Author Archives: wlobb

President Trump at the UN, September 19, 2017 – Annotated

President Trump’s statement to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2017, as prepared for delivery.

Mr. Secretary General, Mr. President, world leaders, and distinguished delegates: Welcome to New York. It is a profound honor to stand here in my home city, as a representative of the American people, to address the people of the world.

As millions of our citizens continue to suffer the effects of the devastating hurricanes that have struck our country , I want to begin by expressing my appreciation to every leader in this room who has offered assistance and aid. The American people are strong and resilient, and they will emerge from these hardships more determined than ever before.

The devastating hurricanes struck several small countries in the Caribbean but Trump does not even mention those countries. Did the US offer them special aid?

Fortunately, the United States has done very well since Election Day last November 8th . The stock market is at an all-time high — a record. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 16 years, and because of our regulatory and other reforms, we have more people working in the United States today than ever before. Companies are moving back, creating job growth the likes of which our country has not seen in a very long time. And it has just been announced that we will be spending almost $700 billion on our military and defense.

Fortunately for the US but not necessarily for people in the rest of the world, and why should the rest of the world care?

Our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been. For more than 70 years, in times of war and peace, the leaders of nations, movements, and religions have stood before this assembly. Like them, I intend to address some of the very serious threats before us today but also the enormous potential waiting to be unleashed.

Our military has been by far the largest in the world for decades. This comes across as an implicit threat: “and we will not hesitate to use it against anyone who crosses us”.

We live in a time of extraordinary opportunity. Breakthroughs in science, technology, and medicine are curing illnesses and solving problems that prior generations thought impossible to solve.

But each day also brings news of growing dangers that threaten everything we cherish and value. Terrorists and extremists have gathered strength and spread to every region of the planet. Rogue regimes represented in this body not only support terrorists but threaten other nations and their own people with the most destructive weapons known to humanity.

Authority and authoritarian powers seek to collapse the values, the systems, and alliances that prevented conflict and tilted the world toward freedom since World War II.

International criminal networks traffic drugs, weapons, people; force dislocation and mass migration; threaten our borders; and new forms of aggression exploit technology to menace our citizens.

To put it simply, we meet at a time of both of immense promise and great peril. It is entirely up to us whether we lift the world to new heights, or let it fall into a valley of disrepair.

We have it in our power, should we so choose, to lift millions from poverty, to help our citizens realize their dreams, and to ensure that new generations of children are raised free from violence, hatred, and fear.

This institution was founded in the aftermath of two world wars to help shape this better future. It was based on the vision that diverse nations could cooperate to protect their sovereignty, preserve their security, and promote their prosperity.

It was in the same period, exactly 70 years ago, that the United States developed the Marshall Plan to help restore Europe. Those three beautiful pillars — they’re pillars of peace, sovereignty, security, and prosperity.

Three beautiful pillars? I count four.

The Marshall Plan was built on the noble idea that the whole world is safer when nations are strong, independent, and free. As President Truman said in his message to Congress at that time, “Our support of European recovery is in full accord with our support of the United Nations. The success of the United Nations depends upon the independent strength of its members.

The success of the UN depends on ALL its members, not just European ones.

To overcome the perils of the present and to achieve the promise of the future, we must begin with the wisdom of the past. Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world.

We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government. But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation. This is the beautiful vision of this institution, and this is foundation for cooperation and success.

The UN vision and charter are about relationships AMONG countries, not about what happens inside countries other than for fundamental human rights, and most definitely not about commercial or power interests. Trump explicitly places self-interest before global interest and then claims implicitly in the last sentence that this prioritization is the UN’s “beautiful vision”. It is absolutely NOT. The word “strong” does not occur anywhere in the UN charter.

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Arctic Sea Ice Extent: Sprucing up a Chart


This important and useful chart was on the National Snow and Ice Data Center site on August 8, 2017:

But I found it unusually hard to read. Here is my spruced-up version:

No more hard-to-read vertical text. Zero-based, thus enabling one immediately to see how much lower the extent was in 2012 and is projected to be in 2017. Date of measurement prominent in the title area. Labels close to their items, so the eye doesn’t have to travel back and forth to interpret. Percentage of total ocean area on the left axis, as opposed to square km values in the original, for which one would have to know that the Arctic Ocean’s total area is 14m+ square km in order to realize that the ice extent remains nearly 100% at the start of May.

To me, the original’s main errors were 1) not being zero-based, which forces you to imagine the full picture in order to grasp the real meaning, and 2) expressing measured ice area on the left axis instead of % of total Arctic Ocean area, forcing you to look elsewhere to find out how full or empty the Arctic Ocean actually was/is of sea ice. A basic rule of user interface design is, “Don’t Make Me Think!” unnecessarily. That’s the title of my favorite user-interface book, written lightly and gracefully by Steve Krug and well worth a read.


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Trump and His True Believers


I’ve sent you the below quotes from Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer before. I read them again today in light of having experienced 6 months of Trump in power. If Hoffer is right — and FWIW I for one think he is, given his experiences with Nazism and similar movements — then Trump is a classic instance of a mass-movement leader. But I think Trump fails in one key aspect and therein lies reason for hope. Read on.

“It is futile to judge the viability of a new movement by the truth of its doctrine and the feasibility of its promises. What has to be judged is its corporate organization for quick and total absorption of the frustrated. … The man just out of the army is an ideal potential convert, and we find him among the early adherents of all contemporary mass movements. He feels alone and lost in the free-for-all of civilian life.”

“… deprecation of the present, a facility for make-believe, a proneness to hate, a readiness to imitate, credulity, a readiness to attempt the impossible, and many others which crowd the minds of the intensely frustrated are, as we shall see, unifying agents and prompters of recklessness.”

“The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.”

“Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move.”

“There is an illiterate air about the most literate true believer.”

“The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense.”

[Characteristics of the mass-movement leader] “Exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality seem neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable. The main requirements seem to be: audacity and a joy in defiance; an iron will; a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth; faith in his destiny and luck; a capacity for passionate hatred; contempt for the present; a cunning estimate of human nature; a delight in symbols (spectacles and ceremonials); unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard of consistency and fairness; a recognition that the innermost craving of a following is for communion and that there can never be too much of it…”

[The characteristic that I don’t see in Trump] “… a capacity for winning and holding the utmost loyalty of a group of able lieutenants. This last faculty is one of the most essential and elusive.”

“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world. Charlatanism of some degree is indispensable to effective leadership. There can be no mass movement without some deliberate misrepresentation of facts.”

About the reason for hope, Trump’s advisers and lieutenants seem loyal but not capable. Think of the chaotic rollout of the first attempted ban on Muslims. It’s easy to undo and break things, difficult to design and build useful new things. What useful new thing has this group invented or created or accomplished in its first 6 months, or even begun in earnest on? Nothing I know of.

The talking heads on liberal television, for example Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, harp endlessly on the twisting of facts and gross unfairness of statements and opinions and so forth coming from Trump and his supporters. But I think the commentators miss the point and end up only reinforcing Trump by talking incessantly about the man. You’ve said it several times: shut up, go heads down, flood the polls in 2018, and throw out the bums. Unfortunately we can’t throw out Gorsuch. He will poison our lives from here on.


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Bret Stephens’s NY Times Op-Ed on Climate Change: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong


This April 28 Bret Stephens op-ed debut is way off the mark every inch of the way.

First, what Old Jew Of Galicia? Milocz wrote that epigraph and hundreds or thousands have cited it as if it’s ancient and real wisdom that transcends the folly of whomever you want to lambaste. But what Old Jew of central or western Europe would use precise figures like 55% as opposed to 60% to describe degrees of being sure that one is right? And right about what? Everything? It seems to me that’s the only possibility of the quote, given no other information than the “quote” itself. It seems to be about totalitarian regimes that rewrite truth and history to their liking and allow no dissent. But that’s a whole different world! Climate scientists are not claiming they’re 100% right about everything, only 97% right about something very important that they’ve looked at from dozens or hundreds of different angles and almost always come up with the same conclusion, which is that warming will with high likelihood accelerate and all of humanity with high likelihood will be in a peck of trouble therefrom.

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“For you always have the poor with you…”


Here’s an essay by Christian blogger, Fred Clark, that discusses one of Jesus’ sayings quoted by a Republican Congressman from Kansas, “the poor you will always have with you.” Politically conservative Christians and politicians often cite this verse to express the idea that we can do nothing to help the poor.

Here’s Jesus’ full sentence from Mark 14: “For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish.”

Here’s the Congressman’s quotation from this Stat story: “Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us,’” he said. “There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”

Clark shows us Jesus’ complete sentence, not just the clause before the comma. This shows us that his meaning is opposite from that intended by these conservatives. Jesus is scolding some of his apparently pious followers. Jesus tells them that if they persist in false or misdirected piety, instead of helping those less fortunate than themselves, “the poor you will always have with you.” Clark recognizes that Jesus is citing verses from Deuteronomy, “the Scriptures.” Clark displays the relevant verses from Deuteronomy, instructions from the Lord to Jews to care for the widow, the orphan, the sick, the poor, and the outcast, even the alien in your midst, to prove what Jesus had in mind. It’s worth reading Clark’s essay. There is more to it than I’m mentioning here.

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Why does Medicaid coverage often stink? And related questions and answers.


Here’s a NY Times pick from comments on their article about students rioting at Middlebury College when Charles Murray was there to speak (boldfacing mine):

Michjas Phoenix 15 hours ago
I am a very liberal Democrat. Often I find myself correcting obvious errors among the black and white crowd. Today my mission has been to argue that Medicaid coverage often stinks and that those who champion the ACA need to be critical about those added to the Medicaid rolls. I have always been a critic of Medicaid and I have always been seen as very liberal. But now, expressing the same ideas, I have been taken for a defender of Trump. It is incumbent upon all to distinguish their enemies from their constructive critics. Too many have lost the ability to recognize constructive criticism. The temper of the time is important. But we are all individually responsible for how we think, and those who can’t tell their friends from their enemies have themselves to blame. Ignorance is ignorance, and it doesn’t matter if your intentions are good.

Here are my questions and my answers in response to Michjas’s comment:

Q: Why does Medicaid coverage often stink?
A: Because it pays only fractions on the dollar, thus many doctors refuse to accept Medicaid patients.

Q: Why exactly do doctors refuse to accept such patients?
A: Because they are not willing to incur losses of profits, or even actual financial losses, by taking on such patients.

Q: Why might doctors incur losses?
A: Because of the very high costs of relatively ordinary treatments and procedures in American medicine. For example, the electrocardiogram I got in a Spanish clinic in early 2014 after having struggled on Napoleon’s route over the Pyrenees cost me out-of-pocket something like $190 as a foreigner not covered in any way by Spanish healthcare – the same simple procedure in the US costs 5 to 10 times as much.

Q: Why are American healthcare costs so high compared to most of the rest of the world?
A: In part because so much of healthcare in America is privatized and for-profit in large companies that, with Citizens United, are legally entitled to influence, or even control, politics and law-making by pouring cash on politicians, who then create or modify laws to enable enormous and still-growing profits in medicine and pharmaceuticals. This is a disastrous feedback loop for everyone except the highly wealthy. Contributing to the loop is unlimited liability for medical enterprises, from which lawyers profit greatly. Early evening television has been flooded by ads for drugs, debt consolidation/relief, and legal help related to healthcare (cars and beer have always been there, and cigarettes used to be).

Q: Why do Americans put up with this destructive cycle?
A: Because not enough of us have put our minds and resources together to stop it. Maybe we’re scared and galvanized enough now to get on with it. One place to attack it is in Trump’s planned expansion of privatized prisons. Privatization of fundamental community matters is the true underlying problem. Yes, government can be wasteful. But that’s better than the hellholes of our healthcare system, our prisons and our overall infrastructure, all of which have been looted by large corporate interests.

Another line of questioning – and one should carry out several or many lines to triangulate the whole truth – would inquire into why Medicaid pays only fractions on the dollar. I think the answer comes out the same, though: high costs of ordinary healthcare, which have been exacerbated in recent years by private physician practices getting folded into large private hospital chains that are inexorable on profitability across the board. Most doctors now report to accountants, not to senior medical people (but I’d have to fact check that assertion – it’s certainly true in Concord MA – I’m aware of only one private practice left in town).



Well, we can take Michjas’s self-description as a liberal who hates Medicaid at face value. Of course, Medicaid can be improved, but contrary to what he (I assume) says, Medicaid is much better than the alternative of no health insurance for those poor people. And that is the only alternative presently on the table for consideration. We know this because of all the Republican legislators and governors who refused Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid and because of the provisions of the Republican alternative to Obamacare now under consideration. So, just what does Mr. Phoenix propose? The comment doesn’t say.

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Denying Evolution is Implicitly Denying That Airplanes Fly


Our choices and uses of words get us into endless troubles among ourselves (speaking about all humanity here).

The word “evolve” connotes development from simpler to more complex, or from primitive to something better, whatever “better” might happen to mean in the context. The word “evolution” connotes something gradually changing from simpler and more primitive to something more complex and increasingly better.

Everyone agrees that living things and their artifacts change. We individually grow and decay and die, our human groups form and fracture and disappear, fashions come and go. Nothing – but nothing – is static and unchanging, not even the most rugged mountain, not continents, not the tilt of the earth’s axis. We know these things now. Time and change mean exactly the same thing. There would be no time if there were no change, and vice versa.

We humans don’t agree yet on the fundamental cause or causes for change. But some of us humans now know the key mechanisms of physical change, through logic and science, and only through them. Energy continues to flow from some unknown starting point billions of years ago. Suns eventually beam energy onto earths that have energetic molten cores. Atmospheres form. Sunlight whips up winds and clouds. Rain. Bodies of water. Energy from sunlight and/or geothermal vents churns up more complex molecules in water and mud. Eventually some molecules self-replicate as ever more complex crystals. After a few billion years, primates and humans emerged here along with self-awareness and science and poetry. No master designer needed. True, there’s an enormous amount more to learn and know about exactly how and when. But we can now predict with increasing accuracy, for example the next three days of weather. Darwin and Wallace predicted in the 1860s that a moth with an extraordinary 18-inch tongue must exist on Madagascar; 40 years later biologists found exactly that. Accurate prediction distinguishes logic and science from belief. Humanity knows that vaccinations can bring down certain people a little or even a lot, but we predict accurately that if not enough people get vaccinated for some dread disease, then far more people will suffer terribly or die, for example with smallpox or polio or (hopefully soon) Ebola.

Some humans don’t accept the above. Instead they apply intuition along with inherited texts and myths to explain the world around them and the visible relentless change in everything. As you wrote in a recent blog entry, we humans have the illusion of free will, that things happen because we choose for them to happen. The multiplicity of religions and gods among humans demonstrates that no one such belief or text or myth could be the sole ultimate truth. In contrast, logic and science are the same everywhere around the planet. The art of engineering rests completely upon logic and science. Believers can ride in airplanes miles up in the sky only because logic and science and engineering were applied carefully with highly predictable (but not always perfect) outcomes: flights across continents, around the world, all the way to the moon and Mars and out towards the stars.

What can we say to people like Pence to help them understand the bedrock truths and facts of logic, science, engineering and prediction? I imagine talking about the Mississippi River. Look at the empty oxbows, the enormous delta south of New Orleans. Did some self-aware entity design these patterns? If you, all-knowing Mr. Pence, were tasked with designing the Mississippi, would you make hundreds of thousands of false starts that leave abandoned side oxbows and dead-end bayous? Or would you just make a perfect Mississippi and be done with it? The last is obviously an absurd notion. There’s no being done with it. We ourselves can see and feel the rains and floods and re-channeling. The Mississippi is an enormous changing entity, writhing and evolving under the flow of energy transformed into moving water. Is the Mississippi somehow “better” today than it was yesterday? Meaningless question. Could be worse today. It depends. And the Mississippi will disappear too, someday.

There is no Theory of Evolution, really. We’re stuck with those words right now. The bedrock truth is, everything changes always and everywhere, all things are interdependent, some things happen to persist in their current environment while other unlucky things wither or die. To deny Evolution is to deny logic, science, engineering, prediction, and commercial airline flight. One might accuse the deniers with being freeloaders or parasites or worse, taking the fruits while rejecting the toil and the blood and suffering invested by millions of humans, Galileo and so many others, to bring us, with many fits and starts and backtracks, this far out of the darkness. We cannot, we must not allow ourselves to sink back into that darkness.


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