Friday, June 02, 2017

We'll Always Have Paris

If there is something called history that survives this era, it will record that human civilization developed to a point that in Paris in 2015, the representatives of all the people on the planet (with two small countries excepted) came together and agreed that the climate crisis by its nature and its danger was a challenge to civilization's very existence that had to be met by global action.  The world had never taken such a step together on any matter before.

Whether history will also record that this was a first step, or the high point before collapse, is as yet unknown.  It will probably be awhile before that verdict is known, but on the other hand, our global civilization is so interconnected and possibly so fragile that it might look a lot different even in a decade.

On Thursday the US dictator apprentice presented a big Fuck You to the world (which he doesn't seem to know includes the US) by announcing the US would be the first and only country to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

In return he got a big Fuck You, Fuckhead right back from the world: from cities, states, politicians, scientists, corporate leaders, even oil and coal companies, and countries from China to France. The rest of the world remains committed to the Paris agreement and to addressing the climate crisis.  Giving the finger to the future is popular only among his demented followers. America reaps only scorn, and a future of buying solar panels from China instead of selling them to the world.

As for the US, consider where we are at this apex moment.  With problems like income inequality, racism and xenophobia tearing at the fabric and foundations, we are still highly prosperous and stable.  The unemployment rate is so low that it arguably can't go any lower.  More American families have healthcare than any time in this century, probably ever.  Much of this prosperity as well as the falling CO2 emissions are due to the rapid growth in clean energy and clean energy industries.

Most of this is because of the policies, actions and advocacy of President Obama, beginning with clean energy jumpstarts in the Recovery Act and culminating in American leadership in the Paris agreement.

 So when the present Obama Derangement Syndrome regime is predicated on a single principle of reversing everything Obama did, it is destroying the foundations of current prosperity and stability.  (While of course not even admitting the problems of income inequality and racism.)  Not to mention condemning the global future.

As virtually all interested parties in both the healthcare and the Paris agreement conversations with the regime pointed out, the huge corporate machinery involved in healthcare and energy need clear guidelines and rules that apply to all competitors, and they need to know what they are to plan for the future. Under Obamacare and the EPA as well as the Paris principles, they know what to expect. But the Fuck You regime prefers chaos.

The response to the asshole in chief was swift.  As Kathleen Parker noted in the Washington Post: "A curious thing happened on President Trump’s way out of the Paris climate accord. American mayors, governors, corporate leaders and others immediately committed to meeting the agreement’s terms anyway."

Among the 85 mayors (and counting) was Bill Peduto, whose city of Pittsburgh was insufferably maligned by being included as an excuse to ditch the deal. (The city, which is a center for clean energy research, voted for Clinton by a 75 point margin, and she won the surrounding Allegheny County as well.)  But perhaps the most stunning rebuke came before the announcement, from the investors in perhaps the largest traditional fossil fuel villain on the planet, Exxon Mobil.  A stockholders resolution to hold the company's feet to the fire on climate change began several years ago as a bit of minority quackery.  Reintroduced last year, it got its highest number--around 30%.  But this year, as Reuters reported:

A number of large institutional fund firms including BlackRock Inc, the world's largest asset manager, supported a shareholder resolution calling on Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) to share more information about how new technologies and climate change regulations could impact the business of the world's largest publicly traded oil company. The proposal won the support of 62.3 percent of votes cast.

The victory, on such a wide margin, was hailed by climate activists as a turning point in their decades-long campaign to get oil and gas companies to communicate how they would adapt to a low-carbon economy."

The regime's action on the Paris accord--made even worse and more cynical by the contrived drama preceding it-- is at least symbolically the culmination so far of an unremitting campaign of destruction and self-destruction, an unbroken record of evil attempted and committed.  After several Fuck Yous to the most vulnerable Americans, as well as all but the top .005% of Americans by income, last week brought additional Fuck Yous to the most vulnerable everywhere else and the principle of human rights itself, as well as Fuck You to our European allies--the ones with democratic governments.

With this action on Paris, the regime said Fuck You to the world and a big Fuck You to the planet and the future of civilization.

