Political Analysis that Seems to Make Sense

From recent Washington Post posts

Raw tensions over race and gender shape midterms, reflecting schism in Trump era

The National Republican Congressional Committee released an ad on Sept. 12 about Democratic congressional candidate Antonio Delgado.

Democrat Antonio Delgado is a Rhodes Scholar and attorney with a Harvard Law degree running in one of the country’s most hotly contested congressional races.

But Republicans want to instill a different image in the minds of voters in New York’s 19th Congressional District. Their latest ad, released Wednesday, features grainy clips of Delgado, who is African American and made a 2007 rap album. His censored explicit lyrics dominate the ad, along with the album cover, which shows a glaring Delgado in a hoodie.

Raw tensions over race, gender and personal identity are shaping battleground contests from Upstate New York to the Deep South, reflecting the marked schism in the country during the Trump era and the increasingly stark demographic divide between the two political parties.

With just one primary day left, on Thursday, Democrats have set or essentially matched records for the number of female, black and LGBT nominees, a Washington Post analysis shows. Republicans’ diversity statistics have either remained static or declined in each category, leading to a heavily white, male slate of nominees.

Republicans are aggressively trying to cast Democratic candidates as scary, threatening figures with unfamiliar values. A super PAC linked to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has aired an ad in Ohio tenuously connecting a candidate of Tibetan and Indian descent to Libyan interests and asking if he is “selling out Americans.” In Kentucky, a GOP incumbent released an ad showing his female Democratic opponent declaring that she is a feminist.

Democrats are increasingly calling out the GOP, saying these are sexist, racist attacks that remind them of the divisive tactics that Donald Trump used as a candidate and has reprised as president. Even some Republicans are troubled by the tone.

“The difference between the past and the present is that you have a political actor like the president who makes it okay, who gives license to it, said Michael Steele, who was the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee. “If you don’t speak to that and call it out, it will germinate, it will become an infection and will create the kind of disease in our politics, which I think to some degree, we are already seeing.”

Republicans behind the attacks are making no apologies. They argue that they are informing voters about their rivals.

“The Democratic rejoinder is to cry racism when all I am saying is he should explain his words,” said Rep. John Faso, the Republican incumbent Delgado is trying to unseat in an Upstate New York district that is nearly 84 percent white. In an interview, Faso, who is white, rattled off some of Delgado’s explicit lyrics. “I think they would generally bother anyone that would hear them,” Faso said.

The ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee features clips from the album Delgado released, under the name AD the Voice. In his songs, Delgado addresses social and political issues and uses obscenities and a racial epithet.

“If Democrats are upset about Antonio Delgado’s own rap lyrics being used in ads, then they shouldn’t have nominated him,” said Jesse Hunt, an NRCC spokesman.

Pressed on whether the ad and others launched by Republican candidates and groups are racist or sexist, a spokesman for Ryan did not directly respond. Instead, Jeremy Adler said the campaign should be about the economy and House GOP policies.

Asked what he thought of some of the ads on Thursday, Ryan emphasized that he cannot discuss ad strategy with super PACs. “I abhor identity politics,” he added. “I don’t think identity politics should be played by anybody at any time.” Ryan did not comment on specific ads.

Delgado has called the criticism of his album a “blatant attempt at distraction from the real issues.”

Race has also recently roiled the Florida gubernatorial contest. Democrat Andrew Gillum, the state’s first black major-party nominee for governor, said in an interview that he expected to face racially charged attacks — just not on Day One.

The morning after the primary, GOP nominee Ron DeSantis, who is white, used a phrase many African Americans have found offensive, suggesting on Fox News that electing Gillum and his liberal policies would “monkey this up” at a time when Florida is on the right track under conservative control.

Gillum spoke to his wife that evening to brace her for how ugly the contest might get. “Hold on, because God knows, you know, what depths this may go to,” he recalled saying.

DeSantis’s campaign spokesman, Stephen Lawson, said it was “absurd” to characterize the remark as anything other than a policy comment. One of his donors, Dan Eberhart, said DeSantis “certainly tripped” with “his inartful comment” and will “have to avoid those kind of gaffes in the future.”

Gillum is one of two black Democratic nominees for governor in the South, joining Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, who is also running against a Trump-backed candidate, Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Democrats have at least 62 black nominees for the House, according to Collective PAC and a review of candidates by The Post. The number is on par with the records set in recent years, as documented by researcher David Bositis. Republicans have identified 10 black GOP House nominees, which is down from recent years and from as many as two dozen in the 1990s.

Democrats have a record 20 LGBT nominees for the House and Senate, according to an analysis by the LGBTQ Victory Fund; Republicans have none after fielding a handful in recent years.

The sharpest change in candidate diversity has been among Democratic women. Democrats have nominated 182 women for the House this year, according to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, already cresting 40 percent of all House districts and setting a record that shatters the old mark of 120 nominees in 2016 by more than half.

