Monthly Archives: January 2017

This is Only the Beginning

Some people with high intelligence and general thoughtfulness about important matters are shocking me now with their view that we are being hasty and unfair in judging the new president. They argue that it is “early days” and that naturally there will be a few “distractions” as Trump gets his bearings. In addition, some serious people have argued that it is alright for the press to soft-peddle Trump’s constant “misstatements of fact” as “falsehoods,” because lying requires intent to mislead and they can’t see into Trump’s mind.

But, of course, they can. We all can. You know a liar when you hear one. They are persistently resistant to evidence. They repeat false statements with overt indifference to the truthfulness of their statements.

There is a principle in the law that states “if you take an action with reasonably foreseeable consequences, then you intended those consequences.” Thus, if you drive your car into a crowd of people, killing several of them, you will not be heard to claim “I didn’t mean to kill them; I only wanted to scare them.” Applying this logical and common sense principle to Trump, it must be concluded that he intended to make these false statements and that those statements are “LIES!” We should call them by their true name.

Because he “believes” in multiple mythologies about how foreign-born persons are admitted to the United States, notwithstanding the elaborate vetting processes in place for years now, Trump has issued an Executive Order that has led, foreseeably, to chaos and harm to many people who are otherwise legally entitled to enter the United States. A short summary of some of the early damage is well-told in this piece. http://nyti.ms/2kxA3Y4  Fortunately in the short term, a federal court, at the behest of the ACLU, has issued nationwide stay of the Executive Order.

Trump’s actions regarding refugees are illegal and unconstitutional. They are also likely to cause more actual harm that any harm actually prevented. There is no “wait and see” here. It is clear beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard of proof for criminal cases, that the man in the White House is the same person we saw on the campaign trail. Nothing has changed. A child does not grow up in a few months. So to my friends who say I am being too hasty, I say open your eyes and your minds to reality. What you now see is what we’re going to get.

The Republican Congress, meanwhile, is running out of sand into which to bury their collective heads. In their inverted positions, they won’t even see the next one coming.  They vilified President Obama for claimed abuses of the power of executive orders in the face of refusal by Congress to even consider some of his proposals. Now their man is issuing such orders almost every day without a thought to Congress, the agencies of jurisdiction (and expertise) or anyone else. Trump appears to have forgotten, if he ever knew, that there are three branches to the United States Government. Yesterday he was forcefully reminded.

Not that he cares. The White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus has stated, in effect, “we don’t care who got hurt. We got our rights to protect the borders.” No doubt we have that right, but one would hope that the acts taken to protect the border are thought through and competently executed. Instead, the direct consequence of Trump’s need to show he’s in charge was incompetence on a massive scale, leading to large protests across the country, loss of respect overseas and more fodder for the maniacs of ISIS to use in recruitment. Richard Nixon faced many protests and reacted by making “enemies lists” and lying about the war in Vietnam. Trump likely will turn to that next. Round up the usual suspects and to hell with the consequences.

How long then before Trump and his “team” start to execute on their threats to stop the press from criticizing him? How long before they tire of facing a multitude of legal challenges arising from his arbitrary and unjustified executive orders and begin ignoring court orders? How long before they order the military to start arresting people for sedition?

Here are some things you can do.

  1. Communicate with your representatives in Congress that you demand that they stand up to the arbitrary conduct of the President;
  2. Join the protests whenever you can;
  3. Make clear to everyone you know that you are not satisfied with a country in which the Executive Branch runs roughshod over the rights of the people;
  4. Join your local political organization and actively engage with neighbors.
  5. # RESIST everywhere all the time.

Trump Spits in Women’s Faces; Calls on Nation to … What?

I am not making this up. Tomorrow the Federal Register of the United States will publish a Presidential Proclamation declaring that January 20, 2017, the date of Trump’s inauguration, shall be a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion,” the stated purpose of which is to “strengthen our bonds to each other and to our country — and to renew the duties of Government to the people.” See http://bit.ly/2j6VtJC  See also http://wapo.st/2j7soOc The proclamation is quite precise as to the date and does not say that the date is to be so recognized in future years. It appears, therefore, to be solely about Trump’s inauguration, attempting to unify the concepts of his election/inauguration and patriotism. The cult of personality is now with us. Can loyalty oaths be far behind?

