One down, 207 to go…

Donald Trump has been President of the United States for one week now.

Just typing that feels strange. Like a different reality.

I’ve been re-watching episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine lately, and I’ve recently gotten to one of the “Mirror Universe” episodes that peppered the series. Following up on a classic Original Series episode, our heroes find themselves transported to a twisted version of their own timeline, where the political and military balance of power has shifted, and by the DS9 era, humans are all scrappy rebels, and pretty much every mirror version of the main characters are … well, jerks. It’s entertaining enough (although each subsequent foray into that universe diminished in quality), but also clearly meant to be something of a nightmare world.

All this week, a small part of me is hoping I’ll figure out how to reverse the transporter accident that dragged us into this bizarre hellscape, and return to boring reality.

But anyway, enough of my flights of nerdy solipsism. This is real life, unfortunately. And since we can’t fix this problem using phasers or technobabble, I’m forced to use the most powerful weapon at my disposal.

Information.

Facts matter, even while the new leadership is working overtime to pretend otherwise.

Impeachment may or may not be possible. Unless a bombshell hits, proving Trump’s collusion with the Russian government, it will likely be near impossible to get Republicans to join in on impeachment before the midterms. So for now, we need to assume we have 207 more weeks with this guy in the White House.

And while we as citizens may not ever be able to force him to be honest, we can at least observe and record every terrible decision, every sickening lie. We can make sure that we understand what is happening to our country. Maybe it could eventually be used to kick Trump out of office early. Maybe we’ll have to suffer for three years and fifty one more weeks.

Whatever happens, we can make sure we have a record of everything Trump says and does. I probably won’t do this every single week, but expect regular updates of the new President’s actions. It’s important to have documentation.

I have an extensive list of major reasons why he shouldn’t have been elected in the first place, and have devoted plenty of writing to his absurd and dangerous cabinet appointments, his anti-establishment hypocrisy, as well as his constant lies about voter fraud.

I will include this piece in the “Elected yet unelectable” category, though the sheer scope of his flaws and failings will make it different in format from my other “Unelectable” articles. More of a continuing adventure than a one-off piece.

So, with that lengthy (and meandering) preface complete, let’s talk about Trump’s first week:

Right off the bat, within hours of taking the oath of office (somehow avoiding combustion of Abraham Lincoln’s Bible), Trump suspended a recent Obama executive order reducing insurance premiums on FHA loans. The basic upshot is that low income homeowners will end up paying upwards of $900 more per year on home insurance premiums. Straight out of the gate, Trump’s first significant action is to intentionally hurt low-income homeowners.

Wait, let me backtrack just a little and talk about the speech itself. Other than the rain and the low turnout (more on that later), Donald Trump’s inaugural speech was… well, mercifully short and to the point. But what exactly was that point?

Paranoid fear-mongering is an apt description. Lies about the state of the nation, about the state of the world. It was similar to his RNC speech, except edited for brevity. He told America that they lived in an economically depressed, crime-ridden dystopia, beset on all sides by the spectre of immigration run amok, of terrorism at our doors.

I’ve discussed this before, but it bears repeating – none of what Trump says about the state of the nation is true. Quick facts:

  • Trade deals had relatively little to do with the loss of jobs in manufacturing. Automation, technological advancement, and shifting economic priorities take most of the credit/blame there.
  • The American economy, by and large, is doing pretty well. There are definitely sluggish aspects and weak points, but employment is quite strong, wages are finally rising again, and the US came through the global recession stronger than pretty much every other advanced nation.
  • The United States is actually near a historic low point for crime. Despite a marginal recent uptick in a handful of urban areas, we now live in arguably the safest era of American history.
  • Net immigration, especially from Mexico, is essentially zero. Immigrants, both legal and otherwise, commit less crime than native-born citizens, and even undocumented workers actually act as a benefit to the economy, not a burden.
  • Terrorism is a real problem, but ISIS itself is gradually declining, and death by Islamic terror ranks quite low on the list of things that harm Americans. Just remember that deer, bees, furniture, stairs, and armed toddlers are all significantly greater threats to American lives.

Meanwhile, after the inauguration, Trump immediately took offense to comparisons of the size of the crowd at the event itself to Obama’s inauguration 8 years prior. Aerial photos on the moment Trump was sworn in seem to show a significantly smaller crowd than what President Obama enjoyed in 2009. Numbers from local transit authorities bear this out as well.

It really shouldn’t be much of an issue. And yet, the Guinness world record holder for thinnest skin seems to be obsessing about it. He actually pressured the US Park Service to release favorable information about the crowd size. His press secretary and notable gum enthusiast, Sean Spicer, devoted a ridiculous amount of time at an early press conference arguing that the obviously scant crowd was the largest in history.

Days later, Spicer, Trump, and Kellyanne Conway were all still arguing about the size of the crowds at the inauguration, despite the twin blows of reality, and most people having long moved on.

Meanwhile, as Trump attempted to distract the world with frivolous issues, he started off his administration in violation of Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the US Constitution – the Emoluments Clause. Basically, by remaining invested and connected with his businesses after taking office, he is accepting “reward,” meaning profit, from foreign interests, as he has many businesses around the world.

It is not completely clear how effective invoking the Clause will be for Trump opponents, but there is certainly reason to think multiple lawsuits will follow the first one.

While Trump is taking advantage of his new position to further enrich himself, he’s also doing his best to make life more difficult for others, including women around the world. On his third full day in office, Trump signed an executive order banning foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from mentioning abortion when counseling women on reproductive health issues. It’s the “global gag rule” pushed by Ronald Reagan in 1984, but now greatly expanded. Under Reagan, it ordered foreign organizations that receive funding from the U.S. for family planning services can’t discuss abortion. Doing so could result in a loss of funding – as of 2016 was about $600 million. Now, that includes any organization that provides any medical services, including AIDS medications, malaria treatment, or anything else. So now nearly $10 billion worth of funding is affected. Since abortion is mentioned by multiple health organizations as a reasonable procedure in certain scenarios, this could lead to an enormous amount of suffering and death. It will also hurt women disproportionately, and likely lead to an increase in back-alley abortions around the world.

Trump also ordered a hiring freeze on the federal workforce. This is not actually totally abnormal for an incoming president. It can take a bit of time to sort out priorities and directions, and pausing everything can be useful. But he also ordered the hiring of 5000 border patrol agents… which would be the opposite of a hiring freeze. So who knows what he actually wants?

What else? Did he do more? Oh yes…

Trump’s first public address after the inauguration was at the CIA headquarters, where he rambled about inauguration crowd size, suggested stealing oil from other countries, proclaimed his distrust of “the media,” and lied about never having a beef with the intelligence community. It was a disastrous event, to say the least.

Trump’s pick to chair the FCC is an opponent of net neutrality. Prepare for a vastly more restrictive internet over the next few years.

How about the environment? Noted climate change denier surrounded himself with a cabinet full of climate change deniers (and a few lukewarm climate changers who won’t be much help). For starters, Trump put every government body with a scientific mandate under a gag order. The EPA, the National Park Service, NASA, and so on. The NPS decided to to directly defy Trump, but the others are all now being represented by private allies with new Twitter accounts. But in the meantime, Trump appears to be preparing for massive changes in science policy, especially regarding environmental regulations. Trump has also decided that all new environmental policies will be required to undergo Congressional review to ensure they fit the political preferences of the GOP. Protecting clean air and water is out. Providing false information about the cleanliness of coal is in. Working to reduce carbon emissions will be a thing of the past. Withdrawing from the Paris accord seems likely. The potential environmental damage caused by Trump policies may take decades to reverse.

Trump also dealt another blow to both environmental concerns and civil liberties, when he decided to restart the DAPL, and reopen the Keystone XL pipeline.

But while we deal with that, back in Washington, the US Supreme Court will soon get a new conservative justice. Trump has apparently narrowed his choices down to two right-wing extremists of the Scalia ilk, and a third – William Pryor – who is an outright reactionary bigot. My personal cynicism leads me to think Pryor will be the likely choice, as he is by far the worst option, occupying a spot on the ideological spectrum between Robert Bork and Mussolini.

Throughout the week, Trump has also come back to a pre-inauguration claim that he was the victim of widespread voter fraud. In an election he officially won.

Yeah.

Trump has repeatedly (and falsely) asserted that his 2.9 million vote deficit to Hillary Clinton was entirely due to “illegals voting,” on the order of 3 to 5 million. Of course, he has provided no citations, no evidence. He briefly referenced a 2012 Pew survey that said nothing about voter fraud. It merely discussed issues with states taking time to clean up voter rolls. As people move, die, and re-register elsewhere, irregularities occur which forces states to periodically purge and clean their voter rolls. Multiple investigations have occurred over the years which showed that actual cases of fraud were less common than lightning strikes. It’s a topic I’ve discussed previously on this blog. But Trump recklessly stated that the largest case of voter fraud in world history has occurred –  in an election he won – and every single one of “3-5 million” illegal votes were cast for his opponent. If this were real, it would require pretty much a freeze of all government activities, and an investigation on an unheard-of scale. But of course, that’s not happening, because no such fraud occurred. But Trump gets away with such slander with no more consequence than people like me preaching to the choir.

