Trump Is Sending Us All to the Cornfield

Mumy1
Let the 6-year-old rule, unless you prefer the cornfield (Twilight Zone)

W.J. Astore

Let’s state the obvious: Donald Trump is a climate change denier.  And this is for political as well as petty reasons.  When it comes to his investments, his resorts, he is not stupid enough to deny the evidence of his own eyes.  As I wrote a year ago:

On global warming, Trump is essentially a skeptic on whether it exists (“hoax” and “con job” are expressions of choice), even as he seeks to protect his resorts from its effects. Along with this rank hypocrisy, Trump is advocating an energy plan that is vintage 1980, calling for more burning of fossil fuels, more drilling and digging, more pipelines, as if fossil fuel consumption was totally benign to the environment and to human health.

His climate change skepticism is politically motivated and calculated to appeal to his base.  No surprise there.  But Trump also revels in anti-intellectualism, which has a strong tradition in the U.S.

Sure, intellectuals mess up, and more than a few can find a fourth side to every three-sided problem.  But Trump only sees one side to every three-sided problem.  His side. Like a temperamental child, he thinks he can create his own reality, regardless of facts. And the rest of us now have to put up with the spoiled brat until 2020 (or impeachment, which is unlikely before 2018, at the earliest).

Trump reminds me of the spoiled kid in the famous “Twilight Zone” episode, “It’s A Good Life.”  In that episode, a six-year-old kid prone to temper tantrums and getting his own way rules with absolute power over his parents and the townfolk of “Peaksville.”

Mumy
Don’t offend this kid (Bill Mumy, the child-tyrant in “It’s A Good Life”)

Anyone who offends the petty tyrant (played memorably by Billy Mumy) is punished, often in gruesome ways.  A more merciful result is to be “sent to the cornfield,” a euphemism for death.

Welcome to Peaksville, America.  And think only good thoughts of our six-year-old leader.  Unless, of course, you prefer the cornfield.

Trump’s system will gorge itself until it collapses under its own weight. Too bad it’ll take the planet down as well

richardfeynman
Richard Feynman (copyright Tamiko Thiel, 1984)

W.J. Astore

Conflicts of interest characterize Donald Trump and his cabinet even before he and they take power in January, so we can safely predict a lot of corruption will be forthcoming. I always love the way both parties, but especially the Republicans, vow to fight for smaller government and lower deficits — until they get in power. Then it’s bigger government and larger deficits in the service of crony capitalism. Kleptocracy, in a word.

A good friend put it concisely: “It makes me sick!”

But of course that’s why she’s not in Washington. The Washington-types don’t find it sickening. For them, “Greed is good.” They convince themselves that: 1) The more they have, the better. 2) They deserve more because they’re better people. 3) The little people are schmucks who deserve to be exploited.

My parents liked the saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” So the greedy are easy to find. Just look for them in the corridors of power, clustered together. For example, why do so many generals and admirals cash-in at retirement, joining corporate boards and making millions? They have six-figure government pensions, so why do they need more? They think they deserve the money. And they want to continue to play the power game, preening among the flock in the process.

As another friend of mine put it, “Money is the only thing the American elite really cares about. And I always think of Sinclair Lewis’s line that poor Americans never think of themselves as poor, only as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. One of our neighbors and friends told me he was voting Trump because with lower taxes he will be free to make a lot more money. Really? How much does anyone really think taxes will go down for people making what we make?”

The reality for us is that our taxes will probably go down by only a few hundred dollars. It’ll help us pay our air conditioning bills next summer, but that’s about it. Modest tax cuts are not going to turn us all into budding Donald Trumps (thank god for small mercies).

Yes, for people in Trump’s crowd, money is the measure of success. But so too is access. And power. Some of these people will kill themselves to be seen at the right parties, among the “right” kind of people. “Players.” “Operators.” Not people like you and me.

Trump’s government will gorge itself until it collapses under its own weight. The big question is whether its collapse will take the rest of us with it. Consider global warming, and consider the climate change deniers and fossil fuel profiteers that Trump is empowering. How long does our planet have left until we confront true disaster? A few decades, perhaps?

I always told my students the big problem with global warming was that its most serious perils – real as they are – lurked decades in the future. Problems that are decades away are difficult to address when America is driven by a quarterly business cycle and a quadrennial election cycle for the presidency. Now, under Trump, these problems won’t be addressed at all because the business moguls as well as the president simply deny their existence. Why? Because it’s convenient for them to do so. Because they stand to make a great deal of money by doing so. And because they don’t care about decades from now; they care about quarterly profits and getting reelected.

