Thursday, September 28, 2017

Trump at Sea

I admit this is me being nit-picky, we go.   

To explain why emergency aid has been seen as arriving more slowly to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria than it did to the similarly affected areas of Texas and Florida, Trump said this: 

“It’s an island, sitting in the middle of the ocean. And it’s a big ocean. It’s a very big ocean.” 

Now it must be said, Trump is correct, at least in his first three words. Being an island means Puerto Rico is much harder to reach. The logistics are completely different from sending aid to Houston. 

But rather than just stating this simple fact, Trump couldn’t resist adding a rhetorical flourish that is so characteristic of him: unnecessary exaggeration, hyperbole that puts Trump in the best possible light, or explains away his shortcomings. It’s something I find so infuriating about him. 

Puerto Rico is not in the middle of the ocean. It’s not Bora Bora. It’s about 1000 miles from Mar-a-Lago, about the same distance as between Mar-a-Lago and Manhattan, a distance I’m sure Trump can easily grasp. Trump probably really does understand Puerto Rico is in America’s backyard, but it suits him to downplay that fact. 

By informing the American public how incredibly remote Puerto Rico supposedly is (“I can tell you, it’s remote, so remote. You won’t believe how remote it is. Nobody knows how the hell to even get there. Believe me. It’s so far away that everyone speaks Spanish!”), Trump hopes to get a pass for making Puerto Ricans wait so long for some presidential attention. 

Of course, this is Trump's go-to tactic of distorting facts (or making them up out of whole cloth) to fit a narrative in some way positive to himself. Some may call it "being disingenuous". Others may call it lying. He does it all the time. 

If Trump thinks exaggerating the “remoteness” of Puerto Rico lets him off the hook (somewhat) for a slow relief effort, God help the folks in Hawaii (2300 miles from the US mainland) if they ever need help. Or consider poor Guam, now in the nuclear crosshairs of Kim Jong-un. That tiny US territory really does sit in the middle of a very big ocean, 5500 miles from the West Coast (though a bit closer to Alaska). 

In the world according to Trump, those places might as well be on Mars.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Funny what you do and don’t remember from your childhood.

As someone who grew up in Georgia in the 1960s, I have no concrete memory of ever pledging allegiance to the American flag in school. Maybe we did it every day, and did it so routinely and mechanically that there was nothing memorable about doing it. 

(In the same vein, I don’t remember putting on my pants every morning before school – except the one morning when there was a scorpion in my jeans, something which I remember very well indeed  yet, I’m confident I never went to school pantsless. Despite all those dreams.)

It makes me wonder whether we actually ever did recite the pledge, as many conservative friends so often fondly recollect doing, if their Facebook comments are to be believed. I really do wonder.

What I do remember very plainly from those days was the glorification of a different flag.

Regularly, we students at Southwestern Elementary would gather in the cafeteria to watch educational films. These are the kinds of seriously earnest films that many might be considered hokey today. I remember only a couple.

One was “A Desk for Billie”, a story about a bright, young girl named Billie from a migrant family (in this case a family of Depression-era agricultural workers constantly on the move from place to place across the country) and how a sympathetic teacher helped her adjust to yet another new school and unfamiliar classmates. At least, that’s how I remember it. Another film was about a man who failed to heed his own wise and fatherly advice to his children about safe driving habits and got himself killed.

In any case, every one of these edifying little movies we watched began with a few seconds giving credit to the Georgia Department of Education for providing the film. These few seconds consisted of the image of the state flag of Georgia suddenly filling the screen, while the blackface minstrel tune “Dixie” blared from the speakers.

It is one thing I clearly remember from my school days. It’s as if it was seared into my brain. Which, of course, was the purpose. Keep in mind that, at the time, the Georgia state flag mostly consisted of the Confederate battle flag, a favorite symbol, then as now, among white supremacist groups.

