November 15, 2022

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


November 14, 2022 (Heather Cox Richardson, 11/14/22, Letters from an American)

While many of us have been focusing on events here at home, the outcome of the election had huge implications for foreign policy. As today's column by conservative columnist Max Boot of the Washington Post notes, "Republicans lost the election--and so did [Russian president Vladimir] Putin, MBS [Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman], and [former/incoming Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu." 

Autocrats and hard-right leaders liked Trump at the head of the U.S. government, for he was far more inclined to operate transactionally on the basis of financial benefits, while Biden and his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, have advanced a foreign policy based on democratic values. Leaders like MBS have ignored Biden or denigrated him, expecting that a reelected Trump in 2024 would revert to the system they preferred. Now those calculations have hit a snag.

Indeed, Russia put its bots and trolls back to work before the election to weaken Biden in the hope that a Republican Congress would cut aid to Ukraine, as Republican leaders had suggested they would. The Russian army is in terrible trouble in Ukraine, and its best bet for a lift is for the international coalition the U.S. anchors to fall apart. Russian propagandists suggested that Putin suppressed news that the Russians were withdrawing from the Ukrainian city of Kherson until after the election to avoid giving the Democrats a boost in the polls.  

Today, Secretary of State Blinken announced more sanctions against Russian companies and individuals, in Russia and abroad, "to disrupt Russia's military supply chains and impose high costs on President Putin's enablers." Director of the CIA William Burns met recently in Turkey with his Russian counterpart to convey "a message on the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons" and "the risks of escalation," but said the U.S. is firmly behind "our fundamental principle: nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine."  

Also today, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved a resolution saying that Russia's invasion of Ukraine violated international law and that Russia must pay war reparations. In Germany and Poland, the governments separately announced they were taking over natural gas companies that had been tied to Russia's huge energy company, Gazprom, in order to guarantee energy supplies to their people.  

On Friday, November 11, Biden spoke at the United Nations climate change conference in Egypt. He was the only leader of a major polluting nation to go to the meeting, and there he stressed U.S. leadership, pointing to the Inflation Reduction Act's $370 billion investment in the U.S. shift to clean energy and other climate-positive changes. Also on Friday, his administration announced it would use the U.S. government's buying power to push suppliers toward climate-positive positions. Protesters called attention to how little the U.S. has done for poorer countries harmed by climate change that has been caused by richer countries. 

From Egypt, the president traveled to Cambodia for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. In the past year, the U.S. has announced more than $250 million in new initiatives with ASEAN, investing especially in infrastructure in an apparent attempt to disrupt China's dominance of the region by supporting counterweights in the region. The U.S. is now elevating the cooperation with ASEAN to a comprehensive strategic partnership to support a rules-based Indo-Pacific region, maritime cooperation, economic and technological cooperation, and sustainable development. "ASEAN is the heart of my administration's Indo-Pacific strategy, and we continue to strengthen our commitment to work in lockstep with an empowered, unified ASEAN," Biden said.

While in Cambodia, Biden also met with Japanese prime minister Kishida Fumio and reinforced the U.S. "ironclad commitment to the defense of Japan" after North Korea's recent ballistic missile tests. Biden and Kishida reiterated their plan to strengthen and modernize the relationship between the U.S. and Japan to "address threats to the free and open Indo-Pacific." 

From there, Biden traveled to Bali, Indonesia, for a meeting of the G20, a forum of 19 countries and the European Union comprising countries that make up most of the nation's largest economies. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


"Once in a generation:" Gladstone plans pivot from fossil fuels to renewables in Australia first (Rachel Williamson 15 November 2022, Renew Economy)

The port city of Gladstone - long a centre of fossil fuel production and exports - has unveiled a ground-breaking 10-year roadmap plotting a future based around renewables and green hydrogen to replace the fossil fuel exports it has built its economy on.

The regional council's 10-year energy transition roadmap - a first for the country - outlines five other areas which could move it towards what it calls the "new economy", and renewables and green hydrogen are the pillars that makes the most of the city's current export infrastructure.

The plan is the result of a two year project with the regional economic development agency, The Next Economy, and included engagement with 220 community, government and industry stakeholders.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Narcissism and Fraudulence: Intensive con artistry may be a narcissistic strategy for the avoidance of self-knowledge. (Anthony Eagan, 12 Nov 2022, Quillette)

One of the strangest examples of this more pathological type of con artist is Tania Head, the woman who claimed to have been in the Sky Lobby on the 76th floor of the South World Trade Center Tower when the second plane struck. Together with an actual 9/11 survivor named Gerry Bogacz, Tania Head formed the WTC Survivors Network, a sort of trauma-support system. Eventually, she squeezed Bogacz from the board and maneuvered herself to the position of president. She gave guided tours at ground zero, telling groups and even the media of her harrowing experience: how she was thrown across the room from the explosive impact; how she emerged from unconsciousness to find Welles Crowther, the famous man in the red bandana, patting out the fire scorching her arm; how she was carried to safety just before the second tower collapsed; how a fireman guided her under a truck to avoid the falling rubble; and how she slipped into a coma only to awaken five days later in a hospital bed. She also told of how her husband, Dave, had been killed when the first tower collapsed, making her a double-victim.

The documentary The Woman Who Wasn't There chronicles Head's rise to prominence in the world of 9/11 survivors and her fall from fraudulent grace. In many of the film's interviews, we see her former friends and companions discussing how integral she had been in comforting them and helping them through the trauma, how compassionate she was, how strong and supportive and admirable. Over time, however, as Head grew more ruthless in her victimhood, her fa├žade began to crack. Bogacz and others grew increasingly suspicious, and a series of articles and inquiries led to the discovery of the truth that Tania Head was unmarried and living in Barcelona on September 11th, 2001. When the planes struck, she was some 4,000 miles from ground zero. She never profited financially from her manipulations, nor did she appear to harbor any resentment towards victims of the terrorist attack--to the contrary, she seemed to long for the community her duplicity provided, and, clearly, she wished to be a leader of that community.

What if con artists of her inclination, who operate neither from umbrage nor for financial gain, fail to remember that their elaborate construction is untrue? What if the sham itself is an act of forgetting, one that, to put it another way, requires memory but interferes with accurate recollection? In constructing falsehoods of such magnitude, the imagination and the memory coalesce, and in order to avoid betraying the lie, the con artist is required to work up a wealth of detail both subtle and intricate, one that is founded on seized minutiae from a life not her own.

Counterintuitively, in fact, this work of forgetting may be the originating purpose of the deception: not a mere by-product of the urge to swindle, but an unconscious strategy to avoid enduring one's own problematic inner depths. The perspective of such massive dishonesty impedes proper self-knowledge because it neglects the true contents of personality--which is to say that it remembers from a false starting point, and in so doing, occludes recollection of one's substantial reality as an individual in pain. The mental energy required to hold the fabricated structure in place allows the fraud to escape the often distressing ordeal of self-awareness.

A 2020 television series entitled The Undoing plays with these issues. Based on the novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, the series stars Hugh Grant as Jonathan Fraser, a pediatric oncologist accused of murdering his mistress with a sculpting hammer. Nicole Kidman plays his wife, Grace, a clinical psychologist. Throughout, Grace struggles with the question of whether her husband is capable of such violence. One of the issues concerns the idea of her husband's potentially pathological narcissism: a self-infatuation and lack of empathy so absolute that, essentially, he has no conscience, no qualms about ending the life of another human with maximum brutality. Is it possible that this man whom Grace has loved and trusted for so long has successfully concealed his sociopathy from her, when after all she is trained in diagnosing such disorders? If her husband is guilty--and all the evidence suggests as much--how is it that she never penetrated beyond his superficiality in order to see the moral vacuum within?

The suspense the series generates hinges around this question, since it reveals the contradiction that, in her own sub-clinical narcissism, Grace Fraser is perhaps more likely to be duped than a woman untrained in clinical psychology. Her strong belief that she is a good psychologist interferes with her willingness to admit that she might have mistakenly married and remained devoted to a man who for all these years has managed to conceal his extreme self-absorption, hollowness, and indifference to the feelings and emotions of other human beings.

But The Undoing raises an even deeper psychological contradiction embedded within the concept of narcissistic personality disorder. The contradiction is best described by Otto Kernberg in his book Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. In what would amount to an almost picture-perfect description of Hugh Grant's character, Kernberg writes:

I describe patients with narcissistic personalities as presenting excessive self-absorption usually coinciding with superficially smooth and effective social adaptation, but with serious distortions in their internal relationships with other people. They present various combinations of intense ambitiousness, grandiose fantasies, feelings of inferiority, and overdependence on external admiration and acclaim. Along with feelings of boredom and emptiness, and continuous search for gratification of strivings for brilliance, wealth, power, and beauty, there are serious deficiencies in their capacity to love and to be concerned about others. This lack of capacity for empathic understanding of others often comes as a surprise considering their superficially appropriate social adjustment.

That final sentence in Kernberg's description highlights a compelling question. If the pathological narcissist lacks empathy, how is he is able to adjust so well socially, to gain the confidence of others by fooling them into the belief that he is loving and compassionate, and even to seduce others into a devoted reciprocal relationship? If long-term social adjustment requires sensitivity to the emotions of others, if an enduring erotic relationship requires mutual understanding and a nuanced responsiveness to the physical and emotional needs of a partner, then how is a pathological narcissist able to pull off such relations? How does the narcissist dupe his spouse, children, colleagues, and friends into the belief that he is caring and compassionate, perhaps even selfless, when in fact the opposite is true?

There's nothing more American than our desire to see people who completely lack empathy for others as ill, rather than evil.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Katie Hobbs wins race for Arizona governor, defeating GOP election denier Kari Lake, NBC News projects (Dan Mangan, 11/14/22, CNBC)

"Democracy is worth the wait," Hobbs said in a tweet after her victory was projected. "Thank you, Arizona. I am so honored and so proud to be your next Governor."

Most of the results were simply edifying; this one's hilarious.  She was their great white supremacist hope.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

60-40 NATION:

American voters move back to the centre -- as they always do (Dov. S. Zakheim, 11/14/22, The Article)

In fact, as the elections last week--and the results that continue to trickle in--have demonstrated, America remains what it has been for some time: a country of moderates, whether of the Left or the Right. No doubt Americans, like other nations, have their paroxysms of extremism, such as Prohibition in the 1920s, or Trumpism a century later. Yet the political pendulum always moves back to the centre, and if the major political parties show an inclination to remain in thrall to their extremes, the people vote for divided government to ensure that the radicals do not have their way. Moreover, it is for good reason that the largest contemporary American political grouping is neither Democratic nor Republican, but what are known as "Independents".

Americans demonstrated in 2012 and again in 2016 that they could elect and re-elect a Black president. Yet in 2016 when Democrats offered the electorate the widely disliked Hillary Clinton as their presidential candidate, who managed to be perceived as both a far more Left-oriented politician than her centrist husband, and yet so elitist that she could dismiss working-class Americans as a "basket of deplorables," voters opted instead for that bumptious, self-centred, bigoted outsider Donald Trump. In turn, Trump's antics, his defiance of presidential and legal norms and his lording over the Republican party proved too much for voters in 2020. They instead chose Joe Biden, whom they perceived to be soothingly centrist, and they followed up in last week's elections by handing the Republicans the worst defeat in mid-term elections that any out-of-office party has suffered since the 1930s.

It is not clear, however, that the extremists of either party will absorb the lessons of November.

The Left is the Right and America is neither.