Thursday, June 22, 2017

Leaks - When Warranted, When Not

The subject of leaks is very hot at the moment.   It’s easy to say that Republicans are infuriated about recent leaks because they are embarrassing and hamper their ability to govern.  But there is a larger question here.  When are leaks warranted, and when are they not?

But first, what is a “leak.”  My definition of leak is an unauthorized release of information that is not public, often it is classified.  Various dictionary definitions define it as the release of secret information or just the clandestine release of information; the point of these definitions is that the information is not public.  For a leak to be a criminal offense, it must be the unauthorized release of classified government information.

The release of the Pentagon Papers was a leak in the narrower criminal sense.  The Wikileaks release was part classified, but mostly not.  It most certainly was private.

Most of the leaks that have been talked about the past few weeks are of private information.  It has not been classified.

But does that make a difference to the question of when is a leak warranted?  I would answer, no.

A leak, whether of classified or merely non-public information, is warranted only when the public good requires that it be released.  And when does the public good require this? When the information being withheld from the public is needed for it to judge current events, often because the public has either been lied to or not told the whole truth.   If the information is classified, the bar of the public’s need to know is set much higher; it must be of critical importance.

So with that as a guideline, let’s look at recent leaks.  There have been numerous leaks about the process of the Russian investigation, most regarding specific actions by the General Counsel’s office, one regarding a memo from the Trump transition team.   

Regardless of the public interest in such information, in letting them have a feel for what is happening, such leaks are not warranted.  They should stop.  They do not move justice forward.  They do nothing but feed the public’s and cable TV’s desire for a constant flow of information.  It makes the actual investigation almost anti-climatic, which I don’t think is a healthy thing.

Many will disagree with me.  They feel that the President’s constant misstatement, if not conscious lying, about things is so outrageous that it is imperative to counter those lies with the truth.  It’s fact checking.  

While I totally agree with that, I think the information used should be public information, and there generally is plenty of that available to dispute the President, even his own statements.  But even if not, the point here is that this is all so much blather; no one is making any decisions or judgments based on this chatter.

Now, if someone with knowledge of an investigation feels that important information is being ignored because its truth is inconvenient, then I think the leak of the information is warranted.  Because it does move justice forward; the information now cannot be ignored by those leading the investigation.

What about Comey’s release of the contents of his memo to the press through a friend.  That clearly is not a leak because the release was authorized by the writer of the memo.  While it is true that the memo summarized a conversation with the President, which was privileged communication, and that the President did not authorize the memo’s release, the memo clearly is Comey’s memory of the conversation.  If it were a verbatim transcript of the conversation, that would be different and it would be a leak.

Given the polarized nature of our society, and the suspicion that many people have of mainstream media, it is of critical importance that the media not be drawn into an informational tit for tat.  That they remain scrupulously neutral until the facts are in, at which time they can editorialize.

Ah, but what about the fact that we now have countless “news” media on cable and the internet, and they do get involved in the tit for tat.  Does that leave mainstream organizations like  The New York Times seemingly irrelevant if they don’t join in the fray?  Aren’t these leaks scoops that they must also cover?

That’s a hard question that only they can answer.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Democrats' Bad Strategy

Contrary to what The New York Times stated, if Democrats are demoralized about their loss in the Georgia special election it is their own fault.  To think that this district might possibly be in play was pure illusion.  Yes, Trump did not do particularly well there.  But to anticipate that a solidly Republican district would turn on the President in a very visible election is wishful thinking.  Plus the Democratic candidate was somewhat of a light-weight.  

Thus to make the stakes so high was not in the Democrats’ best interest.  The Party would do well to not follow the demands of the most rabid elements of its base and not seriously challenge every Republican seat.  

There will be many opportunities to pick up seats in 2018 and regain control of the House, but the districts and the candidates must be chosen very carefully.  And the Party must have a clear and cohesive vision for how it would govern, what it would do for the American people.  And that vision must be articulated in a way that the people get.  See my post, "The Perennial Search for the Democrats' Mission."

Running a good campaign isn't just about raising tons of money and having a good get-out-the-vote effort.  Running a winning campaign requires having a positive message that resonates with people beyond the Democratic base.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Trump Is Lying to His Base About His Infrastructure Program

One of the main things motivating Trump’s election win was his attention to the needs of the middle class worker who was either unemployed, underemployed, or whose wages have stagnated for the past 40 years.  He promised them jobs.  During the campaign there were two main avenues through which he stated he was going to meet that promise.

The first and more direct means was through Federal financing of a massive $1 trillion infrastructure program.  It has just been revealed, however, that that plan has essentially been trashed.  Instead, the Federal government will invest only $200 billion and seek to use that to leverage the rest.  The other $800 billion will have to come from states, cities, and corporate sources.   

This is highly unlikely to work since most states and cities are just keeping their heads above water financially as it is.  And corporations will not foot the bill because it will detract from their bottom line profit, which investors will not support.  

But Trump is still deceitfully calling it a $1 trillion program and using it to rally his base.  It’s all smoke and mirrors.  Another example of Trump's mendacity.

This decision I’m sure resulted from a reality check.  Given his desire for a major tax cut for the wealthy and a major increase in defense spending, there just wasn’t money left for a big infrastructure bill, even with cutting many programs that directly help those in need, including the working poor and many of his supporters.   

The second means was by drastically renegotiating NAFTA and other trade agreements which had been a major factor in the loss of American jobs to other countries.   While he withdrew American participation in the TPP (which had not yet taken effect), he has not moved boldly on NAFTA.  He has signaled that he wants to renegotiate, but his intention as communicated to Congress amounted to no major changes. (see New York Times, “Trump Sends NAFTA Renegotiation Notice to Congress,” May 18).  All he has done is cudgel executives to bring back jobs with the promise of major tax cuts.

