Wednesday, May 31, 2017


The company we keep

If Donald Trump follows through on his threats to take the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, it will put the US in the same basket as just two other countries. On the issue of saving the world from anthropogenic climate disruption, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with Syria and Nicaragua versus 194 other nations--the rest of the world.

Syria is a fractured, war-torn country of 17 million people with a per-capita GDP somewhere between $2800 and $5000 per year, led by its dictatorial president, Bashar al-Assad. More than 6 million of its citizens have been internally displaced or have fled as refugees. Because of its ongoing civil war and international sanctions, Syria was "in no position" to commit to climate-related goals.

Bashar al-Assad
Credit: Wikipedia

Nicaragua is an equally impoverished country, one of the poorest in the Americas, whose 6 million citizens generate somewhere between $2200 and $5700 per year in GDP, and are led by dictatorial president Daniel Ortega. Due to instability, poverty and crime, it's also the source of thousands of refugees, most of whom flee south to Costa Rica. Ortega refused to sign the Paris Accord because he wanted it to be binding and enforceable.

Daniel Ortega
Credit: Wikipedia

And then there's us, and our president.

Donald Trump
Credit: Wikipedia

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Friday, May 19, 2017


“I believe it hurts our country terribly, because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country. And we have very important things to be doing right now, whether it’s trade deals, whether it’s military, whether it’s stopping nuclear – all of the things that we discussed today. And I think this shows a very divided country."

-----President Trump, commenting on the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the U.S. elections

"I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department."

-----From Trump's interview with the New York Times, 12/28/17 

If someone is a narcissist, it's all about him or her. Narcissists are notorious for having no boundaries--you're cast for a role in their drama whether you want to be or not.

One corollary is that if you've done something that reflects well on them, for the moment you're their best friend; but if you've done something that fails to feed their ego, or worse yet, threatens it, you're instantly their enemy.

Another corollary is that they can't ever be wrong; so if something goes wrong, it's always someone else's fault.

It's safe to assume that to a narcissistic ruler, there are no boundaries between himself and his realm. The poster child for this, at least until now, has been Louis XIV of France. He's famous for proclaiming, "L'etat? L'etat c'est moi,"--"The State? I am the State."

Louis XIV of France--The Sun King in full regalia
Author: Hyacinth Rigaud
Musee du Louvre
It's no secret that our current president has the same proclivity. From his point of view, it's his country, his military, his secrets to share or withhold as he wishes, his realm to do with as he pleases. The Constitution, the rule of law, checks and balances, Congress and the courts are irrelevancies that had best get out of his way.

There's no doubt that the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel is bad news for Donald Trump, and as Mueller's investigation develops, it may well hurt Trump terribly.

However, given his narcissism, it's not surprising that he experiences this threat to himself and his presidency as a threat to the nation. It's also predictable that as he experiences further ego-threatening narcissistic injuries, he will be driven to strike out in narcissistic rage at his enemies, actual and perceived.

Angry Trump caricature
adapted from Gage Skidmore's Flickr photosteam
by DonkeyHotey
In relationships, the targets of narcissistic rage are often advised to walk away, then later try to define and defend the boundaries of what they will or will not take. Unfortunately, none of us here in the U.S. or the rest of the world can just walk away from a wounded and enraged President with the ability to lash out within the country or abroad with the full power of the state.

Still, even if Trump can't tell the difference between himself and "our country," we can. Because it truly is our country, not his.

For an analysis of the implication ofTrump's narcissism from the point of view of a neurolinguist, you can navigate to an excellent post by George Lakoff at this URL.

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Friday, May 05, 2017


Trump gloating after passage of AHCA
Credit: New York Daily News
Jabba the Hutt gloating as always
Credit: Wookieepedia

 It's not just an accident,
Photo Credit: Unknown

It goes to character.


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Thursday, May 04, 2017


On May 3, Secretary of State and ex-CEO of EXXON Rex Tillerson gave a speech to assembled State Department staff to interpret for them what President Trump's "America first" slogan means in practice.

Rex Tillerson, 2009
Credit: William Munoz

Tillerson led off with a few comments about "our fundamental values."

"I think it’s important to also remember that guiding all of our foreign policy actions are our fundamental values: our values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated. Those are our values."

I suppose he could have added a few more "values around," ideals such as equality and unalienable rights, including to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but fine, at least he mentioned a few of the values that have in fact made America great.

Unfortunately, in his very next sentence he puts those values high up on a shelf where they can look good but can't cause any trouble:

"Those are not our policies; they’re values. And the reason it’s important, I think, to keep that well understood is policies can change. They do change. They should change. Policies change to adapt to the – our values never change. They’re constant throughout all of this."

