Will President Trump Make A Wise Decision or a Dangerous One?
Trump almost took the country to the abyss, but instead he stopped and made the smarter choice. Instead of giving Bannon a rubber stamp on the national security council he gave the national security state a man they trust and respect.
Self-absorbed and irrational Donald Trump may well be, but on Thursday he held what was probably the most interesting and entertaining White House press conference ever. These are usually grimly ritualistic events in which select members of the media establishment, who have often come to see themselves as part of the permanent government of the US, ask predictable questions and get equally predictable replies.
The conventions of democracy are preserved but nobody is much the wiser, and the general tone is one of fawning credulity towards whatever line the administration is adopting. That this has long been the case was shown in the fascinating book about the press coverage of the 1972 presidential campaign, The Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse, which notes that negative popular perceptions of the media truckling to power is largely true of the White House correspondents, though not of other reporters.
For now, Trump reminds one more of a theatrical populist like Silvio Berlusconi than anything resembling a proto-fascist or authoritarian demagogue like Benito Mussolini. This perception may change as he secures his grip on the levers of power as he promises to do, blaming leaks from the US intelligence services on holdovers from the Obama administration.
But the lesson to be drawn from the history of all populist authoritarian regimes is that there is always a wide gap between what they promise and what they accomplish. As this gap becomes wider, the regime responds by concealing or lying about it through control or closure of the media. This was the trajectory in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is holding a referendum in April which will establish an all-powerful presidency. In the run-up to the vote the Turkish media simply reports military failures in Syria as brilliant successes and even mildly critical tweets can lead to the tweeter being sacked or imprisoned. Press freedoms may never be extinguished to the same degree in the US, but then many Turkish journalists did not foresee what was going to happen to them.
At present, this is a golden era in American journalism, because established media outlets such as CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post find themselves under unprecedented and open attacks from the powers that be. Richard Nixon may have felt persecuted by press and television, but he never counter-attacked with the same vigour and venom as Trump. Discussions on CNN, which used to be notoriously soporific, have suddenly become lively and intelligent, and the same is true of the rest of the mainline media.
This radicalisation of the establishment media may not last and is accompanied by a significant rearrangement of history. Lying by the Trump administration is presented as wholly unprecedented, but what has really changed is the position of the media itself, forgetful of its past complicity in claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or that war in Libya would bring peace and democracy to that country.
“Fake news” and “false facts” are the battle cries in this ferocious struggle for power in Washington in which each side takes a high moral tone, while trying to land any low blow they think they can get away with. Trump, accused of everything aside from grave-robbing, is said to have been aided by the dark hand of Vladimir Putin in winning the election, in a manner that is far beyond Russian capabilities. The Kremlin is credited with demonic foresight whereby it sponsored Trump as a candidate in the presidential election long before any American politician or commentator thought he had a chance.
A bizarre feature of the present confrontation is that the Democrats and liberals have relaunched McCarthyism, something they would have decried as a toxic episode in American political history until a few months ago. Just as Senator Joe McCarthy claimed in 1950 to have a list of communist infiltrators in the State Department, so any contact between a Trump supporter or official and a Russian is now being reported as suspicious and potentially treacherous. It is difficult to see where Trump is wrong when he tweeted that “the Democrats had to come up with a story as to why they lost the election, and so badly, so they made up a story – RUSSIA. Fake news!”
Trump has a point, but he is also entirely hypocritical because he himself probably won the election because of the spurious significance given to Hillary Clinton’s private emails and her supposed responsibility for the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi by jihadis. Paradoxically, she was blamed for one of the few bad things that happened in Libya that was not her fault. In recent decades it has been the Republicans who have made a speciality in promoting trivial offences or no offence at all into major issues in order to discredit political opponents. In the 1990s they succeeded in smearing the Clintons by elevating a minor unsuccessful real estate deal into the Whitewater scandal. Probably the biggest Democratic Party “false fact” success came in the Presidential election in 1960 when Kennedy claimed that the Republicans had allowed “a missile gap” to develop between the US and the Soviet Union, though he knew this was untrue since he had been officially briefed that the US had far more missiles than the Russians.
The phrases “fake news” and “false facts” give a misleading impression of what really happens in the course of political combat now or in the past. A direct disprovable lie, like Kennedy on the missile gap, is unusual. More frequent is systematic exaggeration of the gravity of real events such as Clinton’s emails or Trump’s Russian connections.
Sound advice on this was given 300 years ago in Dr John Arbuthnot’s wonderful treatise on “the Art of Political Lying”, published in 1712, which warns that once a false fact or lie is lodged in the public mind, it may be impossible to persuade people that it is untrue except by another lie. He says, as an example, that if there is a rumour that the pretender to the British throne in exile in France has come to London, do not contradict it by saying he was never in England. Rather “you must prove by eyewitnesses that he came no farther than Greenwich, but then went back again.” He warns against spreading lies about a political leader which are directly contrary to their known character and previous behaviour. Better to give credibility to a lie by keeping within realms of credibility, by blackening the name of a prince known to be merciful “that he has pardoned a criminal who did not deserve it.”
Arbuthnot assumes that political parties lie as a matter of course, and that the only way for the public to limit the power of governments is to lie as much as they do. He says that, just as ministers use political lying to support their power, “it is but reasonable that the people should employ the same weapon to defend themselves, and pull them down.”
Could this be the fate of Trump? He became president because false facts fatally damaged Hillary Clinton – and now the same thing is happening to him.
In her last book before she died, UK author Jennifer Diski wrote, “Under no circumstances is anyone to say that I lost a battle with cancer. … [I] will have nothing whatever to do with any notion of desert, punishment, fairness or unfairness, or any kind of moral causality.”
Battle imagery is in the news in Canada because Sick Kids Hospital (Toronto) shows children “fighting” disease. The responses, once again, are that disease is a journey, even a dance, something we live with.
Maybe the real issue is why it is necessary for an insightful writer like Diski, known for “zestful experimenting”, to tell us cancer is not a moral event.
We consider ourselves scientific. The truth is that we are all in the path of an oncoming train, just as in Alex Colville’s famous painting. If cancer withdraws its threat, annihilation is still heading my way.
In Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Settembrini, the sunny liberal optimist, despises “the tie that binds [us] … to disease and death”. Yet Settembrini is dying. Praising science, while denying his own condition, he’s like “ancient Gauls who shot their arrows against Heaven”.
Part of Mann’s point to post-war Europe was that human beings are subject to laws of nature, like everything else in the universe. The liberal slogan, and it is a slogan, is that individuals have power to seize our destiny. Settembrini couldn’t seize his. More significant, he didn’t know it.
Smart, sensitive thinkers say the art of dying and the art of living are the same. The reason is simple: All life, including human life, involves decay. Every moment involves change, which is loss. We live better, with less fear, if we see things as they are. Illusions create false expectations, which fail, causing misery.
We don’t teach such thinkers. They are usually Asian, Indigenous, African or Latin American. Philosophy departments across Canada teach only the wisdom of white, mostly English-speaking philosophers of North Atlantic descent and/or education.
Like Settembrini, we want no truck with nature’s “evil, irrational power”. We shore up the battle imagery.
German playwright, Bertoldt Brecht, found in ancient Chinese theatre his lifelong strategy for hard times: the best resistance is no resistance. It doesn’t mean to cave. It means to go along with open eyes, finding unexpected opportunity. Brecht contrasted this idea with one common in European theatre: the individual “standing tall” against the storm, beating the wind, declaring it shouldn’t happen.
The problem with the “cancer battle”, as some have said, is that it obscures another struggle: that to come to terms with essential vulnerability and the ultimate unpredictability of existence, despite science. Such vulnerability is shared by all, cancer or no cancer.
Knowing existential insecurity is empowering. It is connection, for example, between rich white southern Ontarians and the First Nations people of Attawapiskat (in northern Ontario). Following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, settler Canadians are urged to know our personal stake in the well-being of the country’s first inhabitants. It is hard to do in self-satisfied ignorance of mutual dependence.
I don’t blame medical practitioners. I blame Humanities scholars paid to provide society’s conceptual tools. They may be shooting arrows at the Heavens, seduced by liberalism’s false freedoms. We need a conception of health that looks squarely at the lights down the tracks.
Ancient cultures (and some more recent) have not so arrogantly seen death as injustice, as if it might and should not happen. Universities should teach such traditions as philosophy (not just as religion, literature or ethnography). It could be a step toward more genuine respect for science.
Susan Babbitt is author of Humanism and Embodiment (Bloomsbury 2014).
An earlier version of this article appeared at Global Research.
That the New York Times demonstrates a systematic editorial bias in favor of Israeli state power and against Palestinian rights is old news. Whether it is reporting on the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, the deadly Gaza flotilla raid, cease fire violations between the IDF and Hamas, or any other aspect of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the New York Times reliably acts as a mouthpiece for propagating Israeli hasbara (propaganda). Aside from its “objective” reporting, this editorial bias also manifests itself in the narratives that make their way into the Opinion section. On Feb. 14, the paper allowed a spokesperson for the illegal settlers in the occupied territories to openly advocate violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the establishment an apartheid state in Mandatory Palestine.
“A Settler’s View of Israel’s Future” by Yishai Fleisher offers an alternative perspective about the future of the state of Israel than that envisioned by the Israeli government, which established a state nearly 70 years ago by forcibly dispossessing 50 percent of the native inhabitants from their land and subsequently maintaining a Jewish majority by preventing the natives from returning home because they were not Jewish. However, the perspective presented in the pages of the Times is not that of the colonized victims, but that of the settler-colonists who, like the white pioneers of the Plains in the United States, participate in the dispossession.
Unlike the Israeli and U.S. governments, which purport to seek a two-state solution while actively perpetuating the status quo in which Israel takes all the land and resources it wants from Mandatory Palestine while denying rights to the Palestinians, Fleisher makes no pretense of his rejectionist belief that Palestinians do not deserve a state of their own:
But for us settlers, the truth is clear: The two-state solution was misconceived, and will never come to pass, because Judea and Samaria belong to the Jewish people. Our right to this land is derived from our history, religion, international decisions and defensive wars.
The author rejects the position of every single nation on the planet – apart from Israel itself – that the West Bank belongs to its native inhabitants. This was famously imbued with the legitimacy of international law in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The first resolution called unequivocally for the “(w)ithdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and the latter resolution demanded the implementation of resolution 242. This is consistent with international law’s prohibition against the acquisition of territory through military conquest.
Though Fleisher references international decisions and defensive wars, he is merely spouting baseless propaganda. UN General Assembly Resolution 181 was not legally binding in the first place, and even if it had been, it never would have withstood challenge in the World Court because a partion plan that granted majority rights to a group that made up a mere 1/3 of the population and owned 7 percent of the land is diametrically opposed to the principle of democracy. Likewise, whole books such as John Quigley’s The Six-Day War and Israeli Self-Defense, have meticulously dismantled the argument that Israel had any claim to self-defense in its 1967 conquest of the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.
Fleisher’s real argument for possession of the West Bank is history and religion, i.e., a religious text which he believes provides a more legitimate claim than the rights of the native inhabitants whose ancestors have lived on the land for hundreds of years.
Fleisher goes on to reject the core principle of democracy, that all citizens are inherently equal and should have the same political rights in government:
Arabs can live in Israel, as other minorities do, with personal rights, not national rights. But many Arabs reject that option because they do not recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish State, with or without settlements.
In other words, the country does not belong to its citizens but to an ethnic group that enforces legal discrimination against non-members of the group. This is a political system founded on the notion of ethnic supremacy, as was the state of apartheid South Africa. It is virtually impossible to imagine the Times lending the invaluable real estate of its Opinion section to rationalizations for the denial of civil rights to any other minority. That such overt discrimination can be promoted openly in 2017 is a testament to the rampant racism in popular culture as well as in elite media against Arabs and Muslims, and the persistence of the Orientalist mentality described by Edward Said 40 years ago. It seems true indeed that anti-Arab racism is the only type of racism still publicly condoned in American society.
To Fleisher’s credit, he points out rightly that many (actually all) Palestinians reject the idea that their nation should be organized on the principle of ethnic supremacy. However, he portrays this as an example of their intransigence. In reality, Palestinians reject a state that would treat them as second-class citizens because it is inherently unjust and is incompatible with the principles of equality and democracy. It is the same position that any reasonable person would take if they were offered an unfair and inferior political status. It is worth noting that Fleisher refuses to even refer to Palestinians as such, instead using the traditional technique of calling them “Arabs”, rhetorically denying their very existence.
He goes on to state that:
Most settlers say without ambivalence that the two-state solution is dead, and the time has come for a discussion of new options by which Israel would hold onto the West Bank and eventually assert Israel sovereignty there, just as we did with the Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem. Yes, Israel will have to grapple with questions of the Arab population’s rights, and the issues of the country’s security and Jewish character, but we believe those questions can be worked out through the democratic process.
This represents unapologetic advocacy for violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the formal establishment of an apartheid regime over the territories. By referring to questions worked out through the democratic process, he means the democratic process of the colonizers, with no input from the colonized people who represent the actual owners of the land. This is a conception of democracy so far removed from the meaning of the word that it bears no relation at all to the actual concept.
