Trump, the Manchurian President: Culture Jam from Far Away

Remember the 1962 movie, The Manchurian Candidate based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel? There was a remake in 2004, with Denzel Washington playing the man who knows something is wrong about the presidency. A slick candidate for the U.S. presidency has been “brainwashed” to do the bidding of a foreign power. The inevitable struggle between good and evil ensues and the crisis approaches apocalypse.

Atomic TrumpI think we have an apt metaphor here for the Trumpery we all now experience. After all, his election rested on more than one form of electoral fraud, from Russian trolls and bots to widespread Republican voter suppression by tampering with voter rolls and extreme gerrymandering.

These days the US president appears to be helping the Russians in several ways. One has to wonder what Putin and his henchmen have on the Empty Clown Suit pretending to be president. Could it be the laundering of oligarch money or the Deutsche Bank loans of suspicious origin when no other bank in the world would loan him a nickel? He is also jamming core American values and interests in national security in service to the Billionaire Class and especially his own (largely secret) financial interests. I am not the first to suggest the Manchurian Candidate as an appropriate metaphor for this situation.

The whole thing, morally as well as socially and economically, is far, far away from the everyday lives of ordinary Americans. It is, in a word, foreign, although many Americans have been infected by the “new normal” of demagoguery covering political corruption and possibly treason. The financial and corporate elites control the Senate. They support the endless executive orders and appointments undercutting the public interest in established law and administrative regulations by the Manchurian President.

The reality TV show that now guides the nation brands the President as the only real winner among the rest of us “losers.” Every vulnerable ethnic group is cast as some form of evil. The amoral Trump brand touts greed, meanness, and blatant racism as its central principles of governance. Yet, the man himself has no idea how to govern a nation. He has gained the power that allows him to take what he wants, whenever he wants, from whomever he wants by ignoring the law and democratic principles. He exposes thereby the fragile nature of democracy when so many of its citizens remain uninformed by their lack of critical thinking.

I still cannot get over how easily he dupes so many Americans. I was in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, the day before his arrival for one of his rallies. Along some major streets, I saw hawkers selling MAGA tee-shirts, hats, and other paraphernalia of the New American Fascism (Shall we call it NAF? No, let’s not. That would just reify the insanity.)

When will we realize the destructiveness of this evil vindictive brand of irrational self-dealing hate and gross political corruption, masked as patriotism, which projects itself across the world in our name? Our nation’s security suffers severely for it. When American power is projected around the world based on the whims of narcissistic sociopathy, it only instills confusion and mistrust among our allies, as well as everyone else.

Light Bulbs and Straws vs. Human Survival

If we can Save the Banks, We can Save the World.

~ Greta Thunberg

During Elizabeth Warren’s segment on the CNN Climate Forum on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, Chris Cuomo asked her whether the government should dictate the kinds of light bulbs and straws we use. It was typical of mass-media-pundit questions, which so often implicitly incorporate a climate-denialist trope. During the prior debates among the twenty or so Democratic presidential candidates, both questions and answers seemed to acquiesce defensively to right-wing Republican definitions of “political reality.” Cuomo’s question framed the climate crisis as a simple matter of individual choice versus government intrusion into our private lives.

Warren Overcomes

Elizabeth.Warren_CNN.ClimateHowever, Elizabeth Warren would have none of it. She immediately recognized that she was being set up to accept the individualization of an inherently collective, even global problem. Why should the citizens of America submit themselves to government dictates regarding what kind of light bulbs we must buy? What if we prefer plastic straws to the paper ones, which sometimes soften and grow flimsy before we finish our diabetes-encouraging high-fructose corn-syrup infused 20 oz. soda? Warren pointedly asserted that the corporate elites deploy millions of dollars each year to keep us distracted by desires for individual convenience and comfort.

