Saturday, December 17, 2016

That Failed Obama Administration

President Obama gets more succinct and at the same time more complete in listing the accomplishments of his administration.  He did so again at his end of the year, and end of administration press conference on Friday.

"As I was preparing to take office, the unemployment rate was on its way to 10 percent. Today, it’s at 4.6 percent -- the lowest in nearly a decade. We’ve seen the longest streak of job growth on record, and wages have grown faster over the past few years than at any time in the past 40.

When I came into office, 44 million people were uninsured. Today, we’ve covered more than 20 million of them. For the first time in our history, more than 90 percent of Americans are insured. In fact, yesterday was the biggest day ever for More than 670,000 Americans signed up to get covered, and more are signing up by the day.

We’ve cut our dependence on foreign oil by more than half, doubled production of renewable energy, enacted the most sweeping reforms since FDR to protect consumers and prevent a crisis on Wall Street from punishing Main Street ever again." 

"None of these actions stifled growth, as critics predicted. Instead, the stock market has nearly tripled. Since I signed Obamacare into law, our businesses have added more than 15 million new jobs. And the economy is undoubtedly more durable than it was in the days when we relied on oil from unstable nations and banks took risky bets with your money.

Add it all up, and last year, the poverty rate fell at the fastest rate in almost 50 years, while the median household income grew at the fastest rate on record. In fact, income gains were actually larger for households at the bottom and the middle than for those at the top. And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by nearly two-thirds and protecting vital investments that grow the middle class.

In foreign policy, when I came into office, we were in the midst of two wars. Now, nearly 180,000 troops are down to 15,000. Bin Laden, rather than being at large, has been taken off the battlefield, along with thousands of other terrorists. Over the past eight years, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully executed an attack on our homeland that was directed from overseas.

Through diplomacy, we’ve ensured that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon -- without going to war with Iran. We opened up a new chapter with the people of Cuba. And we brought nearly 200 nations together around a climate agreement that could very well save this planet for our kids. And almost every country on Earth sees America as stronger and more respected today than they did eight years ago.

In other words, by so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started. That's a situation that I’m proud to leave for my successor. And it’s thanks to the American people -- to the hard work that you’ve put in, the sacrifices you’ve made for your families and your communities, the businesses that you started or invested in, the way you looked out for one another. And I could not be prouder to be your President."


At his Friday press conference, President Obama talked about his administration's policies in Syria.  It was a serious look at a serious process, and is worth isolating in detail.

He brought up the subject in his opening statement.

"Around the world, as well, there are hotspots where disputes have been intractable, conflicts have flared up, and people -- innocent people are suffering as a result. And nowhere is this more terribly true than in the city of Aleppo. For years, we’ve worked to stop the civil war in Syria and alleviate human suffering. It has been one of the hardest issues that I've faced as President.

The world, as we speak, is united in horror at the savage assault by the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies on the city of Aleppo. We have seen a deliberate strategy of surrounding, besieging, and starving innocent civilians. We've seen relentless targeting of humanitarian workers and medical personnel; entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble and dust. There are continuing reports of civilians being executed. These are all horrific violations of international law. Responsibility for this brutality lies in one place alone -- with the Assad regime and its allies Russia and Iran. And this blood and these atrocities are on their hands.

We all know what needs to happen. There needs to be an impartial international observer force in Aleppo that can help coordinate an orderly evacuation through safe corridors. There has to be full access for humanitarian aid, even as the United States continues to be the world’s largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. And, beyond that, there needs to be a broader ceasefire that can serve as the basis for a political rather than a military solution.

That’s what the United States is going to continue to push for, both with our partners and through multilateral institutions like the U.N.

Regretfully, but unsurprisingly, Russia has repeatedly blocked the Security Council from taking action on these issues. So we’re going to keep pressing the Security Council to help improve the delivery of humanitarian aid to those who are in such desperate need, and to ensure accountability, including continuing to monitor any potential use of chemical weapons in Syria. And we’re going to work in the U.N. General Assembly as well, both on accountability and to advance a political settlement. Because it should be clear that although you may achieve tactical victories, over the long term the Assad regime cannot slaughter its way to legitimacy.

That’s why we'll continue to press for a transition to a more representative government. And that’s why the world must not avert our eyes to the terrible events that are unfolding. The Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies are trying to obfuscate the truth. The world should not be fooled. And the world will not forget."

