Connectedness

Alan Zendell, January 29, 2023,

Eastern philosophies like Hinduism and Buddhism treat spirituality differently than Western religions. While each applies its own spin, what they have in common is a belief that everything in the universe is connected. Life and death are a continuum, not a beginning and an end, and there’s the idea of karma. Not to put too fine a point on it, karma is about fate or inevitability, that we are responsible for what befalls us, based on how our actions measure up against what the universe considers good or bad.

Raised in the Judeo-Christian part of the world, we see things differently from people who grew up elsewhere. As westerners, we tend to focus on individuals, our personal destinies and fortunes. Asian cultures think more collectively; ideologies like Communism aside, eastern societies think more in terms of the masses than individuals. Similar differences relate to time. We tend to live in the present and the immediate future – how we feel, what we’re doing, what may occur tomorrow. Eastern cultures take a longer view, thus the pan-Asian tradition of each generation sacrificing for the good of future ones.

Perhaps that’s why western governments tend to be transitory. The combination of democracy and individualism produces governments that can change sharply every few years, while Asian countries tend toward stable, more autocratic and therefore, predictable societies. The same is true for the way people relate to their families and ancestors. The point is, our planet is split into groups that think about their lives very differently from each other. Those differences struck me in a surprising and unusual way this month.

Consider the idea of threats to our existence. Our news media have reported them at four very different levels in the last few weeks. In the United States, we’ve seen a record number of mass shootings so far in 2023. Gunviolencearchive.com reports 78 deaths and 176 injuries that also changed the trajectories of the lives of the thousands of people they touched. Politically, we hear cries from both sides – from the left that the MAGA movement is an existential threat to democracy, and from the right, that progressivism is a threat to individual rights.

At the international level, the world is struggling to come to terms with a recalcitrant Russia that seems determined to pursue its war in Ukraine, regardless of how many other nations are united against it, raising the specter of the existential threat of nuclear extinction we’ve lived with since World War 2. And just in the last few days, we were reminded of an even worse threat that effects us all, one that makes all the rest seem petty and almost trivial, and reminds us that everything really is connected to everything else in ways we rarely think about.

The effect of the death of every person from needless gun violence spreads like ripples in a pond to friends, relatives, and everyone who sees it played out endlessly in the media. Political divisions have split our country into opposing armed camps bent on destroying each other. The war in Ukraine already affects a billion people in North America and Europe – we’re all involved whether we like it or not. But two days ago, I began to see all that differently.

Early this week, a Ukrainian telescope maker and amateur astronomer, who had previously discovered the first known interstellar comet, made another startling discovery. Gennadiy Borisov, working in Russian-occupied Crimea, discovered a previously unknown asteroid the size of an SUV, in near-Earth space. A couple of nights ago, it passed within 2,200 miles of Earth, the closest near-collision with a significant astronomical body in modern times. We were never in danger from the asteroid, and had it entered our atmosphere, it likely would have turned into a spectacular fireball that sprayed a few chunks of rock into the South Atlantic.

But – in 2013, an asteroid roughly three times its size created a shock wave over southern Russia that shattered windows for hundreds of miles. What if this new asteroid had been even bigger, and it had been on a collision course with Earth while a battle for control of Crimea was underway, preventing Borisov from discovering it? What if, unchalenged, it impacted Kyiv, Moscow, Berlin, or Paris? Millions could have died, with consequences affecting the entire planet.

Western religions tell us God works in mysterious ways to effect His plan for us. Eastern philosophies say basically the same thing, attributing those effects to the unknown forces that control the universe. I’m struck by the connectedness of it all, and that makes me wonder if our priorities are all wrong. Perhaps we’re focused on the wrong things, fighting the wrong battles, when we should be concentrating our resources on the long-term survival and welfare of all of us.  

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doomsday

Alan Zendell, January 24, 2023

Several scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War 2 established the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and its iconic Doomsday Clock after atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Midnight on the Doomsday Clock represents the annihilation of life on Earth, and every year since 1947, scientists have reset the Clock’s time to reflect current world conditions. Originally, the Clock was used as a signpost for the risk of nuclear war, but in recent years the time resets have also reflected the incidence of plagues and pandemics, the likelihood of biological warfare, the condition of the world food supply, climate change, and the stability of major governments.

When the Soviet Union exploded its first hydrogen bomb in 1953, the Doomsday Clock was set to two minutes to midnight, the first time it had been that close to The End. As the Cold War dragged on, the minute hand gradually receded until, after arms limitation treaties were put in place and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, it was set to seventeen minutes to midnight. Since then, however, the rise of terrorism, nine-eleven, and ever-increasing tensions with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, caused the time to creep back toward midnight.