Isn’t the right to choose a sacred value of American Individualism? Well, corporate propaganda regularly confirms its application to industrial consumer behavior, anyway. However, the white nationalists and religious fundamentalists who demand total conformity to the sacred imaginaries of their madness, even as they assert “individualism” in the abstract, do not allow it. Nor do their political enablers. The corporate culture works very hard to exploit such madness to keep the public discourse focused on individual behavior, not institutional corruption. Yet, the force of the climate emergency is gradually making inroads into the “normal politics” that sustain corporate hegemony over industrial civilization until it collapses from the weight of excess.

Warren answered Cuomo’s loaded question by pointing out that such redefinitions of global problems as issues of individual choice rather than matters of public purpose, are exactly what the fossil-fuel industries and their allies and lobbying agents want us to focus upon. The power of the electricity-generation, the fossil-fuels and construction industries produces about seventy percent of global carbon emissions. We participate, of course, by using and wasting the energy and products these institutions produce. The inordinate power of the corporate state has enabled, indeed caused, the national denial of climate chaos.

The Life and Death of Denialism

We can see that denialism fading even as the remaining ten candidates for the Democratic nomination for the presidential race, up the ante on their mostly ambiguous “climate plans.” Sure, their vision is incomplete and their tendency to stay within the lines of business-as-usual remains. Yet, the voices of reason and fact are gaining strength.

Greta Thunberg on SailboatThe very fact that a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, has gained an international following, having merely started a personal School Strike for Climate at her high school demonstrates that the tide is turning. We have no idea whether the climate action movements will be able to move whole societies to transform themselves, but there is hope.

A recent public presentation and discussion by Greta Thunberg and Naomi Klein, among other climate activists, reflected the essence of all this. The Intercept organized the event, which is well worth watching and listening to as it demonstrates the wisdom of youth focused on facts.

Controlled Burns: Misallocation of technology and labor

Once the extractivist culture began plundering the forests of North America for construction materials and fiber for paper and other products was well underway, the threat of major forest fires grew. A number of factors were involved.

Trump-Orders-FEMA-To-Withhold-Funds-For-California-Forest-Fires-In-Misspelled-Tweet-780x405

Trump orders FEMA to withhold funds for California Wildfires

The ideology and practice of forest-fire suppression to protect the property and sometimes lives of those who encroached on the forests caused a deep disturbance of the role fire played in the natural cycle of the life of forests. Because of fire suppression, increasingly dense undergrowth became more common in forests not decimated by clearcutting. That made them increasingly vulnerable to exceedingly hot, intense, and rapidly moving wildfires, such as the Camp Fire in Butte County, California, far more difficult to restrain or control than a century ago.

An Unnatural Relationship

Various forestry authorities deploy so-called “controlled burns” with the intent of eliminating the massive amounts of fuel (dry underbrush produced by alternating climates of heavy precipitation and drought) accumulated because of human fire suppression. In the past, the occasional forest fire did that job until the official forestry policy implemented the policy to “prevent forest fires.” Now it became a matter of “Man against Nature,” so typical of the industrial-consumer culture, which frames forests as just another source of materials to draw upon for industrial production.

In their natural state, forests are huge carbon sinks. That is not so when they are disturbed by massive intense wildfires and insect infestations and become net carbon emitters. Here is the problem. Never mind the risk of such “controlled burns” getting out of control due to rapid change in weather, such as high winds. What is the primary consequence of burning sections of a forest? Obviously, burning fuel of any kind adds carbon to the atmosphere – precisely the opposite of the most urgent need today. This counterproductive effect results from a misallocation of labor and technology as well as a misunderstanding of the Nature of the Earth System we inhabit.

Technology and Labor

We can accomplish many tasks more easily and efficiently by applying the power of fossil-fuel burning equipment than by the use of labor and hand-powered tools. Controlled burns use a mix of both. While the long-term effect may be to dampen the power of today’s super firestorms, the immediate effect is to increase the emission of carbon into the atmosphere. That, of course, is something that we simply cannot afford, especially when we see so little progress (as in NONE) by national and international authorities to reduce carbon emissions.