The rest of his talk is about our policies--what we actually try to advance in the real world. According to Tillerson, they boil down to two--security and profit:

"And so we really have to understand, in each country or each region of the world that we’re dealing with, what are our national security interests, what are our economic prosperity interests . . ."

or again:

"So I give you that as kind of an overarching view of how I think about the President’s approach of 'America first.' We must secure the nation. We must protect our people. We must protect our borders. We must protect our ability to be that voice of our values now and forevermore. And we can only do that with economic prosperity. So it’s foreign policy projected with a strong ability to enforce the protection of our freedoms with a strong military."

What a great arrangement. We can have our high ideals and laudable values. We can pride ourselves on them and hold them up as examples for others to follow. But first and foremost we must "protect our ability to be that voice of our values" by projecting them with our strong military and making sure that the whole enterprise is profitable.

Despite the high-minded rhetoric, it seems to me that a person's or a nation's actions pretty much define their values. If I lie, cheat and steal, those are my values. If I abuse my wife, my kids, my students, clients or employees, those are my values. If we start preemptive wars, we value starting wars. If we kidnap people and keep them locked in Guantanamo for decades without trial, we value that. If we torture, we value that. If we kill hundreds or thousands with bombs or drones, we value that. If we close our borders to those most in need of sanctuary, we value that. Our actions, not our words, are the "voice of our values."

For a slightly different take on Trump and Tillerson's policies, which the author describes as "vulgar realism," click here.

If Tillerson as Secretary of State, or Trump as President, or we as a nation want to practice realpolitik--or as Ludwig von Rochau described it, the law of power--so be it. That's how most countries, and especially empires, act.

Let's just not wrap our iron fist and grasping hand in the Declaration of Independence so that we can pretend to be what we palpably are not.

Note: As of August 1, 2017, a new State Department mission statement is being drafted that clearly lays out Tillerson's new vision. Gone is the aim of fostering "a peaceful, prosperous, just and democratic world . . . for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere." As promised, the new focus is on "the security, prosperity and interests of the American people globally . . .."

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Tuesday, May 02, 2017


Followers of this blog know that I'm fascinated by the international effort to eradicate polio. Wiping out this paralyzing, often deadly disease will be one of humankind's great accomplishments. The only other human disease that we've been able to eradicate is smallpox--the last spontaneous case was in 1977.

According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the effort is incredibly close to success, with just 5 cases reported worldwide this year, to May 24 (vs. 16 this time last year). In the early 1950s, before the Salk and Sabin vaccines were introduced, 15,000 children died or were paralyzed by the poliovirus every year just in the United States, 500,000 worldwide.

It's taken decades of dedicated, sometimes dangerous work by scientists, international organizations, and on-the-ground health providers to reduce that number from 500,000 to 5. The goal now is to shrink it to zero.

It appears that the polio virus now survives in just a few locations--the 5 cases all occurred in Pakistan and Afghanistan, destabilized by war and refugees. In addition, all 5 cases were caused by Wild Polio Virus 1 (WPV1), meaning that the other two strains of wild polio virus, WPV 2 and 3, may already be eradicated.

Wild Polio Virus Type 3
Credit: Manuel Almagro Rivas/CreativeCommons

Massive vaccination programs of at-risk children and adults are continuing, and will need to to continue for some time even after there are no more documented cases.

We're so close . . .


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American author Upton Sinclair once quipped, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Pump "salary" up to $82 million in contributions from the fossil fuel industry to climate-change deniers in the US Senate and House of Representatives, and you can start to understand why so many of the people we've elected to represent us spout so much nonsense about climate change.

$ 1 Million on display in Las Vegas
(multiply this by 82 and give to your favorite politicians)
Credit: mmarchin/CreativeCommons

According to Ryan Koronowsky at ThinkProgress, there are 180 climate deniers in the US Congress, not to mention the one in the oval office. Of those, 142 are in the House and 38 in the Senate. That represents a hefty 59 percent of the Republicans in the House, and a truly impressive 73 percent of the Republicans in the Senate. Remarkable figures given that the American public overwhelmingly recognizes that human-caused climate change is real and supports government action to mitigate it.

It appears that something is causing our senators and representatives to oppose not just the scientific consensus on climate change but the desires of their own constituents. It could be superior intelligence, greater knowledge or perhaps a more highly developed sense of responsibility and stewardship.

Or it could be money. Money that pays for the market research and ads that keep getting them elected.

What do you think?

Me, I'm betting on the money.


Here's a list of who and how much.

You can read Koronowsky's detailed article, with maps and charts, here.

You can read an interesting piece about parallels between the Soviet embrace of Lysenkoism under Stalin and the Republican embrace of climate change denial here.

Note: To be fair, Democrats are probably just as likely to be "influenced" by contributions. This essay by Lauren McCauley at Common Dreams presents data showing that for a mere $100,000, the odds of a Democrat representative flipping on a key financial regulation issue rose by 14 percent. With millions or billions of dollars of profits at stake, political contributions are clearly a terrific investment.

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