Fleisher then presents what he calls five “credible” alternatives to the two-state solution, none of which are remotely compatible with international human rights law. One of the alternatives calls for outright ethnic cleansing by banishing Palestinians to Arab countries, rationalized by saying they would be “generously compensated” to emigrate voluntarily. This despite the fact that not only do the 5 million Palestinians in the occupied territory enjoy the inalienable right to live in their lands, but 5 million more Palestinian refugees retain the right of return, per UNGA Resolution 194, to they land they and/or their ancestors were forcibly removed from.
He says the new administration presents a new opportunity to solve the conflict, and opines that John Kerry’s proclamation that “there really is no viable alternative” to the two-state solution is contradicted by its manifest failure.
Indeed, the failure of the two-state plan is undeniable. However, there is another actual solution – apart from the five discriminatory and unjust proposals presented in Fleisher’s column – that goes unmentioned despite its long history. Pronounced in a 1969 PLO resolution, revived in 1999 by Edward Said after the failure of the Oslo Accords, and promoted widely today by Palestinian activists such as Ali Abunimah, it is a solution – indeed the only solution – that would be entirely compatible with international law and the principles of equality, democracy and human rights. The solution is one state with universal citizenship and equal rights for all residents of Mandatory Palestine, be they Jewish, Muslim or any other religion or ethnicity. Unfortunately, Times readers are left with only the fanatically extremist views of the settler-colonists who for decades have stolen Palestinian land and water while denying Palestinians self-determination.
This piece first appeared in the American Herald Tribune.
Those of us who consider it disgraceful to have a giant statue of Robert E. Lee on his horse in a park in the middle of Charlottesville, and another of Stonewall Jackson for that matter, should try to understand those who think removing one of these statues is an outrage.
I don’t claim to understand them, and certainly don’t suggest they all think alike. But there are certain recurring themes if you listen to or read the words of those who think Lee should stay. They’re worth listening to. They’re human. They mean well. They’re not crazy.
First, let’s set aside the arguments we’re not trying to understand.
Some of the arguments being passed around are not central to this attempt at understanding the other side. For example, the argument that moving the statue costs money, is not what I’m interested in here. I don’t think cost concerns are driving most of the support for the statue. If we all agreed that removing the statue was important, we would find the money. Simply donating the statue to a museum or to some city where Lee actually lived would quite possibly produce a new owner willing to pay for the transport. Heck, donate it to the Trump Winery and they’d probably pick it up by next Thursday.
True, if the statue is simply moved to a different Charlottesville park, Charlottesville will have to pay, and that money could have gone to creating a new park with monuments to peace and civil rights, etc. Perhaps there are people for whom this really is the central argument. Perhaps they are also consistent in their frugality and put up the same struggle against billion dollar highways and trillion dollar militaries. Perhaps the announcements of how much good could be done for the poor with the money that could be spent to move a statue are being made by some people with a history of caring about the poor. We’ll save trying to understand them for another time.
Also tangential here is the argument that removing a statue erases history. Surely few of these history fanatics protested when the U.S. military tore down the statue of Saddam Hussein. Wasn’t he part of Iraqi history? Hadn’t the CIA meant well and gone to great efforts in helping to put him in power? Hadn’t a company in Virginia provided him with important materials for making chemical weapons? Good or bad, history shouldn’t be torn down and erased!
Actually, nobody’s saying that. Nobody’s valuing any and all history. Few are admitting that ugly parts of history are history at all. People are valuing a particular bit of history. The question is: why? Surely history supporters don’t believe that the 99.9% of Charlottesville history not represented in monumental statuary has been erased. Why must this bit of history be monumental?
There may be those whose historical concern is simply for the past 90 years or so of the statue being there in the park. Its existence there is the history they are concerned about, perhaps. Perhaps they don’t want it changed simply because that’s the way it’s been. I have some sympathy for that perspective, but it has to be applied selectively. Should we keep a half-built frame of a hotel on the downtown mall because my kids have never known anything else? Was history destroyed by creating the downtown mall in the first place? What I’m interested in trying to understand is not why people want nothing to change. Nobody wants nothing to change. Rather, I want to understand why they don’t want this particular thing to change.
Here’s what I think we should try to understand.
Supporters of the Lee statue whom I’ve spoken with or read or been yelled at by think of themselves as “white.” This is important to them. They belong to the white race or the white ethnicity or the white group of people. They don’t — or at least some of them don’t — think of this as a cruel thing. They see many other groups of people engaged in what some 40 years ago was intentionally described by its participants as “identity politics.” They see Black History Month and wonder why they cannot have a White History Month. They see affirmative action. They read about calls for reparations. They believe that if other groups are going to identify themselves by superficial visible features, they ought to be allowed to do so too.
On Thursday Jason Kessler, a blogger seeking to remove City Councilman Wes Bellamy from office, described the Robert E. Lee statue as being “of ethnic significance to southern whites.” No doubt, he thinks, and no doubt he’s right, that if there were a statue in Charlottesville of a non-white person or a member of some historically oppressed minority group, a proposal to remove it would be met with cries of outrage at the violation of something of value to a particular group — any group other than “whites.”
One might ask Mr. Kessler to consider the significance of the fact that there actually are no statues of non-white people in Charlottesville, unless you count Sacagawea kneeling like a dog beside Lewis and Clark. Or you might ask how his condemnations of political correctness fit with his denunciation of Wes Bellamy for old comments hateful toward gays and women. But what I’m asking you to ask, instead, is whether you can sense where Kessler or the people who read his blog may be coming from.
They denounce “the double standards” that they perceive all around them. Whether you think those standards don’t exist, or think they’re justified, it is clear that a lot of people do think they exist and are convinced they are not justified.
One of my professors when I was at UVA many years ago penned some thoughts that were widely cited a couple of months ago as having been a prediction of Donald Trump. This professor, Richard Rorty, asked why struggling white people seemed to be the one group liberal academics didn’t care about. Why is there no trailer park studies department, he asked. Everyone thought that was funny, then and now. But an anything else studies department — any race, ethnicity, or other identity, except white — is very serious and solemn. Surely ending bigotry of all sorts is a good thing, he seemed to say, but meanwhile a handful of billionaires are gathering up most of the wealth of this country and the world, while most everybody else is struggling, and somehow it’s acceptable to make fun of accents or teeth as long as it’s white people you’re mocking. So long as liberals focus on identity politics to the exclusion of policies that benefit everyone, the door will be open to a white supremacist strongman offering solutions, credible or otherwise. Thus opined Rorty long ago.
Kessler may see a bit more injustice out there than actually exists. He thinks that radical Islamic, mentally disturbed U.S. veterans are neglected until they engage in shooting sprees because of fear of political correctness. I highly doubt it. I’ve never heard of many mentally disturbed veterans who weren’t neglected. A tiny percentage have any interest in radical Islam, and it is exclusively those, who seem to end up on Kessler’s blog. But his point seems to be that there are non-white people who do horrible things, and that it is frowned on to make cruel generalizations about them — in a way that it is not always frowned on to make cruel generalizations about white people.
You can point to counter-trends. Numerous studies that show up only in the social media feeds of people who’ve read other similar studies have found that the U.S. media much prefers to cover killings by Muslims of whites than killings of Muslims by whites, and that the term “terrorist” is almost exclusively reserved for Muslims. But those are not the trends that some people are paying attention to. Instead they’re noticing that critiques of racism are permitted to make generalizations about white people, that stand-up comedians are permitted to crack jokes about white people, and that identifying as a white person can put you into a historical storyline as part of the tribe that created, not only lots of fun and useful technology, but also environmental and military destruction and oppression on a brand new scale.
Once you’re looking at the world this way, and your news sources are too, and your friends are too, you’re likely to hear about things that show up on Kessler’s blog that none of my acquaintances have ever heard of, such as the idea that U.S. colleges are generally teaching and promoting something called “white genocide.” Believers in white genocide have found a single professor who claimed to support it and then claimed he was joking. I don’t claim to know the truth of that matter and don’t consider it acceptable as a joke or otherwise. But the guy wouldn’t have had to claim he was joking if it was accepted standard practice. Nonetheless, if you believed your identity was tied up with the white race, and you believed people were trying to destroy it, you might have a negative reaction to giving Robert E. Lee the boot, I think, whether or not you considered black people inferior or favored slavery or thought wars were justifiable or anything of the sort.
Here’s how Kessler thinks white people are treated, in his own words:
“SJWs [apparently this stands for “social justice warriors”] always say that all white people have ‘privilege’, a magical and immaterial substance that belittles our hardships and dismisses all of our achievements. Everything we’ve ever achieved is portrayed as just a byproduct of our skin color. Yet, somehow with all this ‘privilege’ it is white America that is suffering the most from epidemic levels of depression, prescription drug abuse, heroin abuse and suicide. It is white Americans whose birthrates are precipitously declining while the hispanic population skyrockets due to illegal immigration. By comparison blacks have a higher rate of happiness. They are taught to be confident. All of the schoolbooks, entertainment and revisionist history portray them as plucky underdogs who earn everything over enormous obstacles. The whites are the only ones who are inherently evil and racist. Our great societies, inventions and military achievements are portrayed as ill-gotten and undeservedly won on the backs of others. With so much negative propaganda twisting their minds no wonder white people have so little ethnic identity, so much self-hatred and are so willing lay down and take it when anti-white bullies like Al Sharpton or Wes Bellamy want to shake them down.”
So, when people in Lee Park tell me that a statue of a soldier on a horse fighting a war on the side of slavery and put there in the 1920s in a whites-only park is not racist and not pro-war, what they are saying, I think, is that they themselves are not racist or pro-war, that those are not their motivations, that they have something else in mind, such as sticking up for the mistreated white ethnicity. What they mean by “defend history” is not so much “ignore the realities of war” or “forget what the Civil War was started over” but rather “defend this symbol of white people because we’re people too, we count too, we ought to get some damn respect once in a while just like People of Color and other glorified groups that beat the odds and get credit for ordinary lives as if they were heroes.”
UNDERSTANDING US TOO
All right. That’s my limited attempt to begin to understand supporters of the Lee statue, or at least one aspect of their support. Some have declared that taking down any war statue insults all veterans. Some are in fact quite openly racist. Some see the statue of a guy engaged in fighting against the United States as a matter of sacred U.S. patriotism. There are as many combinations of motivations as there are people supporting the statue. My point in looking a bit into one of their motivations is that it is understandable. Nobody likes unfairness. Nobody likes double standards. Nobody likes disrespect. Perhaps politicians feel that way too, or perhaps they just exploit others who do, or perhaps a little of both. But we should continue trying to understand what people we disagree with care about, and to let them know that we understand it, or that we’re trying to.
Then, and only then, can we ask them to try to understand us. And only then can we properly explain ourselves, through grasping who it is they currently think we are. I don’t fully grasp this, I admit. I’m not much of a Marxist and am unsure why Kessler constantly refers to opponents of the statue as Marxists. Certainly Marx was a Union partisan, but nobody’s asking for a General Grant statue, not that I’ve heard. It seems to me that a lot of what Kessler means by “Marxist” is “un-American,” bitterly opposed to the U.S. Constitution, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington and all that is sacred.
But which parts? If I applaud the separation of church and state, the limited executive, the power of impeachment, the popular vote, and limited federal power, but am not a fan of the Supreme Court, the Senate, slavery, winner-take-all elections without ranked choice voting, or the lack of protections for the environment, am I a Marxist or not? I suspect it comes down to this: am I labeling the Founders as fundamentally evil or basically good? In fact, I’m not doing either of those things, and I’m not doing either of them for the white race either. I can try to explain.
When I joined in a chant of “White supremacy’s got to go” recently in Lee Park, a white man demanded of me: “Well, what are you?” To him I looked white. But I identify as human. That doesn’t mean that I pretend to live in a post-racial world where I neither suffer the lack of affirmative action nor benefit from the very real privileges of looking “white” and having had parents and grandparents who benefitted from college funding and bank loans and all kinds of government programs that were denied to non-whites. Rather, it means that I think of myself as a fellow member in the group called humans. That’s the group I root for. That’s the group I hope survives the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the warming of the climate. That’s the group I want to see overcome hunger and disease and all forms of suffering and inconvenience. And it includes every single person who calls themselves white and every single person who does not.
So, I don’t feel the white guilt that Kessler thinks people are trying to impose on him. I don’t feel it because I don’t identify with George Washington any more than I identify with the men and women he enslaved or the soldiers he whipped or the deserters he killed or the native people he slaughtered. I don’t identify with him any less than with those other people either. I don’t deny all of his merits because of all of his faults, either.
On the other hand, I don’t get to feel white pride. I feel human guilt and pride as a human, and that includes a great deal. “I am large,” wrote Walt Whitman, as much a Charlottesville resident and influence as Robert E. Lee. “I contain multitudes.”
If someone were to put up a monument in Charlottesville that white people found offensive, I would object vigorously to that monument, because white people are people, like any other people. I would demand that that monument be taken down.
