Tag Archives: politics

Why waste time talking about Trump?


Some have raised many important issues in messages to me as a result of my blogs. I could bore you with a long diatribe. I tend to that to people. So I will bore you with a shorter diatribe. Some will say not short enough. So be it.

To begin with, as has been suggested by others, I don’t think it is useful to waste a lot of time haranguing Donald Trump. Frankly, he is not worth it. Yet he is the American President and as we know, every time the US coughs Canada gets a cold. As well, it scares me just to think he has his finger on the nuclear button. And it is a big one you know. And it works.

More importantly, about 50 million people voted for him and many of those still like him.  This really scares me. Many people just want to see Trump go away. I do. But that will not end much. Who will those 50 million support the next time? Someone even worse? Trump is just a symptom of a disease.

I think Trump is a demagogue with authoritarian tendencies. Similar potential leaders have had significant support all over Europe. This is an international phenomenon.

If you have time, I urge you to read a marvelous (and short!) book by Timothy Snyder called On Tyranny. Snyder is an expert historian who is familiar with how tyrannies have arisen in the last century. Remember that Hitler was elected before he became a dictator. He did that by preying on the fears of people and finding scapegoats.

Part of the reason so many people voted for him, I believe, is that people, particularly in the US, have for more than a hundred years been accustomed to making important decisions without the benefit of reason. They have made decisions on the basis of faith, rather than reason. They are used to doing that.

Kurt Anderson has written a book on the subject called Fantasyland. So far I have just read a brief summary in Atlantic magazine. I am waiting for the paperback. Sometimes it hurts to be a cheap Menno. His thesis is that Americans have spent 500 years making important decisions on the basis of fantasies rather than reason. They believe on the basis of what they want to be true, rather than on the basis of what the evidence supports. Trump is just part of that process. Many people, particularly people who are unemployed or underemployed, believe Trump can help them, even though the evidence does not support that conviction. Yet they believe it. They have abdicated their reason.

A lot of people are in despair. Around the world. That is understandable given how the lot of most people has seriously deteriorated in the last 40 years, while the lot of the elites has risen sharply. Inequality has risen by astonishing amounts. Rich people have done amazingly well while ordinary people have seen their incomes decline.

The people who have not done well and daily see how well others have done, because the modern media makes sure that everyone knows, are filled with resentment. Resentment is an explosively dangerous force. It is blind to reason. Near home a few years ago a dairy farmer was mad at his wife who wanted a divorce and got so angry that he burned his barn down with all of the cows inside. And he did that  after cancelling his fire insurance. If he could not have it all no one else would have any of it. It was totally irrational. People consumed with resentment can do that.

About a year ago, a man in Alberta who was facing a divorce from his wife, murdered her and their children. If he could not have his family no one could. So he killed them all and then killed himself. Again it made no difference how irrational this was. People blinded by resentment can do that.

People in the modern world are not only resentful of their loss of money, and status, they are deeply insecure. Capitalists, as we all know, have been forced in recent recessions to lay off workers. That is hard and it is profoundly unnerving to those laid off. This has happened over and over again. As a result many people, particularly after the most recent recession feel a deep sense of insecurity. Even though capitalism has produced amazing wonders, it is deeply flawed if it needs to create such misery. Such a system is broken.

This has happened all over the world, but particularly in places like Appalachia, in the US. Many there are resentful and desperate. They justifiably gave up on both Obama and Hillary Clinton. Who can blame them? But they turned to an unlikely source for help. Donald Trump. A billionaire that had no empathy for them. As I have said before, “Trump has the empathy of a turnip.” But at least he heard them. Clinton was deaf. No wonder people turned to Trump over Clinton.

I have little doubt that his supporters will be disappointed in Trump. He is no savior. Voting for him was also deeply irrational. Many people in the United States wanted a personal wrecking ball who would destroy the system. I have met such people on my current trip to the United States. There are surprisingly many of such people. It did not matter who would be hurt by Trump’s actions. It did not matter that he would not help them. As we know he has done nothing for them. He has drastically reduced taxes on the wealthy and unsurprisingly very few people still believe that the way to help poor people is to give money to rich people. That is what Trump and many Republicans believe.

I am not trying to create class divisions as one person suggested to me. As Warren Buffet, hardly a leftwing radical, said, ‘for the past few decades we have been in a class war and my class has won. The rich people.’ The class war, if there is one, or was one, is over. Donald Trump is just the culmination of that process.

I fear that rich people in the US in particular have seized the government to their own advantage and are blind to the damage they have done. They have got temporary benefits as a result, but do not see how the resentment is building up and how dangerous that can be. How will the resentful people explode next time? Who will be the next wrecking ball? This is one of the reasons I say that capitalists are the greatest danger for capitalism.

I really think, the rich people have done a massive disservice to everyone–not the least to themselves! And not least to the system that brought them such prosperity. I am not a revolutionary. They are.

Are you Scared Yet?


Some of my friends are scared of coming to Arizona. They think that ever since Donald Trump entered on to the political scene, and then shockingly became President, the USA has gone mad and therefore they want to give it a wide berth. I thought that was going a bit far. Is it?

Journalist Michael Wolff, for some strange reason, was allowed to occupy the Whitehouse for weeks. He sat around and interviewed as many people as he could. He had a couple of conversations with President Donald Trump, talked frequently with Trump’s strategic advisor Steven Bannon, and numerous other Whitehouse officials. He learned a lot about Trump and his administration. During this time he gathered enough material for a book that is now on the bestseller lists, because of all that he revealed about that administration and all the people that work inside it.