Given the situation and the growing probability of firestorms of unprecedented intensity and speed, it certainly makes sense to thin the forests of the excessive fuel (dried undergrowth) that poses a great risk of catastrophic forest fires. The fires themselves contribute much to the carbon in the atmosphere, forcing more global warming and consequentially more climate chaos. In either case, controlled burns or firestorms, the result is catastrophic in one way or the other. That is because both involve burning fuel. But wait, here’s another contradiction.

The global corporate free-market economy drives more people into low-wage jobs and/or poverty every day. The corporate economy cuts labor costs through automation and outsourcing. We live with the myth that American workers will not do the backbreaking work that we assign to illegal immigrants. Oh, what a difference a living wage would make.

Restoring the Forest Ecosystem

Like so many other ecosystem restoration necessities, we should restore the natural state of the forests in a way that allows sequestration of all that carbon contained in the underbrush that we need to remove. The process of pyrolysis can convert carbon from forest undergrowth into Biochar through thermal decomposition of biomass without oxygen (preventing combustion). Biochar can be used as a soil amendment, sequestering the carbon potentially for thousands of years.

However, the focus of controlled burns remains fixed on traditional ideas of protecting property from near term risk of conflagration. This ignores the bigger picture. In the context of our climate emergency, the first priority of any public policy must be the restriction of carbon emissions. Period.

When it comes to removing fuel from forest floors, the solution must be labor intensive, which has a very small carbon footprint. How can we accomplish that? Pay high wages for hard work and workers will come – they do so for the oil extractive companies. Remove the material and subject it to composting or biochar production and sequester it in agricultural soils. Win-win.

This is just one small example, well, not so small, of how proper climate action and economic justice can converge. Let’s get over that obsession with “labor-saving devices.” In many other ways, human labor can become a path to reducing climate chaos by increasing economic opportunity for all people.

Republicans Love Hate Trump

Do you remember the 2016 Republican presidential primaries? Expressions of disgust and derision for upstart outsider Trump among the party establishment and clamoring candidates were widespread. My, how times have changed. Initial faux principled “anything but Trump” stances dissembled into fake adulation and obsequious pandering by congressional Republicans to an increasingly erratic fake president.

Henchman after henchman fell to indictments by the special prosecutor. Convictions and cooperation agreements correlated with outside evidence of Trump agents’ multiple contacts and financial dealings with Russian oligarchs, and intelligence agents, and international money-laundering banks (especially Deutsche Bank). U.S. intelligence agencies had warned of Russian attempts to penetrate U.S. election databases; Russian bots and trolls deployed to Facebook and Twitter. Putin’s evil is so much more sophisticated than Trump’s narcissistic bravado that it became a national embarrassment.

Republican politicians refused to allow evidence or testimony to enter intelligence or judiciary hearings. They just repeated the “no Russian collusion” mantra, even as grand juries handed down indictments of Russian agents and their American contacts associated with Trump. ‘Pay politically to play financially’ reigned supreme as rewards for cooperating with corruption piled up and those facing reelection avoided political punishment by the nastiest elements of the Trumpist white nationalist base.

Personal Reasons for Public Irrationality

mitch-mcconnellWell, of course, there are reasons why these politicians put away any principles or preferences they previously proclaimed, including basic Republican values and policy principles, such as fiscal responsibility. Just look at the rewards and punishments involved. Huge tax windfalls for wealthy senators, representatives, and their corporate sponsors rewarded submission to the petulant whims of the sociopathic narcissist. Trump’s tax bill gave away hundreds of billions to the biggest corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Mitch McConnell’s pockets got their share.

The threat of being “primaried” by aggressive PAC-funded attacks by the Trumpist base in upcoming campaigns certainly got the attention of Republican senators and representatives up for reelection in 2020. They might have considered a principled stand against executive usurpation of the constitutional authority of Congress over government spending, but not under that kind of threat. Many found the false assertion of a “national emergency” as cover for commandeering funds designated for military projects both repugnant and blatantly unconstitutional. Yet, they buried their principles to secure their personal political position.