The newspapers did their usual dance of noting contradictions and falsities, which clearly now misses the point.  This regime lies routinely and without remorse, and is unashamed by its ignorance.  All that is irrelevant now.  This is Fuck You on a scale that approaches the Biblical.  Our Hitler wannabe is as close to Moloch or Mephistopheles as it is possible for a supposed human to be.  He is the focus and the conduit of the rampaging and remorseless political Shadow, providing the energy of evil.

The whole Chump family, who look like vampires, may be as close to the vampire paradigm as is possible.  When they leave the White House the Oval Office will need intense fumigation, and the Rose Garden will need a serious exorcist.  I said last November that because of this regime, the presidency will never be the same, and that's never been clearer.

Just as today's prosperity and stability are consequences of decisions that President Obama made in 2009 to 2016,  the trembling you feel is the future as it falls apart.  Whether it does so to a greater or lesser extent is unknowable now.  How much resiliency there is, how long this demonic assault goes on, are among the factors that play into that, but we won't escape unscathed.  At some point in the future when things are worse than they need to be, will anyone realize that it's because of what's happening now?

But at least for awhile, and for at least some of us, there remain good memories and good things to hold onto, besides families, friends, principles and the remaining trees.  For instance...

We'll always have The West Wing and Northern Exposure, the Lone Ranger and Star Trek.  We'll always have Bleak House, Sergeant Pepper and Casablanca. And with the memory of at least one moment in 2015 that humanity came close to its potential, we'll always have Paris.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


The suddenly consequential rift between Europe and the US continues to grow, with melancholy echoes of the past we were supposed to learn from and never repeat.

Our dictator apprentice continued his petulant verbal sniping at Germany on Tuesday, "perplexing" this key ally.   Meanwhile the new president of France followed his symbolic handshake refusal to be dominated by our feckless grandstander with a blistering critique of Russian iniquities presented to Putin in person.  As Slate reporter Elliot Hannon observed:

Two weeks into his term, the 39-year-old Macron struck an assertive, principled tone that you would have expected from an American president meeting with an increasingly assertive adversary. Macron met with his Russian counterpart privately, and then stood at a podium next to Putin and accused Russian state news organizations of an intentional disinformation campaign.

Apart from emphasizing the stakes in the Russian Connection to the White House, this moment is even more powerful in the context of Germany PM Merkel's suggestion that Europe can no longer count on its US partner.

But stronger leadership from veteran Merkel in Germany and the surprising young Macron in France may not be enough to maintain the peace.  For instance the New York Times reports on the continuing US neglect of Italy--we don't even have an ambassador there--while the Russians are aggressively courting the country and its government.

This is a profound echo of that dangerous period just after World War II, when Italy and its loyalty were up for grabs.  In the face of rampant unemployment and terrible shortages, facing a winter when widespread starvation looked likely, the Italian communist party grew powerful.  It may well have been only the timely and material attention of the US that prevented the country from becoming a Soviet ally.  This was the key turning point moment leading eventually to NATO and the EU.

A different sort of echo is found in the New Republic piece on how swiftly the Nazi Germany regime changed that country's culture and arguably European culture as well, to reflect fascist ideology.  It concludes:

Martin’s fine study of cultural diplomacy reminds us that ideas are mercenary creatures, always available to serve new masters. In the 1930s and 1940s, the extreme right borrowed the prestige of artistic genius and the internationalist spirit to smash the idea of a free, tolerant Europe. The example is a chilling one. And as authoritarian nativists reach once again for the reins of the international system, we will need to remember, perhaps desperately, that the trappings of civilization are not the thing itself.

The tragedy in Portland and its continuing aftermath ("You call it terrorism, I call it patriotism!" and especially the shocking suggestion by an Oregon Republican leader that hate group militias be officially deputized to protect his fellow Rs), as well as the spectacle in the Texas legislature that included a mortal threat of gun violence, suggest the depths and volatility of our current internal conflicts.  Despite its blundering, the current White House regime is always just a few steps away from dictatorship.  We need to keep learning from European history, in all kinds of ways.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The JFK Century

Mary Josephine Hannon was born in 1865, just a few months after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  She married John Fitzgerald, who would be the namesake of her grandson, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  She died in 1964, a few months shy of her 99th birthday, and a few months after the assassination of President Kennedy.

