August 7, 2018 in 1,985 words

American democracy is in crisis, and not just because of Trump

Dark money, unchecked presidential power and a politicised supreme court are wrecking the world’s flagship democracy


Nineteen months into the Trump presidency, US democracy is running into serious trouble – but it is not all, or even mostly, Donald Trump’s fault. This crisis of governance has been building for decades. It is only now, as Trump’s iconoclastic assaults on established beliefs, laws, institutions and values test the system to destruction, that the true scale of pre-existing weaknesses and faultlines is becoming apparent.

This deep crisis of confidence, bordering on national meltdown, comes as the US hurtles towards midterm elections in November – a familiar American ritual now rendered strangely unpredictable by fears of foreign manipulation and an FBI investigation that could, by some estimates, lead ultimately to Trump’s impeachment. The process of degradation affects US citizens and all those around the world who hold up the US democratic system as a paradigm worthy of emulation. Friends worry that the country’s ability to sustain its traditional global leadership role – moral and practical – is being undermined. Enemies, principally anti-democratic, authoritarian competitor regimes in Russia and China, hope this is so.

Take a case in point, with global implications: Trump has repeatedly bragged about his willingness to use nuclear weapons. As commander-in-chief, he oversees the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. Last year he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, a nation of 25 million people. He has also threatened Iran. Such lunatic recklessness appals many Americans. But it transpires there is little they could do to stop Trump should he decide, on a whim, to press the “nuclear button”.

Checks do exist. There is a chain of command that cannot be bypassed. But security experts say nobody, not even the secretaries of state and defence or the chairman of the joint chiefs, has legal power to block a presidential launch order. What could be less democratic? Yet this dilemma was not created by Trump. It has existed for many years. Congress is now belatedly reviewing it.


Donald Trump in the Age of Cynicism

I want to tell you a story about something that happened in the news a few days ago. Even though it didn’t turn into a giant disaster, it accidentally revealed a lot about what’s really going on in the United States right now — and may offer us a clue to understand the situation we’re in.

1: Cojones

Last week, ex-general John Kelly made public remarks that many interpreted as testing the waters for military rule. He explained how only members of the military, and the families of those killed in combat, can really understand the nature of government and legitimately criticize the President — unlike civilian members of Congress, or the press. The next day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down on the point, saying it is “highly inappropriate” for a (civilian) reporter “to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general” — this despite the fact that Kelly is no longer a general, that civilian control over the military is a bedrock of the American system, or that this “debate” was over the fact that Kelly had provably lied several times in his remarks that previous day.

The idea that “only the military can really understand what it takes to run the government” is common rhetoric worldwide: from Thailand to Egypt to Argentina, it’s been the bedrock argument of why the military should seize power. Fortunately, and to our country’s credit, several other ex-generals quickly (and publicly) stomped down Kelly’s suggestion, and nobody seems to have taken up his idea.

But where did a former Marine general get the nerve to stand up in front of the White House Press Corps and question the legitimacy of civilian rule?


Ten Years After the Crash, We Are Still Living in the World It Brutally Remade

Sometimes you don’t know how deep the hole is until you try to fill it. In 2009, staring down what looked to anyone with a calculator like the biggest financial crisis since 1929, the federal government poured $830 billion into the economy — a spending stimulus bigger, by some measures, than the entire New Deal — and the country barely noticed.

It registered the crisis, though. The generation that came of age in the Great Depression was indelibly shaped by that experience of deprivation, even though what followed was what Henry Luce famously called, in 1941, “the American Century.” He meant the 20th, and, to judge from our present politics, at least — “Make America Great Again” on one side of the aisle; on the other, the suspicion that the president is a political suicide bomber, destroying the pillars of government — he probably wouldn’t have made the same declaration about the 21st. A decade now after the beginning of what has come to be called the Great Recession, and almost as long since economic growth began to tick upward and unemployment downward, the cultural and psychological imprint left by the financial crisis looks as profound as the ones left by the calamity that struck our grandparents. All the more when you look beyond the narrow economic data: at a new radical politics on both left and right; at a strident, ideological pop culture obsessed with various apocalypses; at an internet powered by envy, strife, and endless entrepreneurial hustle; at opiates and suicides and low birthrates; and at the resentment, racial and gendered and otherwise, by those who felt especially left behind. Here, we cast a look back, and tried to take a seismic reading of the financial earthquake and its aftershocks, including those that still jolt us today.


5 Times Huge Companies Straight-Up Acted Like Supervillains

This may come as a surprise, but gigantic, profit-hungry corporations don’t always have the public’s best interests at heart. We’ve seen plenty of dystopian sci-fi flicks (and also just, like, the news), so we kind of expect corporations to be evil. But sometimes they’re so brazenly mustache-twirly that you’ll long for the good old days when at least they were honest about employing children in coal mines in exchange for shiny pennies.

5. The Peanut Corporation Of America Knowingly Infected People With Salmonella


Contaminated peanuts can cause salmonellosis, something many Americans became intimately aware of thanks to Peanut Corporation of America CEO Stewart Parnell, the worst peanut-related monster since Mr. Peanut (he knows what he did).

Salmonella infects about one million people each year, kills 380 of them, and leaves the rest with nasty cramps and diarrhea. Knowing all that, Parnell still approved the shipment of salmonella-tainted peanut paste to 46 states from 2007 to 2009. Parnell’s legume lawlessness infected 714 people, nine of whom died.

He treated people’s lives like they were worth, well …

Like any good supervillain, Parnell even had an evil catchphrase. When a plant manager warned him of the contamination, he said “just ship it,” because it would save “huge $$$$$.” That email helped put him away for 28 years, and his company went bankrupt. Score one for corporate justice. And we literally mean “one,” because this represents the only time in history that a CEO has been sentenced for shipping contaminated food, despite multitudes of other known cases.


Domino-effect of climate events could move Earth into a ‘hothouse’ state

Leading scientists warn that passing such a point would make efforts to reduce emissions increasingly futile.


Polar bears on sea ice: the loss of the Greenland ice sheet could disrupt the Gulf Stream, which would in turn raise sea levels and accelerate Antarctic ice loss.

A domino-like cascade of melting ice, warming seas, shifting currents and dying forests could tilt the Earth into a “hothouse” state beyond which human efforts to reduce emissions will be increasingly futile, a group of leading climate scientists has warned.

This grim prospect is sketched out in a journal paper that considers the combined consequences of 10 climate change processes, including the release of methane trapped in Siberian permafrost and the impact of melting ice in Greenland on the Antarctic.

The authors of the essay, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, stress their analysis is not conclusive, but warn the Paris commitment to keep warming at 2C above pre-industrial levels may not be enough to “park” the planet’s climate at a stable temperature.

They warn that the hothouse trajectory “would almost certainly flood deltaic environments, increase the risk of damage from coastal storms, and eliminate coral reefs (and all of the benefits that they provide for societies) by the end of this century or earlier.”


Power Worth Less Than Zero Spreads as Green Energy Floods the Grid

Wind and solar farms are glutting networks more frequently, prompting a market signal for coal plants to shut off.


How Rising Temperatures Can Fry the Economy

Bright and breezy days are becoming a deeper nightmare for utilities struggling to earn a return on traditional power plants.

With wind and solar farms sprouting up in more areas — and their power getting priority to feed into the grid in many places — the amount of electricity being generated is outstripping demand during certain hours of the day.

The result: power prices are slipping to zero or even below more often in more jurisdictions. That’s adding to headaches for generators from NRG Energy Inc. in California to RWE AG in Germany and Origin Energy Ltd. in Australia. Once confined to a curiosity for a few hours over windy Christmas holidays, sub-zero cost of electricity is becoming a reality for hundreds of hours in many markets, upending the economics of the business in the process.

“There is no time pattern for having negative prices in Belgium,” said Marleen Vanhecke, an official at the nation’s grid manager, Elia System Operator SA. “This phenomena is mainly determined by high wind generation in Germany and enough import capacity towards Belgium.”


Trump calls LeBron James – who just opened a school for underprivileged children that also provides an educational, career and emotional support system for parents – dumb.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.


In one of his 48 weekend tweets, Donald Trump admitted before doth protesting too much that he ‘didn’t know about it!’

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.


Seth takes a closer look at Trump admitting that his campaign tried to collude with Russia and the major developments in the trial of Trump’s ex-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.


パン職人まる。Bread craftsman Maru.


FINALLY . . .

There’s a biological reason you feel down after having the time of your life

HAPPINESS HANGOVER


The highs before the lows.

Think about the last time you were really happy. Not just when you were pleasantly surprised, or you had a “nice” time, but rather a moment in which you were smiling uncontrollably and laughing not because someone said something funny, but because it was a moment of pure bliss.

Those moments tend to be few and far in between (it’s well worth writing them down so you start to recognize what leads to them), and although they give us some of our fondest memories, they also tend to come with a downside: a dull feeling of gloom once they’re over.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve called these “happiness hangovers” (although I’m fairly certain I didn’t come up with the term on my own; I think I picked it up from a friend). These hangovers are not depression, but a temporary feeling that reality is a little greyer than usual. For me, regular routines feel like a disappointment, and I tend to dwell on the contrast between the happiness of the past and the bland present.

There isn’t a technical scientific term for this feeling, but it’s something almost all of us experience to some degree. Most likely, it’s a consequence of the way that humans experience pleasure.


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?