Friday, April 28, 2017

Spring Cleaning #3

click photo to see it all

100 Days of Solipsism

Apart from known and suspected evil, apart from the blatant money-grubbing and wholesale incompetence, and the ongoing humiliation of the American presidency, what we've seen so far can be characterized as 100 days of solipsism, in which virtually everything--facts, policy, reality--is an unassailable extension of one egomaniac's maniacal ego.

It's all in two quotes from his most recent interview (with Reuters) that are already resonating in the early morning hours.  First, his warning that if negotiations should fail,“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea,” he said. “Absolutely.”

The second is the admission that, reviewing these first 100 days of being President of the United States,  "I thought it would be easier."

The first tells us not only that he is clueless as to the effects of his words--providing precisely the inflammatory statement confirming for the North Koreans that the US is about to launch a war on them--but that his ignorance is unassailable. What he says is right because he says it.

The second reflects a blithe belief in his ability to do what other presidents could not do, or could do only patiently, carefully and with great effort.  All that previous presidents or even presidential candidates did to prepare for this office was unnecessary, at least for him.  He didn't have to prepare, he doesn't have to work at it.

So this presidency has been a blizzard of executive orders that are little more than public relations releases, largely incoherent and unenforceable. Poorly conceived policies, a supposed tax reform package that is nothing but a page of bullet points.

His attempts at governing amount to bullying, and when that doesn't work, he becomes the bluffer-in-chief because he can't face being seen as losing.

At the top, contending idiots with no appropriate experience fight each other, while he and his family use the White House to enrich themselves in blithe defiance of the Constitution and law, getting away with it in the plain sight of a  media and justice system seemingly stunned and helpless.  Meanwhile the federal government as a whole starts to fall apart, lacking leadership and losing staff not sufficiently loyal.

As for the Russian connection, which is already wrecking careers and may bring down this government, I can only suggest following Rachel Maddow, because she is a consummate story teller as well as reporter, and she puts together the accumulating narrative.  Though I'm sick of it already.  I'm way too old for this.  But ego was implicated in the fall of Nixon because of Watergate, and it so far looks likely ego will emerge as essential to this so far shadowy scandal.

The egomaniac's ego may look impregnable. But the egocentric are also fragile, susceptible to flattery and manipulation, and in power, they are inherently unstable.

There are enough of these in business and politics that people know how to exploit these weaknesses, and so we observe the tawdry attempts to curry favor, as through the apprentice dictator's daughter, who does not appear to be exactly an innocent victim.

As for the future, we can only hope that a nation condemned to one hundred days of solipsism gets a second opportunity on earth.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Spring Cleaning #2

BK photo--click photo to see it all

History and Memory

There are historical firsts every day, some more generally significant than others.  For example on Wednesday, for the first time, a player born in Africa played in a US Major League baseball game.  He's an infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and in his first at bat he hit a single.  He has a great baseball name, too: Gift Ngoepe.

It's of special interest to baseball fans, and somewhat curious in general, in that many African Americans have played the game.  In fact, the first all-black starting lineup also belonged to the Pittsburgh Pirates back in the 1970s.

But the lack of African players has not been due to racial discrimination, at least not since Jackie Robinson. Baseball is apparently not a major sport in any African country, and to be born and raised in South Africa presents fewer opportunities to learn and play the game.

A flood of African players doesn't seem on the immediate MLB horizon, but there was another somewhat stunning historical first that may forecast the future. Reports Quartz:

The seismic shift in global energy production was powerfully in evidence today (April 21), when all electricity in the UK was produced for a 24-hour period without burning a single shovelful of coal—for the first time since the industrial revolution [began.]

Consider that the industrial revolution essentially began in England in the late 18th century, and that its growth is largely responsible for global heating and the Climate Crisis.  The massive burning of coal is historically the chief cause (though oil is catching up.)  This event hopefully forecasts a near future when a day without burning coal is a normal day in the UK and the US, and rapidly thereafter, everywhere.

Another historical first has more to do with our relation with the past.  The New York Times ran a feature on Emma Morano, who at her death recently was the oldest known person in the world.  She was 117.

She lived in a modest room in an Italian town, and the article ran large pictures of her possessions, as if they were already remarkable relics of a faraway time. Although to me they were quite familiar from my own grandparents and their friends and contemporaries.  Her odd habits weren't odd to me.  Some have been passed down.

But a kind of throwaway line in the story stopped me.  Here it is:" Ms. Morano, the last person documented as being born in the 1800s.."

So that's a big change.  If this is true, we have all lost forever direct contact with the nineteenth century.

I think of my Italian grandparents, both born in the 1890s.  I think of a grandparent of John F. Kennedy, who reputedly lived during both the assassinations of JFK and of Abraham Lincoln.  Or Kennedy himself, noting in his 1961 Inaugural that "the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century..."  He was the first President of the 20th century not to have been born in the 19th.

When time escapes memory it becomes history.  Photographs and sound recordings provide some connection, but especially writing--both diaries and memoirs as well as fictions based on times remembered rather than only researched.

We still have those from the 19th century.  But none of us will ever again touch the hand of someone who lived in it. Nor will we hear a new memory, perhaps one that had not emerged before.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Spring Cleaning #1

The Cover-Up is Working

It remains one story--and one outrage--among many, usually newer.  But Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell and Keith Olbermann are following the Russia Connection to the current White House regime and the election that made them the regime, every day.  They are following on-the-ground reporting, for instance, recently in the New York Times, the Daily Beast and Politico.

I won't attempt to reiterate.  But it continues to smell big time, because the regime is quietly engineering a cover-up, and so far it is very successful.

