TREASON ! Or, Blatant Business as Usual?

Donald Trump’s Helsinki behavior – his grotesque pandering to Vladimir Putin — drew international outrage from across the political spectrum, including U.S. Republicans and even “Fox and Friends.” He had already repeatedly demonstrated his admiration for “strong-man” dictators, including North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Putin himself. Trump dodged the detailed briefings of U.S. intelligence professionals documenting Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election. He made the feeble claim that Putin had strongly assured him that Russia did not meddle.

Donald Trump,Vladimir Putin

Putin and Trump in Helsinki ~ AP photo

Trump seemed hell-bent to ingratiate himself publicly before the ruthless former KGB officer, in front of the international media. Then, the New York Times exposed the fact that key U.S. intelligence officials had briefed Trump even before his inauguration, on the details of how Russian military intelligence officers attempted to interfere with the elections. Who could argue with Brennan’s assessment?

Political Peculiarities

Democrats had already complained of Trump’s failures to carry on the U.S. aggressive foreign policies that have centered on traditional alliances with the Europeans. The U.S. routinely led the NATO nations in putting military pressure on the Soviet Union, and after its demise, on Russia. Trump’s rude and dismissive behavior toward allies at the NATO summit exemplified his frequent abusiveness to traditional allies. Suddenly, the Democrats seemed to stand to the right of Republicans on foreign policy.

Republicans, on the other hand, the traditional enablers of aggression around the world with U.S. leadership of NATO as a key element in the actions of empire, found themselves cornered. They were desperate to retain their positions on foreign policy. Yet they felt compelled to support their increasingly unstable president, even as he violated all the norms of taking a tough stand against “The Russian Threat.”

The political heat generated by Trump’s public dissembling, with Putin standing beside him, became unbearable. He wound back his statement that he “did not see why Russia would have interfered with U.S. elections, claiming he had misspoke the word “wouldn’t” by saying “would.” Yet, the tone of his remarks said otherwise; and he could not resist adding the diversionary claim that “others” may have been involved.

Personal Perversity of a President

Trump contradicted himself on Russian interference at least four times since Helsinki. Something drives Trump to hold to his avoidance of saying or doing anything that might upset Vladimir Putin –directly contradicting the hard evidence that CIA, et al, showed him. What makes Trump so afraid to cross Putin? Is it the mystery “golden showers” video? Why did he try to take back his statements while still affirming them? Is it that Trump’s Helsinki behavior — pandering to Vladimir Putin — drew such international outrage from across the political spectrum? Did he have to respond to that pressure while bowing to Russian pressure as well? It would seem so.

Trump had repeatedly demonstrated his perverse personal admiration for “strong-man” dictators, including North Korea’s ruthless Kim Jong-un and Putin himself. Dismissing the fact-filled briefings of U.S. intelligence professionals in favor of accepting Putin’s “strong assurance” that Russia did not meddle in the U.S. 2016 presidential election would be laughable if not so serious. Trump seemed hell-bent to ingratiate himself before the callous former KGB officer, no matter what. Was it merely his narcissistic sociopathy at work? Or, does Putin really have something on him? Most likely, both.

Treasonous Business as Usual

Former CIA Director John Brennan characterized Trump’s acquiescence to Putin’s claims as treasonous. Who could argue with that assessment? But what drives it? Is Trump’s financial indebtedness to Russian oligarchs close to Putin at play? Nobody knows, except perhaps Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators. I expect that it will all come out in further indictments. Meanwhile Trump’s enterprises profit immensely from his presidency.

Trump delights in fomenting confusion among those around him. His outlandish behavior violates all patriotic protocols of civil international diplomacy, national pride, and the basic precepts of national security. Yet, when the diatribes and dissembling are set aside, what is left? I would argue that in the foreign policy arena anyway, his actual policies as exercised follow conventional practices rather closely. Clearly, he operates closer to the edge and without understanding or caring about the real issues between nations, except where they affect his financial interests and personal pride. Therein lies the danger.