One of the things that Wolff revealed hardly seems controversial. This is that Trump reads absolutely nothing. He has probably only read one book in his entire adult life and that was his own book, which he co-wrote with his ghost author–The Art of the Deal. No wonder he said this was his favorite book after the Bible of course. Can you imagine naming your own book? Trump has no shortness of ego. To call him a narcissist seems wildly understated.

By itself this is scary. After all one would expect the leader of the richest, most powerful, most influential country in the world to be a person of wide experience and learning. But not only does Trump not read, he does not listen either. He won’t listen to what anyone has to say (except the pundits on Fox News and some other similar thinking Internet sites and blogs.) He only listens to complements about himself. He does not even listen to his own advisors. He has the attention span of a young teenager totally incurious about anything that does not deal with him directly. He loves to learn what others think and say about him. That’s it. That is the man with his finger on the nuclear trigger–and it is “big” and “it works.” Excuse my bad language, but is it surprising that his own Secretary of State called him “a fucking moron?”[1]

He has been President now for a year and has still not appointed a science advisor. The science advisor is the person who gives impartial advice to the President on issues that either affect science or would benefit from scientific input. For example, he has had to deal with what many have called the most important issue of our generation–climate change. If ever there was an issue that cried out for scientific advice this it. Yet President Trump has made the important decision to pull the United States out of the Paris accord without the benefit of independent scientific advice. He is entitled to the best of scientific advice and has chosen not to seek it. Presumably he gets his scientific advice from the media pundits on Fox Channel instead. Can you imagine choosing to follow an empty-headed bombastic political pundit rather than a person of science? That is exactly what Trump has done.

In the meantime in April of 2017 the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record 410 parts per million when for decades scientists have known that anything amount beyond 350 parts per million is dangerous. This level is higher than anything the world has experienced in 3&1/2 million years!

What has Trump done about this in one year in office? Nothing positive. Who is advising him? No scientists that’s for sure. He has removed restrictions on coal production when the use of coal is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions. He has removed restrictions on transporting bitumen from the Tar Sands of Alberta that were imposed by President Obama who had a first rate science advisor when Tar Sands production is massively worse for the atmosphere than conventional oil production. All of this was done by a man who does not read without the benefit of the best scientific advice.

Perhaps we should stop worrying about what Trump and Kim Jong-un are doing with their nuclear weapons. Are you scared yet? If we are not scared perhaps we “a fucking morons.”

[1] I might apologize for the bad language, but I think the actual words have to be included to give the true flavour of the incident

Fear: the whacky world of the Super-rich in Salina Kansas


We drove near to an ancient Titan missile site located near Salina Kansas close to the Nebraska border. We did not see it but I knew it was here. It was one of the two such sites in North America during the Cold War. The other was located in Green Valley Arizona where Chris and I lived for a month a couple of years ago. That one was turned in to a museum. We toured it with friends.

The second site near Salina is being developed as a security haven for the super rich of America. These are among of the most fearful people in America. The site is being converted into a super secure place for the super rich to hunker down. It is their luxurious bomb shelter, designed not just for bombs, but for any and every catastrophe. Rich people are getting ready for a crack-up. They are called survivalists. They want to survive the impending doom. We used to think of survivalists as woodsmen living off the grid, crackpots in some religious colony, and other assorted crackpots. Recently this has changed to included the super-rich especially hedge-fund managers and techies from Silicon Valley.

I am fascinated that this is being developed by the very rich. Why is that? I don’t know, but I have a theory. I think the rich in America live in fear. They fear that their wealth will crumble and they will be left to their own devices among drug-crazed hooligans out to get them and their families and their wealth. In fact, I think (entirely without evidence of course) that this fear emerged out of a sense of guilt. American society–and American wealth in particular–is based on 2 ultimate horrendous injustices. The first was the genocide of Indigenous peoples that the first European settlers encountered in the New World. The second was the astonishingly long imposition of slavery on African-Americans. They were immigrants from Africa as Ben Carson famously called them. That injustice led to guilt, which leads to fear. Many rich Americans are incredibly fearful. I think many of them fear what Quentin Tarantino emphasizes in many of his films–i.e. the turning of the tables. In many of his films a very evil man tortures an innocent man and later in the film the tables are turned and he gets the chance to impose revenge for the injustice. I think that is exactly what many rich Americans feel deep in their corroded souls. They fear justice.

In American many rich people have wealth beyond anyone’s imagination. And the greater the wealth the deeper the unconscious belief that such wealth is not justified and then justice might be served some time soon.

Many of the super-wealthy have helicopters, all gassed up and ready to go when the apocalypse arrives. Many of them want to be ready for whatever arrives– unrest, revolution or environmental collapse. They live in fear that soon the gig will be up.

Many of them want to defend themselves. Some take archery lessons. I kid you not. Some of these guys are young yet incredibly rich (even though many also seem incredibly stupid). Welcome to modern America. One of them is Steve Huffman, the thirty-three-year-old co-founder and C.E.O. of Reddit, which is valued at six hundred million dollars. Not bad for a 33-year old, but he is not happy. He is scared shitless!

Many of the survivalists have dreams (nightmares?) of collapse. Many of the survivalists, or preppers, are deeply concerned about political instability in the United States. They fear there will be widespread unrest. Huffman forecast “Some sort of institutional collapse, then you just lose shipping—that sort of stuff.” According to Evan Osnos, who wrote an article on this in the New Yorker, “Prepper blogs call such a scenario W.R.O.L., “without rule of law.” That is what they fear.