A few voted in support of the bill to overturn the proclaimed “national emergency,” mostly out of fear that the precedent could result in a future Democratic president pulling the same stunt to achieve some progressive purpose, such as funding the hated Green New Deal. That is not the art of the deal; it is extortion. It is not that such tactics are rare in Washington politics. Nor is it simply a matter of traditional “gridlock” in the national legislature.

Pathology of Policy

When a narcissistic sociopath “makes policy,” you can be sure that the origin and intent have to do with self-aggrandizement, not the public interest. I have not fact-checked the story that Trump’s obsession with “the wall” began when campaign aides suggested it as a way to make him remember to mention the “threat” of immigration. But it fits the profile. The meme took off and he happily continues to exploit it.

Generating fear of the other is a classic tactic of would-be dictators and tyrants. So is endless repetition of the “big lie.” The flow of illegal immigrants across the southern border has steadily decreased for a long time. Most drug smuggling occurs at the biggest ports of entry. Would-be terrorists from the Middle East have boarded airliners in Europe or elsewhere with false documents, headed for major American cities.

So, what’s with the wall? Its basic function is to generate fear and hatred to distract from the damage done to the nation by kleptocratic corruption at the very top – a classic tactic of tyrants.

Here Comes the Hate!

The misogynist racist good ol’ boys (well, rich old white men) are out in force now. Their hateful ridicule targets any outspoken woman who happened to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the midterm elections.

Alexandria Octavio-Cortez, dubbed AOC, the celebrity underdog who handily beat the old white male incumbent Establishment Democrat, is the iconic target of their spite. How dare she challenge their comfortable corporate feed trough? How dare she expect their super-rich handlers to pay their fair share of income taxes?

Tax the Rich?

The “extreme” marginal rate of 70% on the highest segment of the excessive earnings of the wealthiest Americans would be lower than that charged in the 1950s, when the Americans people (not just the rich) prospered more than any time before or since. GOP-driven (Democrat accepted) tax reductions for the wealthy have stifled economic growth and driven up public debt during every presidency from Reagan to Trump.

The progressive income tax scheme @AOC proposed is a bit lower than Nobel Prize-winning economist Peter Diamond calculated would be optimal – not too much, not too little – for the richest Americans to contribute their fair share to a healthy economy. She offends on several counts: her gender, her brown skin, her policy recommendations that challenge both patriarchy and plutocracy, and the shock of her demands for social, economic, and climate justice. On top of it all, like her colleagues, she just won’t “sit down and shut up.”

Patronize the Pantsuits?

And they expect her not to demand that children be healthy and well educated too, and that the Trumpist outlaw ICE-MEN return the children they kidnapped from their asylum-seeking parents. What next?

Oh, yes, these brash new representatives want a Green New Deal too. Why those anti-oligarchy democratic “socialists”! (Oh, is that still a dirty word?) They don’t even want to protect the plundering plutocrats from the ravages of facing up to climate chaos?

Women Reps in WhiteOh, maybe they just don’t like white pantsuits, or women’s suffrage for that matter. That would go 10x for any woman wearing a headscarf, unless of course it was a gingham print and meant only as an accent for that beehive doo that might MAGA! (Remember the beehive? We’re talking 1950s here. They were as big as the tailfins on a 1959 Chevy.)

What these ol’ codgers really hate is an uppity woman who has brown skin, is even smarter than she is pretty, can easily outsmart them, and just “don’t know her place”. “Whoa there, young filly! Back in the kitchen with them barefoot brats!” That avalanche of smart progressive women of color entering the chambers of the political good ol’ boys club is just more than their privilege-addled brains can process.

Fascists in Victim’s Clothing

I never could quite understand why so many people confound the Jewish people with the state of Israel.  Many people I’ve met around the world love Americans and America, but not its imperious government. I know of no nation-state in this world that is so pure and good that we should all declare it off limits to political, humanitarian, or policy criticism of any kind.

