One quiet afternoon last week a small earthquake shook my Nahcotta home. The dog roused from his sleep and started barking. I looked up from my reading puzzled — then went outside. The sound of a chain saw had been jarring me all morning and, sure enough, a large spruce had just been felled across the street. Everyone in the neighborhood felt it.
It’s hard to tell how many trees were felled because rounds of wood were everywhere. One tree was rotten with swarming ants, but others appeared sound, in one case literally. For me, this is always a sad scene. Just behind this property is (or was) a Great Blue Heron nesting grounds. Will these magnificent birds return after the ruckus is over?
We all know people who visit and love it here: our dramatic landscape; our forest trails; our long sandy beach; the luminous bay; our trees. Then property is purchased and, somehow, one by one trees start coming down as the lot is transformed into an urban yard. You just want to say to these newcomers — why not buy property in the desert or get a house in Seaside?
Trees remove carbon from the atmosphere; they clean the water, reduce flooding, and provide habitat for our wild creatures. And they deliver wind-protection for the trees around them. Once a substantial number of trees come down in an area, other trees — especially big ones — are more susceptible. I don’t know what my neighbors have in mind, but it would be hard to replace the benefits of these sizable trees with anything comparable. Even if new trees are planted — always the best thing to do — it will be 50-75 years before they mature to anything near the size of what we lost.
Small changes create monumental shifts over time. One area where I have firsthand experience of this is in the business world where I spent 25 years of my life. Beginning in 1984, I managed big-frame computer data for the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco. It was exciting to learn how the U.S. macro-economy worked based on micro-changes. I was one of many monitors aggregating and verifying the M1 money supply — basically money that can be easily spent. It’s still tracked by the Fed as a way of keeping tabs on the health of the economy (fred.stlouisfed.org/series/M1SL).
From my perch in banking, I witnessed the birth of the Internet — then called, so charmingly, the information superhighway. From there, after a mind-boggling technology conference in Paris where Cisco demonstrated an initially clunky software program called Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express (CUCME), I jumped into consulting. I met Tim Berners-Lee (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee), one of the Founding Fathers of the Internet, on a trip into the bowels of the earth at the CERN particle collider in Geneva. I had a front-row seat for the tech-tsunami that would knock commerce off its feet.
The Internet is why IBM stumbled and Microsoft produced billionaires (and is now losing ground to Google and Amazon). Why the Encyclopedia Britannica, first printed in 1771, — remember those volumes of very expensive books? — was finally taken off the market in 1984. And why GE, once the darling of Wall Street and a leader in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, is now likely to go bankrupt or, at the least, need some major restructuring.
It often appears as if change is sudden — the Berlin Wall coming down, the fall of the Soviet Union — but if one looks more carefully, the signs of change are everywhere. (When did the extermination of the Jews begin? — with the Jewish badge, the six-pointed star; with Cristol Nacht? ) Still, it’s human to ignore the harbingers of change; we all like the status quo. Don’t rock my boat — I just got it in the water!
We’re in the midst of another perfect and dangerous incremental storm as we witness what is happening to our democratic structures and institutions. In preparation for this column, I began a list of news stories I could draw on with quotes from a vast variety of pundits, journalists, academics, Congressional and Senatorial representatives (on both sides of the aisle) and past government officials. I have two pages of links; there’s no way I can fit them all into this article.
The bottom line, as Michael A. Cohen has written in the Globe, is this — “America’s unwritten political and institutional norms are being shredded.” The current inhabitant of the White House is a clear danger to our democracy — whether we start with his refusal not to disclose his tax returns; his refusal to divest himself of his many business interests; labeling our most prestigious news media as “Fake;” his cronyism in making appointments; placing inexperienced family members in critical governmental positions; discrediting our investigative institutions; or his insistent, continual, and unapologetic lying.
Some of the effects of this standard-breaking could be beneficial. I have no doubt that the #MeToo movement is partially due to the “Grab them by their ___” tape; and another consequence is the many women now running for office. More people are speaking out. Our ship of state is trying to right itself.
On the other hand, it would be nearly impossible to track all the adverse effects of any one of these other standard-breaking stances. Let’s just talk about one — “draining the swamp.” As with so many actions of this president, what he says is the opposite of what he does.
Enlarging the swamp
Last week I read an astonishing article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine by Gideon Lewis-Kraus, “The Upper Upper Upper Class,” about Steve Varsano, owner of Jet Business, a firm that sells or brokers the sale of private jets to the world’s billionaires, many of them now serving in the White House. According to Lewis-Kraus, “Varsano got so many phone calls after Trump’s election that he started looking for a new London storefront twice the size. Trump appointed the most disproportionately enplaned administration in history: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has a Dassault Falcon; Linda McMahon, Small Business Administration, has a Bombardier Global; Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her family maintain a fleet of 12 private jets and four helicopters; Gary Cohn, the chairman of the National Economic Council and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, each retrain private jet shares.” (Trump’s White House is the wealthiest ever seen in modern America: tinyurl.com/y9nzjasc )
It’s no surprise that, as Lewis-Kraus notes, “Trump’s party backed a tax-reform plan that enshrines an exemption for private jet owners.” This tax deduction “is rather more accurately geared toward the one percent of the one percent of the one percent.” (Read the complete article here: tinyurl.com/y82aabvv ).
I am still baffled why blue-collar workers, the unemployed, or any other than the wealthiest in Trump’s base would think this fellow has their best interests at heart. We need only look at Paul Ryan’s — now deleted — tweet posted over the weekend (@PRyan) to see that most of Trump’s soldiers have no concept of the financial burdens of a normal family, “A secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, PA said she was pleasantly surprised her pay went up $1.50 a week…she said that [will] more than cover her Costco membership for a year.”
That’s $78 annually, folks — a veritable bonanza! But let’s not look too carefully at what this secretary’s post-tax-bill healthcare or childcare costs will be or what she’ll lose in deductions.
We have come to the end of this tale of change, dear readers, but one last thought: the Peninsula is diminished by every lost tree, and I can feel every dollar taken from my pocket and given to a private jet owner.
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