Trump and his team continued to lie throughout the first week. Trump told a massive falsehood about ACA registration, falsely claiming that estimates of insured people didn’t include those who lost insurance during implementation of the plan. He’s wrong. They do. And the ACA has resulted in a net increase of at least 20 million insured people over the last few years.

Trump continued ranting about voter fraud and crowd sizes throughout the week, even several days after the inauguration. By the way, it turns out much of Trump’s family, and many on his staff are registered to vote in two states.

Trump lied about people being killed during President Obama’s farewell address.

His chief of staff, Steve Bannon, lambasted the media for… well, basically just reporting on the new president’s actions. Sean Spicer declared the media as “the opposition party.” Kellyanne Conway mostly just rambles and changes the subject.

Further hypocrisy happened when it was revealed that multiple people within Trump’s staff have been using private email accounts. You know, the one topic that hurt Trump’s election opponent more than anything else. The topic that Trump ranted about at almost every opportunity for months. Yep, he did it too. Trump also turns out to be tweeting from an unsecured Android phone.

Trump pledged to cut all government funding of the arts. The NEA andthe Corporation for Public Broadcasting are on the chopping block. PBS gets 15 percent of its funding from the government, and NPR 2 percent, so while both will be affected, neither should be wrecked.

Supposedly, Trump hung a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office. While not a big deal in the same way as some of the others listed here, it is amusingly (and sadly) appropriate. Jackson was one of the most bloodthirsty presidents in American history (and there have been plenty of those), was fiercely nationalistic, ran on a populist platform, happily owned slaves, fought multiple duels, and badly mismanaged the economy. Really does make sense.

Trump officially authorized construction of his southern border wall, claiming that he would pay for it with tariffs, then drastically underselling the likely cost of the project.

Trump continued to make a case for bringing back torture and reopening black sites, despite condemnation from many in Congress, and even disagreement from his new Secretary of Defense.

While all this nonsense occurred, something bigger happened. Proving irony to be long dead and buried, Donald Trump officially ordered his promised “Muslim ban” on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Seriously.

The actual details of the ban are scaled back slightly from his original campaign rhetoric, but are still extensive. Trump officially ordered a ban on Muslims from 7 countries: Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Sudan. All of which are majority Muslim. And none of which were the birthplaces of anybody who has successfully carried out a terrorist attack on American soil in decades. The countries he didn’t include in the ban? Countries like Pakistan, Saudia Arabia, Afghanistan, Egypt, the UAE, Lebanon, and Russia. All of which contain people who have killed Americans in the name of terror. It should also be noted that most of those countries spared banning contain Trump business interests.

The ban doesn’t just include new immigration. It also includes existing legal visitors and residents with valid green cards. And it includes refugees. Yes, including the millions still stuck in Syria, and somewhere in between here and there, fleeing the worst catastrophe of the last few decades. Trump has happily shut them out, incoherently ranting about the need for “extreme vetting,” not understanding just how lengthy and extensive the current vetting process is for refugees.

Among the refugees that Trump has stated he will accept – the priority will go to Christian refugees, in blatant defiance of the US Constitution.

As a further attack on immigrants, Trump vowed to shame sanctuary cities by compiling and releasing a database of crimes specifically committed by immigrants.

So, to summarize – in just a week, Donald Trump has lied about what would be record-breaking voter fraud, lied about his own popularity, ordered a shutdown on information from science organizations, banned Muslims from seven countries that aren’t threats to the US, stepped all over the establishment clause of the constitution, makes profit on from foreign investment, celebrates Manifest Destiny, pledged to strip 20-30 million Americans of their healthcare, while claiming he was doing the opposite, ordered construction on a massive “bridge to nowhere” style infrastructure project that will fail to prevent illegal immigration, but will likely damage the local environment and economy.

Whew!

Well, at least he’s keeping busy.

In all seriousness, this has been a spectacularly scary start to a new administration that appears to actively want to harm Americans. This is going to be a rough ride, everyone. As long as we remain vigilant, we should endure. But that vigilance is going to be required of pretty much everyone. Don’t get complacent, don’t get comfortable. Because we can’t afford to let Trump get comfortable.

As always, much of what I wrote has been summarized better. Check out some of the links below:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/01/27/fact-check-president-trump-first-week-job/97147802/

https://newrepublic.com/article/140175/just-happened-review-president-trumps-first-week

https://nytimes.com/2017/01/20/opinion/what-president-trump-doesnt-get-about-america.html

http://www.vox.com/2017/1/21/14347812/trump-press-briefing-sean-spicer

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-us-russia-20170123-story.html

http://www.vox.com/2017/1/24/14371256/trump-freeze-epa-grants

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38734450

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/315974-trump-expected-to-take-executive-action-on-immigration-in-the-coming

http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/1/25/14390106/leaked-drafts-trump-immigrants-executive-order

http://www.npr.org/2017/01/25/511469982/hiring-freeze-and-obamacare-repeal-could-clobber-veterans-affairs

http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2017/01/25/trump_issues_gag_orders_on_science_agencies.html

http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/trump-science-epa-review

http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/1/25/14370712/trump-science-gagging-explained

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2017/01/25/today_in_trump_s_america_was_the_worst_day_yet.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/01/the-doomsday-clocks-new-and-dire-warning/514544/?utm_source=atlfb

http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/1/26/14392530/trump-executive-orders-leaked-aides-immigration-torture-wall-black-site-deportation

Posted in Budgets, Civil Rights, Economics, Elected yet unelectable, foreign policy, Governance, Healthcare, immigration, Infrastructure, Politics, Science, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yes, climate change is real

imrs

The Larsen B ice shelf on March 7, 2002, after it shattered into thousands of smaller icebergs. (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Myths and Misconceptions – Part 1

I recently wrote about the perils of politicizing science. It’s legitimately harmful for accepted scientific principles to be treated as hoaxes due to political, religious, or business reasons. In a world increasingly dependent on science and technology, willful ignorance of basic scientific concepts is problematic for individual citizens. For elected “leaders,” it’s downright hazardous.

So, in the spirit of pushing back against intentional ignorance, I will start the first of what will likely be many posts related to explaining and correcting bad information that far too many people believe. The first of these pernicious myths that crop up in our world is the notion that climate change is a hoax.

A majority of Americans agree with the premise that human industry and agriculture is leading to warming of the atmosphere and oceans of our planet. The science behind this is well established, and has been understood for decades now.

The websites for NASA, NOAA, the EPA, and the Union of Concerned Scientists all have significant information documenting the evidence for human-caused climate change.

Scientific American, National Geographic, New Scientist, Skeptical Science, and the Royal Society have all devoted pages of information to explaining why global warming is real and a serious threat to our future. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy fame has discussed the topic on multiple occasions.

If you’re skeptical about human-caused climate change, I highly suggest you check out the links I provided. All of them provide real information from real climate experts. They represent a wide array of beliefs, ideologies, and experiences. They aren’t all politically-motivated, but they all are motivated by facts and evidence.

But if simply providing links to climate experts is not enough, let’s actually talk about this. I’m going provide a brief primer on the evidence for anthropogenic climate change.

First of all, what evidence do we have that the planet is warming?

Simply put, we take the Earth’s temperature. Air and ocean temperature has been reliably recorded by scientists from multiple countries since late in the 19th century (good records date back to 1880), and more extensively since 1950 or so. The immediate trends of the last 150 years are easy to see. Going back farther takes a bit more digging. There are plenty of historical documents available, discussing climate and weather patterns in different parts of the world, going back several thousand years. Europeans of the Renaissance and back into the Middle Ages, Muslim scientists toward the end of the prior millennium, Viking explorers, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Mayans, the Chinese, and so on, have all documented their climate. Much information can be gleaned from ancient texts. Beyond human civilization, many of the trends of climate on Earth can be found in other ways. Looking at ice cores pulled from glaciers and ice sheets is a good way to read the record of ancient climate. Tree rings, erosion of rock layers, and the location of glaciers all tell part of the story. There is plenty of evidence that the Earth’s temperature, both globally and at more local levels, has fluctuated greatly over the years. It’s certain that more rapid changes in global temperature have been recorded during human civilization. The immediate effects provide proof of warming, even beyond temperature readings. Sea levels and damage to polar ice are clear signs. Webcomic XKCD provides a wonderful chart explaining the trends of temperatures on Earth for the past 22,000 years. The next step is differentiating between natural fluctuations and mad-made change, which leads us to…

How do we know people are the cause?

There are a few ways we can tell. First of all, the timing of the temperature increase coincides clearly with the increase in carbon output by human industry, transportation, and agriculture. The type of carbon in the atmosphere also corresponds with human-caused emissions, compared with natural occurrences (such as volcanoes and forest fires).

evidence_co2

We have a good idea of the human footprint on the planet’s atmosphere. We know pretty conclusively that increases in global temperature have been concurrent with the massive surge in atmospheric and oceanic carbon of the 20th century. There have been thousands of scientists, research projects, papers, and studies all driving toward the simple fact that humanity is causing the temperature of the planet to rise.

global-climate-drivers

Good information on evidence for human-caused climate change can be found here, here, here, and here.

Oh yes, and we should remember that 2012 was the warmest year on record. Until 2014 was. And then 2015 took that crown. But wait, it looks like 2016 may have been the warmest year in recorded history. The ten hottest years have all occurred since 1998, with the records themselves going back to 1880, when human industry was still a tiny fraction of what it would be 70 years later, much less today.

Okay, so people are causing the Earth to warm up? What’s the worst that could happen?

Where do we start? First of all, we already have seen see levels rising, thanks to major sheets of ice in Greenland and Antarctica melting. As the oceans continue to rise, coastal communities will be imperiled. Some are contained enough (and wealthy enough) to likely survive, albeit at tremendous cost. I could envision New York, Sydney, or Hong Kong spending the money to build sufficient barriers, levies, and retaining walls to keep the ocean at bay. Some cities, like New Orleans or Manila, might be in bigger trouble. Miami would have to become an artificial island in order to survive.

Beyond the levels of the ocean, another effect would involve increased acidity. That change to the oceanic PH balance would have devastating consequences on marine life.

Speaking of animals: the rate of extinctions – already increasing due to humanity – would increase even faster with further warming. Many animals require a fairly limited range of temperatures for survival. Warming trends would force migrations, changes in diet, and often mass death.

Meanwhile, temperature increases would lead to great instability in local weather. Droughts would grow longer, and floods would become more intense. Disease would spread more easily, as tropical weather expands further from the equator, bringing insects with it. Ground level ozone increases also help to hold more particulate matter in the air. So the improvements we’ve seen in air pollution – especially in American cities – would be short-lived.

Some crops would do better in the short run, others would do worse, as growing seasons would lengthen. But the increased risk of drought would imperil any potential improvements.

Some of the longer-term projections are trickier to work out. But it isn’t tough to extrapolate from the current effects of the warming we see now. Plus, there is enough evidence of life on a warmer Earth thanks to the fossil record, and our knowledge of extinct species and past epochs.

I have provided some good information about the likely impact of global warming on human civilization here:

https://www.nrdc.org/stories/are-effects-global-warming-really-bad

http://www.livescience.com/37057-global-warming-effects.html

http://education.seattlepi.com/long-shortterm-effects-global-warming-5666.html

http://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

https://www2.usgs.gov/faq/categories/9772/5641

Didn’t some scientists claim that the Earth was actually cooling, not warming? What happened with that?

This comes up in some right-leaning opinion pieces. “Didn’t everyone in the ’70s used to worry about global cooling? Can we trust the science now?”

Beyond the obvious fallacy in assuming that changes in scientific consensus invalidates that science… it’s also not really true. Even in the 1970s, most papers discussing climate change were more concerned with warming than cooling. This whole myth stems from one article published in Newsweek in 1975. The author of the piece, who was a good science writer, later rescinded much of what he wrote. He wrote a new piece in 2014 acknowledging his errors, and expressed support for the current accepted science. The horse continues to be beaten to death by conservative pundits today, despite stemming from one guy who later admitted he was wrong.

What about Climategate?

In November 2009, several thousand e-mails from the University of East Anglica in the UK were illegally stolen and leaked. The resulting furor was an entirely manufactured controversy, caused by multiple statements taken completely out of context, and a lack of understanding of scientific processes and debates. Almost every single “gotcha” e-mail that was released and turned into “proof” against  the scientific consensus was contrived BS. RationalWiki does a good job discussing some of those individual statements here.

It’s cold today. So much for global warming.

Every winter, somebody tries this one. James Inhofe famously brought a snowball into the US Capitol Building to disprove climate change.

This one is almost too simple to bother with, except almost every denier uses this argument. So, I’ll make this refutation quick.

Climate and weather are two different things. Weather is what is happening locally. Climate is the regional and global trend of all the local weather. When we discuss global warming, we speak of the overall warming of the entire planet. However, while even just a couple degree temperature increase can have devastating effects – local weather will remain highly variable. In fact, as the overall temperature rises, local weather patterns can become more extreme – and that includes winter storms and cold snaps. Yes, Inhofe’s snowball may have been an indirect result of global warming. And a direct result of him being an idiot and a corrupt pawn of the fossil fuel industry.

Ted Cruz says there’s been a lull in the warming trend for 15 years.

So do several other people who aren’t scientists. Guess what? They’re wrong. Even back in 2013, when that claim was first making the rounds, it was demonstrably incorrect. Much of it involved a misunderstanding of global trends combined with the natural rollercoaster-like cycles of warming and cooling that occur within those larger trends. Phil Plait did a lot of good work debunking the lies perpetuated by science deniers in Congress and the media.

After 2013, more data continued to pour in, further destroying claims of a global warming “pause.”

Then, in the last month, new research was released, which explained how some temperature data required recalibration. This shift actually showed even greater warming than before, further disproving the likes of Ted Cruz and James Inhofe.

Some other year was the “warmest on record.

Nah. These are simply more examples of cherry-picking data in pursuit of continued obfuscation. The 1934 claim in particular involved temperatures only in the United States, not worldwide.

Okay, so if all this is true, what do we do now?

Well, let’s make sure not to vote for the American Presidential candidate who denies the facts of climate change and seeks to increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Oh, whoops. Damn. Nevermind, then.

Okay, what now? Well, at least in the long run (since current American policy is going to be backsliding soon), we need to cut our carbon emissions. By a lot. We will need to eat less meat. We will need to stop using coal for power. We will need to get rid of gasoline-burning engines. We will need much stricter emissions standards in every nation on Earth.

On a personal scale, there are several good guides providing ideas for what individuals can do to help reduce our own footprint.

We have to do more than yell at elected officials (although that is important). We need to take responsibility for our own lives and our own output. One person alone won’t make a big dent in the problem. But millions? That will definitely help.

Why do people deny this? What do they have to gain?

I talked about this a couple years ago. Quite a few lawmakers receive substantial contributions from companies that directly contribute to global warming. In many cases, they’re simply scratching the back that funds them.

There are also other motivations for politicizing science. Outright science denial is often seen as a badge of ideological purity. Sadly for human progress, many political figures receive extra credit from their political base when they oppose EVERYTHING the other side opposes, even when it’s opposing facts and logic. Sometimes religious extremism also comes into play, although that usually leads to opposing sex education, genetic research, and biological evolution, more than climate change denial.

Smarter people than I have covered this topic with more depth and wit than I have here. I have included a few additional links at the bottom for more information from those smarter people.

With my effort here, I primarily just want to provide a guide to those who may be on the fence, tools for those who want to learn more, and ammunition to those who relish the debate.

Anthropogenic climate change is a fact. As much as any area of scientific study can be. It’s happening, it’s real, we know why it’s happening, and we know the basics of stopping it. Unfortunately, there are many who are still fighting on the wrong side of this issue. It will take a concerted effort from all of humanity. But for that to happen, we all need to be informed of the facts.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2016/01/13/new_study_disproves_another_climate_change_denier_claim.html

https://www.skepticalscience.com/empirical-evidence-for-global-warming.htm

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/seven-answers-to-climate-contrarian-nonsense/

https://www.epa.gov/climatechange/climate-change-basic-information

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Global_warming

Posted in Myths and misconceptions, Politics, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Raiding the henhouse

rav_vid_revhusen_i_ystad_-_juli_2012

Foto: Jonn Leffmann

Two years ago, I discussed the appointment of various climate change deniers to posts as heads of Senate committees in charge of science-based institutions. Those institutions are tasked with addressing (among other things) climate change. That was a perfect example of “foxes guarding the henhouse.” But at least the Obama Administration was able to keep a check on the amount of damage those individuals could cause. Now that Donald Trump is running the executive branch, the foxes are no longer bothering with the pretense of guarding the hens. They’re just rushing in for lunch.

Trump has decided that he is going to surround himself with people who – like himself – have minimal knowledge of the organization they are tasked with running. Many of these people believe the organization itself should not exist, and will likely run it in such a way as to delegitimize it. I’m just trying to wrap my mind around the possible effects of many of Trump’s appointments. Not every single appointment has been entirely terrible. But many raise multiple red flags for those who would like to see a working government serving the interests of American citizens.