Republicans have 52 women, which is in line with recent elections. But the GOP’s share of all female candidates — 22 percent — is the lowest it has been in at least 40 years. Democrats have also set a record of 15 female nominees for the Senate and 12 in gubernatorial races. Republicans have fewer than half in each case.

“I think this administration and the president and his divisive policies are a great motivator,” said Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.), recruitment vice chair for the House Democratic campaign arm. “I think that many of the women candidates we have running started with the Women’s March and ended up marching to their local town halls to register as candidates.”

These women have won their primaries. Will they be elected in November?

In Kentucky, Democratic nominee Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot, would be the first woman to represent the Lexington-based 6th Congressional District if she unseats Republican Rep. Garland “Andy” Barr. She is contending with a barrage of negative ads, including one from Barr that shows her saying, “Hell yeah, I’m a feminist.”

Another ad from the Congressional Leadership Fund shows her photo alongside Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Hillary Clinton, depicting her with other powerful women.

“It is inherent sexism,” McGrath said. “But I’m not focused on that.”

“No. I’m the father of two daughters,” Barr said when asked for his response to McGrath’s claim. “Of course I believe in equal opportunity regardless of gender.” He also listed the women in senior positions in his congressional office.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a major super PAC for which Ryan has raised money but crafts strategy independent of him, has run some of the most controversial ads. In Ohio’s Cincinnati-based 1st Congressional District, the group released an ad aligning Democratic nominee Aftab Pureval with Libyan interests, by way of the law firm that employed him.

Ominous music plays and dark images of plane wreckage and ex-Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi flash on-screen. “Aftab Pureval can’t be trusted,” the narrator says. The ad received four Pinocchios from The Post’s Fact Checker.

“I leave it to other people to ascribe motives,” Pureval said of the strategy behind the ad. Later, Pureval, who is of Tibetan and Indian descent, issued a statement from a campaign aide calling on his opponent, Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, to condemn what he says are racist attacks in the spot. “Our campaign had nothing to do with the ad, but we also see nothing in the ad that isn’t factual,” said Cody Rizzuto, a Chabot campaign spokesman.

In a statement, CLF communications director Courtney Alexander defended the ads: “It’s flattering to see how stressed Democratic candidates are from our ads as we educate voters about their extreme, liberal records.”

As the focus in the GOP has increasingly shifted to turning out conservative base voters, many of whom are loyal to Trump, the party that once made diversity a goal, most recently after the 2012 election, has fallen behind on that measure.

As recently as 2010, the GOP had 34 percent of female nominees and 25 percent of all black nominees. Republicans had about twice as many black nominees in 1994 and 2000 as they do today.

Posted in Uncategorized

Plain Talk About How We Think About Our Largest Island Colony

I’m posting this in PottersWeal.com rather than Wake Me When We’re Great Again because Yarimar Bonilla’s op-ed in the Washington Post really addresses the issue of how the USA treats its colonies (and, to a lesser extent, how some US governmental practices are pure bullying — if you need examples, look at the comments in the on-line version of this WaPo posting).

The Washington Post

Perspective

Trump’s false claims about Puerto Rico are insulting. But they reveal a deeper truth.

Unlike most U.S. politicians, the president doesn’t even pretend to treat the island equally.

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By Yarimar Bonilla

Yarimar Bonilla is the author of “Non-Sovereign Futures: French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment” and a founder of the Puerto Rico Syllabus project. She is professor of anthropology and Caribbean studies and a 2018-19 Carnegie Fellow.

September 14 at 12:52 AM

Puerto Ricans woke up Thursday, a mere week before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, to a new storm. Once again, President Trump had minimized the tragedy on the island, suggesting on Twitter that the multiple scientific studies regarding the death count in Puerto Rico were really the product of political interests seeking to tarnish his recovery efforts. His tweets were received with shock and horror across both Puerto Rico and the mainland United States, with many asking themselves: What kind of cruelty does it take to portray death and disaster as “fake news”?

Taken at face value, Trump’s claims are absurd. The death toll in Puerto Rico was not the result of simple wind and rain but infrastructural failures that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has already admitted. Mass casualties are not, as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan claimed in Trump’s defense Thursday, simply a thing that happens — they are the product of structural failure and imperial neglect.

Puerto Ricans died because of a lack of access to health care and medication. They died of sleep apnea, untreated heart and liver disease, and bacterial infections contracted while trying to clear roads or find sources of water. These deaths are tragic precisely because they were preventable. They were not a product of angry storm waters but of a neglectful government that failed to protect and care for its citizens. This is the tragedy, this is the cruelty. Trump simply added another insult.

[My uncle survived Hurricane Maria. Despair over its devastation killed him.]

