.

 

Whew! I’m sure glad that Donald Trump didn’t get elected as President. What a horrible dream! Can you imagine someone thinking and acting like that? Wait. What’s that you’re saying? All of the things in my dream – they’re real? And all have taken place in less than 5 months? And we have 3 years and 7 more months to go? Where is that alternate reality we were talking about? I think I’m gonna need to live there in order to stay sane.

 

Media? We Don’t Need No Lying Media! (Or Do We?)

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And now the coarsening of the political discourse continues. To think that a candidate for Congress, on the eve of his election, would be so easily provoked by a reporter’s request for a response about the CBO scoring of the AHCA that he would physically assault and tackle that reporter. That is amazing, but unfortunately it is part of a long chain of events that show a significant decline in the civility towards political discourse.

This coarsening is non-partisan in nature. Both the right (especially the alt-right) and the left are guilty of these incidents. The series of incidents with provocative right-wing speakers on college campuses where the speakers are prevented from speaking due to organized left-wing opposition, combined with anarchist activists who foment violence, has turned college campuses into no discourse zones. As for the right, we have only to review the footage of Donald Trump’s rallies where he excoriated the press, leading to situations where angry crowds surrounded press representatives, causing them to worry that physical violence would follow. And the reaction of Donald Trump to any protestor at his rallies did lead to protestors being assaulted by “right-minded patriots” as the protestors were being led out of rallies.

So the next phase of this war against free speech and the press has begun to play out across our land. In my State Capital building in West Virginia, a credentialed reporter trying to get a response from HHS secretary Tom Price was arrested and charged with “willful disruption of governmental processes”. As of this date, two weeks later, reporter Dan Heyman is still facing these charges.

In a little-reported incident in April, a cameraman for a Las Vegas television station was arrested for filming a tax-day protest on the Las Vegas strip. His crime? Not knowing that the sidewalk in front of an establishment was private property and thus subject to trespass limitations.

Now, with the overt hostility of the Montana candidate towards the press being expressed in a physical takedown of a reporter, the war against the press has taken a sinister turn to violence. It is only a matter of time until someone who feels empowered by the new attitude towards the press takes matters into their own hands and kills a reporter.

Both the right and the left need to step back and cool down. The lack of tolerance shown by the left against conservative speakers needs to dissipate. There are plenty of acceptable ways to demonstrate disapproval against a speaker instead of violently keeping that speaker from talking. And the phenomena of shouting down Republican representatives at town halls does not improve the political climate, as the attitude from the Republicans seems to be that those who protest, must be professional outside agitators paid by George Soros.

I am more concerned though, about the hatred shown by Republicans towards the press. There is a long-standing antipathy towards the press from many Republicans. They view the press as biased towards liberals and Democrats, and thus feel antagonism towards reporters. Then, with the ubiquitous use of cell phones for documentation, there is a paparazzi-like sense that politicians are legitimate targets for harassment from the press. But it is the characterization of mainstream media as “fake news” that is most disturbing. President Trump overtly declaring the media as “The Enemy Of The People!” Trying to delegitimize media as propagating only fake news and being the enemy is very dangerous, since many people no longer have a cultural reference point to distinguish between reality and illusion. The rise in social media as a primary news source for many people is a significant reason for this newfound lack of a cultural reference point. Ongoing balkanization of media sources leads to a lack of knowledge of real facts.

What can be done to reverse this trend towards abandonment of first amendment principles? All of us, regardless of political leanings, need to speak up in public against the war being waged on free speech and the media. This blog post is my own attempt to add my thoughts to the public discourse. I encourage anyone else who believes that we are heading down a dangerous path to also speak out in whatever forum you have available to you. We must stop this before we find that we have lost our freedom of speech and ability to conduct political discourse in public.

To Bee? Or Not To Bee?

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I read a very disturbing story in Science magazine this month. A German amateur scientific group, the Krefeld Entomological Society, has conducted surveys of insect populations since 1989. These surveys show that the total mass of flying insects collected has declined by almost 80% in this time. Though the story in the May 10 issue of Science (Where Have All the Insects Gone?) does not make an assertion as to the cause for the decline, or whether the decline is limited to the European sites monitored by this society, they do mention the windshield effect. That is, are drivers encountering fewer bugs as they drive in the summer months, and is that symptomatic of a decline in insect populations?

If the monitored decline is widespread, then what does that say about potential effects on wildlife populations and diversity? At this time of year, we are very aware of the insect population, especially as we watch parent birds deliver squirming loads of protein to the next bird generation. If flying insects are in decline, then it indicates a decline in overall insect populations, and that has to be harmful to the species that live off of the abundance of insects in the warmer months.

The story does go into potential causes of the decline in population. Habitat loss in particular is mentioned as a potential contributing factor. But the story implies that a class of pesticides already identified as a factor in bee colony collapse, may also be contributing to the observed flying insect population declines. Neonicotinoid pesticides were developed in the 1980’s and were used for seed coatings beginning in the 1990’s. These pesticides have extremely low mammalian toxicity. But they are mobile in the environment, and are water soluble. Studies have shown that wildflowers adjacent to crop plantings can have concentrations of neonicotinoids higher than on the crop plants.

So this clearly is an issue that requires swift study, and if studies indicate it is justified, then it necessitates new regulations for this class of pesticide. Now let me state something from a personal perspective. I worked for a company that manufactures both herbicides and pesticides. For a good part of my career, the Ag Products division was my work home. I believe that agricultural chemicals provide benefits that outweigh their risks to the environment. I am not one who is chemophobic. And herbicides and pesticides are already among the most heavily regulated chemicals ever manufactured. But occasionally, a class of compounds is commercialized, only to discover decades later that there were unintended harmful consequences to non-target species. This happened with the chlorinated hydrocarbons like DDT. They had low direct mammalian toxicity, but when they accumulated in animals, they caused reproductive harm.

Another series of articles in Science recently discussed the ongoing extinctions that are occurring in the new anthropocene era. The anthropocene is the new geologic era defined by the effects that humanity is causing to our planet, and is now officially recognized by scientists. One of the points of the articles was that the inter-relationships between species are complex, and it is difficult to predict the effects on the system as a whole if one of the pieces disappears (becomes extinct).

What this means is as humanity continues to impose its will on the earth, resulting in the extinction of more and more species, the unexpected effects will continue to grow. At some point, a step-change in the system will show up, and suddenly a large portion of the ecosystem will not work. Bee colonies are a good example of this. Humanity is reliant on bees serving as pollinators for a wide variety of foods. So if we continue to use insecticides that harm bee colonies, then sometime soon we will not have many of our fruits and nuts and oil seeds available as our food sources. We are all related in life on this earth, and we are not immune to the ills of the ecosystem as a whole.

Unfortunately, within the US, the ruling political class has grown hostile to considering the health of natural systems as one of the inputs to making laws or regulations. Since flying insects do not contribute to dark money PACS, they have no advocate in the US Congress or in the administration. Instead, there are efforts to roll back science-based regulations within the EPA. Already the EPA has put a hold on a recommendation from a science advisory committee within the EPA that would have banned the use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos. See, with this administration, money and economic growth are the only things worth considering. All of this science stuff, well, how much money is donated to politician’s campaigns from scientists anyway? Not nearly as much as from chemical companies. So who should we listen to? Those who say that there is statistical correlation (though not proven causation) between exposure to a class of pesticides, and children with increased frequency of ADHD? Or those who donate?

Simplistic thinking breeds simplistic solutions. The natural world though, is complex, and is shaded not in black and white, but in a rainbow of bright hues. When you have an administration that looks at a problem solely in economic terms, and views regulations as barriers to economic growth, then you will develop solutions that cause great harm to the natural systems we rely upon. At some point, the hubris of the human race will cause us to be dashed against the rocks of reality as nature has its way. If only we can recognize our folly and act to reverse it before it determines our fate!

Ride the Trump Train

Are you quivering, full of anticipation at the first foreign fling from the Trump administration? Are you waiting to see what follies will emanate from our glorious leader? Will Saudi Arabia recoil in horror after seeing firsthand the shallowness of the gene pool in which our President resides? Will Israel succeed in convincing President Trump of the necessity to hold one’s tongue when one is tempted to share the highest level of classified secrets? Or will the President take affront at being chastised, leading him to take off on a twitter tirade linking Israel to the lyin’ media?

Finally, we will have President Trump showing off his wondrous attention span as he attends NATO and G7 summits. Will his performance at these public venues result in someone finally declaring that the emperor is naked? After all, he’s been running through the rose garden since January without the benefit of a cloak of intelligent thought. I am embarrassed as an American when I see that any presentations intended for our President are to be dumbed down to single Powerpoint page, nine bullet points max, and preferably with illustrations. And for the summits, a request was made to limit all presentations to between two and four minutes. All to enable President Trump to not exceed his attention span. If you wish to see a vivid portrayal of the thought process of our President, look at any of his recent published interviews. This past week, in his interview with the Economist, you could see in full color President Trump’s boasting at being the originator of the phrase “priming the pump” with respect to economic policy.

Do I expect our President to be knowledgeable about macroeconomics, and about Keynesian economic principles? Do I expect our President to have some semblance of a knowledge of history in economic matters? As a matter of fact, yes, I do. I expect anyone who has the audacity to place himself in the role of the savior of the nation to be knowledgeable about the problems he claims to have the ability to fix. In his own words at his acceptance speech at the Republican convention, “No one knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” But knowing the moral consistency of one Donald J. Trump, it is not a surprise to me to see that this was merely boastful bragging.

So enough of the citizens of the US who voted this past fall managed to vote for this charlatan with the attention span of a ping pong ball, resulting in his election via the vagaries of the electoral college. Now we find ourselves at the mercy of an administration careening out of control, with cascading news stories compounding the sense of despair emanating from the White House. Admittedly we have only second hand reports from the press (thank heavens they have not forsaken us in this time of trial), but the picture painted of the mood in the West Wing is reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica.

But my fear over the next 10 days is that this immature, insecure, and egotistical President will wreak havoc amongst our allies and supporters. He has the potential to instigate unimaginable chaos outside of the US borders, where the checks and balances of our constitutional system do not apply. And those who are seeking to do damage to our nation and interests, need only to observe how to push his buttons, in order to make him overreact viciously to any perceived insult or slight. The reputation of the United States has been diminished in this century, but President Trump has the potential to turn a mild decline into the plunge after the first uphill climb of a roller coaster. Be prepared for one hell of a ride.