Instead, we happen to have a monument that many of us humans, and people who profess other identities, including African American, find offensive. So, I object vigorously to this monument. We should not engage in what many perceive as hurtful hate-speech because others deem it to be of “ethnic significance.” Pain outweighs moderate appreciation, not because of who feels is, but because it is more powerful.
If someone were to make a monument of some old hateful tweet from Wes Bellamy — and my understanding is that he would be the last to suggest such a thing — it wouldn’t matter how many people thought it was nice. It would matter how many people thought it was painfully cruel.
A statue that symbolizes racism and war to a great many of us has an enormously negative value. To respond that it has “ethnic significance to southern whites” as if it were a traditional soup recipe misses the point.
The United States has a very divisive history, dating perhaps from Mr. Jefferson’s two-party system, through the Civil War, and right on into identity politics. While Kessler claims African Americans are happier, and that Latinos are not happier but somehow winning through immigration, no U.S. groups record the levels of happiness found in Scandinavia, where, Marxistly or otherwise, there is no affirmative action, no reparations, no targeted benefits, and no labor unions out for the interests of their members alone, but rather public programs that benefit everyone equally and thus gain widespread support. When college and healthcare and retirement are free for everyone, few resent them or the taxes paid to receive them. When taxes fund wars and billionaires and some piddly handouts to particular groups, even the biggest fans of wars and billionaires will tend to view taxes as the primary enemy. If Marx ever figured that out, I’m unaware of it.
I’m willing to concede that supporters of the statue are not all pushing racism or war. But are they willing to try to understand the perspective of those whose parents recall being kept out of Lee Park because they were not white, or to consider the viewpoint of those who understand the war to have been fought for the expansion of slavery, or to take into account what many of us feel heroic war statues do for the promotion of yet more wars?
If seeing black people praised in a movie like Hidden Figures is difficult for someone who identifies as white, what does being excluded from a park for being black feel like? What does losing your arm feel like? What does losing half your town and all your loved ones feel like?
The question of whether the Washington Redskins should be renamed is not a question of whether the quarterback is a jerk or the team has a glorious history, but whether the name offends millions of us, as it does. The question of whether to send General Lee off on the horse he never rode in on is not a question about the people whom the statue doesn’t deeply disturb, but about all of us whom it does deeply disturb.
As someone who objects as much to the war element of the statue as to the race question, and who objects to the dominance of war monuments, to the virtual exclusion of anything else, on the Charlottesville landscape, I think we all have to try to imagine the viewpoint of some other people as well. Ninety-six percent of humanity lives outside the United States. Have we asked Charlottesville’s Sister Cities what they think of Charlottesville’s war statues?
The United States dominates the war business, the sale of weapons to other nations, the sale of weapons to poor nations, the sale of weapons to the Middle East, the deployment of troops abroad, spending on its own military, and the number of wars engaged in. It is not a secret in much of the world that the United States is (as Martin Luther King Jr. put it) the greatest purveyor of violence on earth. The United States has the most widespread imperial presence, has been the most prolific over-thrower of governments, and from 1945 to 2017 has been the killer of the most people through war. If we were to ask people in the Philippines or Korea or Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq or Haiti or Yemen or Libya or so many other countries whether they think U.S. cities should have more or fewer war monuments, what do we think they would say? Is it none of their business? Perhaps, but typically they are bombed in the name of something called democracy.
 Of course, we might end up footing the bill through federal or state instead of local taxes, if the Trump Winery used the National Guard to move the thing, but according to the Charlottesville Police that wouldn’t bother us as much — why else explain to us that having a mine-resistant armored vehicle is OK because it was “free”?
Self-regarding public figures have always been with us. Self-effacement, restraint and empathy normally do not mix with high ambition. Ambition – in one form or another, for self or cause– is a requisite for accessing the corridors of power. The narcissist is different. The true narcissist is a readily identifiable personality type, one of the most clearly etched in clinical psychology. Fairly common in the general population, they have been extremely rare in the political realm. The constant, intense scrutiny that office holders receive, along with the built-in structural constraints, reduce the latitude for inner driven behavior that is compulsive for a narcissist.
Today, things have changed. Full blown narcissists are found at the apex of authority. Marginal cases are even more numerous. That observed phenomenon is our point of reference. My thesis, in this essay, is that there exist singular features of contemporary society in the ‘West’ that are permissive of the narcissistic leader. Indeed, there is a certain affinity. An ancillary proposition is that their conduct in office strengthens those social attributes. In so doing, the political culture becomes progressively more congenial to the attitudes and conduct associated with narcissism.
What/who is a narcissist?
In analytical terms, a narcissistic personality is typified by a core self that is overwhelmingly self-referential rather than being defined through contact with the world around it. Consequently, the superego is weak and experienced as illegitimate. It may have some abstract claim on behavior, thanks to natural conditioning, but it is felt as something to be manipulated to serve the endless need for enhancement of self-esteem. The narcissistic self is engaged in a constant struggle for self-confirmation. That becomes the compelling, overriding goal of life whatever pursuits the narcissist undertakes, whatever prosaic gratifications he seeks, whatever the social circumstances in which he finds itself. With a grandiose sense of self-importance, he feels a powerful entitlement to admiration and special treatment.
The narcissist is incapable of critical self-reflection. The only errors admitted are tactical ones, things that fell short in failing to bring the outer world into conformity to demands of the self. Above all there is the demand that the individual be allowed to do whatever he pleases at all times without restraint or criticism or punishment. Everything is interpreted, judged and explained on that basis. Unaccommodating persons are ‘punitive,’ places and circumstances that do not give approval are to be avoided. The burden of remedying these intolerable things is placed on any person bound to the narcissist – political aide, subordinate, or an uncritically adoring public – as well as family members. When they fail to do so, they are the target of angry frustration, at times rage attacks.
Narcissists live their lives to the pulse of any inner beat: I need, I want, I need, I want. Empathy is foreign to narcissists. They have neither the capacity nor the inclination to relate to others except at a very superficial level. Attentiveness to the feelings and emotions of others risks subordinating the imperial self to someone else. Lights flash and bugles sound whenever that threat looms. Avoidance behavior is companion to a total lack of self-understanding. Consequently, that results in a constant tension as the narcissistic self, always on guard, struggles to protect the sanctuary while carrying on social discourse.
The narcissist’s need for praise is insatiable. While others are not looked to for legitimation, the outside world’s continual confirmation of the narcissistic self’s uniqueness is vital. That leads to compulsive testing to reassure oneself that others will approve, bestow favors and praise even where there is no compensation. Indeed, some persons are cultivated as ‘suppliers’ for that very reason. Spouses especially. Some others are kept at a distance because they expect compensation or emotional reciprocation. Thus, an entourage of some sort becomes important not just for the standard flattery but for their repeated testimony that they will be there however they are treated.
Courtiers perform this function better than strong willed persons. Moreover, hyper-sensitivity to criticism places premiums on the narcissist’s surrounding himself with sycophants. Persons of an independent bent and/orstrong views are a direct threat to defensive strategies of ‘self’ protection. Those types are also unlikely to provide the routine adulation and approval that the narcissistic-leader needs. Too, they will be less sensitive to the premiums he places on the psychological mediating of relations with the outside world. The loyalty demanded is not just to the person’s policies and politics but to a demanding narcissistic self in itself.
Narcissists fish for compliments. They need people who offer them, especially without solicitation. They often do so with great charm. Money and power substitute the power of coercion, intimidation and implicit threat.
Narcissists seek out the rich and other celebrities. Those persons represent the success they have striven for. Its achievement now creates the opportunity not only to socialize with them but to receive deference from them.
A billionaire like Trump seeks out the company of other billionaires, for they are the sole persons qualified to respect fully his success and to applaud it. The world that counts is the world of celebrity in its many variations. MONEY is the ultimate measure of self. Riches and celebrity status are intensely craved because they provide what is most keenly wanted. – prestige and, above all, control. Now Trump is able to command whatever it is he wants, including evading anything unwelcome – the narcissist’s Shangri-La.
Temper tantrums are another symptomatic trait of the narcissistic personality. They may be uninhibitedly public, as in the case of Bill Clinton, or reserved for private occasions where there is active fear of turning the outside world hostile. They stem from frustration created by the tension between the ever vigilant self and an environment that, even for public figures, is not always fully accommodating. The precipitating factor might be utterly banal: estimations of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration. Here’s an account:
“Trump had just returned to the White House on Saturday from his final inauguration event, a tranquil interfaith prayer service, when the flashes of anger began to build. He turned on the television to see a jarring juxtaposition — massive demonstrations around the globe protesting his day-old presidency and footage of the sparser crowd at his inauguration, with large patches of white empty space on the Mall. Trump grew increasingly and visibly enraged.
Pundits were dissing his turnout. The National Park Service had retweeted a photo unfavorably comparing the size of his inauguration crowd with the one that attended Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony in 2009. Trump’s advisers suggested that he could push back in a simple tweet. But Trump was adamant, aides said. Over the objections of his aides and advisers — who urged him to focus on policy and the broader goals of his presidency — the new president issued a decree: He wanted a fiery public response, and he wanted it to come from his press secretary.”
Fury at being thwarted bespeaks an ingrained sense of entitlement. In inter-personal encounters, a narcissist normally benefits from emotional ‘escalation dominance.’ That is to say, as the storm of conflict intensifies, he is less sensitive to either the indecency of what is being said or its consequences. That places the onus on the interlocutor to exercise restraint for fear of the very things to which an enraged narcissist has become oblivious.
Of course, this is not always possible when acting in an official capacity. Therefore, the suppressed grievance, or the attenuated reaction to it, may be stored up for displacement onto others who are more vulnerable. We should be clear that these individuals are not simply bad tempered. That is fairly common. It is the rage, an intense emotional outburst disproportionate to its catalyst, that fits the profile of the narcissist. That these outbursts never happen in delicate diplomatic encounters or on formal occasions attests to the narcissist’s ability to exercise a modicum of control over his emotions and conduct. It could be that there is an element of self-selection at work. That is to say, a narcissist who finds it impossible to impose that measure of constraint on himself will not go far in a public career. As has been observed, “though overweening ambition and confidence lead to high achievement, performance may be disrupted due to intolerance of criticism.”
This raises the intriguing question of how a narcissist deals with another narcissist of roughly equal standing – or simply a garden variety ego-maniac with a reckless streak. Such an encounter in more likely to occur internationally than domestically. The Middle East is populated by quite a number of reckless ego-maniacs: Erdogan, Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed – not to mention Bakr al-Baghdadi. Will Trump enjoy psychological escalation dominance in encounters with this lot? There is no clear answer.
What can be said is the following. The narcissist dreads situations where his supreme self is challenged or threatened – or its vulnerability exposed. That leads him to steer clear of persons who may do any of these things. That is not easy when coping with other heads of government. It does suggest prudence in avoiding face-to-face meetings wherever possible. Dread also can motivate the narcissist to maintain distance by downplaying the other person’s importance. That is difficult to achieve, of course, where encounters are inescapable and/or where the narcissist has staked out a firm position whose abandonment would strike a crushing blow to his exalted sense of self.
Maniacs do often have a sensitive awareness of each other. Remember the Hitler-Stalin relationship. Both were psychotic – the one a butcher (probably a schizophrenic with sadistic tendencies), the other a classic paranoid. Yet, Stalin had great respect for Hitler and even expected him to keep his word on implementation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – as Stalin himself meticulously did. That led the master of the Kremlin to make the near fatal mistake of discounting multiple reports of an imminent German attack in June 1941.
This oddity may derive from the experience of living outside the norm – leading to an uncommonly acute awareness of aberrant others. An instinctive sensitivity to threat posed by a similarly unmoored personality could heighten that instinctive reaction.
Narcissists typically have no sense of history. This is true both in the conventional sense of past events and in the personalized sense of being unmindful to what they did and said earlier. Remembrance of things past can be an unwelcome restraint. Studied ignorance is an emotional ally. The narcissist is by nature an existentialist. For that approach offers the maximum freedom to do whatever the need of the emotional moment is, and to avoid doing anything that is uncomfortable or inconvenient. That makes a narcissist uninterested in precedent, in the norms observed by others, in lessons as to what falls within the realm of the impossible, the painful, the costly. Inattentiveness to how one’s behavior registers on others similarly increases freedom. The narcissist just does not care – unless there is a clear utilitarian interest in caring. Repetition of pet themes – grievances, complaints, judgments, wants – evinces how they are woven into the fabric of the narcissistic personality. The impulse to express them follows. The past as void removes any inhibition on reiteration, the past as inventory of slights and grievances is kept readily available to add fuel to the ever burning fire of narcissistic self glorification.