Asked he felt some moral responsibility for the carnage occurring in Aleppo and Syria generally, he said:  "Mike, I always feel responsible. I felt responsible when kids were being shot by snipers. I felt responsible when millions of people had been displaced. I feel responsible for murder and slaughter that’s taken place in South Sudan that’s not being reported on partly because there’s not as much social media being generated from there.

There are places around the world where horrible things are happening, and because of my office, because I’m President of the United States, I feel responsible. I ask myself every single day, is there something I could do that would save lives and make a difference and spare some child who doesn’t deserve to suffer."

But for those who make quick analysis or come up with easy answers, he talked about how seriously these questions are asked, with some idea of process and detail.

"So with respect to Syria, what I have consistently done is taken the best course that I can to try to end the civil war while having also to take into account the long-term national security interests of the United States.

And throughout this process, based on hours of meetings, if you tallied it up, days or weeks of meetings where we went through every option in painful detail, with maps, and we had our military, and we had our aid agencies, and we had our diplomatic teams, and sometimes we’d bring in outsiders who were critics of ours -- 

whenever we went through it, the challenge was that, short of putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground, uninvited, without any international law mandate, without sufficient support from Congress, at a time when we still had troops in Afghanistan and we still had troops in Iraq, and we had just gone through over a decade of war and spent trillions of dollars, and when the opposition on the ground was not cohesive enough to necessarily govern a country, 

and you had a military superpower in Russia prepared to do whatever it took to keeps its client-state involved, and you had a regional military power in Iran that saw their own vital strategic interests at stake and were willing to send in as many of their people or proxies to support the regime -- that in that circumstance, unless we were all in and willing to take over Syria, we were going to have problems, and that everything else was tempting because we wanted to do something and it sounded like the right thing to do, but it was going to be impossible to do this on the cheap."

Later he concluded: "I cannot claim that we’ve been successful. And so that’s something that, as is true with a lot of issues and problems around the world, I have to go to bed with every night. But I continue to believe that it was the right approach, given what realistically we could get done absent a decision, as I said, to go in a much more significant way. And that, I think, would not have been sustainable or good for the American people because we had a whole host of other obligations that we also had to meet, wars we had already started and that were not yet finished."

He noted that the so-called "safe zones" in Syria are impossible unless they are heavily defended if Russia and Iran don't agree to them.  But that a temporary safe zone, perhaps in Turkey, may be possible in the near future for refugees from Aleppo.

I think this is likely to happen after he leaves office, as Russia's sop to the Nazi Millennium government, and once announced with great fanfare, it will fade away when media attention turns elsewhere.

Meanwhile, this is the Republican's ally, fomenting warfare and testing out their weapons systems in Syria: Russia.  Dark Age Ahead.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Today's Letter is R

R is for Republican. And Russia.

Exploiting the craven weaknesses of American political media has been a Republican specialty since Willie Horton (1988) and the Swift Boats (2004.)  Working with Russia, the new, ever more craven alt. right went full Nineteen Eighty-Four (War is Peace, etc.) and got away with it.

R is for Rabid Right Reactionaries. But the rabid younger reactionaries didn't start it.  That was King of Craven Mitch McConnell, who doesn't give a damn about this country or anything else but partisan political advantage.

As Senate Republican Leader, he organized the total opposition to anything that President Obama proposed, endorsed, approved of or said a kind word about, and did so during the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, when the world economy depended on Washington leadership.

But to justify such obvious obstructionism meant amping up the rhetoric to absurd levels, demonizing Democrats and most of all, President Obama.  And an entire empire was energized and expanded to do this.

It in turn gave voice to the racism that the presence of a black First Family in the White House was already unleashing.  That racism had gone quiet, though it never went away.  Repressed for so long, it exploded, and it is out there now as an empowered fact of life.

R is for racism.  It's increasingly ugly, everywhere you look.  Part of the shock some are feeling at the election result is learning that friends and family are more openly expressing it, as well as other reactionary views.

There was of course more to it than that.  But isn't that enough?

So where is it going?  Nazi Millennium.  R is for Reich.

President Obama's press conference Friday was full of uncomfortable truths for the assembled media.  He nailed the political effect of all this, too:

"There was a survey, some of you saw, where -- now, this is just one poll, but a pretty credible source -- 37 percent of Republican voters approve of Putin. Over a third of Republican voters approve of Vladimir Putin, the former head of the KGB. Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave.

And how did that happen? It happened in part because, for too long, everything that happens in this town, everything that’s said is seen through the lens of "does this help or hurt us relative to Democrats, or relative to President Obama?" And unless that changes, we’re going to continue to be vulnerable to foreign influence, because we’ve lost track of what it is that we’re about and what we stand for."

