We DID Start The Fire…

Two fires are burning in America, both fueled by ignorance, indifference, and plain old stupidity.

Curious Kids: when I swipe a matchstick how does it make fire?

In the western US, wildfires burn out of control, consuming millions of acres of forests, entire towns, killing unknown numbers of wildlife, and destroying humans. Many of our fellow Americans push aside the overwhelming evidence of climate change—the intensity of these fires and resulting firestorms are a symptom of the problem—for politics or because of a vested interest in ignoring the science.

Despite the enormous evidence of anthropogenic climate change, we have a President who ignores it all and tells people to “rake their leaves.” That such an unsophisticated, uninformed, scientifically bereft attitude exists in 21st century America is astounding.

We are returning to the Dark Ages where mystics and charlatans guided decisions absent any rational basis. They hide their actions from us by the smoke of fires of our own creation.

We ignore these signs at our own peril, for the earth is resilient. Like any sophisticated, self-sustaining system, our planet has an immune system. If we continue down this path, the earth may come to see us not as the most fantastic product of evolution, but a dangerous one. The signs are already there with glaciers disappearing, sea levels rising, temperatures climbing, and storm intensities increasing.

The planet will protect itself either with us… or from us.

We repeat the pattern of ignoring problems in hopes they will just go away in other matters, the other fire burning across this country—the fire of racism, intolerance, and violent resistance to acknowleding the inequalities in our society.

Despite the mounds of evidence of climate change and racism, we continue to ignore the signs. The only difference between these two issues is we have been ignoring racism for a much longer period, despite having documented it with our own words. Words written by well-intentioned (mostly) individuals or commissions, published with a grand ceremony, then forgotten when the attention fades,

In 1922, the Chicago Commission of Race Relations published a seven-hundred-page report entitled “The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and Race Riot.” The report documented evidence of housing and employment discrimination and brutal mistreatment at the hands of the police and the criminal justice system.

(From the report) “… investigations indicate that Negroes are more commonly arrested, subjected to police identification, and convicted than white offenders, that on similar evidence they are generally held and convicted on more serious charges, and that they are given longer sentence… These practices and tendencies are not only unfair to Negroes, but weaken the machinery of Justice and, when taken with the greater inability of Negroes to pay fines in addition to or in lieu of terms of jail, produce misleading statistics of Negro crime.” (emphasis mine)

Nothing changed.

In 1935, following riots in Harlem, another report said.

“… The sudden breach of the public order was the result of a highly emotional situation among the colored people of Harlem, due in large part to the nervous strain of years of unemployment and insecurity…it is probable that their justifiable pent-up feelings, that they were victims of gross injustice and prejudice, would sooner or later have brought about an explosion…

The blame belongs to a society that tolerates inadequate and often wretched housing, inadequate and inefficient schools and other public facilities, unemployment, unduly high rents, lack of recreational grounds, discrimination in industry and public utilities against colored people, brutality and lack of courtesy of the police.” (emphasis mine)

Nothing changed.

In 1977, Michael Lipsky and David J. Olson published a study entitled “Commission Politics: The Processing of Racial Crisis in America.” They said between 1917 and 1943, at least twenty-one commissions were appointed to investigate race riots.

Take a look at you and me,

are we too blind to see,

do we simply turn our heads

and look the other way

Well the world turns

Despite the sincerity and good intentions of theses twenty-one commissions, nothing changed. The reports were printed, distributed, read, and forgotten.

The Kerner Commission, the grandaddy of race riot reports written after the Watts Riot in LA in the 1960s, is another example. Well written and meticulously researched, it documented the conditions leading to the riot and was largely ignored.

President Lyndon Johnson, who could not understand why his Great Society initiative—Voter Rights Act, Welfare Reform, and other programs—did not solve the problem, refused to accept it.

Nothing changed.

In 1969, Elvis Presley had a hit record called In the Ghetto, written by Mac Davis. A prophetic tune then, and now.

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto
And his mama cries
’cause if there’s one thing that she don’t need
it’s another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto
People, don’t you understand
the child needs a helping hand
or he’ll grow to be an angry young man some day
Take a look at you and me,
are we too blind to see,
do we simply turn our heads
and look the other way
Well the world turns
and a hungry little boy with a runny nose
plays in the street as the cold wind blows
In the ghetto
And his hunger burns
so he starts to roam the streets at night
and he learns how to steal
and he learns how to fight
In the ghetto
Then one night in desperation
a young man breaks away
He buys a gun, steals a car,
tries to run, but he don’t get far
And his mama cries
As a crowd gathers ’round an angry young man
face down on the street with a gun in his hand
In the ghetto
As her young man dies,
on a cold and gray Chicago mornin’,
another little baby child is born
In the ghetto

 We face a turning point in America. The challenges we face– the raging inferno of wildfires amplified by climate change, and the hellish nightmare of our failure to address racism and discrimination against our fellow Americans–can be our descent into Armageddon or our rise to Enlightenment.

There have been times in our history when a leader emerged—often one we might least suspect of having the courage or ability—to guide and unite us in a time of need.

George Washington, a surveyor and soldier, who rose to become the epitome of a selfless statesman dedicated to the good of the country, led us through the birth of a nation.

Abraham Lincoln, a Kentucky woodsman who rose to lead us toward reunifying the country and abolishing slavery. Who knows how different we might have been if he had lived out his second term?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, once seen as weak and ineffectual, rose to lead us out of not one, but two dangerous dark times in our history, the Great Depression and World War II.

We face such a choice this November. Can Joe Biden rise to this moment in history and lead this country out of the conflagration we face? I am uncertain. But I am sure of this; Mr. Trump will not. He is not the leader we desperately need at this moment in history.

We need someone to quell the flames, not fan them.

We need someone who embraces science and reason, not disparages it,

We need someone with compassion for the challenges facing people of color, not one who openly encourages white supremacy and fear-mongering.

There is one other thing I am confident we do not need. We do not need another commission to study these problems. We need a leader who will gather the best and the brightest among us and craft solutions.

Or the song will just repeat itself all over again and the country will continue to burn until there is nothing left of America…

As her young man dies,
on a cold and gray Chicago mornin’,
another little baby child is born
In the ghetto

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A Self-Inflicted Crisis (in a long line of self-inflicted crises)

In our country today we find ourselves in the situation writer Issac Asimov described in his seminal work, Foundation.

“…that frequent phenomenon in history: the republic whose ruler has every attribute of the absolute monarch but the name. It therefore enjoyed the usual despotism unrestrained even by those two moderating influences in the legitimate monarchies: regal “honor” and court etiquette.”

Isaac Asimov, Foundation

America faces a crisis, and it is not just the corona virus. It is a crisis of leadership when it is most needed. The total incompetence and fundamental lack of rational and reasoned efforts are on full display in Washington and throughout this administration.

In a line written about business, but applicable to the Trump administration since he touts his “business success,”

“Even a dysfunctional culture, once well established, is astonishingly efficient at reproducing itself.”

Megan McArdle, Atlantic Monthly (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/03/why-companies-fail/308887/)

And this is a dysfunctional President. The evidence is before our eyes, and before Congress, yet we and they have ignored it.  This didn’t begin with the corona virus, a phenomenon that occurs almost every few years as viruses mutate and change with evolutionary certainty.

It began with a President who has a fundamental disdain for the three co-equal branches of government and fails to remember he represents all Americans, not just those who voted for him.

The evidence of the incompetence of this administration covers the gambit from domestic to foreign policy to simple common decency and concern for humanity. Here’s one example that happened before the latest debacle.

If we will believe the President’s assertion that Mr. Putin denied Russian interference in the 2016 election–despite a rare consensus among our intelligence agencies to the contrary. If the President vouches for the honesty and integrity of the Russian President–despite overwhelming evidence of Russian efforts to destabilize out political process–then we would have no reason to doubt Mr. Putin’s contention that Mr. Trump told him we spend too much money on defense, and yet Mr. Trump increased the defense budget. (http://uawire.org/putin-says-trump-confessed-to-him-about-huge-military-spending)

Aside from wondering why any American president would say such a thing to one of our greatest challengers in the world, it gives one pause when we consider we have to take a moment to think about who we should believe. Unsure of who has more credibility, our President or the Russian one?

We are spending money on programs chosen more for their economic benefit to certain supportive Congressional districts (and some Democrats do not get a pass on this) or to garner contributions from defense industry funded PACS than intelligently derived analysis of 21st century defense needs.

We are buying weapons to fight a war based on large-scale operations rather than asymmetric insurgency type operations which are the nature of warfare since 1945.  While China, Russia, and other countries focus on weapons designed to mitigate our overwhelming force superiority with hypersonic long-range missiles or other effective weapons difficult to counteract, we prepare for the pitched battles of WWII which no one fights anymore.

One might argue, as many military experts do, that our reliance on overwhelming force against any hostile action, i.e. multiple five-hundred pound bomb strikes against a single sniper, and the unavoidable collateral damage, creates more hostility and resistance to our expressed purpose for being there.

In other words, the military weaponry we buy fails to serve the purpose. We protect American lives in the short run, yet doom them to remain on the ground in harm’s way because we create more enemies than we kill. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Doubt this? We’ve been fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for almost 20-years.

China has the additional foresight (another missing asset of this President) to invest in world-wide infrastructure to gain influence while we bog ourselves down in these endless sectarian wars at the cost of American lives and loss of respect for American policy.

 “In the twenty-first century, the military costs over $700 billion a year, and its budget is 3 to 4 percent of the United States’ gross domestic product (GDP). By way of comparison, the budget for the National Cancer Institute is only about $5 billion per year, when over 609,000 people in the United States die from cancer each year.”

Tim Bakker “The Cost of Loyalty: Dishonesty, Hubris, and Failure in the U.S. Military.”

And the deficit, the one that Mr. Trump claimed he would eliminate, grows exponentially with each passing moment. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/04/02/trumps-nonsensical-claim-he-can-eliminate-19-trillion-in-debt-in-eight-years/)

These things present complex and dangerous challenges to this country.

Mr. Trump, as he is wont to repeat ad nauseam, claims he is solely responsible for the economic “turnaround.” He claims the rise of the stock market is his accomplishment and his alone.

If so, Mr. Trump, then the fall of the market, nay the descent into oblivion of the market, is yours. While I have often argued the US economy is too complex for just one factor to have such influence, I must defer to your claims.

Not so fast, many of his supporters will shout. You cannot blame the President for the corona virus and its effect on the market.

True enough, but only so far. I can blame him for his ineptness and stumbling in the face of the crisis which contributes to the jitters on Wall Street.  The oft repeated mantra of “How’s your 401k?” doesn’t ring as sweet anymore, does it Mr. Trump?

You can’t tweet your way out of this one.

In just a few short decades we have gone from leaders who say and act with determination, compassion, and wisdom while calming and inspiring a nation in crisis…

“The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in time of crisis.”

Thurgood Marshall

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

― President Franklin D. Roosevelt

…to this,

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

President George W. Bush

Mr. Bush, with his stumbling and bumbling words, led us into an unnecessary and deadly war absent the slightest bit of justification. Yet, I think he believed it necessary to protect American interests even if based on fraudulent advice.

Now, we have a President whose concerns are much easier to divine.

If it reflects well on him, he is solely responsible. If it reflects badly, everyone else has failed him.

The corona virus is not a crisis in the sense that millions across the planet will die from it. But that is little comfort to the victims of other debilitating conditions who will die if they contract the virus.

The corona virus is a crisis because of the American failure to respond in a timely, organized, and well thought out manner. It shows the dearth of preparedness, the willful ignorance of science, and the lack of proper health care available to all Americans.

This from a recent article in the New York Times.

“Who would have thought?” he (President Trump) asked during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nerve center for the government’s response to the outbreak. “Who would have thought we would even be having the subject?”

Actually, quite a few people would have thought, and did — including the officials in his own White House who were in charge of preparing for just such a pandemic only to have their office shut down in a reorganization in 2018. “The threat of pandemic flu is the No. 1 health security concern,” one of the officials said the day before that happened two years ago.

“Are we ready to respond? I fear the answer is no.” (https://a.msn.com/r/2/BB10V9en?m=en-us&referrerID=InAppShare)

How right he turned out to be.

This is a crisis of Mr. Trump’s creation based on arrogant disdain for the wisdom of others in areas for which Mr. Trump has no experience. In a time when a President should be in the forefront of leading the nation with a calm and reassuring voice, he focuses on the only thing that matters to him, his own self-aggrandizing super ego.

While leaving American citizens stranded on a ship waiting for someone, anyone, to bring them home and test them for the virus, Mr. Trump had this to say,

“I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship”

President of the United States (this is not a typo) Donald J. Trump.

I like the numbers where there are as well, Mr. Trump. The poll numbers that show you trailing any of the potential Democratic candidates. But we all know numbers can and will change.

The number of those testing positive for the virus will rise because of the ineptness of this country’s response, for which you alone bear sole responsibility, Mr. President, for you are the one who should lead the nation at this moment.

But instead of leadership, calming words, and steady example of competence, you’ve once again used virtual bone spurs to avoid your responsibility.

Blame the previous administration, fire your chief of staff, turn to your favorite enemy the media, do everything you can to avoid the crisis instead of doing that which is your most sacred responsibility, to lead us through it.

Let’s hope the American people remember your dismal and abhorrent performance during this time of crisis, and it reflects in their voice at the polls.