La La Land and the loving lap of capitalism

Show me the money: 

How post-Depression movie musicals choose the dollar bill over happy endings

Show me the money: La La Land and the loving lap of capitalism
La La Land (Credit: Summit Entertainment)

From its opening number — a cross between a restrained “Gotta Dance” from “Singin’ in the Rain” and a demure “Hot Lunch” from “Fame”— “La La Land” promises a Hollywood musical about fools who dare to dream and dreamers who dare to be fooled, both about love and career, though never the twain shall meet. From the moment the nameless hopefuls hopefully leap from their cars on a stalled Los Angeles freeway and begin singing about how they left their small towns for Tinseltown and Emma Stone gives Ryan Gosling the finger, director/screenwriter Damien Chazelle promises both screwball comedy and a nostalgic paean to the gilded age of musicals past. For the most part, he delivers.

Listen, no one will ever be Fred and Ginger. As my wife would say, Fred Astaire is the Michael Jordan of dance. There is, however, a certain dreamy, floating quality to Mia and Seb — Stone and Gosling — that is more reminiscent of Astaire movies than, say, the deranged earnestness of Garland and Rooney. The hopeful hopefuls trying to make it in the big town and put on a show. And by make it, I mean, make hay and make hay. Let’s remember that Fred Astaire movies were big at the height of the Depression. In fact, all movie musicals of this era are about class and entitlement. (See “Gold Diggers of 1933.”) Thus the obsession with the rich people falling down in the mud and the idea of the madcap heiress in a gilded cage or the girl who struggles as a dance instructor becoming a big star (“Swing Time”). Interestingly, aside from the Golden Age — the forties and fifties — the leaning of the Hollywood musical is more rom-trag than rom-com. For one, the music people were listening to on the radio had changed. “Hair” happened. While Broadway is mostly built on nostalgia and happy endings, “Hair” was a takedown of the establishment that basically ruined musical theater for the next 20 years. Meanwhile, “Grease,” a puff-piece valentine about a nice girl who puts on hot pants so everyone will like her, stole America’s left ventricle and reminded us how fun it was to be a slut and a delinquent and then get into a car and fly away.

When you really think about it, the “Grease” blip makes total sense after Watergate, as “La La Land” does in the era of 45. America hated all agents of power. Hollywood began banking on the fact that people were trapped in a nostalgic reverie of epic proportions. People knew America was in the shitter. The country witnessed an expansion of an earlier trend from pre-Depression capitalism that operated in a narrow band of faith. In short, the Depression, put on pause, merely popped up in the seventies. Thus the message of musicals: Democracy is a lie, capitalism is flawed, so forget that sunset, kids.

Capitalism may also be why the ol’ juggling-love-and-career trope rears its seemingly sexist head in “La La Land.” It’s not that Mia should choose a man over vocation as Annie Oakley was forced to in “Annie Get Your Gun,” as much as a bittersweet reminder of what still keeps us apart. How who we were make us who we are and what you have to sacrifice to make it in this lousy world. Is Seb a sellout? Is Mia? Does it matter? In America, the two most coveted dream gigs are movie star and rock star and this film kinda brass-rings it for both, at least from a bank account perspective. Aside from the song “The Fools Who Dream,” one of the most poignant moments in “La La Land” is when Seb listens to Mia talking to her mother on the phone about his lack of work as he gazes sadly at a rust stain on his popcorn ceiling. The rust stain is his stalled career. The death of jazz. Maybe even Hollywood itself.

True, class tension exists in all comedy, especially musical comedy. See Plautus or “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” The low-person-brought-high gives itself over to certain types of story that make it easy for a storyteller to expose a certain tension in certain systems about power and desire. This is what commedia is about. Love and money, the girl and the gold, hearts and dollar signs and the itchy impossibility of trying to get both simultaneously. In “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Millie, a lovable gold digger, comes to the big city to get a job and marry a rich man but instead ends up with a “green-glass love,” AKA the dorky loser who, lucky for her, turns out to be the son of an heiress.

What’s more, as Watergate made America embarrassed about itself, the idea that sad endings were more real and relevant pervaded.” Grit was good. Movie musicals, even those with “happy” endings, moved into complex territory. Even “Sound of Music,” the most successful movie musical pre-Nixon, was a harbinger of bittersweet endings to come — The von Trapps cross the Swiss mountains on foot only, oh wait: all the Jews died in an oven. “Cabaret” is both about the Holocaust and wacky broads who make life out of tragedy. “Chicago” has a happy ending about two vaudevillian murderers who manage to get away with it, and in “Rent,” Mimi, another performer, somehow rises from the dead, though we can only assume this will be short-lived.

In Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge!” we see the entire debate between love and money writ large. Will the hooker with a heart of iron pick the penniless artist or will she sell herself out to the wealthy man? Obviously, we’re supposed to root for Ewan McGregor and hope that Nicole Kidman joins him to starve in a garret. Because rich people are villains and capitalism equals the root of all evil. Money bad. Heart good. Only Nicky Kid dies in a big musical number in front of all of Paris, so not only does the whore die — yeah, yeah— but capitalism dies; so what are we left with? A new kind of story, where the nice rebel boychik gets his start in show biz by writing a tale that will live forever. Welcome to Hollywood, Mr. Arnstein.

“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” is the anti-“Moulin Rouge!” yet with a more rueful intensity. It’s about love and life and what could have been and can never be because of class and family and war. At the end of it all, Geneviève rolls up at Guy’s gas station in a Mercedes looking fab and they have a chat and then they say a wistful goodbye. Snow is falling. He kisses his children. There is, in this film as in “La La Land,” a sense that these characters wound up with the life they needed to have. I mean, Catherine Deneuve pumping gas? Get real. It’s not that they shouldn’t love each other, it’s that they cannot have a happily ever after. What’s romantic about “Umbrellas” is that they tried. . .

Maybe it’s not that love and commerce can’t intermarry, or that the girl can’t get the guy and the gig and the gold. Indeed, the pull of rich versus poor wages a strange war on a country’s heart. Who knows. Maybe they can still be friends.

Emily Jordan is a YA writer living in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyBeJordan.

The discovery of a system with seven “Earth-like” exoplanets

24 February 2017

The detection of a nearby solar system of potentially Earth-like exoplanets orbiting the star Trappist-1 has evoked widespread public interest and enthusiasm. Millions of people have read reports, watched videos and posted on social media about the seven worlds that might have liquid water on their surfaces.

The Trappist-1 system is comprised of seven planets that orbit a nearby ultracool dwarf star (so-called for its comparatively low temperature). Six of the planets have been confirmed to have an Earth-like size, mass and density. None of them have any hydrogen in their atmospheres, further confirmation that these are all terrestrial, rocky worlds like Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Moreover, due to the gravitational interactions between all seven planets and Trappist-1 itself, every world in the system may have liquid water.

Of particular interest is the fact that the planets are very close. They are Earth’s next-door neighbors, relative to the vastness of the universe. Trappist-1 is only 39 light years away—that is, it takes light, traveling at about 300,000 kilometers per second, 39 years to travel the distance. In comparison, the Milky Way galaxy of which our sun is a part has a diameter of 100,000 light years, and it is about 2.5 million light years to its larger companion, the Andromeda galaxy, one of trillions of galaxies in the Universe.

An artist’s rendering of the seven worlds of the Trappist-1 system, shown to scale in both size and distance, as might be seen from Earth with a future telescope. Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Spitzer Space Telescope, Robert Hurt (Spitzer, Caltech)

The planets are so close that, in the not-too-distant future, it should be possible to make far more detailed analyses and even direct observations of exoplanets.

The discovery of these worlds is the most remarkable of a wave of new scientific findings since the first “exoplanet”—a planet outside of our solar system—was discovered around a Sun-like star in the mid-1990s. At the time, while exoplanets had been predicted for nearly four centuries, none had been conclusively detected, let alone directly observed.

Advances in measuring techniques and the use of instruments placed in the orbit around Earth, free of the distortions of the atmosphere, made it possible to detect very slight dips in the brightness of stars. When those dips were observed with regularity, they could be attributed to the motion of planets across the line of sight between the star and the observers.

When the first detection occurred, it opened a whole new realm of astronomy. The gravitational effects of these unseen planets could also be studied, providing evidence of their mass, density and other physical characteristics. Today, not only have scientists detected more than 3,400 exoplanets, the knowledge built up over the past 20 years makes it possible to visualize what these worlds might look like, either from space or from the surface. And with the launching of the James Webb Space Telescope next year, it should be possible to make far more detailed analysis and even direct observation of exoplanets.

Like most significant astronomical advances, the planets’ discovery was an international endeavor. The detection of exoplanets around Trappist-1 began in May 2016, when a team of astronomers used the Chile-based Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST), remotely operated from Belgium and Switzerland, to first observe the star. They discovered three Earth-sized planets orbiting it, with the outermost one likely within the star’s habitable zone.

This encouraged further observations, which were conducted by a series of ground-based telescopes located in Chile, Hawaii, Morocco, Spain and South Africa. The Spitzer Space Telescope was also commissioned to use its higher precision and greater ability to see in the infrared to study the system. When it was discovered that the system had not three, but seven planets, the Hubble Space Telescope was employed to do an initial survey of the planetary atmospheres for hydrogen. Astronomers across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North America, South America and Southeast Asia coordinated their efforts to make sense of the data.

The discovery of a planetary system around Trappist-1 is not merely a piece of luck. It is the confirmation of a scientific hypothesis, first advanced in 1997, that, due to the physics of stellar formation, stars with about a tenth of the mass of the Sun are more likely to have terrestrial-sized planets. Trappist-1 is one of many candidates to be studied using this hypothesis, and the first for which the idea has been borne out.

This scientific breakthrough is the culmination of several centuries of advances in astronomy and physics: the understanding of how solar systems are formed; the analysis of visible light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation; and mathematical methods of analysis used to discover the subtle signals in the data from stellar observations.

Trappist-1 is a demonstration of the power of human cognition, science and reason. It is a powerful rebuke to the incessant contemporary glorification of irrationalism, whether through the cultivation of backwardness and religious prejudice or the promotion of postmodernism and its rejection of objective truth, and a mighty vindication of the materialist understanding of the world, that there are objective laws of nature and that humans can comprehend them.

