One thing you have to say about Donald Trump…with him in charge there’s rarely a dull week in Washington.
Yet…as easy as the answer may seem, just why is he in charge? What brought Trump to power? Can we even reduce the phenomenon down to a single thing? This may be the single greatest dilemma of our time, yet my guess is the answer has been staring us in the face, and for a very long time.
We live in a cultural moment that seemingly venerates celebrity over real accomplishment, one that often places value on the imagined exploits of fantasy figures over the real achievements of scientists and engineers. India, for example, sent a probe to Mars for 160 million dollars while at the same time we were off to see Star Wars and Alien sequels that cost something like 200 million to make, each. I have no idea who Kim Kardashian is, let alone what, if anything, she’s ever done, yet for some reason she’s famous and millions of people follow her every move. There are millions of people in this country living in abject poverty, and an unknown but growing number of homeless, yet professional athletes make tens of millions of dollars per year – and taxpayers foot the bill to construct immense new coliseums for their gladiators. then drive to the games passing all the forgotten people in the shadows. Ever see the film My Man Godfrey? There’s nothing new about all this…it’s a basic fact of life both in America and, increasingly, around the world, but there are real policy consequences to this state of affairs. The things we ignore say a lot about who we are as a people.
Without beating this horse to death, I ran across an interesting article in The Atlantic this week, titled How America Went Haywire, and I think you’ll enjoy reading this one a few times. The piece talks about things that have been bothering me, literally, for decades, if only because the essential bedrock of “common sense” that held our country together seemed reasonably intact until recently, maybe as recently as the Clinton era, the 1992-2000 interregnum. Looking back now, W’s election seems to me to mark a vague transition from common sense to the triumph of sheer lunacy in public discourse, when the term “crazies” took on a more immediate, and lasting, consequence. While the Obama years may, someday, come to be viewed as a period of relative calm before the storm, and I mean that in the same way the Weimar Republic was the calm before Hitler’s storm, it may be too soon to tell. Still, who knows? Is it too soon to see these kinds of trends taking shape, despite what you read on Brietbart or The Huffington Post? I mean, there’s a lot of noise out there, but The Truth Is Out There.
Well, one thing is certain. Decisions are being made in Washington – right now – that will impact the coming century in profound ways. Perhaps even in predictable ways. I’m speaking, of course, about two things of some import: North Korea and climate change.
About the time it was announced, earlier this week, that North Korea has (probably) miniaturized a warhead and therefore made the leap necessary to credibly threaten the mainland United States, Trump decided to utter one of the most “interesting” thoughts of his still-young presidency: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
It’s amazing, despite the Word Salad flow of Trump’s utterances, how such pronouncements tend to sound alike, isn’t it? I mean, this pronouncement could easily be mistaken for something Kim might say. Or, as has been pointed out, Harry Truman. There’s bluster, but then there’s nuclear bluster. The effect makes my skin crawl. And, it’s destabilizing.
Yet, then there’s the whole climate change morass, and to that I’d ask that you keep firmly in mind the “Haywire” article linked above when you read the following couple of posts. The first piece, from the failing New York Times, concerns the very nature of scientific inquiry; namely, how can effective investigations be conducted in a climate of fear. Fear that your work may, in effect, be used against you – as your results may not be politically comfortable to the Party in Power’s stated position on the matter. This is, I assume you know, dangerous stuff. As dangerous as putting a climate change denialist in charge of the EPA, or Rick Perry in charge of the DOE. I don’t know what Trump is trying to do, other that tear down every safety net erected over the last seven decades (recalling that the EPA was a Nixon creation only makes all this even more ironic), but I can imagine decades from now people looking back at this era and wondering what was in our water.
The corollary of fear is, I guess, ignorance. Willful ignorance. Such as: “In a bold new strategy unveiled on Monday in the Guardian, the US Department of Agriculture – guardians of the planet’s richest farmlands – has decided to combat the threat of global warming by forbidding the use of the words. Under guidance from the agency’s director of soil health, Bianca Moebius-Clune, a list of phrases to be avoided includes “climate change” and “climate change adaptation”, to be replaced by “weather extremes” and “resilience to weather extremes”.”
This is the same policy approach put in place in Florida a few years back. Ignore the problem and it will go away, as in: if you linguistically ignore the issue, then it doesn’t exist, right? Only now we have the mayor of Miami rallying support for climate change legislation, as streets disappear when high tides roll in.
It goes without saying, I reckon, but here I go, repeating myself one more time. This planet, indeed, this universe, simply doesn’t care what we do. If we wreck our home, if we kill off all life on this planet, there’s no one out there who’s going to give a damn, and it will be as if we never existed. Maybe someday a bunch of alien archeologists will happen by our ammonia encrusted rock and they’ll look down on the ruins and shake their heads, or tentacles, and maybe they’ll try to reconstruct all the things we did wrong back in the day – then just go on about their business, reaching back into the night for the answers they find.
Just one more misguided species who couldn’t get their act together in time; isn’t that right, Mr Spock?
Or, try this, from The Onion: “WASHINGTON—Sounding the alarm on yet another devastating effect of climate change, a report released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that even a modest rise in global temperatures is likely to increase the number of Americans who fucking reek. “If the upward trend in average global temperature continues, we’ll almost certainly see a corresponding uptick in the proportion of Americans who just stink like rancid cheese,” said lead author Roger Agnew, explaining that with each degree centigrade the climate warms, the number of Americans who can singlehandedly clear out a room with their B.O. grows exponentially. “Our models project that the heat trapped by elevated levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could cause as many as 50 million Americans to develop an unbearably ripe stench capable of wafting as far as the Canadian border. We must ask ourselves: Do we want our children to inherit a world that smells like total ass?” Fanning the air in front of his nose, Agnew emphasized that climate change was real and that the effects of it could already be detected.”
Still, consider that Trump’s bedrock support hung at something like 40% for the first few months of his presidency, then drifted down to 38 – and is now fluttering in a dying breeze…at 33%. Republicans no longer fear him, or his constituency…as 33 is apparently a number that can be safely ignored. Yet…nothing drives up poll numbers like a little war.
Here are a few other interesting bits of gnews that passed our way this week, in case you missed them.
Sebastian Gorka, a White House national security adviser, defended President Donald Trump’s silence on an explosion at a Minnesota mosque by suggesting it could have been a fake hate crime “propagated by the left.” When asked on MSNBC Tuesday why Trump had yet to publicly comment on the Saturday incident, Gorka said the president wants to wait until he learns more about it. Trump, though, often is quick to comment on other attacks, particularly those carried out by Muslims. (HuffPost)
Steady improvements in American life expectancy have stalled, and more Americans are dying at younger ages. But for companies straining under the burden of their pension obligations, the distressing trend could have a grim upside: If people don’t end up living as long as they were projected to just a few years ago, their employers ultimately won’t have to pay them as much in pension and other lifelong retirement benefits. (Bloomberg)
“Trump’s Stalled Trade Agenda is Leaving Industries in the Lurch,” reads the lead story in the business section of Tuesday’s New York Times. Apparently, the uncertainty over whether Trump will impose tariffs on imported steel has been spurring foreign suppliers to ship more steel to the U.S.—which simply makes it more difficult for domestic producers to compete. Adam Behsudi of Politico has a fantastic, deeply reported article this week on how Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Trans Pacific Partnership—and the ensuing efforts by other countries to negotiate trade deals among themselves—is undermining the ability of U.S. agriculture producers to export. “I’m scared to death,” said Ron Prestage, a North Carolina businessman who had just made a big investment in a meat-processing plant in anticipation of more business after the passage of TPP. Behsudi also interviewed corn farmers in Iowa who have seen the price of their product gyrate in response to Trump’s hostile tweets toward Mexico. Trump promised to get Americans better deals on international trade. Instead he’s only delivered migraines. (Slate)
The latest government numbers reported find that drug overdose deaths in 2016 continued to climb despite ongoing efforts to stem the the overdose epidemic. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, estimates for the first nine months of 2016 were higher than the first nine months of the previous year, which had already reached an all time high of 52,404. Of those, more than 33,000 were attributed to opioid drugs including legal prescription painkillers as well as illicit drugs like heroin and street fentanyl. (CNN)
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price announced Tuesday that President Donald Trump has no immediate plans to declare the nation’s opioid epidemic a public health emergency, a decision that flies in the face of the key recommendation by the President’s bipartisan opioid commission. Public health experts had said that an emergency declaration was much needed in turning the tide to save American lives. The commission, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, was resolute in maintaining the importance of an emergency declaration: “Our citizens are dying,” it said. (CNN)
The federal government plans to give the exclusive license for a new liver cancer drug to a pharmaceutical company owned by China’s 63rd-richest man, HuffPost has learned. The National Institutes of Health proposes to grant Salubris Biotherapeutics, Inc. exclusive worldwide rights to a portfolio of patents on antibody drugs used to treat liver cancer, according to a notice published Monday on the Federal Register. The firm is the Maryland-based arm of Shenzhen Salubris Pharmaceuticals Co., Ltd., the Chinese drugmaker valued at roughly $5 billion and run by former Shenzhen mayor and billionaire Ye Chenghai, who with his family controls about 66 percent of the company. The proposal comes amid growing public backlash to deals that give pharmaceutical companies monopolies on drugs and vaccines developed through taxpayer-funded research without requiring them to sell the drugs back to Americans at a reasonable price. Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed a new rule that would require federal agencies and federally funded nonprofits, such as research universities, to secure a reasonable pricing agreement from a manufacturer before granting it exclusive rights to drugs, vaccines or other health care products. (HuffPost)
Washington (CNN) Democrats aren’t the only people in Washington who have stood in the way of Donald Trump’s agenda over his first six months in office. Even members of the Republican President’s own party haven’t been the easiest to work with at the beginning of his term, disagreeing on everything from the Russia investigation to health care reform to those early morning tweets. The President’s relationship with Republicans in Congress has become more complicated after he criticized senators for not passing a health reform bill and then large majorities passed a Russian sanctions bill over his objection. So who are these Republicans who aren’t always on board with Trump? They range from moderate governors to conservatives in the Senate — and when it comes to Trump’s tweets — more Republicans than you might think (CNN, with video).
Ten years ago, Fumiko Chino was the art director at a television production company in Houston, engaged to be married to a young Ph.D. candidate. Today, she’s a radiation oncologist at Duke University, studying the effects of financial strain on cancer patients. And she’s a widow. How she got from there to here is a story about how health care and money are intertwined in ways that doctors and patients don’t like to talk about. (NPR)
A former Republican senator is calling on lawmakers to use the 25th Amendment to kick President Donald Trump out of office. “He is sick of mind, impetuous, arrogant, belligerent and dangerous,” Gordon Humphrey, who represented New Hampshire from 1979 to 1990, said in a letter to his state’s members of Congress obtained by Manchester ABC station WMUR. Humphrey, who vehemently opposed Trump in last year’s election, said the president’s comments threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” show that he is “impaired by a seriously sick psyche” and could lead the nation into nuclear war.
In the letter, reprinted in the Concord Monitor, Humphrey wrote:
“The president alone has the authority to launch nuclear weapons, the only restraint being the advice of senior advisors who might be present at the time of crisis, and Donald Trump has shown repeated contempt for informed and wise counsel.”
Humphrey said the president’s “sick and reckless conduct could consume the lives of millions,” and he should be relieved of his duties “at the earliest possible date” (HuffPost)
So, here we are, walking along the road towards the brink of – what? Extinction (whether via miscalculated nuclear exchange, ignoring the scientific consensus of climate change – or through some other wanton act of brazen hubris) – and the daily gnews is full of interesting tidbits concerning the rights of the marginalized (usually some endangered Housewife of Beverly Hills these days) or the continuing exploits of the Kardashian Klan. I don’t know about you, but with our focus on things like this it’s easy to think we may not be long for this world. That said, here are some pictures from Lambeau Field, and the first pre-season game of 2017.
Ya know, for a doomed species we do have our good points. There’s hardly anything finer that a foot long brat and a cold pint where Vince Lombardi & Co made their own kind of history fifty years ago.