John F. Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, one hundred years ago today.  Given his health problems, including the lingering effects of back injuries sustained after his PT boat was cut in two by a Japanese destroyer in World War II, it is unlikely that his natural span of years would have added up to 100.  Even given the longevity of his maternal grandmother.

But noting how her life almost spanned these two assassinations, one in the almost unimaginable era after the Civil War, and the other within living memory of some of us, suggests how long a century can be, and how relative that time span is as well.  For all the changes seen since 1917, the ones that Mary Fitzgerald saw were greater.

one of JFK's memorable poses, answering questions at
a televised press conference
There used to be tabloid stories about JFK being still alive on a protected island somewhere.  This reflected a dream I used to have, and probably many others had.  But we never saw him as an elder.

To even conceive of that is almost impossible in a way that it isn't for almost anyone else.  Because his assassination changed things so profoundly, the shape of our world after 1963--the 60s, the 70s, the 80s etc.-- would have been significantly different.

 As I wrote at the time of that assassination's 50th anniversary, I am completely convinced that JFK would have won a second term, and large numbers of American troops would never have been sent to Vietnam. This is supported by some if not all historians, and is clearly expressed in recent books by Thurston Clarke and Jeff Greenfield.

 Looking back, I can sense and sometimes clearly see various turning points in my life.  But this is one I share with so many others.  My life would have been very different.

 On that 2013 blog post I used a photo that I see in a somewhat different light today.  It is a black and white photo, evidently taken shortly after the assassination outside a church.  Most of the photo shows a number of people, adults (men in dark suits, a woman in a white coat) crowded at the entrance.  But in the lower left corner, a woman sits on the stone step, her head buried in her hands and touching her knees.  You can't see her face but she looks young--perhaps as young as I was on that day.

The photo of course expresses grief.  But today I see more clearly that it also expresses the loneliness of her grief.  Even in the context of a nation grieving together as perhaps it has not done since, her grief was personal.  For me it separated me from everyone else as it separated me from the future, the culture that JFK did not entirely embody but represented as a direction, as a hope.

He was technically of my parents' generation, though a few years older (and of course very different from anyone I knew.)  He was a child when World War I was still a memory, and he came of age as World War II began.  He studied England before the war, and saw Europe during the Marshall Plan years.

As President he made the first significant breakthrough in the Cold War mentality with his American University speech and the Test Ban Treaty, and the most significant breakthrough in obtaining federal recognition of Civil Rights.  He understood and supported space exploration and the arts.

 Among his books were Profiles in Courage, Strategy of Peace and A Nation of Immigrants.  He appointed an early environmentalist to his cabinet, sent Congress the bill that would eventually become Medicare, and from his first day in office saw poverty as unacceptable. Those were to be his 1964 campaign themes--establishing peace, ending poverty.  His perspective and his counsel would be valuable now.

JFK would inspire two future Presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as unknown others who served in different ways, probably many others, who in turn inspire succeeding generations.  So in a way he has lived for a century, and through the young that discover his words and achievements, he will continue to live, if mostly one seeker at a time.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Falling Apart

After the two most devastating wars in human history started and were largely fought on its soil, Europe began in a few short years after World War II to forestall the possibility of it happening again.  A visionary dream of several centuries, expressed by a character in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man as "the United States of Europe"  began its several decades of coming true, at least as far as the European Union.

The United States of America was an essential partner and even instigator.  The first actual institutional cross-border cooperation--especially between enemies of a few years before, France and Germany--were part of the Marshall Plan directly after World War II, the massive U.S. effort to pull Europe out of imminent starvation and economic collapse.  