This action aligns with the signing of an Executive Order today that cuts off U.S. funding to international non-governmental organizations that perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other countries. The history is that this “Mexico City Policy” was announced by President Reagan in 1984, rescinded in 1993, restored in 2001, rescinded in 2009 and now, once again, is restored. Women of the World, Trump has heard your cry for control of your own bodies and responded with contemptuous spit.

The monumental Women’s March on January 21 had better be the kickoff of a unified national and even global movement to counteract what Trump has in store or the essential nature of the American experience will be lost. Mobilize now.

The Democratic Party needs to make a decision too. Is it going to try to outplay Trump at his own game, or accept his rejection of “politics as usual” and take the game to him. The Party must get organized, develop an action strategy and communicate it through the massive networks developed by the Obama and Clinton organizations. Trump is going to pick everyone apart if they continue to try to placate him with “we want to work with you.” He has made it clear there is only one basis on which he will work with anyone and that is on terms he sets. The Party must decide where its soul is and act accordingly or abandon the pretense that it represents the liberal/progressive cohort in our politics.

As for the media, you have clearly been warned. It’s déjà vu all over again. Richard Nixon has risen and is embodied in Donald Trump. You must stop depending on the White House to feed you what they want you to get.  Stop giving air time to people like Kellyanne Conway just because they work for Trump. And please, please get rid of the Trump shills on the “panels of experts” that discuss everything Trump says and does. Go back to being news organizations. Trump is not entertaining.

Americans should not have to reply on the satire of Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show to point out the hypocrisy and absurdity of this administration and Congress. Take risks. Grab hold of stories and don’t give up. Where are the tax returns? What is he hiding? Call out the lies, every one of them. That alone will give you plenty to report on.

The Women’s March

“Shame, Shame, Shame, Shame, SHAME! SHAME!!” This moment in front of the new Trump Hotel in Washington DC was, for me, the defining point in the extraordinary, historic Women’s March. The chant began with a few voices and quickly the chorus rose to a crescendo, beautifully adapting the meme from Game of Thrones where religious fanatics used it against captive members of the elite.

Trump wasn’t there to hear it, of course. He was comfortably ensconced in the White House admiring himself and thinking of new ways to defy the lessons of history by viciously attacking “the press” and “the media” as “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” http://n.pr/2kd2p90

I was there with my wife, step-daughter, and some friends representing different generations. Another husband was with us and did a great job as “point man” for our group of a dozen. I was stepped on and pushed around many times by the crush of the crowd and I stepped on and bumped into quite a few people myself. To move in a group you had to form a human chain, linking hands and snaking through the small spaces in the sea of humanity. “’S’cuse me, sorry, sorry.” Not once was a cross word or dirty look exchanged. Everyone was there for the same purpose and no doubt as awed as we were at the staggering size of the crowd. We waited in a line for an entire hour to get to the bank of portable toilets.

A multitude of issues were represented among the throng, but there was no conflict among them in the March. Everyone was respected by everyone else. A remarkable experience. “This,” the crowd often repeated, “is what democracy looks like.”

We bailed out a few blocks short of the White House as exhaustion and hunger took their toll. Restaurants and the Metro were overwhelmed by thousands upon thousands of people at the end. Upon returning home, we were amazed at the pictures from around the country and around the world of parallel marches, involving millions of marchers globally. The crowd in Washington alone is estimated at more than a half million. The pictures of Chicago and Austin and everywhere are surreal.

The President will almost certainly continue to deny the reality that he is a minority president, that his approach to leadership desecrates the office he holds and is an embarrassment to this country. His relentless practice of personal aggrandizement, self-approval and hostility to truth, is matched by the shills he has hired to be the face of the White House. Kellyanne Conway, in particular, holding the title Counselor to the President, responds to points about Trump’s lies by pointing to mistakes others make. She just did this again about Trump’s demonstrably false claims about public attendance at his inauguration, angrily arguing that a member of the White House press pool, mistakenly reported that a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King had been removed. https://yhoo.it/2iRm2aJ. That mistake was acknowledged and corrected, but Trump’s lies remain. And the reporter who made the mistake is just a reporter. Trump is President of the United States of America. The two incidents are not remotely comparable.