Thus he is reneging on his promise to create jobs through a major Federal infrastructure program.  He is cutting programs that provide a vital benefit to many of his supporters.  And he is not making major changes in NAFTA.  Plus we cannot forget the impact on his supporters if Trumpcare passes.  

This will be a huge betrayal of his supporters.  One can only hope that they will finally see him for the fraud that he is and remove their support.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Trump’s Simplistic Parochialism

It’s one thing to say, “America First.”  It’s another to be simplistic in its application and have no understanding of what that phrase really means.

"America First" raises two issues regarding Trump’s action of taking the U.S. out of the Paris climate accords.  The first is, even assuming for argument’s sake that our participating in the accords was in some narrow way against our economic interests, does the significance of the issue for the world, and ultimately therefore for the U.S., mean that the U.S. should do what is best for the larger community?  Is our national interest something larger than our economic interest?

There are several ways of looking at this.  If the U.S. wishes to continue to be a leader, if not the leader, on the world stage, then without question we need to do our part to insure a safe planet not just for our children and their children, but for the children of all people.

The leadership issue aside, from a moral perspective, how can a country which expounds on its exceptionalism at every opportunity as well as the centrality of its faith in God act in a way which even arguably is destructive of the planet’s environment to such an extent that it impacts the heritage we leave our children?  

It’s one thing to say that you don’t believe that climate change is man-made (although Trump’s emissaries when questioned have said they don’t know whether he believes in it or not), it’s another to say that the argument that it is has no credence.  When we’re talking about the upheaval of the climate-based order of the world and possibly the viability of Earth as a human habitat as we know it in the future, do you want to take any risk, however small?

And finally, yes, our national interest is larger than our economic, certainly our corporate, interest.  When we have lost sight of that in the past, troubles have ensued.  It is probably safe to say, although many would disagree, that the Bush administration got us into the Iraq war not because of our national interest, or even national security interest, but because of corporate interests.  Even the Vietnam War was more an expression of our corporate interests … the big corporations wanted to halt the spread of communism … than our national security interests.

The second issue is, is our commitment under the Paris accords even in a narrow way against our economic interests?  The answer from a broad cross-section of business leaders, economists, and academics is a resounding, “no!”

First, the future of the coal industry and of coal miners is being primarily impacted not by the prospect of carbon caps and other measures but by the superior cost effectiveness of natural gas and increasingly that of alternative sources of energy.  Our Paris commitments do no further harm to the coal industry.

Second, by not just taking the U.S. out of the Paris accords but also removing efforts to stimulate development of alternative energy sources, Trump is not only depriving U.S. workers a source of new and lasting jobs, but we are ceding to China and other countries the leadership in the development of this technology which will be an economic engine for decades to come.

Third, by taking the U.S. out of the Paris accords, it will hurt our export industry.  People will retaliate against the U.S. by choosing to purchase competitive products from other countries, a Renault v a Chevy, Adidas v Nike.

So Trump's action is actually contrary to the policy, "America First."  Trump makes it sound like he’s standing up for the U.S. and protecting our economy, and that is certainly what his base and, according to a recent New York Times article, small business owners think.  But the reality is that taking the U.S. out of the Paris accords will hurt our economy, which will ultimately hurt everyone, including small business owners.  And It will have a negative impact on our broader national interests.  

Thankfully, the process of leaving the Paris accords will take several years.  Before that process is over we will have a presidential election.  Unless the citizens of this country have lost all common sense, we will have a new president who will rescind Trump’s decision and keep us in the accords.  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What Does the Democratic Party Stand For?

If I see another article saying that Democrats have got to find a message to win back Congress and the White House, rather than just being anti-Trump, I’m going to scream.  Today in The New York Times and in a recent New Yorker, the call was for Democratic candidates with “the ability to articulate what the Democratic Party stands for.” 

How sad, yet how true.  Last December I wrote a post, “The Perennial Search for the Democrat’s Mission.”  I  reprint that post here again.  I have been making the same arguments since 2004 when I wrote my book, We Still Hold These Truths.  When will the power-brokers in the party get it?

The Perennial Search for the Democrat’s Mission:

It’s sad to see Democrats once again thrashing around, after November’s defeat, trying to figure out where there message failed and what they need to do in the future.  (Everyone that is but the Clinton campaign, who apparently doesn’t think there was anything wrong with their message, but that’s another problem.)  Some advocate focusing on youth and minority voters … the “Obama coalition.”  Others argue that attention must be paid to the white middle class worker.  Others, rural America.  And from reports, these groups seem to be at odds with each other.

It’s not unreasonable to analyze this question, Republicans certainly do the same.  The problem is that Democrats seem incapable of seeing the light.  This is a familiar pattern.  After the 2004 loss, Walter Mondale said, “We really need to work on what we are for.  Unless we have a vision and the arguments to match, I don’t think we’re going to truly connect with the American people.”  Similar thoughts were voiced by many party leaders at the time.

As I said in the forward to the 2005 edition of my book, We Still Hold These Truths, “How sad and beyond belief that after a long and intense campaign, the quadrennial defining moment for the Party, it did not know the essence of what it stands for, what its vision is. How then could the American public?”  The same holds true today.

The problem does not arise because there is a conflict between the interests of the white middle class workers on the one hand and the interests of minorities and youth or rural America on the other.  The problem arises because Democratic leaders seem to think there is a conflict … they are trapped in identity politics.  I know the saying, “You can’t be all things to all people,” but in this case I don’t think it applies.  Let me explain why.

It comes back to the question of just what the Democratic Party’s mission is.  Mostly it’s been absent, at best implied.  Instead, the party has had a grab-bag of policies, the platform. But that is not a mission.  It makes it seem the party is just pandering to a bunch of different interests.  

