Who Are These People?

Monterey Herald, May 23, 2017, Letters to the Editor:

What is most disturbing about Donald Trump’s presidency? Is it his horrendous cabinet picks? His lies and exaggerations? His bizarre tweets? The Russia connection? The firing of James Comey? The conflicts of interest? It’s hard to pick one. But my vote goes to the 38 to 40 percent of Americans who consistently and inexplicably approve of his job in office. That scares me the most!
–Arlen Grossman
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THE DEATH OF THE REPUBLIC

By Chris Hedges/ Truthdig/ May 21,2017 

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I’ll Take Three Scoops!

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When the World Is Led By a Child

By David Brooks/ New York Times/ May 15, 2017

At certain times Donald Trump has seemed like a budding authoritarian, a corrupt Nixon, a rabble-rousing populist or a big business corporatist.

But as Trump has settled into his White House role, he has given a series of long interviews, and when you study the transcripts it becomes clear that fundamentally he is none of these things.

At base, Trump is an infantalist. There are three tasks that most mature adults have sort of figured out by the time they hit 25. Trump has mastered none of them. Immaturity is becoming the dominant note of his presidency, lack of self-control his leitmotif.

First, most adults have learned to sit still. But mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom. Trump’s answers in these interviews are not very long — 200 words at the high end — but he will typically flit through four or five topics before ending up with how unfair the press is to him.

His inability to focus his attention makes it hard for him to learn and master facts. He is ill informed about his own policies and tramples his own talking points. It makes it hard to control his mouth. On an impulse, he will promise a tax reform when his staff has done little of the actual work.

Second, most people of drinking age have achieved some accurate sense of themselves, some internal criteria to measure their own merits and demerits. But Trump seems to need perpetual outside approval to stabilize his sense of self, so he is perpetually desperate for approval, telling heroic fabulist tales about himself.

“In a short period of time I understood everything there was to know about health care,” he told Time. “A lot of the people have said that, some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber,” he told The Associated Press, referring to his joint session speech.

Me

By Trump’s own account, he knows more about aircraft carrier technology than the Navy. According to his interview with The Economist, he invented the phrase “priming the pump” (even though it was famous by 1933). Trump is not only trying to deceive others. His falsehoods are attempts to build a world in which he can feel good for an instant and comfortably deceive himself.

 He is thus the all-time record-holder of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the phenomenon in which the incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence. Trump thought he’d be celebrated for firing James Comey. He thought his press coverage would grow wildly positive once he won the nomination. He is perpetually surprised because reality does not comport with his fantasies.

Third, by adulthood most people can perceive how others are thinking. For example, they learn subtle arts such as false modesty so they won’t be perceived as obnoxious.

But Trump seems to have not yet developed a theory of mind. Other people are black boxes that supply either affirmation or disapproval. As a result, he is weirdly transparent. He wants people to love him, so he is constantly telling interviewers that he is widely loved. In Trump’s telling, every meeting was scheduled for 15 minutes but his guests stayed two hours because they liked him so much.

Which brings us to the reports that Trump betrayed an intelligence source and leaked secrets to his Russian visitors. From all we know so far, Trump didn’t do it because he is a Russian agent, or for any malevolent intent. He did it because he is sloppy, because he lacks all impulse control, and above all because he is a 7-year-old boy desperate for the approval of those he admires.

The Russian leak story reveals one other thing, the dangerousness of a hollow man.

Our institutions depend on people who have enough engraved character traits to fulfill their assigned duties. But there is perpetually less to Trump than it appears. When we analyze a president’s utterances we tend to assume that there is some substantive process behind the words, that it’s part of some strategic intent.

But Trump’s statements don’t necessarily come from anywhere, lead anywhere or have a permanent reality beyond his wish to be liked at any given instant.

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

“We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him,” David Roberts writes in Vox. “It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next. But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there is no there there?”

And out of that void comes a carelessness that quite possibly betrayed an intelligence source, and endangered a country.

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How Trump Sees the World

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Reign of Idiots

By Chris Hedges/ Truthdig/ April 30, 2017

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How Much Longer?

The Global Elite Are Headed For a Fall. And They Don’t Even Know It.

By Damon Linker/ TheWeek/ April 27, 2017

 

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The global elite think they’re sitting pretty. How wrong they are.

Democrats keep telling themselves that Hillary Clinton “really” won the 2016 election (or would have, had it not been for interference by Vladimir Putin and James Comey). Republicans keep patting themselves on the back about how much power they now wield at all levels of government. And centrists throughout the West are breathing a sigh of relief about Emmanuel Macron’s likely victory over the National Front’s Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential election on May 7.

You can almost hear the sentiments echoing down the corridors of (political and economic) power on both sides of the Atlantic: “There’s nothing to worry about. Everything’s fine. No need for serious soul searching or changes of direction. Sure, populism’s a nuisance. But we’re keeping it at bay. We just need to stay the course, fiddle around the edges a little bit, and certainly not give an inch to the racists and xenophobes who keep making trouble. We know how the world works, and we can handle the necessary fine tuning of the meritocracy. We got this.”

 

And why wouldn’t they think this way? They are themselves the greatest beneficiaries of the global meritocracy — and that very fact serves to validate its worth. They live in or near urban centers that are booming with jobs in tech, finance, media, and other fields that draw on the expertise they acquired in their educations at the greatest universities in the world. They work hard and are rewarded with high salaries, frequent travel, nice cars, and cutting-edge gadgets. It’s fun, anxious, thrilling — an intoxicating mix of brutal asceticism and ecstatic hedonism.

The problem is that growing numbers of people — here in America, in the U.K., in France, and beyond — don’t see it like this at all. Or rather, they only see it from the outside, a position from which it looks very different. What they see is a system that is fundamentally unjust, rigged, and shot through with corruption and self-dealing.

They see Marissa Meyer, the CEO of Yahoo, taking home a cool $186 million in stock (on top of many millions in additional salary and bonuses) for five years of “largely unsuccessful” work.

They see Henrique De Castro, who worked briefly for Meyer at Yahoo, pulling $109 million in compensation for a disastrous 15 months on the job.

They see Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly getting fired from Fox News for sexually harassing a parade of women over the years — and taking home tens of millions of dollars each in severance.

 

They see former Democratic President Barack Obama sharing a $65 million book advance with his wife, earning $400,000 for a single speech scheduled to be delivered in the fall at investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald, and gallivanting around the globe with David Geffen, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, and Bono.

In Washington, they see a president who promised to act as the people’s voice appointing a long list of millionaires and billionaires to top positions. They see the White House and Congress struggling to pass a health-care bill that will leave millions more without insurance coverage at a time when a majority of Americans and a plurality of Republicans favor a single-payer system that would cover all. They see a president proposing to drastically cut corporate and individual taxes (including the elimination of inheritance taxes, which will benefit only the richest of the rich) when polls show that the top frustration with the tax system is that corporations and the wealthy don’t pay their fair share. They see a unified push to cut government programs at a moment when polls show a growing share of the public prefers bigger government

To those on the center-left who are disgusted by the plutocratic antics of the Republican Party but dismiss the significance of Obama cashing in on his time in the White House by enriching himself and hobnobbing with the most famous people on the planet, I’d only note that “optics” (also known as “appearances”) matter in politics — perhaps more than anything else.

And this is how things appear at this historical moment: The world is run by an international elite that lives in a rarified world of seemingly boundless power and luxury. Though the members of this elite consider their own power and luxury to be completely legitimate, it is not. It is the product of a system that’s rigged to benefit them while everybody else languishes in declining small cities and provincial towns, eking out a dreary existence, toiling away their lives in menial service-sector jobs or scraping by on disability checks while seeking out a modicum of fleeting joy in the dumbstruck haze of a painkiller high.

Unless something fundamental changes, the gap separating these worlds will only increase, economically, culturally, and psychologically. Republicans show every sign of continuing to pursue policies that actively make the economic problems worse. Centrist Democrats, meanwhile, appear to be both unwilling to propose a sweeping critique of the outlook and policies that got us to this point in the first place and inclined to dismiss the populist anger building all around us as an expression of atavistic prejudice.

This cannot last. At this rate, make no mistake: The global elite will fall.

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How to Handle North Korea

Letter to the Editor, L.A. Times, 4/20, Monterey Herald, 4/21

Another brilliant strategy by the Trump Administration: provoke and threaten North Korea. Two nuclear-armed nations with narcissistic, inexperienced, unstable leaders. What could possibly go wrong?

Arlen Grossman

NKorea

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Syria: Where is the Evidence?

Unjust Killing is Murder: The Cruise Missile Attack On Syria and the Just War Doctrine

By Doran Hunter/Christian Democracy Magazine/April 10, 2017

David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Star

David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Star

Barely 48 hours after the release of sarin gas in Idlib, Syria, the US military launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase, substantially damaging the base, and killing both military personnel and civilians. From his Mar-a-Lago resort, Trump declared, citing no evidence, that there “can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.” [1]

Just hours after the poison gas incident, again with absolutely zero proof, mainstream media outlets were already condemning Bashar al-Assad for the attack, becoming willing instruments in the propaganda offensive for war that had so humiliatingly flagged in 2013 in the wake of the almost certainly bogus claims of chemical weapons use by Assad in Ghouta. [2] 

What kind of major investigation should we suppose was undertaken in the course of those few hours? It must have been a rigorous and thorough one, since a cruise missile attack would result, and did result, in the loss of human life? Right?

At this point in the course of US imperialism’s foul and blood-soaked track record of lies and mass murder in the region—have we really forgotten “weapons of mass destruction” in 2003 and the tragedy that followed?—it is depressing to see so much uncritical media support for the Trump Administration’s aggression.

To review the known facts: Assad had surrendered his chemical weapons stockpile in 2013, under international supervision, and in line with the terms brokered by Russia. With the aid of Russian and Shiite militias, he had driven ISIS and al-Qaeda from every major Syrian population center. By this point, the “rebel” jihadist forces held sway only in rural areas. Only a few days before the incident, representatives of European nations would meet to decide on their policy for the future of Syria. Rex Tillerson, former Exxon CEO, now secretary of state, had just said that it was up to the Syrians themselves to decide who their leaders would be, and that Assad’s rule would have to be accepted.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for Assad to have ordered this attack, let alone evidence that he did so. He would not have nearly achieved total victory over the “rebels” only to suddenly decide to gas children and other civilians, which he would know would provide the kind of pretext for a major attack for which his enemies have been hoping. Seventy civilians died in Idlib. In return, an airbase was destroyed. Does that seem like a calculation that would have been made by Assad, who has managed to hang on to power throughout six years of the proxy war, with both the superpower US and Europe against him?

In his remarks at Mar-a-Largo, the “commander in chief” pretended to be moved by the sarin victims, saying, “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.” [3] This, while just over the border in Mosul, Iraq, US bombs have rained hell on women and children in the hundreds, not to mention the over 1 million killed since the onset of US aggression in 2003. Where is the thought for those children of God?

As usual, we the public debate such matters in terms framed for us by the military and foreign policy establishment—in other words, almost always on false premises.

“A Hitleresque tyrant has deliberately dropped chemical bombs on children and hospitals. If left unchecked, he will only commit worse atrocities. Think of the children!”

The fact is, the Syrian conflict, though complex, essentially boils down to a fight over control of energy resources and regional influence. As the Guardian reported in 2013:

“In 2009 . . . Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter’s North field, contiguous with Iran’s South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets—albeit crucially bypassing Russia. An Agence France-Presse report claimed Assad’s rationale was ‘to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas.’

 

“Instead, the following year, Assad pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria, that would also potentially allow Iran to supply gas to Europe from its South Pars field shared with Qatar. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project was signed in July 2012—just as Syria’s civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo—and earlier this year Iraq signed a framework agreement for construction of the gas pipelines. 

“The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan was a ‘direct slap in the face’ to Qatar’s plans. No wonder Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in a failed attempt to bribe Russia to switch sides, told President Vladmir Putin that ‘whatever regime comes after’ Assad, it will be ‘completely’ in Saudi Arabia’s hands and will ‘not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports,’ according to diplomatic sources. When Putin refused, the Prince vowed military action.” [4] 

And so we had the entrance into the conflict of the Saudi-, Qatari-, and Turkish-funded terrorist jihadi proxies, with the US concerned to maintain its hegemony over the region for economic reasons, and funding its own militias and other dubious characters. Diplomatic cables revealing US plans to destabilize Syria can be read here [5], and CIA plans to instigate the now infamous demonstrations are documented here [6].

As is almost certainly the case, the chemical attack was not carried out by the government of Syria. The “rebels” and their allies have every reason to have done it, and Assad had none. The incident, in any case, is being used as a pretext to further the aims of US imperialism, not to relieve human suffering. There is no case to be made on the basis of Just War Doctrine. [7] [8]  Although I have said that it is unlikely in the extreme that Assad carried out the attack, and that is was likely carried out by forces opposed to him, no serious investigation has been done. So that means we cannot assign culpability, and, therefore, the first criterion for Just War Doctrine, “the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain,” has not been satisfied. Strictly speaking, we do not know who the aggressor was. As I said, it is likely that forces opposed to Assad carried it out (and then any retaliation must be directed at them). Moreover, there is the second criterion: “all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.” Can anyone seriously maintain that this was done in the 48 hours between incident and response?

This latest act of US military aggression is therefore a violation of the Fifth Commandment—an act of murder. And those in the Church closest to the situation, the Syrian Catholic Bishops, have indeed condemned the bombing in clear and decisive terms, pointing out as I did above that no investigation has been done, that Assad had no reason to carry out such an attack, and that Syrian Christians will pay the price. [9] 

If you live in a foreign country that is a target of US imperialism, and if US officials and their media lackeys begin making impassioned pleas about “human rights abuses” and “think of the children!” it is time to gather your loved ones and head for the hills, because you can be certain that horror and death are on the way.

 

 

 

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The Pandora’s Box of War

By Chris Hedges/Truthdig/April 7, 2017

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