Interestingly, Ms. Conway, when pressed about why the President would have his Press Secretary make a provably false statement in his first post-inaugural appearance, threatened the press again with a statement to the effect that “if you’re going to refer to the Press Secretary in these terms we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here.”  In other words, the press had better lay off criticizing the President and his staff or there will be no more access.

There is no reason to believe that Trump can or will change his approach to leadership. He is in, I predict, for a very rough time as President. The Women’s March is just the beginning. “Shame, Shame, Shame, Shame, SHAME! SHAME!!”

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Trump Administration Starts by Degrading the Nation’s Water Supply

Donald Trump, the man-child, has finally been inaugurated 45th President of United States. Given everything that led to the moment, it was surprising that Donald Trump, having been sworn in, did not push every on the podium aside, thrust his hands into the air screaming, in the words made famous by Muhammed Ali, “I AM THE GREATEST!!!!!”

Instead, he angrily redelivered the core elements of his campaign speeches, the essence of which was that “American First” is going to be the watchword for our government going forward. Playing fast and loose with many of the facts about the state of the economy and the country, as is his norm, he elevated nationalistic and religious themes to a new extreme.

It all has a familiar and, in some sense, pleasing ring to it. Us first and all that. We heard a variation of that during the Vietnam War era: “my country right or wrong” and “if you don’t like it here, leave.”  Despite staggering sacrifices by our military, in a hopeless quest, and the fear of communism and “otherness,” we lost that war. The divisions it created still are alive for many. A gross failure of self-examination, among other things, led to horrific mistakes of policy and actions, causing unnecessary sacrifices for millions and damage to U.S. standing around the world.

Trump’s call for “America First” must surely ring hollow in countries around the world who are tired of hearing about American exceptionalism and that America sees itself as superior to the rest of the world, culturally, politically and  otherwise. Trump has made some big promises. He did not mention bringing back coal and steel jobs specifically, talking instead about roads, tunnels and such. But coal is in evidence on the White House website priority list.

Reality will now show its itself as Trump launches his promised attack on the decisions and policies of the past eight years. He remains a minority president by popular vote and the sparse crowd for the inauguration was a stark reminder of that.  I know, I know, his infatuants believe that Clinton’s significant popular vote margin was due to illegal voting in California. Sadly for them, there is no evidence of that but, of course, Trump’s true-believers don’t care about the truth, only what fits their narrative.

In any case, Trump’s facile words will soon meet the complexities of real life and we will see how much disruption Americans are willing to tolerate as Trump and as his ideologue Republican sycophants run rough-shod over health care and a multitude of other established benefits and practices on which tens of millions of Americans rely every day.

A case in point is the just posted new White House determination to cancel “harmful and unnecessary policies” governing the nation’s clean water supply. https://www.whitehouse.gov/america-first-energy.  You can read here the Climate Plan that has Trump so worked up:           https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/image/president27sclimateactionplan.pdf.  Here you can read the Clean Water Rule that has so offended Trump: http://bit.ly/2iKyyIL. More information is here, at least until it is erased by the incoming administration. https://www.epa.gov/cleanwaterrule.

It appears in these early days that Trump intends to take the United States back in time many decades to the point where employers were permitted to exploit the country’s natural and often irreplaceable resources at will in the interest of making money and, yes, employing people. Of course, many of those people were dying of Black Lung Disease and were killed or maimed in industrial accidents that were preventable. The very people to whom Trump is appealing are going to be the most direct victims of these policies while the rest of us suffer the longer and broader impacts of the degradation of the environment that will inevitably follow. This apparently is the price to be paid for “American First” under Donald Trump. Jingoism never solves anything.

