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Paul Krugman: “Bad Faith Pervades Modern Conservatism.”– Mr. Trump’s Lies About Coal and How they Relate to His Overall Strategy

2018-06-02

Paul Krugman published a column in the op-ed section of the New York Times today which contains the above quote:

“If there is any lasting benefit from the Trump era — which is by no means a sure thing, since democracy may not survive the experience — it will lie in the Great Unmasking: the revelation of just how much bad faith pervades modern conservatism.  Some of us, of course, knew this all along, and are not surprised. Conversely, many centrists and much of the news media simply refuse to face up to the asymmetry of our politics and will persist with bothsidesism even as one side drives us into the abyss. But one can at least hope that the constant revelations of past hypocrisy will have some impact.”

One of the biggest “tells” that Trump and his administration are lying through their teeth is their effort to force us to subsidize the production of coal-derived electricity from obsolete, uneconomic power plants based on the claim that “national security” requires them to stay open and to produce pollution and waste that befouls the environment.  The “national security” excuse states that coal-fired power plants are essential because they are able to store more than 90 days supply of coal on-site and thus are resistant to sabotage, such as obstruction of natural gas supply pipes by explosives or computer hacking.  This argument is invalid because the alternative supplies, solar and wind, are completely impervious to attempts to sabotage their power output– unless, for example, some evil genius figures out a way to cause permanent cloud cover and stop the wind from blowing.

Nuclear power plants, by this same reasoning, deserve careful protection since they are even more resistant to attempts at interruption. But the Trump administration doesn’t care about nuclear power.  It only cares about coal, and it supports coal mining, coal-burning power plants, and the billionaires who run them.  One example is the Kentucky coal baron and billionaire Joseph Craft and his family, who are close friends with Trump’s head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt.  Another New York Times article details the close personal relationship between Mr. Craft and Mr. Pruitt, which extends to Mr. Pruitt’s cash purchase from Mr. Craft of two seats at a University of Kentucky basketball game, “one of the biggest of the season”, for $130 each for him and his son.  (The seats were only available to Mr. Craft because he is one of the biggest donors to the University of Kentucky and has buildings at the campus named after him.)

The economics of electric power production have suddenly overturned, and coal-derived power, even without including the cost of “externalities” (pollution), is more expensive than natural gas-derived power– and even more expensive than solar and wind power.  Nuclear power, which produces no climate-changing carbon dioxide, is more expensive still (mainly because of the high cost of insurance against accidents and the need to store radioactive waste indefinitely).  Coal power plants are aging and being shuttered even as power production from renewable sources soars.  Employment in the coal industry has plummeted, dropping by half in just the last five years.  Coal is still being mined, but workers are being replaced by machines who don’t get tired, don’t get black lung, and don’t complain.

Even though the coal industry is shedding jobs, it is leaving behind workers with damaged lungs from inhalation of coal dust over years in poorly regulated mines.  It is true that the worst cases of black lung are complicated by the workers bad smoking habits, but even when they quit, their lungs are still full of black dust.  An even worse consequence of the changing nature of coal mining is the fact that miners are being exposed to high levels of sand (silica) in the air as they work surface mines– and silicosis (the aftereffect of breathing sand) is even worse than pneumoconiosis (black lung).

The most ethical course of action in this case is to allocate funds for treatment of lung disease and help in smoking cessation, especially in retired miners.  In addition, it is ethically imperative to train miners and their children for other jobs– new jobs in a new economy that has no room for the obsolete, dirty, destructive coal mines of the past.  Instead of providing support and training for miners affected by the shutdown of coal mines and power plants, Mr. Trump and his administration are demanding that the federal government subsidize coal use as a matter of “national security”– with the money from these subsidies finding its way into the pockets of the owners, who are already billionaires.

Mr. Trump’s true strategy– if he has one, which some people doubt– is to support his friends, the billionaires who secretly own and control much of the US economy.  He is signing executive orders and supporting administrative strategies that put money in the pockets of friendly billionaires.  At the same time, he and his ilk are supporting “opposition research” to expose the dirty laundry of people who oppose him.  His assistants supply the personal information of his “enemies” to private parties who do not hesitate to attack opponents online and in person, causing intimidation or even terror that takes a page from the playbook of that new Russian czar, Vlad “the Impaler” Putin.  (“The Impaler” was a legendary but historical– real– Transylvanian count who executed his prisoners, mostly Muslim soldiers, by impaling them on poles and then planted those poles with their dying bodies in front of his castle.  His name was Vlad Tepes, but he later became known as Dracula.)

Mr. Putin’s method of operation has long been to support private parties with no direct connection to the Russian government who take his suggestions as orders– and commit murder, eliminating his political and personal enemies without his having to take responsibility.  Many people, especially journalists and reformed spies, have been killed both in Russia and other countries.  Mr. Trump’s minions obtain personal information on the physical and email addresses, phone numbers, places of work, peccadillos, and so on, of people who he sees as enemies.  They supply this information to people who have no direct connection to him or the Republican party, and these people use it to intimidate, or if necessary, terrorize his “enemies”.

Mr. Trump does all this in secret, while he employs the classic techniques of propaganda (repetition; a catchy slogan; color; a specific objective; a kernel of truth; concealment; and timing) openly in all his communications– tweets, interviews, instructions to his press secretary, and speeches (he began his campaign for the 2020 presidential election the day he was inaugurated, and gives rousing, campaign-style speeches to large crowds at least twice a month)– to rile up his supporters and confuse his opponents.  Mr. Trump lies intentionally to bewilder and misdirect people who “attack” (criticize) him, and he lies on a wholesale basis with the intent to besmirch anyone who might oppose him (he has admitted as much in private, repeatedly– there are multiple records of him explaining that he attacks people strategically with lies about them, using words such as “failing” and “a stain on America” to belittle them in advance so that his supporters will not listen to them).  He even lies when he can be proven to be lying because it provides him with an opportunity to claim that the reporters are lying and enrage them, misdirecting their anger to his lies instead of his pernicious policies.

I hesitate to bring Hitler into this otherwise reasonable rant, but one of Trump’s biographers claims that the only book Mr. Trump is known to have read and kept at his bedside is a collection of Hitler’s speeches.  So Mr. Trump emulates Vladimir Putin in secret and copies Adolf Hitler in public.  That is an extremely dangerous and toxic combination.  I wouldn’t call it fascism because that trivializes it.

Finally, Paul Krugman again:

“In any case, it’s yet another demonstration of the pervasive bad faith of the conservative movement. Nothing they said about their reasons for opposing climate policy [was] sincere, and now they’re perfectly willing to ditch all their supposed principles to keep the coal fires burning.”

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