As I grow older, the words from a commercial of my youth have found new resonance in my memory: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” Not only isn’t it nice: it’s incredibly foolhardy. For the words of Richard Feynman about the space shuttle Challenger disaster ring true here:

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.

Trump and his cronies may fool some of the people all of the time, but they’re not going to fool Nature. Sooner or later (and sooner under Trump), nature’s bill will come.

U.S. Military Strategy: Of DDT, Bug Zappers, Lawyers, Guns, and Money

ddt_wwii_soldier
Just spray the bad bugs with DDT.  What can go wrong?

W.J. Astore

Today, the essence of U.S. military “strategy” is targeting.  The enemy is treated as vermin to be exterminated with the right bug bomb.  As if those bombs had no negative consequences; as if we learned nothing from the overuse of DDT, for example.

You might recall DDT, the miracle insecticide of the 1950s and 1960s.  It wiped out bad bugs (and a lot of good ones as well) while leading to DDT-resistant ones.  It also damaged the entire ecology of regions (because DDT is both persistent and bio-accumulative).  Something similar is happening in the Greater Middle East.  The U.S. is killing bad “bugs” (terrorists) while helping to breed a new generation of smarter “bugs.”  Meanwhile, constant violence, repetitive bombing, and other forms of persistent meddling are accumulating in their effects, damaging the entire ecology of the Greater Middle East.

The U.S. government insists the solution is all about putting bombs on target, together with Special Forces operating as bug zappers on the ground.  At the same time, the U.S. sells billions of dollars in weaponry to our “friends” and allies in the region.  Israel just got $38 billion in military aid over ten years, and Saudi Arabia has yet another major arms deal pending, this time for $1.15 billion (with Senator Rand Paul providing that rare case of principled opposition based on human rights violations by the Saudis).

Of course, the U.S. has provided lots of guns and military equipment to Iraqi and Afghan security forces, which often sell or abandon them to enemies such as ISIS and the Taliban.  The special inspector general in Afghanistan reported in 2014 that “As many as 43% of all small arms supplied to the Afghan National Security Forces remain unaccounted for – meaning more than 200,000 guns, including M2s, M16s, and M48s, are nowhere to be found.”  A recent tally this year that includes Iraq suggests that 750,000 guns can’t be accounted for, according to Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), a London-based charity. The Pentagon’s typical solution to missing guns is simply to send more of them.  Thus the U.S. is effectively arming its enemies as well as its allies, a business model that’s a win-win if you’re an arms merchant.

The essence of U.S. strategy makes me think of a Warren Zevon song lyric, “Send lawyers, guns, and money.”  As we’ve seen, U.S. lawyers can authorize anything, even torture, even as U.S. guns and money go missing and end up feeding war and corruption.  The tag line of Zevon’s song is especially pertinent: “The shit has hit the fan.”  How can you flood the Greater Middle East with U.S.-style bureaucracy, guns and money, and not expect turmoil and disaster?

Back in World War II, the USA was an arsenal of democracy.  Now it’s just an arsenal.  Consider Bill Hartung’s  article on U.S. military weaponry that’s flooding the Middle East. The business of America is war, with presidential candidates like Donald Trump just wanting to dump more money into the Pentagon.

There is no end to this madness.  Not when the U.S. economy is so dependent on weapons and war.  Not when the U.S. national security state dominates the political scene.  Not when Americans are told the only choices for president are Trump the Loose Cannon or Hillary the Loaded Gun.

What Did 9/11 Inaugurate?

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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Viktor Vasnetsov)

W.J. Astore

On this 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, we should ask ourselves what those attacks inaugurated.  In a word, calamity.  The wildly successful actions of Al Qaeda, combined with the wild overreactions of the Bush/Cheney administration, marked the 21st century as one that will likely become known to future historians as calamitous.

In thinking about the 9/11 attacks, as an Air Force officer, what struck me then, and still does now, is the psychological blow.  We Americans like to think we invented flight (not just that the Wright Brothers succeeded in the first powered flight that was both sustained and controlled).  We like to think that airpower is uniquely American.  We take great pride that many airliners are still “Made in the USA,” unlike most other manufactured goods nowadays.

To see our airliners turned into precision missiles against our skyscrapers, another potent image of American power, by a terrorist foe (that was once an ally against Soviet forces in Afghanistan) staggered our collective psyche.  That’s what I mean when I say Al Qaeda’s attacks were “successful.”  They created an enormous shock from which our nation has yet to recover.

