Intelligence? Don’t Pester the Dealmaker

12 12 2016

“I’m, like, a smart person, I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.”

A complaint from a precocious six-year-old looking out at eight years of grade school? No. It’s an exact quote from a soon-to-be world leader with an attention span rivaling that six-year-old. Oh, and Donald Trump is explaining why he takes almost no briefings from US intelligence agencies. He has no time for such nonsense, you see. It would cut into his time spent on more important matters. Such as tweeting scorn for Alec Baldwin and Saturday Night Live, or leading “victory rallies,” or bragging about his “mandate” and spreading lies about millions of illegal voters in California robbing him of a popular vote victory. (Did you notice that he said EIGHT years? God save us).

All this is no surprise. He told us exactly what his approach to foreign policy would be, a seeming eternity ago in the endless campaign. Here’s a link describing his primary source of ideas and inspiration for dealing with the world.

So Trump’s dismissive approach to intelligence was already expected by those of us who have been paying attention to his rants these many months.  But what is surprising is how many otherwise intelligent citizens were hoodwinked into voting for this monster. When and how will they wake up to this colossal huckster remains to be seen.

Many are skeptical of America’s security apparatus in general, and the CIA in particular, and with good reason.  But Trump’s already-established practice of ignoring intelligence, and picking fights with the agencies, just can’t be good for the country.  Remember the last obvious time when our nation’s chief executive chose to ignore intelligence briefings? That was the summer of 2001. We all know how well that turned out. I fear we could be headed down a similar, but possibly shockingly more dangerous path right now.

But let’s return to Trump’s self-description. Based on his behavior as a candidate and a president-elect, he is nothing “like” a smart person. And he’s not just “like” a willful, impulsive, petulant, self-dealing, grandstanding narcissist who has no business leading a hotel, let alone a country. He is all that, and more.  And it adds up to this – the most spectacularly unqualified, and unspeakably dangerous person to take the post in the modern era, and maybe ever.

Considering who occupied the White House from 2001-2009, that is saying a LOT.

Bullshit Reigns

9 11 2016

So now we have a decidedly unconventional President-elect. Donald J. Trump, despite having held no public office of any kind, despite being buffeted by one controversy after another concerning his behavior, ethics and civic duties, despite his offering no discernible policy positions except vowing to tear up agreements and regulations, and despite spending a bewildering amount of time before crowds blathering about his poll numbers, has defied the odds and defeated heavily favored Hillary Clinton to become our 45th president. Bravo.

How did this happen?

Of course, in this immediate aftermath, theories abound. Maybe, just maybe, some consensus understanding will emerge down the road. But for now, we have many explanations – the Democrats running an unpopular, dynastic candidate; the smears against that candidate; blatant and latent misogyny; African Americans’ lack of enthusiasm for the Democratic choice; a tainted primary process sidelining the popular and populist Senator Bernie Sanders; “hidden” Trump votes; Russian meddling; the historic challenge candidates face when following a president from their own party; FBI Director James Comey’s ominous insinuations about further email disclosures (which were pulled, after damage was done, shortly before the election).

All of the above theories, and at least as many others, have kernels of truth.  But I am putting my money on two rationales.

First – Trump tapped into the strongest strain of outsider enthusiasm to bubble up in a long time.  By tapping into the justifiable anger of working-class, mostly white voters across the nation’s industrial midsection, and making vague promises about bringing back outsourced jobs, Trump was able to add Rust Belt states –Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and – who expected this?! – Wisconsin – to the usual collection of reliably red states. These voters have legitimate grievances against modern economic realities of globalization and the failure of this country to properly prepare displaced workers for success in other realms. They wanted to deliver a message, a punch in the nose, to the established system and its keepers, and deliver they did.  Putting aside the fact that trusting in a self-dealing, big-talking charlatan like Trump is a dubious strategy, one thing is clear – they rejected the establishment candidate, Clinton, and here we are.