People like Huffman believe that that the consensus that holds society together is fragile. As he said, “I think, to some degree, we all collectively take it on faith that our country works, that our currency is valuable, the peaceful transfer of power—that all of these things that we hold dear work because we believe they work. While I do believe they’re quite resilient, and we’ve been through a lot, certainly we’re going to go through a lot more.

Preppers or survivalists such as Huffman often have a good understanding of modern social media and the corrosive effect it can have on social relations. “Social media can magnify public fear. Huffman put it this way, “It’s easier for people to panic when they’re together,” he said, pointing out that “the Internet has made it easier for people to be together,” yet it also alerts people to emerging risks.”

Osnos also reported on a study obtained by National Geographic that “found that forty per cent of Americans believed that stocking up on supplies or building a bomb shelter was a wiser investment than a 401(k). Online, the prepper discussions run from folksy (“A Mom’s Guide to Preparing for Civil Unrest”) to grim (“How to Eat a Pine Tree to Survive”). Some of these things are hard to believe, I know.

No one knows exactly how many wealthy Americans have bought into this fear, but the numbers are not insignificant. Osnos asked Hoffman to estimate what share of fellow Silicon Valley billionaires have acquired some level of “apocalypse insurance,” in the form of a hideaway in the U.S. or abroad. He guessed 50%.

There is something inherently barbarous about rich people taking such extreme measures to protect themselves from hazards that their own reckless disregard for benefits to other classes has wrought. Max Levchin, a founder of Paypal and of Affirm, a lending startup admitted this to Osnos, when he acknowledged, “It’s one of the few things about Silicon Valley that I actively dislike—the sense that we are superior giants who move the needle and, even if it’s our own failure, must be spared.” If only these multi-millionaires and worse spent some of their money helping others, or even if they moderated the exploitation of workers and the system in their own favor, and less time worrying about how they can survive the impending troubles a solution to the problems might actually be found.

Levchin told Osnos that he prefers to shut down cocktail party discussions on the subject by asking people instead,


‘So you’re worried about the pitchforks. How much money have you donated to your local homeless shelter?’ This connects the most, in my mind, to the realities of the income gap. All the other forms of fear that people bring up are artificial.” In his view, this is the time to invest in solutions, not escape. “At the moment, we’re actually at a relatively benign point of the economy. When the economy heads south, you will have a bunch of people that are in really bad shape. What do we expect then?


While many captains of industry are unable to see anything that is not in their own immediate advantage, a few do recognize that there are vulnerable people out there who have been screwed by the system and many of them may seeks “solutions” to their problems that may involve insurrection, as far fetched as that may sound to some of us.

Many of the rich think, as the aristocracy of France did before the French Revolution that the poor can eat grass. Others fear revolution that might upset their privileges. Dugger said, “ “People know the only real answer is, Fix the problem,” he said. “It’s a reason most of them give a lot of money to good causes.” At the same time, though, they invest in the mechanics of escape.”

Elite fantasies of escape are often exactly that–fantasies. There are all kinds of logistical problems. Many of the wealthy cannot see these problems. They assume there must be a way for them to escape. After all they deserve that escape. They have earned that right to escape. So at least they think.

Dugger one of the super rich, told Osnos about a lavish dinner in New York City after 9/11 and the bursting of the dot-com bubble, “ “A group of centi-millionaires and a couple of billionaires were working through end-of-America scenarios and talking about what they’d do. Most said they’ll fire up their planes and take their families to Western ranches or homes in other countries.” One of the guests was skeptical, Dugger said. “He leaned forward and asked, ‘Are you taking your pilot’s family, too? And what about the maintenance guys? If revolutionaries are kicking in doors, how many of the people in your life will you have to take with you?’ The questioning continued. In the end, most agreed they couldn’t run.You can run, but you can’t hide.

Robert A. Johnson was another person that Osnos interviewed. He saw the fear of his peers as “the symptom of a deeper crisis.” I agree with that. I too see the fear as a manifestation of fundamental unease about their place in modern society. They are unmoored and their wealth, which often is extreme wealth, is not able to fill the void. Johnson was the manager of a hedge-fund. He was also the head of a think tank. He called himself “an accidental student of civic anxiety.” From my own career, I would just talk to people. More and more were saying, ‘you’ve got to have a private plane. You have to assure that the pilot’s family will be taken care of, too. They have to be on the plane.’ ”

Osnos analyzed this situation this way,


By January, 2015, Johnson was sounding the alarm: the tensions produced by acute income inequality were becoming so pronounced that some of the world’s wealthiest people were taking steps to protect themselves. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Johnson told the audience, “I know hedge-fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.


It is difficult to discern why the privileged are so fearful. What do these ultra wealthy people have to fear. If money does not buy happiness, surely it buys security. If one thought that, one would be wrong. As Osnos reported,


As public institutions deteriorate, élite anxiety has emerged as a gauge of our national predicament. “Why do people who are envied for being so powerful appear to be so afraid?” Johnson asked. “What does that really tell us about our system?” He added, “It’s a very odd thing. You’re basically seeing that the people who’ve been the best at reading the tea leaves—the ones with the most resources, because that’s how they made their money—are now the ones most preparing to pull the rip cord and jump out of the plane.”