Among millions of people inspired by such discoveries, there is an instinctive understanding that the methods employed to find the Trappist-1 planets and make other scientific and technical advances should be used to solve social and economic problems, to provide sufficient health care, education, shelter and food for all humanity. How can our society discover seven potentially Earth-like worlds more than 350 trillion kilometers away, yet proceed, through environmental recklessness and nuclear-armed militarism, to destroy the planet on which we live?

The exoplanet discovery was based on collaboration towards a common goal whose driving force was the pursuit of knowledge, not the amassing of insane amounts of personal wealth. This sort of thinking is totally alien to the world’s ruling elite, which flaunts its backwardness, vulgarity, ignorance and parasitism, personified in the figure of Donald Trump.

This discovery highlights another contradiction of modern society. The organization and planning required to produce these results is a testament to humanity’s ability to rationally and scientifically coordinate resources on an international scale. The scientists on the project also had to reject the constant mantra of national chauvinism, espoused by the ruling elites throughout the world. While science probes the seemingly infinite distances of galactic space, humanity remains trapped at home within the prison house of the nation-state system, with barbed-wire fences, wars, invasions, bombings and mass flights of refugees.

The squandering of trillions of dollars, yuan, yen, roubles and euros to enrich a parasitic capitalist elite and to wage war around the globe is one reason why scientific announcements of this order are so rare. Immense resources, material and human, are wasted, which should be devoted to the improvement of the human condition and the conquest of knowledge of the material world.

The creation of a society in which the development of knowledge can be freed from the constraints of capitalism requires the application of science and reason to the evolution of society and to politics. In opposition to postmodernism and its many variants, which insist that there is no objective truth, Marxism is rooted in an analysis of the laws of socioeconomic development.

Driven inexorably by its internal contradictions, capitalism is leading mankind toward the abyss of world war and dictatorship. These same contradictions, however, also produce the basis for the overthrow of capitalism: the international working class. The objective process must be made conscious, and the growing opposition of millions of workers and youth around the world must be transformed into a political movement that has as its aim the establishment of an internationally coordinated, rationally directed system of economic planning based on equality and the satisfaction of human need: socialism.

Bryan Dyne

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/24/pers-f24.html

Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war?

It could happen sooner than we think

Our president wants to “knock the hell out of ISIS” and “take the oil”; his key adviser longs for World War III

Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war? It could happen sooner than we think
(Credit: Getty/ Chip Somodevilla/everlite/Salon)

On Wednesday NBC News released a poll reporting that 66 percent of Americans surveyed were worried that the United States will become involved in another war. One might think that’s surprising since President Donald Trump has famously been portrayed as an old-school isolationist, an image mostly based upon his lies about not supporting the Iraq War and his adoption of the pre-World War II isolationist slogan “America First.”

As I laid out for Salon a few weeks ago, that assumption is wrong. Trump is anything but an isolationist. He’s not much on alliances, preferring to strong-arm other nations into supporting the U.S. “for their own good.” But if they are willing to cough up some protection money, he might agree to fulfill our treaty obligations. His adoption of the phrase “America First” reflects his belief that the U.S. must be No. 1, not that it should withdraw from the world.

In other words, while Trump has no interest in perpetuating the global security system under which the world has lived since the dawn of the nuclear age, that’s not because he believes it hasn’t worked. He doesn’t know what it does, how it came to be or why it exists. He simply believes other countries are failing to pay proper respect and he is aiming to make sure they understand that America isn’t just great again; it’s the greatest.

This has nothing to do with American exceptionalism. Trump is happy to admit that American pretenses to moral leadership are hypocritical, and he’s openly contemptuous of anyone who believes that the U.S. should try harder to live up to its ideals. If you want to understand what Trump believes, “to the victor goes the spoils” pretty much covers it. He means it in terms of his family, which continues to merge the presidency into its company brand all over the world, and he means it in terms of the United States, believing that this is the richest and most powerful nation on Earth and we can take whatever we want.

One of his goals is to “defeat ISIS.” And when he says defeat, he means to do whatever it takes to ensure it does not exist anymore. That does seem like a nice idea. After all, ISIS is an antediluvian, authoritarian death cult and the world would be better off without it. The question, of course, has always been how to accomplish such a thing.

Thoughtful people rationally understand that “defeating” radical extremism of any kind isn’t a matter of killing all the people. Indeed, the more extremists you kill, the more extremists you tend to create. But while Trump simply sees the world by playground rules, his consigliere Steve Bannon sees the threat of ISIS as a preordained apocalyptic confrontation between Western countries and the Muslim world. In a notorious speech he gave at the Vatican in 2014, Bannon put it this way:

We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict . . . to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

He has called Trump his “blunt instrument” to bring about this global conflagration. Bannon is now a member of the National Security Council and is said to be running a parallel national security agency called the Strategic Initiatives Group, which he has stacked with kooks who share his views. He is a powerful influence.

Trump has promised to take the gloves off, and I think we all know exactly what he meant by that. He said it many times during the campaign: He favors torture. And he reiterated it just last month in his interview with ABC’s David Muir saying, “When ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.”

And Trump went on to grudgingly promise that he would listen to the secretary of defense and hold back on torture if that was his recommendation. But Trump also claimed that he’s talked to people at the highest levels of the intelligence community who told him that torture works like a charm. So we will have to see if the president is really able to restrain himself. (His CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, has been all for it in the past. Maybe they’ll simply decide to leave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis out of the loop.)

But what about Trump’s promises to “bomb the shit out of ’em” and “take the oil?” What about Bannon’s desire to bring on WorldWar III? Will that really happen? It might, and sooner than we think.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday:

More American troops may be needed in Syria to speed the campaign against the Islamic State, the top United States commander for the Middle East said on Wednesday.

“I am very concerned about maintaining momentum,” Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of the United States Central Command, told reporters accompanying him on a trip to the region.

“It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves,” he added. “That’s an option.”

Despite his unfounded reputation for isolationism, it’s obvious that Trump is itching for a war. Responding to a debate question about whether he would follow a military commander’s advice to put troops on the ground, Trump said, “We really have no choice; we have to knock out ISIS. We have to knock the hell out of them.” When asked how many troops he thought might be needed, he replied that the number he had heard was 20,000 to 30,000.

Nobody thought much of Trump’s bluster at the time. But now he’s in the White House with an apocalyptic crackpot whispering in his ear and generals on the ground talking about taking on “a larger burden.” Whether his administration’s military advisers, Defense Secretary Mattis and his newly installed national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, are as eager for this battle remains to be seen. But it appears that the two-thirds of Americans who are worried that we’ll be dragged into another war are anxious for good reason.

 

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

As the media hails Lt. General McMaster, the military strengthens its grip on the government

170220151702-01-lt-gen-h-r-mcmaster-0220-exlarge-169

23 February 2017

The US media and political establishment has responded with virtually universal praise to Donald Trump’s choice of Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster to replace the fired ex-general Michael Flynn as his national security adviser.

Observing the response from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as the corporate media, one might conclude that a memo had gone out from CIA headquarters on the language to be used in describing McMaster. He is a “scholar,” an “experienced commander,” an “iconoclast,” even an “intellectual.” The received wisdom is that this mixture of Thucydides and Clausewitz will provide “reasoned and sound judgment” to guide the foreign policy of the Trump administration.

Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gushed that McMaster is a “card-carrying grownup,” while Democratic New York Representative Steve Israel proclaimed him a “brilliant, reasoned leader.” Former Obama administration official and Clinton advisor Jared Cohen called him a “brilliant strategist and thinker.”

On the part of the media, the New York Times, which functions as a de facto organ of the Democratic Party, set the tone with its editorial on Wednesday. Its response was particularly noteworthy given the newspaper’s leading role in the anti-Russian campaign waged by the intelligence agencies.

The editorial’s headline appealed directly to Trump and his top White House aides: “Now, Let General McMaster Do His Job.” It declared the latest Trump general to be “an enlightened choice.” It went on to advise, “If Mr. Trump empowers him and defers to his judgment, General McMaster could be an important moderating force in an administration packed with radicals and amateurs.”

The editorial praised McMaster as a “student of history,” “one of the military’s most gifted scholars and strategists,” and “one of the best American commanders” in the Iraq War. According to the Times, McMaster’s book on Vietnam War decision-making in Washington, Dereliction of Duty, “lays out the consequences of abetting misguided presidents with ill-conceived policies.”

The Times piles on the flattery in an op-ed column by Jonathan Stevenson, a former Obama national security aide, who describes McMaster as “a compelling choice: a scholar-warrior in the mold of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, with the bonus of looking every inch the part,” and “a proven cavalry officer and a formidable defense intellectual,” who demonstrated in Iraq “exemplary application of counterinsurgency doctrine.”

The immediate issue driving the praise for McMaster is the hope that his foreign policy views, which adhere to the conventional anti-Russian consensus of the bulk of the military-intelligence apparatus, will prevail within the councils of the Trump administration, particularly when General Mattis at the Pentagon and General John Kelly at the Department of Homeland Security weigh in as well.

More generally, the exercise in collective deification is an expression of the disintegration of American democracy and the extraordinary power of the military over all official institutions in the United States.

The growing influence of current and former generals, who occupy four top positions in the Trump national security hierarchy—secretary of defense, secretary of homeland security, national security adviser and National Security Council chief of staff—is no cause for concern to the media pundits and newspaper columnists, who appear to have forgotten the core democratic principle of civilian control of the military.

Especially noteworthy in the praise of McMaster—who will remain on active duty as national security adviser—is the reference to the lessons he drew in his analysis of the Vietnam War. McMaster’s book denounced the Joint Chiefs of Staff for failing to demand that President Lyndon Johnson commit the resources required to “win” the war up-front: as many as 700,000 troops, no restrictions on ground operations in South Vietnam, and unrestricted targeting of North Vietnam for bomb attacks, including MiG fighter bases and ports where Soviet and Chinese military personnel would likely have been killed.

His thesis is a variant of the criticism leveled against the methods of “limited war” in Iraq and Afghanistan in favor of an all-out approach, summed up by the slogan, “Go big, or go home.”

That such methods would have constituted a massive war crime in Vietnam, even greater than the one actually perpetrated by the tactics of gradual escalation—millions of Vietnamese dead, more than 50,000 American soldiers killed, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia laid waste—does not interest McMaster’s fan club in the slightest.

Even more reactionary is McMaster’s argument that the main defect of the Vietnam War was the failure of the generals to assert themselves more forcefully against the civilian leadership. Their “dereliction of duty” consisted of allowing themselves to be overruled by a president who, in McMaster’s view, was more interested in winning the war on poverty than the war in Southeast Asia.

More recently, McMaster has been engaged in a military project to study the conflict in Ukraine and the lessons to be drawn by US military planners preparing for war in Eastern Europe against the Russian army and air force.

The response to the selection of McMaster underscores the fact that the conflict that has raged within the political establishment since Trump’s inauguration has nothing to do with the concerns motivating millions of people opposed to Trump’s authoritarianism and right-wing policies. As far as Trump’s establishment critics are concerned, the more power the military and intelligence agencies have over the instruments of state, the better.

In terms of policies, if the desires of those promoting the “moderate” McMaster are fulfilled, there will be a vast escalation of US militarism in relation to Russia, a nuclear-armed power. As for Trump’s other “moderate” generals, Department of Homeland Security head John Kelly is overseeing the assault on immigrant workers and has signed a memo calling for the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of national guardsmen to enforce it. Secretary of Defense Mattis, a war criminal responsible for the destruction of Fallujah, is overseeing a massive expansion of the military in preparation for world war.

All of this demonstrates, as the WSWS has stressed, that Trump is not an interloper into an otherwise healthy democratic society. His administration is the outcome of twenty-five years of unending war and decades of social counterrevolution. The American financial aristocracy stands atop a deeply diseased social order and relies ever more directly on the instruments of war and state repression to maintain its domination.

There is no popular support for further military adventures in the Middle East, let alone the cataclysmic prospect of war with China or Russia, both nuclear-armed powers. The drive to maintain the dominant world position of American imperialism by means of ever more bloody military aggression abroad is inseparably linked to a frontal assault on the social conditions and democratic rights of the working class at home.

Patrick Martin

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/23/pers-f23.html

Trump’s strategic vision of chaos: Inventing a nonexistent crisis so he can “solve” it

The president depicts a failing America that’s more like 2009 than 2017 — so he can take credit for doing nothing

S

Trump's strategic vision of chaos: Inventing a nonexistent crisis so he can "solve" it

(Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Drake)

As you know, our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country; you see what’s going on with all of the companies leaving our country, going to Mexico and other places, low pay, low wages, mass instability overseas, no matter where you look. The Middle East is a disaster. North Korea — we’ll take care of it, folks; we’re going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.
Donald Trump, Feb. 17

These words of the president are not quite as evocative as his doomsday inaugural “American carnage” address, but it may be more effective in the long run. Donald Trump is ignorant in most ways a president should be smart, but he does have an unerring instinct for hype.

One of his favorite tall tales is the miraculous “comeback” story. You’ve heard him endlessly recount the tedious details of his Great Campaign in which nobody said he could get the nomination and yet he defied the odds and vanquished 16 men, Carly Fiorina and one crooked Hillary, ultimately winning a historic landslide of epic proportions. No, it wasn’t historic and it wasn’t epic and it wasn’t a landslide, but that’s part of the myth Trump has created for himself: He only wins big.

The point is that he’s making himself out to be a hero who can defy tremendous odds to fight back and win. That’s why he insists that he inherited a terrible mess that will take a heroic effort to turn around, and he’s the only guy who can do it.

The country he describes is very familiar: Its economy is terrible, millions of people are going bankrupt and losing their jobs, their homes and their health care. People who have saved money for decades have seen their retirement funds shrink to nothing in the stock market crash, while Wall Street masters of the universe collect millions and tell everyone financial institutions are simply “too big to fail.” Major industries are on the verge of collapse. Banks are closing all over the country.

Tens of thousands of troops are still stationed overseas in a war that seems to never end. Terrorist bombings are happening all over the world and nobody knows when the next one is going to hit close to home. Even the natural disasters are catastrophic, taking out whole American cities and seeming to portend more of the same as the climate changes and nobody knows what to do about it. The future seems bleak indeed.

We all know that country. It was America in 2009.  It was the mess our last president inherited, not this one. (If you need a little refresher course on how bad the employment situation was during the Great Recession, you can read all about it in a recap from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) It was the worst economic recession in the lifetime of anyone younger than age 70 and it came on the heels of a period of tremendous fear and anxiety after 9/11 and the debacle of the Iraq war.

Now that was a real mess.

To be sure, the recovery has been a long, uneven slog and many people are still reeling. There are long-term economic trends that have hit some communities very hard for decades and the Great Recession exacerbated their suffering. And much of the gains have gone to the upper 1 percent.

But millions more people have jobs, homes and health care today than they did eight years ago. That is just a fact. The idea that Donald Trump is facing an emergency of that magnitude, even among many of the white working-class folks who remain underemployed and financially insecure is ridiculous. We were on the verge of another global Great Depression. Now we’re not.

As I pointed out before the election in September, whoever won was going to have the economic wind at his or her back, which is a lucky thing for any president. I quoted economist Jared Bernstein who wrote in The Washington Post that “poverty fell sharply, middle-class incomes rose steeply, and more people had health coverage” in 2015, which meant that many of those who had been left behind by the recovery were starting to see the benefits. But there is often an emotional hangover after a deep economic crisis that takes some time to dissipate; even when things have improved,  people still feel anxious for some time afterwards.

One suspects Trump understood from the beginning that the economy was rebounding. But in order to take advantage of his reputation as a wealthy businessman, he needed to pump up those feelings of anxiety so that he could take credit for the upturn once in office. The dystopian hellscape that he describes today will quickly give way to “Morning in America” for his followers. And he doesn’t have to do anything.

This is lucky for him since Trump doesn’t have a clue about what a president has to do in a real crisis and doesn’t have the temperament or skills to do it anyway. As Jonathan Cohn wrote in this piece for The Huffington Post on Tuesday, as much as Trump and his minions insist that his first month in office has been historically successful, it’s been nothing more than endless gaffes, scandals and flashy edicts that are far less substantial than the sweeping and complicated legislation that President Barack Obama ushered through Congress in the corresponding period.

Cohn related Trump’s attitude toward the hard work of creating policy:

During the presidential campaign, Trump mocked Hillary Clinton for her wonkishness: “She’s got people that sit in cubicles writing policy all day,” he said during one interview. “It’s just a waste of paper.” At one point, Trump’s own policy advisers quit because nobody was paying them or taking them seriously.

That’s appalling. But unless Trump’s GOP colleagues in the Congress muck up things badly by repealing the Affordable Care Act or making such drastic cuts that employment falters, he doesn’t really have to do much. He can just tweet about saving some manufacturing jobs that CEOs are happy to pretend he personally negotiated, and his followers will be happy to give him credit for “saving” an economy that was already on the upswing.

There is one problem with his cunning plan, however. If a healthy economic environment requires the confidence of people that their future looks bright, then this growth may just come to a screeching halt. The “carnage” he likes to describe may not exist today. But millions of people are frightened to death that the nightmare of Donald Trump may make it very real in the days to come.

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

6 Diseases That Could Skyrocket or Become Far More Deadly If the Affordable Care Act Is Repealed

PERSONAL HEALTH
Bernie Sanders may have been underestimating when he said 36,000 per year will die if the health care law is dashed.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

When senators Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz debated the merits of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, aka Obamacare, on February 7, Sanders had a dire prediction: “We are moving into an era where millions of people who develop terrible illnesses will not be able to get insurance, and God only knows how many of them will die.” The Vermont senator, who favors a single payer or “Medicare for all” system, was right to be concerned. It remains to be seen when or how Republicans in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives will repeal the ACA; Sen. Rand Paul has been complaining that repeal is taking much too long and that fellow Republicans don’t appear to be in a hurry to repeal it. But the Urban Institute estimates that if and when Republicans do repeal the ACA, “The number of uninsured people would rise from 28.9 million to 58.7 million in 2019, an increase of 29.8 million people”—and Sanders has predicted that “36,000 people will die yearly as a result.”

Sanders is not exaggerating about the potential death toll; if anything, he is being optimistic. In 2009, a pre-ACA Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance study found that almost 45,000 Americans were dying annually due to lack of health insurance. Shortcomings and all, the ACA—according to Gallup—has reduced the number of uninsured Americans aged 18-64 from 18% in 2013 to 11.9% in late 2015. And that includes millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma. The ACA has not only made it illegal for insurance companies to exclude people due to pre-existing conditions, but it has also emphasized preventive care and screenings, which can prevent chronic conditions from developing or at least treat them after a diagnosis. Without those protections, it stands to reason that diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other potentially life-threatening illnesses will be on the rise.

Here are several diseases that are likely to increase or have much worse outcomes if Republicans succeed in abolishing Obamacare and render millions of Americans uninsured.

1. Diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association, 30 million Americans suffer from diabetes, while another 86 million have prediabetes. For those 116 million Americans, access to health care is crucial; diabetes, if not managed and controlled, can lead to everything from amputations to heart disease, stroke and blindness. And when prediabetes is managed, patients have a much better chance of avoiding full-blown diabetes. Bearing those things in mind, the American Diabetes Association sent members of Congress a letter in December warning them how dire the consequences could be for Americans with diabetes or prediabetes if the ACA is repealed without a suitable replacement.

“The ACA,” the American Diabetes Association told Congress in the letter, “ended fundamental inequities in access to adequate and affordable health insurance that separated Americans with diabetes from the tools they needed in the fight against the horrific and costly complications of diabetes, including blindness, amputation, kidney failure, heart disease, stroke and death. Repealing the ACA will create huge access barriers for millions of Americans, especially if no fully defined replacement is put in place immediately to meet the health care needs of individuals with chronic health conditions like diabetes.”

In 2016, medical researchers Rebecca Myerson and Neda Laiteerapong examined the ACA’s possible effects on diagnosis and treatment of Type 2 diabetes. The physicians found that 23% of American adults, aged 18-64, with diabetes lacked health insurance in 2009/2010, but said it was “likely that a significant fraction became insured in the subsequent years due to ACA provisions.”

2. HIV/AIDS

Jennifer Kates, director of HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, has described the ACA as a “watershed moment” for Americans living with HIV, and the Centers for Disease Control called it “one of the most important pieces of legislation in the fight against HIV/AIDS in our history.” Kaiser research has indicated that 200,000 HIV-positive Americans may have gained coverage through the ACA, and according to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the ACA brought insurance to 12,000 HIV-positive Illinois residents.

With HIV treatment, one of the goals is avoiding full-blown AIDS. In a recent article for The Advocate, Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute, warned that ACA repeal could be devastating for Americans living with HIV and that access to treatment can be a matter of survival.

“If Congress repeals the ACA without simultaneously replacing it with programs that ensure comprehensive health coverage for the same, if not more, individuals, the private insurance market will become unstable—and people with HIV and others would lose access to the care and treatment that they rely on to remain healthy,” Schmid said. “People with HIV, who depend on a daily drug regimen, cannot risk losing access to their health coverage—not even for a single day… We cannot afford to go backwards by eliminating or destabilizing the health care that the ACA provides.”

3. Cancer

In January, Gregory Cooper and his colleagues at University Hospitals’ Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio released a study that compared access to cancer screenings before and after the ACA, which they found was making it easier to obtain mammograms but needed to do more to encourage colonoscopies. Cooper, reflecting on GOP plans to repeal the ACA, stressed that the U.S. needs more cancer screening, not less, saying, “If you take away people’s health insurance and they’re going to pay out of pocket for health care, are they going to get a mammogram, or are they going to buy food? People are going to do what gives them the best benefit in the short term, which is food and shelter.”

Amino, Inc., researching 129 insurance companies, has offered some estimates on possible out-of-pocket costs for cancer screening in a post-ACA environment; in Alaska, for example, the costs could be almost $500 for a routine mammogram or $2,565 for a colonoscopy. And as Cooper pointed out, Americans will put off or avoid potentially life-saving tests when they become cost-prohibitive.

4.  Blood Pressure and Hypertension

In 2015, researchers at George Washington University School of Public Health released a study on the effect the ACA was having on hypertension, a major factor in heart disease and stroke. The researchers reported that 78 million Americans suffer from hypertension and that “lack of insurance coverage is a critical barrier to better treatment of hypertension,” and they predicted that if ACA expansion continued, it “would lead to a 5.1% increase in the treatment rate among hypertensive patients.”

5. High Cholesterol

In 2015, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published a study that linked the ACA with better outcomes for three conditions: diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The study found that uninsured people suffering from any of those conditions were much less likely to find out they had a problem, whereas insured people had a 14% greater chance of finding out if they had diabetes or high cholesterol and a 9% greater chance of finding out they had high blood pressure. And for those who those who were diagnosed, the Chan School found, being insured greatly improved one’s chances of controlling blood sugar, total cholesterol or systolic blood pressure.

Joshua Saloman, a senior author of the study, said, “These effects constitute a major positive outcome from the ACA. Our study suggests that insurance expansion is likely to have a large and meaningful effect on diagnosis and management of some of the most chronic illnesses affecting the U.S. population.”

But instead of insurance expansion, Republicans could significantly reduce coverage. Even John Kasich, right-wing governor of Ohio and one of the many Republicans who lost to Donald Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, sounded a lot like a Democrat when he said that while there is “room for improvement” with the ACA, he was worried about what would happen to “these people who have very high cholesterol” if it is repealed without a solid replacement.

6. Asthma

Before the ACA, the term “pre-existing condition” as defined by health insurance companies was far-reaching; anything from multiple scleroses to kidney disease to anemia was grounds for rejecting an application for coverage. For people with asthma, obtaining health insurance was difficult or impossible. 17.7 million adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control, suffer from asthma in the U.S., and when asthma is not treated or controlled, it can become life-threatening (in 2014, CDC attributed more than 3600 deaths annually in the U.S. to asthma).

In 2013, a Harvard Medical School study cited lack of health insurance as the main reason asthma care for young adults deteriorated when they turned 18; emergency room visits became more frequent, and medications often became cost-prohibitive. But with the ACA’s implementation, young asthmatics could stay on their parents’ health plans until 26—and asthmatics, regardless of age, could not legally be refused coverage because of their condition. With full ACA repeal, however, it could once again become legal for insurance companies to deny coverage to asthmatics. And even partial ACA repeal could make asthma care cost-prohibitive.

While ACA repeal is likely, it remains to be seen what, if anything, Republicans would replace it with. Rep. Steve King has made it clear he couldn’t care less if the ACA is repealed without a replacement. However, Rep. Tom Price, President Trump’s nominee for secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, has proposed replacing it with a plan that would eliminate Medicaid expansion, thus making coverage more expensive for Americans with preexisting conditions. And President Trump has promised that after the ACA, Americans can look forward to more comprehensive coverage at much lower prices. But it’s an empty promise because he has yet to offer any specifics.

In other words, Republican plans for an ACA alternative range from terrible to woefully inadequate to nonexistent. To make matters worse, Rep. Paul Ryan is still pushing for Medicare privatization, meaning that Americans who suffer from ACA repeal could be facing additional hardships if they live to see 65. With Republicans going out of their way to make access to health care difficult or impossible for millions of Americans, the future looks grim for anyone suffering from cancer, HIV, hypertension or other potentially deadly illness.

Alex Henderson’s work has appeared in the L.A. Weekly, Billboard, Spin, Creem, the Pasadena Weekly and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.

http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/6-diseases-could-skyrocket-or-become-far-more-deadly-if-affordable-care-act-repealed?akid=15228.265072.2xuNye&rd=1&src=newsletter1072659&t=4

Trump’s unknown financial connections to Russia may hold the key to the widening scandal

Deeper and deeper: Congress wakes up as Trump’s ties to Russia look more tangled and troubling than ever

Deeper and darker: Trump's unknown financial connections to Russia may hold the key to the widening scandal
(Credit: Getty/Drew Angerer/Klubovy)

There’s a joke going around about President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to the effect that he has the dubious distinction of having been fired by both Democratic and Republican administrations. But that’s not really very funny when you consider that he was fired by one for his erratic behavior and from the other because he was implicated in a scandal concerning possible connections to the Russian government.

Something has gone very wrong with our system that such a person could come so close to high levels of power in two administrations. But Flynn did. His short tenure and the circumstances of his departure have brought all the questions about Russian involvement in the campaign to the White House’s doorstep, where they cannot be ignored any longer.

I always had tended to believe that Trump probably didn’t really have any personal relationship with Vladimir Putin. Trump is such a serial exaggerator that his allusions to one struck me as hype. His great pleasure in being stroked with Putin’s compliments indicated that Trump didn’t actually know him. It’s also obvious that he truly admires Putin’s strongman leadership style and that’s disturbing enough.

Still, there has been the nagging sense for some time that there’s something off about the way Trump speaks about Putin. It’s obsequious and submissive, which is very uncharacteristic of his normal style and one cannot help but wonder why that is. Trump is not servile toward anyone in this world — except Vladimir Putin.  It would be one thing if we could chalk it up as another one of Trump’s weird psychological tics and hope that he isn’t so subject to flattery that he decides to help the Russian leader carve up Europe just to keep his approval. But it seems there’s more to it than that.

The Russian story has been bubbling under the surface for months, of course. The hiring of Paul Manafort, best known in recent years for his career as a lobbyist for pro-Russian Ukraine politicians — and a stranger to American politics since the 1980s — has seemed odd. Still, there has been no reason for serious suspicion since Manafort had once been partners with Trump’s good friend Roger Stone and had lived in Trump Tower at one time. Anyway, the world of political consultants is very small. So no big deal.

When the word came down that the Democratic National Committee had determined it had been hacked by what its security firm said were foreign actors associated with the Russian government, I don’t think anyone saw an immediate connection. But then came that weird incident at the Republican National Convention in July, when Trump representatives intervened to soften the GOP’s official policy on Ukraine. Again, by itself this would not be a huge deal. But when combined with Trump’s strangely passive attitude toward Putin and the hiring of a man who had spent years working in politics in the region, people started to wonder.

It was only a few days later that Trump made his shocking public invitation to the Russian government to “find” Hillary Clinton’s personal emails and deliver them to the media. He suggested afterward that he had only been joking. Maybe so.

Since that time suspicions have only grown. The U.S. government verified that the Russians had hacked the files of various people and institutions in the presidential campaign, the WikiLeaks dumps happened and we have learned that the FBI had been investigating possible connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government since last spring.

Members of the mainstream media finally revealed that, except for Mother Jones, they had been sitting on an explosive dossier compiled by a credible opposition researcher with deep ties to Russia that suggested members of the Trump campaign, including his handpicked national security adviser, were in touch with Russian officials and that the Russians had some compromising material (or kompromat) on Trump himself. The infamous details of the kompromat have not been verified but other elements of the dossier appear to have some basis in truth.

Since Flynn was prompted to resign due to an inappropriate conversation with the Russian ambassador related to sanctions, one can no longer avoid asking whether Trump was personally involved. After all, those sanctions that Flynn apparently assured the ambassador would be revisited after Trump took office were imposed precisely because Russia had apparently interfered in the election on Trump’s behalf.

So here we are, with members of the GOP-led Congress finally rousing themselves to open a serious investigation. They sent around a memo telling the White House to keep all records pertaining to Russia, which is a start. Over the weekend, a startling new report appeared in The New York Times:

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia. Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

This report was  characterized by Michael Weiss, senior editor of the Daily Beast, this way:

Jesus. Trump’s lawyer, a mobster and a Manafort-minted Ukrainian pol are trying to blackmail Poroshenko. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/19/us/politics/donald-trump-ukraine-russia.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share 

Both Manafort and Cohen were among those said to be under investigation by the government. The Trump business associate, Felix Sater, is the Russian-born “mobster” (and convicted felon) who has apparently also been a CIA and FBI informant for years. As Josh Marshall laid out in a Talking Points Memo piece, Sater’s story is bizarre and incredible — but no more so than the fact that the president of the United States has been financially connected with him for years.

We don’t have enough information to come to any conclusions about any of this yet. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias pointed out, however, there is a long list of questions that must be addressed. This growing scandal makes more clear than ever how unacceptable it is that we have a president who won’t properly divest himself of his business dealings around the world and refuses to even reveal what they are. It’s untenable. Trump cannot govern under these circumstances.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.