Second (and more significant in my mind) – Americans have been the subjects of a 35-year experiment in the denigration of expertise and facts.  This is a long-term Republican enterprise – that much is well documented. Despite the fact that so many Republican leaders, appalled by Trump’s bullying, bragging about sexual assault, and racist rhetoric, either pulled their support or went silent on their standard bearer, the party must take credit/blame for this cause of his triumph. How can I say this? Let’s review.

Since the 1980s, the Republican Party, with varying degrees of success, has promoted blatant untruths to such a shocking degree that many of us have an increasing difficulty telling the truth from the spin, lies and bullshit. Here are just a few examples. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Trickle-down economics – big tax cuts for the wealthy – will benefit everyone
  • The government is the problem
  • Al Gore bragged that he invented the Internet
  • The estate tax is really the “death tax” and could strike anyone wishing to bequeath small estates
  • George W. Bush is a genuine, horse-lovin’, brush-cuttin’ rancher – just the kind of down-home cowboy y’all would love to have a beer with
  • John Kerry was not a decorated Vietnam war hero
  • Evolution is “only a theory” and should compete in the classrooms with “intelligent design”
  • Global warming is – you name it – not happening, beneficial, no big deal, caused by nature, a liberal conspiracy, a Chinese hoax
  • Saddam Hussein’s Iraq has weapons of mass destruction
  • Taking out Saddam will be a quick operation, followed by Iraqis embracing our imposed “democracy”
  • Obama is coming for your guns
  • Obama was born in Kenya
  • Obama is Muslim
  • Hillary Clinton is coming for your guns (that’s right, a repeat greatest hit!)

That’s enough of that for now. After we have been fed this kind of nonsense, through loud, corporate-sponsored bullhorns all these many years, is it any wonder that people have a blurred understanding of the difference between facts and spin? After years of mainstream media’s constant use of false equivalence – where facts are often given equal weight with opinion – is it any wonder that some of us grasp an opinion and hold it as fact, contrary evidence be damned?  And is it any wonder that a fact-free candidate like Trump – offering hungry, genuinely disaffected citizens enticing promises and baseless attacks and conspiracy theories – can garner enough support to prevail?

To shed some more light on how we have come to this point, I offer three books.

First is Charles P. Pierce’s Idiot America. Pierce offers three great premises governing our modern, fact-challenged America.

  1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings or otherwise “moves units”
  2. Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough
  3. Fact is that which enough people believe; truth is determined by how fervently they believe it

The second is Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason. Her style is more earnest than Pierce’s, and she emphasizes different causes, but she also decries the steady devaluation of expertise, and the consequences for American society.

The third book’s title speaks for itself – Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit. In this short book, the author posits a difference between outright lying and speech that is delivered without regard to whether its content is true or false. Here’s a short interview with the author. I challenge you not to crack a smile at the Monty-Python-esque style of the interview. But had he called his book “The Bullying Bullshitter,” he might have been describing our President-elect, God help us!

The people have spoken. A bullying, misogynistic, self-dealing con man with absolutely no government experience will take over as the chief executive of the most powerful country in the world in January. The implications are enormous, as he will preside over a unified government – a hopelessly gerrymandered House of Representatives and a narrowly Republican Senate. If President Trump follows through on his promise to stock the Supreme Court with Scalia-like justices, the country will be solidly conservative and increasingly theocratic for a generation to come.

In the short run, I must note that Republicans may have finally achieved something in the making since the reign of House Majority Leader Tom Delay.  People may have scoffed when Delay bragged about building a permanent Republican majority, but it sure looks like it may have arrived. The irony is that it has arrived on the back of a faux-populist party wrecker who has repulsed many in the Republican leadership, including the fence-riding Paul Ryan.  The difficulty that Trump’s handlers had keeping him focused during debate season, and preventing him from launching into attacks and nonsensical Twitter wars, will be only a prelude, I fear, to a dangerous, erratic and risk-fraught presidency.

In the long run, I can’t avoid feeling that our great experiment in democracy in this great country may finally have run its course.  From this vantage point, it is hard to see a way back to meaningful two-party, or a path to a more productive and inclusive multi-party system.  The only way to arrive there, it seems to me, is a proper emphasis on education.