Yes, Trump blusters, dissembles, lies, and consistently contradicts himself. His domestic and climate policies grossly circumvent federal law to allow polluters free reign while the planet burns. But we sometimes focus too much on words and not enough on deeds. As Glen Greenwald of The Intercept has argued, Trump’s foreign policies, disastrous as they are, do not veer very far from those of Obama. More clandestine troops, more killer drones, are just more and more of the same. Certainly, Obama would not have committed his callous abuse of the children of people legitimately seeking asylum from the violence that U.S. foreign policy has enabled in Central America. Racist sociopaths, on the other hand, have no capacity for empathy or compassion, even for children, especially brown ones.

Fake President_image, Northern SunDonald J. Trump exercises business as usual with an ugly face. In doing so, he is looking out for number one without regard to the national interest, nor the interests of humanity itself. But, then, neither have the smooth talkers of the political establishment that he claims to decry while playing their very own game with the added barbarity of being Mister Nasty.

So Much More than Warming: Misunderstanding Climate Change

The words we use to describe the world tend to “frame” our understandings by bracketing the range of images and meanings that make sense to us. Our reasoning builds on deep emotions. Moral reasoning also rests on an emotional sense of right and wrong and the beliefs and personal relationships we hold dear.

1200px-Global_Temperature_Anomaly.svg

Global Warming ~ Source: Wikipedia

The terms used to describe the effects of human induced emissions of large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere, are a good case in point. The facts are quite simple, though their implications are very complex. We gradually changed the chemical composition of the atmosphere over the 200 years during which we accelerated the burning of fossil fuels. In doing so, we humans have caused climate patterns to change.

 

The Rise of Civilization…and Danger

So much of what humans do depends on climate conditions that remained relatively stable during “the ascent of man.” The discovery of fire, the invention of cooking, the advent of agriculture and growing populations they supported, all occurred within the Holocene, the geological epoch of stable climate during the past 11,000 years or so. Some scientists now conclude that the Holocene is over and we have entered a new epoch, the Anthropocene, a period when the activities of humans have so disrupted complex Earth systems that the changes will likely last thousands of years.

Yet we continue to frame our understanding of the changing climate conditions brought on by the industrial era in very strange ways, which stem from our emotional attachments to the past and current course of economic growth. We identify with the utopian dreams of economists who project endless growth of resource use and energy expenditures in a finite world. Such illusions directly conflict with the facts resulting from diverse scientific research findings. The current trends in resource depletion and global warming have already destabilized many of the living Earth systems that we depend upon to survive. Clive Hamilton illuminates these forces in his book, Defiant Earth. Those trends are accelerating as political ‘authorities’ around the world bicker over what reductions in carbon emissions are necessary and who is responsible to achieve them.

Utopian Dreams and Political Power

In the U.S., political debates rage on. Now we have a federal political administration, riddled with Trumpery, which denies the facts of science in order to further its aims to consolidate political power and to enrich the rich ever more. Yet, we all live on the same planet. Even though the initial damage caused by global warming has already begun to affect the most vulnerable populations, ultimately everyone is at risk, even the super-rich. Everything is moving faster than expected.

Scientists frame the processes that are changing the conditions on the planet in ways that reflect the best available data. Unfortunately, the facts challenge long held assumptions about the ability of humans to control nature. Yet, people identify with those who have achieved ‘success’ in the past, before we reached the natural limits of economic growth.

Social Illusion or Hopeful Realism

Propaganda encourages people’s emotions to align with the interests of those who bribe politicians through campaign contributions, personal “expenses,” and various lobbying strategies. As political scientists have demonstrated, most of what passes as “legislation,” consists of actions that favor the economic interests of the rich and powerful, both individuals and corporations. What the public wants or believes in pretty much does not count, except for pandering to the misunderstandings of reality that politicians encourage among their “base.”

So, what about “global warming,” or the current analgesic, “climate change”? Only when deteriorating conditions sufficiently infuse enough people with fear and anger, will direct political action, both locally nationally, take place. Will it be too late? Nobody knows. We can only find hope in realism.