Near Salina in Kansas, where we drove through on our way to Arizona, is interesting countryside. Osnos drove to the site where the luxury bunker in the old Titan silos is being built. It is called the Survival Condo Project near the town near Salina Kansas. When Osnos arrived he was met by a guard dressed in camouflage holding a semiautomatic rifle. The condo project is being built inside an underground missile silo like the one we saw in Green Valley Arizona. The developers are building 13 luxury condos. The facility housed nuclear warheads from 1961 to 1965. After that the site was decommissioned. The site was built in response to a perceived threat from the Soviet Union that was engaged in a long-standing “cold war” with the United States and its allies. The developers are led by Larry Hall the CEO of the new project. According to Osnos, “Hall has erected a defense against the fears of a new era. “It’s true relaxation for the ultra-wealthy,” he said. “They can come out here, they know there are armed guards outside. The kids can run around.”

Wow is that the best the super rich can do? Is there not more to life than being ensconced in a cocoon? To me that sounds horribly limited. I guess being rich is not all its cracked up to be.

Hall developed the property for which he paid $300,000 by spending nearly another $20,000,00 for renovations. With that he created 12 private apartments that he sold for $3in the case of full floor units and $1.5 in the case of half floor units. He sold them all except for one that he decided to keep for himself.

The silos in which the apartments are located are solid. After all, they were built by the Army Corp of Engineers to withstand a nuclear strike. The inside has enough food and fuel for 5 years off the grid. Of course it will require that people raise tilapia in fish tanks and hydroponic vegetables under grow lamps and supposedly renewable power that could function indefinitely, according to Hall. I am not sure how he would accomplish that.

In a crisis more drastic measures can be expected. According to Hall, “In a crisis, his swat-team-style trucks (“the Pit-Bull VX, armored up to fifty-calibre”) will pick up any owner within four hundred miles. Residents with private planes can land in Salina, about thirty miles away. In his view, the Army Corps did the hardest work by choosing the location. “They looked at height above sea level, the seismology of an area, how close it is to large population centers.”

That does not mean that each prepper has an individual bunker. After all, hardened bunkers are expensive and complicated to construct. The complex looked and felt like a ski condo that did not have any windows. What kind of ski condo is that? But it had a central area with pool table, stone fireplace, a kitchen, and leather couches.

Osnos had the benefit of a tour of the Kansas facility. It had many amenities. $20 million buys a lot of amenities. It has a 75-foot long pool, a rock-climbing wall, an Astro-Turf “pet park,” a classroom with a line of computers, a gym, a movie theatre and a library. According to Osnos “It felt compact but not claustrophobic.” Osnos also described the armory and related facilities:


We visited an armory packed with guns and ammo in case of an attack by non-members, and then a bare-walled room with a toilet. “We can lock people up and give them an adult time-out,” he said. In general, the rules are set by a condo association, which can vote to amend them. During a crisis, a “life-or-death situation,” Hall said, each adult would be required to work for four hours a day, and would not be allowed to leave without permission. “There’s controlled access in and out, and it’s governed by the board,” he said.


This is not exactly paradise is it? The facility also contained a hospital bed, operating table, dentist’s chair and food storage area. 2 doctors will be residents and 1 dentists. I guess they are wealthy enough.

One problem is how to get away with the absence of windows. Can you imagine it? According to Osnos, “The condo walls are fitted with L.E.D. “windows” that show a live video of the prairie above the silo. Owners can opt instead for pine forests or other vistas. One prospective resident from New York City wanted a video of Central Park. “All four seasons, day and night,” Menosky said. “She wanted the sounds, the taxis and the honking horns.” So that is what she got.

This is not virtual reality; this is whacky reality. Hall has given some thought to how people will live there, but I wonder if he has given enough thought. According to Osnos, “Hall said the hardest part of the project was sustaining life underground. He studied how to avoid depression (add more lights), prevent cliques (rotate chores), and simulate life aboveground.” Frankly I would not be satisfied with simulated life. Would you? I would rather have life. Or is even death preferable? This is particularly poignant when you consider that most (all?) life might outside the bunkers might perish.

Some survivalists have mocked Hall’s plan. They say they won’t pay. They will just attack when the time comes. To this Hall responded that he and his guards could repel all forces. And if necessary, the guards would return fire. How long could people survive a siege?

Some of the people who put down $3 million for a unit have strange fears. Maybe they all do. Osnos interviewed Tyler Allen a real estate developer in Florida who bought a unit. He worries about future “social conflict” in America. I do too. Allen also thinks that the government will deceive the public, as it has done in the past. He even believes that Ebola was allowed into the country “in order to weaken the population.”

Allen claimed that when he started suggesting ideas like this people thought he was crazy, but they don’t anymore. He said, “My credibility has gone through the roof. Ten years ago, this just seemed crazy that all this was going to happen: the social unrest and the cultural divide in the country, the race-baiting and the hate-mongering.” Now to many it seems like a reasonable precaution.

Of course how will people get to their bunkers? The buyers don’t live next door. Tyler lived in Florida. That is a long way from Kansas. Tyler thought he would have 48 hours to make it to Kansas. Most people he believed, when the crisis came, would head to the bars while he headed towards Kansas. I guess he thinks they would be watching the action from “Sports bars.”

As I have said, all of this is driven by fears–in particular fears of the very rich. Osnos does not disagree,


Why do our dystopian urges emerge at certain moments and not others? Doomsday—as a prophecy, a literary genre, and a business opportunity—is never static; it evolves with our anxieties. The earliest Puritan settlers saw in the awe-inspiring bounty of the American wilderness the prospect of both apocalypse and paradise. When, in May of 1780, sudden darkness settled on New England, farmers perceived it as a cataclysm heralding the return of Christ. (In fact, the darkness was caused by enormous wildfires in Ontario.) D. H. Lawrence diagnosed a specific strain of American dread. “Doom! Doom! Doom!” he wrote in 1923. “Something seems to whisper it in the very dark trees of America.


Not everyone has the same fears. Often ideas of the end times flourish during times of insecurity. Insecurity (fear again) breeds monsters. “Jack London, in 1908, published “The Iron Heel,” imagining an America under a fascist oligarchy in which “nine-tenths of one per cent” hold “seventy per cent of the total wealth.” Doesn’t that sound a lot like today?

Fear was not invented recently in America. It has always been there. There was fear earlier in the United States. The Cold War was brimming with fear. Many thought there were communists under every bed. Many feared nuclear annihilation. Thousands of people built bomb shelters in their basements and stocked them with food. Doom boom some called this.

There is no doubt that all of this is being driven by fear. Fear of disaster can be a useful thing. When the world realized that a hole was being punched in the Ozone layer because of chlorofluorocarbons (‘CFSs’) in the atmosphere they got together and adopted the Montreal Protocol to do something about it. They phased them out. That action has been a remarkable success story. But this is not happening here. Instead it is another case of the super wealthy doing nothing to solve the problem. They are using their money to buy an escape. That escape is illusory, but that is what these rich people want to do with their money. Instead of using it to help solve the problem, they are trying to run away from it. As Osnos said,


Fear of disaster is healthy if it spurs action to prevent it. But élite survivalism is not a step toward prevention; it is an act of withdrawal… Faced with evidence of frailty in the American project, in the institutions and norms from which they have benefitted, some are permitting themselves to imagine failure. It is a gilded despair. As Huffman, of Reddit, observed, our technologies have made us more alert to risk, but have also made us more panicky; they facilitate the tribal temptation to cocoon, to seclude ourselves from opponents, and to fortify ourselves against our fears, instead of attacking the sources of them. ”



Another super-wealthy CEO had a much better approach. This is what he said,


There are other ways to absorb the anxieties of our time. “If I had a billion dollars, I wouldn’t buy a bunker,” Elli Kaplan, the C.E.O. of the digital health startup Neurotrack, told me. “I would reinvest in civil society and civil innovation. My view is you figure out even smarter ways to make sure that something terrible doesn’t happen.” Kaplan, who worked in the White House under Bill Clinton, was appalled by Trump’s victory, but said that it galvanized her in a different way: “Even in my deepest fear, I say, ‘Our union is stronger than this.’ ”


As it has so often in the past, America is being pushed and pulled at the same time. On the one are people like survivalists, neo-liberals, and their political puppets who have shredded all of their fellow feeling in order to fill their bags with as much money as possible. On the other hand there are the kinder gentler souls who see a better way, but seem to be increasingly crushed by the more vocal and bellicose side. I don’t know who will win this battle, but I care. I hope that America (and with Canada dragging along behind) comes to its senses and abandons this philosophy of fear. Fear is all right but it must be managed. When it gives way to panic we have to realize that smart decisions will no longer be made. We must abandon panic; we must embrace critical thinking and fellow feeling. If we can do that then we will survive. If we are unable to do that, we will sink into the mire, or worse. We can sink into the whacky world of the super rich.

Elites against Elites


The elites have many stunning “achievements” to their credit. One that really amazes me is the extent to which they have convinced ordinary people—workers, laborors, government workers and the like—that the neo-liberals represent them against the elites. They constantly criticize the elites, especially the elites in the media, academia, and “the east.”

One of the neo-liberal politicians in the U.S. dwho was most adept at this approach was Newt Gingrich. Just like he could persuade socially conservative voters that too him marriage was a sacred institution on which all of society was based, even though Newt was married 3 times and divorced twice, under morally dubious circumstances.

Gingrich clearly had the abilty to say, with a straight face that black was white and white was black. This was dialectics that the most fervid Marxist would be impressed with.

As a result he could say—convincingly say—that he was a staunch of opponent of those elites from down east. After declaring victory in the South Carolina primary in 2012, he announced that he was separate and apart from the “elites in Washington and New York.” “Those elites,” he declared, have no understanding, no care, no concern, no reliabilituy” and are trying to “force us to quit being American.” What an astonishing statement for him to make.

Such statements are not really that unusual. Especially in the United States such derogatory remarks are common. Richard Nixon often painted himself as an opponent of that same “Eastern establishment” even though he had been a New York lawyer. At least he always had a resentful chip on his shoulder. So did his Vice President, Spiro Agnew who attacked the media elites as the “nattering nabobs of negativity.”

Of course the most astonishing case was Donald Trump. He said he would drain the swamp of Wall Street barons on behalf of working people. After getting elected he decided instead to pick cabinet minsters and advisors from those Wall Streeters. He picked the wealthiest cabinet in the history of the U.S. Is that draining the swamp?

This has also often happened in Canada. We are hardly immune to political hypocricy. Stephen Harper in Canada made similar remarks about “Professor” Michael Ignatieff. Similar attacks were made by the Conservatives against the former Liberal leader, another evil high brow academic, Stephan Dion. After all these people might read books!

Yet it takes a lot of overly ripe gaul for someone like Newt Gingrich to play the role of an anti-elitist. After all he served 10 terms in Congress while rising to its highest position, Speaker of the House where he was 2 heart beats away from the presidency. He was not just near the top of eastern power. He was there. The elite of the elites!

As if that was not enough he receieved a $4.5 million dollar advance for a proposed book which he was compelled to refuse after a political storm that resulted in an ethical investigation of the transaction. Added to that, he wrote numerous books for which he was very well paid. His income always exceeded 1 million each year mainly from books and speaking engagements. If only the common man could do so well in America!

Moreover, Gingrich earned his fortune by giving “strategic advice” to businesses who wanted to learn how to influence government to work in their favor. In that capacity he earned $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, one of of the quasi-governmental companies that was an important force in the financial melt-down of 2008. Of course, Gingrich did not suffer from that financial collapse. The elites don’t suffer. Suffering is for the peasants.

According to federal tax data in the US the average household income of the top one per cent in 2008 was $1.2 million. So Gingrich would fit in. Romeny of course would be in the upper echelons of that. In either case these two political leaders are a very long way indeed from the common man that they claim to represent against those awful elites.

Even though he characterizes himself as an outsider attacking those arrogant elites he also commony brags about how he helped Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton create jobs. How can he be outside the elites and do all that with such elites? The answer of course, is that he can’t. He is the elite! He is the quintessential elite. He has been at the heart of the eastern elite for decades. He is no common man. That is absurd.

Of course his main opponent is not outside those elites either. Mitt Romney’s tax returns, that he divulged only after enornous pressure, showed that he earned $20 million the previous year. His net worth was estimated at $250 million. How rich or how powerful does one have to be to be part of the elite? As the Los Angeles Times said, “Now, a multimillionaire private equity manager whose tax rate is about 15 per cent will compete with a mult-millionaire Washington politician who relishes his access to power. And the two will, amusingly, compete to convince voters that each is an authentic outsider with a common touch.”

If these are the best elite fighters the common people of America can muster they are in for massive oblivion. Deserved obliteration. Or perhaps even worse, Donald Trump.


The Opioid Crisis: Don’t buy medicine from a snake oil salesman or a New York Real estate Developer

By now it is well known that opioid drugs such as OxyContin (oxycodone) and Percocet are ravaging North American society. Opioids are now responsible in the United States for causing about 37,000 deaths per year. Since the year 2,000 opioid deaths in the U.S. have quadrupled. That is without counting deaths from overdoes of heroin or fentanyl and other drugs. Some people overdose on these drugs after getting addicted to opioids.

How did this happen? In part the problem is that for decades medical doctors have been prescribing prescription opioids for all kinds of ailments, including fairly minor ones. This included things like toothaches, back pain, and the like. Their patients asked the doctors for help and the doctors gave it, even when it was probably not wise for many of these patients to get such prescriptions. We shouldn’t always get what we want. Of course, once people were addicted, Big Pharma was happy to oblige.

In the U.S, the Drug Enforcement Administration (‘DEA’) saw some astonishing efforts to fill prescriptions. In some cases, they were sending out thousands of suspicious orders for pharmaceuticals. In one case, one pharmacy in Kermit West Virginian—in the heart of Trumpland—a town of just 396 people ordered 9 million opioid pills in 2 years!

One would think this would be an easy problem to resolve. One would think wrong. The DEA should be able to investigate and shutdown such commercial trafficking without getting indigestion. But in 2016 the American Congress unanimously passed a law that drastically curtailed the power of their DEA to go after drug distribution. And they did this in the midst of a drug epidemic. And they did it unanimously when ordinarily they cannot agree unanimously what day it is. How did that happen?

It is interesting how that happened. According to Trevor Noah on the Daily Show (Of course I get most of my news from Comedy News ) “that is because of the thing that they are addicted to—Money.” [1] Political commentators have long understood a fundamental principle of political analysis—follow the money. In 2016 the Pharmaceutical Industry (‘Big Pharma’) spent $246 million on lobbying the American Congress. In the decade from 2007 to 2017 they spent a cumulated total of $2.4 billion. That money was well spent.

Big Pharma consistently ranks at the top or near the top of big spenders on lobbying Congress. They do that because it works. That money buys them a lot. The insurance industry another big spender is cheap in comparison. Even though they were second in 2016, they spent a paltry $152.9 million. The gun lobby spent a puny $10.5 million. That is about 4% of what Big Pharma spent. Big Pharma spend money like river boat gamblers and it paid off BIGLEY. It paid off with unanimous legislation that they like. Like the law that crippled the ability of the DEA to investigate commercial drug traffickers.

As a result of such big spending Big Pharma has big influence with Congress. Big spending and big influence go together like love and marriage. Big Pharma wanted to get rid of regulations they did not like. These are more of those regulations that Trump keeps saying hobble American industry. In fact it bought them the right to basically write the laws that emasculated the DEA in the middle of a drug crisis that they helped to create and from which they were the primary financial beneficiaries. As the Washington Post said,

“In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets.

By then, the opioid war had claimed 200,000 lives, more than three times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Vietnam War. Overdose deaths continue to rise. There is no end in sight.

A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to an investigation by The i and “60 Minutes.” The DEA had opposed the effort for years.” [2]


Bob Dylan was right again—“money doesn’t talk it swears.” It is not surprising either that the chief designer of the of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino, who is now reputed to be Donald Trump’s next drug czar. Funny how that happens. In fact according to the Washington Post, Drug Industry executive Linden Barber played a key role in crafting an earlier version of the legislation that eventually curtailed the DEA’s power.” As Trevor Noah said, “for $250 million you can write your own laws.” [3]

Of course Donald Trump understood how serious the drug crisis was. In August of 2017 he declared the opioid crisis an “official national emergency.” That was very significant because it made available many millions of dollars to tackle the crisis. He said specifically, this means the country is committed to spending a lot of time, effort and a lot of money on this crisis. This was a big deal. No doubt about it. Trump should have been applauded for that declaration. Yet there was a hitch. Like there usually is with Trump’s dealings.