In 2018, nuclear tensions and inaction on mitigating climate change resulted in the clock being set to two minutes to midnight for the second time, where it remained in 2019. Trump’s trade war, the weakening of NATO, and a huge increase in cyber-attacks and the spread of false information caused the Bulletin to reset the clock to 100 seconds to midnight in 2020; COVID and its resulting impact on world economies kept it there through 2022. Today, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the daily risk of escalation of that conflict came home to roost, as the Doomsday Clock was set to ninety seconds to midnight for 2023, the closest it has ever been to total annihilation.

Does that mean we’re doomed? Certainly not. The Doomsday Clock is a metaphor, but one we ignore at our peril. In the minds of some of our most brilliant scientists, we are closer to destroying ourselves than ever before. The good news is that Europe and the NATO alliance are more united than they’ve been since the Berlin Airlift in 1948. That’s surely a better situation than one in which Putin is allowed to create havoc throughout Europe, with China, Iran, and North Korea licking their lips in anticipation of the fall of the West. But it also increases the risk of direct confrontation between the world’s nuclear powers, and Putin rattles his nuclear sabers every time his military suffers a setback in Ukraine.

There are also a lot of other ominous signs. Since Trump’s MAGA movement took hold, our democracy has been under siege, and it’s not just in America. Hungary leans more toward Fascism every year. That and the recent attempted coup in Brazil, mimicking Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election are warnings we can’t afford to disregard. If you’ve felt that the world seemed to be spinning out of control lately, perhaps what you’ve been sensing is the minute hand moving ominously closer to 12:00.

We don’t have to look beyond our own borders to see worrisome signs. America is in the throes of major change, and it’s impossible to know where it will lead in the end. Will MAGA recede into the annals of history, or in the worst case, will it come storming back to wreck our democratic institutions? Less chilling, but still very dangerous, is the likelihood that our political divisiveness will paralyze our ability to act decisively, or worse, convince our allies that they can no longer rely on our leadership. If the newly elected Republican leadership in the House is willing to threaten to limit military aid to Ukraine, to bring us to the edge of default, and to prevent any meaningful legislation from being passed, that can only embolden our enemies, and emboldened enemies are prone to making rash decisions that blow up in everyone’s face.

We could take the view that there’s nothing we can do to keep the Clock from ticking toward midnight, but that would be a tragic mistake. There’s a lot we can do as individual Americans, because America is the most important stabilizing force in the world. We must find a way to silence those who seek public office, not to defend our Constitution, but to undermine it for their own profit and power. Pundits like to tell us all politics is local, but if fringe districts with petty grievances keep putting people in Congress who don’t even recognize the sanctity of our elections, then maybe we are doomed, after all. Even the cockroaches might not survive this time.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Land of Opportunity

Alan Zendell, January 19, 2023

Once upon a time, there was a mythical place called America, where the free and the brave lived, to which everyone looked as the Land of Opportunity. Each generation of Americans, especially those not far removed from immigrant status, lived the promise that their children would have more and live better than they did. In an evil, oppressive world, America was where the good guys lived. Flush from victory over the Nazis and other Fascists, it was the savior of the Free World. It and its neighbor, Canada, were the only major nations that were relatively untouched by the war, no bombed-out cities or devastated industries, and no one could threaten them because only America had the atomic bomb.

In school, I learned a sanitized version of America’s history of slavery and genocide, and the Russians soon had thermonuclear weapons of their own. Third world countries who America claimed as allies turned out to be supplicants run by brutal dictators we helped keep in power. After revolutions in countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran, after the French were evicted from Indochina (Vietnam) leaving the vacuum we foolishly filled, and after our “friends” in Saudi Arabia allowed the ISIS movement to gestate and flourish, culminating in nine-eleven, the myth of America was replaced by reality.

Still, conditions in most of the world were so bad for so many millions, people continued to flock to America in droves, turning it browner, yellower, and blacker each year, and we learned some truths about ourselves. We are not homogeneous in our openness and generosity. We do not universally welcome others with open arms and treat everyone as equals, nor do we all believe everyone should have the opportunities we have.

Among the people who first recognized that was Roger Ailes, an ambitious television executive with a talent for reading and influencing masses of people. Ailes perceived that much of America felt disenfranchised, left out by the wave of progressivism that was leveling the playing field, promoting education and health care systems, and building a national retirement system. He understood that the disaffected third of America was comprised of two disparate groups: the wealthy, who feared they would have to finance all that progressivism, since only they had the resources to pay for it; and at the other end of the spectrum, evangelists, racists, white supremacists, xenophobes, misogynists, extremists, anarchists, the chronically unemployed, and everyone who felt cheated by “the system.”

All of them, and this was Ailes’ true genius, were angry and looking for someone to blame for their circumstances, and many of them were well armed. He convinced Ruppert Murdoch to create the Fox News Channel, which wouldn’t be about news or journalistic integrity, but a propaganda machine to activate and energize the angry masses. His final stroke of genius was to recruit Donald Trump to lead his social revolution.

Remember how shocked we were when Trump won the presidency? Remember how it felt to realize that more than a third of us supported everything Ailes and Trump stood for, and they were able to stir up enough anger and hatred for the Clintons among the rest of the population that suddenly America wasn’t sure who it was anymore? And what did progressives and decent moral people do? They screamed in ineffectual protest, hoping America would figure out what a terrible mistake it had made and that Trump would ultimately destroy himself, if he didn’t destroy America first. As we know, he came dangerously close to destroying America, even as his own star waned.

Now, we’re faced with the destruction of another myth, that once Trump lost power, everything would return to normal. We made a good start, electing Joe Biden in 2020 and giving him a razor-thin majority in both houses of Congress. There’s nothing like dodging a bullet to make us realize how fragile everything we hold dear is, but the bullet of Trumpism turned out to be a fragmentation grenade spewing shrapnel everywhere it touched, and those fragments may be as deadly as Trump.

One is Marjorie Taylor Greene, who proclaims that she represents the face of the Republican Party, not the fringe her critics relegate her to. Another is Matt Gaetz, who after leading the movement to disembowel House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, after getting concessions McCarthy swore he would never accede to, mocked him publicly, claiming that the only reason he stopped demanding changes was there was nothing more to ask for. Our House Speaker, who is second in line for the presidency, is completely emasculated and serves at the mercy of a gang who supported the January 6th insurrection and refused to acknowledge the election of President Biden.

I probably should have begun with the standard disclaimer – any resemblance between this America and the mythical one I grew up in is purely coincidental.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Classified Documents

Alan Zendell, January 13, 2023

It’s obvious on its face that no matter how you feel about them, Donald Trump and Joe Biden are entirely different kinds of people. The kerfuffles over the handling of classified documents is but the latest example.

Throughout his business life, Trump consistently trod the line between legal and illegal, right and wrong, moral and unethical. He has been sued countless times by people who worked for him and accused him of not paying them for completed work, and by people who paid him for something (enrollment at Trump University, for example) and claimed they’d been defrauded. Trump, for his part, has always bragged that creating chaos and opacity and graying the line between right and wrong were evidence of his brilliant business acumen.

Throughout his decades of public service, Biden has at times been less than perfect, his two most memorable lapses being the infamous plagiarism scandal that sank his first attempt to run for president and his regrettable failure to shield attorney and witness Anita Hill from vile personal attacks during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing. While one can never be certain everyone told the truth, the plagiary incident appears to have been the fault of Biden’s speechwriter. No one has ever suggested that Biden was a knowing participant in the incident. And as much as I’ve admired Biden over the years, the Anita Hill incident was clearly a failure on his part, possibly the low point of his career.

In comparing Trump and Biden, it’s clear that their failures and errors were of entirely different natures. With Trump, pushing the envelope, brash, narcissistic behavior, and a general lack of respect for rules, standards of conduct, and other people is a way of life. In Biden we have what I believe is a highly moral, committed politician who does not lean toward extremes, but like the rest of us, is human and fallible. While Trump often doesn’t appear to know the difference between truth and lies, Biden’s openness and sometimes careless seeming, off-the-cuff frankness caused the media to label him a gaffe machine.

We’ll have to wait for the special counsels’ investigations of the classified documents incidents to know the details of what actually occurred, but we already have clear indications of what may have happened. Trump’s problems occurred when the National Archives and Records Administration investigated why many documents that were public property and required by federal law to be preserved under its auspices appeared to be missing.

During more than a year of back-and-forth, as investigators continually turned up more evidence of mishandling, Trump: claimed the FBI had no right to raid his office, though they clearly did; asserted that as a former president, the documents were his personal property; repeatedly said he had returned all documents requested by NARA, although subsequent searches turned up cartons filled with them; and when it was finally clear that there was no record of him ever de-classifying them, absurdly claimed that he had de-classified them with his mind. When Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel, Trump screamed it was part of the never-ceasing witch hunt aimed at discrediting him and evidence of the Democrats weaponizing the government against him.

When Biden’s own people discovered a small number of documents marked classified while cleaning out the Wilmington office he occupied after leaving office as Vice President, they immediately reported the incident to NARA and turned the documents over as required by law. When additional documents were found locked up at Biden’s home, his attorneys did the same thing, and when Garland assigned a special counsel to look into the matter, neither Biden nor any of his people objected. Notably, Biden didn’t claim to have telepathic powers.

In another interesting contrast, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has repeatedly supported Trump’s accusations that the investigation of his documents was politically motivated and characterized the appointment of a special prosecutor as window dressing.  In the Biden case, he claims that the appointment of a special prosecutor is simply a tactic to head off a Congressional inquiry.

It’s impossible for anyone to predict the outcome of either investigation, but Garland has been clear and consistent, treating them equally, even though one involves a former president who is now a private citizen and the other is a sitting president. It’s worth noting, too, that as president, Trump often claimed he was above the law. Biden has always said no one is above the law, and though his White House has been accused of handling the issue clumsily, there has been no public denial of wrongdoing. The White House is letting the Department of Justice do its job.

Whichever way the two investigations turn out, the mishandling of classified documents is a serious matter that must be exempt from politics.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frankenstein’s Monster

Alan Zendell, January 6, 2023

We all know the story of Frankenstein, the obsessed scientist who creates a living creature from used body parts. There are different versions, the original Mary Shelley novel, and four Hollywood movie screenplays, but they all have some things in common. The creature, known as the monster because of its grotesque appearance, is wrongly accused of murder, driven mad by alienation, persecution, and rage, and becomes a dispenser of death and destruction. Some versions suggest that the monster ultimately turns on his creator, but it’s actually the creator who turns on it and concludes that it must be destroyed.

We can learn a few things by looking at Donald Trump’s MAGA movement through the eyes of Mary Shelley. Trump created his movement largely from the discards of society, people who felt disaffected and disenfranchised, who had retreated into a variety of cult-like settings. From survivalists to ad hoc militias to xenophobes, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis to uncared-for PTSD-damaged war veterans, Trump patched together a movement of angry people looking for someone to blame for their circumstances. The resulting grotesque political monster swept Trump into the presidency and attempted to take over the Republican Party.

No allegory is perfect, and while Frankenstein’s monster is driven mad by being falsely accused of murder, Trump’s monster is guilty as charged. Trump dreamed of becoming a Vladimir Putin-like autocrat, with his monster protecting him and keeping him in power. But like the fate of most mentally ill narcissists, his dream of wielding power and controlling his MAGA movement was delusional. He motivated his misfits to attempt a violent overthrow of the Congress and the Constitution. But having once experienced the heady corrupting force of power and notoriety, the monster realized it no longer needed him. And Trump made things worse by abandoning his minions to the justice system and ripping them off to the tune of nearly a billion dollars in contributions whose only purpose was to enrich Trump further and cover his legal fees.

The 2022 midterm election and the attempt to seat the newly elected Congress show us what happens when monsters are allowed to run free. Like Doctor Frankenstein, Trump found the monster he hoped would bring him fame and fortune was beyond his control. Having enabled it and encouraged it to release its fury against the government and the clear majority of Americans who rejected it at the polls, he is slipping into decline while his followers wreak havoc in Congress, threatening to turn what was a barely functional body into a carcass.

This is being further enabled by another, not overly smart narcissist who craves being elected Speaker of the House, while the hard core remnants of Trump’s monster vow to prevent that from happening. While there is great entertainment value in pitching Kevin McCarthy against the uncompromising MAGA holdouts and Trump himself, the drama is being played out on live television to a worldwide audience, with pundits informing us that until a Speaker is elected, the legislative branch of our government is essentially offline. That means no action on the debt ceiling or on appropriations to keep government agencies, including the Defense Department and the military operating.

Because McCarthy, like Trump, cares only about his own power and position, the priorities of governing have been derailed. Because McCarthy, like Trump, is a man of limited vision, and one who despite his own view of himself as a master negotiator and deal-maker is showing himself to be incompetent at both, the victim of MAGA’s war against the government will be the United States of America. If McCarthy is ultimately elected speaker, and reports of the things he has given MAGA in exchange for their votes are correct, we will need new words to describe the Congress’ dysfunction.

Stalemate, impasse, and logjam won’t do anymore, because they all suggest temporary situations that can be fixed. If McCarthy empowers Matt Geatz and his crew as he is reported to have done, he will have given them the tools to accomplish their main objective: to tear down the federal government. Every one of the ultra MAGA rebels holding the House hostage voted not to certify the election of President Biden, and several were directly implicated in the January 6th insurrection. They cheered when their former master recently suggested that the Constitution be suspended so he could be reinstated as President.

If like many Americans, you believed that the fading of Donald Trump’s political star would signal a return to normalcy, think again.  We still have a Supreme Court that is seriously out of step with more than two thirds of America, and we have a spineless narcissist on the verge of become Speaker of the House who is willing to give the monster all the power it needs to wreck our political system.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Intraparty Warfare

Alan Znedell, January 4, 2023

Politics is cyclic. The pendulum of power swings between parties every twenty years or so. Political parties adopt sacred, non-negotiable ideologies, only to reverse themselves as their self-interests change, and parties appear unified or in complete disarray as cycles evolve. For most of the post-Reagan era, it was the Democrats who seemed unable to put a united front together, but that all changed when Donald Trump turned to politics.

Ever since Trump began preaching his unique brand of divisive, morally vague extremism, the Democrats have been more united than ever while the Republican Party has been in a state of civil war, but the seeds for their current problems took root with Ronald Reagan and Grover Norquist almost forty years ago and evolved into the Tea Party in 2009.

Wikipedia describes the Tea Party Movement as calling for lower taxes and a reduction of the national debt and federal budget deficit, support for small government, and opposition to government-sponsored universal healthcare. That sounds like standard libertarian, populist doctrine, but reading between the lines revealed a more sinister, un-American agenda. Achieving those objectives meant severe cuts in discretionary government spending, most of which is targeted at helping lower income people, non-whites, new immigrants and refugees, and women’s health issues. Many people claimed that reading between the lines of its public image revealed that the Tea Party was elitist, racist, xenophobic, and misogynist.

Trump’s contribution was taking the skeletons out of the closet. Rather than pretending the Tea Party’s principles implied a desire to govern responsibly for all Americans, he reveled in bashing both legal and illegal immigration, acknowledging that he was blatantly attempting to assure that nonwhites never dominate our elections. His economic proposals were designed mostly to preserve and increase the wealth of the already wealthiest Americans. His attempt to eradicate Obamacare was merely an attempt to thwart a massive transfer of wealth from the rich to the non-rich. And Trump’s pandering to evangelists was nothing more than a promise to deprive women of their right to manage the health of their own bodies.

Trump himself may leave the world of politics, disgraced and bouncing between criminal and bankruptcy courts, but he leaves behind a dangerously stacked Supreme Court and a gang of irresponsible rebels high on their own notoriety, who show total disinterest in governing. With the rest of the world, we’re watching the results play out on television, as the Republican Party airs its dirty laundry trying elect a House Speaker.

What we are witnessing is a testament to hypocrisy and the result of a once-major party disintegrating because of the lingering influence of one man whose narcissistic lust for power was never concerned with collateral damage. There is no clearer representative of that hypocrisy than Kevin McCarthy. Bill Clinton’s political enemies liked to label him a waffler, because he sometimes changed his mind about serious issues of policy, and I always wondered if Americans preferred leaders who marched in lockstep to outmoded ideas long after they were proved unworkable.

Kevin McCarthy is a different kind of waffler. He floats in the wind based solely on what he believes to be in his self-interest. Concerning the darkest day in the last 160 years of our history, the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol, believing that Trump was guilty of inciting the insurrection, Kevin McCarthy, who had always courted Trump’s support and endorsement, spoke out publicly condemning him. For a brief moment, he seemed to rise above politics, looking like someone worthy of his party’s leadership. But within days, when Trump’s immediate demise no longer looked assured, there was McCarthy in Mar-a-Lago kneeling at his master’s feet again.

The best we can say about McCarthy is that he disagrees in principle with the unconscionable ravings of the Trumpers who are preventing him from becoming Speaker, but comparing him with Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, and Marjorie Taylor Greene is a frighteningly low bar. Until a potential leader of courage and integrity emerges to break the stalemate, Republicans have to choose between a known evil and a man who has shown he cannot be trusted to stand in support of the Constitution when doing so would threaten his political power.

However this turns out, it will at best be an embarrassment, a display for the entire world to see how dysfunctional our experiment in democracy can be. It’s appalling. It’s discouraging. It’s nauseating. As I write this, the House of Representative has failed to elect a Speaker after six attempts, while on the other half of our television screens, President Joe Biden stands with Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) on the bridge connecting Cincinnati, OH with Covington, KY, demonstrating that bipartisan government works far better than the politics of hate and division.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy New Year, 2023??

Alan Zendell, January 1, 2023

After we experienced a whole winter’s worth of weather in December, after Ukraine, with massive assistance from NATO, held off an invasion by what everyone thought was a hugely superior Russian military, and after two years of testimony linking Donald Trump to the January 6, 2021 insurrection, we ceremoniously said goodbye to 2022. We enter 2023 uncertain about what will follow, as well as by the triple threat of COVID, influenza, and a surge in RSV cases, and whether a viable Republican Party can emerge from its internecine struggle. Add a couple of other minor issues, like the survival of American democracy and the risk of a recession while the Parties rev up for the 2024 election, and we set the stage for an interesting year.

There were many surprises in 2022, and there are likely more in store this year. Despite more than a quarter of Americans inexplicably believing Donald Trump should still be president and rampant skepticism about whether our legal system can respond effectively to his criminal and unconstitutional behavior, 2023 will almost surely see the unprecedented spectacle of a former president indicted for multiple felonies. Today, outgoing representative Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans with the courage and integrity to serve on the January 6th Committee, said Trump must be charged and prosecuted. If not, Kinzinger fears for the future of our country. He said if what Trump did wasn’t criminal, he didn’t know what was, and if Trump isn’t held accountable, the bar for future presidents will be that it’s acceptable for a president to attempt to retain power by any means necessary.

In 2023, the world must learn to deal with a severely diminished Russia which is still led by a paranoid autocrat with a huge ego who has the capacity to wreak nuclear havoc. Vladimir Putin often threatens to use nuclear weapons when his back is to the wall. The world knows how ruthless he is, but is he crazy enough to unleash nuclear war? Are there enough checks and balances within Russia’s government or society to prevent him from doing so? These are serious questions, but they’re not things the average American can influence.

We would be well advised to focus on what we can control, chief among which is the future of our democracy that’s under assault from multiple directions. One thing we can control is the movement among Trumper-dominated state legislatures to rig elections in favor of Republicans. Both parties are guilty of gerrymandering, which has the affect of magnifying votes cast for one party, enabling it to maintain majority control without ever receiving fifty percent of the votes cast, but Republicans use it more abusively than Democrats. The same legislatures are intent on passing laws that undermine our constitutional right to elections determined by voters rather than partisan politicians, but the courts are beginning to take notice of these threats.

2023 will either see the foundations of our democracy strengthened or left vulnerable to politicians who are more interested in preserving their power than defending the Constitution. Congress took a giant step toward the former when it included language in the 2023 omnibus spending bill to assure that an incumbent president can never again attempt to overturn an election as Trump did in 2020. That should clarify any gray area in the Constitution, but if politics is allowed to derail criminal investigations of the actions by Trump and his supporters leading up to the January 6th assault on the Capitol, everyone who believes insurrection is an appropriate way to retain power will be vindicated and enabled.

Since it appears that both the U. S. Department of Justice and the state of Georgia are heading toward prosecuting Trump, we should turn our attention to the upcoming Congressional session. In a fascinating twist, fear among traditional institutionalist Republicans that Trump supporters will dominate and likely destroy their party is forging an unlikely political alliance between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Joe Biden. For all his obstructionist tactics, doing everything possible to thwart efforts of Presidents Biden and Obama to pass bipartisan legislation, McConnell appears to value the Constitution over the Trumpian notion of clinging to power at any cost.

With House leadership in question and Kevin McCarthy having to constantly bend to the will of the more rabid Trump supporters to gain their vote for Speaker, McConnell and McCarthy are on a collision course. As his cooperation on getting the 2023 spending bill passed showed, McConnell wants our government to function, and he’s signaling that he will not permit Trump supporters in the House to return Congress to its dysfunctional recent history.

Americans did their part in the midterm elections, telling our leaders that most of us want democracy and a fair, effective government, but the fight isn’t over. 2023 will likely be a pivotal time in our history, and it’s up to all of us to assure that it turns out well.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Hero For Our Time

Alan Zendell, December 22, 2022

As an undergraduate required to study history and philosophy, I was struck by the writings of the early nineteenth century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, specifically, the idea that has come to be known as the Hegelian Hero. In Hegel’s philosophy, heroes are individuals who have been selected by the world spirit to play a pivotal role in history. They are always with us, but only emerge as heroes when required by circumstances. Often, those who ultimately become heroes arrive, seemingly out of nowhere, but in each case the hero is exactly the right person for the situation and time.

Often, a hero is someone we would never have predicted would turn out to be one. The first in my lifetime was Winston Churchill, who throughout his early life was more of a gadfly than anything else. While he held many high-ranking offices, he was never a media darling or favorite. Rather, he was garrulous and combative, often switching allegiances and parties, until he found himself in the shoes of a not terribly popular Prime Minister defending Britain against the Nazis. Suddenly, he was the only man for the time, a charismatic figure who served as the rallying point for the Allies, without whom the second world war might have turned out quite differently.

Enter Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. A student of history and the law, there was nothing inevitable about his current role as president and inspirational leader of his country. He didn’t set out to be either, instead capitalizing on his skills as a comedic actor and communicator to become one of his nation’s most popular entertainers. A year after Russia attacked and annexed Crimea, (we sometimes forget that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine actually began in 2014,) Netflix recognized Zelensky’s potential and produced nearly sixty episodes of Servant of the People, in which Zelensky starred as a high school history teacher who was fed up with the corruption and economic problems of his fledgling nation.

Ukraine is barely in its adolescence, having come into being as an independent sovereign state after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And Zelensky’s Netflix character, after a video of one his anti-government rants goes viral on Youtube, is drafted to run against a corrupt president in the next election and wins by a landslide. As a fictional president, he has no idea how to govern, but he never stops fighting for what he believes, and we hear Zelensky the actor prophetically saying and doing the same things he does as the real life president defending his county against Russian aggression.

When Zelensky became president of Ukraine in 2019, other world leaders expected him to be the same clownish, unprepared leader he portrayed on television. American President Donald Trump assumed he could use Zelensky as a pawn and extort him into having Hunter Biden prosecuted. Vladimir Putin saw Zelensky’s inauguration as an opportunity to expand his takeover of Ukraine. But when put to the test, Zelensky turned out to be the classic Hegelian Hero. When President Biden offered to evacuate him from Kyiv, last February, after Russia’s massive invasion began, Zelensky said he needed ammunition, not a ride. Both Biden and Putin were surprised, as was the rest of the world that expected Ukraine to roll over and become subservient, once again, to Russia.

While both Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken deserve the credit for re-unifying and strengthening our alliance with Europe, none of that would have happened had Zelensky not turned out to be the magical charismatic leader we now see him to be. Zelensky wore his cloak of leadership as if he were born to it, characterizing Ukraine as the last bulwark of democracy fighting against the scourge of autocratic imperialism. He warned Europe and America that if they didn’t defend Ukraine against Putin’s ambitions, if they reacted as Neville Chamberlain had when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938, they would be next, and the result could be World War 3.

Zelensky is undoubtedly this century’s Churchill, rallying his 44 million citizens to defend and repel the massively superior Russian invasion force when the entire world expected them to be defeated in days. Three hundred days later, he stood with Biden at the White House and addressed our Congress in a speech televised around the world. And he did so convincingly, with complete humility and gratitude. In the eyes of the western media, he is an international hero with his finger in the dike that protects democracy from destruction.

I’m not easily inspired. I distrust charisma and snake oil salesmen. But Volodymr Zelensky has fully captured my imagination. Time Magazine named him Man of the Year. I’d nominate him for Hero of the Century.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fusion and Fission

Alan Zendell, December 14, 2022

Last week’s watershed achievement by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California could ultimately save our planet. It was a major step forward in the search for the holy grail of physics: unlimited, cheap, clean energy. That means no carbon footprint, no dangerous nuclear waste, and no need for uranium mines. It’s not just a fantasy; it’s real, but assuming the Livermore breakthrough means the realization of the dream of commercially viable fusion generators is like believing a baby taking its first steps is guaranteed to grow up to be an Olympic track star.

Scientists have understood the basic theory of nuclear fusion for a century. Fusion means forcing small atoms to fuse together into larger ones, releasing huge amounts of energy as a byproduct. But nothing in nature is free, and producing a fusion reaction requires a huge investment of energy to trigger the process. The key is whether the amount of energy produced by fusion exceeds the amount needed to sustain its production. That’s what happened for the first time at Livermore on December 5th.

Asserting that fusion could save life on Earth is not an exaggeration. It would make fossil fuels like coal and oil obsolete and irrelevant politically and diplomatically. Fifty years ago, the middle eastern oil-rich nations attempted to take the rest of the world hostage by controlling the flow and price of oil. In 2022, a major part of Russian President Putin’s calculation before invading Ukraine was that Europe’s dependence on Russian oil would undermine support for defending Ukraine. Control of some of the largest oil reserves on earth also played significant roles in the Iran-Iraq war and the first Gulf war that followed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Take oil out of the equation and none of those wars need have occurred. Equally important, if scientists had proved the viability of getting energy from fusion during the Manhattan Project at the same time they proved that nuclear fission could result in a super-weapon, the world would have switched to fusion power in time to avert much of the effect of climate change. Climate cycles are a natural part of a planet’s evolution, and they have repeated many times since Earth’s creation. Humans didn’t cause the current crisis of global warming, but our use of fossil fuels and fertilizers greatly accelerated it. Fusion power could have averted much of that acceleration, and current technology like carbon-eating vegetation might freeze the process in its tracks in the future.

If you’re wondering how this is different from what is commonly known as nuclear energy, they’re like night and day. While the energy from fusion results from combining atoms into larger ones, nuclear fission is about splitting very large radioactive atoms into smaller ones and emitting huge amounts of radiation along with heat. An uncontrolled fission reaction is an atomic bomb. Controlled ones enable us to produce energy from nuclear power plants, the essential term being “controlled.”

Many of us recall the horror of Chernobyl an Threer Mile Island, and the fighting in Ukraine around Europe’s largest nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia, renewed those fears. But even without potential nuclear disasters, fission-driven plants are problematic: they produce huge amounts of radioactive waste, some of which has half lives of thousands of years, and they depend on large untapped deposits of uranium. The countries that possess most of the world’s uranium reserves are Kazakhstan, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, China, Ukraine, Tanzania, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, and Russia. The United States is notably missing from the list, but fortunately, Canada’s reserves are second only to Kazakhstan’s, and the first four countries on the list have well over half of the world’s known total. As the demand for energy grows, the geopolitical implications of these numbers are enormous.

Fusion power could relieve us of those stresses, but lest we get carried away, the same scientists who are celebrating their recent success warn that a commercially viable fusion generator could be thirty years away, and they won’t be in general use until the last decades of this century. Still, if we survive the next few decades, think of what the future might look like. Imagine a world-wide power grid fueled by the hydrogen in water. A fusion generator could use hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium to meet almost all of our future energy needs.

Remember how clear the air was during the COVID lockdown? Even cleaner air could be the norm with fusion, with corresponding reductions in the incidence and seriousness of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Acid rain would be largely a thing of the past, and imagine the stabilizing effect on our economy of fixed, known energy costs independent of weather, politics, and international disputes. And no more concerns about melting ice caps and rising sea levels. It sounds like a pretty bright future.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dysfunctional Government

Alan Zendell, December 5th, 2022

In recent decades, divisiveness and extremist politics have taken an increasing toll on our government’s ability to function. Despite warnings that the government itself could become a casualty, that trend, worsened by the intraparty struggle between Trumpers and RINOs, continued into the Biden administration. Yet, our seriously underestimated President, with able assistance from the House and Senate Majority leaders, has put the lie to the dysfunctional label.

President Biden and his first Congress have accomplished more legislatively in two years than any administration since FDR’s first term. What’s been done is truly remarkable, given that Democrats needed every vote in their Senate caucus to get anything done. If you haven’t noticed until now, recent actions by Congress and the White House should convince you. With a potentially devastating rail strike on the horizon, Leaders Pelosi and Schumer mobilized their members and got an emergency bill to the president’s desk in days that codified the tentative agreement reached last month by railroad and union reps into law.

Averting a railroad strike was a special circumstance, but it demonstrates that when it is most important, Democrats are capable of governing. Even more impressive is that more than a third of Republicans in the House supported the bill while a handful of radical progressives opposed it. That tells us that somewhere in the massive chaos that is today’s Republican Party, there remains a core of responsible lawmakers. For them, at least, there is a line between partisan politics and their constitutional duty to act responsibly in the interests of our country that they won’t cross.

I believe we’re about to see things shift back toward normalcy. The extremism and divisiveness that was so appealing to Trump’s most passionate supporters and which has dominated the Republican Party since 2016 are nearing the end of their run. Most Republicans never supported them, but political movements have enormous inertia, and getting the system to revert back to normal is almost as difficult as reversing an avalanche. Until now, the majority of Republicans haven’t had the courage to speak out. They either cut and run when the going got rough or they retreated into a self-protective stance to assure their re-election.

Now that Trump can be seen to be the self-serving monster he is and the justice system appears close to holding him accountable, the solid wall of resistance to actually governing instead of squabbling like school children is crumbling. The country has had two years to evaluate Biden’s presidency against the four years of Trump’s. And as almost all Americans put the chaos of 2020, the lies and the false allegations of a stolen election in their rear-view mirrors, those things are all Trump has left to talk about.

I won’t repeat all the details, but it’s fair to say that most well-informed reasonable people can see how much better off we all are with Biden at the helm. Biden’s policies have caused a remarkable economic recovery, begun reversing the trend toward outsourcing manufacturing to other countries, initiated the first real defense against the effects of climate change, and certainly not least of all, restored dignity and moral clarity to our government while regaining the respect we once had internationally. In my view, he may also be responsible for stifling the re-emergence of the Soviet Union while it was stillborn. A weaker leader or one who wasn’t motivated to reunite and strengthen the NATO alliance would have left us in a situation in which the risk of nuclear war or catastrophic economic problems increased daily. It’s easy to forget all Biden has achieved, because he does it without fanfare, running his mouth in self-aggrandizement, or offending decent people everywhere.

The struggle for integrity and effective government are clearly nearing their endgame as Trump struggles to retain a shred of credibility with anyone not part of his rabid base. If any American who cares about the future of the country hasn’t already grown sick of everything related to Trump, his actions this week must surely cause a serious backlash. In taking up the cause of every extremist group that wants to undermine our constitution and overthrow the government, Trump now advocates terminating the Constitution so that the 2020 election can be declared invalid! All the cliches about cornered rats take on new meaning in light of Trump’s latest antics.

Trump isn’t responsible the decades of increasing dysfunction in our government, but he exacerbates and uses it because he can only win in times of chaos and confusion. With Trump out of the picture, extremists at both ends of the political spectrum will still have their voices, but they will no longer dominate our lives and news cycles. I even foresee a day when Congress has a positive approval rating.

Posted in Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment