Dialing it to 12 with a new asbestos use proposal

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s not hard to feel daily outrage at the Trump Administration. Doubtless it will be remembered as the worst administration in US history. The only part I am looking forward to (aside from the day Trump leaves office) are the many memoirs that will document the inside story. I strongly suspect that however much I imagine them that my imagination is not nearly broad enough.

One such soon to be released memoir is from Omarosa Manigault Newman, one of the few blacks with any power in the Trump White House. Her memoir, Unhinged: An Insider Account of the Trump White House sure looks juicy. The book’s royalties should more than make up for the $15,000 per month she says she was offered to shut her up after she was fired by Chief of Staff John Kelly. Manigault Newman also apparently has tapes of Trump and others. They may get more listens than Richard Nixon’s secret tapes. Some reported revelations though won’t be all that surprising: she says Trump is a racist, narcissist and lacks impulse control.

One bizarre theory going around is that when Trump was elected we entered an alternate universe, kind of like that episode “Mirror, Mirror” from the original Star Trek series. Yes, it’s crazy but lately has seemed to be the most plausible explanation. That’s because every day of the Trump Administration is full of events crazier than the day before. The crazy meter gets dialed to 11 every day. The one though that really got my attention this week and perhaps deserved more attention: a proposal from the EPA for asbestos to be used again. This proposal is definitely at Level 12. Naturally, Donald Trump seems to approve.

Let’s be quite clear here: asbestos is a human carcinogen. You breathe in asbestos dust and it could kill you. It’s associated with lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. In the past it was used principally for insulation. If your home had it, it was hard to sell. You usually had to pay a specialized contractor to remove it. Even its substitute, fiberglass insulation, is not without issues, which is why workers wear masks when installing blown insulation. For more than fifty years we’ve known this, which is why asbestos can’t be used as insulation and its few uses are heavily regulated. The EPA proposal will allow the EPA to approve it for new uses. Naturally, this was one of former EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s “great” ideas.

I literally didn’t think it was possible for an EPA to take an action more evil than its proposal this month to relax EPA fuel standards, which followed a 2017 proposal to relax power plant emissions. Apparently we don’t have enough pollutants in the atmosphere. These rules are truly toxic in that they actually kill Americans. They make the air unhealthier. In doing so, the additional pollution hospitalizes millions needlessly. Eight million people a year die from air pollution worldwide. It comes mostly from the particulate matter placed into the atmosphere by carbon polluters, including our cars. Those with lung problems and sensitive immune systems are most impacted.

While deaths by air pollution are indirect, by allowing for new uses of asbestos the EPA is promoting new ways for asbestos to directly kill people that don’t kill anyone anymore. I’m not sure, but it may have killed my father. As with air pollution, these effects can manifest over decades. My father coughed persistently most of his life and died of pulmonary disease. Basically, his lungs died before his body. He never smoked but he was exposed to industrial solvents in closed areas earlier in his career, and spent his time crawling around our asbestos-laden attics too. His lungs turned into a fibroid mass unable to put oxygen in the blood. Once we determined that asbestos caused preventable deaths, our government banned it.

The Trump Administration though simply doesn’t care. And now it is actively finding ways to kill more of us by reintroducing products like asbestos whose lethality is not even in question.

Why on earth would any administration want to do this? It’s because they are so evil and hateful that they simply don’t care. They want people to be more miserable. They want people to die. That’s because apparently they are a bunch of sadists. Sometimes though it bites back at one of their own. One of the infamously conservative Koch brothers, David Koch, has been battling prostate cancer for decades. It’s probably not related to the chemicals he and his brother’s industries have been pumping into the air, but who can say for sure? At 78, he is retiring.

But maybe it’s because the Trump Administration really believes its own bullshit: that everything is not related and that there is no limit to the amount of industrial pollutants we can dump into the environment because none of it impacts nature or people. I’d like to think that they aren’t really that dumb and just mentally ill sadists instead. But I’m sad to say I do believe that Donald Trump really is this dumb. Maybe I’ll read about it in Manigault Newman’s memoir.

Republicans opt to follow Trump … right off the cliff

The Thinker by Rodin

Donald Trump is really not that hard to figure out. If Obama was for it, he’s against it. This is because in 2011 President Obama publicly lampooned him at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner. Not used to being publicly humiliated and having an extreme case of narcissism, Trump of course dialed it up to 11. He used every opportunity since then to undercut Obama. His way of getting back at enemies is to get even. Thus his presidency and while in office using every opportunity to destroy Obama’s legacy. Thus we have an EPA chief Scott Pruitt trying to turn it into the Environmental Destruction Agency and an acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mick Mulvaney working hard to make it do absolutely nothing related to helping consumers.