This shock produced, as Tom Engelhardt notes in his latest article at TomDispatch.com, a form of government psychosis for vengeance via airpower.  The problem, of course, is that the terrorist enemy (first Al Qaeda, then the Taliban, now ISIS) simply doesn’t offer big targets like skyscrapers or the Pentagon.  The best the U.S. can do via airpower is to strike at training camps or small teams or even individuals, all of which matter little in the big scheme of things.  Meanwhile, U.S. air strikes (and subsequent land invasions by ground troops) arguably strengthen the enemy strategically.  Why?  Because they lend credence to the enemy’s propaganda that the USA is launching jihad against the Muslim world.

The wild overreactions of the Bush/Cheney administration, essentially continued by Obama and the present national security state, have played into the hands of those seeking a crusade/jihad in the Greater Middle East.  What we have now, so the experts say, is a generational or long war, with no foreseeable end point.  Its product, however, is obvious: chaos, whether in Iraq or Libya or Yemen or Syria.  And this chaos is likely to be aggravated by critical resource shortages (oil, water, food) as global warming accelerates in the next few decades.

We are in the early throes of the calamitous 21st century, and it all began fifteen years ago on 9/11/2001.

Talking to Trump Supporters

bageant

W.J. Astore

Is it possible to talk to working-class supporters of Donald Trump?  Of course it is.  It’s just that Democrats from Hillary Clinton’s crowd have a very difficult time reaching across the social, economic, and cultural divide that often separates them from Trump’s (often reluctant) supporters.

This lesson came home to me in Arlie Hochschild’s recent article for TomDispatch.com.  Arlie got to know Mike Schaff, a man whose home in the bayou of Louisiana was poisoned by an environmental disaster at the hands of big oil.  Despite this, Mike Schaff remains deeply skeptical of government oversight and says he wants to eliminate agencies like the EPA that help to prevent environmental damage.

Despite his bitter experience with corporate malfeasance, Schaff remains unsympathetic to the Democratic Party and its arguments for more government intervention in the name of protecting ordinary citizens from harm.  Schaff, in short, believes in individualism, hard work, and self-reliance, as well as working together with his neighbors in small communities.  He doesn’t buy the argument that big government is his friend.  He doesn’t want to be seen as dependent on welfare and other government handouts.  He mostly wants to be left alone, even as he professes belief in Trump’s sentiment that America needs to be made “great again,” in part by a government led by Trump.

I think I understand part of what drives Mike Schaff.  The “do-gooder” liberal Democrats don’t speak his language.  Their reliance on regulations, lawyers, and bureaucracy makes him feel out of sorts, inferior, even dumb.  Their talk about “victims” and government “rescuers” turns him off, even though he himself is a victim of an environmental disaster.  But the point is that he doesn’t see himself as a victim.  He sees himself as a self-reliant man, a man working through a tough time, getting by with a little help from his friends, with no need of help from the Suits in Washington.

A confession: I’m not the most mechanical guy (though I fix small stuff), but around a guy like Mike Schaff, a man who welds and spends his time constantly tinkering with machines, I’d feel a bit uncomfortable.  I’m used to slinging words, just as he’s used to working physically, with his hands.

But I could hang with him.  I did my time in the military.  I come from a working-class family.  I know guys like Mike Schaff.  I can empathize with him.  I can speak his language.

The message of politicians like Hillary Clinton will not resonate with Mike.  Guys like Mike prefer plain-speak.  Making America great again — hell ya, it’s about time!  As cynical and opportunistic as Trump may be, his message of self-reliance, his blunt talk, his braggadocio, and his calls for action (no matter how stupid) do resonate with Mike, even if his pro-corporate policies will only aggravate Mike’s situation.

What ever happened to tough democrats who could talk to guys like Mike?  Even Joe Biden, despite his hardscrabble Scranton origins, doesn’t quite fit.

Joe Bageant was great at this — his book “Deer Hunting with Jesus” told the story of a liberal gun-owning Southerner who lived the life of men (and women) like Mike Schaff.  But sadly Bageant died a few years ago.  (For some articles I’ve written about Bageant, see here and here and here.)

If Hillary Clinton loses in November, a big reason why will be that she simply couldn’t (or wouldn’t) speak the language of working-class Americans, people like Mike Schaff.