It was the Jewish people who suffered Nazi terror, not the state of Israel. I feel equally outraged by the ruthless violence of Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Pinochet, Netanyahu, and others too. But, any time someone criticizes the genocidal treatment of the Palestinian people, they are accused of supporting Hamas and terrorism. Nation states are the problem, not their people.

Go Figure. Well, you don’t have to figure much. U.S. politicians are terrified that someone might accuse them of being anti-Semitic. Closet racists often proclaim, “I am not a racist.” Same with closet anti-semites. Closet fascists claim to “bring democracy to the world” with state of the art military hardware. Too many Americans remain blind to nativist racism, even now when Trumpery has green-lighted its open expression.

I would suggest an analogy here. So many victims of abuse by parents, stepparents, or others with power grow up and become abusers themselves. Plenty of Israelis find it ironic and tragic that their government treats Palestinians nearly as badly as the Nazis treated their great-grandparents. Too many Americans are blind to the racism they tolerate because it does not directly interfere with their personal lives. Some are just clueless.

Too many easily fall into the hatred-on-the-rise that the new American fascists foment. The surge in violent hate crimes in the U.S., including anti-Semitic hate crimes, is no accident. It is part of the pattern of moral decay and political nihilism enabled by the political demagogues. That will only lead to more authoritarian politics and enable dictatorship to crush democracy unless the rest of us resist the hate.

Liberal? Conservative? Really?

Most of us, it seems, define our political orientation as liberal or conservative, often with a “moderate” caveat. But what do we mean by that, really? I am afraid that these labels have taken a real beating in recent decades, with the result that they have lost most of their meaning, if not all.

Wither Liberalism?

Let’s start with “liberal.” For a good while now, the word “liberal” has taken on the aura of an almost dirty word.  Do you listen to talk radio or Fox News (which I prefer to call “Fixed News,” or “Fake News,” since it so heavily indulges not just in a particular political bias but also in falsehoods, innuendo, and ignoring facts, just like the president who follows it so closely)? There you will hear “liberal” used only scornfully. But, who are liberals, really?

proudliberalChris Hedges, in his 2010 book, Death of the Liberal Class, argues forcefully that the liberal class has abandoned its traditional political values, retaining only the name and rhetoric. The Democratic Party was once the bastion of liberal policies. However, through the latter half of the 20th Century, business interests controlled more and more of electoral politics as well as legislation itself.

Corporate interests and money-have long since taken control of the Democratic Party. Democratic politicians continued to spout liberal slogans. But they actually represented the corporate and investor classes as measured by most of their voting in both the House and Senate. Actual liberal citizens repeatedly came away frustrated by the party’s failure to implement liberal values touted in electoral campaigns. Thus, it is not surprising that while the views of a majority of Americans are generally liberal, the voting turnout in the U.S. is among the lowest of the industrialized nations.

Wither Conservatism?

So, similarly, what do we mean by the term, “conservative”? Well, here we have a different conundrum. “Conservative” has not taken on the negative connotations of “liberal.” However, the force of corporatized politics in the U.S. has similarly damaged it.

conservative.republican

Proud Conservative

Most of us have some conservative values and some liberal values as well. We value stability and responsibility in our fellow citizens and try to represent them in our own behavior. We don’t always succeed, but we try. The political buzzword, “law and order” has exploited our conservative character by instilling the fear that criminals and others of questionable repute threaten the stability and security of our lives.

You might think that the conservative and liberal labels reflect directions of political, economic, and social policy favored by citizens who identify with those labels. You might also think that politicians who identify themselves by those labels attempt to implement policies that reflect those values. But, you would be wrong. Labels are often cover stories used by politicians to justify their actions, which may have entirely other sources.