They have presented no cohesive vision, no umbrella for all its policies.  And I don’t call Clinton’s “Stronger Together” slogan - cooperation is better than conflict - a vision.  John Kerry kept on saying that the 2004 election was about voting for change … but from what to what?  Obama certainly made clear what the change was, but he also had no clearly enunciated vision for the Party.  In response to Clinton's weak effort, I suggested the slogan, "Economic Justice for All," (see my post of that title, 7/24/16).

I wrote We Still Hold These Truths because I felt, as did many others, that the 2004 election could not be won on the basis of a negative, anti-Bush vote. The same held true for 2016 and a negative, anti-Trump vote.  To regain the White House and Congress, the Democrats had and still have to come up with a cohesive vision – an ideology – and communicate it forcefully in a way which resonates with the American people. 

Such a vision has not been forthcoming. My hope continues to be that my book will provide a new/old perspective with which to define what the Party stands for, a perspective at once so simple and familiar yet profound that it would be immediately grasped by the American people … the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence.

I therefore propose the following Mission Statement for the Democratic Party which will appeal to Americans rural and urban, regardless of faith, race, social status, gender, or sexual orientation, in red states and blue; a vision that reclaims the moral and spiritual bona fides of the Party (attacked by Republicans):

"To bring to life the promises set forth in our Declaration of Independence.
To build a country of greater opportunity where:

* each and every American has the best chance to experience the promise 
‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with 
certain unalienable Rights … Life,  Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’;

 * government meets its responsibility as set forth in the Declaration …  
 ‘to secure those rights’,  within the constraints of fiscal responsibility; and

* all citizens have a shared responsibility to support the government’s efforts 
to secure those rights and promote the public good, each according to his ability.”

These words from the Declaration of Independence are the moral philosophy, the heart, the soul of American democracy. This is America’s common faith.  This is America’s social contract.  To further that promise of equality and opportunity with fiscal responsibility should be the clear mission of the Democratic Party.

All the policies of the Party naturally flow from this mission statement.  All American men, women, and children are owed the support of government policies in education, health care, civil rights, security, the economy, the environment, and taxation that provide a foundation of equal opportunity for all.  That is the American social contract. 

It is these policies that make the Democratic Party a “life-affirming” force. It affirms the profound value of the lives of all living beings.  It acknowledges the suffering of millions of citizens … their lack of work, their lack of health insurance, their lack of enough food to eat, their lack of equal opportunity to acquire a good education … sometimes caused by economic forces, often simply the result of being born on the wrong side of the tracks.  It is these policies that make the Democratic Party a “pro-family” force. How can a family be strong, healthy, and viable without meeting these basic needs?

It is these policies, which respect the value of all human life and the environment, that make the Democratic Party a party of faith – not Christian, not Jewish, not Muslim … but deep religious faith. And because we respect freedom of religion, as well as the right to have no religious belief, we strongly support the Constitutional policy of the separation of church and state created by the Founders to insure the freedom of all to live according to their creed and conscience. The Democratic Party respects the valued and important place that religion has had and will always have in the fabric of American life.

But we must remember that no right, not even those in the Bill of Rights, are absolute.  For no person in the exercise of his or her rights can infringe on another person’s rights.  That is indeed the basis of all laws that control the relations of citizens in a civilized society, whether it be the criminal law, civil law, or government regulation.

In approaching our fellow citizens, we do ourselves and the people of this great country a disservice if we do not recognize the purity of their hearts and beliefs, their natural desire to provide for themselves and their families, and their basic desire to do what is just in the eyes of God.   Democrats must make the case to all Americans, not assuming that any American is ill-disposed to its vision, that their best interests and the best interests of the country lie in policies of the Democratic Party, not the Republican.

This focus on respect and equality must inform all of our actions.  If Democrats do not show that we practice what we preach, how can we expect anyone to believe us?  Legislators must voluntarily reduce the undue influence of lobbyists, big business, and the wealthy from our policy deliberations.  They deserve a place at the table, but they cannot displace or overwhelm the voice of the majority of citizens who have no realistic way, other than the vote, of expressing their point of view.  

Legislators can and should hold more town meetings with their constituents; they can survey their opinion on matters before Congress.  It is important that constituents know they are being listened to.

But because of the practical logistical limitations, constituents cannot compete in presence or volume with the voice of industry and wealth.  And so each legislator must in the end, on each matter before Congress, ask him- or herself what is in the best interests of average Americans, his constituents, versus the interests of industry and privilege.  Sometimes those interests will converge; sometimes they will not.  If they do not, it is the interests of the public that must prevail.  That is who legislators are elected to represent.

The message of We Still Hold These Truths is that Democrats must hold true to the heart of American democracy as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and further elaborated in our Constitution … to the American social contract. We Still Hold These Truths presents an overarching vision that will resonate with the broad American public in red states as well as blue and win their hearts and minds. It is a vision that will successfully counter the radical Republican Conservative movement and reclaim the moral and spiritual bona fides of the Democratic Party.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Trumpgate - The Firing of FBI Director Comey

Something smells about the firing of FBI Director Comey.  If you look at the sequence of events, the facts do not seem to support the reason given for the firing, but instead more strongly argue that it was done to stop or influence the FBI investigation into Trump campaign officials’ contacts with Russians regarding Russia’s attempt to throw the election to Trump.

The actions by Comey regarding the Clinton investigation are old news.  They happened prior to the election, more than 6 months ago.  Add to that Trump’s statements at the time supporting Comey, saying that he thought Comey was showing guts.