Yet his insistence on maligning Puerto Rico and its people might have an unintended positive outcome: to cast a spotlight on Puerto Rico’s long-standing problems. Previous administrations have been just as neglectful in their policy toward the island, but they’ve done so in ways that silenced or glossed over Puerto Rico’s relationship to the United States.

Trump, on the other hand, lays it bare.

President Barack Obama visited the island in 2011 and warmed hearts by dancing salsa and eating local delicacies. Many were hopeful that an African American president would take seriously the structural inequalities and politics of exclusion that shape U.S. territorial relations. But when it came time to deal with the island’s debt crisis, he only worsened the disparities. The same president who led bailouts for banks and car companies closed the door on using the Federal Reserve to restructure the debt, as many had recommended. Instead, he passed the buck to Congress, which imposed a fiscal-control board that costs Puerto Ricans more than $2 million a month and whose sole focus is on cutting services, pensions and wages, while raising taxes and the cost of living. It was precisely these policies that placed the island on the path of disaster to begin with.

Trump has remarked that Puerto Rico’s power company was already “dead” before the storm. This is false, but it reveals a truth: The power company was undergoing economic restructuring, which had led to disinvestments, layoffs and a lack of inventory — all of which contributed to residents spending nearly a year in the dark. These very same policies are now being extended by the fiscal board following the storm.

Trump might be the only president to overtly assert that Puerto Rican deaths don’t matter, that they don’t need to be counted. But he is certainly not the only politician in Washington who believes that Puerto Rican lives, and those of the other U.S. territories, matter less than those on the mainland. On both sides of the aisle, politicians in Washington have repeatedly voted against granting the island parity when it comes to health care, wages, disability benefits or even veterans’ rights.

[I saw what Maria did to Puerto Rico’s hospitals. The death toll is no surprise.]

Despite this long history of disparity and inequality, it has really only been under the Trump administration that Puerto Rico’s colonial status has made headlines — and even then barely so. Studies have shown that media coverage of Hurricane Maria paled in comparison to that of Harvey, which struck the mainland United States. It was only when Trump picked a fight with the San Juan mayor that attention shifted toward Puerto Rico.

More U.S. citizens died as a result of Hurricane Maria than as a result of either Hurricane Katrina or 9/11. Yet it is only when Trump shows his disdain toward Puerto Rico’s tragedy that the island becomes a part of the national consciousness. Its usual absence is the larger truth that his tweets reveal.

Puerto Rico’s disaster does not begin or end with Trump’s disregard. It is a product of more than a century of colonial policy that has led to a distorted economy built for the benefit of the few, corruption that has lined pockets from San Juan to Montana and everywhere in between, and a crisis of migration and displacement that has, in turn, fueled a crisis of imagination.

Trump’s tweets were just another sign of disrespect from the United States for its Caribbean colony. But whether he meant to or not, he still managed to reveal some otherwise hidden truths.

Read more:

President Trump has no idea what’s happening in Puerto Rico

Nature caused Puerto Rico’s latest crisis. But politics are making it worse.

FEMA says most of Puerto Rico has potable water. That can’t be true.

Posted in Disaster Management, Governance, politics, Small Island

Washington Post: Central American Security Conference Scrapped amid U.S. Tensions with Guatemala, El Salvador

Another triumph of American diplomacy. Thanks Secretary Pompeo —

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/central-american-security-conference-scrapped-amid-tensions-with-guatemala-el-salvador/2018/09/07/03571c6c-b2fd-11e8-a810-4d6b627c3d5d_story.html

Central American security conference scrapped amid U.S. tensions with Guatemala, El Salvador


Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, center, places a sash on Gen. Manuel Pineda Saravia, right, during the 145th anniversary of the military school in San Juan Sacatepequez, Guatemala, on Sept. 1, 2018. Morales says he is shutting down a crusading U.N.-sponsored anti-corruption commission that pressed a number of high-profile graft investigations, including one pending against the president himself over purported illicit campaign financing. (Moises Castillo/AP)

September 7

A high-level conference intended to highlight U.S. security cooperation with Mexico and Central America was abruptly called off Friday amid flaring diplomatic tensions with El Salvador and Guatemala, according to two Trump administration officials.

Top diplomats and security officials from the United States, Mexico and Central America were scheduled to meet next week in Washington as a follow-up to the “Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America,” held in Miami last year and attended by then-Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly and Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state at the time.

The talks scheduled for next week were scrapped after the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala notified U.S. diplomats that their representatives would not travel to Washington, according to the two administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because no formal announcement has been made. They said the conference has been “postponed,” though new dates have not been set.

The DHS official said the cancellation was due to a scheduling conflict, not diplomatic tensions.

U.S. diplomats and Homeland Security officials have sought to promote a partnership with Mexico and the nations of Central America’s Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — as a key to addressing the gang violence and endemic poverty that fuel illegal migration.