American Political News Media Suck

In my unremarkable view, there isn't an aspect of the US political system that didn't fail big time in the 2016 campaign and election, save perhaps the people who actually run the actual elections in their communities.

A short list of failures would include: Republicans, Democrats, pollsters and the news media.  Taking just the media for the moment, we've seen this building for years: the decline unto nearly nil of paid reporting, the closing of news bureaus (foreign and domestic) while blatantly partisan "news" media, easily manipulated Internet and social media "news" proliferate and take the previous niches plus more.  So the only kind of "reporting" that exists is the cheap kind: sports and political "reporting," which doesn't involve any real reporting other than reproducing and organizing statements and information provided by politicians and their servants.  And then the endless punditry, almost always on the same topic, using the same tidbits of "information."

Since the game is all about building image or tearing down image, it is an information environment practically designed for what is essentially gossip.  Enter the unholy alliance of Russia, Wikileaks, Republicans and the news media.

A fiction writer couldn't come up with a less likely combination, at least before this year: America's historic adversary and Cold War enemy, the "Evil Empire" that is no longer an empire but is arguably more evil than ever.  Working with the supposed whistleblowers speaking truth to power.  Working with and enabled by the most extreme reactionary major political party on the planet.  Working with and enabled by the American news media system.

As recent headlines tell it, the US intelligence agencies--including the CIA and even the FBI--conclude that Russia intervened (by way of hacks into organizations and individual email accounts) in the US election deliberately to assist the election of Trump, and that this effort was personally approved by Putin.  He is the leader, by the way, who has cynically caused the deaths and suffering of millions in Syria.

There is still some responsible journalism in this country, such as this article beginning to describe the Russian cyber-incursion.  But as I said more than once in this space while it was happening, the Russian hacks and the Wikileaks dispatches only achieved dominance in this campaign because American media fell for it.  They took stolen goods and made stories out of them, whether there was much substance or not (and did so in congressional campaigns as well, as the Times piece notes.)

Few if any of the important issues that the outcome of this election will drastically affect (and this time this wrongly and overused word is appropriate)--will drastically impact--were so widely and loudly disseminated.

Here is how President Obama put it in his press conference Friday:

"When we had a consensus around what had happened [Russian hacks], we announced it -- not through the White House, not through me, but rather through the intelligence communities that had actually carried out these investigations. And then we allowed you and the American public to make an assessment as to how to weigh that going into the election.

And the truth is, is that there was nobody here who didn’t have some sense of what kind of effect it might have. I'm finding it a little curious that everybody is suddenly acting surprised that this looked like it was disadvantaging Hillary Clinton because you guys wrote about it every day. Every single leak. About every little juicy tidbit of political gossip -- including John Podesta's risotto recipe. This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage.

So I do think it's worth us reflecting how it is that a presidential election of such importance, of such moment, with so many big issues at stake and such a contrast between the candidates, came to be dominated by a bunch of these leaks. What is it about our political system that made us vulnerable to these kinds of potential manipulations -- which, as I've said publicly before, were not particularly sophisticated.

This was not some elaborate, complicated espionage scheme. They hacked into some Democratic Party emails that contained pretty routine stuff, some of it embarrassing or uncomfortable, because I suspect that if any of us got our emails hacked into, there might be some things that we wouldn’t want suddenly appearing on the front page of a newspaper or a telecast, even if there wasn’t anything particularly illegal or controversial about it. And then it just took off.

And that concerns me. And it should concern all of us."

Thursday, December 15, 2016

That Evil Obamacare

Update: On Dec. 16, President Obama announced that Thursday "was the biggest day ever for More than 670,000 Americans signed up to get covered, and more are signing up by the day."

Here's that evil Obamacare that Republicans can't wait to get rid of.  In talking about the sign-up period now underway, President Obama outlined what all those horrible provisions are, that cause such righteous anger on the alt.right.

So when Nazi Millennium healthcare comes around, come back here and check on what you no longer have...

"Like most Americans who get coverage through, there’s a good chance you’ll find a plan that costs less than $75 a month. And while the enrollment period lasts until the end of January, as long as you sign up by this Thursday, December 15, you’ll be covered starting January 1.

"Now, this doesn’t apply to the roughly 250 million Americans who already get insurance through the workplace, or thanks to Medicare or Medicaid. But here’s what does. Every American with insurance is covered by the strongest set of consumer protections in history – a true Patients’ Bill of Rights.

 You now have free preventive care, like mammograms and contraception. 

There are no more annual or lifetime limits on the essential care you receive. 

Women can’t get charged more just for being a woman. 
Young people can stay on a parent’s plan until they turn 26, and seniors get discounts on their prescriptions. 

Every American can rest free from the fear that one illness or accident will derail your dreams -- because discrimination against preexisting conditions is now illegal. 

And since 2010, we’ve seen the slowest health care price growth in 50 years.

Whether or not you get insurance through the Affordable Care Act, that’s the health care system as we now know it. Because our goal wasn’t just to make sure more people have coverage -- it was to make sure more people have better coverage. 

That’s why we want to build on the progress we’ve made -- and I’ve put forth a number of ideas for how to improve the Affordable Care Act. Now Republicans in Congress want to repeal the whole thing and start from scratch -- but trying to undo some of it could undo all of it. All those consumer protections -- whether you get your health insurance from Obamacare, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or on the job – could go right out the window. So any partisan talk you hear about repealing or replacing it should be judged by whether they keep all those improvements that benefit you and your family right now.

One new study shows that if Congress repeals Obamacare as they’ve proposed, nearly 30 million Americans would lose their coverage. Four in five of them would come from working families. More than nine million Americans who would receive tax credits to keep insurance affordable would no longer receive that help. That is unacceptable.

We can work together to make the system even better -- and one of the best ways to do that is make sure that you’re in it. So remember: Sign up on by this Thursday, and your health insurance will be there for you when you wake up on January 1. Thanks everybody, and have a good weekend."

On Dec. 16, President Obama announced that Thursday "was the biggest day ever for More than 670,000 Americans signed up to get covered, and more are signing up by the day."

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Fighting Words From the President of California

California Governor Jerry Brown made a hell of a speech Wednesday, as reported in the Sacramento Bee: 

"Gov. Jerry Brown, rallying a room of scientists Wednesday with his most heated rhetoric yet on the topic, suggested California would defy the federal government should President-elect Donald Trump impede the state’s efforts to thwart climate change.

“We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight. We’re ready to defend,” he said to boisterous applause at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.

Brown struck a more forceful tone than he has since the election, suggesting the energy and enthusiasm in the room for him would be needed in the “battles ahead.”...

At one point, Brown warned against proposed budget cuts under the new presidential administration that could effectively eliminate earth-observing satellite programs.

He reminded the scientists that he earned his nickname, Governor Moonbeam, in his first governorship for proposing that the state launch its own communications satellite, and even had an ex-astronaut on his payroll as a space adviser. “I didn’t get that moniker for nothing,” Brown said.

“And, if Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite,” he added. “We’re going to collect that data.”...

Later, he jabbed at former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who before becoming Trump’s pick for Energy Department secretary tried to poach jobs from California. “Rick, I got some news for you,” Brown said. “California is growing a hell of a lot faster than Texas. And we’ve got more sun than you have oil.”...

“A lot of people say, ‘What the hell are you doing, Brown? You’re not a country,’ ” the governor said, to laughter.

“Well, judged by measures of gross domestic product of over $2.2 trillion, we’re the fifth or sixth economy in the world. And we’ve got a lot of firepower ... And we will persevere. Have no doubt about that.”

“We will set the stage. We’ll set the example,” Brown added. “And whatever Washington thinks they are doing, California is the future.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Resistance is Forming...It Says

While the Nazi Millennium government prepares to take over in Washington, something that is actually calling itself The Resistance is also forming, centered in San Francisco--at least according to this article in the SF Chronicle.

"Californians ...are quickly forming the hub of what’s being called the Resistance.

While the term has been embraced by larger liberal organizations such as, the intellectual headquarters of this surge in grassroots activism is the progressive Bay Area, where newly arriving techies, longtime activists and wealthy investors, among others, are plotting how to push back" on the Nazi Millennium agenda.

It's a good sign but what it may amount to remains to be seen.  It seems to be largely involved in branding and fundraising so far--which is also what I see in my inbox from established outfits, a lot of fundraising.

It's going to take more than that.  It's going to take resolve and courage and it's going to involve risk.  But it is the future of these generations and their children that's at stake, and it is up to them to do something about it.

So, duly noted.  I am monitoring.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Climate Crisis: A Little More on Long-Lag

An additional thought on the long-lag problem as a concept.  There was a certain resistance to it, but people now generally accept that actions in the present can cause cancer in the future.  Smoking is the most obvious, but there are others such as exposure to certain chemicals, air pollution, etc.

So the idea of a long-lag is pretty clear.  This is despite the fact that most people have no idea of why smoking causes cancer, other than it ruins the lungs.  This is based on simple drawings (black smoke makes black spots on lungs etc.) that may not be all that accurate.  And they have even less knowledge on how various environmental factors cause cancers, partly because medical experts aren't entirely sure either.  But there's a cause and effect relationship.

People accept this long-lag effect even though it doesn't always work.  Some people smoke for forty years and don't get cancer.  Other people have never smoked and do get lung cancer.  It's a long-lag lottery.

The physical mechanics of the cause and effect of global heating are quite clear.  The phenomenon can be understood with basic physics, basic chemistry.  For science semi-literates like me there are simple models that explain it.  And there is plenty of historical and experimental evidence, as well as models that have predicted real world events.

 The cause and effect relationship of greenhouse gas pollutants and global heating (as well as generally from global heating to climate change) are much better understood and easier to explain than the cause and effect relationship between smoking and lung cancer.

Moreover, there is very little long-lag lottery about the climate crisis.  The chance of polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases and ending up with no heating and no climate change is vanishingly small.  Especially since the effects of past pollution are demonstrably happening right now.

 Moreover, there is is at least as much consensus among scientists in the field on climate change as there ever was on cancer and smoking.  Yet that science and those scientists are disbelieved, whereas the long-lag causes of cancer are accepted.

So once again, the problem isn't understanding long-lag cause and effect relationships.  It's other stuff.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Climate Crisis: The Long-Lag Non-Problem

Futurist Jamais Cascio makes a distinction between long-run problems and long-lag problems.  Long run problems evolve over time, and can be addressed when they come to fruition as well as along the way.  Long-lag problems are consequences of what is done now that doesn't come to fruition for a long time, but by then it is too late to address them.

The climate crisis is a classic long-lag problem.  We pour carbon into the atmosphere now and in 20 or 30 years, the atmosphere has heated up proportionately and the climate changes.

Part of our difficulties in addressing the climate crisis, Cascio says, is that we're not good at conceptualizing long-lag problems: "We are kind of used to thinking about long-run problems: we know this thing is going to hit us in fifty years, and we’ll wait a bit because we will have developed better systems by the time it hits. We are not so good at thinking about long-lag systems: it’s going to hit us in fifty years, but the cause and proximate sources are actually right now, and if we don’t make a change right now, that fifty years out is going to hit us regardless."

"We’re not really good at thinking about long-lag problems."
  And that's a problem.

Well, I don't buy it.  Humans have been thinking about long-lag problems since rudimentary civilization, probably since the Pleistocene.  For instance: if you eat all the food you stored for winter in the first week, before spring comes you will have starved to death.  If people hadn't figured this out, there probably wouldn't be people anymore.  Even animals have figured this out.

Most of the health warnings we get are long-lag warnings.  Smoke tobacco now and in thirty years you'll get lung cancer.  We may ignore that warning--and reasons that we might do pertain to how we respond to the climate crisis warnings--but we understand what it means.

So the basic thinking is not beyond even the average citizen, let alone scientists and leaders who are supposed to think about such things.  It's more about attitude and will and the irrational forces within us.

But I believe that it is precisely because we do understand the long-lag problem that these other factors get involved.  If we are afraid of certain changes in the present, if we are frightened at the prospect of future catastrophe that we've had a hand in causing, if our fears and selfishness overpowers our understanding, etc., that's going to set up conflicts within us.  And that's where the shadow can get thrown over the whole process of "thinking" about the climate crisis.

One of the salient features of such strong currents from the unconscious (characterized as denial or projection or whatever) is that they convince our conscious mind that they are rational.  Like the logic of dreams that seems perfectly reasonable during the dream, and totally whacked out when you wake up.

The real problems are more on the order of facing that I don't care enough about my children's and grandchildren's world to sacrifice or risk anything in my present, but I can't admit that, especially not to myself.  So I deny that there's a problem.

Or that the future is always at least a little uncertain so maybe it won't happen (maybe I'll discover a new food source before spring), so I don't have to deliberately do anything now, because I lack the will.  And if I can get a few others to agree with me, I feel safer, at least in the present.

This is apart from believing what someone is paying you to believe.

So I don't buy that it's a conceptual problem basically.  There are conceptual problems in dealing with complex systems and so on, that pertain to addressing the causes and effects of the climate crisis--lots of problems.  But the time lag isn't it.  It's the complex of conflicting feelings that the climate crisis stir up.  That's the crisis within.