Frenetic movement is a feature of the narcissistic personality. He is always in motion, unable to stay long in one place – mentally or physically. This can lead to unplanned movement that works against the reaching of self-declared ends. Indeed, the impulse not to be held to account adds to the tendency toward kaleidoscopic or free associative thinking and speaking, and vice-versa. Restless shifts from one topic to another in conversation or action is a related trait of the narcissist. They tend to be hyperactive physically and to find it hard to sustain concentration mentally. Whatever passes to the forefront of the mind presumptively has claim to immediate expression. That imperative self never accepts ‘no’ or ‘not now’ – not even from the conscious mind. Hence, narcissists tend to be at once disorganized and controlling. The former holds except where cultural background has so strongly devalued disorder as to make them compulsive about formal arrangement of things, schedules and the logical articulation of ideas.
A prime example was provided by the Trump’s visit to the CIA on the day after his Inauguration. Standing before the votive memorial to Agency martyrs, he began a salute to them – and to the CIA – only to break off in mid-sentence to vent again his obsession about the size of the crowd on the Mall. He never returned to his abruptly halted eulogy. That is why policy-making in the White House these days resembles an octopus struggling to put on a pair of mismatched socks (to use Chas Freeman’s metaphor).
Here we witness the extreme reluctance to rein in the narcissistic impulse so as to be free to say whatever comes to mind and to follow through with some sort of action – however brief its half-life. This pattern has the further virtue of tolerating its rejection. For the extinguished initiative can be written off merely as the child of impetuousness whose meaning was momentary and subjective – however intense feelings about it were at that moment. As to Trump:
+ He is forever impatient…he eats and drinks quickly. He is in perpetual motion, for him immobility is death. He oscillates between discipline and diabolical energy. The author of his autobiography has revealed that he has an attention span of 2 – 3 minutes
+ He sees life as a competition with time
+ He has no close friends; displays the least possible rapport with others.
+ He abhors monotony and constancy, equating them, in his mind, with death. He seeks upheaval, drama, and change – but only when they conform to his plans, designs, and views of the world and of himself. The narcissist’s instinctive tendency to avoid fixity is reinforced by the practical interest in not being pinned down.
+ Thus, he does not encourage growth in his nearest and dearest. By monopolizing their lives, he also reduces them to mere objects, props in the exciting drama of his life. A variant of the basic narcissist type likewise rages at any sign of rebellion and disagreement – whether from opponents, the media, or foreign leaders.
+ He seeks to animate others with his demented energy, grandiose plans, and megalomaniacal projects. An adrenaline junkie, his world is a whirlwind of comings and goings, reunions and separations, loves and hates, vocations adopted and discarded, schemes erected and dismantled, enemies turned friends and vice versa. His Universe is equally a theatre, but a more ferocious and chaotic one.
A narcissist is like a child in his frenetic restlessness. It is a form of ‘primitivization,’ as Eric Hoffer has called it. “By plunging into ceaseless action and hustling,” the person never matures. “People in a hurry can neither grow nor decay; they are preserved in a state of perpetual puerility.” Narcissists neither want nor expect ever to grow up.
Where is love in all this? Where is the commitment to the loved one’s welfare, the discipline, the extension of oneself to incorporate the beloved, the mutual emotional development? Nowhere to be seen. The narcissist’s “love” is hate and fear disguised – fear of losing control and hatred of the very people his precariously balanced personality so depends on. The narcissist is egotistically committed only to his own well-being. To him, the objects of his “love” are interchangeable and inferior.
Life and the world are experienced and understood episodically by the narcissist. Connections over time are sloughed over. Even trying to do so carries constraints insofar as you are bound to a process, mental or political, that by its nature imposes behavioral constraints. Better to stick to short term actions that are more accommodating to impulse and half-backed ideas. Better convenient half-measures than more deliberative full measures. This is the reification of Husserl’s phenomenological universe. Each thought, each act is felt as being discrete. Moreover, it is the subjective experience of each episode that predominates in awareness. Nothing has high value or meaning in itself – it must be assigned by the sovereign self. Society is little more than a myriad of kaleidoscopic occurrences as portrayed in post-modern literature. There is no coherent composition or narrative, reality is depicted as jagged shards.
The narcissist who enters public life has something of the obermensch, superman, in him. Callousness toward the fate of others, associates or constituents, keeps enervating emotions under control. There may be a cost to such callousness. An up to date public relations machine can go a long ways toward offsetting the cost as evinced time after time during the 18 month campaign.. The obermensch syndrome also reveals itself in actions that proclaim the narcissist is above and unconstrained by convention. Getting away with it surely provided at least as much satisfaction as the illicit act itself.
Lying comes as naturally to a narcissist as eating or sleeping.
Trump: Our immigration policy has favored Muslims at the expense of Christians.
He is aware that there is more than one way to lie; and that there are a thousand ways to be untruthful. The narcissist is ready to employ them all, without shying away from the bald faced lie. Comprehending how the narcissist relates to truth and falsity begins with the cardinal factor that the distinction is of marginal concern to him. It is not a primary guide for orienting either thinking or behavior. Beyond the basic recognition of incontrovertible realities that all must observe in order to survive, it is the plasticity of reality that is at once principle and goal. Life’s imperative is to find ways of making others pliable or, if necessary insulating oneself from them and their influence. Each narcissist is the self-appointed gatekeeper to reality; deciding what is, what happened, what did not happen, how it happened, whether important or not, who is who.
That attitude now has been codified by the White House in the doctrine of Alternative Facts.
Trump makes not the slightest concession to the truth on these matters either while in office or since leaving it. Thereby, the narcissistic liar meets the truth challenged, and memory challenged political culture. Being a narcissist means that you never have to say ‘I’m sorry.’
Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love is another feature of the narcissistic personality. He believes that fulfilled dreams are not only realizable, but due him. Narcissists experience life as a continual internal dialogue with a sole theme: how is the self faring in its encounter with the world. The self is engaged in an endless campaign of coping to secure the primacy and protection of the self. In any thought, in any expression, the only operative word is ‘I.’ Talk is exclusively of and about themselves – whatever the nominal topic of discourse.
It is pointless to speak of conviction in reference to a narcissist. A narcissist has opinions, attitudes, dispositions. He cannot have enduring convictions since that would mean locking himself into a fixed position.
One last point. Narcissists rarely crack up. They have an uncanny instinct for pulling back at the brink to which their reckless behavior has brought them. That same survival instinct probably explains why they are in no sense suicidal. Just when you think of telephoning for the men in the white coats, they resume a measure of ‘normal’ behavior. One would expect that some of the crazy things they do would provoke a punch in the face (literal or figurative). Indeed, such an encounter would produce a salutary effect on both the narcissistic and those he encounters. In the case of a President, though, that also could be quite dangerous.
As for Trump, a reasonable forecast is that he will not stay the course. As the failures and retaliatory insults mount, he may bail out – quit and pass the baton to Pence. That conforms to the survival instinct kicking in to protect that Holy of Holies – the narcissistic Self.
To identify Trump as a clinical narcissist is to open two bigger questions. One, why is it that Americans selected him as their ruler when it was manifest that they were putting their crazy Uncle Harry in the Oval Office? Two, why do so many (including critics) continue to treat his as ‘ordinary’ despite his erratic behavior and surrounding himself with people who resemble the troupe of weirdos with whom Uncle Harry hung out on the park benches on sunny days?
That leads us to a consideration of exactly what it is about contemporary political culture that makes it so amenable to the narcissist.
The Virtual & The Actual
The public narcissist’s ability to be a viable figure is crucially dependent on blurring actual reality and virtual reality. It is indispensable for the narcissist’s incessant adjustment of the lens through which the self perceives the world around it. A hard reality resistant to manipulation does not easily accommodate that demanding self’s needs for praise and approval. A malleable reality does. Malleability has plural meanings: primarily, a society’s susceptibility to having its perceptions of all matters social, including its collective self, shaped and reshaped by manipulated stimuli. Those stimuli are less significant as events in themselves than the way those events are packaged and interpreted, i.e. thereby, the meanings that are given them. Some of that packaging, interpretation and ascription of meaning is done calculatingly. That was egregiously the case in regard to the Bush administration’s masterful exploitation of 9/11. At other times, the agent can be the media that herd-like adopt and transmit a conception of reality that fits certain myths, imagery, plots, and symbols.
Some of the collective response to stimulus can be self-generated as uniform social personalities, who share a world-view, respond in similar ways to an event. The event can be a ‘soft’ event associated with the arrival of a new, or relatively new personality on the scene. The manner by which a reaction to such is formed approximates the response to any other celebrity, especially entertainment celebrities. The reaction to the new products Barack Obama or Sarah Palin surely is better understood in these terms than in terms of considered appraisal of what they have to say about the issues of the day.
Egoism is not a peculiar feature of our times, of course. The narcissistic public personality does not have a monopoly on egoism. The same holds for rampant ambition. Vanity is a natural accompaniment. Think of Jefferson, Reagan, Custer, Teddy Roosevelt, Disraeli, de Gaulle. None was a narcissist. Their inflated egos were not part of a pathological personality. Reflection on who they were and how they behaved leads to another instructive contrast: their grip on reality and how they related to the world differs from that of many of today’s public figures. Whatever their misperceptions, some quite pronounced, one does not observe the routine blurring of the virtual and the actual that is the hallmark of contemporary life. To live in a fictive world, or perhaps we should call it ‘actual-fiction,’ is natural and normal for the clinical narcissist. It unnaturally has become a more generalizable trait currently.
“Every one rushes everywhere and into the future, because no one wants to face one’s own inner self” – Montaigne
Narcissists are not cognizant of the basic distinction between motion and action. The same can be said for the political culture generally. It is a feature of public life nowadays. A permissive factor is the weakening of consequences from baneful behavior. The less we fear chastisement and retribution, the more self-indulgent we are. Systemic forgiveness for mistakes and failures makes us cavalier about how we conduct ourselves. Motion is easier than directed action. It also is easier for the casual observer to respond to motion than to make a critical analysis of action. Actor and observer are complicit in this sense. So it is for public figures and commentators. This is one reason why politics increasingly resembles the world of entertainment and fashion. It is the culture of celebrity that prevails.
The symptoms of celebrity politics include: the eclipse of content by form; the associated obsession with process; the transposition of a ‘game’ model on serious matters; the reduction of policy debates to an interplay of personalities; the denigration of experience and/or expertise; viewing experience as time served rather than as a performance record; a tolerance for murky language. The last is deserving of greater attention. There is a direct correlation between clarity of thought and clarity of expression. The influence works both ways. Not only cannot I be articulate without a coherent thought pattern, but sloppy speech encourages sloppy thinking. If one receives no cues from one’s listeners, mental self-indulgence is a temptation. We are losing the grammar of hard thinking.
In public discourse, this has a number of detrimental effects. One is that speech becomes more a mode of self-affirmation than communication. It is the flow of words, the impression they create, that counts. Content is secondary. (We recognize this pattern from the standard American dinner party of six professionals where there habitually are four conversations going on simultaneously). Words are liable to be just another form of motion divorced from action; in this sense, the action of intelligent exchange. A second effect is that words and phrases acquire great elasticity. ‘Bipartisanship’ or ‘change’ are examples. They can be applied and reapplied without seeming as retreads since their initial meaning was obscure. Yet another effect is that the ability to speak articulately in and of itself is interpreted as evidence of deep thinking and acuity. The Obama phenomenon is the outstanding case in point.
It is this fuzziness of people’s cognitive maps of the world, ever shifting in and out of focus with the new image never quite the same as the old one, that results in malleability. Ignorance and mental laxity are what underlie it. The less conscious our understanding of what is, and of how it happened, the blurrier is the cognitive map. The weaker our grip on how things interact, the less power we have to understand our circumstances. The more we devalue knowledge and conscious understanding, the less inclined we are to make the effort required in order to gain intellectual mastery. Ignorance and superficial understanding, furthermore, leave us bereft of reference points for making sense of events, ideas and persons. Deliberation thereby becomes difficult – if not impossible. The inability to deliberate, in turn, gives rise to the indulgent sentiment that serious thinking does not make a difference. It is conveniently claimed that it leads as readily to mistaken conclusions and poor judgment as do ‘gut’ reactions.
The neglect of history serves well this mindset – or, more accurately, feeling-set. By living in the existential present, one is unencumbered by familiarity of the past. Logically, an awareness of history can provide mental shortcuts, e.g. reasoning by analogy, to understanding the present. It is an oddity of contemporary popular democracies, the United States being the outstanding instance, that it is not seen as such by the overwhelming majority. Seemingly, that knowledge is rather felt to be an impediment to the free expression of instinctive or fashionable feelings.
Our public life is rife with self-justifications for studied inattentiveness and a lazy mind. In politics, people take comfort from the moronic affirmation that “they are all alike, it makes no difference who wins.” Even the shallowest awareness of what has been happening in the United States should disabuse one of that notion. Yet it persists because convenience – of time, of energy expended, of attention – overrides all else. Then there is the precept of popular democracy, especially deep rooted in the United States, that no one is better than anyone else, that ultimate truth resides in the sentiments of the egalitarian mass. To accept the value of exerting oneself mentally, to invest the necessary time, is to admit that there are things and persons that are not comprehensible through popular effusions.
In America, cognitive dissonance among those with some awareness of the national predicament is handled not by resolution, but rather through coping mechanisms for living with inconsistencies that are kept below a certain pain threshold. That artless strategy has proven viable in part because Americans, beguiled by their leaders and the country’s entire political class, have learned to live in a virtual reality. The actual and the imagined have become fused so that the former has no clear precedence in its hold on the individual and collective mind. The mythic and the real are interchangeable. This is a hallmark trait of the narcissistic personality. Corporate narcissistic personalities do not exist. But widespread predispositions to this type of basic confusion do exist. They are accentuated by dissonant conditions that make escapism attractive. Moreover, a collectivity of the self-worshipful militates toward the same outcome. In America today, a vague patriotism, itself an abstracted form of national self-worship, is the only sealant that bonds otherwise separate egoists. Its effect is made all the more powerful by the common experience of being accessories to the shameful acts of their government at home and abroad.
Living in a state of phasing in and out of two worlds, the virtual and the actual, is made all the easier by leaders who are themselves narcissists, or self- indulgent egoists with related behavioral patterns. The O will wreak permanent damage on an already debilitated body politic. In the process, the American peoples’ already shaky hold on the truth has been weakened. As has been said in another context, “his own grip on truth or falsity is so fluid, so subservient to his desires, that it matters little to him what is true and what is false; so he is able to act as if something is true if that serves his purposes best. Belief has become a creature of his will: he will treat an unfounded suspicion as if it were a Cartesian certainty. He has contempt for people who are candid and trusting, who can respect the truth.” The latter, in any event, were thin on the ground before this act in the American national drama began; now, they are on the point of extinction.
Finally, society-wide egoism in a culture of narcissism makes each of us the only valid point of reference from which to view and interpret anything in the public domain as well as in the private domain. The prospect of being plucked from these reveries and dipped into a more demanding reality where performance expectations are of a different order is frightening; thus, the interest in perpetuating the present state of acquired narcissism and its pathological leader.
The Narcissist Credo:
“Faith is a myth and beliefs shift like mists on the shore; thoughts vanish; words, once pronounced, die; and the memory of yesterday is as shadowy as the hope of to-morrow…”.
1/ The American Psychiatric Association’s authoritative Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition DSM-IV-IR Classification offers a set of Diagnostic criteria for 301.81 Narcissistic Personality Disorder. They can be summarized as follows;
Someone with Narcissistic Personality disorder (NPD) exhibits these traits:
+ grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
+ is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
+ believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
+ requires excessive admiration
+ has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
+ is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
+ lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
+ is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
+ shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
+ uses denial mechanism to downplay own inadequacies or failings
+ uses rationalization mechanism to justify self-centered behavior
See: Psychology Today; A Field Guide to Narcissism.
Studies and analyses of narcissism are extensive. Among the noteworthy works are: Nestor, Paul G. Mental Disorder and Violence: Personality Dimensions and Clinical Features The American Journal of Psychiatry, 2002; 159:1973–1978 ; Freud, Sigmund, On Narcissism: An Introduction, 1914 ; Freud, Sigmund, Totem and Taboo, 1913; Wilhelm Reich Character Analysis (1933) translated by Theodore P. Wolfe; Personality and Personal Growth, edited by
Robert Frager and James Fadiman (Paris: 1998) ; Kohut, Heinz, The Analysis of the Self, 1971;
Kohut, Heinz, Forms and Transformations of Narcissism, 1966 ; Laura Stephens (April 18 2006). “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. Psychology Today’s Diagnosis Dictionary. Psychology Today. http://psychologytoday.com/conditions/narcissistic.html, American Handbook of Psychiatry. Two Volumes: Edited by Silvano Arieti, M.D. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1959. 2098. For a Jungian perspective, see Nathan Schwartz-Salant Narcissism and Character Transformation (Toronto: Inner City Books, 1982).
2/ “Acquired Situational Narcissism is a form of narcissism that develops in late adolescence or adulthood, brought on by wealth, fame and the other trappings of celebrity.” The term was coined by Robert B. Millman, professor of psychiatry at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
“ASN differs from conventional narcissism in that it develops after childhood and is triggered and supported by the celebrity-obsessed society: fans, assistants and tabloid media all play into the idea that the person really is vastly more important than other people, triggering a narcissistic problem that might have been only a tendency, or latent, and helping it to become a full-blown personality disorder.’
“In its presentation and symptoms, it is indistinguishable from narcissistic personality disorder, differing only in its late onset and its support by large numbers of others. The person with ASN may suffer from unstable relationships, substance abuse and erratic behaviour.”
3/ Kohut, Heinz (1972). Thoughts on narcissism and narcissistic rage. In The search for the self. (International Universities Press, 1972) Vol.2, pp. 615-658.
4/ Ibid pg. 177
5/ Eric Hoffer The Temper Of Our Time (New York: Harper & Row, 1964) pg.14
7/ Edmund Husserl The Idea of Inomonology (London: Springer, 1999). Films that are broken into short fragments, only vaguely connected and in cloudy sequence, have become commonplace. Maddening for someone of more conventional mind, they are entertaining to millions of viewers. In this respect, film for the mass audience is catching up with painting and sculpture in enthroning an aesthetics at once disorderly and shallow. It allows the viewer free rein to attach to it whatever feelings or thoughts from the wide range permitted by the indistinct object. This is a general approximation of how the narcissist experiences the world.
There is no clinical way to measure pain or its absence. You have to rely on confession. Luckily, trouble and pain make talk easy. Medicine seems increasingly defined as relief from pain, or at least that is how we know medicine best. The modification of time is the goal of pain relief: If I forget my pain, it does not exist. After all, I have been quick to forget yours because I am always told that it is apart from mine. You cannot work with the reality of pain because it has no place, even though we feel our bodies sharpest when in pain. There are only ways of saying it, this strange painful present-tense.
Enter Dr. William E. Hurwitz, the subject of Eve Marson’s engrossing documentary Dr. Feelgood: Dealer or Healer? – and either Gabriel or Azriel, depending on who you listen to. Hurwitz was Ivy League (Columbia, Harvard, Stanford too), practical (a stint in the Peace Corps, Brazil), and down to earth (he worked out of a small clinic). In 2004, he was convicted of pushing pain relief in the form of many thousands of opium-derived pills. Opium and its children – heroin, Dilaudid, morphine and many others – are the most powerful ways of suspending pain this side of life. Hurwitz got 25 years.
Many of Hurwitz’s patients turned their large prescriptions into surplus value. A higher dosage demanded a higher premium, so patient-addicts needed more pills to sell in order to buy more pills and so on. Since only an amateur dealer does drugs, the amateur usually ends up either dead or in jail. The trail of terrified informants and overdoses lead back to the clinic, Hurwitz’s among many. By this time, the OxyContin Scare was in full swing and a media show-trial ensured him a verdict of conviction for trafficking. It was overturned due to the shoddiness of the case in 2006; he was retried, found guilty, and has since been released, license permanently revoked.
Dr. Feelgood arraigns all the familiar suspects. A reel of ads from the legal days of narcotics gives us a charming one-page for heroin, courtesy of Bayer. Bayer was always at the forefront of pharmaceuticals. It invested a great deal in chemical research in Germany and its parent company I G Farben introduced the pesticide Zyklon B to about one million people in the early 1940s. OxyContin is the property of Perdue Pharma and is related to Oxycodone, an opioid created to fill the vacuum after poor Bayer was forced to stop selling real heroin in 1917. Its nickname, ‘hillbilly heroin’, shows just how illiterate the mass media really is. Heroin has always been a cheap drug, easily available to the working class in dime bags, kept affordable for reasons of national security (narcotic ghettos mean sleeping ghettos; safely, for some). If anything, OxyContin is a gentrified property whose rent plummeted due to oversaturation in the marketplace thanks to Perdue’s relentless PR campaigns. It is only natural that it would hit the streets to compete with heroin and, unlike methadone for example, you can shoot it up.
The wealth extraction which follows our working life does not give up the body when work and life really start to kill us. Unhealth is a major cash cow. A new drug appears, is quickly passed by the FDA, and is then lauded as a miracle (cures proper have given way to drugs that merely claim that we’ll be able to cope). When the full spectrum of side effects comes to bear (happily this will take decades for some lucky companies and their meds), the whole therapeutic consortium falls apart and the cops and law courts are inevitably involved. By then, large numbers of people have already died and pay-outs are merely a fraction of the yield Pharma had accumulated before the roof fell in.
As OxyContin was easily available from doctors, it was able to penetrate areas and classes more difficult for the heroin market. It is obvious why the courts and law enforcement began to take notice of it. According to a cop in the film, it ruins ‘good families’. Doubtlessly true, which means its ‘personality’ is more duplicitous than honest heroin, which only ruins those already ruined through poverty (or success, in the case of the odd celebrity). The same snag hits serial killers when they mistakenly kill a college prep girl instead of the usual prostitutes who are, after all, also targets of the law. At this point the extremities of both men and chemicals become unconscionable.
Every few months a new drug epidemic is announced by the usual crowd of experts, moralists, and terrified Congressmen, each one more insidious than the last. You might recall Angel Dust, but few remember the Great Jimson Weed Scare of ‘97. Variety and availability are examples of the dynamism of capitalism and the killing of a Pablo Escobar could be seen as a Neocon strike at price controls with the attendant disaster of the product’s bloody search for a ‘natural price’. If one drug becomes too expensive or too scarce, another will surely arise to take its place. Readers of Das Kapital may recall that De Quincey also wrote on economics.
An important footnote in the film is one Dr. Russell Portenoy, the man who opened the floodgates for mass-volume painkiller prescriptions by his classic 1986 paper with the catchy title Chronic use of opioid analgesics in non-malignant pain. Before this watershed, we were in the grip of one our periodic narcophobic fits. According to Portenoy, higher pain decrees higher dosage. Earlier data on addiction had created an unnecessarily dour picture of life-long dependency. Portenoy’s thin 36 case studies proved that this was all wrong: the Docs should scribble like Proust; addiction was purely a loop in the brain, genetic in 1 out of 10 humans. Despite the often-touted rigors of scientific research, Portenoy’s (complaint) seems to have won over a vast community in record time using no hard evidence at all. Or the hesitant pens of doctors must have hit the opium products divisions of the great drug supply houses especially hard that year. Ask the angel….
Portenoy now admits that he underestimated the power of addiction – his Greenspan Moment, one presumes – in the grim face of some 16,500 prescription ODs a year, outnumbering the feral street kind. Who tallies this kind of information, I wonder, and how? Where did the grants come from for Portenoy’s original study? Vide The Wall Street Journal, Dec 17 2012:
“In 1998, the Federation of State Medical Boards released a recommended policy reassuring doctors that they wouldn’t face regulatory action for prescribing even large amounts of narcotics, as long as it was in the course of medical treatment. In 2004 the group called on state medical boards to make under-treatment of pain punishable for the first time.
That policy was drawn up with the help of several people with links to opioid makers, including David Haddox, a senior Purdue Pharma [manufacturer of OxyContin] executive then and now. The federation said it received nearly $2 million from opioid makers since 1997. . . .
A federation-published book outlining the opioid policy was funded by opioid makers including Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions Inc. and others, with proceeds totaling $280,000 going to the federation.”
There is very little to say beyond that. All the loose ends are tied up.
Dr Feelgood examines the case of Dr Hurwitz with great balance. There can be no question that he made unbearable lives more than bearable, that he merely supplied the street with what was generously supplied to him, that he probably made little money on the enterprise (Unlike Perdue: $3.1 billion from OxyContin alone in 2010), that he wanted to ease the pain in others, that he lead more than one dope fiend to their grave. Hurwitz maintains that his job was to alleviate pain, no matter the patient. Damning wire taps show that he probably knew some of his patients were selling the stuff. His story is a locus of hypocrisies and indifference, all of them official and all of them untroubled in sleep.
Our bodies are the only pain we can call our own; the mind has never truly had a location. As what is left of our gutted medical coverage withers away, do not doubt that the market and its double will come to our rescue in our most agonized moments. Like everything else, speculation runs the show from the back while Angel Azrael works the corner on foot. The patient can hope for very little under the present circumstances, with the present interests running wild.
In mid-February, Florida’s Division of Elections stripped the state’s third largest political party of its official recognition. Tallahassee’s excuse for ending the Independent Party’s ability to put candidates on the ballot and disenfranchising its 260,000-plus registered voters? The party organization’s 2014 financial audit wasn’t conducted by a Certified Public Accountant.
Florida law doesn’t specify any such CPA requirement, and even if it did this dirty trick would exemplify the real purpose of so-called “ballot access laws”: To safeguard the Republican and Democratic Parties’ near-complete control of American elections.
In every election cycle, “third” parties shell out big bucks just to be allowed to present their candidates to voters. According to Nicholas J. Sarwark, chair of the Libertarian Party’s national committee, the party, its state affiliates, and its presidential campaign spent more than $750,000 on ballot access — that is, on jumping through bureaucratic hoops instead of on getting its message out — in 2016.
It shouldn’t be that way. It doesn’t have to be that way. And it wasn’t always that way.
Some histories of the Civil War era mention that Abraham Lincoln was “not even on the ballot” in several southern states. That’s true. None of the other presidential candidates were “on the ballot” either, nor was Lincoln “on the ballot” in the northern states. There was no such thing as “on the ballot.”
American ballot access laws only date back to the 1880s. Before that, voters cast ballots in one of three ways: They received ballots from and printed by their political parties of choice, they wrote out their own ballots by hand, or, if they couldn’t write, they verbally dictated their choices to election officials who wrote down those choices for them in the presence of witnesses.
Once state governments overthrew those methods in favor of “Australian” ballots — standardized ballots printed by the governments themselves — the next step was feigned concern over “voter confusion” from “too many” candidates, quickly followed by the erection of barriers to “solve” the “problem.”
These days ballot access laws are so many, so varied and so confusing that there’s an entire industry centered around helping parties and candidates interpret and meet the guidelines. There’s even a dedicated publication, Ballot Access News, dedicated to sorting out ballot access laws on a continuing basis.
And, once again, it’s important to keep in mind the real purpose of these laws: To ensure that, with rare exceptions, only Republicans and Democrats are elected to public office. Or, to put it more plainly, to protect those parties from the risks of free and fair elections.
The states and the establishment parties have proven, over and over, that they can’t be trusted with control of ballot access. Time to take that control away.
This year’s Oscar’s race is predicted to be a contest of La La Land, a relatively sunny musical that celebrates a timeless and relatively white fantasy of Los Angeles; against Moonlight, a deeply moving and poetic Black gay coming-of-age story set in 1980s Miami. Whoever wins the awards, Moonlight is this year’s best film. Like Beyoncé losing the album of the year Grammy to Adele, the fact that La La Land is even a contender reveals the prejudices of the entertainment industry. It’s not that La La Land is a terrible film. It’s beautifully styled and shot, even if it’s content is tone deaf. Even compared to the best films of this year, none compare to the transformative power and beauty of Moonlight. But Hollywood loves to celebrate itself, and the industry is wealthy, white and male dominated, so La La Land is seen as a favorite.
This was a great year for cinema, and many releases this year are relevant to this political moment. Director Pablo Larraín and star Gael García Bernal, who previously collaborated on the political drama No, return with Neruda, a poetic film about the importance of poetry in a time of fascism. French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, director of 2010’s underrated Incendies (and 2015’s overrated Sicario) returns with Arrival, a film about the importance of science over nationalism. David Mackenzie’s heist film Hell or High Water is an indictment of the soullessness of banks. Director Ava DuVernay’s 13th, while frustrating for the issues it leaves out, is a powerful introduction to the topic of mass incarceration. Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures, while unfortunately creating white saviors where none existed, is still redeemed by a powerful civil rights movement story and excellent performances by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe. Finally, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos brought surrealism mainstream with his original and very funny dystopian satire, The Lobster.
This was also a year of great genre films, like Fede Álvarez’s Don’t Breathe, a tense and original horror film set among the post-industrial landscape of Detroit. Director Jeff Nichols and star Joel Edgerton, who also collaborated on this year’s civil rights drama Loving, also released the surprising and very smart science fiction film Midnight Special. Cheang Pou-soi’s densely plotted Hong Kong action film Kill Zone 2 is much smarter and funnier than you might expect. Paul W. S. Anderson’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is by no means a great film, but deserves credit as an action series in which every film passes the Bechdel Test and features a corporation as a villain.
As television becomes more experimental and risk-taking, there was some truly great and cinematic TV this year. Especially worth watching is the intricately plotted Mr. Robot, which follows a multiracial group of hackers working to end capitalism. Some of the best documentary work this year came from the show Rise on Viceland, in which a Native American producer and correspondent explore indigenous issues, starting with Standing Rock. And Atlanta and Insecure, while very different from each other, are two of the most creative, original, and funny comedies in years.
This year’s top ten films span categories and countries, but together they explore race, class and gender in new and intelligent ways. Here is my list.
10) If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to raise your kids in the woods with no exposure to capitalism, director Matt Ross’s Captain Fantastic is the drama you’ve been waiting for. This may also be the only film I’ve ever seen that features a father having a healthy conversation about consent with his son.
9) “Doesn’t it take a man to raise a man?” asks a character early on in 20th Century Women, the newest film from former music video director Mike Mills (who also directed Thumbsucker and Beginners). “No, I don’t think so,” comes the reply, in this 1970s coming of age story.
8) First-time director Anna Rose Holmer (who also recently captured Alvin Ailey’s dance adaptation of Moonlight) directs a young cast of newcomers in The Fits, a beautiful and original film about a mysterious illness afflicting a group of young Black girls.
7) Oldboy Director Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is an erotic drama about sex, seduction and betrayal that keeps the viewer guessing and enthralled.
6) Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, two of the world’s best actors, give performances they have been honing for years (at least since they starred in the play together on Broadway in 2010) in Fences, which Washington also directed.
5) Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room captures punk music subcultures in this suddenly-too-relevant thriller about a touring band fighting neo-Nazis.
4) Andrea Arnold’s Palme d’Or-winning American Honey is an ethereal drama about white traveler kids exploring sex, drugs and financial hustles.
3) Craig Atkinson’s documentary Do Not Resist is a fierce indictment of modern policing featuring a frightening look at some of the ideas and individuals shaping law enforcement.
2) Filmmaker Raoul Peck grew up between Port-au-Prince and Kinshasa, later lived in France and New York City, and was Minister of Culture for Haiti. His Pan-African roots and deep intelligence inform his new documentary, I Am Not Your Negro. The film distills the words and ideas of James Baldwin, whose insight is relevant in any era, but especially urgent today.
1) Director Barry Jenkins and screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney created a nearly perfect film with Moonlight, a story that is both specific to their Miami upbringings, and broadly about gender, sex, trauma, race, love and forgiveness. Whatever Oscar voters decide, this film is a modern classic whose legacy will far outlast La La Land.
Jim Mattis says US has 'generally paid for our oil', as he seeks to soothe anger at comments by Donald Trump of seizing Iraqi energy wealth
HRW documented cases of arbitrary detentions, beatings, forced marriages and rape by IS on women in areas under their control
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11 million. That's the estimated number of people living in the US who are undocumented. During his first weeks in office President Donald Trump signed orders to build a border wall, ban travel from countries with largely Muslim populations, and deny federal funds to sanctuary cities and states. In this show we'll look to previous administrations to see how they treated people who were undocumented, and how immigrant movements of the past responded. Special thanks to the Beacon journalism crowdfunding platform, and all the individuals who contributed to our campaign for our Immigrants and Elections coverage. Thanks also to the Berwick-Degel Family foundation.
- Father Richard Estrada, Sanctuary Movement
- Angelica Salas, Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA)
- Mizue Aizeki, Deputy Director of the Immigrant Defense Project
- Ghita Schwarz, Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights
- Carlos Alvarez, Education and Immigration Activist
Ordinary US taxpayers are subsidizing excessive CEO pay through a variety of channels. These five reforms could help end these perverse incentives for executive excess. (Photo: Pixabay)
1. Close the "Performance Pay" Loophole
The more corporations pay their executives, the less they pay in federal taxes, thanks to a tax code loophole that lets corporations deduct unlimited amounts of executive compensation from their taxable income -- as long as they label the pay "performance-based." This loophole stems from a 1993 Clinton administration reform meant to address widespread public outrage over runaway CEO pay. The reform -- Section 162(m) of the federal tax code -- placed a $1 million cap on the deductibility of executive compensation. But by exempting "performance pay," the reform invited an explosion of executive compensation in the form of deductible stock options, performance shares, and other bonuses designed to meet the exemption criteria.
A recent Institute for Policy Studies analysis has found that America's top 20 banks paid out more than $2 billion in fully deductible performance bonuses to their top five executives between 2012 and 2015, a windfall that translates into a taxpayer subsidy worth more than $725 million, or $1.7 million per executive per year.
Senators Jack Reed and Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Lloyd Doggett have recently introduced the Stop Subsidizing Multimillion Dollar Corporate Bonuses Act (S. 82 and HR 399), which would eliminate the "performance pay" loophole. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates this legislation would generate $50 billion over 10 years.
2. Limit Tax-Deferred Compensation
Most CEOs at large companies now legally shield unlimited amounts of compensation from taxes through special deferred accounts set up by their employers. In these accounts, their money can grow tax-free until they withdraw it. By contrast, ordinary taxpayers face strict limits on how much income they can defer from taxes via 401(k) plans.
A December 2016 Institute for Policy Studies report found that Fortune 500 CEOs have nearly $3 billion in these special tax-deferred compensation accounts. In 2015 alone, these CEOs saved $92 million on their annual tax bill by putting $238 million more in these accounts than they could have if they were subject to the same rules as other workers.
A University of Virginia Law School analysis points out that corporations also have a tax incentive to encourage executives to defer their compensation because the $1 million cap on deductibility of non-performance-based compensation (see #1 above) no longer applies after an executive has retired or otherwise ended their employment.
In 2007, the Senate passed a minimum wage bill that would have limited annual executive pay deferrals to $1 million, but the provision was dropped in conference committee.
3. Link Tax Rates to CEO-Worker Pay Ratios
In December 2016, Portland, Oregon adopted the first-ever tax penalty on corporations with extremely wide gaps between their CEO and worker pay. Such gaps, supporters of the new tax point out, both contribute substantially to our overall economic inequality and undercut enterprise effectiveness. Portland has had a 2.2 percent business license tax. Under the city's new business tax policy, companies with CEO-worker pay ratios of more than 100-to-1 will pay a 10 percent surtax on their business license tax liability. Companies with ratios of more than 250-to-1 will pay a 25 percent surtax. Revenue from the surtaxes will go for homeless services. For more information, see this IPS fact sheet. Elected officials in Rhode Island and San Francisco are moving ahead with similar proposals.
At the federal level, the CEO Accountability and Responsibility Act (H.R. 6242), introduced in 2015, would increase tax rates on companies with larger than a 100-to-1 ratio, while giving a slight tax rate break to companies whose CEO-to-worker ratios fall below 50-to-1. These efforts build on Dodd-Frank Section 953b, which requires annual reporting of the ratio between CEO and median worker pay and is scheduled to go into effect starting with 2017 pay figures.
Meanwhile, defenders of overpaid CEOs have been working to protect executives from this potentially embarrassing information. In the past few congressional sessions, Republicans have called for repeal of the pay ratio disclosure rule, citing absurdly inflated compliance costs generated by corporate lobby groups. Michigan Rep. Bill Huizenga, now chair of the House Financial Services subcommittee on capital markets, has led the crusade against this regulation. In the last two sessions, he introduced bills for repeal (H.R.414 in the 114th session and H.R.1135 in the 113th).
In 2016 Huizenga introduced an amendment to prohibit the SEC from enforcing the disclosure rule. On the Senate side, Mike Rounds also introduced a repeal bill (S.1722) in the last session. The broader Republican proposal to roll back Wall Street reforms, the Financial CHOICE Act, would also repeal this pay ratio provision.
Just this week, Michael Piwowar, the acting chair of the SEC, re-opened public comment on the pay ratio rule and said he may ask staff to review it. Piwowar expressed his intense opposition to the disclosure rule when the Commission voted on it in 2015.
4. Close the Carried Interest Loophole
This loophole allows private equity and hedge fund managers to pay a 20 percent capital gains rate on the bulk of their income, rather than the 39.6 percent ordinary income rate. As a result, some of the wealthiest Americans pay taxes at lower rates than millions of teachers, firefighters, and nurses. Many tax and finance experts from across the political spectrum argue that the profit share -- commonly known as "carried interest" -- investment fund managers now receive amounts to pay for services rendered and should not be treated as capital gains.
The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that closing this loophole would generate $15.6 billion over 10 years. Other tax experts predict far larger amounts. Polls show a strong majority of Americans are opposed to this unfair loophole -- by 68 to 17 percent, according to Bloomberg News, and by 68 to 28 percent, according to Hart Research Associates. Democratic reform proposals have passed the House several times, only to fail in the Senate. The Carried Interest Fairness Act of 2015 (HR 2889/S 1689) represents the latest such effort.
Lawmakers are also pursuing actions to close the loophole at the state level through surtaxes on investment management fees. Connect legislators introduced such a bill on January 31, 2017 and their counterparts have introduced or are considering introducing such proposals in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island as part of a regionally coordinated effort.
5. End the Stock Option Accounting Double Standard
Current accounting rules allow companies to claim deductions for stock options that run much higher than the option value they report in their financial statements. The high deduction claim saves corporations on their taxes. The low valuation reported on financial statements inflates profits and raises share values, numbers that pump up executive "performance" rewards. In the 113th Congress Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) included a provision in the Cut Unjustified Tax Loopholes Act (S. 268) that would require corporations to value options for tax purposes no greater than their financial statement book expense. In 2011, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated this reform would raise $24.6 billion over 10 years.
Gerardo handed the colorful baston de mando to Carlos, following the Andean tradition of passing wood staffs representing authority from old to new representatives. The Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indígenas (Andean Network of Indigenous Organizations), which goes by the acronym CAOI, is little known and the inauguration ceremony of its new council went almost unnoticed. That day, all eyes were turned to another less colorful presidential inauguration in Washington DC. CAOI's new council members were elected at the organization's Fourth Congress last November and started a three-years mandate this January 20, 2017.
CAOI was created in 2006 as an umbrella organization that represents the indigenous organizations across the Andean highlands. It comprises the largest indigenous organizations from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru: the Confederation of Kichwa Peoples of Ecuador (ECUARUNARI), the Organization of Indigenous Nationalities of Colombia (ONIC), Bolivia's National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ), and the National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining in Peru (CONACAMI). Although it is a pan-Andean organization, some lowlands communities are members because of their affiliation with national organizations, like for instance the Wayuu people in Colombia.
The newly elected council follows CAOI's norm of two elected delegates per country: two from Bolivia, two from Peru, two from Ecuador, and two from Colombia. However, it is the first time that the council has an equal presence of women and men delegates.
The two head coordinators are Carlos Pérez Guartambel (ECUARUNARI / Ecuador) and Toribia Lero Quispe (CONAMAQ / Bolivia). He is a Kichwa-Kañari lawyer engaged in the defense of water against extractive industries in Ecuador. She is a historic activist in the reconstitution of ayllus, a political unit based on an enlarged family dating back to Inka times that remains a powerful signifier of self-determination in Bolivia.
The other six delegates hold specific agendas. Yaneth del Pilar Suarez (ONIC/ Colombia) is the human rights coordinator. Armando Valbuena Woriyu coordinates economics issues and Andean reciprocity (ONIC / Colombia). Tata Javier Lara Lara (Bolivia / CONAMAQ) articulates continental relations among indigenous and social organizations. Rosa Elena Jerez Masaquiza (CONAIE / Ecuador) oversees youth issues and Blandina Contrearas Yances (CIAP / Peru) women, family, and intergenerational issues. Mario Palacios Yanes (CIAP /Peru) manages communication.
CAOI's two former coordinators maintain a foot in the organization. Gerardo Jumí Tapias (ONIC /Colombia) stays as CAOI's observer in Colombia's peace process. Benito Calixto Guzmán (Peru) continues his coordination of the Indigenous Forum of Abya Yala, which gathers six leading organizations from Central and South America--COICA, ONIC, the Continental Network of Indigenous Women (ECMIA), the Indigenous Council of Central America (CICA), the Indigenous Council of Meso-America (CIMA), and the Network of Indigenous Women for biodiversity.
Indigenous Women Ahead of the Curve?
CAOI's first election counted only one female delegate, and today's gender equal council shows the significance of women's political contributions. Benito Calixto Guzmán, CAOI's former co-coordinator, says that women are ahead of the curve in indigenous politics, pointing at the organizing capacity of the Continental Network of Indigenous Women (ECMIA) and the Network of Indigenous Women for biodiversity within the Indigenous Forum of the Abya Yala.
But Toribia warns that it was not always so, and that women's presence is still fragile.
For long, there were no space for indigenous women to participate in an autonomous manner in formal politics. Toribia recalls being one of the few indigenous women participating in indigenous activism since the early 1980s. For instance, the reconstitution of the ayllus was a broad political project based on territory that protected culture and identity as tools of political representation. But there were very few indigenous women visible in this process, and she mostly interacted with those who joined women organizations like Bartolina Sisa.
For Toribia, the challenge is to consolidate indigenous women's ability to occupy spaces of political participation with decision making power. She inherited her political activism from her mother, and hopes to create the conditions for many more indigenous women to gain political decision-making power. "It has not been easy to enter political spaces," she says, "but here we are. We must keep on expanding our presence." She wants to give continuity to struggles for self-determination that consolidate women's authority. She aspires to combine the voices, struggles and dreams of indigenous women from the highlands and the lowlands to be part of global conversations about climate change.
Although women are pleased with CAOI's gender equal cabinet, they know how much work awaits them. During his inauguration speech, Carlos said that the extractive industries were not developing anybody if they destroyed territories and justified dispossession. Toribia, in turn, emphasized the notion of co-responsibility with mother earth. "It's not only about making women visible in politics, it's about changing existing structures of participation", said Toribia. She believes that women can push for a paradigm shift: "some of our brothers work for the mining companies, negotiate territoriality with the government… But our territories are not negotiable; they are about life and death to us; they are food security."
Indigenous Diplomacy as Self-Determination
CAOI's former council engaged in international diplomacy, and the prior coordinators consider the organization more equipped than ever to participate in global forums, given that it now has a consultative status at the United Nations.
The new council is already preparing to attend UN meetings. Toribia and Rosa are registered to attend the UN commission on the status of women in March. Carlos plans to testify at the UN commission on racial discrimination. Then, the entire council hopes to attend the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues that takes place every May in New York City.
Yet international diplomacies are not sufficient and this council is equally committed to defending struggles for self-determination in the Andes. The new coordinators hope to support claims for prior and informed consultation for extractive projects on indigenous territories. They want to shed light on the criminalization of indigenous resistance, the use of legal warfare, and the assassinations that silence indigenous authorities defending collective rights.
Water has already become one of CAOI's core agendas. Less than a month after their inauguration, council members gathered for their first meeting in Cuenca, Ecuador, to attend a summit on water and pachamama (mother earth) organized by ECUARUNARI. Nearly 800 people attended the summit, and local communities took the CAOI council on a visit of their territories. The event inspired Toribia to organize a similar summit in the Bolivian highlands later this year.
This first year in office will also present major challenges, since CAOI's responsibilities include not only to attend but also to organize international meetings for indigenous diplomacies. One of CAOI's responsibilities is to help organize the Continental Summits of Indigenous Peoples of the Abya Yala. These continental summits takes place every three years, and the sixth edition was planned to happen in Honduras in October 2017. However, the assassinations of various indigenous leaders including Bertha Cáceres have severely undermined local organizational capacity, creating a leadership vacuum in Central America. This means the summit needs to be re-articulated, perhaps relocated.
The Andes has a solid legacy of indigenous politics. Now its umbrella organization faces a call for support way beyond its regional scope.
Data on workplace discrimination in 2016 has been released, and the numbers are grim. Across the board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that discrimination complaints rose yet again, and disability-based discrimination appears to be steadily increasing.
This is bad news for America's disability community, which simply wants equal access to a fair, respectful workplace -- just like everyone else.
A little over 30 percent of charges in 2016 involved cases of disability discrimination, despite the fact that disabled people only make up about 20 percent of the population and a very small percentage of the workforce.
Just 17.5 percent of disabled people were employed in 2015, the most recent year with available statistics. This low number occurs for a variety of reasons. Some can't work or aren't interested in working, while some must remain unemployed to retain benefits. And others very much want to work, but can't find jobs.
Disabled people who are employed tend to be more likely to work in low-wage settings, especially temporary or part-time jobs that may not offer benefits or stability.
And this is where employment discrimination comes in -- many disabled people report trouble getting interviews and being hired and fear their disability status may be a factor.
At work, people may be subjected to harassment, denials of accommodation, retaliation, refusal to grant promotions and other forms of discrimination. Employers and managers may have a variety of reasons for discriminating against disabled employees, including a belief that they aren't as capable, doubts about their intelligence or the idea that hiring them is an act of charity or kindness, rather than a business decision.
Some disabled people may also face discrimination based on other aspects of who they are, and that makes things even more complicated. For example, disabled people of color are at increased risk of discrimination, especially if they're women. Likewise, disabled LGBQT people can have trouble finding and retaining work. This may mean facing multiple forms of discrimination at the same time, making it difficult to untangle the origins of an employer's discriminatory practices.
Of the 28,073 charges brought in 2016, the EEOC found evidence of discrimination in 5,680 and collected $131 million in penalties. The agency's robust enforcement of workplace discrimination often relies on finding patterns and processing cases together. Thus, some legitimate cases of discrimination may have fallen through the cracks.
The rise in disability-related EEOC charges may be attributable to several different factors. It's possible that workplace discrimination targeting disabled people is simply increasing, but that's likely not the whole story.
Some people may feel more confident about identifying and reporting discrimination than they did in the past, believing that they're more likely to be heard when they file complaints. It's also possible that a small uptick in the disability employment rate could account for the increase in discrimination charges.
This data does show that workplaces clearly have room for progress in terms of identifying and reducing discrimination against disabled employees. For some, training to provide information about working with disabled people and the benefits they bring to the workplace -- while also familiarizing managers with the law -- may be helpful.
Adding disability to diversity and inclusion efforts both internally and externally may also help. After all, working from within to address potential sources of discrimination can make workplaces more disability-friendly.
House Speaker Paul Ryan arrives back at his office for a meeting at the Capitol in Washington, January 9, 2017. Republicans are rigging the system to transfer tens of billions of dollars a year from ordinary workers to their rich friends. (Photo: Al Drago / The New York Times)
We all know how hard it is to be rich. After all, it takes a lot of money to keep up multiple homes, pay for first class air travel, expensive cars and the like. For this reason, most people would naturally support a Republican plan to make workers pay higher fees on their retirement accounts so that the Wall Street crew is better able to maintain their standard of living.
Unfortunately, this is not a joke. One of the major problems facing workers today is the inability to save for retirement. Traditional defined benefit pensions are rapidly disappearing. Roughly half the workforce now has access to a 401(k) defined contribution plan at their workplace, but we know that these generally are not providing much support in retirement.
Most workers manage to accumulate little money in these accounts over the span of their working career. Part of this is due to the fact that they often change jobs. They may go several years without being able to contribute to a 401(k) plan at their workplace. And they often cash out the money that they saved in a plan when they leave a job.
In addition, many of these plans charge high fees. This is often overlooked by workers since the financial companies operating the plans usually don't like to advertise their fees. The average fee is close to 1.0 percent of the money saved, with many charging fees of 1.5 percent of higher.
If this sounds like a small matter, imagine that you were able to save $100,000 in a 401(k). That would put you way ahead of most workers, since the median accumulation among the 60 percent of the workforce who have 401(k)s was just $26,000 in 2015, but $100,000 is certainly a plausible amount for a worker earning $60,000 a year.
A fee of 1 percent means that this worker is giving $1,000 a year to the financial industry. If they are paying 1.5 percent, then they are giving the financial industry $1,500 a year. But this is not a single year story. Suppose you average $100,000 in your account over a 20-year period. You might have handed over $30,000 to a bank, brokerage house or insurance company for basically nothing. Feel good now?
Several states, most notably Illinois and California, are in the process of opening up their public retirement plans to workers in the private sector to allow people to save without giving so much money to the financial industry. Under this plan, workers in private firms would have the option to contribute to a state managed system.
This would have the advantage of keeping the same plan even as someone changed jobs and the fees would be far lower. Instead of fees of 1 to 1.5 percent, workers would likely be seeing fees in the range of 0.2 to 0.3 percent. Did I mention this was voluntary?
Okay, so we're talking about giving workers the option to save for their own retirement in individual accounts. If the Republican Party stood for anything other than giving money to rich people, this would be it.
But the Republicans are up in arms against making it easier for workers to save. Paul Ryan and his gang are planning to deny states the right to offer such plans. The trick they are using is in a ruling by the Labor Department which gives the individual employers exemptions from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requirements when their workers contribute to the state sponsored plan. The ERISA requirements are designed to ensure that an employer operating a pension plan for their workers is doing proper bookkeeping and is handling the money appropriately.
In this case, it doesn't make sense for the ERISA rules to apply to individual employers since all they are doing is sending a check for their workers' contributions to the state-operated system. The individual employer plays zero role in what happens to the money.
This is the reason the Labor Department ruled last year that ERISA did not apply to individual employers who had workers taking part in the state-sponsored system. It is this ruling that Paul Ryan's gang wants to reverse. They argue, incredibly, that workers need safeguards with their savings and that the government must have oversight over employers sending checks to the state system.
This one is too ridiculous even for Washington politics. Everyone knows that there is nothing the Republicans in Congress hate more than government regulations that protect workers. This is why they were so anxious to repeal the fiduciary rule requiring financial advisers to act in the interest of their clients. This is why they want to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The story here is about as simple as it gets. Republicans' buddies in the financial industry will lose a lot of money if workers can put their money in these state-sponsored retirement systems instead of having to rely on their rip-off outfits. The Republicans are rigging the system to transfer tens of billions of dollars a year from ordinary workers to their rich friends. The only principle here is giving more money to the rich.
The Rock Islands of Palau. Palau is on the front lines of the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). (Photo: August Rode / Flickr)
Global temperatures rose 0.4°C in the last three years and the impacts are evident on the small island nation of Palau in the Western Pacific. As vehement climate deniers took over the US government, the "Doomsday Clock" moved the closest it's been to midnight since the height of the Cold War.
The Rock Islands of Palau. Palau is on the front lines of the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). (Photo: August Rode / Flickr)
Babeldaob Island, Palau -- The Gaia principle, formulated by chemist James Lovelock, proposes that Earth is essentially a synergistic self-regulating complex system that actively perpetuates the conditions for life on the planet.