That symbol had been added to the state flag just a few years before I started school, during a time of increased agitation over segregation (the American version of apartheid). The US government was in the process of trying to end segregation. The Georgia government was trying to keep it intact and resented any interference from Washington in the matter.

By prominently exposing (you might say “subjecting”) school kids to the new, segregationist flag  all to the accompanist of “Dixie” – the state government no doubt hoped to drive home a certain message. And it was not that “all men are created equal”. 

The fact that I don’t remember a morning ritual of pledging allegiance to the American flag, but can still vividly recall the propagandization of a symbol of racism makes me wonder:  where exactly were we impressible kids being taught our allegiance should lie. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Old MacDonald Had a Farm

This seems like a case of counting your chickens before they hatch.  

Donald Trump has been making a lot of hay (farming metaphor #2) over the fact that the Q2 GDP growth was recently revised up to 3.0% (from 2.6%). He, and sycophants like Sean Hannity, go on and on and on about how Obama was the only president never to reach a GDP increase of that level.  

Of course, he’s trying to make an apples and oranges comparison here (fruit metaphor, so kinda farming-related). What Trump is referring to is the fact that, during the Obama years, GDP growth never rose above 2.9%. This is true. Growth for a full calendar never reached 3% under Obama. But that hasn’t happened under Trump either. Not yet. If it ever does.  

But that’s talking about annual GDP growth. What Trump has presided over is 3% GDP growth in a single quarter. Obama did the same in eight different quarters during his two terms. In fact, in Q3 2015 GDP grew by 4.6%, a much bigger number than 3.0%.  

Trump may well see the kind of growth numbers he’s been promising – though somehow lately it seems he’s forgotten how during the campaign he swore he’d conjure up a GDP growth of FOUR percent, not a measly three percent.  

Anyway, seems to me that excessive crowing (barnyard fowl metaphor) about one discrete quarter of 3% growth involves a risk of backfiring. What goes up can come down. 

After the unemployment rate for May was announced (4.3%), Trump bragged about how it was the lowest jobless rate in 16 years and was unexpectedly robust. (Keep in mind that while Obama was president, Trump claimed such statistics were “fake”.) The next month, the rate ticked back up to 4.4%.  What comes down can also go up. 

Rushing to take credit for good outcomes you have dubious influence over can come back to bite you on the ass (the tender body part, not the farmer’s beast of burden), if those outcomes start to sour further down the road.  On the other hand, if that happens maybe you can just start shoveling more horseshit – which, as we all know, is one chore Farmer Don excels at.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Harvey, Irma and the GOP

Irma has now developed into a category 5 hurricane and is almost certainly going to hit somewhere in the US. Hopefully, it will weaken before it gets there and won't be as devastating as Harvey was for Houston. Still, it's a worrisome weather event, which brings to mind a couple of things.  
Republicans basically have one of three approaches to climate change.  
1. It's not real. Trump himself said it was a Chinese hoax. Ergo, no need to reduce carbon emissions.  
2. It's real, but it's not man-made. In other words, we puny humans can't do anything about it. Again, no need to reduce carbon emissions.  
3. It's real, and it may be (partly) caused by human activity, but trying to reduce carbon emissions would hurt the American economy. It's better to mitigate the effects of climate change. Be re-active, not pro-active. Don't worry if it breaks -- just pay for it later.  
If increase levels of carbon start to cause more extreme weather and rising sea levels, so the GOP would say, it's better for the economy to build things like sea walls (make the hurricanes pay for it!) to protect coastal cities.  
Now, with Harvey and maybe with Irma we may start to see what that third approach looks like in practice.  
The recovery from Harvey is estimated to cost taxpayers at least $150 billion, beyond the human costs, which are heartbreaking in themselves. That's not even talking about the cost of building "mitigation" infrastructure against future storms and rising sea levels (though that could be a good works program -- put the 4% of unemployed Americans to work!).  
In any case, this hurricane season may unfortunately give Republicans a chance to put their money where their mouth is regarding climate change.  
I'm sure they'll be happy to spend the money.