It’s already bad enough that the new president-elect was actively aided in his election efforts by a hostile foreign power (with which he has done quite a bit of business). But now he has nominated the following rogues gallery to serve as his primary officials and advisors:

Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State. Tillerson is lukewarm at best on climate change, and has deep ties with the nation that intentionally broke international laws and compromised American sovereignty to help elect his new boss. He’s a businessman with no government experience.

Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. Sessions is an actual, confirmed racist with a long history of suppressing minority voters and denying jobs to people based on the color of their skin. And he is going to be the head of the US Justice Department. Because that’s what we need more of in America; racist cops.

Steve Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury.  What a shock, no government experience. Mnuchin has a background as a movie producer, and used to work for Goldman Sachs, providing additional irony to a Cabinet already dripping in it. Trump spent much of his campaign railing against the influence of Goldman Sachs on primary and general election opponents alike. Mnuchin was personally enriched by home foreclosures during the worst of the Bush-era housing crisis. He has declared his primary goal to cut taxes for the rich – people like himself.

Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy. Unlike many of the other choices, Perry has government experience. Like the others, however, he has expressed an interest in dismantling the organization he will be leading. In addition, he is painfully unqualified to do the job. His last two predecessors were renowned physicists. Perry is a global warming denier who managed to forget (in a debate) which government departments he wanted to eliminate. Perry may actually be less intellectually curious than his predecessor in the Texas governor’s mansion, which is kind of an impressive accomplishment. It’s frightening though, to have such a person in charge of the American nuclear weapons infrastructure. As a side note, Greg Abbott may be even dumber (not to mention meaner) than Perry. Hopefully Texas can turn this trend around one day.

Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. Rich and inexperienced. The pattern continues. She has demonstrated a complete lack of knowledge of education policy, she wants more religion (Christian only, of course) in public schools, and is an advocate for private and charter schools – at the expense of public education. Oh yeah, and she supports guns in schools to keep bears away.

Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor. Wealthy business owner with no government experience. Against pretty much all regulations on business, against minimum wage laws, and blames government oversight for the last economic crisis. A man who is as anti-labor as possible in charge of helping advance the cause of labor. This will go well.

Tom Price for Health and Human Services. Price has some government experience, but has been a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act, and seeks to dismantle it as soon as possible. 20 to 30 million Americans would stand to lose their health insurance if Price gets his way.

Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development. Okay, now this just looks like a joke. Trump’s appointment of Carson seems to stem from his correlation of “black people equals inner cities” as well as an attempt to demonstrate a lack of racism. Meanwhile, Carson refused to swear that money from HUD wouldn’t go to Trump businesses, he appeared to admit his goal was to help as few people as possible, and of course, he has no knowledge of public policy or even the basics of governance. He previously refused a cabinet position on the grounds of his own inexperience! The actual logic used at one point for this appointment was that Carson once lived in public housing as a child. That’s sort of like me saying I’m qualified to run a car company because I drive a car.

Wilbur Ross for Secretary of Commerce. Sleazy plutocrat with no government experience. He made his fortune from buying and selling off failing businesses. Has profited from the deaths of others. He has no business running any more businesses, much less a governing body.

Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency. This fits the general theme of the incoming cabinet. The future head of the organization tasked with protecting and improving the environment believes the organization shouldn’t exist. He is an outright denier of the fact of man-made global warming, he is a supporter of the coal industry, and he wants to eliminate most regulation on polluters.

Nikki Haley as Ambassador to the United Nations. This appointment isn’t quite as obviously egregious as John Bolton’s appointment by George W. Bush. But it is a bit of a head-scratcher, as Haley has no foreign policy experience. It was almost as if Trump just threw a dart at a list of prominent Republicans.

Mike Pompeo as CIA Director. This one is pretty scary. Pompeo is wrong about pretty much everything. He lied about Muslim leaders and clerics, praised American intelligence officials who committed acts of torture, supports bulk data collection, opposed the recent nuclear deal with Iran, and has called for the execution of Edward Snowden. Basically, Pompeo believes that the show 24 is a good model for American intelligence services.

Linda McMahon as Secretary of Small Business Administration. She ran the WWE. And has no government experience. Sigh.

Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist. This appointment will require no Senate confirmation. Bannon is already in and ready to go. So far, he seems to be a good fit. Vaguely racist and anti-Semitic, experienced in media and business, but little knowledge of public policy. I recommend reading Breitbart articles from the last few years to get an idea of where Bannon is coming from. That may be the only time I suggest reading Breitbart, except possibly as a form of masochistic entertainment.

Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor. Ultra-aggressive conspiracy theorist and anti-Islamic bigot. Anybody who was hoping for a less-hawkish foreign policy from Trump should be concerned by this appointment.

There are a few other nominations that don’t look quite as bad. Elaine Chao and James Mattis, for example, are downright reasonable selections. At least, by comparison. But they are exceptions to what is otherwise an unprecedented cabinet-to-be.

Ever since the Republican Party had decided (rhetorically) that the biggest problem with governing was government – they have worked diligently at enacting a governing philosophy which may now be reaching its apotheosis in Trumpism. Simply put, government (as opposed to business) is always the worst, most incompetent, most corrupt, and least efficient institution. Naturally, it seems like the idea is to prove that philosophy by governing as poorly, incompetently, corruptly, and inefficiently as possible. Despite this overarching theme of the post-Reagan GOP, there have always been adults in the party who were genuinely interesting in running a (mostly) democratic government. Trump is testing those grown-ups in a way never seen before. Not only is Trump uniquely ignorant of governing, public policy, and even basic civics – but he has chosen to surround himself with like-minded people.

Now that all branches and levels of the US government system are dominated by one party, we will get to see the full effect of an American federal government run by people who want to tear it down. We have wealthy business executives who despise regulation, taxes, and unions. We have foreign-policy advisors contemptuous of international cooperation. We have people soon to be in charge of massive organizations (with budgets in the hundreds of billions) who have no experience in running anything similar. And worst of all, at least six of the aforementioned nominees are hostile to the very mission of their intended assignments. They seek to tear down and/or neutralize departments that are designed to help millions of Americans.

The incoming administration represents a radical departure from the last century of American governance. If you detest the fight against climate change, loathe labor unions, hate racial and gender equality, scorn universal healthcare, dislike consumer protection, benefit from income and wealth inequality, enjoy immigrant scapegoating, and embrace Vladimir Putin – then the Trump Administration may just be for you. For everyone else – this is going to be a long four years.

Posted in foreign policy, Governance, Healthcare, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Politicizing Science

98e23f3f-8426-4b9a-a68d-8921f24b7acf-620x372

Now that science denial is coming back into (political) fashion, and indeed, an entire government is going to be built on lies and bad information, I feel like it’s now my duty to combat incorrect information as much as I can. I’m going to start posting frequently on issues where bad information is prevalent. It will be sort of a political myth-busting. The hope is that each piece can be used as a guide to the truth on a particular subject. It may not change many minds, but hopefully will at least help provide an argument for the side of reason.

Many of these pieces will be science-based (although not all of them). Science is a toolset – a framework for understanding the universe. A willingness to absorb and not dismiss new information is paramount. Openness, flexibility, and a thirst for new information are key elements. Trying to squeeze and manipulate a premise around an existing set of beliefs is the opposite of what we want here. Unfortunately, the new administration seems to be leaning away from science, and toward pandering to business interests.

Far too many people distrust science as something nakedly partisan. Indeed, one of the two major American political parties has spent a significant amount of time – especially since the nineties – as the anti-science party. Much effort has been made by Republican public officials, business interests, and media outlets to argue that certain scientific disciplines contain inherent political bias. This attitude now has increased power and influence under Donald Trump.

Writer Chris Mooney has written extensively about this. I highly recommend checking out his works on the topic. He has discussed at length how anti-science attitudes within the Republican Party has allowed the creation of bad laws and has damaged our potential scientific, technological, and even social advancement in the world. Education suffers when science is treated with political suspicion.

The fact that the basic framework for understanding the material world is treated politically is a major problem. We can have reasonable disagreements on taxes, budgets, firearms restrictions, the role of government in regulating business and healthcare, and on and on. There is a spectrum of reasonable positions to be held on these topics. However, the scientific consensus on certain topics should be above politics. There aren’t debates on the Senate floor over whether or not the Earth is the center of the universe, or if germs exist. Why are confirmed facts like anthropogenic climate change, biological evolution, the safety of vaccines (more of a fight on the right, contrary to some pundits), and the failure of abstinence education treated as an ideological litmus test?

Obviously many people don’t have an understanding of what the word “theory” actually means. And “scientific fact” is rarely completely clear-cut. But the following points are as much a scientific truth as germ theory or the heliocentric solar system:

* Anthropogenic climate change is real. I will devote an entire post to this to explore it in greater depth, but suffice to say, the planet IS warming because of human effects. Pretty much all serious climate science has confirmed this.

* The enormous variety of life on earth can best be explained by evolution via mutation, natural selection, and possibly other processes yet understood.

* The Earth is around 4.5 billion years old, and our universe is somewhere around 13 billion years old. The evidence for this is strong and has yet to be successfully refuted by those with religious agendas.

* Genetic research, stem cell development, GMOs, and so on are all vital areas of study, and have done much good for humanity.

* Governments have had a role in funding and administering scientific research for many years and are often best equipped for doing so. By providing government funding for R&D (compared to private research), the profit motive is removed or reduced, and important innovations can be developed that may not reap immediate financial rewards. A great deal of our modern, computer-based technologies can be attributed to government-funded research in pretty much every scientific discipline. NASA alone is responsible for an enormous amount of spin-off technology.

The reasons for Republican hostility to science vary. For many, it’s simply based on greed. I’ve discussed before how opposition to climate change seems to coincide suspiciously with the amount of campaign funding provided by fossil-fuel companies.  This is the very definition of corruption, but seems to be shrugged off by climate change deniers. That the Earth is warming is not in doubt. The human impact of that warming is a near-certainty as well. The science is clear, solid, and well-documented. But such scientific stalwarts as NASA, NOAA, and the EPA are all derided as politically biased – by those with their own specific political biases and a minimal sense of irony. Climate change research is likely to take a major hit under the Trump Administration, as Trump insists on staffing his Cabinet with people who make money off releasing carbon into the atmosphere and oceans. The potential for long-term damage to human civilization is horrific, and the Republican Party not only doesn’t care, but actively denies the problem. This issue will be one of the first I plan to discuss in depth, as it may be the greatest long-term threat to humanity. And that threat is exacerbated by the politicization of science.

Religious extremism also comes into play here. Opposition to research on contraception, genetically modified crops, and stem cell development all seem to be prevalent among the Christian Right. Despite the blatant unconstitutionality of making laws based on religious belief, a significant percentage of the Republican contingent in Congress fights against federal funding of certain sciences due to conflict with their religious convictions. Or, more cynically, some may simply be voting in the direction their electoral base might support. Either way, science is cherry-picked for reasons unsuited to running a secular government.

Some of a more libertarian bent simply believe (regardless of opinions on the science itself) that any government investment in scientific fields is a problem. These are the Ayn Rand True Believers who equate any government with tyranny. You know, except for military spending. And corporate welfare. And the drug war. And so on. Fake libertarians like Paul Ryan and Rand Paul who are just as ethically flexible as anyone else.

Science doesn’t become less valid whether or not scientifically illiterate elected officials believe in it or not. Climate change is real and important to combat. It’s actually not just important, but perhaps the greatest long-term existential threat to human society. I know I already said this, but it bears repeating. Pretending (or believing) it isn’t real when it’s HAPPENING RIGHT NOW is frightening.

Hey Republicans, from this liberal independent to all of you: CLIMATE CHANGE ISN’T LIBERAL OR CONSERVATIVE. Just like gravity or microbes aren’t. The apocryphal apple didn’t remain suspended in mid-air over Newton’s head, waiting for Tories to approve.

It becomes a point of faith that certain sciences are liberal hoaxes. Public support for and against these sciences follows predictably partisan lines. And political leadership works hard to reinforce this divide. Meanwhile, scientists of all political ideologies are increasingly aghast at obstruction and denial of reality. The Republican Party will endanger lives and marginalize themselves by fighting against reality. James Inhofe can play with snowballs during sessions of Congress, and meanwhile, the oceans will continue to rise, extreme weather events will occur more frequently, and the most powerful and advanced country on earth will turn a blind eye to the problem.

Increased political polarization and legislative gridlock doesn’t seem to be improving. And with a new Executive Branch set to follow the same science denial as the extreme fringe of the GOP, ideological division isn’t likely to improve. Somehow, science needs to separate from ideology. That’s going to be a difficult task. The human mind is adept at allowing all sorts of biases to cloud our judgement. As long as Barack Obama understands that climate change, evolution, and gravity are all real, there will be a number of people who vehemently insist on the opposite. What will it take to change minds? Will Chesapeake Bay be pooling around James Inhofe’s ankles during his next snowball fight? Will that be enough?

As always, others have said it better. Check these links out for more information:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/apr/28/can-the-republican-party-solve-its-science-denial-problem

http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-07-23/republican-says-his-partys-denial-climate-science-courting-disaster-voters

http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2016/06/30/donald_trump_is_the_inevitable_result_of_decades_of_gop_denial_of_reality.html

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/why-republicans-still-reject-the-science-of-global-warming-w448023

https://www.wired.com/2015/01/senators-dont-believe-human-caused-climate-change/

Posted in Governance, Myths and misconceptions, Politics, Science, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Backlash

ku_klux_klan_members_march_down_pennsylvania_avenue_in_washington_d-c-_in_1928

In this new era of President Trump, where there has been an enraged backlash against the new elements of the civil rights movement, concepts like Black Lives Matter find themselves under assault.

Many white Americans who bristle at the notion of being considered racist have vehemently derided Black Lives Matter as racist in its own right. They point to protests that have turned violent. They cite articles from websites with anti-civil rights agendas like Breitbart. They regurgitate long-debunked myths about black criminality. Within the new echo chambers of social media and so-called fake news, racist opinions fester and multiply.

Americans have always believed hateful things. Bigotry is hardly new. Indeed, it may actually be declining, ever-so-slightly, over time. But whenever significant moments of social change occur, there is an uptick in resistance to that change.

The rise of Trump has already been subject of endless thinkpieces. There is likely no single answer to explain why Donald Trump is the current American president-elect. Failures of Democratic messaging and ideology, interference from the Russian government, disruption from the FBI, the cyclical nature of American political control, the disproportionate electoral power of small states within the Electoral College, and a steady trend toward increased polarization, have all played major roles. No one thing can be blamed as the ultimate culprit. However, one aspect that certainly influenced and energized Trump voters has to be white resentment toward social change.

Post-election analysis has frequently castigated the Democrats for “playing identity politics.” Essentially, Democrats are being told (sometimes by themselves) if they just stopped caring about civil rights so damn much, and tailored their message to white people, then they would win.

Yeah, or maybe they would just become lukewarm Republicans.

People don’t like to be called racist. Yeah, no kidding. But even that statement is proof that a lot of white people are completely missing the point. Yeah, there are certainly exceptions, but for the most part, white people AREN’T being told they’re racist. They are being asked to confront the fact that people of color, women, LGBT individuals, the disabled – all have things tougher in this country than they do.

However, far too many white people take that as a direct affront to themselves. This goes back to the concept of white defensiveness. Of societal privilege.

White people point to successful civil rights progress from the Sixties through today. They point to the election of an African-American president. They point out a black or gay friend they might have. They aren’t racist, they swear. They condemn the KKK just like anyone else. And they resent being told they are privileged. They have money problems, too. They’ve had struggles. What’s this privilege bullshit you’re talking about?

President Obama has discussed this himself. Telling someone they’re racist usually just causes more defensiveness. However, ignoring the underlying issues of race that are constantly bubbling under the surface of our national culture won’t help, either.

There are better ways to address racism than calling someone racist.

Maybe. But there are also some problems with that statement.

I find it interesting that the behavior itself is suddenly less offensive than the observation of said behavior. And I find it downright hilarious that people who rail against political correctness are such delicate flowers when their own behavior is described to them.

When Trump supporters rant about “political correctness,” “social justice warriors,” “multiculturalism,” and “identity politics,” they aren’t necessarily intending overt racism. But often they are. And in terms of the societal effects, the difference between reflexive defensiveness and blatant bigotry may not end up amounting to much.

Many white Americans are basically scared of the advancement of people of color. But it’s not that they necessarily oppose a simplistic idea of equality. Many feel that such equality has already been achieved, and discussing issues of systemic racism, police brutality, media bias, and so on, amounts to a personal attack on their very whiteness. Most wouldn’t articulate it quite that way, of course. But that’s what it amounts to. Seeing a person of color win the highest office in the land amounted to an enormous affront to many white Americans. And yet to others, it was a validation. See? We aren’t racist. There’s a black guy in the White House. Let’s all move on now and cut taxes. Or whatever.

Barack Obama’s victories allowed many whites to proclaim that the arguments should now be over, and any more discussion of race is just “divisive.” This is where you get white conservatives calling Obama himself a racist and “the most divisive president ever.” To many black Americans, who have watched (often with frustration) the President take consistently cautious and appeasing steps when discussing race, this is just ridiculous. What has been divisive is the constant rage and unceasing pushback from his (largely white) political opponents. Obama bent over backwards to not discuss privilege, or systemic racism. He attempted to repeatedly engage Republicans and present himself as bipartisan and post-racial. And the response – racism, obstruction, and naked partisanship. Every single time. So, toward the end of his terms, the filter would loosen a bit, and President Obama would speak more directly about his experiences, or the experiences of people of color. And when he did, the refrain was instantaneous. “The President is divisive! The President is racist!”