Obama was for an agreement with Iran to restrain its development of nuclear weapons, so naturally Trump was against it. That this means that Iran is free to develop these same weapons of course doesn’t occur to him. Obama was against open dialog with North Korea absent significant verifiable concessions, so it’s not surprising in the least that Trump just concluded a very short “summit” with its despotic leader Kim Jung Un wherein North Korea agreed to nothing concrete but Trump unilaterally ended joint US-South Korean military exercises. The hypocrisy of engaging in the sort of behavior Obama engaged in with Iran with North Korea doesn’t occur to him.

Fortunately for Trump, his fellow so-called “Republicans” don’t see it either. They are praising Trump for the exact sort of behavior that had Obama done it likely would have resulted in his impeachment. And that’s because it’s okay if you are a Republican. Only the Republican Party as it has morphed over the years is now effectively gone. It’s become the Party of Trump. Those few willing to timidly stand up to Donald Trump are either leaving Congress anyhow or, like former South Carolina governor and now U.S. House representative Mark Sanford, you lose your primary to a challenger who will blindly follow Donald Trump.

Trump obviously trust his instincts, so much so that not only will he not brook any dissent, he has removed pretty much anyone in his administration that might want to offer a contrary opinion. His Chief of Staff John Kelly is reportedly miserable and looking for an out. Trump seems likely to let the position go vacant when Kelly leaves. He’ll kind of winging the whole presidency thing himself, when he isn’t obsessively watching Fox News during his frequent “executive time”.

Pretty much everything the Republican Party traditionally stood for, Trump has chosen the opposite and Republicans laud him for his leadership. North Korea was to be wiped off the planet, until King Trump decided otherwise, and now he is a brilliant leader who deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Free trade is out and tariffs are in, despite the history that tariffs were the exact cause of the Great Depression. Canada is our new enemy; Russia is our new friend. Trump at least had the smarts enough to discern that what the Republican Party stood for was not at all what its base stood for. The base didn’t care about that stuff. All they really care about is hating those not like them and white nationalism. And they really, really want to rally behind a standard bearer who fights to implement that message.

Party of life? Only if it means forcing a woman to give birth to a child. Otherwise it’s quite correct to call them the party of death. This administration rips families apart at the border and traumatizes their children for life. It’s basically building tent city prisons for undocumented kids. Customs and Border Enforcement is becoming a Goon Squad, feeling free to act unchecked and at will against pretty much anyone. Also, it’s peddle-to-the-metal time accelerating global climate change and pollution by actively trying to make our environment much worse and much more quickly. It’s also all about making people with less wealth even more miserable and being poor even more degrading. Trump is more than capable at keeping his base whipped up, endlessly pushing their buttons that allow them to hate even more.

The irony is that all of this is because Republicans know their time is coming to an end. They sense it; they fear it. The demographic shift underway in America makes it inevitable. The only way to prevent it is to change the system completely, replacing democracy with authoritarianism led of course by Trump. Trump instinctively knows how to do this. Fortunately for the rest of us, he’s particularly inept in doing so because he listens only to himself and Fox News. Trump specializes in creating chaos, but chaos is not a plan, it’s simply chaos. Trump’s hope though is that if he creates enough chaos he makes it easier to make America an authoritarian state. His chaos creates the conditions that help authoritarianism thrive. And that’s what the “Republican Party” is now banking on: the end of our democracy as we have known it, with only themselves in charge. Because they know they can’t win honestly, so they must win dirty, pulling the rug from under all of us before we can marshal an effective response.

This must change on November 6 somehow or those of us living will probably live to see the end of a 250-year-old experiment in democracy.

Greed is a terrible sickness

The Thinker by Rodin

In the 1987 movie Wall Street, the corporate raider Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) informed us that greed is good. His character fit in well with the Reagan years, because this was essentially the mantra of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party. If anything since then the Republican Party has become even more extreme on the issue. Not only is greed good, but also by implication being poor is bad and a personal failure. Poor people are just not trying hard enough, which they view as something of a crime.

According to Merriam-Webster, greed is “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money) than is needed”. “Than is needed” is of course somewhat relative. However, if you have or take more in the way of resources than you need almost by definition someone else gets less than they might otherwise have. Since Reagan was elected, the only constant is that more of our wealth has gone to the richest while the income for the rest of us has at best stayed the same but has generally declined.