The Larger Meaning of “Hidden Figures”

My wife and I saw the movie Hidden Figures this weekend. It’s about three Black women who worked for NASA as “computers” at the beginning of the space race between the United States and the then Soviet Union. “Computers” at that time meant “human calculators,” who ran staggering volumes of numbers, formulas and calculations in geometry and calculus to determine the necessary acceleration, deceleration, orbital angles and the thousands of other details that had to be exactly right to risk sending a human into space. For the most part they used adding machines and, though not seen, likely slide rules as well.

Without giving away too much, the movie is a well-crafted piece of story-telling, funny at times, painful to watch at other times, sometimes both at once. If it proves anything, perhaps it shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Having grown up in the segregated 1950s and 1960s in Memphis, Tennessee, there were moments of almost physical pain at seeing graphic reminders of the cruelty and stupidity of the suppression of Black Americans throughout our history.

As bad as slavery, Jim Crow and segregation were for the direct victims, and most of us cannot comprehend how it was to be the constant target of such practices every day of our lives with no hope of change, the larger lesson from this movie is, I believe, the staggering cost to everyone, in the United States and everywhere, of the lost contributions and achievements of which these practices deprived us.  And still do.

In the millions of people directly suppressed by these practices, it is a certainty that there were multitudes of people who would, in other circumstances, have become great scientists, inventors, artists, musicians, athletes, caregivers, writers, teachers and on and on. All of us have lost forever the benefits of the achievements of those people who never had a chance to develop into their individual potentials as human beings. The frightened people of no vision who perpetuated these practices from America’s earliest days even to today in some places have deprived the country and the world of an immeasurable gift.

Now many of those people use the consequences of these practices as the pretext for arguing that young Black males are prone to violence, are uneducated, lazy and shiftless and thus make protection against them as the priority. Imagine the result if the situation were reversed and Black people had been the masters and whites were the slaves and everything else was the same. For an interesting incident to the same effect, see http://bit.ly/2jCAG1X.

We can’t undo history. But we can at least recognize the root causes of the way things are now and thereby be inspired to work to correct what all of us have done. It is no doubt true that many advances have been made and I don’t mean to suggest there has been no progress. But isn’t it self-evident when reading the news that the United States is gravely ill. Complaining on social media or railing at Washington may make for warm feelings but it does not address with action the consequences of our troubled past. If people who can influence change fail to act, how long can our democracy endure?

Some Advice for CNN

Ah, the ironies. CNN helped make Donald Trump’s candidacy by broadcasting every minute of everything he said or did during the campaign, including having Trump’s campaign shills as constant participants on “panels of political experts” to discuss endlessly every detail of Trump’s behavior. CNN became, in effect, the carnival barkers for the Trump sideshow.

Now, Trump is President-Elect and he is demonstrating that he is exactly the same person and personality that was kept in the public eye by CNN during the campaign. This should come as no surprise. Now he no longer needs to “make nice” and so he refused, in his first press conference in seven months to let the CNN reporter in attendance ask a question. He accused CNN of being “fake news” and indicated, yet again, that he will brook no unwelcome questioning of himself from the press, no matter how prominent.

Then CNN gave another opportunity for KellyAnne Conway, Trump’s shill-in-chief, to bumble and fumble her way through more demonstrably false accusations about the way CNN reported the latest Trump “news.” The CNN team, led by Anderson Cooper, a day later still trying to find a way to do its job, showed how stung they were by the Trump rejection and the Trump/Conway claims that CNN reported something that it demonstrably did not report.

Helpfully, Carl Bernstein, one of the contributors to the CNN reports and who knows a thing or two about reporting and politics, defined “reporting” as the “best available version of the truth.”