But strains emerged with Guatemala this week after President Jimmy Morales blocked the entry of the head of a U.N.-backed commission that investigates high-level corruption. The body, known as the CICIG, has enjoyed broad U.S. and international support, but Morales said he would not extend its mandate beyond this year. One of the commission’s inquiries targeted possible illegal campaign donations to Morales himself, and his decision to oust the U.N. program drew rebukes from U.S. lawmakers as well as calls to suspend American aid to Guatemala.

The tensions with El Salvador and its leftist government are more geopolitical. After El Salvador severed ties with Taiwan last month, seeking to cultivate closer ties to China, Washington recalled its diplomats in protest of the move, which Salvadoran officials characterized as an economic decision.

China has been increasing its investment in ports, railways and other infrastructure projects across Latin America for years, challenging long-standing U.S. dominance in the region.

Last year, Panama cut ties with Taiwan and turned to China, and the Dominican Republic made the same decision this year. 

These moves have raised concerns that the United States is ceding influence in Latin America to China, particularly during the Trump administration. One theme across the region has been that these Chinese diplomatic negotiations take place quietly — with economic or investment promises largely unknown — and results are announced with little public debate.

U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes, in a message on Twitter, described El Salvador’s decision last month as “worrisome.”

There have been other recent sources of tension between Central American governments and the Trump administration.

Trump’s border crackdown this spring that separated more than 2,500 migrant children from their parents caused an uproar across the region, and Central American governments say they are still working to reunite families after hundreds of mothers and fathers were deported from the United States without their children. The Trump administration has also announced it will terminate the provisional residency permits of more than 250,000 Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans who have been living and working in the United States under “temporary protected status.”

While Trump continues to push for a border wall, Mexico’s president-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has called for economic development in Central America as the best way to address illegal migration to the United States.

Partlow reported from Mexico City.

 

(As former Peace Corps Desk Officer for El Salvador and a 40-year worker in small island development in the Caribbean, I especially regret the third-rate policy management practices of this administration.)

[Lest we forget: The Russian objective is to make the truth seem unknowable. ]

Posted in Governance, politics

Ellie Mannette — THE Steel Pan Man — 1927-2018

On this, the date of the annual Carnival in Brooklyn, an appropriate time to celebrate the accomplishments of the great steel pan designer and promoter, Ellie Mannette, and his Mannette Musical Instruments. of Morgantown, West Virginia. Ellie of course was a Trini, but he was given national awards and recognitions by both the governments of Trinidad and Tobago, and the USA.
He and his brothers in San Souci, TT, established the Invaders Steel Band in 1940, and by the 1960s he was hired to come to the US to establish the (US) Navy Steel Band.
Details from yesterday’s NY Times obituary. . . .

Ellie Mannette, Father of the Modern Steel Drum, Dies at 90

Ellie Mannette crafting a drum at his workshop in Morgantown, W.Va., in 2006. He was among the first to fashion a steel drum that had all the notes of the chromatic scale, so it could play any melody in any key.
CreditCreditvia Mannette Musical Instruments

By Karen Zraick

  • Aug. 31, 2018

Ellie Mannette, a Trinidadian musician known in the United States as the father of the modern steel drum, died on Wednesday at a hospital in Morgantown, W.Va. He was 90.

The cause was kidney failure, his daughter Juliette Mannette said.

As a child in Port of Spain, Trinidad’s capital, Mr. Mannette became fascinated with the bands he saw using trash cans and buckets as drums, hitting them in different ways to create different sounds. For the rest of his life, he sought to elevate and expand the craft of steel-pan music, and to share it with the world.

He became a master tuner, builder and teacher. His shop, Mannette Instruments in Morgantown, is a major supplier of the instruments in the United States, and he trained students in tuning at West Virginia University for nearly 20 years. Numerous American universities now have steel-pan ensembles of their own, some led by Mr. Mannette’s former apprentices.

Mr. Mannette was among the first to fashion a steel drum that had all the notes of the chromatic scale, so it could play any melody in any key.

“He imagined a sound of this instrument that nobody else had imagined for it,” Shannon Dudley, an ethnomusicologist at the University of Washington, said in a telephone interview. “He strove to create that sound, and it captivated a lot of people.”

[Ellie Mannette: Father of the Modern Steel Drum Credit Video by Smithsonian Folklife ]

Mr. Dudley added that steel pans, now seen as a symbol of innovation and resistance, were once disparaged. Earlier percussion instruments had been banned by colonialists in Trinidad, and in the 1940s and ’50s the music was associated with rivalries and fights. But Mr. Mannette, he said, “helped to bring it out of that denigrated status, by making the music more and more compelling.”

Today the steel drum is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.

Kim Johnson, the director of the Carnival Institute of Trinidad and Tobago, said that Mr. Mannette’s greatest contribution was how he shared his knowledge generously, even before he left the island.

“He was a natural teacher,” Mr. Johnson said in a telephone interview. “His way of making pans became the first globalized way, the first way you’d find all over the country, from people he taught, from bands whose instruments he made, and from people trying to copy him.”

Elliott Anthony Mannette was born on Nov. 5, 1927, in the small beach town of Sans Souci. His father, Sydney, was a carpenter and mason, and his mother, Imelda, was a homemaker. He was one of nine children.

He gravitated to carnival celebrations and music as a child and joined his first band when he was 11. Before long, he was creating his own instruments out of old oil drums and other discarded items. By 1940, he had formed the Invaders Steel Orchestra with two of his brothers and other musicians.

He designed and tuned the pans for the band, drawing on skills he picked up working in an iron foundry. He fashioned drums out of 55-gallon barrels and made them concave, like a bowl, which gave them a different sound. He tuned the instruments by ear, tapping with a hammer to get the exact note he wanted from the metal.

In 1951, Trinidad and Tobago sent him to Britain as part of the Trinidad All-Steel Percussion Orchestra. By 1959, the band had a contract with Columbia Records.

In the 1960s, Mr. Mannette traveled to the United States to help develop the Navy Steel Band, which brought steel-band music to the American public.

In 1967 he made the transition permanent, moving to New York to work with urban youth in music programs. He would not return to Trinidad until 2000, when he received the Chaconia Medal from Trinidad and Tobago, the country’s second-highest state decoration. That same year, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine.

Mr. Mannette was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1999. He was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 2003.

Mr. Mannette, who lived in Morgantown, is survived by his second wife, Jacqueline Edwards; six children: Kendal, Karen, Earl, Eric, Anthony, Juliette; four stepchildren: Garth, Charlene, Marva and Francine; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His first wife, Joyce Kingston, died many years ago.

Mr. Mannette’s shop will continue to be run by his former students and apprentices, said Chanler Bailey, a builder and tuner there.

Mr. Bailey said Mr. Mannette wanted the steel drum to be seen as more than a novelty, and to be respected as a complex instrument. He was, he said, a perfectionist constantly seeking to improve his work and a demanding instructor.

“Ellie was a consummate craftsman,” Mr. Bailey said. “It’s been the greatest privilege to be able to work under that man and the standards he set.”

Amie Tsang contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on Sept. 2, 2018, on Page A20 of the New York edition with the headline: Ellie Mannette, 90, Innovator of Steel Drum. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Posted in Fun

Reviews of Two Hard-Headed Critiques of Modern American Society

This first from the Sunday — NY Times Book Review:

Nonfiction

Meet the ‘Change Agents’ Who Are Enabling Inequality


Inside view at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last year.CreditCreditMichel Euler/Associated Press

Review by Joseph E. Stiglitz                                                                 Aug. 20, 2018

WINNERS TAKE ALL

The Elite Charade of Changing the World
By Anand Giridharadas
288 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95.

First came the books describing just how much worse economic inequality had become over the past 20 years, with all the dramatic political implications now impossible to ignore. Then there were the tomes about globalization (including my own, I admit), detailing the West’s unfettered pursuit of neoliberal policies that abetted all this unfairness.

Well, prepare for a new genre: books gently and politely skewering the corporate titans who claim to be solving such problems. It’s an elite that, rather than pushing for systemic change, only reinforces our lopsided economic reality — all while hobnobbing on the conference circuit and trafficking in platitudes.

Anand Giridharadas, a former columnist for The New York Times, spoke about this phenomenon at an Aspen Institute conference in 2015, and he takes his ideas further in his entertaining and gripping new book, “Winners Take All.” As the Democratic Party struggles to figure out its future and global demagogy thrives, it’s worth considering where we went wrong and how best to save the world from the dangerous turn it has taken. It’s now very clear that globalization, technology and market liberalization did not bring their promised benefits — at least not for the vast majority of Americans and those in advanced countries around the world.


Credit Brian Stauffer

For those at the helm, the philanthropic plutocrats and aspiring “change agents” who believe they are helping but are actually making things worse, it’s time for a reckoning with their role in this spiraling dilemma. I suggest they might want to read a copy of this book while in the Hamptons this summer.

In a series of chapters centered on different individuals who are part of this rarefied class, Giridharadas exposes the rationalizations of the 0.001 percent who actually believe they are making the world a better place. The Sacklers helped create the opioid crisis but give money to important causes. The chief executive of Cinnabon thinks that being transparent about the fat and sugar she peddles offsets the harm her company creates. It’s a land of PowerPoint presentations and cuddly good intentions.

Giridharadas calls this prevailing ethos “MarketWorld,” made up of people who want “to do well and do good.” He beautifully catches the language of Aspen, Davos and the recently extant Clinton Global Initiative, which will doubtless reappear in the newly born Bloomberg initiative. It’s a world of feel-good clichés like “win-win” and “make a difference.” The rote conversations of this crowd were on recent display at the Public Theater, in the beginning of the second act of the Bruce Norris play “The Low Road.” As Giridharadas describes the ethos of MarketWorld, it’s made up of people like former President Bill Clinton who saw the anger bubbling up but proved unable to “call out elites for their sins: or call for power’s redistribution and fundamental systemic change; or suggest that plutocrats might have to surrender precious things for others to have a mere shot of transcending indecency.”

Like the dieter who would rather do anything to lose weight than actually eat less, this business elite would save the world through social impact investing, entrepreneurship, sustainable capitalism, philanthro-capitalism, artificial intelligence, market-driven solutions. They would fund a million of these buzzwordy programs rather than fundamentally question the rules of the game — or even alter their own behavior to reduce the harm of the existing distorted, inefficient and unfair rules. Doing the right thing — and moving away from their win-win mentality — would involve real sacrifice; instead, it’s easier to focus on their pet projects and initiatives. As Giridharadas puts it, people wanted to do “virtuous side projects instead of doing their day jobs more honorably.”

In order to really have an economy with the greatest opportunity for all, the kind of economy they seem to champion, the MarketWorlders would have to pay high levels of corporate and personal income tax, offer decent wages to their workers, allow unions, fund public schools (instead of pet charter projects) and support some form of single payer health care and campaign finance reform. One simply can’t arrive at a more economically equal reality when the rungs of the ladder are so far apart.

At Davos and the other international conclaves where the muckety-mucks celebrate the new economic world they have helped create, which has rewarded them so amply, corporate leaders move seamlessly from sessions discussing the risks of climate change, growing inequality and financial instability, to dinners at which they praise tax cuts for billionaires and corporations and applaud proposals for deregulation. They conveniently don’t mention the increases in taxes on a majority of those in the middle, the Republican moves to eliminate health insurance for some 13 million in a country where life expectancy is already in decline, the increase in pollution, the risk of another financial crisis, the ever increasing evidence of moral turpitude — whether it’s Wells Fargo cheating its customers or Volkswagen cheating on its emission tests. Cognitive dissonance is intrinsic to MarketWorld.

Giridharadas rightly argues that this misallocation of resources creates a grave opportunity cost. The money and time the MarketWorlders spend fixing the edges of our fraying social order could be used to push for real change. This is especially so in the political battles in which the country is currently engaged, where a majority of the Supreme Court and members of Congress seem hellbent on rewriting the rules of the American economy and political system in ways that will exacerbate economic disparities, increase monopoly power, and decrease access to health care and women’s reproductive rights.

Moreover, the ideology of the MarketWorlders has spread and just espousing it has come to seem like a solution instead of the distraction that it is. Giridharadas shows how this is done. One category of enabler he describes is the cringeworthy “thought-leader,” who nudges plutocrats to think more about the poor but never actually challenges them, thus stroking them and allowing them to feel their MarketWorld approaches are acceptable rather than the cop-outs they are. Another recent book, the historian Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains,” provides a salutary lesson on the dangerous ways a self-serving ideology can spread.

Giridharadas embedded himself in the world he writes about, much as the journalist David Callahan (who edits the Inside Philanthropy website) did for his recent book, “The Givers: Wealth, Power and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age.” And like Callahan, Giridharadas is careful not to offend. He writes on two levels — seemingly tactful and subtle — but ultimately he presents a devastating portrait of a whole class, one easier to satirize than to reform.

Perhaps recognizing the intractability and complexity of the fix we are in, Giridharadas sidesteps prescriptions by giving the book’s last words to a political scientist, Chiara Cordelli. “This right to speak for others,” Cordelli says, “is simply illegitimate when exercised by a powerful citizen.” Although a more definitive conclusion would have been welcome, Cordelli does point to the real lesson of the book: Democracy and high levels of inequality of the kind that have come to characterize the United States are simply incompatible. Very rich people will always use money to maintain their political and economic power. But now we have another group: the unwitting enablers. Despite believing they are working for a better world, they are at most chipping away at the margins, making slight course corrections, while the system goes on as it is, uninterrupted. The subtitle of the book says it all: “The Elite Charade of Changing the World.”

Joseph E. Stiglitz was chief economist of the World Bank from 1992 to 2000 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001. He is a professor at Columbia and has been writing about inequality since the late 1960s.

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A version of this article appears in print on Aug. 26, 2018, on Page 1 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: On Top Of the World.

———————————-
And here’s another . . . . . . 
———————————-
Nonfiction

On the Ground in Afghanistan and Iraq

A wounded Naval officer shielded by soldiers, Kunduz, Afghanistan, 2010.CreditCreditDamon Winter/The New York Times

Review by Robert D. Kaplan                                                        

THE FIGHTERS 

Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq

By C. J. Chivers
374 pp. Simon & Schuster. $28.

C. J. Chivers, a senior writer for The New York Times and a former Marine infantry officer, begins his new book with a description of an American weapon, equipped with GPS sensors and a guidance system, hitting “precisely the wrong place” and killing and mutilating a family of women and children on the Afghan steppe as a consequence. But Chivers’s narrative has only begun to slam you in the gut; later on, the author captures the psychological effect the errant bomb has on the Marines at the scene. Indeed, because of the way the stories and characters spool into one another with mathematical intensity, and the second-by-second in-your-face descriptions of prolonged battles from a sergeant’s eye view, “The Fighters: Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq” could be the most powerful indictment yet of America’s recent Middle East wars.

Chivers is interested in the chemistry between platoons and companies, not that between battalions and brigades: In other words, this is a book about the lower ranks who experience the thing itself, the gut-wrenching violence and confusion of war — history from the ground up, not from the top down, precisely what Washington elites miss. “The Fighters” constitutes an illusion-free zone, where the concrete triumphs over the abstract, where the best and most indelible of those profiled, from that vast working-class heart of the country, begin their military service in a blaze of patriotism following 9/11, and end up confused, cynical, betrayed and often disfigured or dead.

Of course, all wars are messy in the bloodiest and worst ways. What can redeem them for the combatants is only strategy, so that their ordeals contain a larger purpose within a realistic context. But in the background of this book is the very absence of such strategy, not only on the larger political level but on the microlevel, too: missions, one after the other, that even the grunts can see make no sense at all.

In the author’s telling, the American footprint in Afghanistan grows over the years from a sensible light-and-lethal affair to a mushrooming network of urban blast-barrier mazes of soldiers and Marines, even as the purpose of the war becomes completely lost. Specialist Robert Soto, an old man still in his teens, “had joined the Army to protect America. He was unsure how the Korengal Outpost” — in northeastern Afghanistan — “served that end. The circumstances in the valley, and many of the missions his platoon was ordered to perform, caused him to wonder what the Army was thinking. … Soto reduced the mission to its most basic rationale, We’re here because we’re here. If nothing else, the soldiers could fight for one another.”

 

What makes this book such a classic of war reporting is the very absence of panorama. Rather, Chivers has reconstructed the moment-by-moment experiences of Navy corpsmen, helicopter pilots, soldiers and Marines at their most narrow and fundamental level. Minutes become hours and eat up breathless spells of 20 and more pages at a stretch. Soto, in the instant before battle, when there is often the click-on-click of metal coming from the automatic rifles, has a feeling of “absolute, intoxicating clarity.”

There are the cousins Joe Dan Worley and Dustin Kirby, hospital corpsmen from Powder Springs, Ga. Their families thought they would be safe in the Navy, but corpsmen are the medics for Marines in combat. After Worley’s first mass casualty event in Iraq, “a solemn cleanup began. The remains of six of the platoon’s Marines, the Marine driver and three Iraqi police officers were put into body bags. Worley was blood-soaked, exhausted, grieving and enraged when he arrived back” at the base. “But he knew he had done what he was supposed to do. He had found his reason for being in Iraq.” Later on, after one more harrowing combat scene, Worley himself is wounded in an I.E.D. attack. “Marines who survived bomb blasts often acted according to pattern,” Chivers explains. “First they would see if they were alive. Then they would seek their weapon. Then they would ask if their genitals were still there. … He loosened his pants. He looked. There were no apparent wounds. … Worley was rushed inside an aid station. … He felt a catheter being pushed down into his urethra.” Worley knew while drifting into unconsciousness that if he survived “he would be an amputee.”

Soldiers mourn fallen comrades at a memorial service in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, in 2012.    Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times
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When I Wasn’t Paying Attention . . . .

This Associated Press dispatch by Ellen Knickmeyer (from the National Post) discusses another major underlying government-wide policy change that the Trump Administration thinks it will get away with. This policy says that energy efficiency, and specifically limiting petroleum product use is “no longer an economic imperative for the United States.” My old mind boggles at the thought of what sort of short-sighted vision of human welfare could make such a statement.

I used to work in the Planning Department of Mobil Oil, when it was headquartered on 42nd Street in NY City. Mobil invented many of the fracking technologies — it was called enhanced recovery in those days. Fifteen years ago, no one guessed we would have an oil surplus in the USA. I think that is worth bearing in mind when you think about policies that represent a wild shot-in-the-dark guess as far as petroleum use and production is concerned.

‘There’s a downside to living large’: Conserving oil no longer a economic imperative, says U.S.

Today, the U.S. is vying with Russia for the title of top world oil producer. U.S. oil production hit an all-time high this summer, aided by the technological leaps of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing

In this April 23, 2018, file photo a car is filled with gasoline at a station in Windham, N.H. Conserving oil is no longer an economic imperative for the U.S., the Trump administration declares in a major new policy statement that threatens to undermine decades of government campaigns for gas-thrifty cars and other conservation programs.Charles Krupa / ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Associated Press
Ellen Knickmeyer

August 19, 2018
7:19 AM EDT

Last Updated
August 19, 2018
12:48 PM EDT

WASHINGTON — Conserving oil is no longer an economic imperative for the U.S., the Trump administration declares in a major new policy statement that threatens to undermine decades of government campaigns for gas-thrifty cars and other conservation programs.

The position was outlined in a memo released last month in support of the administration’s proposal to relax fuel mileage standards. The government released the memo online this month without fanfare.

Growth of natural gas and other alternatives to petroleum has reduced the need for imported oil, which “in turn affects the need of the nation to conserve energy,” the Energy Department said. It also cites the now decade-old fracking revolution that has unlocked U.S. shale oil reserves, giving “the United States more flexibility than in the past to use our oil resources with less concern.”

With the memo, the administration is formally challenging old justifications for conservation — even congressionally prescribed ones, as with the mileage standards. The memo made no mention of climate change. Transportation is the single largest source of climate-changing emissions.

President Donald Trump has questioned the existence of climate change, embraced the notion of “energy dominance” as a national goal, and called for easing what he calls burdensome regulation of oil, gas and coal, including repealing the Obama Clean Power Plan.

Despite the increased oil supplies, the administration continues to believe in the need to “use energy wisely,” the Energy Department said, without elaboration. Department spokesmen did not respond Friday to questions about that statement.

It’s like saying, ‘I’m a big old fat guy, and food prices have dropped — it’s time to start eating again.”

Reaction was quick.

“It’s like saying, ‘I’m a big old fat guy, and food prices have dropped — it’s time to start eating again,”‘ said Tom Kloza, longtime oil analyst with the Maryland-based Oil Price Information Service.

“If you look at it from the other end, if you do believe that fossil fuels do some sort of damage to the atmosphere … you come up with a different viewpoint,” Kloza said. “There’s a downside to living large.”

Climate change is a “clear and present and increasing danger,” said Sean Donahue, a lawyer for the Environmental Defence Fund.

In a big way, the Energy Department statement just acknowledges the world’s vastly changed reality when it comes to oil.

Just 10 years ago, in summer 2008, oil prices were peaking at $147 a barrel and pummeling the global economy. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries was enjoying a massive transfer of wealth, from countries dependent on imported oil. Prices now are about $65.

Today, the U.S. is vying with Russia for the title of top world oil producer. U.S. oil production hit an all-time high this summer, aided by the technological leaps of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

How much the U.S. economy is hooked up to the gas pump, and vice versa, plays into any number of policy considerations, not just economic or environmental ones, but military and geopolitical ones, said John Graham, a former official in the George W. Bush administration, now dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.

“Our ability to play that role as a leader in the world is stronger when we are the strongest producer of oil and gas,” Graham said. “But there are still reasons to want to reduce the amount we consume.”

Current administration proposals include one that would freeze mileage standards for cars and light trucks after 2020, instead of continuing to make them tougher.

The proposal eventually would increase U.S. oil consumption by 500,000 barrels a day, the administration says. While Trump officials say the freeze would improve highway safety, documents released this month showed senior Environmental Protection Agency staffers calculate the administration’s move would actually increase highway deaths.

“American businesses, consumers and our environment are all the losers under his plan,” said Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat. “The only clear winner is the oil industry. It’s not hard to see whose side President Trump is on.”

Administration support has been tepid to null on some other long-running government programs for alternatives to gas-powered cars.

Bill Wehrum, assistant administration of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, spoke dismissively of electric cars — a young industry supported financially by the federal government and many states — this month in a call with reporters announcing the mileage freeze proposal.

“People just don’t want to buy them,” the EPA official said.

Oil and gas interests are campaigning for changes in government conservation efforts on mileage standards, biofuels and electric cars.

In June, for instance, the American Petroleum Institute and other industries wrote eight governors, promoting the dominance of the internal-combustion engine and questioning their states’ incentives to consumers for electric cars.

Surging U.S. and gas production has brought on “energy security and abundance,” Frank Macchiarola, a group director of the American Petroleum Institute trade association, told reporters this week, in a telephone call dedicated to urging scrapping or overhauling of one U.S. program for biofuels.

Fears of oil scarcity used to be a driver of U.S. energy policy, Macchiarola said.

Thanks partly to increased production, “that pillar has really been rendered essentially moot,” he said.

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Bedtime Story for Kids

The Russian objective is to make the truth seem unknowable.

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