It’s clear to me that greed is a terrible sickness, and not something that should be celebrated. It sure appears that those who are truly greedy are never satisfied. They always want more. Since they believe greed is good, they look on greediness as a kind of religion. Witness our president and most of his cabinet of very wealthy people and who seem to have no scruples. Government is for pillaging, which is why last year they gave themselves a tax cut and threw a few scraps out to the rest of us. Their reputed rationale was that tax cuts would pay for themselves, something that has never proven true. I don’t for a minute believe that they believe it. What they do believe is that if you have power then you should use it to enrich yourself, so they did, worsening income inequality and greatly adding to our national debt to line their pockets now.

Greed is bad and should be treated as a mental illness. A truly greedy person should be seeing psychologists to figure out what is the matter with them. There is something very wrong with our president, who clearly subscribes to the religion of greed. To see how greed perturbs someone, look at our EPA secretary Scott Pruitt. The “greed is good” mantra has him so captivated that he has no problem turning the EPA into the Environmental Destruction Agency. Entitlement is assumed. He has a round-the-clock staff of thirty to protect him, flies first class everywhere and built a soundproof booth in his office.

Being wealthy does not necessarily mean that you are greedy. Berkshire Hathaway head Warren Buffet seems to be one of these types: a billionaire many times over who otherwise lives modestly. To be greedy you need to flaunt it and be consumed by the need to become ever richer, and not always through entirely fair means. At its core, greed denies reality. It suggests for example that you will never die because it’s hard to actually spend and enjoy all the money you accumulate. I suspect Warren Buffet enjoys investing because he finds it personally interesting.

Then there are people like the Koch Brothers who are consumed by greed, so much so that they have no problem if their industries create their profits by foisting their pollution costs on the rest of us. That’s how much greed has perturbed their thinking. It’s not like there is another planet nearby that eight billion of us can go and populate. They either can’t see this reality or more likely simply don’t care. These people are very sick people indeed.

For much of my life, I pursued wealth. I wasn’t a fanatic about it but I wanted to be comfortable, particularly in retirement. It was a long and arduous struggle that I eventually achieved. To me, it meant feeling confident that I could maintain my standard of living until I died, that I would never go hungry or be impoverished again and that I no longer had to work to survive. It’s true that much of my wealth is dependent upon a well-earned federal pension, and I still don’t entirely trust that the oligarchy won’t take it away at some point to feed their insatiable greed. But I feel confident enough about it that I don’t worry about it anymore. In any event, I have a comfortable portfolio and plenty of cash assets set aside to handle future expenses. We have no mortgage payment nipping at our heels every month anymore, no college expenses to juggle and little in the way of electricity bills with the solar panels on our roof.

It’s reached the point where our relative wealth feels sort of surreal. What I don’t feel at all is the need to obsessively acquire more wealth. I feel no particular pull to buy a fancy car, for example. I take no particular pleasure in driving and see it as a chore. In January we took a 19-day vacation, 16 days of it on a cruise ship. It was nice but I don’t particularly feel the need for a more lavish vacation or more days dining on gourmet food in Holland America’s dining room. My needs and wants are pretty much satisfied. My financial anxieties are calmed. At my stage of life, people like me should simply enjoy life.

Today the things that give me the most satisfaction are the most prosaic: daily “constitutionals” around my community, doing the crossword puzzle in the paper, having a cat nearby that I can reach out and pet and having a spouse who I love and who loves me. And yet despite the ups and downs in the stock market, our portfolio keeps increasing. To the extent I still work through teaching and consulting (both very part time) it’s for enjoyment and to spread my knowledge to those who might benefit from it. This income is mostly saved, but occasionally it buys some nice stuff. We are planning a New York City trip next and hope to see some popular Broadway shows.

All these rich people could simply enjoy their wealth if they wanted to, rather than suffer from the psychosis that they must ruthlessly acquire more of it through pretty much any means available. A lot of our spare income now is given away to charitable causes. I feel not just a need but also a natural desire to share our wealth. I try to put it toward causes that I believe are productive uses. It goes to places like the Nature Conservancy, so it can buy up natural space for future generations. It goes to Planned Parenthood, so women in particular can make choices over their own bodies and get health care services at affordable prices. It goes to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, so fewer of the people I see holding cardboard signs at intersections have to go hungry. It goes to a local spouse abuse shelter, so mostly women can have a softer landing after from suffering domestic abuse. And increasingly a lot of it goes to arguably non-charitable causes: campaigns of people who seem to be sincere progressives who will work to reduce misery and straighten out the major problems with our politics most of which were caused by the greed is good falsehood.