Why the change in sentiment?  A hint is given in the firing letter from Trump to Comey in which he doesn’t refer to the handling of the Clinton investigation at all, but he does say that although Comey assured him three times that he was “not under investigation,” he was following the recommendation of the Attorney General.  That statement can only refer to the Russia investigation; we know from his Tweets that that has been very much on his mind, and probably Attorney General Session’s mind as well.

This perspective has gained traction with the revelation that just days before the firing, Comey approached the Deputy Attorney General … the same man who wrote the detailed memo in support of the firing … asking for increased resources for the Russia investigation.  This would have quite understandably ratcheted up White House concern that Comey was taking the investigation very seriously and would follow it wherever it lead.  He was after all not a Trump appointee and clearly independent.

If in fact this was the true reason for firing Comey, then several questions are raised.  If the campaign officials, and by extension Trump, did nothing improper then why fire Comey?  They would have nothing to fear from an investigation.  It makes one take more seriously the possibility that either there was indeed collusion as legally defined or if there wasn’t, that the evidence would show an appearance of collusion which in itself would be devastating. 

If Trump’s action was an attempt to prevent a thorough, unfettered, investigation, then regardless whether there was in fact collusion, the firing was not just an abuse of power, it was an obstruction of justice.  And thus an impeachable offense.

Given the facts already available, a select committee of Congress needs to investigate the firing.  This has the potential of truly being Trump’s Watergate.  As one Senator commented, the firing was “Nixonian.”

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Amorality of Donald Trump

The recent frantic efforts by President Trump to have the Republican-controlled House pass a health care measure to repeal Obamacare, regardless what the nature of that legislation was, reveals the absolute amorality of Donald Trump.

After the initial Republican legislation didn’t proceed to a vote because it didn’t have enough support among Republicans, Trump was willing to bargain with any faction and agree to anything if they could bring the votes needed to get the legislation passed.  Regardless the impact on the public - especially poor people, the elderly, and those with previous conditions - who had come to depend on the benefits of Obamacare, all he wanted was legislation that passed.  His statements, his promises about how we would protect the public, how various provisions needed to be retained … all of that was just so much hot air.

After the House finally voted, his speech praising the passage was beyond pathetic.  While we are used to politicians using superlatives, his over-the-top, self-congratulatory, praise of both the legislation and House Republicans made me want to throw up.  

It brings to mind the famous accusation by Joseph Welch, Secretary of the Army, in response to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt of the Army during the McCarthy hearings in the early 50s:  “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”  The same accusation should be hurled at President Trump, “Have you no shame?”

It’s a sad day for this country.  Of course, almost every day since the inauguration has been a sad day for the country.  But at least for the most part he was doing pretty much what he said he was going to do, except for some foreign policy reversals.   Yes, he’s always guilty of grand-standing, but that’s the way he is.  And with the signing of his many executive orders, he made it sound like he was doing something great for his base, whereas in truth the orders typically resulted in very little.  

The nature of the negotiations on this legislation, however, and his speech reveal something far worse:  the President has absolutely no commitment to anything other than making himself look good, as he sees it.  He will sacrifice anything to that end.  He is totally amoral.   

One can run this country as a conservative, even a right-wing conservative.  I may very much disagree with their point of view, but typically they are men and women of conviction.  Donald Trump has no convictions, no commitments, other than to himself.  Besides being a sorry example of a human being, this leaves everyone guessing about where the country is headed, both in a macro and micro level.  This lack of stability is not good for any aspect of our country’s well-being.

In 2018, Democrats must succeed in engineering a massive turnout of voters, and not just those who normally vote, to change control of Congress and put a stop to the damage Trump is wreaking on America.  In the meantime, we have to hope that his badly divided party will not support what the more radical right-wing elements want.  It seems at the moment that Senate Republicans are going to take a very different tack when they get the Trumpcare legislation.   Let us hope!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Climate Disorder = Global Upheaval

Recently, the Trump administration made it clear that the U.S. does not intend to live up to its commitment made as part of the Paris Agreement to slow climate change.  As the second major source of climate change pollution (after China), this is significant.  This retrenchment has been met with howls from environmental organizations and the international community, but the U.S. public has been mostly silent.

This post seeks to examine this issue and the U.S. public’s apparent assumption that the impact, on us at least, will be slight and that technology can be depended upon to allow us to adapt to any changes.

Our Earth is undergoing changes.  We have been having a conversation about this using the phrases “global warming” and “climate change.”  Given the facts I will present in this post as to what is already happening and the predictions, I think the terms “climate disorder” which results in “global upheaval” are more accurate and appropriate.

The result of these conversations has not been significant.  Yes, there is a global commitment now (all countries, even China, are still committed despite the U.S. pullback), but it is at such a low level that while it may slow the process, it will not stop it.  Indeed, there is serious question whether we have passed the tipping point and there is nothing that could be done to stop it.

There are several reasons why our response has been so weak.  One reason is the persistence of those who deny that these changes, these disruptions, are man-made … they're just part of the natural cycle that the Earth has experienced over the ages.  This has found a receptive audience in many people owing to their habit of being in denial of inconvenient truths.

There are many ways to challenge that position.  But assuming for the moment that the deniers are right, wouldn’t it still be advisable to take whatever action we can to minimize the changes?  The problem with that question is that the changes have been presented as so non-threatening to us if not most of mankind that the answer is, “no.”

The next reason is that any action we could take to significantly reduce CO2 emissions (and thus slow or halt these changes) would involve such an alteration both to our lifestyle and to the operation of our industrial base that it has minimal support from either the public or industry.  From a cost/benefit analysis, the benefit just doesn’t seem to be sufficient to warrant the cost.

