Rorting the system

Rorting the system

Ever wondered if the POTUS and his family were rorting the system?

Do you think he might be? Yep, I think we all have our suspicions. I’m not talking about the ability to leverage notoriety to go on lecture tours or sell autobiographies. We allow that sort of thing as a small ‘thank you for your service’ along with the secrete service costs of keeping him and his family safe

A small aside here is that former Australian prime minister John Howard is often seen strolling around the CBD of Sydney en route to his office in the MLC building. No police, no bodyguard, just his unmistakable self. I have seen him half a dozen times.

Anyway back to the current POTUS.

Maybe he is just getting ready to use his notoriety to go a step or two further than a book tour to plunder the relationships his position affords for a slice of oil pipelines, hotels, golf resorts, towers and whatever else might make a bob or two, in parts of the world where such things are still twee.

Yes, I think so too.

Not a good look at best and worse, an abuse of his position. That is before we get into the back end deals that might be going down as we speak.

Obviously he doesn’t care a jot about our puny thoughts. Our indignation at his abuse of power. Here is some evidence of just how little he cares.

The number of family trips taken during his tenure is through the roof compared to his predecessor, like an order of magnitude larger.

Admittedly he has a huge extended family in the white house, all jumping around in unelected positions, but really, an order of magnitude more trips with the secret service in attendance.

It even makes the tweets look silly.

Make America great again

Make America great again

Make America great again.

I had a problem with this political slogan from the beginning.

The assumption, of course, is that America was at one time great. In the minds of its citizens perhaps, but, in reality, when America dominated the world it was a bully with extraordinary economic power thanks mainly to the industrial makeover after WW II.

The problem, even if you concede that industrial and economic might is indeed a great thing, is that in order to make America great again, the orange man has turned to an isolation approach based on an ‘us and them’ kindergarten psychology where the ‘them’ are bad and ‘we’ are good. It is innately racist.

Chasing the slogan has worked, at least for his support base. He spent government money, no matter that there was none to spend and a $26 trillion debt on the books, and for a time pumped a certain amount of confidence in the economy. Things were indeed moving towards his definition of great.

Only now a threat has arrived that he can’t control, a pandemic, where being economically great simply doesn’t work to protect anyone against its consequences — just ask Boris how he felt in the ICU.

It might be smart to reconsider the concept of being great under such circumstances. The global world of lockdown has given us any number of creative definitions from the humorous to the smart.

The US is in an election year and obviously Trump is moving to make sure he is reelected. I say obviously because we didn’t think he would make it to the office or survive five minutes, so we perhaps shouldn’t assume he would automatically want another four years of being the biggest cheese… only joking. Of course, he wants it.

Re-election in a pandemic would be a challenge for anyone. The US economy has tanked, unemployment is through the roof, and many people have no idea when or if there will be a return to normal.

In the meantime, under the encouragement of the president, people are taking their guns and demanding that state governors lift the lockdown measures. At over a million cases and counting that seems reckless at best.

Professor Robert Reich, a former US Secretary of Labour and Professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley has recently come up with what he believes is Donald Trump’s four-step plan for reelection

Step 1 is to remove income support so people have no choice but to return to work

Step 2 hide the facts

Step 3 pretend it’s about freedom

Step 4 shield business’ against lawsuits for spreading the infection

This, of course, is a Democrat talking about a Republican president but the points he makes in those four steps are troubling.

Removing income support at a time when people are worried about their employment status is cruel in the extreme.

We know that the Trump administration hides the facts as a matter of course and when facts appear that they don’t like, they play them as fake news.

The problem with COVID is that the facts deal with death.

When Trump first put his hand up to become president, pretty much everyone laughed. I for one failed to realise how far the denial of facts and the lambasting of the media as fake could take you all the way to the White House. No surprise then that this tactic of hiding the facts will apply in the case of the virus.

Pretending it’s about freedom so that gun-toting individuals can rock up at government offices to demand their rights and for that behaviour to be seen as ok is crazy. As Robert Reich points out, making this about freedom is absurd. Freedom is meaningless for people who have no choice but to accept a job that risks that health.

And the fourth step to get business back on track and the economy in the direction that will get me reelected, is to protect them from lawsuits that might occur if they remain open and their staff contract the virus

I don’t know if it’s possible to imagine how any of this is great.

There have been millions of words written about the craziness of this situation that the US finds itself in with leadership that really has no concern for the people or just a small proportion of those people who are there to support the ego of an individual.

I suspect that we’re actually witnessing the ongoing decline of a once-powerful nation. The British Empire has gone and the American one looks like it will follow suit. This will take time because you can’t just turn off the influence of 350 million people and the world’s largest economy but the passions and the motivations that got them into that position of greatness have been corrupted beyond recognition.

America will not be great again at least not on this path.

Now there is another disruption. The next chapter in a terrible saga of racism that has blighted the so-called greatness for the countries entire history. There is hope this time around, there always is when the righteousness in people is roused by tragedy.

Perhaps this offers an alternative path.

POTUS

POTUS

The POTUS has continued to distribute his unique brand of international relations around the world, including a summit with Vladimir Putin. In that meeting he chose to be conciliatory and ignore recent excesses by the Russians, even to the point of publicly accepting the ‘it wasn’t us’ excuse.

This is not what Americans do. They are bold, brash and brave. They bully their way to the moral high ground and hold it with god by their side. They don’t acquiesce for that smacks of weakness.

In saying what he did when questioned during the summit, Trump poked a fair few commentators, for example

“You can love Trump, you can be thrilled he vanquished Hillary, you can be right that Obama’s foreign policy was clownish, but call it here: this was atrocious and no American president should ever behave this way.” Karol Markowicz, New York Post columnist

There is a growing consensus across the land tonight … that the president threw the United States under the bus” John Roberts, Fox News White House correspondent.

European allies are uneasy. US-Russia relations are uncertain. And the US political world – and even the White House’s own communications team – is unsettled. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

This could go any number of ways from here.

First, Trump is nothing if not consistent. He always does what the mainstream least expect so as not to appear mainstream to his support base. He also goes far enough so that even the least perceptive among his followers believes he’s different and doing it all for them. No coincidence that this style also soothes Trump’s own immediate and end game aches — he will leave office far wealthier than when he arrived and his post-presidency earnings will be staggering. On this route expect more of the same. An indelicate parade of gaffs designed to upset convention.

Second, Trump could go a step too far. An action or the combined weight of actions could see his base upset enough to rejoin the mainstream incredulity. Except he has been pretty extreme so far and no one comment or behaviour has even dented his armour plated followers. So, short of committing a felony on live TV, any one action is unlikely to change much. The weight of actions could be a problem if the actions were cumulative but, perhaps by design, they are dispersed across any number of issues and, whilst they all smell a bit off, the nose is an accommodating customer. New smells become familiar ones pretty quickly. A step too far is always possible and yet ,in this age of the instant, it might have to be a stride before the POTUS is irreparable.

Third, a felony is actually called. Be that from a murky past, electioneering or something yet done, if Trump is actually indicted it might undo him. Only might, because the evidence will have to be so solid, clean and fresh as a daisy in a summer field. Anything less will not stick to teflon. Why else is the ‘fake news’ ploy played so keenly. Few of that famous support base would believe anything said or written or even judged in court if it went against their core. It would be fake. And this is the truly clever play that was hard to do in the past. Spreading disinformation meant paying off journalists or dropping leaflets from airplanes or buying media companies. It was costly, risky and did not always work. Now all you need is a tweet. ‘Fake news’ is a the ultimate risk mitigation that will be played right to the end.

Fourth, a political renaissance happens in the US bringing a surge of interest in scholarship and values. Yeah, exactly. This is the least likely way things will go, akin to claiming an intercession from the virgin Mary.

Blessed be the fruit.

So what will happen?

Alloporus suspects that the limit is far away in the distance. A two term POTUS delivering an increasingly isolated and insular country that will, ironically perhaps, be more stable than in its expansionist past, is more likely than not. It will take much fake news, many intentional and unintentional blunders, and some heavy covering up to get there but the path is clear enough.

Welcome to the atrocious bus.

Is the world changing?

Is the world changing?

Love him or loath him, infamous climate scientist Dr Michael Mann recently made an important point about Donald Trump’s rhetoric on bringing manufacturing industry back to make the US great again.

On the America Adapts podcast Mann suggests that to achieve such a goal, manufacturing in the US must embrace the energy revolution. Implying factories running on fossil fuel energy will not be competitive in a global market.

The only way a fossil fuel based industry would be competitive is if there were trade restrictions and tariffs to keep them competitive. This makes Trump’s anti-trade agreement gambit a typical business bully approach to finding a competitive edge that, in this case, US manufacturers would not have.

The evidence is that the energy revolution is well advanced. All over the world technologies are maturing rapidly to deliver distributed clean energy. It is realistic to believe the many mayors and governors that claim carbon neutrality for their towns and jurisdictions when their constituents are all up for a Tesla wall.

Today’s first graders, who will consume a fair amount of electricity in their lifetimes, may not know or care, but most of that energy will not come from a coal-fired power station.

This change from fossil fuel to alternative energy and the accompanying shift from centralised to distributed generation is exactly the one that was needed to tackle the climate issues Michael Mann is so passionate about. Only it is happening because it makes economic sense and not because of a limp international agreement made in a Japanese city or from late night breakthroughs in Paris.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The change is happening certainly. Only it is happening because the technology is becoming commercially competitive. So competitive in fact, that a US president is elected on the back of rhetoric to prop up his countries uncompetitive energy system and hold on to the past.

Does all this mean that the world is changing? Not really. Those first graders, who will spend more of their lives looking at a screen than the trees, may notice more wind farms and will drive an electric car they plug into ports on the street to share the energy captured from the roof at home. But they will also be fiercely competitive and, just like their parents and grand pappy, rely on markets to deliver their lifestyle.

They will work, eat, sleep, and procreate with their mobile device never more than an arm’s length away. They will earn money and use it to pay for their data plans. Not much will be different…

Unless, just maybe, perhaps, possibly…

All this distributed energy makes everything easier, and the system changes. If stuff gets cheaper and cheaper, maybe value is recognised in what people do and not what they have.

Here’s hoping.

President Trump — the shock we had to have

trump-1266570_1280

In 1990, Paul Keating, as Treasurer in the Hawke government, famously described the 1990s recession in Australia as “the recession we had to have” to correct a series of excesses through the 1980’s. Keating challenged Bob Hawke for the leadership of the Labor Party in 1991 and became Prime Minister of Australia.

This week the American people, via a slim minority, voted Donald Trump into the Presidency of the United States.

It is the shock they (and we) had to have.

What happened is that a nation of educated folk just put a narcissistic isolationist with little respect for anyone but himself and no experience of public office into the highest position in the land. Is this man really the best person from among the 322 million or so options?

You would have to think not. There had to be someone better, although not the democratic candidate apparently.

So what is going on?

There are a large number of people who now have no faith in the system of government to improve their lot. Median income in the US is now $30,525 up just $1,113 since 2000, less than 4% in over a decade. Average wages for those without a college degree in the US have declined over the same period and the number without a job has increased. Meantime median house prices have doubled to $304,800.

A xenophobic return to the old days was a message people wanted to hear.

There are some bigger picture numbers too. A growing disparity in wealth due as much to concentration into the few wealthy as to the loss of earnings among workers. A high risk of GFC 2.0 despite the national debt ballooning to $19.8 trillion raised ostensibly to stave off such a catastrophe. A law making establishment that is out of touch.

Check out the US national debt clock

But these individual and economic symptoms are best seen through the lens of what brought them about. Slavish adherence to the market and its fixation with growth, neo-liberalism it’s called.

Ironically Trump is going to be the messenger that demonstrates this slavish adherence is untenable. Because he will not be able to deliver on most of his promises. Given the debt, wealth concentration and stagnant growth, the system cannot afford his tax cuts, wall construction or restricted trade.

Imagine halving corporate tax when the country carries more debt than its GDP.

If he insists on keeping his promises the fragile economy collapses. If he relents, the people are let down (again). Either way, there is a jolt to the system. An opportunity is created for genuine progressive change.

There is a reason this feels like much more than trying to find a silver lining in a dark misogynistic cloud.

On the night before the US election I attended a public function in Sydney under the 100 Resilience Cities program. The theme was ‘Is Sydney ready? Working together for a resilient city’ and even a confirmed skeptic like myself would have to say, yes.

Because for the first time it became clear to me what resilience is. It is the ability of people to connect with each other across the barriers we all erect to find common ground and support. Throughout the evening there was evidence of people doing this more and more. Just the recognition that resilience is all about people is huge.

And this is the real change that can truly help those who voted for the orange guy. Where people actually talk to each other, find things they agree on, accept the things they cannot agree on, and build things together.

It will happen.

Donald is the shock we need to make it so.