A few lowlights: The House investigation directed by Republicans has gone silent.  The Senate investigation, which made much of its bipartisan intent to get to the bottom of it all even if the House didn't, has reportedly hired no staff to investigate full time, no experienced investigators at all, issued no requests for documents and subpoenaed no witnesses.

While a Politico story and a House Oversight Committee report has deepened the almost unbelievable security screwup of Mike Flynn, Russian Agent as presidential National Security Advisor, the White House insists it has no documents, none at all, concerning Flynn in the White House or during the campaign.

Meanwhile the Justice Department is quietly replacing key personnel to insure that its investigation will quietly die.  The FBI investigation may go on for months or years, in public silence.  Even that investigation is overseen by the new Deputy Attorney General, a regime loyalist.

That Republicans control all three branches of the federal government which makes it easy to collude with this cover-up, and hard not to.  Who can put country above party will tell the tale.  But so far we face what seems to be an unprecedented situation for a well known national security scandal: a cover-up that works.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Mother of All Unnecessary Wars

There is no end to the evil this White House regime attempts.  Some of it has frustrated by the courts, by Congress and fellow Rs, and by its own incompetence.

But even an apprentice dictator holds one outlet for his wounded ego: the military.  And even when North Korea is not so much in the headlines, the acute dangers of disastrous war continue to grow.

American ships are nearing its shores-- (this time for real, apparently), including a submarine docking in South Korea, as the North Koreans conduct massive "live fire exercises" in the vicinity.

While Newsweek graphically describes what a Korean war would look like (at least a million dead--even if nukes are not used), Fred Kaplan in Slate provides perspective: "North Korea is a knotty problem, but there’s no cause for the hysteria that President Trump and his aides have been pumping up in recent days, and it’s time to turn down the heat and the noise, before someone gets hurt."

Kaplan isolates the most incendiary threat of the week:

Retired Gen. John Kelly, secretary of homeland security, said this week that “the minute” North Korea gets a single nuclear-armed missile with the range to hit the United States, “we are at grave risk as a nation.” Really? The United States survived three decades of Cold War when the Soviet Union had more than 1,000 such missiles; and while Kim—like his father and grandfather, who reigned in Pyongyang before him—seems more voluble and risk-prone than the commissars who ruled the Kremlin, his prime imperative is to preserve his regime. There is no evidence that he renders the basic principles of nuclear deterrence obsolete."

Kaplan concludes:

"Finally, for better or for worse, we have no choice but to deal with North Korea diplomatically. South Korea is probably about to elect a president who is far more disposed to engagement with North Korea and far more resistant to confrontation; China—the country most capable of pressuring Kim—is not going to apply so much pressure that the regime collapses suddenly, setting off a refugee crisis and a South Korean (which is to say, U.S.–backed) takeover of the entire peninsula. So there is no alternative to diplomacy. It should be a complex diplomacy, consisting of coercion as well as concessions. But one thing the mix should not include—the thing that’s most likely to set back desired progress—is a threat of military force that no one wants to see carried out and can’t be carried out without catastrophic consequences. That’s the path that Trump seems to be treading now, and the grown-ups around him need to pry him off."

Kaplan thinks it's "unlikely" that the bluffer in chief will actually attack North Korea.  But "unlikely" is a pretty weak word to describe what he is and has already done.

Today a new head of the Secret Service was appointed, a retired Marine general.  The New York Times story suggests it's a good appointment, and the Secret Service could certainly use some reorganizing.  But the man's current job is a huge red flag for me: he's acting deputy commissioner for Customs and Border Protection.  This is an agency that has shown enthusiasm for Homemade Hitler's authoritarian and xenophobic tendencies.  If our dictator apprentice wanted to create his own Gestapo, it could very well begin by turning the Secret Service into his Praetorian Guard.

Far-fetched?  Maybe.  But there is no end to the evil he attempts.


Worry less about what you want to be and worry more about what you want to do.

--President Obama, participating in a forum on public engagement with six young people at the University of Chicago on Monday, as quoted in the New Yorker article titled Back in Chicago, Obama Looks to the Future.

The Chicago Tribune focused on another general lesson that works for politics, marriage and in general:

Of his organizing days, Obama said it was important to spend time "listening and finding out what they're interested in and connecting their immediate needs to policies that have influence on their immediate concerns."

"Listen to understand rather than listen to respond. That will save you a lot of heartache and grief," said Obama, who added that it was a lesson he learned in marriage.

In his own words as recorded for the New York Times, President Obama was even more direct: don't make the mistake of telling people what issues they should be interested in; spend the first six months listening to what people say are issues they are interested in, and connect policies to that.

"This community taught me that ordinary people, when working together, can do extraordinary things,” Mr. Obama said. “This community taught me that everybody has a story to tell that is important.”

President Obama took his own advice by spending much of the hour listening to the young participants in the hall.

Though all the reports noted that President Obama didn't talk about the current regime, the Washington Post emphasized public policy :

In his first public appearance since leaving the White House in January, former president Barack Obama told young leaders here Monday that “special interests dominate the debates in Washington” and that getting involved in their communities is the best antidote to the divisiveness dominating the country's politics...

“The one thing I'm absolutely convinced of is: Yes, we confront a whole range of challenges, from economic inequality and lack of opportunity, to the criminal justice system to climate change to issues related to violence. All those problems are serious, they're daunting,” Obama said. “But they're not insolvable. What is preventing us from tackling them and making more progress really has to do with our politics and our civic life.”

This was President Obama's first public event since shortly after leaving office.  There will be more soon, and everyone expects that he'll talk about other subjects. But he made clear that young people are a major concern of his post-presidency:

“The single most important thing I can do,” the former president told an audience of students, is to “help in any way I can prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world.”