The problem is that Trump is a snake oil salesman. They know that in New York. They are used to him there. That is why they did not vote for Trump in the election of 2016. When Trump made the formal announcement on October 26, 2017 he did not do exactly what he had promised. It sounded the same. It looked the same. But it was not the same. Sometimes it can look like a duck, quack like a duck, yet not be duck. He said instead, “my administration is officially declaring the opioid crisis a “national public health emergency under federal law.” That is not quite the same. As a recovering lawyer, I know it is important, very important when dealing with charlatans to read the contract over very slowly and very carefully word for word. Nothing else will do. This is not the time and place for shortcuts. Politics is the time for short cuts. When listening to Trump extreme care is needed.

As a result of this “slight” change in wording, instead of many millions of dollars being available to deal with the “official national emergency” for a “national public health emergency under federal law” there was only $57,000 available. Of course he did not tell us this. He kept mum. Trump had played the old shell game. The American public were the suckers. They bought snake oil.


[1] Trevor Noah, The Daily Show, Comedy News Network, (Oct. 26, 2017)

[2] Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein, “The Drug Industry’s Triumph over the Dea,” Washington Post, October 15, 2017

[3] Trevor Noah, The Daily Show, Comedy News Network, (Oct. 26, 2017)

Hidden Figures

Early in 2017, Chris and I went to see the movie Hidden Figures as part of our project to see all the movies nominated for best picture. It is unlikely that we will succeed at this project, but the fun is in the chase.

The movie was very enjoyable. The movie tells the story of 3 black women none of us have ever heard of. Its story suggests that without the mathematical and related genius of these 3 women the United States Space program would not have put John Glenn in space to “sort of” catch up with the Russians who had recently put an man in space. It was unacceptable to the Americans that the despised Russians had done it first. President Kennedy wanted to catch up. The glory of America and capitalism demanded that the upstart Commies be put in their proper place–well behind the Americans. There was tremendous pressure on the entire space program led by NASA to catch up and show the world that America and capitalism were superior to Russia and communism.

Part of the American problem was that it was hobbled by prejudice that led to it not using properly women and blacks. It did have a group of white women “computers” and another group of “negro computers” who of course could not work together. They had to be “separate but equal” as the courts had demanded. Of course this meant that a woman mathematical genius that the space program desperately needed had to run more than ½ mile to the “colored washroom.” It just would not do for her to use the white washroom. Of course the white washroom was well-appointed, while the colored washroom was lacking basic supplies. Hardly equal but certainly separate.

The male engineers and mathematical geniuses were loath to accept the contribution of a black woman. It just could not be possible, could it, that she was better at math than the entire room of white men? Well it was clear that she was better and it was clear that she was needed to help the men. This was done by Katherine Goble the central character.

The space program also needed Mary Jackson who had to go to college to be accepted but could not go to classes in the local school which was segregated. The law in Virginia at the time was clear, schools could be segregated. Again the arcane prejudicial rules that made no sense were holding back women who could help the American team. To get to go to school she had to petition the local court and she did so on her own without hiring a lawyer. She made an interesting argument to the white judge. She did not appeal to his sense of fairness, she did not make some innovative legal argument, she appealed to the judge’s vanity and she did in quietly by approaching the bench. She persuaded the judge he could be the first to grant a black woman the right to go to a segregated school in Virginia. He bought that approach and granted her the right to go to the all-white school, but only at night.

Finally Dorothy Vaughan the defacto leader of the black female “computers and a mechanical genius was needed to get the IBM computers working and again she had to struggle against prejudice against blacks, particularly black women, to be freed to help the team. The IBM computer team could not solve the computer problems. Dorothy could because she had learned Fortran computer language by stealing a book from the white side of the local library that barred coloreds from using white books.

Richard Brody, writing in the New Yorker, aptly characterized the travesty of racism in America as demonstrated by the film.

The insults and indignities that black residents of Virginia, and black employees of NASA, unremittingly endured are integral to the drama. Those segregationist rules and norms—and the personal attitudes and actions that sustained them—are unfolded with a clear, forceful, analytical, and unstinting specificity. The efforts of black Virginians to cope with relentless ambient racism and, where possible, to point it out, resist it, overcome it, and even defeat it are the focus of the drama. “Hidden Figures” is a film of calm and bright rage at the way things were—an exemplary reproach to the very notion of political nostalgia. It depicts repugnant attitudes and practices of white supremacy that poisoned earlier generations’ achievements and that are inseparable from those achievements. [1]

The movie showed how a country could be severely disadvantaged by failing to take advantage of all of its citizens. Each of the 3 cases represented by the 3 women demonstrated the foolishness of racial laws of segregation and how they could hold back the space program. Racism levies a heavy cost not just on the citizen disadvantaged, but also the country in which they live and in which racism thrives. When a country cannot benefit from all of its citizens no one suffers more than that country. Forget about arguments of fairness or natural justice. Racism is bad for business! That is a profound lesson, which America has still not really learned. It has made progress but it is far from free of racism. Racism has just gone deeply underground where its ill effects are harder to detect but no less damaging. Those ill effects are however just as wrong and just as detrimental to the country.

[1] Richard Brody, Hidden figures is a Subtle and Powerful Work of Counter-history,” The New Yorker, (December 23, 2016)

Fantasyland for Real

Fantasyland for Real


I listened to a short but fascinating interview  conducted by the tireless Charlie Rose on PBS. He interviewed someone I had never heard of before. His name is Kurt Anderson. He was flogging a book he has just written that is only being published next month called Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire–A 500-year History. I must buy the book

Anderson talked about modern America and how it got to be as it is–whacky. That is my word, not his. He laid some of the blame for the bad state of America on religion. Religion and the blue smoke and mirrors of American business. America was always a country of big dreamers and true believers in the fanciful and dubious. That gullibility was always combined with practically, pragmatism, and Yankee clarity, said Anderson. This is an interesting combination.

According to Anderson things started to go seriously wrong in the 1960s. That was my time. The time of music, love and flower children. It was also the time when everyone was permitted to find their own truth and create their own reality. People were not allowed to be judgmental however. Everything was permitted. Everything was permitted except judgmentalism.

Anderson claimed that these ideas of the 1960s came from academia and New Left. Yet interestingly, these ideas empowered the far right! This kind of thinking permeated America from top to bottom. It was dangerous because “it allowed preposterous thinking all over the map,”[1] said Anderson.

Contrary to such thinking Anderson recommended we think like Patrick Moynihan who famously said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Anderson admitted there was probably no going back to the days of Moynihan. It is too late. In fact, Anderson acknowledged that there might not be any light at the end of this tunnel. He, at least, saw no hopeful end. Instead we now live in the age of Donald Trump. This is very different from the time of Moynihan. Trump in effect says that anything that is inconvenient to me or that I disagree with is, fake news. Don’t trust any “truth” you don’t believe in. That is dangerous thinking especially for a person who gets to appoint the leader of the CIA, or uses intelligence sources to determine what to do with the most powerful armed forces with the most awesome weaponry imaginable. That is outright scary. If there are no objective standards for truth we are dangerously bereft.

Since the 1960s the relativist position had become deeply embedded in American society. This attitude that there is no objective truth has seeped into a large portion of American thinking. As Anderson stated, “it is part of the American operating system.”[2]

Later with the advent of the Internet Anderson believes things got even worse. “The Internet gave the alternative fact universe its infrastructure.”[3]

Part of the problem, says Anderson, is that the Internet through its search engines “rewards the excitingly false.”[4] Wild conspiracy theories are just one example among many. “Like religion it is exciting to think that there is a puppet master out there pulling strings.”[5]

The Internet, like conspiracy theories, distorts.  That  makes the world seem simpler than it is. Anderson state, “Conspiracy theories make a tidy fiction in the way that reality is not tidy.”[6]

Donald Trump is of course the person who has taken massive advantage of the Internet. He has manipulated it. Anti-elite thinking and anti-establishment thinking has always been a part of America, Anderson said. It is not new. But Anderson believed that in the 1960s it got out of control like never before and America has never recovered. Rebels are good but they can go too far.

An interesting thing about Trump, Anderson said, is that he learned after studying him for many years, long before he became a big player in American Presidential politics, is that he has never met anyone who craves attention like Donald Trump. “Donald Trump needs attention like a drug addict needs drugs.”[7] And now he has the attention of the public in spades. In fact, Anderson pointed out, “perhaps now Trump has got more attention than anyone else in the history of the world.”[8] I hate to admit it. that is probably true.

In trying to understand America Anderson went back 500 years. He went all the way to Martin Luther. America has since the contact of Europeans been diffused with religion. According to Anderson, “America has always been exceptionally religious compared to the rest of the world.”[9] Among the first settlers to America were Puritans and others who had fled religious persecution in Europe, but they were themselves “theocratic religious nut cases.”[10] In fact, it has been said that they escaped religious persecution so that they would be free to persecute others. In any event, Americans are, as Anderson stated, “Outliers in our religiosity compared to the rest of world, not just a little bit, but a lot. We are not like the rest of the developed world, we are much more religious.”[11]

All of this, as I have been saying for some time, has serious consequences well beyond religion. Anderson put it this way, “Once as a culture you are more inclined to believe in magic, in supernatural events, it won’t stay in its religious realm. It will leach out into not believing in climate change say.” [12]

Anderson says that we are shaped by a “fantasy industrial complex.”[13] This includes not just organized religion but everything in the entertainment industry. In the US, he pointed out, everything becomes entertainment. Real estate business for example, become entertainment. Everything becomes part of show business. Religious leaders are show men. This fantasy industrial complex uses modern technology skillfully to convince us of dubious truths. Then the Internet comes along and compounds that effect massively. This is the age in which we live.

As a result we should not be surprised when ordinary people believe outrageous claims. Ordinary people are part of a culture that leads them to believe. When critical skills are lost and we learn to believe without evidence we turn ourselves over to fake news and the demagogues that take advantage of it.

[1] Kurt Anderson, on Charlie Rose, PBS August 7, 2017

[2] Kurt Anderson, on Charlie Rose, PBS August 7, 2017

[3] Kurt Anderson, on Charlie Rose, PBS August 7, 2017

[4] Kurt Anderson, on Charlie Rose, PBS August 7, 2017

[5] Kurt Anderson, on Charlie Rose, PBS August 7, 2017

[6] Kurt Anderson, on Charlie Rose, PBS August 7, 2017

[7] Kurt Anderson, on Charlie Rose, PBS August 7, 2017

[8] Kurt Anderson, on Charlie Rose, PBS August 7, 2017

[9] Kurt Anderson, on Charlie Rose, PBS August 7, 2017

[10] Kurt Anderson, on Charlie Rose, PBS August 7, 2017

[11] Kurt Anderson, on Charlie Rose, PBS August 7, 2017

[12] Kurt Anderson, on Charlie Rose, PBS August 7, 2017

[13] Kurt Anderson, on Charlie Rose, PBS August 7, 2017