For the truly greedy, to quote Mr. T., “I pity the fools”. They might want to read some Charles Dickens, particularly A Christmas Carol. Whether overtly or innocently, what they are doing to our planet and the rest of us is intensively evil.

Trump is playing his supporters for fools

The Thinker by Rodin

Has anyone noticed that the people Trump is picking for his administration are pretty much doggedly determined to work against the interest of those who voted for him? Okay, there are plenty of people, but the inconsistencies are so galling you would think his supporters would be up in arms. But there are few complaints from supporters so far.

Trump infamously promised to “drain the swamp”, but he’s apparently set on picking the wallets of those who voted for him instead. In other words, they’ve been masterfully played.

Sadly, this is the Achilles Heel of the white working class, which Trump understood. Racial pride comes before everything for them. You just have to pull the right strings. Trump is hardly the first to do it, but the first to do it so brazenly and completely. You have to play into the lie that white people are somehow special and better than others. And you have to look to scapegoats they can project their anger onto: Hispanics, blacks, gays and Muslims. It also takes a heap of phony patriotism. The idea is to obscure who is really to blame for their decline: global forces largely beyond anyone’s control and moneyed capitalists who will ruthlessly take out rungs out of the ladder of opportunity to advantage themselves.

Those others are actually people a lot like Trump. Trump succeeded by stomping down pretty much everyone unwise enough to work for him: employees, contractors and partners. Trump has screwed plenty of working class whites, particularly independent contractors and investors. And somehow he’s not going to keep screwing these people? Puh-lease. The evidence:

  • Steve Mnuchin gets to be Secretary of Treasury. Trump railed against Wall Street insiders, but picked a partner at Goldman Sachs, one of the firms that gave us the Great Recession and stripped vast amounts of wealth from many of Trump’s supporters.
  • Wilbur Ross will be Commerce Secretary. Founder of the International Coal Group, he was in charge during the Sego Mine Disaster, which killed twelve. He knew all about the mine’s safety issues and did nothing. He was also Rudy Giuliani’s privatization adviser while he was New York mayor.
  • Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor. He’s managed two fast food companies (Carl’s Jr. and Hardees), doesn’t believe in a minimum wage and has talked excitedly about creating automated fast food restaurants.
  • Tom Price for Health and Human Services whose mission will be for the department to stop providing health and human services. Of course he is against the Affordable Care Act, wrote one of the few bills that completely overturns it and will work to repeal it. The principle people to be affected if the ACA is overturned will be Trump supporters, many of whom depend on the ACA’s Medicaid provisions for health care. Many Trump voters may give their lives or shorten them considerably by voting for Trump.
  • Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development. Like the Arabian Horse Association president that ran FEMA for George W. Bush, Carson has zero experience in housing, unless you count the fact that his family depended on public housing to survive when he was a child. His mission will be to make sure that no others are as fortunate as he was.
  • Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. She hates public schools, loves charter schools (even though their record is worse than public schools) and basically wants to dismantle the public school system. You’ll get vouchers instead, which won’t come close to paying the tuition for your kids’ education. Free elementary and high school education will be a thing of the past if DeVos is successful. Bring back the glorious 19th century with a society full of illiterates and homeless urchins in the streets! Those were the good old days!
  • South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for U.N. ambassador, who has zero experience in foreign policy.
  • Scott Pruitt to run the EPA. He wants to abolish all clean air laws. Who will be disproportionately impacted by dirtier air? The white working class for sure. All those particulates in their air are sure to spike asthma rates, emergency room visits and premature deaths. A lot of those factories will be spewing into nearby white working-class communities.
  • Linda McMahon for Small Business Administration. She has small businesses experience like the World Wrestling Federation, which she ran.

I doubt his supporters will notice any of this. What they will notice and cheer on are the red meat appointments he is throwing out instead:

  • Steve Bannon, an open racist for his chief advisor
  • Michael Flynn, a xenophobe and Russian lover for national security adviser
  • Lots of white faces, principally white men, running his administration. Yea team white!
  • Distractions that will probably be more smoke than mirrors, such as efforts to deport up to 11 million people living here

Trump’s real genius is not getting people to vote for him, but to get them to voluntarily bend over and claim “I like this” while he screws them in the ass.

Working class America, you are about to be fleeced, discounted and shown the door. Sadly, most likely you will say, “Thank you and may I have some more?” when you unwisely vote to reelect this man in 2020.