Here, then, is some advice for CNN about how it can develop a more constructive relationship with the soon-to-be President and his team of fact-deniers:

  1. Just report the damn news! You know, what happened today that is of interest to the American people?
  1. Eliminate the endless panels of “experts” arguing endlessly over every statement that Trump makes. Just report what he says, what others say, what happens (with as much verification as possible) and let the viewers/readers decide without having to listen to Trump shills like Jeffrey Lord and Conway re-write and re-interpret what Trump said into gibberish. Continuing what you have been doing adds credence to the Trump mode of operation and helps raise doubts about the accuracy and legitimacy of your own reporting. If you’re going to continue to claim that CNN is about journalism, then just report the news as truthfully and accurately as possible and move on. Let the Trump machine finds its own outlets (it will always have Fox and Breitbart) to make its case.
  1. For guidance, review some of the tapes of Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid of CBS News in the 1960s. If you want to add interpretation and analysis to the facts, have your “experts” appear alone to state what they believe. Make them own the analysis.

That’s it. Do yourselves and America a favor and remove yourselves as the one of the “usual suspects” Trump wants to paint with a bias brush. Report the news!

A Wall of Willful Ignorance: Suggested Reading for President-Elect Trump

Because of its familiarity and ease of access, I am using Wikipedia to introduce this piece; it also covers the salient aspects:

“The tragedy of the commons is an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting that resource through their collective action.”

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

Among many other earthly assets, the air and water, critical to advanced life on earth, are “commons” and are subject to the problem of the tragedy of the commons. I don’t know whether Donald Trump and his “infatuants” (forgive me) dispute the established scientific fact that the earth is warmer than at any time in human history, and well beyond, but I do know that they dispute that human activity contributes materially to the climate-change problem. This despite the overwhelming worldwide scientific consensus that human activity has fundamentally altered the environment and made the Earth threateningly warmer.

How can one deal with this when there is such strong dispute? I suggest that Mr. Trump should undertake a risk analysis. He should be familiar with this, since every real estate investment he has made must have involved such an analysis at some point. It’s pretty straightforward. Evaluate the risk against the consequences – weigh the costs, but more than just out-of-pocket costs, of ignoring the scientific consensus versus the risk and consequences of accepting, and acting upon, the scientific consensus.

If we ignore climate change and are wrong, it likely is the end of life as we know it and perhaps the end of all life other than some subterranean worm-like life forms. If, however we assume that scientists are right, we have chance to save our ecosystem by changing how we do business and how we live. This course of action will create many new, but different, jobs than in past. If this turns out to have been unnecessary, we are no worse off and likely are better off as beneficiaries of cleaner air and water, among other things.

On the other hand, the price of being wrong on this issue is simply too high to continue insisting that it is a “hoax” and that addressing it will be bad for the economy. Not addressing it could be (almost certainly will be) catastrophically bad for the economy and everything else. Risk analysis argues strongly for urgent changes in the way humans operate.

It was revealed during the campaigns that President-Elect Trump is not an avid reader. Indeed, he indicated he really didn’t care to read much at all. He boasted that he was very smart and got his information elsewhere, apparently through the Internet. This is unfortunate for many reasons, not the least of which is that it deprives him of information and modes of thinking about complex issues that have been studied by others, often for many years and often submitted to critical review by accomplished people in the fields of study. Without the benefit of readily available expertise and the propensity to rely on the views of inner-circle ideologues, the President threatens to become an unguided missile able to deliver mega-tonnage blows to the prevailing order that has existed for years and decades, or in the case of the environment, for centuries.

Even a brief look back at the effects of the Industrial Revolution would teach a reasonably coherent mind that uncontrolled industry is harmful to the environment, often in ways that take decades or longer to correct after remedial measures are begun. We likely do not have that luxury anymore because of the global impact of human activity.

Trump is the elected President of the United States. To steal a phrase from an old Willie Nelson song, there’s nothing we can do about it now. All of our lives are, in a very real sense, in his hands. I therefore propose to him, and such of his advisors who may be open to other points of view, a short list of books and articles that will educate him and his staff on a few topics of transcendent importance to the country and the world, starting with the environment.

I urge readers of this blog to send me your own examples. I will endeavor to incorporate them into a single message to the new keepers of the White House. I don’t know how to do that just yet because a wall of willful ignorance is harder to scale than the concrete border wall that the President-Elect claimed to be one of his top priorities. Beyond the “wall,” however, are a wide-ranging set of objectives that pose an existential threat to our environment and to the survival of many threatened species of animals and other life forms. The ultimate effects of losing these parts of the food chain are unknown and, therefore, killing off the threatened species may have effects that cannot be reversed and that could threaten our very existence.

I refer you here to a story by Julie Pace of Associated Press, published in http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/oil-billionaire-considered-lead-energy-department/:

“The Trump to-do list targets recent Obama administration efforts to reduce air and water pollution that have been opposed by Republicans and industries that profit from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, including the “waters of the United States” rule and ozone regulations.

Trump calls climate change a “hoax” perpetrated by China and others and has said he will rescind the Clean Power Plan — the linchpin of President Barack Obama’s strategy to fight climate change.

A coalition of conservative states has challenged the Clean Power Plan and also has challenged an EPA rule that expanded the definition of waters protected under the Clean Water Act to smaller non-navigable waters and seasonal tributaries.

The Obama administration says the rule would safeguard drinking water for 117 million people, but Republicans and some Democrats representing rural areas say the regulations are costly, confusing and amount to a government power grab. Federal courts have put the rules on hold as judges review lawsuits.

On his campaign website, Trump called for rescinding “all job-destroying Obama executive actions” and has vowed to unleash an American energy revolution, allowing unfettered production of oil, coal and natural gas. He would sharply increase oil and gas drilling on federal lands and open up offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and other areas where it is blocked……

In addition to repealing the power plant rules, the transition document also says Trump’s energy team is considering modifications to Obama’s ozone rule, which is meant to reduce smog.

Also on the chopping block are Obama administration regulations intended to limit harmful emissions and chemical-laden waste water from hydraulic fracturing operations at oil and gas wells.”

Since the survival of the planet is of the highest importance, the first items on my list are two related books by the same author, addressing the threats to the biosphere:

The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson, a National Book Award Finalist in 2014

Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, 2016. Edward O. Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize twice.

Then: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert, 2014, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015.

Trump’s people should look at the recently published The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War, by Robert J. Gordon, a distinguished professor at Northwestern University. Gordon was included on the Bloomberg 2013 list of the most influential thinkers in America. The book is a data-rich tracing of the forces that shaped America’s economic growth from the end of the Civil War until now and beyond. Just the first 200 pages will make clear the catastrophic consequences of allowing free market forces to rule unchecked over the production and distribution of food and medicine. Before Trump puts in place a hiring freeze on government workers and the Republican Congress slashes agency budgets, someone had better give some deep thought to the impact on the health of the American people.

Moving on to labor and jobs, it is not clear that Trump or his senior advisors are aware how labor unions emerged as a force in America, and how corporate America reacted to workers’ efforts to get protection for themselves and their children from abusive working conditions. Nor do they seem to be aware that trying to restore dirty energy (mainly coal) to its former place of prominence flies in the face of irreversible global forces of technological change that have been at work since before the Great Depression. It is an illusion that the American economy can be massively stimulated by restoring the old ways of doing work. Those who believed Trump’s promises made to Rust Belt workers and voted Trump into leadership of the Free World are going to be massively disappointed.

There are two books I am referencing. One is From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend from 2001. The back cover sums it up: “… the historic efforts of working people to win the rights we take for granted today: basic health and safety standards in the workplace, fair on-the-job treatment for men and women, the minimum wage, and even the weekend itself.” Yes, even the weekend itself. These features of modern life were once not provided to most working people.

The other work that would provide an even broader education is Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, David M. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning history published in 1999. The first few chapters may pique the interest of Trump’s advisors who are not mentally blocked to new information that powerfully shows how and why our society and government are structured as they are. Anyone who believes the country’s problems are new products of the Democratic presidency of the past eight years and can be solved by simply unleashing the “free market” are in for a rude awakening.

If they don’t wake up soon, everyone will suffer the most frightful consequences. Completely free markets ignore the Tragedy of the Commons and will create a problem that mankind will not likely be able to resolve by letting businessmen do what they like. And when rising seas encroach on coastal cities, increasingly severe winter storms crush entire states and unprecedented heat waves leave people gasping for relief, the people who only act when there is a profit to be made will be too little too late and too irrelevant.