The politicians gain their campaign contributions and other largess from mostly corporate lobbyists. Of course, the lobbyists advocate for political interests that benefit from the policy choices they persuade (bribe) senators and representatives to make. And, where do liberal or conservative values fit into this picture? Well, they don’t, really.

Rise of the Corporate State

In an extremely important, though not widely known study, Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page found that over many years, legislation favored the interests of corporate and business groups that lobbied politicians. The expressed interests of ordinary citizens and citizen groups representing the public interest rarely found expression in legislation. Their report, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics 12:3 (September 2014):564-581, provides strong empirical evidence that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

In this context, it is difficult to surmise that the conservative and liberal ideas have any role in politics other than as cover stories to curry the favor of voters who identify with those labels. They certainly do not predict more than superficially the voting behavior of most politicians who use them.

Power of Propaganda in the Face of Facts

On the first day of 2019, the Washington Post printed a story summarizing the numerous extreme signs of climate change in 2018. The list of extreme hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts and heat waves around the world of unprecedented intensity, impressed even the most cautious scientists.

Most climate scientists are unwilling to attribute a particular event directly to global warming. It is far too complicated for that. The heating of the atmosphere affects the entire climate system, so it influences patterns of weather everywhere rather than “causing” single events.

Change in Surface Temp.1901-2012_IPCC-grap-02

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ~ Public Domain

Nothing is Normal Now

But, so many weather events now fall so far outside the normal range of weather that no other factor can explain it. They have grown more intense and frequent as humans pour more carbon into the atmosphere. That is why scientists are now willing to conclude that the frequency and intensity of such extreme events are due to global warming. Scientists are a conservative lot; they resist making claims without overwhelming evidence to support their assertions.

That is both good and bad. In ascertaining the validity of a finding, scientists rightly find it important that the evidence is overwhelmingly strong. Climate science builds its findings on the entire history of the physical sciences. They apply basic physics and chemistry to the extreme changes in climate conditions and events that have emerged over the past several decades. Global heat retention due to industrial-consumer economies pumping ever more carbon into the atmosphere is the scientifically undisputed cause of those changes.

However, scientists have preferred, for the most part, just to report the facts and the projections of change into the future that they have concluded are justified by the evidence. They leave it up to the public and the politicians to develop policies to respond to the dangers inherent in the facts they report.

Power of Propaganda

Not only have climate scientists projections proved much more optimistic than later facts revealed, but the whole process is accelerating because of previously unaccounted for positive feedback loops. These include darker arctic seas absorbing more sunlight than the white sea-ice that has melted, and melting tundra releasing methane, to name just two.

Politician and citizen alike easily ignore extremely dangerous conditions projected into the distant future. Now, however, the most recent research reveals we have little more than a dozen years to reduce net carbon emissions to near zero to avoid catastrophic consequences for societies all over the world. The U.S. government’s most recent Climate Assessment Report concludes that the damage from extreme climate events will cost hundreds of billions of dollars in the near future.

At the beginning of this past October, a special report by the IPCC revealed very disturbing findings. At current rates of carbon emissions (which have not slowed), sea rise from melting polar ice caps and the giant Greenland glacier will inundate coastal cities worldwide. Droughts and poverty will intensify. The data from numerous studies projecting the catastrophic consequences of inaction just keep piling in.

Science and Political Action

However, as the decades pass, more and more scientists have come to recognize that propaganda has effectively countered the facts. The fossil-fuel industries and their lackeys in Congress, extremist talk-radio, and partisan cable “news” outlets continue to dominate the politics of global warming. The climate-denying president attempted to bury the U.S. Climate Assessment Report by releasing it the day after Thanksgiving, a “dead” news day when so many consumers were out shopping for bargains in the industrial-consumer economy that is the primary cause of global warming.

At some point soon, the overwhelming impact of devastating events will overcome the propaganda of politically motivated climate denial. The problem is that soon it may be too late to prevent some of the most catastrophic consequences for planet and people, which humanity could have avoided if policies based on the factual evidence of science had prevailed over counter-factual propaganda.