Failure to invest sufficiently in public education, and the tendency of theocratic-leaning school boards in certain red states to mingle faith with fact, are making the challenge to rebuild a well-informed, educated public more daunting than ever.

Our nation’s founders knew that you can’t have democracy without education.  Here is a short collection of quotes from Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin supporting that assertion.

With our public so deeply divided, and so willing to accept empty promises and simplistic solutions to complex problems, I wonder how we can rebuild our democracy from its current broken, corporate-ruled state. That challenge grew all the steeper with the election results of November 7, 2016.

Delusions of Normalcy

1 11 2016

Twenty-five years ago today, the Twin Cities was just starting to deal with an epic snowfall. The great Halloween blizzard of 1991 dropped 28 inches of snow from October 31 to November 2. The storm set records that stand today. Worse, arctic cold followed, freezing packed snow onto roadways that remained treacherous for weeks.  Worse still, Thanksgiving weekend brought another two-day storm, with 14 more inches of snow, followed by more cold.

This set the Twin Cities up for a long, cold, old-fashioned winter. This had the added effect of shutting up those nervous nellies who were already nattering about global warming.  After all, that alarmist Bill McKibben had written The End of Nature two years prior, and NASA scientist James Hansen had had his day at Congress in 1988, waving his arms and warning legislators (some of whom like to remind us they are not scientists themselves) that human-caused global warming was under way and needed to be stopped.

So we needed a good-solid burst of cold, cold winter to prove that there was really nothing to worry about.  And by God, we got it, didn’t we?

Well, no, actually, we didn’t. Winter sports nuts like me were in heaven after those two big snowfalls.  But by New Year’s, nearly all that snow was gone.  And then it just got worse. We received only 18 more inches of snow the entire winter, and all that melted within a few days of arrival. Heck, January featured 23 days of high temps of 32 or above, and February had 21.  So the winter was actually more like the winters I grew up to hate in my native New York City, and less like the solid Midwestern winters this region knew for decades, centuries, until recent times.

Even the winter of 2013-14, rightfully remembered as beastly cold (50 sub-zero overnight lows, and four sub-zero daytime highs) bears the fingerprints of human-caused climate disruption.  That’s right.  You see, even with all that unrelenting cold delivered by the dreaded polar vortex, the Twin Cities set not a single daily record low temperature.  And if you widen the lens, you learn that, while the eastern half of the US was dealing with repeated bouts of cold and snow, western North America, all the way up to Alaska, was basking in unnatural, record warmth.  And that whole bipolar winter was itself a product of the rapidly warming Arctic, thanks to our greenhouse gases.

So why is this important to anyone other than climate curmudgeons like me?  Especially here in the old US of A, we don’t really want to “believe” the science of human-caused climate disruption.  And though we are per capita, the largest emitters of climate-disrupting greenhouse gases, we still look for shreds of evidence that it is not really a problem.  In fact, we Americans continue to be outliers in our climate change views compared to other parts of the world. This makes us easy meat for the oil-soaked lies of the Heartland Institute (funded in large part by the exposed liars at ExxonMobil, plus the Koch Brothers), and legislators and governors who continue to serve as what I call Hired Liars, denying the obvious reality of human-caused climate disruption.

Since the great blizzard of 1991, humanity has continued to pump 100 million tons of carbon dioxide, every single day, into the atmosphere.  How could this NOT change the climate system?  And yet, we continue to allow the Hired Liars to stymie policy changes that could help us get control of and beat back the crisis.

We need to unseat the Hired Liars by voting as if the climate and the future of humanity on earth depend on it, because they do. We need a carbon tax.  We needed it in 1991, and we REALLY need it now.

I am about to step out and walk my dog. In shirtsleeves. In St. Paul. On November 2.  We have not had a freeze yet in the Twin Cities, and there is not one in sight. High temps are predicted in the 60s for the foreseeable future.  And yet we still don’t admit that human-caused climate disruption is real and growing.