Education: Societal Asset or Personal Debt

Americans have a strange attitude toward education. On the one hand, we all know that a college degree can significantly increase one’s life chances for achieving, until recently, a middleclass income and a comfortable “lifestyle.” On the other hand, college has become very expensive, as well as intimidating for anyone who has experienced a typical rag-tag urban or rural school-district high school education. Therein lies the personal dilemma.

A societal dilemma may be equally important. But pretense and illusion prevent its discussion in polite company. Education in the U.S.A. has gradually become a second-class institution. Politicians are unwilling to foot the bill for maintaining public higher education at the world-class level that characterized our colleges and universities in the 1950s. Growing costs and dwindling public support forced universities to raise tuition and seek research contracts from corporations and government. The nation’s seats of knowledge and discovery became businesses purveying information to whatever special interest paid the price.

Halcyon Days of Higher Education

Construction.Worker

In the 1950s, we didn’t have hard hats.

In the early 1960s, I was able to gain a degree from the University of California because I had worked each high-school summer as a construction laborer (at union scale of $3.50 per hour at the time when my friends got 90₵ at the local gas station). I felt pretty flush. In those days, simple manual labor at a union wage allowed a worker to rent an apartment or very small house in Los Angeles and live comfortably without most non-essential “consumer products.”

In the 1950s in Southern California, a (white) high-school graduate could get an entry-level job at an aerospace company, rent a small apartment, buy a car, and party. As a high-school student living at home in 1955, I was able to save enough to buy a scruffy ’51 Ford in my sophomore year, and transform it into a respectable “hot rod” by my senior year. At the same time, I saved money for college. Well, those were the “good old days.”

Rather than accepting the middle management job my father encouraged me to apply for on graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara, I went off to graduate school, following my curiosity. I worked as a research assistant, then received a National Science Foundation fellowship, partly because the U.S. realized that the Soviets were moving into space full speed ahead with their “Sputnik” satellite while we had failed to support science education.

In 1970, PhD in hand, I began a  career as a professor, then for 35-years I watched from the inide as the California higher education system slide from globally top tier to mid-level mediocrity. Politicians excused the decline in the name of anti-pubic-sector cost cutting and resentment over the moral rebellion of university students of the 1960s.

Conversion of a Societal Asset into Personal Debt

Today, elites and their media mouthpieces treat education as no more than a means to an end. Little or no interest remains in developing the individual and her/his intellectual and moral capacities as a citizen. Higher education became so costly because of the privatization of its finance. Politicians promote the twisted view that its only value was to “train” skilled workers as functionaries in the industrial-consumer economy, even as jobs were automated and outsourced.

Students are “sold” degrees on credit. Privatized student debt has become, just like the private prison business, a huge profit-center for the nation’s financial elite. What should have become an asset for the educated citizen is an extended burden of personal debt constraining civic participation. The neoliberal economy of growth has fully subsumed society and human values beneath its quest for profit.

In that context, it is hardly surprising that the elites who control most institutions along with the economy no longer see the education of the person as an asset to society. Frankly, they don’t give a hoot about the society or its people. Rather, they much prefer to treat education as a commodity for sale and encouraging debt as another profit center. The result is a massive collective student debt that now burdens what might have been our future middleclass. As broad citizen education falters, the backbone of democracy is lost.

Chaos, Contagion, Hatred and Compassion

One way to gain control over institutions and violate laws is to take unprecedented actions to generate societal chaos. Demagogues know that chaos is contagious and susceptible to manipulation through fear and hatred.

We tend to think that a stable society results from the existence of laws and their enforcement by police. The facts are quite the opposite. Laws reflect social stability, to the extent that the people generally honor and follow them. That is because belief in moral and ethical behavior lead to the comfort of predictability, and thereby produce stable social control. Official malevolence, cruelty, and a perverse will to power can institutionalize immoral behavior, as the new normal, even to the extent of abusing children by tearing them away from their parents and locking them in cages, indifeently inflicting trauma that won’t go away.

