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  Very happy to be in Canada for this particular emergency.  The US administration was all over the map has the pandemic started and is paying the price now for having a doofus as head of state.

 

Long-Simmering Realities

In many ways, the current crisis has, of course, just exposed conditions that should have been attended to long ago. Much that suddenly seems broken was already on the brink when the coronavirus appeared. If anything, the pandemic has simply accelerated already existing trends. As a December 2019 Century Foundation report on “racism, inequality, and health care for African Americans” concluded, “The American health care system is beset with inequalities that have a disproportionate impact on people of color and other marginalized groups.” In fact, in 2019, the London-based Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index had already ranked the American healthcare system 59th in the world for its standard of services.

As bad as Donald Trump and his administration have been, the growing American coronavirus disaster can’t simply be blamed on them. Covid-19 has brought home to the rest of us how over here over there really was. And now, the pathetic White House leadership in this crisis has raised another possibility: autocracy.

The Trump administration’s failure to handle the crisis competently stems in part from the president’s perception that whatever he says, in autocratic fashion, goes — or, as he has often put it, “I can do whatever I want.” From his early assertion that the virus was destined to go from 15 cases to one or disappear in the warmth of April to his fantasy numbers when it came to virus testing or obtaining crucial medical equipment to his recent advocacy of ingesting disinfectants as an antidote for Covid-19, the leader of the United States has come to resemble a run-of-the-mill autocrat spreading disinformation in his own interests. It’s one thing to point to the power-grabbing of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the underhanded machinations of the dictator of North Korea, or the ruthlessness of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. It’s quite another to have a power-hungry leader as our own head of state. Once again, we are not immune. There is here.

With Covid-19, the very idea of American exceptionalism may have seen its last days. The virus has put the realities of wealth inequality, health insecurity, and poor work conditions under a high-powered microscope. Fading from sight are the days when this country’s engagement with the world could be touted as a triumph of leadership when it came to health, economic sustenance, democratic governance, and stability. Now, we are inside the community of nations in a grim new way — as fellow patients, grievers, and supplicants in search of food and shelter, in search, along with so much of humanity, of a more secure existence.

The world, in other words, has turned upside down.

An unhappy view of what probably is to come as we come to terms with notion that the institutions in our societies can no longer adequately serve the needs of the people.

Here, then, is a very partial listing of some of the most important of those signals then readily available to anyone bothering to pay attention. On the eve of the Great Reckoning, however, they were generally treated as mere curiosities or matters of limited urgency — problems to be deferred to a later, more congenial moment.

Item: The reality of climate change was now indisputable. All that remained in question was how rapidly it would occur and the extent (and again rapidity) of the devastation that it would ultimately inflict.

Item: Despite everything that was then known about the dangers of further carbon emissions, the major atmospheric contributor to global warming, they only continued to increase, despite the myriad conferences and agreements intended to curb them. (U.S. carbon emissions, in particular, were still rising then, and global emissions were expected to rise by record or near-record amounts as 2019 began.)

Item: The polar icecap was disappearing, with scientists reporting that it had melted more in just 20 years than in the previous 10,000. This, in turn, meant that sea levels would continue to rise at record rates, posing an increasing threat to coastal cities.

Item:Deforestation and desertification were occurring at an alarming rate.

Item: Approximately eight million metric tons of plastic were seeping into the world’s oceans each year, from the ingestion of which vast numbers of seabirds, fish, and marine mammals were dying annually. Payback would come in the form of microplastics contained in seafood consumed by humans.

Item: With China and other Asian countries increasingly refusing to accept American recyclables, municipalities in the United States found themselves overwhelmed by accumulations of discarded glass, plastic, metal, cardboard, and paper. That year, the complete breakdown of the global recycling system already loomed as a possibility.

Item: Worldwide bird and insect populations were plummeting. In other words, the Sixth Mass Extinction had begun.

All of these fall into the category of what we recognize today as planetary issues of existential importance. But even in 2019 there were other matters of less than planetary significance that ought to have functioned as a wake-up call. Among them were:

Item: With the federal government demonstrably unable to secure U.S. borders, immigration authorities were seizing hundreds of thousands of migrants annually. By 2019, the Trump administration was confining significant numbers of those migrants, including small children, in what were, in effect, concentration camps.

Item: Cybercrime had become a major growth industry, on track to rake in $6 trillion annually by 2021. Hackers were already demonstrating the ability to hold large American cities hostage and the authorities proved incapable of catching up.

Item: With the three richest Americans — Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet — controlling more wealth than the bottom 50% of the entire population, the United States had become a full-fledged oligarchy. While politicians occasionally expressed their dismay about this reality, prior to 2019 it was widely tolerated.

Item: As measured by roads, bridges, dams, or public transportation systems, the nation’s infrastructure was strikingly inferior to what it had been a half-century earlier. (By 2019, China, for instance, had built more than 19,000 miles of high-speed rail; the U.S., not one.) Agreement that this was a problem that needed fixing was universal; corrective action (and government financing), however, was not forthcoming.

Item: Military spending in constant dollars exceeded what it had been at the height of the Cold War when the country’s main adversary, the Soviet Union, had a large army with up-to-date equipment and an arsenal of nuclear weapons. In 2019, Iran, the country’s most likely adversary, had a modest army and no nuclear weapons.

Item: Incivility, rudeness, bullying, and general nastiness had become rampant, while the White House, once the site of solemn ceremony, deliberation, and decision, played host to politically divisive shouting matches and verbal brawls.

To say that Americans were oblivious to such matters would be inaccurate. Some were, for instance, considering a ban on plastic straws. Yet taken as a whole, the many indications of systemic and even planetary dysfunction received infinitely less popular attention than the pregnancies of British royals, the antics of the justifiably forgotten Kardashian clan, or fantasy football, a briefly popular early twenty-first century fad.

Of course, decades later, viewed with the benefit of hindsight, the implications of these various trends and data points seem painfully clear: the dominant ideological abstraction of late postmodernity — liberal democratic capitalism — was rapidly failing or had simply become irrelevant to the challenges facing the United States and the human species as a whole. To employ another then-popular phrase, liberal democratic capitalism had become an expression of “fake news,” a scam sold to the many for the benefit of the privileged few.

“Toward the end of an age,” historian John Lukacs (1924-2019) once observed, “more and more people lose faith in their institutions and finally they abandon their belief that these institutions might still be reformed from within.” Lukacs wrote those words in 1970, but they aptly described the situation that had come to exist in that turning-point year of 2019.”

Ouch.

 

 

A soldiers exit essay on leaving the US war machine.

 

What I Won’t Be Missing

“It’s time to wave goodbye to a litany of absurdity that I witnessed in the institution to which I dedicated my adult life. Some peers, even friends, may call this heresy — a disgruntled former major airing dirty laundry — and maybe in some way it is. Still, what I observed in various combat units, in conversation with senior officers, and as a horrified voyeur of, and actor in, two dirty wars matters. Of that, I remain convinced.

So here’s my official goodbye to all that, to a military and a nation engaged in an Orwellian set of forever wars and to the professional foot soldiers who made so much of it all possible, while the remainder of the country worked, tweeted, shopped, and slept (in every sense of the word). 

Goodbye to the majors who wanted to be colonels and the colonels who wanted to be generals — at any cost. To the sociopaths who rose in the ranks by trampling on the souls of their overburdened troopers, trading lives for minor bumps in statistics and pats on the shoulder from aggressive superiors.

Goodbye to the generals who led like so many lieutenants, the ones who knew the tactics but couldn’t for the life of them think strategically, eternally proving the Peter Principle right with every promotion past their respective levels of incompetence. 

So long to the flag officers convinced that what worked at the squad level — physical fitness, esprit de corps, and teamwork — would win victories at the brigade and division level in distant, alien lands.

Farewell to the generals I served under who then shamelessly spun through Washington’s revolving door, trading in their multi-starred uniforms for six- and seven-figure corporate gigs on the boards of weapons manufacturers, aka “the merchants of death” (as they were known once upon a distant time), and so helped feed the unquenchable appetite of the military-industrial beast.

Farewell to the senior generals, so stuck in what they called “their lane” that they were unwilling (or intellectually unable) to advise civilian policymakers about missions that could never be accomplished, so trapped in the GWOT box that they couldn’t say no to a single suggestion from chickenhawk militarists on the Hill or in the Oval Office.

Goodbye to the devotees of American exceptionalism who filled the Army’s ranks, stalwart evangelists of a civic religion that believed there was a secret American inside every Arab or Afghan, ready to burst forth with the slightest poke from Uncle Sam’s benevolent bayonet. 

Ciao to staff officers who mistook “measures of performance” (doing lots of stuff) for “measures of effectiveness” (doing the right stuff). I won’t miss the gaggles of obtuse majors and colonels who demanded measurable “output” — numbers of patrols completed, numbers of houses searched, counts of PowerPoint slides published — from already overtasked captains and the soldiers they led and who will never learn the difference between doing lots and doing well.

Goodbye to battalion and brigade commanders who already had their hands full unsuccessfully “pacifying” entire districts and provinces in alien lands, yet seemed more concerned with the cleanliness of troopers’ uniforms and the two-mile-run times of their units, prioritizing physical fitness over tactical competence, empathy, or ethics.

Godspeed to the often-intolerant conservatism and evangelical Christianity infusing the ranks. […]”

  What’s going on in the US is chilling by nature.  The democratic underpinnings of their society are being being eroded at frightening rate as misinformation, lies, and propaganda replace the space once reserved for reasonable public discourse.  This process of disintegration isn’t new, but is hastened by the current republican administration’s dedication to a post-truth version of reality exemplified by their leader whose internal process seems to be this:  “I am right because I am always right”.

Scary stuff.  Arnold Isaacs, writing for Tom’s Dispatch catches a glimpse into the post-truth world that much of the American leadership seems to be mired in.

 

“President Trump looks like a quite different case. He clearly lies consciously at times, but generally the style and content of his falsehoods give the impression that he has engaged in a kind of internal mental Photoshopping, reshaping facts inside his mind until they conform to something he wants to say at a given moment.

A recent report in the Daily Beast described an episode that fits remarkably well with that theory.

As told by the Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng, at a March 2017 White House meeting between the president and representatives of leading veterans organizations, Rick Weidman of Vietnam Veterans of America brought up the subject of Agent Orange, the widely used U.S. defoliant that has had long-term health effects on American soldiers and Vietnamese villagers.

As Suebsaeng reconstructed the discussion, Trump responded by asking if Agent Orange was “that stuff from that movie” — a reference evidently to the 1979 film Apocalypse Now. Several veterans in the room tried to explain to the president that the scene he remembered involved napalm, an incendiary agent, not Agent Orange. But Trump wouldn’t back down, Suebsaeng recounted, “and proceeded to say things like, ‘no, I think it’s that stuff from that movie.'” His comment directly to Weidman was, “Well, I think you just didn’t like the movie.”

What makes the Daily Beast report particularly revealing is not just that Trump was ignorant of the facts and would not listen to people who clearly knew better. That behavior is all too familiar to anyone even casually aware of Trump’s record. The argument with the veterans was different because his misstatement did not arise from any of the usual reasons. He was not answering a critic or tearing down someone who frustrated him or making an argument for a policy opinion or defending some past statement.

Sticking to his version of Agent Orange was purely a reflection of his personality. On a subject one can safely assume he had not thought about until that moment, he seized on a fragmentary memory of something he’d seen on a screen years earlier, jumped to a wrong conclusion, and was then immediately convinced that he was correct solely because he had heard himself saying it — not only certain that he was right, but oblivious to the fact that everyone he was talking to knew more about the subject than he did.

In effect, this story strongly suggests, Trump’s thought process (if you can call it that) boils down to: I am right because I am always right.

Lots of people absorb facts selectively and adapt them to fit opinions they already hold. That’s human nature. But the president’s ability to twist the truth, consciously or not, is extreme. So is his apparently unshakable conviction that no matter what the subject is, no one knows more than he does, which means he has no need to listen to anyone who tries to correct his misstatements. In a person with his power and responsibilities, those qualities are truly frightening.

As alarming as his record is, though, it would be a serious mistake to think of Trump as the only or even the principal enemy of truth and truth-tellers. There is a large army out there churning out false information, using technology that lets them spread their messages to a mass audience with minimal effort and expense. But the largest threat to truth, I fear, is not from the liars and truth twisters, but from deep in our collective and individual human nature.”

It’s easier to believe a familiar lie than the uncomfortable truth – this is our human tendency – but now, more than ever, we need to seek out that uncomfortable space where we see ourselves and our situations for what they are, not what we want them to be.

 

Why would rational people choose the least efficient method of priming the economic pump? I’m sure it has much to do with making the the correct people and factions in society benefit from the policies put in place. The notion of the ‘public good’ seems almost a quaint notion in the realm of US politics.

 “The Pentagon’s Covert Industrial Policy

One reason the Trump administration has chosen to pump money into the Pentagon is that it’s the path of least political resistance in Washington. A combination of fear, ideology, and influence peddling radically skews “debate” there in favor of military outlays above all else. Fear — whether of terrorism, Russia, China, Iran, or North Korea — provides one pillar of support for the habitual overfunding of the Pentagon and the rest of the national security state (which in these years has had a combined trillion-dollarannual budget). In addition, it’s generally accepted in Washington that being tagged “soft on defense” is the equivalent of political suicide, particularly for Democrats. Add to that the millions of dollars spent by the weapons industry on lobbying and campaign contributions, its routine practice of hiring former Pentagon and military officials, and the way it strategically places defense-related jobs in key states and districts, and it’s easy to see how the president and Congress might turn to arms spending as the basis for a covert industrial policy.

The Trump plan builds on the Pentagon’s already prominent role in the economy. By now, it’s the largest landowner in the country, the biggestinstitutional consumer of fossil fuels, the most significant source of funds for advanced government research and development, and a major investor in the manufacturing sector. As it happens, though, expanding the Pentagon’s economic role is the least efficient way to boost jobs, innovation, and economic growth.

Unfortunately, there is no organized lobby or accepted bipartisan rationale for domestic funding that can come close to matching the levers of influence that the Pentagon and the arms industry have at their command. This only increases the difficulty Congress has when it comes to investing in infrastructure, clean energy, education, or other direct paths toward increasing employment and economic growth.

Former congressman Barney Frank once labeled the penchant for using the Pentagon as the government’s main economic tool “weaponized Keynesianism” after economist John Maynard Keynes’s theory that government spending should pick up the slack in investment when private-sector spending is insufficient to support full employment. Currently, of courseOK, the official unemployment rate is low by historical standards. However, key localities and constituencies, including the industrial Midwest, rural areas, and urban ones with significant numbers of black and Hispanic workers, have largely been left behind. In addition, millions of “discouraged workers” who want a job but have given up actively looking for one aren’t even counted in the official unemployment figures, wage growth has been stagnant for years, and the inequality gap between the 1% and the rest of America is already in Gilded Age territory.

Such economic distress was crucial to Donald Trump’s rise to power. In campaign 2016, of course, he endlessly denounced unfair trade agreements, immigrants, and corporate flight as key factors in the plight of what became a significant part of his political base: downwardly mobile and displaced industrial workers (or those who feared that this might be their future fate).”

    Some historical context By Tom Englehardt showing the lead up to the bright and cheery future we now inhabit.

 

“In the end, those seeds, first planted in Afghan and Pakistani soil in 1979, led to the attacks of September 11, 2001.  That day was the very definition of chaos brought to the imperial heartland, and spurred the emergence of a new, post-Constitutional governing structure, through the expansion of the national security state to monumental proportions and a staggering version of imperial overreach.  On the basis of the supposed need to keep Americans safe from terrorism (and essentially nothing else), the national security state would balloon into a dominant — and dominantly funded — set of institutions at the heart of American political life (without which, rest assured, FBI Director James Comey’s public interventions in an American election would have been inconceivable).  In these years, that state-within-a-state became the unofficial fourth branch of government, at a moment when two of the others — Congress and the courts, or at least the Supreme Court — were faltering.

The 9/11 attacks also unleashed the Bush administration’s stunningly ambitious, ultimately disastrous Global War on Terror, and over-the-top fantasies about establishing a military-enforced Pax Americana, first in the Middle East and then perhaps globally.  They also unleashed its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. drone assassination program across significant parts of the planet, the building of an unprecedented global surveillance state, the spread of a kind of secrecy so all-encompassing that much of government activity became unknowable to “the People,” and a kind of imperial overreach that sent literally trillions of dollars (often via warrior corporations) tumbling into the abyss.  All of these were chaos-creating factors.

At the same time, the basic needs of many Americans went increasingly unattended, of those at least who weren’t part of a Gilded Age 1% sucking up American wealth in an extraordinary fashion.  The one-percenters then repurposed some of those trickle-up funds for the buying and selling of politicians, again in an atmosphere of remarkable secrecy.  (It was often impossible to know who had given money to whom for what.)  In turn, that stream of Supreme Court-approved funds changed the nature of, and perhaps the very idea of, what an election was.

Meanwhile, parts of the heartland were being hollowed out, while — even as the military continued to produce trillion-dollar boondoggle weapons systems — the country’s inadequately funded infrastructure began to crumble in a way that once would have been inconceivable.  Similarly, the non-security-state part of the government — Congress in particular — began to falter and wither.  Meanwhile, one of the country’s two great political parties launched a scorched-earth campaign against governing representatives of the other and against the very idea of governing in a reasonably democratic fashion or getting much of anything done at all.  At the same time, that party shattered into disorderly, competing factions that grew ever more extreme and produced what is likely to become a unique celebrity presidency of chaos.  

The United States with all its wealth and power is, of course, hardly an Afghanistan or a Libya or a Yemen or a Somalia.  It still remains a genuinely great power, and one with remarkable resources to wield and fall back on.  Nonetheless, the recent election offered striking evidence that the empire of chaos had indeed made the trip homeward.  It’s now with us big time, all the time.  Get used to it.”

Something something reaping…and sowing et cetera.  :/

A regulated economy may not perform at peak performance, but rather to its credit has built in stability and resilience in order to mute and calm the wider variances of the business cycle.  The rules and regulations that govern Banking and Finance are there for a reason – to protect American citizens from the predatory nature of untrammelled capitalism.  It comes as no surprise that the current Republican Administration is doing its best to eliminate the checks and balances currently in place and promote winner take all (at the cost of society) capitalism.  Nomi Prins describes the regulation situation in the US:

     “The Emperor Has No Rules

Nearly every regulatory institution in Trumpville tasked with monitoring the financial system is now run by someone who once profited from bending or breaking its rules. Historically, severe financial crises tend to erupt after periods of lax oversight and loose banking regulations. By filling America’s key institutions with representatives of just such negligence, Trump has effectively hired a team of financial arsonists.

Naturally, Wall Street views Trump’s chosen ones with glee. Amid the present financial euphoria of the stock market, big bank stock prices have soared. But one thing is certain: when the next crisis comes, it will leave the last meltdown in the shade because our financial system is, at its core, unreformed and without adult supervision. Banks not only remain too big to fail but are still growing, while this government pushes policies guaranteed to put us all at risk again.

There’s a pattern to this: first, there’s a crash; then comes a period of remorse and talk of reform; and eventually comes the great forgetting. As time passes, markets rise, greed becomes good, and Wall Street begins to champion more deregulation. The government attracts deregulatory enthusiasts and then, of course, there’s another crash, millions suffer, and remorse returns.

Ominously, we’re now in the deregulation stage following the bull run. We know what comes next, just not when. Count on one thing: it won’t be pretty.”

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