I am sorry to say that pignorance (pretend-ignorance) continues to prevail.

In the words of that old Coal Mine song, “How long can this go on?!”

W is 70

6 07 2016

Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

You’ve made it to 70!  An auspicious occasion, to be sure.  Certainly for you. And for this author.  After all, if it weren’t for your vocal support for “faith-based initiatives,” this IBI Watch blog (IBI = “ignorance-based initiatives”) never would have happened.

Come to think of it, if it weren’t for your successful and powerful father, your “Turd Blossom” bosom buddy and puppetmaster, Karl Rove, the crooked Florida Secretary of State in 2000, Katherine Harris, and your trigger-happy friends on the Supreme Court in December of that fateful year, your presidency never would have happened.

And if your presidency never happened, it’s highly unlikely that the Mideast would be the roaring conflagration it has been for nearly a decade and a half.  And the flames grow higher by the day, in case you were paying any attention at all.

George W 70

Which reminds me of things that have NOT happened because of your “good fortune.” Those would be the milestone birthdays never attained by about 4500 American soldiers, and the 50th, 30th, even 10th birthdays never attained by many thousands, perhaps millions, of anonymous citizens of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc.

So my birthday wish for you is this.  Take a moment away from the celebrations, the portrait painting, the joshing, and ponder the fate of even the most recent innocents who did not have to die, well before they completed their seven decades on this earth. Heck, like any publicly pious pol worth his campaign contributions, send ‘em a few thoughts and prayers.  Least you could do.

Tony Blair may be getting his just deserts for joining your fantasy-based crusade right now as I write.  Our country is “nicer” to errant leaders who have high-placed protectors.  But someday, during your lifetime or after, maybe you will get your just reward as well.

But for now, Happy 70th Birthday, Prez W!  We really misunderstimated you!




Two Degrees of David

11 06 2016

Friday eve, I stopped by a St. Paul brew pub with my dog, Dooley.  He helps me make new friends, and doesn’t drink beer. That saves me money.

Conversation was lively, and I made several new acquaintances. With one fellow, a man from Canada, conversation turned to climate change (as it sometimes does with me!)

Let’s call him Pierre (not his real name). I could see on Pierre’s face that he was a “skeptic” of climate science. So we got into a little duel of ideas.

Pierre sensed he was dealing with one of those environmental wackos, so he immediately launched his usual haymaker. He told me he was a mining engineer, expecting that would knock me off my soapbox.  I told him, “Sounds like interesting work.” He was floored that I did not lecture him on the evils of mining, and start chanting “Stop mining now,” or some such. He let on that other environmental wackos he had encountered tended to trash the notion of mining, all the while fondling their smart phones. That of course would give him the opportunity to lecture on all the mined metals that make up their best pocket pal. No such opportunity with me, much to his chagrin.

So I asked him about his climate change “skepticism.” He acknowledged that climate change is happening, but said he doubted it was anthropogenic. Natural processes are involved, he said. So I parried – scientists tell us that atmospheric carbon dioxide is rising steadily, and at an increasing rate – latest numbers are more than three parts per million increase over just the past year.  I asked him to explain that by natural processes. Pierre’s reply – an uncomfortable smile, but nothing else.  Then I asked him to explain the massive die-off (not mere bleaching) of vast swaths of the Great Barrier Reef. Again, not much in reply except an increasingly uncomfortable smile. I was getting a bit more animated – as I sometimes do – but remained courteous. Pierre’s wife joked, “Be careful about hitting him – he’s an expert in (name an obscure martial art)”. I joked that I was glad I had decided not to hit Pierre.

He also trotted out the usual canard about those magazine articles in the 1970s that warned us of global cooling. And he said modern climate science was entirely based on models, which were only a theoretical construction of reality – and a shaky one at that. So I said, “What you are saying is that a few outlying, fringe articles from 45 years ago somehow cancel out the four decades of work by crowds of very smart people – climate scientists who have spent their careers trying to understand Earth’s atmosphere. And what ‘models’ are needed to explain the documented rise in atmospheric carbon, ice melting, sea rise, etc.?” More uncomfortable smiles. And  he joked that, being from Canada, he thought global warming might be a “good” thing, thawing all that forbidding frozen wasteland. Heh, heh.