These closer relationships and the US involvement were very much in the shadow of the Soviet Union, expanding its empire into eastern Europe and seeking influence if not hegemony in western European countries in crisis.  A few years later the mutual defense pact called NATO was most of all meant as protection from Soviet expansion, while these fragile democracies and alliances could grow stronger.  It was at about this time, in fact, that Winston Churchill called for a United States of Europe.

It must be emphasized that this process of unification was accompanied by growing recognition of universal human rights as well as representative democracies.  At the behest of H.G. Wells and others, those rights were spelled out for the first time in one of the founding documents of the United Nations.  They were part of the vision--the full quote from Joyce's 1916 novel is: "I'll work and act for the social liberty and equality among all classes and sexes in the United States of the Europe of the future."  Today the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights are part of the EU charter, as guarantees to all citizens of member nations.

For all its flaws and ongoing difficulties, the European Union stands as a rebuke to those who believe that humanity can't change, that national as well as tribal suspicions and hostilities cannot be overcome by a common ethic that becomes a common culture without erasing other cultural characteristics that don't conflict with it.

Everyone knows that given global dangers like nuclear weapons, and global economic, technological, political, artistic and cultural interrelationships, closer relationships are needed, including universal rights if not common governance.

The significance of the Paris agreements on addressing the climate crisis goes beyond that transcendent danger: it was the first truly global response to a global problem, an agreement to cooperate, because the problems ultimately cannot be overcome separately.

But reactionary forces have made relatively sudden and definitely devastating inroads.  First Brexit, and the British government's stubborn and suicidal policies of separation, with the majority population helpless because of tragically mediocre opposition politicians.

Now our dictator apprentice, failing to support NATO and the "all for one/one for all" clause that has only been invoked once--to defend the US after 9/11; sniping at NATO with his usual inaccurate fulminations, questioning the basis for the EU and failing to join allies in reaffirming the Paris agreement.  Word among his supporters is going around that he will soon withdraw the US from that agreement.
All of this while conspicuously embracing leaders of countries with terrible human rights records, but saying not a word about it.

So it is little wonder that Sunday the German PM Angela Merkel said that Europe can no longer completely rely on "others", a fairly sinister circumlocution, referencing the UK but especially the US.  After meetings with our homemade Hitler, she said that Europe must take its fate into its own hands.

Without a strong and reliable partner in the US, as well as one of the stronger member states in the UK, Europe is weakened, and the already challenged EU is more fragile.

No one could be happier than Russia.  A major foreign policy goal is being achieved.  In his analysis in the Atlantic, David Frum (senior editor and former GW Bush speechwriter) notes the fractures in the alliance over the Bush II disastrous war in Iraq and the continuing difficulties despite some healing in the Obama years.  He also notes the history and cultural differences that make for a complex German and American relationship in the best of times.  But he concludes that this trip was nothing short of catastrophic for US relations with Europe:

Donald Trump is doing damage to the deepest and most broadly agreed foreign-policy interests of the United States. He is doing so while people associated with his campaign are under suspicion of colluding with Vladimir Putin’s spy agencies to bring him to office. The situation is both ugly and dangerous.

What he does not quite say is that a paid agent of the Russian government could not have done more.

Apart from that--which seems both unbelievable and increasingly possible--there is the tragedy of this unraveling.  Not only does it endanger peace and economic stability, victimizing the most vulnerable individuals as well as harming unknown others remote from the cause, it wounds the world's ability to respond sanely to the effects of the climate crisis, as they grow in volume, rapidity and intensity, as well as to address the causes in the only effective way: together.

In other words, precisely when we need global governance and cooperation, supple and capable, with shared resources and skills, we are moving in the opposite direction.  And notably in the countries concerned, there is a relevant crisis of leadership.

President Harry Truman, whose administration began and ran the Marshall Plan, carried in his wallet a piece of paper with part of a poem by Tennyson, first published in 1842. The first lines were: “For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,/Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be...”
The final lines were: “Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer and the battle-flags were furl’d/ In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.”

Instead of coming together to confront planetary challenges--if not as a Federation of the world, in some other form as one planet-- we are falling apart, in every relevant way.