Which brings me to the last and most important reason:  the presentation of the issue - the facts marshaled and its packaging - have been woefully understated and ineffective.  Even the more dire predictions, even slick media presentations like Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, seem almost irrelevant to most people.  The common reaction is, “So what?  So some people will be displaced by rising oceans and we’ll have to adapt to warmer temperatures.  No big deal.”  The general feeling is that the change will not be significant, and what change there is can be dealt with through adaptive technology.  Bottom line, no disruption. 

What we must therefore attempt is to accurately ... there is no need to exaggerate or embellish ... and clearly present the facts and predictions in a way which makes them relevant to people in the U.S. and around the world.

1.  What is happening already?

The enormous weight of the Greenland ice sheet impacts the axis of the Earth’s rotation and the location of the poles. As the Greenland ice sheet melts, as it is doing with increasing speed … each year the sheet is loosing 287 billion tons of ice … the axis and the location of the poles will change.  How much no one knows, but the loss of just a fragment of the Greenland ice sheet, as well as Antarctic and North Pole ice, is already having an impact with the North Pole moving ever so slowly towards the UK.  This will without question impact worldwide weather and climate, but in ways unknown.

The seas have risen 2.6 inches since 1993 and are rising at an increasing rate. In low-lying places around the world, from Miami Beach to islands in the South Pacific, the water at high tide is routinely covering land that was only flooded during serious storms in the past.

Large areas of Asia and Africa have experienced terrible drought; desertification is increasing.  California has experienced a severe multiple year drought.  Yes, they’ve recently had lots of rain and snow, but that does not signal the end of the drought; just a brief respite.

Due to flooding and drought and other natural disasters, areas of the world have been made uninhabitable and so there have already been masses of climate change refugees.  In 2014 more than 19 million people from 100 countries were forced to flee their homes (how many of these were just temporary evacuations is not available).

Warmer winter temperatures have already extended the range of a variety of pests with devastating impact on pine and other forests.  Moose in Maine are dying because ticks are not being killed by winter cold.  Alfalfa crops in areas of California have encountered a new disease due to climate change.  This is just a sampling.

2.  What are the current predictions?

Sea levels could increase anywhere from a conservative 3 feet up to nearly 10 feet by 2100, depending on CO2 concentrations in the air and the speed at which polar ice melts.  Even a 3’ increase will mean huge areas will become uninhabitable.  In the United States, almost 40 percent of the population lives in relatively high-population-density coastal areas, where rising sea levels will play a major role in the extent of flooding, shoreline erosion, and hazards from storms. Globally, eight of the world's 10 largest cities are near a coast, according to the U.N. Atlas of the Oceans.

In the US, the south-west and the Great Plains will likely face decade-long droughts far worse than any experienced in recorded memory, including recent droughts.  The risk of drought from 2050-2099 rises to 96% in both areas compared to only 45% in the plains and 62% in the south-west from 1950-2000.  The will mean the end of U.S. food production as we’ve come to depend on it.  One quarter of all US food production occurs in the central valley of California; the great plains is the bread basket of the country.   Food production in those areas would suffer a major decrease.  

As for the rest of the world, most of Europe, the Middle East, large parts of Africa and parts of South America are at high risk for extreme drought.  The most serious impact for most people will again be on food production and water, which will be significant.

It is impossible to predict how many climate change refugees the combination of drought, increasing desertification, floods, and other natural disasters will bring in the future.  The estimates range anywhere from a low of 25 million to a high of 800 million.  But whatever the figure, the resettlement of these refugees will pose huge stresses on countries as so much of the world will be suffering.

There are no predictions on the change in insect infestations and plant diseases as a result of climate change.  But there is no question that the impact will be significant, given what we see happening already at the beginning of this century.

Then there are the national security questions.  In recent Congressional testimony, Defense Secretary James Mattis called climate change a national security threat, impacting stability in areas of the world where U.S. troops are operating.  Nations under stress from climate disorder will be subject to internal unrest and conflicts may erupt between nations to gain control of diminishing resources.  It also presents logistical problems for the military.  The extent of these problems are unknowable, but they will certainly occur.

Note that, to date, all the best scientific predictions have been significantly off in that greater change has occurred within a shorter period of time.  Whether it’s the loss of ice at the poles and Greenland, or the bleaching death of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, scientists keep saying we didn’t think this would happen for another 20-30 years.  So it would be wise to take these predictions as low.

Why is it so hard to make accurate forecasts even with sophisticated computer modeling?  All elements of nature … the water we drink, plants growing, weather patterns … are dependent on a multitude of interacting factors.  The water we drink is the product of a complex interaction of meteorological, geologic, and chemical forces.  Plants are dependent on so many things - light, water, nutrients - which are in turn dependent on a variety of natural forces.  Weather patterns are again dependent on a complex interaction of meteorological and geologic forces.

The answer to the above question is that even the most accomplished scientists have an incomplete understanding of the interaction of the forces of nature that impact the changes we have already seen and will control what happens in the future.  Since the value of computer output is based on the value of the inputs given the computer, the computer cannot produce accurate results.

Clearly, this issue should be a big deal for everyone.  These are not things that one can just adapt to through improved technology.  The human dislocation will be massive.  Our food production system, which has developed over the past century, will be devastated; we will have to make changes, start over again in new places and perhaps in new ways.  And this at a time when the world’s burgeoning population needs a constant increase in food production to prevent disaster.   Pests of various types will appear in areas where they never have and wreak havoc on the native vegetation and animal life. 

The more accurate phrase to describe what is happening and what will happen in the future is not “global warming” or “climate change,” but “climate disorder” resulting in “global upheaval.”  We must do whatever we can, at whatever cost to both convenience and finances, to slow down this process so that our children and their children don’t inherit a hell on earth.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How Democrats Should Talk About Abortion

As Democrats engage in special elections and prepare for the 2018 midterms, it is vital that they change the way they address the abortion issue.  This post is not about changing Democrats’ unwavering support of Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose.  What this post is about is how Democrats discuss this controversial issue with the public.  In 2016 we lost the votes of many Catholics who traditionally vote Democratic because our message on this issue was too strident and unnuanced.

First, it must be absolutely clear that Democrats are not pro-abortion.  It is a sad event for probably most, if not all, women because it is either emotionally or morally a wrenching moment for them, regardless how necessary they view it.  Ideally, no woman, other than for health reasons, would ever be in a position where they felt it was necessary to abort their fetus.

That brings up the second point: the Democratic focus needs to be on government, organizations, and people doing more to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.  The fewer unwanted pregnancies, the fewer abortions.  One statistic:  Among unmarried, young (20-29) women who became pregnant between 2001 and 2008, 69% were unintended pregnancies!  A large percentage of those were probably unwanted as well.

How to reduce unwanted pregnancies? Two of the means are well known and straight-forward: improved sex education of young adults and easy access to contraception, both condoms and the pill.  

But both are controversial for some Americans for moral/religious reasons.  These are concerns we have to respect, but there is no question that teaching abstinence doesn’t work; so that is not the answer.  It certainly is appropriate, however, to teach youth to question requests for or desires for sex:  to ask “Is this something I really want to do?”, to think about what the role of sex should be and what the consequences might be.

Even with all these safeguards in place, there will still be unwanted pregnancies.  And in those cases, abortion needs to be a legal option from both a societal and a moral perspective.  

The world is full of neglected or unloved children whose psyches are negatively impacted by their experience.  There are few things more destructive for a child’s well-being and emotional health than to feel unloved or be neglected.  This has negative social consequences because of the life choices such children are more likely to make.  And morally, it is not right to place children, who after all have no say in whether they are born or who their parents are, in such a damaging situation.

When Democrats speak to this issue, this is how it should be addressed.  Yes, the bottom line is support for Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose.  But the issue is much more complex than that.  And nothing that I’ve suggested takes away from those principles.  It won’t win back all lost Catholic votes, but it will make a difference.

Monday, April 3, 2017

So They Want Class Warfare? Let's Have It Then.

Major corporations and financial institutions, and the 1% behind them, have been waging class warfare against the average person for years.  They act in total disregard for the common good and have perverted our democracy into government of industry, by industry, and for industry.  President Eisenhower’s prescient warning against the power of the military/industrial complex has come true.  It is now past time to fight back.

What do you think is the major problem facing the United States today?  If you think it’s unresponsive government, government gridlock, the Democrats, or the Republicans, you are not getting at the underlying problem.  If you think it’s discrimination and bigotry, that’s certainly a big one, but that’s not it either.  

The major problem we face is the control that corporations and financial institutions have over government and our lives.  Whether you are a small farmer, an under-employed former middle class factory worker, a consumer with a huge credit card debt, a person of color living in the ghetto whose children go to schools that aren’t schools, a resident of rural or urban America who sees your life getting worse, not better … the underlying problem is the same.

The problem is that because of the control of corporations and financial institutions, the focus of government is on their needs and interests, not the needs of the people.  They are not the same.  We long ago gave the lie to the saying, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  Government thus is not meeting its purpose, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, of securing the peoples’ right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Class warfare is a dirty word in the United States.  Whenever someone makes an argument against the power of corporations or the moneyed class, they are stuck with that critical label.  This was certainly the case with Bernie Sanders.  The implication is that class warfare is un-American.  It reeks of Communism or Socialism.

No type of internal warfare, whether with arms or merely verbal, is desirable in a civilized society.  But we have come to the point in the United States where class warfare is necessary if we are to survive as a democracy dedicated to government of the people, by the people, and for the people. There is no other way to reverse the control corporations have amassed.

The United States in 2017 is a land where all real power rests with major corporations and financial institutions.  Through their lobbying and vast donations to campaigns, corporations have taken control of Congress and their interests prevail.

Yes, we the people still vote and elect our representatives and the president.  But even that has been corrupted because corporate-funded political advertising, thanks to Citizens United, now exerts a huge influence on how we vote.  We are bombarded with deceitful messages in support of those who protect corporate interests, and so people have been fooled into voting against their best interests.  As Lincoln is credited as saying, “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time.”

And so big money has gained effective control of Congress and is now moving on the regulatory process.  This isn’t just a criticism of Republicans.  As I’ve stated in previous posts, while Democrats certainly fight for the interests of the average person and protect the environment, they too are beholden to big money interests.  And so while their legislative agenda is liberal and primarily centered around doing things that benefit the average person, the general good, everything they do is circumscribed by their need to not disturb big money donors too much.  That affected Dodd-Frank, it affected Obamacare, it affected the people President Obama brought in to run the Treasury Department … it affects everything.

Why is it so harmful for big money interests to control Congress?  Why is it that we can’t allow our country’s welfare to rest in the hands of the top 1%?  Many Americans think that powerful, rich people clearly know what they’re doing and so they are the logical people to entrust our welfare to.

The problem is that while they certainly know what they’re doing, it’s all about furthering their own interests.  If that’s at the expense of the interests of the average person, the consumer, the greater good … too bad.  Such is life!

Corporations exist for one reason and one reason only … to make and constantly increase profit for the benefit of shareholders and management.  Today that bottom line focus is worse than ever given the pressure of the stock market’s expectations.  

As for the top 1%, who are usually part of this corporate/financial establishment, they have concern only for themselves.  They are the ultimate poster child of the “me” generation.  

Corporations and people with that kind of money have become so separated from the average person that they just don’t connect anymore.  They have no concern for the needs of the average person or the greater good.  The fact that so many are now multi-national and as a result their prosperity is not tied to the United States economy makes their separation even more pronounced.