KochThen it got even more interesting. Pierre let on a secret about his employment past. He previously worked for Koch Industries. Yep, that Koch. And he related that he had spent considerable time with David Koch – who, Pierre assured me, is a “nice, decent, down-to-earth guy, who visits the employee lunchroom, and engages people at all levels in conversation about their projects.” I made a mental note – just because someone is a greed-addled planet wrecker, does not mean he has to be an insufferable asshole.

I can only imagine the reason that Pierre brought his pal David into conversation. Perhaps he thought that would lend some heft to his “views” in my mind. Or perhaps he thought it was some kind of trump card, considering that I mentioned I was a trained presenter for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project.

Anyway, the pub atmosphere was lively and loud, and our conversation soon ended. But not before I told him, in all honesty, that I thought he was a smart guy.  I meant that. It takes a smart person to earn a degree as a mining engineer.  So I asked him, as a smart guy, to explain how, considering the documented fact that human activity pumps 100 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every single day, how a closed system – our atmosphere, oceans and climate, could NOT change. No answer.

And the heat goes on . . . whether we “believe” it or not.


IBI Watch Returns

11 06 2016

After a  hiatus that went on longer than I ever intended, IBI Watch is back.

But with a different format. I have abandoned the weekly news magazine approach that I used for several years, culminating in December 2013. Instead, I will post when I have something to say, and the time to put it in writing.

Thanks for reading. It is good to be back!

IBI Watch 12/29/13

29 12 2013

We Need this Index //

We have many measurements and indexes that purport to tell us about various aspects of the economy – the consumer price index, the gross domestic product, the consumer confidence index, and so many others. We even have this seasonal nonsense, based on the familiar old Christmas song.

Seeing several stories bunched this week, I realized we are missing an index – one that could really educate us on the folly of how we run the economic ship. First there was this one, which really should be a startup of a support group, Sardines Anonymous. Then there is a great consumer credit data security scandal, courtesy of the retailer Target. And then we have this one – that steak looks amazingly appetizing, considering its building blocks. Yum.

The thread connecting these three stories may be clear, but here are a few more items. First, Marketplace did an investigative story on the making of a humble t shirt. Interesting, and gets into that inconvenient issue of dangerous work conditions for factory workers – but not like this. (Did you catch the passing reference to the empire built on the myth of “low, low prices?”) And looking to an even bigger picture, there is this grand initiative to put useless land to work supplying the engines of industry. And a related bonanza – the United States’ triumphant return to the elite club of oil exporters, thanks to the “miracle” of fracking.

The link should be clear by now – all these stories represent ways we pursue low costs without regard to consequences. So the index the world badly needs in my opinion is this – the TCCI. That is, the True Cost of Cheap Index. The purpose of this index would be educational – to help us understand that if something sounds too cheap for our own good, we probably need to dig into the reasons for that cheapness, and act accordingly.

My quixotic index idea won’t materialize anytime soon. Or ever. But there are ways to get at this information. A favorite of mine is the GoodGuide site – where you can find out the true impact of consumer products. Rate them on personal health, environmental safety, and societal concerns – and customize those to your values. Information about consumer products and large, planet-altering energy initiatives – fracking, tar sands oil, mountaintop-removal coal mining – is available in plain sight. And there are some nascent efforts to filter lies, character assassination and delusional raving out of public forums. But we are often too entertained, busy or economically challenged to seek it out truth, or glean it through the smoke of corporate propaganda.