Hillary and the Earth Wreckers

nothing
Nothing to see here … move along

W.J. Astore

News that Hillary Clinton has selected Ken Salazar to head her transition team should give pause to anyone who believes Hillary’s claim that she’s a “Progressive.”  Assuming Hillary wins the presidency, Salazar will chair the team that helps her to fill more than 4000 appointments.

What do we know about Salazar?  According to a report at The Intercept,

As a senator, Salazar was widely considered a reliable friend to the oil, gas, ranching and mining industries. As interior secretary, he opened the Arctic Ocean for oil drilling, and oversaw the botched response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Since returning to the private sector, he has been an ardent supporter of the TPP, while pushing back against curbs on fracking….

“We know that, from everything we’ve seen, there’s not a single case where hydraulic fracking has created an environmental problem for anyone,” Salazar told the attendees, who included the vice president of BP America, another keynote speaker at the conference. “We need to make sure that story is told.”

Really, Mr. Salazar?  I lived in Pennsylvania for nine years, during the height of the fracking boom.  A friend of mine lost his family farm and land due to poisoned water caused by fracking.  Earthquakes have been traced to fracking.  Methane seepage and burn-off contributes to global warming.  Fracking chemicals are highly toxic and wastewater from fracking is radioactive.  And these are just a few of the dangers associated with fracking.

It’s one thing to argue that fracking is hazardous but that those hazards can be controlled through rigorous practices that emphasize environmental safety.  It’s a defensible position, though I believe the hazards are not fully known, therefore they can’t be fully controlled, let alone minimized.  But Salazar is arguing fracking has not caused a single environmental problem!  For anyone!

Yes, Hillary now claims she’s against fracking (when she led the State Department, she was strongly for it).  But how does that flip-flop square with her decision to appoint yet another earth wrecker to a key position in her government-to-be?  Just what the planet needs: a pro-fracking, pro-industry, corporate shill who will help to ensure that people like himself will occupy key positions of authority in a Clinton government.

I’ve witnessed enough earth wrecking.  Count me out of Hillary 2016.

The Calamitous 21st Century

tuchman

W.J. Astore

We’re only sixteen years into the 21st century, but it seems like a “best of times, worst of times” kind of epoch.  It’s the best of times for the aristocracy of the rich, and the worst of times for the poor and disadvantaged, especially when they live close to or in war zones.

Perhaps that’s a statement of the obvious, except the gap between the richest and poorest continues to grow.  Their worlds, their realities, are so different as to be virtually disconnected.  This is a theme of several recent science fiction films, including the “Hunger Games” series (the Capitol versus the Districts) and “Elysium,” in which the privileged rich literally live above the sordid earth with its teeming masses.

Some of the big fears of our present century include the emergence of a “super bug,” a contagion that is highly resistant to traditional drugs.  We’ve overused antibiotics and are slowly breeding new strains of bacteria that modern medicine can no longer defeat.  Meanwhile, many people in the U.S. still lack health care, or they’re reluctant to use it because it’s too expensive for them.  And then there are the workers who lack sick leave.  They force themselves to go to work, even when sick, because they need the money.  How long before inadequate health care and sick workers facilitate the conditions for the spread of a plague?

And then there’s the contagion of violence and war.  America’s wars in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa are basically open-ended.  They are today’s version of the “Hundred Years’ War” between England and France, an on-again, off-again struggle for dominance that sprawled across two centuries.  In fact, America’s “war on terror,” with its “surgical strikes” and reliance on technology as a quasi-panacea, seems to be breeding new types of “super-bug” terrorists who are highly resistant to traditional techniques of policing and war.

In this effort, one thing is certain: No U.S. president will be declaring “peace” or even “normal” times for the next decade or two (or three).

Finally, let’s not forget global warming.  The Pentagon and the CIA haven’t.  Republicans may have their share of climate change deniers, but when it comes to the U.S. national security state, contingency plans are already in place for the disasters awaiting us from global warming.  Competition for scarce resources (potable water especially, but food and fuel as well) combined with more intense storms, widespread flooding, and much warmer temperatures, will generate or aggravate wars, famines, and plagues.

Are we living in a failed or failing world?

In “A Distant Mirror,” the historian Barbara Tuchman wrote about the calamitous 14th century of plagues and wars and a mini-ice age in the northern hemisphere. We seem to be facing a calamitous 21st century of plagues and wars and a mini-hothouse age.  It’s a grim prospect.

The question is: Can we act collectively to avert or avoid the worst of these calamities?  Or are we fated to dance our very own 21st-century danse macabre?