And so, as I’ve argued previously, we need to have a soft revolution in the United States.  The people need to rise up and truly take back government.  Not by electing a Donald Trump who has no intention of giving government back to the people … talk about putting a fox in charge of the hen house! … but by electing representatives who are honestly dedicated to protecting the interests of the average person by restoring and improving the balance that the United States built during its progressive period … roughly the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter, 1901 - 1980.

The United States came to its full maturity and strength (economically and militarily) during the 20th century because it harnessed the potential of both the American people and its corporations.  It did this by creating a balance between private rights, the public good, and government.

Because it’s about restoring this historic American balance, the soft revolution proposed is not about emasculating corporations, about removing the profit incentive, or removing them from positions of influence.  It is not about becoming a Socialist country.  Corporations are very important to the well-being of our country and its citizens, and so they not only deserve a seat at the table, they need to be at the table.  

But this revolution is about limiting their power, reducing the greed that currently drives corporate actions and causes them to disregard even the interests of their consumers, let alone the general public.  Even during our progressive period, there is no shortage of examples of corporations acting against the interests of their consumers and the general public.  The decision-making process in corporations needs to be transformed.  

But it should not be the role of government to micro-manage corporations.  We should not have to resort to regulations.  That is not healthy and it is not efficient.  What we need is the creation of an evolved corporate persona and decision-making process that is not at odds with the interests of their consumers, the greater good, and the environment. 

This will not happen without the aroused involvement of voters across traditional party lines in favor of Congressmen who will truly protect and further their interests, who see it as their prime responsibility to secure the right of all Americans to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Who will work with corporations and financial institutions but insure a balance between private rights, the public good, and government.

Hopefully we will prove the truth of the final part of Lincoln’s remark noted above … “But you can’t fool all the people all the time.”  Rise up America.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Ethical Bankruptcy of House Republicans

Any objective observer of the known interaction between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials and allies during the campaign … not the transition … would say that at a minimum it creates the appearance of if not collusion, that is some agreement or understanding, then an effort on the part of the Trump campaign to encourage the Russians to intervene. 

Why else would there be so many contacts during the campaign?  Especially following Trump’s public invitation to the Russians to engage in cyber-espionage and hack Clinton’s private email server.  Then there is Roger Stone’s tweet prior to the DNC email dump by Wikileaks that “Wednesday @Hillary Clinton is done. #Wikileaks.”

If there indeed was collusion or cozying-up to the Russians by the Trump campaign for the purpose of encouraging them to engage in activities to degrade Clinton and swing the election to Trump, that would be an attack on our democracy far more serious than the Watergate break-in.  This demands an impartial inquiry into the events.

Yet we have Republicans in the House doing everything possible to play down the seriousness of this matter and turn it more into a hunt for the people who leaked information about the FBI investigation.

Recently Representative Nunes, who is chair of the House Intelligence Committee and thus is head of the House inquiry, committed various serious breaches of impartiality.  The first was when he took information he supposedly was given by an intelligence source and went straight to the White House and Speaker Ryan with it, without providing the information to the rest of his committee or even the ranking Democrat.  Then it was revealed that he met with this intelligence source in the White House, for a stated reason which is totally bogus.  And I used the word “supposedly” because he has refused to either say who gave him the information or reveal the specific pieces of information.

Given these lapses, together with the fact the Representative Nunes was on the Trump transition team and thus not just a supporter of Trump but close to him, one would expect that Speaker Ryan or some Republican in the House (the Senate does not interfere in the House’s business) would call for Nunes to recuse himself from the inquiry.  That has not happened to date.  Instead, the call has only come from Democrats.  And Representative Nunes has refused, saying, “It’s their problem.”

All of these Republicans are guilty of dereliction of the duty they undertook when they swore an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution.  The Trump campaign activities vis a vis the Russians smacks of treason.  Congress and the public deserve to know the full facts so that they can come to a decision whether these interactions were innocent or not.

It is relevant to note that this is not the first time that House Republicans have acted in a cavalier manner on such a serious matter.  When the basic facts of Watergate became known, not a single Republican on the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of strong subpoena powers.  And when the final vote on articles of impeachment was taken, only 6 of the 17 Republicans on the Committee voted in favor of impeachment.  After all the damning testimony!

Thankfully, the Senate Intelligence Committee appears as though it will be acting in a bipartisan impartial manner.  Senator Burr, the Republican Chair, and Senator Warner, the ranking Democrat, have jointly pledged to follow wherever the evidence leads, even to the President.  

I have not forgotten that the FBI is investigating these contacts, but their effort is limited to whether there was collusion.  This would be very difficult to prove, without a whistleblower.  So regardless how damning the circumstantial evidence is, given that their investigation is not open to the public, the public will never know absent their finding a “smoking gun.”

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

So You Want to Be Rid of Government Regulation?

Businessmen grouse about the burden of government regulations and paperwork.   They don’t want “pesky” inspectors snooping around.  The New York Times recently reported that small business owners are happy that Trump will free them from these burdens.   Investors are clearly cheered by the prospect of lower corporate taxes and less regulation.  

But does this put the public at risk?  Before the industrial revolution, when the people who made things had a very personal connection with their customers and took pride in the craftsmanship of their work, there was no need to protect the consumer or general public from the actions of business.

But after the industrial revolution, that relationship  changed.  There was no longer a direct connection, no craftsmanship.  Mass production became the norm, with workers toiling under terrible conditions, and profit became the main premium for the businessman, the main source of pride, not the product.  During this period, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, both smaller industries and large conglomerates became rapacious, with no concern for either their workers, their consumers, or the environment.