That’s where wise regulation comes in. Regulation prevents hell such as this disaster that would ensue should certain ideologues commandeer all the reins of power. Corporate control over the media and the message promotes our obsession with low prices and pignorance (pretend-ignorance) of the true costs, often called externalities. Many of us know we need to do better – including NPR’s Linda Wertheimer. I enjoyed her essay about the current disastrously paralyzed Congress, but her solution – replace out incumbent bums with a new cast – falls far short of what is needed. The only way to get us on a planet-wise track, in my opinion, is to solve the root problem – the corporate pollution that poisons our policy, and twists it in the name of pursuing the quick buck. We will move solidly in that direction when corporations are no longer people, my friends.

Punching Back with Wisdom and Respect

Star Tribune commentator Bonnie Blodgett received a rare and well-deserved opportunity recently. That is, to respond in print to a corporate spin doctor who had cherry-picked and tried to undermine a well-researched column Blodgett had written on the often invisible and carefully managed power of corporate agriculture. Few can exceed her as an expert connector of seemingly disparate situations and trends. Kudos to the Star Tribune for doing the right thing. And kudos to Bonnie for hanging in there for the sake of the planet.


The leader of my church of origin is really making waves. Pope Francis has angry greedmeisters like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News trembling on their gilded soapboxes. The new pope has the audacity to demand that we care about the poor, and pursue policies of fairness and generosity. How quaint. How “Marxist.”

I was very impressed with the ideas of Bill Moyers’ guest, Tom Cahill. The author of Heretics and Heroes (newly added to my reading list) says this whole debate can be boiled down to a single choice between two movements in the world – kindness and cruelty. Sadly, we too rarely make the better choice.

But we can’t finish this piece without a nod to Jon Stewart’s brilliant satire of both the right wing’s revulsion at the Pope’s insistence on fairness, and the mythical “World War C.” This will leave you laughing, guaranteed.

Beauty from a Distance

It was 45 years ago, and I was fascinated by the space program. I could not get enough TV coverage, first of the capsules orbiting the moon, and then just months later, sending modules down to its surface. My dad encouraged my enthusiasm by painstakingly explaining to me a lot of the technical challenges NASA overcame.

The mission we celebrate here is Apollo 8 – a mere orbiter compared to the later “small step for man” achievement. But it was Apollo 8’s team effort that gave us the iconic image that has become known as “Earthrise” – a touchstone for the environmental movement.

Author Andrew Chaikin has done us a great service with his 2007 book A Man on the Moon and his description of the “Earthrise” achievement. He is also the narrator of a fine NASA video on the mission.

Climate Change – Current and Coming Attractions

As 2013 closes, we are making sadly little progress on building consensus. Denialist obfuscation notwithstanding, the situation grows more urgent by the day. Amazing how a mere 90 million tons of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by little old us every single day of every single year can cause problems, I know, but bear with me for several perspectives.

First, here is a well-constructed, comprehensive look at right now. Note the emphasis on solutions, if we only were to wake up. Next, a Climate Progress piece on specific 2013 climate events, none of them too sanguine. And finally, a concise, idea-packed NPR interview with Andrew Steer of the World Resources Institute. Though Steve Inskeep picks an inopportune time to be a “tough, skeptical journalist,” (see if you don’t agree), Steer communicates a lot on what needs to happen to build consensus and how that might happen – concerted, committed, collective pressure from consumers and shareholders. A celebrated highlight – the growth of low carbon cities. Viva the shoe and the bicycle!

2013: the Jaded (but Justified) Rear Mirror

Goshen NY blogger Tom Degan has done it again. If you have never read his Rant, you are missing wise and wise-guy blogging at its best. I love his jaundiced and spot-on year in review. The Worst of the Rant, indeed.

Innovations for New Years and Beyond

To provoke some forward thinking, I submit for your consideration CNN’s collection of 10 innovative ideas. Ranging from the practical but daunting (#1) to the “why the hell not?!” (#3) to the downright scary (#6), these will get you thinking about the future. Which is something we really need to do a lot more of. Along with acting more wisely, of course.

“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” – Wendell Berry

Happy New Year to all IBI Watch Readers!  Thanks for your continued support, sharing and working to build sustainability!

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN