Sunday, October 15, 2017

Recommended by Rabbi Michael Lerner: Noam Chomsky on The Trump Presidency

When Rabbi Michael Lerner repeatedly recommends an article, I pay attention. I am also moved to share the Editor's note: Noam Chomsky at 89 is one of the great gifts to all of us who seek a world of peace and justice. Thanks to our media ally for sharing this with Tikkun magazine and the Network of Spiritual Progressives and our community of readers. – Rabbi Michael Lerner 
The Trump Presidency 
Or How to Further Enrich “The Masters of the Universe” 
[This interview has been excerpted from Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, the new book by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian to be published this December.] 
David Barsamian: You have spoken about the difference between Trump’s buffoonery, which gets endlessly covered by the media, and the actual policies he is striving to enact, which receive less attention. Do you think he has any coherent economic, political, or international policy goals? What has Trump actually managed to accomplish in his first months in office? 
Noam Chomsky: There is a diversionary process under way, perhaps just a natural result of the propensities of the figure at center stage and those doing the work behind the curtains.
At one level, Trump’s antics ensure that attention is focused on him, and it makes little difference how. Who even remembers the charge that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Clinton, depriving the pathetic little man of his Grand Victory? Or the accusation that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower? The claims themselves don’t really matter. It’s enough that attention is diverted from what is happening in the background. There, out of the spotlight, the most savage fringe of the Republican Party is carefully advancing policies designed to enrich their true constituency: the Constituency of private power and wealth, “the masters of mankind,” to borrow Adam Smith’s phrase.
These policies will harm the irrelevant general population and devastate future generations, but that’s of little concern to the Republicans. They’ve been trying to push through similarly destructive legislation for years. Paul Ryan, for example, has long been advertising his ideal of virtually eliminating the federal government, apart from service to the Constituency — though in the past he’s wrapped his proposals in spreadsheets so they would look wonkish to commentators. Now, while attention is focused on Trump’s latest mad doings, the Ryan gang and the executive branch are ramming through legislation and orders that undermine workers’ rights, cripple consumer protections, and severely harm rural communities. They seek to devastate health programs, revoking the taxes that pay for them in order to further enrich their Constituency, and to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed some much-needed constraints on the predatory financial system that grew during the neoliberal period.
That’s just a sample of how the wrecking ball is being wielded by the newly empowered Republican Party. Indeed, it is no longer a political party in the traditional sense. Conservative political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have described it more accurately as a “radical insurgency,” one that has abandoned normal parliamentary politics.
Much of this is being carried out stealthily, in closed sessions, with as little public notice as possible. Other Republican policies are more open, such as pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, thereby isolating the U.S. as a pariah state that refuses to participate in international efforts to confront looming environmental disaster. Even worse, they are intent on maximizing the use of fossil fuels, including the most dangerous; dismantling regulations; and sharply cutting back on research and development of alternative energy sources, which will soon be necessary for decent survival.
The reasons behind the policies are a mix. Some are simply service to the Constituency. Others are of little concern to the “masters of mankind” but are designed to hold on to segments of the voting bloc that the Republicans have cobbled together, since Republican policies have shifted so far to the right that their actual proposals would not attract voters. For example, terminating support for family planning is not service to the Constituency. Indeed, that group may mostly support family planning. But terminating that support appeals to the evangelical Christian base — voters who close their eyes to the fact that they are effectively advocating more unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, increasing the frequency of resort to abortion, under harmful and even lethal conditions.
Not all of the damage can be blamed on the con man who is nominally in charge, on his outlandish appointments, or on the congressional forces he has unleashed. Some of the most dangerous developments under Trump trace back to Obama initiatives — initiatives passed, to be sure, under pressure from the Republican Congress.
The most dangerous of these has barely been reported. A very important study in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published in March 2017, reveals that the Obama nuclear weapons modernization program has increased “the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three — and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” As the analysts point out, this new capacity undermines the strategic stability on which human survival depends. And the chilling record of near disaster and reckless behavior of leaders in past years only shows how fragile our survival is. Now this program is being carried forward under Trump. These developments, along with the threat of environmental disaster, cast a dark shadow over everything else — and are barely discussed, while attention is claimed by the performances of the showman at center stage.
Whether Trump has any idea what he and his henchmen are up to is not clear. Perhaps he is completely authentic: an ignorant, thin-skinned megalomaniac whose only ideology is himself. But what is happening under the rule of the extremist wing of the Republican organization is all too plain.
Please continue this interview here:

As Deadly Wildfires Rage in California, a Look at How Global Warming Fuels Decades of Forest Fires

So vital to understand the link between climate change and drought and devastating wildfires. These times ask of us all to connect the dots which highlight the larger pictures which are essential to know and act on. - Molly

This is excerpted from the transcript of this Democracy Now! program:
AMY GOODMAN: The wildfires come after the U.S. Forest Service warned last year an unprecedented five-year drought led to the deaths of more than 100 million trees in California, setting the stage for massive fires. Climate scientists believe human-caused global warming played a major role in the drought.
For more, we’re joined by Park Williams, who is a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He’s the co-author of a 2016 report showing global warming is responsible for nearly half the forest area burned in the western United States over the past three decades.
Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. So, explain what is happening right now in California. The devastation is just incredible.
PARK WILLIAMS: Yeah, it is. So, these fires that are getting the attention right now in California are very different from the big forest fires that had been getting our attention for the last several years. These fires are burning through towns. And the fires are really being driven by a big high-pressure system that is sitting over the coasts of the U.S. and driving winds from the east to the west, bringing very dry, warm air from the deserts of Nevada and Arizona out to the coast. And by the time the air gets to the coast, it’s compressed down to sea level. It’s very warm and very dry. It pulls the moisture out of vegetation, makes it ready to burn.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you said, before the show began, that part of the problem may have been the rains that came earlier this year?
PARK WILLIAMS: Yeah. So these fires out on the coast are very different from forest fires, in that out near the coast of California there’s not a whole lot to burn oftentimes. We actually didn’t hear a ton about fires occurring near the coast of California during the big drought, simply because it was so dry, there wasn’t much growing, so not much to burn. This year, though, follows a record-breaking wet or near record-breaking wet winter in California. And anybody who was in California in the spring knows it looked like the English countryside, with green, lush grass growing everywhere. Well, that’s the stuff that’s burning right now. Grass is a very effective carrier of fast-moving fire. And all you need to do is dry the grass out, add a flame and add very strong winds, and that’s what’s going on now.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you have said, in this 2016 report that looks at the link between climate change and forest fires, that since 1980—well, how much of the fires can be attributable to climate change?
PARK WILLIAMS: So, when we concentrate on forests, we find there’s a very strongly link between drought and the amount of area that burns in any given year. And one really important part of the drought link is temperature. And we can actually mathematically determine the relationship between drought and fire, and therefore temperature and fire. And we know from climate modeling that the western U.S. has increased in temperature by two to two-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit over the last century because of human-caused climate change trends. And from that value, we can back out the amount of area that has burned due to human-caused climate change, and we find that about half of the area of forest in the western U.S. that have burned over the last 35 years is attributable to that warming trend. And that half is really big. It equals the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.
Please go here to continue this transcript, or to watch the full video interview:

Pema Chödrön: Experiencing the Sacredness of our Existence

May we choose each day, and again and again,
to stay and deepen in our path of awakening. - Molly

We can choose reality - stay with it, be here, show up, be open, turn toward the sights and the sounds and the thoughts that pass through our minds - or we can choose to turn away. But if we turn away, we can pretty much count on staying stuck in the same old patterns of suffering, never getting closer to experiencing wakefulness, never getting closer to experiencing the sacredness of our existence.

- Pema Chödrön