The Republic of Palau, a small island nation of roughly 22,000 people in Micronesia, in the far Western Pacific, is what I would refer to as an altar of Gaia. Here, diving into the waters, which contain in excess of 700 species of fish and more than 1,000 species of hard and soft corals, one's senses can barely keep pace with the kaleidoscope of life swimming/growing/floating/being in front of one's eyes.
I'm now writing from the northern coast of the Babeldaob Island in the archipelago, an area not too many humans on the planet will ever see, simply due to the amount of effort it takes to get there.
I stand atop a hill looking north. The Pacific Ocean is to the east and the Philippine Sea to the west, and I feel truly on the edge. Solitude, quiet, birdsong, a steady warm tropical wind, lush vegetation -- away from human civilization, I feel the pull of the crystal blue turquoise waters and want to dive in and remain enveloped within them as long as possible. The place is so beautiful it is difficult to bear.
Truthfully, part of me wants to submerge into these waters and never come up for air again, to remain away from what is happening above their surface.
Even in the midst of deep beauty, the reality of a human-caused global crisis is all too clear. I'm here doing research for articles, and a book. Although I'm here during the "dry" season, it is raining buckets outside, and has been doing so the majority of the time I've been here.
While I'm interviewing plenty of scientists about what is happening here, anecdotal evidence abounds. In December 2012 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather reports called Super Typhoon Bopha "a one in a million typhoon" that hit Palau. With 35-foot waves, it devastated many reefs in this UNESCO World Heritage site that is world-renowned for its rich marine habitat in the scuba world.
Only three typhoons had threatened the Palauan archipelago with serious damage over the previous 60 years. However, less than one year after Super Typhoon Bopha hit, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the island of Kayangel in Palau's north.
"Normally we only have a typhoon, on average, every 20 years," Jeffrey Nestor, a local boat captain in Palau told Truthout. "But we just had these two major typhoons. Not only that, we're seeing major changes in our weather patterns."
As rain poured down around us while we spoke, Nestor laughed and pointed to it, adding, "We are in our dry season now, but now our wet season is becoming our dry season."
He went on to tell me that the strategies Palauans have long used to track and adapt their lives to the weather "no longer work," and that "everything is flipping around," as far as the weather goes.
Remote, exquisite Palau is on the front lines of the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).
During the last month, NASA released data confirming that globally, 2016 was the hottest year on record -- the third consecutive year this record has been broken. Even more disturbing, in the last three years alone global temperatures rose 0.4°C: an extreme acceleration of planetary warming that has been unmatched in 136 years of record keeping.
Planetary warming continues to make itself the most obvious in the polar regions.
In Antarctica, a British research station located on an ice shelf is being shut down over the upcoming southern hemisphere winter due to fears of it floating off on an iceberg.
Simultaneously, the Arctic is clearly in crisis as ACD impacts there are leaving scientists in a state of bleak amazement. Ice pack growth has been brought to a halt, and at times reversed. In the last six weeks, parts of the Arctic have seen temperatures reaching nearly 50°F above normal, even nearing the melting point near the North Pole itself during December.
Scientists have said that 2016 in the Arctic was "beyond even the extreme" as ACD is literally remaking the region. Sea ice was at a record low maximum last winter for the second year in a row, and recorded the second-lowest minimum extent last fall.
January showed the Arctic was up to 35°F above normal in some locations, and in Greenland, the ice sheet is melting away rapidly and pushing up sea levels in the process.
A study in the journal Science, released in January, showed that sea-level rise could be far greater than expected, with levels increasing by 20 feet over the course of centuries, even if governments somehow succeeded in putting a cap on ACD. The study is based on clues from an ancient warming period, 125,000 years ago, when conditions were, according to the study, "indistinguishable" from today.
A report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the last day of the Obama administration showed that sea-level rise could reach eight feet by 2100, a level far higher than even the worst-case prediction by the International Panel on Climate Change. As usual, in many cases, the trend of each new scientific study showing dramatically increased impacts when compared to the previous study continues.
Such is life on Earth now, as ACD advances amid a climate of extreme denial within the US government. This, paired with global capitalism, will keep us lurching full steam ahead down the path of fossil-fuel oblivion, unless we change course soon.
The Earth's flora and fauna continue to bear the impact of runaway ACD.
In the UK, bird species are vanishing due to warming temperatures and habitat loss, according to a recent report. While some species are shifting their habitats to different regions, other species have already vanished entirely.
Meanwhile, forests continue to fare badly.
A recent report revealed that during the 2015-16 El Niño, the Amazon rainforest experienced record-breaking high temperatures and severe drought. As in past severe droughts in the Amazon, tree mortality has increased, while growth of trees decreased, which has dire implications for the global carbon cycle. The severe drought reduces the capacity of the Amazon rainforest to store CO2, and over time, this could result in the Amazon shifting away from being a carbon sink that pulls CO2 from the atmosphere to being a carbon source, which would contribute greatly to atmospheric warming.
A recent and disturbing report has revealed that, at current rates of deforestation around the globe, rainforests will vanish altogether within a century. Scientists emphasize that any real efforts geared towards mitigating the impacts of ACD, without the rainforests to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere, would be utterly futile.
Meanwhile, the planet has lost 7 percent of its intact forests in just the last 16 years, according to another recent study. This shocking statistic demonstrates the dramatic implications of ACD on biodiversity.
A recent US Fish and Wildlife Service report warned that polar bears are not likely to survive without dramatic and "decisive" interventions on a global level.
Finally in this section, when we consider the impacts of ACD on humans, we must remember that Indigenous peoples are often the ones experiencing its impacts first and most deeply.
In Canada, Indigenous peoples on Lennox Island have lost more than 400 acres to rising seas in just a few generations. "That bay has claimed a lot of people," one of the elders there told The Guardian. "Now it's claiming land." And now, this First Nations community is unsure if it will have a future.
Despite Alaska having a colder winter than last year (which saw record-setting warm winter temperatures), the famous Iditarod sled dog race has again had to move its starting point to Fairbanks, rather than its traditional starting point of Anchorage, due to lack of adequate snow cover on the trail.
At the recent Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage, plenty of bad news came from scientists studying how warming ocean waters off Alaska's coast are bringing widespread ecological changes, with more to come, the vast majority of which are bad. Arctic Cod are suffering from the heating waters, the Bering Sea is warming faster than previously expected, and toxic algae blooms that have been blamed for huge bird die-offs are expected to continue and possibly increase.
Another obvious sign of warming in the North comes in the form of recent data that show that January's Arctic Sea Ice volume is the lowest it has ever been in recorded history, by a wide margin. We have never seen a winter when the sea ice in the north was as weakened and reduced as it is right now.
Waters are warming in the Antarctic as well. A recently published study in the journal Science Advances showed that over the last decade, an accelerated freshening of deep Antarctic waters [overabundance of fresh water being added] could alter ocean circulation and contribute further to sea level rise. "If you change the circulation, you change everything in the ocean," the study's lead author Viviane Menezes of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) said on the WHOI website.
As global ocean waters warm, coral bleaching events continue to wipe out reefs.
Recently released data from Japan's Environment Ministry revealed that coral bleaching has killed 70.1 percent of that nation's largest coral reef, off the coast of Okinawa, as of the end of 2016. That is up from 56.7 percent, merely a few months earlier.
As the atmosphere warms, it can hold more moisture, so extreme flooding is becoming the norm across the globe.
According to the reinsurance giant Munich Re, the US had more floods in 2016 than any year in recorded history with 19 different floods swamping the nation.
Meanwhile, sea level rise continues.
In Louisiana, as seas rise the coastline is rapidly disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico, and as it does, it is taking ancient Native American historic sites with it.
In Florida, the city of Miami Beach is about to break ground (so to speak) on its most ambitious anti-flooding project to date: a $100 million flood prevention project aimed at raising streets in an attempt to stay ahead of rising seas.
Across the Atlantic in Denmark, "once-in-a-century" flooding events are already becoming far, far more frequent than that. "The historically abnormal weather we see today following one low-pressure system after another low-pressure system, which can result in flooding, is a reminder that climate change is in full vigor," Jens Hesselbjerg, a climate professor at the University of Copenhagen, told the Metroxpress newspaper.
"We can't rule out that climate change's effect on flooding is accelerating even more swiftly than we had anticipated."
And speaking of flooding in Europe, another recent report from the aforementioned Munich Re has shown that devastating flood disasters across that continent have more than doubled in the last 35 years.
Lastly in this section, here's a very sobering view of what Earth looks like when all the land ice melts.
A recent mega-drought in Chile that has now lasted more than a decade has led to "an unprecedented drought," according to the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, fueling more than 85 wildfires that have consumed over 750 square miles of land there. It is the worst fire disaster in the history of that country.
"We have never seen something of this size, never in Chile's history," Chilean President Michelle Bachelet told Reuters.
The drought that has led to the fires has now surpassed historic low records of precipitation and stream flow reconstruction. In fact, scientists estimate that -- beyond the historical record -- precipitation has not been this low in Chile in at least the last 1,000 years.
And Chile is not alone. Huge swaths of the rest of South America, according to NOAA, are also experiencing severe drying which, of course, leads to escalated wildfire risk.
2016 marked the first time in several million years that global atmospheric CO2 concentrations passed 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time there was this much CO2 in Earth's atmosphere, the world was several degrees hotter and melted ice found sea levels tens of meters higher than they are today. "We're in a new era," Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography's CO2 Program, told Yale 360. "And it's going fast. We're going to touch up against 410 pretty soon."
At the current rate of growth, CO2 levels will reach 500 ppm less than five decades from now.
A new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has documented patterns of "thermal expansion," a process in which greenhouse gases cause atmospheric temperatures to increase, which then causes the oceans to warm, and their warmed waters expand in volume. In this way, greenhouse gases are leaving a lasting impact deep within the planet's oceans.
Meanwhile, atmospheric temperature records continue to be broken.
Recent data showed that 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded for the entire state of Alaska, by a very wide margin. The average temperature for the entire state was a jaw-dropping 5.9°F above the long-term average.
In the Northeast, climate scientists with the University of Massachusetts, Amherst recently showed that their region will experience significantly accelerated warming compared to much of the rest of the planet over the next decade, as well as beyond. Second only to Alaska, New England is warming faster than anywhere else in the US, and the study showed that temperatures there will increase 3.6°F above preindustrial baseline levels by the year 2025.
Lastly in this section, a recent heat wave gripped Eastern Australia, leading to fire bans across vast swaths of the country which were sweltering amidst their hottest January ever recorded.
Denial and Reality
With Donald Trump and his cabinet of jackals now mostly in place, the levels of ACD denial have ventured into record territory. Less than a week after being sworn in as president, Trump ordered all references to ACD to be deleted from the White House website, and they were.
Furthermore, the Trump administration is looking into shutting down the EPA's enforcement office, while a GOP crony in Florida has even gone as far as proposing a bill titled, literally, "Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency."
Many state leaders now fear that Trump and his GOP-dominated Congress could also begin working to put a halt to state actions geared towards mitigating ACD impacts.
In fact, in Wisconsin, state agencies are already deleting any mention of ACD from state websites.
Meanwhile, as a response to the instantaneous and draconian measures of denial taken by the Trump administration, large numbers of government scientists from the EPA, NASA and at least 10 other government agencies went rogue on Twitter, demanding the president get real about the facts and issuing other calls to action.
Additionally, a website established and run by the Columbia Law School now sends out an alert anytime Trump or Congress acts to change a rule involving ACD or energy policy.
Also on the reality front: A top NASA scientist recently debunked the idea that ACD has "paused" by pointing to the record-setting warm temperatures over the last three years, and noting that he expects the rate of increase in global heating to accelerate even further.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that the GOP on the whole continues to deny the reality of ACD, the US military is pushing ahead with plans to protect its bases and assets across the globe from sea-level rise and other ACD-related impacts.
Trump's buddy Vladimir Putin even has Russia beginning to work on a national ACD adaptation strategy, and various governmental ministries and regional officials are already working to assess the risks of adverse impacts and produce adaptation measures.
Lastly, one week after Trump was inaugurated, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced they had moved the "Doomsday Clock" 30 seconds closer to midnight. The membership of the Bulletin, which includes 15 Nobel laureates, decided to move the clock closer to midnight because of concerns about "a rise in strident nationalism worldwide, President Donald Trump's comments on nuclear arms and climate issues, a darkening global security landscape that is colored by increasingly sophisticated technology, and a growing disregard for scientific expertise."
The clock, which is now set at two and a half minutes to midnight, is the closest it has been to midnight since 1953, when it was two minutes before midnight.
Meanwhile, here in Palau, 3,500-year-old taro fields on the coast are being overrun by rising seas, and local environmental conservation groups are working with residents to assist in adapting to the growing impacts of ACD.
The media smart set fixates on creating a narrative that explains the big picture of events and offers gripping examples. In that spirit, then, here's a narrative to help them understand President Ã¢?Â¦