Sociopaths, fascists, totalitarians, and racists find opportunity in fomenting chaos, fear, anxiety and the hatred they enable. Scapegoating and the denigration of vulnerable groups allows them to manipulate enough of the people to extend their political power.

The will to power knows neither limits nor compassion. Abusers and sociopaths enjoy the suffering of others, even sometimes the suffering of their allies. They escalate their violence to the extent that people tolerate them.

Sociopaths often become racists simply because they have no empathy or compassion. Their will to power is all that matters to them. They take pleasure in creating an enemy to hate. They reserve all empathy for themselves and maybe their closest associates, unless they find it expedient to turn on allies or subordinates despite the loyalty they demanded and received from cronies or underlings.

Fear and loathing are contagious. Authoritarian enabling brings hesitant haters, otherwise constrained by a culture of civility, out into the open. Explicit taunting and calls to discriminate against vulnerable groups is a classic fascist technique for fomenting hatred and mobilizing collective cruelty.

Trump.Huff.PostBuild the Wall!

“Throw ‘em out of here!”

“They are all criminals, rapists and M-13 gangsters!”

The resentful victims of the economy of exclusion are easy targets of authoritarian propaganda and are emboldened by such prejudicial, if coded, encouragement of racist hatred.

“This hurt is going to last a long time” lamented Dr. Marsha Griffin, member of the American Academy of pediatrics, practicing along the Texas border.

Suffer the Children for the Politics of Evil

On a flight home from Los Angeles, I sat next to a young woman, a millennial apparently, who busied herself the whole flight reading a very slick fashion magazine. I notice a book in the back-of-the-seat pouch in front of her. The title was Buddha’s Brain.

I had seen that title somewhere, but could not remember. I asked the millennial to describe the subject of the book. She replied with clear conviction that it was the answer to, well, everything.. Naturally, I had to find out what this and perhaps other millennials might think is “the answer to, well, everything.” As we disembarked, I vowed to myself to look up this book.

Meanwhile, like everyone, I continued feeling bombarded with additional revelations about “the Feds” arbitrary separation of young children from their parents. These folks’ only “crime” was openly to cross our border at official crossings to request asylum from violence in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, or some other dictatorship where we support any totalitarian despot willing to go along with U.S. foreign policy.

When Evil Goes Around, Suffering Comes Around

The U.S. trained many Central American officials in the use of secret police, assassination squads, etc., at an institution once called “The School of the Americas,” located in the U.S. Some earlier refugees from political violence ended up on our urban poverty zones. Some of their children fell into local street gangs. MS-13, which originated in Los Angeles, California, in the 1980s, was one of them. Then we deported them to their home nation where those same gangs took hold.

Now, threatened by street gangs or government kill squads, some parents flee from those countries with their children under threat of torture or death. The new federal response is to ignore all legal procedure for assessing and adjudicating requests for asylum. They throw parents in jail after taking their children, some infants and toddlers, from their parents under false pretenses, such as claims they are taking them to give them a shower.

This political ploy may be the worst Trumpery of all (the word trumpery derives from the Middle English trompery and ultimately from the Middle French tromper, meaning “to deceive“). The current administration variously claims to use this family torture as a deterrent to others intending to seek asylum (true, and evil), that they are only following some law the Democrats passed (lie, there is no such law), or that it is complying with a biblical admonition from God (lie, in the form of selective biblical misquotation).

In fact, Trump administration practices violate both international and U.S. law and custom in their gross and violent actions resulting entirely from the administration’s own choice. These people are committing gross abuses of the human rights of the families involved. Sessions has the unmitigated gall to claim that if the parents did not want that to happen, they should not come to our borders seeking asylum. We have laws and procedures for asylum seekers, which the administration routinely and cavalierly violates, just like so many others. The Attorney General of the U.S. refuses to carry out our laws, in order to achieve a frankly racist and definitely evil political purpose.

Cultural Consensus and Compassion in America

Ralph Nader has argued that if Americans could just get past their partisan debates about abstract political ideology and discuss only the dangers or benefits to their communities by a given action or policy, they could easily come to agreement in their mutual interests. That might not be true in all cases, especially where special economic interests in the outcome are at stake.

However, when the lives and sanity of innocent children are at stake, almost every American would stand up and object to the cruel and unusual, and entirely illegitimate abuse of children that our government is currently conducting in the name of “law and order.” Most Americans are compassionate when they see suffering. Wake up!

Learning from Buddha’s Brain

The book, Buddha’s Brain, is a compilation of principles for living well that result from the integration of the recent findings of neuro-science with 2000 years of Buddhist meditation practice. This remarkable convergence demonstrates the value of practicing mindfulness (clarity and focus of attention on what is important in any moment) and the compassion that results when we are able to widen our circle of “us” to include all of humanity, and even the world. That is when violence, abuse, and torture wane. Do not dismiss all millennials because some were raised with too much sense of entitlement. Some millennials are clearly paying attention.

Call your Senator and your Representative today and demand that they pass a law immediately, explicitly forbidding the separation of children from their parents by any government agency, unless and until the parent is convicted of a crime, sentenced, and imprisoned.

On this matter, a national consensus without compromise is the only way to redeem the moral standing of the American people by our mindfulness of the evil that confronts us so that we can exercise human compassion by demanding that caring for children must overcome petty politics. If we do not act to demand compassion, we are complicit in the torture of children.

The “Standard of Care” and Facts of Life

It had been a shock to be told a few years ago that I had so much plaque in my coronary arteries that I was in imminent danger of a heart attack or stroke. The cardiologist told me that I must immediately follow the protocols of the “standard of care” in cardiology and begin a course of treatment using a strong statin drug or risk the grave consequences of the failure to do so, that’s all. “Stat!” Crestor was the latest highly promoted statin, widely prescribed around the time doctors began recommending statins as “preventive” treatments for suppressing the dreaded cholesterol.

Yet, I still had questions. Why, as I mentioned previously, had I performed so well on the standard stress test? I had walked the accelerating tread-mill, climbing its increasing incline, while monitored by multiple instruments tied to me by a dozen wired sensors. I had done fine; no anomalies whatsoever. And, why had the multiple imaging methods shown no arterial blockage at all? The answer: “you’re lucky.” It was assumed that ‘so far’ the dreaded plaque was so evenly spaced that blockage had not occurred – an unlikely scenario, it seemed to me.

Now isn’t this just the typical thing a man is likely to encounter in his mid-seventies? Medical challenges abound, as do anomalous events. We don’t usually expect what we don’t want to happen.

We take our Vizsla puppy to a nearby dog park every day because she has so much energy. By nature she is a major runner and loves to play with the other dogs. Most of the dog owners there are retired too. As the dogs run and play, we sit around and chat – no, we don’t run and play, we’re not pups anymore. I’ve noticed that conversation often turns from politics to health issues. Experiences with failed diagnoses, spouse’s failing health, our own, etc., are routine. Various “alternative” health practices are a common topic of conversation. “I hate doctors,” is often heard.

But the dog park conversations were not the source of my hint of another approach to what is commonly called cardiology. Apparently, there is more to it than meets the cardiologist’s eye. One friend, a retired obstetrician, told me that he had been seeing a “lipidologist,” who had an approach to cholesterol, plaque, and heart disease in general, unlike that of the cardiologists. “I get thousands of dollars worth of advanced lab testing, and it is all covered by Medicare or is written off by the lab as part of their research.” My ears perked up. I’m always looking for some good science in medicine as an antidote to the stagnation of the “standard of care.”

Another friend who is a consummate researcher and whose wife was doing well despite having been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer metastasized to her brain four years before, recommended that I see the same lipidologist my other friend had mentioned. This friend had been tracking all the latest clinical trials of new experimental cancer treatments and jumping through all the hoops to get his wife into the most efficacious ones. Cancer treatment techniques are fast approaching the ability to target specific cell mutations and kill only cancer cells. If he and his wife had simply listened to the “authority” of the local oncologist and gone with the “standard of care,” (chemotherapy and radiation) I am convinced that she would have died years before she did. Even the latest treatments cannot stop some cancers. But many diseases characteristic of aging can be prevented, moderated, or delayed by wise choices, which have little to do with the “standard of care.”

Next time: the Mad Jubilado encounters the Eccentric Lipidologist.

Ethics, Law and Bulimic Bombast as Con

The Empty Clown Suit who became a Fake President, short of a majority by 2.8+ million votes because of the elitist Electoral College, is amazingly transparent in his routinely bombastic behavior. Narcissistic sociopaths seek both power and adulation, yet are indifferent to the effects of their behavior on others. Thus, for him the idea of self-pardon is not outside his realm of Fake Reason.

The Fake President’s current gambit is classic Trumpery. Yes, it is a sad comment on the fragile American political culture to see his displays of ignorant arrogance unrestrained by propriety or circumstance. Yet it is also a teachable moment in the American political process as well as the source of a high-risk trajectory that could bring on a constitutional crisis. The response of the Congress to blatant assertion of monarch-like power over established processes of the justice system could lead to tyranny or to liberty. That, of course, depends on the tolerance level of the Republicans, and of the rest of us.

Seeking Totalitarian Rule

Can a sitting president “pardon” himself? The absurdity of such a recursive idea would be hilarious if it were not a tragic travesty by a would-be totalitarian dictator modeled on the behavior of his political idols, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. He truly aspires to be “above the law.” The only legal principle on which such an act could “justify” itself is the long dead illusion of the “Devine Right of Kings,” in opposition to which the American republic was founded.

Ultimately, only a “Manchurian President” could assert the “right” to pardon himself. Do you remember the movie, “The Manchurian Candidate”? The characters and their power sources may be different, but the metaphor is appropriate. In the present instance, the “Manchurians” are the American, Russian, and international oligarchs who, like the Fake President, have already reaped great financial gain from his corrupt actions in office. The immoral and criminal behavior goes back as far as his early personal corruption in business and his life-long ethical void.

The Fake President acts in the interests of the international criminal power structure – consider, for example, the Panama papers – to the detriment of the people of the U.S. and the world. The exercise of such power can continue only if left unchecked by the institutions the U.S. founding fathers established in order to maintain a balance of power among executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government. Left unchecked, it will surely lead to outright tyranny. (See Timothy Snyder’s book, On Tyranny, 2017, which offers twenty lessions on how citizens can counter such tendencies.)

Democracy Under Siege

The framers of the Constitution were acutely aware of the danger of excessive power in the hands of the executive; they had had it with the tyranny of King George. The American Revolution began in opposition to tyranny, but it was never quite completed. Tyranny is a constant threat and the people can only thwart it by constant vigilance and the continual assertion of democracy over money ruling politics. To the extent that the financial and corporate elites that benefit from presidential corruption have bought and paid for “our” representatives and senators, the reality of a plutocratic coup looms very large. Rebecca Solnit and others argue with lots of evidence that the coup has already happened.

Of course, we must remember that most of what we see and hear in relation to politics on TV and on social media takes on the melodramatic aura of “reality TV.” All historical context is lost to the machinations and rationalizations of pure power and violence. We must also recognize that the Fake President aims his tweeting mostly at generating a smokescreen sufficient to distract most of the public from the reality denied. That is also the role of Empty Clown Suit #2 – Giuliani, whose babbling he spews forth intending primarily to distract and confuse the public.

Trump uses the pardoning of a bizarre assortment of criminals to claim widespread injustice in an effort to de-legitimize the Department of Justice and therefore Robert Mueller, the special council it appointed to investigate the international criminal interference with U.S. elections with which the Fake President increasingly appears involved. That he even mentions a right to pardon himself speaks to that involvment.

We do indeed live in interesting (and dangerous) times…..