To protect workers, consumers, and the environment, the federal government began to pass laws and enacted regulations to force industry to act in a responsible way.  (See my post, “The Responsibility Crisis.”)  The need for such oversight is as great today as ever because of investor pressure on industry to constantly increase profits.

If the business community wants to get rid of government regulation, then all businesses must have in their articles of incorporation language that speaks to their responsibility to their workers, their consumers, and the environment.  And those articles must provide for both regular impartial reports regarding their actions and an easy means for workers or effected third parties to complain and sue if they are not meeting their responsibility.

Corporations are a creature of the law and are protected and favored in many ways because they were perceived as providing a benefit to the greater good.  If they cannot be depended upon, on their own initiative, to protect others by refraining from actions that would harm their workers, their consumers, or the environment, then it is government’s responsibility in its role of protector of public safety to regulate their actions.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Where Is Trumpgate’s Howard Dean?

Here are the basic facts as we know them at this time.  

1.  The Russian government, either directly or through surrogates, made numerous efforts to degrade Hillary Clinton in the eyes of the public and so swing the election to Donald Trump.  These efforts included not just the hacking and release of DNC emails, but using social media to bombard Clinton fence sitters with negative fake news stories.   

2.  Several highly placed members of the Trump campaign team and people close to the campaign had numerous contacts with the Russian government, including intelligence figures.  One of them, Roger Stone, stated on Twitter prior to the Wikileaks’ dump of the DNC emails that "Wednesday @Hillary Clinton is done. #Wikileaks.”  Without question he knew what was coming.

Given these facts, several conclusions seem warranted, indeed obvious.

1. The Russian attempt to influence the election was so nefarious that it far surpasses Watergate’s break-in of the DNC headquarters.  If members of the Trump campaign team knew of this activity and stayed silent, they are guilty of treason.  If Trump was aware, he is guilty of an impeachable offense.

2.  Given the extent of contacts between Trump surrogates and the Russians during the campaign … not during the transition … it is at a minimum highly suspicious and more than likely that they were aware.  Also, remember that Trump at a news conference back in July said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.  I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”  The official spin was that he was being sarcastic.

This last little nugget seems to have been forgotten as I have not heard it mentioned in connection with the questions raised about the campaign’s contacts with Russians.  It is relevant that two Federal courts in reviewing the Trump travel ban referred to his statements during the campaign about barring Muslims from the country as evidence of the intent of the ban.

The investigations currently being conducted into this matter are behind closed doors, both by the Senate and House Intelligence Committees and by the FBI.  And it is more than likely that nothing will come of these investigations because it will be very difficult to prove that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

Collusion requires having a secret understanding.  And that's what both the FBI and the committees are looking into.  But I think that bar is too high.  Even if there was not a secret, unspoken, understanding, if there was just knowledge by the campaign that the Russians were acting to subvert the election and they remained silent, that should be sufficient to prosecute them for treason.  Likewise, if Trump was aware, that would constitute an impeachable offense.

But let’s say that, despite Roger Stone’s Tweet, the campaign was not aware of Russian efforts to subvert the election and swing it to Trump.  If they were trying to cozy up to the Russians during the campaign, letting them know that they would end the sanctions and in other ways carry out Trump’s pledge to have better relations with Putin, the question becomes “why?”  The only thing to be gained by the Trump campaign by such conversations with the Russians would be if they acted to influence the election.  

There is no other possible reason that would explain such conversations during the campaign, as opposed to during the transition.  So, I would hold that merely having such conversations, making such assurances, while perhaps not grounds for criminal prosecution, would if known by Trump be grounds for impeachment.

This matter is of such a high importance that there needs to be a Watergate-style public hearing in Congress so that the American people learn first-hand the full extent of the Trump campaign’s treasonable activity, if in fact that is what occurred.  But barring the emergence of a Howard Dean, who gives the lie to all the denials by Trump and his campaign associates of contact with the Russians regarding sanctions and other matters, it is quite probable that nothing will ever be proven.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Unconscionable Republican Health Care Proposal

According to The New York Times, reporting on the CBO report on the Republican’s American Health Care Act, the impact of the Act on Americans in their 60s would be catastrophic.  In addition, millions of the poor who benefited from Medicaid expansion will loose their insurance.

The proposed law bases subsidies for people not on their income … like just about every other subsidy system in the world does … but on their age.  So for example, a 21 year-old would have a net (after subsidy) premium of $1,450 a year.  A 40 year-old would have a net premium of $2,400.  A 64-year old would have a net premium of $14,600!

So a 60 year-old, low-middle income person earning too much to be eligible for Medicaid and too young for Medicare, would be stuck with a huge bill that he could not afford.   All commentators assume that such people will opt out of the system which will leave them uninsured.  If the Republicans create a high-risk pool, which in the past was typically very expensive and provided bad coverage, that would not be a practical option. 

For the Republicans to do this to 60-year-olds in order to keep premiums down for the young, encouraging them to buy insurance, is evidence, if that were needed, that Republicans lack a social conscience.  It is unconscionable.

For the Republicans to also gut Medicaid expansion resulting in millions of the poor losing their insurance while at the same time providing for a $600 billion tax cut over 10 years for wealthy Americans, as they would no longer be subject to the taxes that had been assessed to pay for Obamacare subsidies, so that the net effect of the act is still a significant budget saving for the government, is more proof of their lack of social conscience and is unconscionable.

In their press conferences, they of course do not mention these details.  Instead, they emphasize the CBO finding that overall rates will go down, after initially rising for a few years.  And that the Act would result in savings of $337 billion over 10 years.  This is deceitfulness at its worst.

All middle-aged and older Americans, and the poor, should bombard their Congressmen with calls and emails telling them to vote No on the American Health Care Act.