White America doesn’t like being called racist. Fine. Who does? But it’s deeper than that. People don’t like to even discuss uncomfortable truths. People are scared of examining the reality of those who don’t have things as easy as themselves. Of course racism is dead for many white people. Because they don’t have to deal with the business end of that racism. Police are less likely to treat them with suspicion and aggression. Employers won’t toss out their resumes.

Empathy isn’t necessarily difficult (even for the privileged) when problems for others are glaring or up-close-and-personal. But when it’s more subtle, when it requires a deeper dive to see the issues… it becomes easy to ignore. It’s easy to dismiss as mere complaint. Empathy in 2017 requires more involvement than it used to. But it’s still vital.

We should be better than “good enough.” Americans of color still find themselves held out of power. They still find themselves with systemic, cultural, and economic disadvantages. Are things better? Sure. Better than 1820 or 1880 or 1930. No doubt. But that doesn’t mean the work is done. And that work requires white people to accept that they have things easier. That the system is built by and for themselves. That they will need to put themselves in the shoes of others. That they have to accept responsibility. Not necessarily responsibility for the existence of racism, but for the privilege it provides. The privilege of not worrying about potentially racist policies from the new President. The fact is that it’s difficult to give up those societal advantages when they aren’t recognized, and sometimes harder still when they are.

White people – I’m talking to you, as a white person. As a person of privilege. I speak your language. I too sometimes feel reflexively uncomfortable hearing those less privileged than myself articulate their pain, fear, frustration, and anger. Sometimes I even want to deny, to argue, to say – hey, it’s not my fault. I wasn’t there. I didn’t oppress you.

But that instinct is the problem. It is a way to immediately invalidate the experience and distance myself from that pain. And progress won’t be possible if white people keep doing that.

When African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latino Americans, Muslim Americans, immigrants, LGBT individuals, women, or anyone else who has been marginalized states they have a problem – SHUT UP AND LISTEN. Don’t argue. Don’t deny. Don’t backpedal. Don’t try to counterattack. Shut up, recognize your privileges and LISTEN. Don’t try to defend yourself. I know that’s hard to do. But refrain from that, please. Because you aren’t personally under attack. A system is what’s being indicted. A system white people benefit from. But they don’t have to. And they shouldn’t, if we are to gain true equal opportunity. White people, we’re going to have to get uncomfortable if we’re going to fix this.

People of color are still in the minority in America. This is changing from a demographics standpoint. It won’t be the case in 30 years. But the long-held majority status has allowed white people to consolidate power. Black President or not, white Americans still wield power and influence out of proportion to their numbers. And sharing that power is a scary concept for many. But in the long run, there is no choice. No alternative to progress.

Donald Trump’s rise was due in part to racial fear and prejudice. But this can be used as an opportunity, if people are willing to seize it. My fellow white people: we can lash back against the backlash. The hatred that allowed Trump to narrowly take the White House is likely a temporary one. But the first step to ensuring that it remains merely a historical blip is to listen to people of color. Don’t dismiss their fears.

We can’t afford to let racism win in America.

As always, others have said it better. Check out these links for more information:

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/13732500

http://www.vox.com/identities/2016/12/21/14028038/racist-history-germany-america

http://www.vox.com/2015/5/28/8661977/race-police-officer

Posted in Civil Rights, Media, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Too soon, too soon!!!

So, earlier this week, the Electoral College met in each state and decided that a wealthy, racist landowner who lost the popular vote by around 3 million should become President. You know, as the Founders intended.

Fine. That was always the most likely result, after an election day in which pretty much every prognosticator got everything wrong, and several states the Clinton campaign thought were “safe” narrowly selected Donald Trump.

There have been approximately eleventy gazillion thinkpieces from every possible political slant, all trying to figure out what happened. I will probably explore some of that myself, over the next few weeks.

However, one thing I want to mention is that the Democrats need to stop focusing on the Presidency. Yes, keeping the White House was incredibly important. And yes, getting it back in four years is even more necessary. But that said, a lot of the problems Democrats faced this year (and in years past), occurred because they tend to neglect the “downballot” races in favor of going after the top spot. There were US House races this year where Republicans ran unopposed! There was one in Texas where Hillary Clinton actually carried the district. The Democrats screwed themselves by not focusing on the local. Governor’s mansions are mostly Republican. Same with state legislatures. While Democrats are alternating between self-flagellation and absolute denial over Hillary losing Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, the real groundwork for the defeat was at the local, county, and state levels, where Republicans kicked the asses of  Democrats all over the country (and have for years).

I definitely believe that focusing so much on the top spot has hurt Democrats in the long run. Building an infrastructure from the bottom up is how a party holds power. Thinking ahead to the 2020 Presidential race is counterproductive and pointless, especially with all the work Democrats will need to do just to keep Trump in check.

Now, let’s talk about the 2020 Presidential race!

Deep breath.

Okay, lemme explain.

This is mostly for me. I am gradually bringing myself to the reality of 4 years with President Trump. I’m preparing myself for a pretty shitty (and busy) time. However, before I dive into complete opposition mode, I’d like to take a look at the Democrats’ current roster. How deep is their bench? Who among current party members might make a strong Presidential candidate 4 years from now? Who might already be looking ahead to 2020?

This is mostly an exercise in political masturbation. It’s just for me, and anyone interested in pointless speculation.

Four years is a long time in politics. A lot can happen between now and then. Many of these names may not even be viable by summer of 2019, when they’re expected to start looking into running.

These are names that intrigue me now. I’d like to see where they’re at in three years. If one or more of them make some noise, I can point to this article and provide a big, loud “I told you so.”

In early 2013, I did something similar, although I didn’t make the mistake of posting it online. My top choice at that point was Martin O’Malley. I still stand by him as a good pick to run for president, even though his candidacy was derailed by bad timing and a disappointing lack of personality. I’m hoping that one of the people I’m listing here can do better than he did.

Except for maybe the top 3, these are in no particular order. They’re just names I’d like to see sometime in mid-2019, hopefully starting “exploratory committees.” A primary with these any of these individuals would certainly be interesting.

Anyway, here are some people I’m going to keep an eye on for the next four years:

Sherrod Brown – My personal favorite. I had rooted for him to run for President this year, and then hoped Hillary Clinton would offer the VP spot to him when she won the nomination. Brown was a US Representative from Ohio for 14 years, and then has been a Senator since 2006. He was also the Ohio Secretary of State from 1982 to 1990. Ideologically, he’s Elizabeth Warren, but with more experience and maybe a touch less charisma. He has expressed zero interest in running in the past, and will turn 68 the week before Election Day 2020. But 4 years, as I’ve already noted, is a long time.

Tammy Duckworth – The newly elected Senator from Illinois would no doubt receive some scrutiny for not having been born in the United States, but since her father was a native-born American, the issue would likely go the same way as it did for Ted Cruz, John McCain, George Romney, Barry Goldwater, and Lowell Weicker. Despite having less overall political experience than most of this list, her resume is beyond impressive. She was commissioned as an officer in the Army Reserve, and became a helicopter pilot, specifically because it was an opportunity for a combat role, something denied to women at the time. She served for years in the Reserve, then the National Guard. In 2004, while serving in Iraq, her helicopter was shot down by an RPG, and she lost both of her legs, and almost lost her arm. After the injuries, she was fitted with prosthetics, and requested to remain in the Army Reserve. She finally retired in 2014 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. A year later, she finished her PhD in Human Services. Meanwhile, she served from 2006 to 2009 as the head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, was elected in 2012 and 2014 for two terms in the US House, and has now been elected to the Senate. She seems to hold positions the fit her solidly on the left side of the party. She’s relatively young, and will be 52 next Election Day.

Al Franken – In 1999, Franken wrote a satirical novel titled, “Why Not Me?” It was a look at a fictional version of Franken running for President in 2000. Obviously the humor was (in part) due to a politically inexperienced entertainer running surprisingly successfully for the highest office in the land. 17 years later, life imitated art, when a politically inexperienced entertainer ran surprisingly successfully for the highest office in the land. So, why not him? By 2020, Franken will have served in the US Senate 3 times longer than President Obama did. At least he will have his likely general election opponent beat in the experience category. He has been a generally reliable liberal voice and a serious policymaker. And after Donald Trump, it would be impossible to cast Franken as an unserious lightweight.

Cory Booker – This is a pick that will cause Bernie Sanders fans to roll their eyes in unison. Many progressives don’t trust him. Why is that? Booker holds solidly liberal positions on most issues. He has a track record of successfully balancing the budget, and turning around the local economy of Newark, where he served as mayor. He’s intelligent, experienced, and an excellent communicator. So what gives? Well, he also has a poor track record regarding education. He has been a strong advocate of expanding charter schools, and of school vouchers. School privatization activists have seen him as an ally, and conversely, many public educators have taken issue with his positions on schools. Booker also has enjoyed a relatively cozy relationship with Wall Street, and is often viewed as the kind of pro-corporate Democrat that has fallen out of style recently. However, after a few years of Donald Trump and his calamitous cadre of corporate capitalist cronies (sorry), even a relatively business-friendly Democrat like Booker may still appear populist by comparison. Plus, Booker will only be 51 next Election Day. At the very least, he should hold his own in debates during a primary race, and would ably represent the “establishment.”

Julian Castro – Castro has been discussed as a potential VP pick since before he joined Barack Obama’s cabinet. He reportedly came in second to Tim Kaine for Hillary Clinton’s running mate spot. Castro has been seen for a while as a rising star in the Democratic Party. He was a city councillor  in San Antonio, and then later served as mayor. He was selected as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 2014. Castro has, like Cory Booker, received quite a bit of criticism from progressives as being too friendly to banks and corporate interests. Castro has argued that working with private interests is necessary in his position. While generally quite liberal, he would also be seen as an “establishment” candidate. Castro will have plenty of supporters and detractors on the left, but over the next few years, the supporters will likely increase. Plus, he’ll be 46 years old in 2020, and looks about 19, so that may be an advantage against what will be a 74 year old Trump.

Joe Biden – Let me start off with the obvious number one criticism. Uncle Joe will be 78 just a couple weeks after election day 2020, one year older than Reagan was when he left office. This will certainly be used against him, even by a similarly geriatric Trump. It’s not like Trump has any problem being counterintuitive in his political attacks. But Biden may arguably be stronger in a head-to-head matchup with Trump than anybody else. Yeah, he’s old, yeah he’s part of the establishment, and yeah, sometimes he’s a bit inappropriate. But he’s also experienced, effective, and charismatic. He has been a consequential actor in the Obama administration, which has not always been (historically) the case for Vice Presidents. For a guy frequently derided as a clown, he has a solid grasp of policy, is a knowledgeable diplomat, and is a good debater, having mopped the floor with Paul Ryan (who has often been treated as some sort of policy genius). Biden is also viewed as corporate friendly in the same mold as Obama and Clinton, and that combined with his age will be big marks against him. But at this very early point, Biden has to be considered the Democratic favorite.

Tom Perez – Soon to be former Secretary of Labor under Barack Obama, Perez was a dark horse candidate for the VP spot this past election. Called a racist by a handful of far-right extremists like Jeff Sessions (an actual racist, by the way), he had generally liberal views on social issues and criminal justice. He is definitely to the left of some of this group, but hardly out of the mainstream. Perez has only served in an elected position at the county level, he also worked for Martin O’Malley as the Maryland Secretary of Labor, and was an Assistant Attorney General during President Obama’s first term. He speaks some Spanish, which doesn’t hurt. His lack of elected experience might be a drawback, though he is currently running for Chair of the DNC, which is… sort of an elected position. Will be 59 by Election Day 2020.

Russ Feingold – This one isn’t happening, for a variety of reasons. Probably most importantly – he’s now lost two straight Senate races against horrible bigot Ron Johnson. By 2020, he will have been out of elected office for a decade. However, I just really like the guy. Bernie fans disappointed with their Democratic options probably couldn’t do better, ideologically. He’s a decade younger than Bernie, and holds similar positions. He might be the best option for fans of civil liberties, being the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act back in 2001. He’s been the strongest advocate for campaign finance reform, as well as financial regulations. He is as non-interventionist as it gets, from a foreign policy perspective. He’s relatively moderate on gun policy (much like Bernie), which should help a bit against the pro-gun ideologues. He was an advocate for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage back before it was cool. From the perspective of where he stands on the issues, Feingold is by far my favorite candidate. From an electability standpoint, I’m not so sure.

Kirsten Gillibrand – Seen by many (including herself) as something of a successor to Hillary Clinton, Gillibrand is currently serving in Clinton’s old Senate seat. Okay, so she’s literally a successor to Clinton. Like the former Secretary of State, Senator Gillibrand also started out as a lawyer. However, her professional beginnings included a stint as a corporate attorney for Phillip Morris, which will doubtless provide ammunition for primary opponents. She worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign, and was mentored by Clinton. Gillibrand was  elected to the US House in a relatively conservative district in upstate New York in 2006, and again in 2008. When Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State, Gillibrand was appointed to her old seat by then-Governor David Paterson, then won a special election in 2010, and a “normal” election in 2012. She has been quite flexible in terms of her policy positions over the years, holding centrist views while in the House, and shifting gradually to the left in the Senate. While more of a populist now, she is still fairly conservative on civil liberties issues. Her flexibility (see: flip-flopping) may hurt her at the top of a ticket, but she might make for a solid VP choice. She’ll be 54 by November 2020.

Xavier Becerra – The longtime congressman from Los Angeles appears poised to become California’s Attorney General. He spent 24 years in the US House, is a fine public speaker, and holds agreeably liberal positions on most issues. He was also among those considered for a cabinet position under President Obama, and as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton. He may not be on anyone’s current list for 2020, but Democrats could do much worse. If he is able to use his new position to speak up as an opponent of Donald Trump, he may start to look more promising in a few years.

Kamala Harris – Newly elected Senator Harris is taking the seat vacated by retiring Senator Barbara Boxer, and is being replaced as California Attorney General by the person immediately preceding her on this list, Xavier Becerra. She’s relatively young, both African American and Asian American, and is a remarkably engaging speaker. She filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case DC v Heller, arguing that the Second Amendment does not guarantee an individual right to firearms, forever giving her a place in my political heart (but also providing plenty of ammunition for Republicans). Speaking of ammunition, as the San Francisco District Attorney, she dealt with some controversies regarding disclosure issues that would likely be used in a presidential race. Regardless, she has nothing that compares to the decades of graft and corruption that Trump brings to a political race, and perhaps Harris could be the one to capitalize on that.

Tim KaineAmerica’s nerdy stepdad said, “Nope” when asked about running in 2020. Of course, minds change frequently in the world of national politics. With his overall experience, competence, and general decency, he would still be a solid choice. I will admit I grew quite fond of him during this year’s campaign, and I’m sad that the stepdad jokes won’t be replacing the Biden goofy uncle jokes in the White House. Tim Kaine isn’t mad about that, just disappointed.

Elizabeth Warren – My birthday twin (minus 33 years) is one of the best attack dogs against corporate malfeasance in America. An American public disaffected by Trump backtracking on all populist rhetoric may embrace Warren. She’s Bernie Sanders, but more telegenic, and friendlier to the Democratic political infrastructure. Warren will also be 71 by 2020. That may not hurt her against an older Trump, but could be a problem in a primary race. Nonetheless, if she wants it, she has a good shot at the Democratic nomination.

Tulsi Gabbard – Tulsi Gabbard is an interesting case. She is Samoan, is the first Hindu Congressperson, is by far the youngest person on this list, and has close ties to Bernie Sanders. She isn’t afraid of criticizing her party, whether it was President Obama on Syria, or former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz on, well, everything. Gabbard is a highly-decorated Iraq War veteran and currently holds the rank of Major in the US Army. She served two years in the Hawaii House of Representatives, 2 years as a Honolulu City Councillor, and has been a member of the US House for 4 years. She holds political positions consistent with Bernie Sanders and progressives of his ilk, but has on occasion raised eyebrows for rather lukewarm positions on gun laws, and borderline Islamophobic rhetoric. Her attacks on President Obama for not using phrases like “Islamic extremism” were surprisingly unnuanced and bellicose. Some on the right have praised her for these stances, as well as her stated willingness to work with Donald Trump. Nonetheless, on 95% of the major issues, she stands on the left side of the party. She has a unique story, is quite young, and possesses a lot of charisma. Oh yeah, and Google really wants me to look at pictures of her surfing.

John Hickenlooper – At one point,the common wisdom was that state governors had the best experience to transition into the Presidency. Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush II all seemed to confirm this. But most of the major party nominees since W have lacked gubernatorial experience (save for Romney), and it’s mostly been Senators or corrupt businessmen who have gotten the nod lately. But for those who dig that executive background, Hickenlooper has been a largely successful governor of a purplish state since 2010, and may be the best possible option among a rather scant list of Democratic governors.

Bill de Blasio – I like him, but he’s going to struggle just to get re-elected as mayor of New York. Perhaps he can turn things around over the next few years, and present himself as a possible challenger. On the issues, he definitely stands with progressives in the Democratic party. But his current record is a mixed one, and his present issues are enough for me to mark him as “tentative” for now.

Martin O’MalleyJason Whitlock had Jeff George. I’ve got Martin O’Malley. Like Jeff George, O’Malley is probably better on paper than in reality. But looking at that paper – O’Malley is ideal. He’s quite liberal, intelligent, and experienced. He served 8 years as the mayor of Baltimore, and 8 years as governor of Maryland. Just based on the numbers – crime rates, educational achievement, economic progress – his 16 years in those offices were a resounding success. But as mayor of a city with major racial tensions, his record on policing and addressing racial disparities was less than exemplary. To his credit, he was able to acknowledge that as governor, and even moreso as a presidential candidate. His plans to address systemic racism were by far the most comprehensive of the 2016 primary season. Like I said, I will always pull for the guy. But I think he may have arrived on the national political stage a few years too late.

Someone Else – “I’m someone else!” “He’s right!”

I should probably note that this list is primarily who I would like to see run for president. I don’t necessarily think all of them would make great presidents. I believe Hillary Clinton would have been a much more effective president than Bernie Sanders, even though I supported Sanders in the primary, and generally preferred his positions to Clinton. Sometimes the strength of a candidate versus an elected official is such that they can affect the nature of the debate itself. Bernie Sanders definitely helped push Hillary Clinton to the left on several policy positions, and was able to garner outsized media coverage compared with his actual support (despite what some of his more conspiracy-minded supporters believe).

Based on Trump’s disinterest in clearing up his blatant and seemingly endless conflicts of interest, his initial bizarre cabinet nominations, and his continual lies – it should not be difficult to mount a solid argument against him in 4 years. Or against Mike Pence, assuming Trump manages to stumble straight into impeachment. “Drain the swamp” was a constant refrain over the last few months, with Trump railing against Goldman Sachs, military leaders he claims to know more than, Wall Street, and “the establishment.” Then Trump surrounded himself with Goldman Sachs, generals, Wall Street, and “the establishment.” As noted above, even corporate-friendly Democrats will be able to position themselves as populists next to Trump.

I have no real clue what’s going to happen over the next four years. That unpredictability is part of the problem with Donald Trump as president. I do know that liberals, progressives, leftists, and centrists will all need to focus on the here and now. Don’t worry too much about 2020. There will be much work to be done over the next few years.

But keep the aforementioned names in the back of your mind, so at the very least, I can get an “I-told-you-so” in 2020.

Posted in Governance, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flunking out of (Electoral) College

electoralcollege2016-svgThe people have spoken. It was close, it was messy, but by a narrow (yet clear) margin, the people chose Hillary Clinton as their next president.

However, an outdated tool of racial oppression has overridden the will of the people.

Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States while losing by at least 1 million votes (as of this writing), and possibly as many as 2 or 3 million, once all the votes are counted.

So, how is it that the candidate whom a solid plurality selected as president will not be allowed to take office? Why do the people directly choose so many government positions in America, but not the presidency?

Well, let’s talk about the Electoral College!

Even for a country governed by rules from a 227 year old document, the Electoral College is something of an anachronism. Like many of the original anti-democratic aspects of our national foundations, it was designed to enforce the societal superiority of the white landowning elite.

“The Founders,” (which sounds like a neo-Celtic rock band) while paying lip service to notions of equality, generally agreed that political matters were best decided by the wealthy and educated. You know, “the elite.” To be fair, it wasn’t completely black and white. They were concerned with the rights of people to a point, and quite worried about the scope and focus of political power.

That said, the Electoral College wasn’t created only due to concern about power being concentrated in the most populous states, as many have claimed. It was also about propping up the institution of slavery, which was the style at the time.

There were other factors, to be certain. Individual states enjoyed a greater degree of autonomy then. There was some worry that more populous states would unfairly dominate the smaller ones. There were also logistic issues with collecting a national popular vote in a vast and largely agrarian country, back when the fastest method of long-distance communication was messenger on a horse. Spreading information (as well as collecting votes) to the people would be difficult.

But when it came down to it, the chief point of the Electoral College was always slavery. It’s just like the origins of the Civil War, no matter what neo-Confederate revisionists try to tell us.

In the original design of the College, Northern states with more free persons were weighted more lightly than the Southern states with large slave populations (but relatively few free persons). Essentially, they counted slaves as people (partly) for the purpose of calculating the Electoral College, but still denied slaves actual votes. This was the “three-fifths” compromise. Technically the three-fifths rule was specifically designed to help decide House of Representative numbers, but the two go hand-in-hand. The EC total for each state is simply the number of Representatives combined with each state’s two Senators.

The end result was that slaves were used for electoral purposes while still being disenfranchised. This allowed smaller states to enjoy a larger percentage of electors, as well as big slave states like Virginia – which had a whopping 13% of the total Electoral voters at the turn of the 19th century. Virginia became the largest state in the EC, mostly thanks to 40% of its population being slaves. It actually had fewer free citizens than New York, but 5 more Electoral College votes (by 1804).

James Madison himself noted at the Philadelphia convention, “The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.”

This artificial finger on the electoral scales created an electoral issue very early on. Thomas Jefferson was elected in 1800 thanks to the margin that the slave population added to the Electors. If there had been a direct election of legal voters, then John Adams would have won re-election that year, and Jefferson would have to have waited another 4 years for a chance of becoming the 3rd President.

Had Donald Drumpf, wealthy gadfly and builder of houses of ill repute, existed in the late 18th century, he would have loudly declared the process to be rigged. “This is a malodorous accord of venality!” He would have published pamphlets claiming Jefferson was born in the Leeward Islands.

Eventually, slavery disappeared in the US. Sort of. But the states were still not provided proportional representation in Congress (and therefore the Electoral College). After every national census, population changes *are* taken into account, and representative numbers are shifted to follow these changes. But the shifts still retain biases in favor of smaller states.

What about the people who argue that these sort of artificial limitations are positive controls on power concentration? They say, “this is a republic, not a democracy.”

Well, kind of. What we have at most levels is a representative democracy. We directly elect officials who will then decide the laws. The more informed we are about the officials we elect, the more we can impact the laws they decide. It’s an imperfect system, but it reaches the best combination of utility and fairness.

Usually.

At the local and state levels, sometimes direct electoral decisions are implemented. Laws can be decided by the citizens, depending on the situation and scope. For national legislation, though, it makes sense to select representatives who handle laws as a full-time (ish) job.

But even then, winning that voting power for the people has been hard fought and sluggish. In the era of Adams and Jefferson, only around six percent of the nation was eligible to vote for anyone. Local officials, state legislators, and members of the US House were chosen by “the people.” As long as the people were land-owning white men.

Over the years, it opened up more. Eligible voters eventually were allowed to cast ballots for Senators. “The people” eventually included black men – legally, and then eventually practically. Women could legally vote nationally in 1920 (earlier in some states). Efforts were made in the 1960s to make it easier for people other than white men to vote. The voting age dropped to 18 in 1971. So now, as of 2016, more than 200 million Americans are eligible to vote. And we can vote for national Senators and Representatives. We cast ballots for the President. But we still don’t actually get to *select* the President.

The most powerful office on the planet is one that the American people still do not directly choose. Yes, precedent has dictated that the winner of the popular vote is usually who the electors choose. But in four different Presidential elections, the electoral vote defied the will of the people.

An extra anti-democratic layer is in place that skews the intent of the citizenry.

The current disproportionate representation doesn’t “ensure that California doesn’t tell Wyoming what to do.” Instead it means that someone living in California has a vote worth a third of a Wyoming resident. Never mind that location within the Republic should have no bearing on quality or quantity of representation. Well, unless you live in Washington DC. Then you’re hosed. But that’s a whole ‘nother debate.

At this point in American history, the argument, “Someone from a more populous state shouldn’t dictate elections to those in smaller states” is meaningless. The quasi-confederation this nation started as was repudiated in 1865. States aren’t as important as people. Instead of a “tyranny of the majority,” we get an actually-unfair “tyranny of the minority.” People within smaller states get more say in selecting the highest office in the land than those in larger ones.

One person = one vote is the only rational option. That’s how we elect every other official. Why should we lose the representative part of our representative democracy for that one position?

We now directly elect mayors, city councilors, county commissioners, state senators and representatives, governors, lieutenant governors, (often other executive spots within states), national representatives and senators. In some states, we even elect lower-tier judges.

Is it really more fair and free that a person in Wyoming or North Dakota can overrule someone in California? Why would we worry about their location? We are supposed to be a nation operating on the principle of equal rights for all. To that end, true equality would entail a direct election of the president. Everyone, regardless of race, gender, ability, orientation, ideology, religion, or location should have an equal say.

Until they do, we can’t completely call ourselves a democracy or a republic.

Posted in Governance, History, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments