Thursday night was the third debate among the Democratic candidates for President. The field has tightened: due to the rigid qualification rules, a mere ten candidates made the cut this time.
Barring changes, the same ten will take the stage in October, plus Tom Steyer, the veryvery wealthy man who launched his “Need to Impeach” campaign way back in October, 2017.
I found the debate a bit more revelatory than the two previous ones, and I thought the ABC moderators did a decent job. But I’m still not getting the sense of the candidates that I’m seeking. I’m wondering how many of you feel the same.
Despite the over-trodden, unilluminating, and needlessly divisive discussions about extending Obamacare vs Medicare for All, I don’t think the candidates are so far apart on any of the issues.
They all support ensuring universal healthcare; countering our nation’s growing economic inequality; implementing sensible gun safety legislation; beginning immediately to vigorously address climate change; reversing the anti-immigration policies that are damaging our values and threatening our economy; and seeking ways to heal the terrible divisive racial and other wounds that currently exist in our country.
But we still need more discussions centering on their foreign policy views.
Perceptions differ, and I do worry about the electability of the three current front runners.
I wonder whether/to what extent they can both energize the base and build the diverse coalition to drive vast numbers of voters to the polls, thereby resoundingly putting us on a new path and bringing Senate and House candidates along with them. I welcome your views on this matter in the comments section below.
What am I looking for in the Democrat’s eventual nominee—and, if you’re interested in a change from the current administration–what are you looking for?
As I watch and listen to these candidates, I try to picture each one in the Oval Office, in the Situation Room, and in meetings with allies and adversaries. I am trying to gauge their judgment and temperament.
Will they surround themselves with the best people they can find? Then will they listen, truly listen, to the advice they’re given, ask well-informed questions about that advice, and insist upon factual backup before making important decisions? Will they keep their cool in scary and potentially dangerous situations?
Do they demonstrate some innate wisdom in dealing with other people? Will they be careful and measured in their stewardship of the still most powerful nation in the world—and be able to undo the damage to our standing that’s been done over the past few years?
Do they possess the empathy that will enable them to understand the diverse problems that Americans are grappling with right now—so they can seek solutions that help people feel that the government is working—and is on their side?
Will they explain to us what their overall vision is on where they want to take this country, and how they’ll forge common ground on the often divisive issues we face so that they can work with Congress to move us forward?
Can they inspire us to be our best selves and advance us toward the national ideals we’ve long expounded?
I hope the debates that are held between now and the Iowa caucuses reveal more about these important aspects of the Democratic candidates. I’ve seen glimmers of what I’m seeking here and there, but I’d like to see a lot more.
Please let me know your reactions—to the candidates, the debate, my “wish list,” what you’re looking for, and anything else that comes to mind.
My Oh My! So much drama—even attacks on No Drama Obama!
Let me state at the outset that I had never intended to become so overtly partisan in this blog. I even wrote a post a while back explaining why I wouldn’t discuss the elephant in the room (President Trump) because so much stuff was appearing elsewhere, and I wanted to focus on finding our common ground.
My overarching goal remains, and in my own way, I’m still trying to do that.
When the President is an incumbent, it’s assumed the election is a referendum on him. But now that this President has made blatantly racist attacks on people of color a feature of his daily rants, I believe the 2020 election is a referendum on us.
Who are we as Americans? What kind of country do we look forward to, and how devoted are we to working toward a more perfect union?
Will we give our seal of approval to this man for another four years? I know some of you reading this post are Republicans with varying degrees of support for Trump. I’m not attacking you personally or trying to change your minds.
Rather, I’m assuming that most American voters—Democrats, Independents, and growing numbers of “Never Trump” Republicans—are seeking a reasonable alternative to Trump and want to see Washington functioning again to pass common-sense legislation in their behalf.
I believe/hope that people are eager to denounce him at the ballot box, proving that he doesn’t represent the vast majority, and that we are seeking leadership that unites us in hope and common purpose, rather than divides us in hatred and fear.
In that spirit, I offer you my thoughts after viewing the second round of debates—and I’ll explain why I found them sorely lacking.
It’s still early, but I saw little inspiration among the 20 candidates on the stage in Detroit. Part of the problem, I believe, was CNN’s approach.
It was clear that CNN wanted a food fight: the questions were designed to encourage candidates to attack one another. I didn’t think that was good TV. I also thought it was poor broadcast journalism and unhelpful for educating the public.
Admittedly, it’s tough to stage interesting debates among 10 candidates, and I felt bad about how little time each person had to make her/his points.
But the questions were also unrevealing in eliciting what kind of Presidents they would be.
Healthcare is a critical issue; it was largely responsible for the Democrats’ winning the House in 2018. Americans want to know they will have decent health care that covers preexisting conditions, is within their means, and is dependable, regardless of their circumstances.
The discussions were sometimes too wonky and confusing for viewers and at the same time often inadequate, leaving out important issues, such as cost to taxpayers.
I wish each candidate had given this answer: “We’ll bring the best minds together to come up with the most realistic affordable plan that covers the most people possible.”
In other words, we’ll progress beyond Obamacare without gutting it, adding the public option that was originally intended, and regulating both the insurance companies and Big Pharma.
Many other countries have private insurance companies as part of their healthcare mix; they simply regulate them more aggressively than we do.
Medicare for all vs “Anything less lets insurance companies ruin America” is to me an unnecessarily divisive issue.
I think improving Obamacare would satisfy most Americans—without frightening them.
And how quickly people have forgotten how hard that battle was—that passing the legislation was a “big f—–g deal,” in former VP Joe Biden’s memorable words. More about all-important processes appears below.
If the public option works as intended, we’ll get to Medicare for all but won’t immediately send our economy into a tailspin.
Healthcare is now about 18% of our GDP. We need a smooth transition to the next stage. I haven’t heard any Medicare for all candidate discuss this point.
But most importantly, the emphasis should be on the fact that every Democratic candidate believes that healthcare is a right and supports expanded coverage, while Trump and the Republicans have been decimating Obamacare and, in all the years they claimed to find an alternative, have not done so.
It is simply not an article of faith in the Republican Party as it is among Democrats. Quite the contrary.
As the terrible mass shootings mount up, I can’t write this post today without including sensible gun legislation. This is another issue where the majority of the public agrees, and so do all the Democratic candidates.
Not so the Republicans in Congress and the President. And despite his palliative words after the most recent shootings, since Trump took office, we’ve had a substantial uptick in domestic terrorism. We know white nationalists claim him as one of their own. If he cared to change that image (and possibly reduce the carnage), he would change his rhetoric.
With gun safety legislation, again, process is critical, as we’ll discuss below.
Foreign policy, which is probably the most important aspect of a President’s efforts, and is currently fraught with dangers that Trump both inherited and has created, took up a mere five minutes of the 2-1/2 hour debate.
I am puzzled why, just shortly after the Mueller testimony, CNN felt that discussing the role of Russia was barely worth mentioning. And there were no discussions of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and other potential hot spots.
Since a number of the candidates have had little or no direct involvement in this essential component of being President, it behooves the next debate organizers to build in adequate time and questions that reveal the candidates’ world views and thought processes.
I was impressed, for example, with Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s stating that he voted against entering the war in Iraq when he was a member of Congress. (He took Vice President Biden to task for voting for it.)
Inslee said the arguments for war were unconvincing. In an interview after the debate, when he was asked why so many Democrats voted to go to war, he explained that in the post-9/11 environment, the drumbeats for war were very difficult to withstand. But he did withstand them—a fact that to me says a lot about the man.
Speaking of Inslee brings us to climate change, which he has made the focus of his campaign —though not as a single issue: he has tied it to economics, undue burdens on poor and minority communities, and other important topics.
He has thought and studied the issue extensively and is clearly the candidate most deeply committed to quick concrete actions to confront climate change.
And while it’s good that every Democratic candidate accepts the scientists’ warnings and promises to act, I find his commitment especially comforting.
One extremely critical issue hasn’t come up in either debate: the judiciary.
I am quoting extensively here from two articles. One, by Dahlia Lithwick, is titled “Democrats Still Haven’t Learned Their Lesson About the Courts.”
The other, which she cites, written by Ezra Klein, is “Pete Buttigieg had the most important answer at the Democratic debate.”
I find them both important in terms of those critical process matters I referred to earlier, and I hope you’ll read them in their entirety.
Let’s start with Klein’s article in Vox. Here’s where reality lies—beyond fine policy ideas and whether they’re progressive enough.
“South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg gave the single most important answer at Tuesday’s Democratic debate.
“It came after a lengthy section in which the assembled candidates debated different health care plans that have no chance of passing given the composition of the US Senate and then debated decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings, which they also don’t have the votes to do, and then debated a series of gun control ideas that would swiftly fall to a filibuster and, even if they didn’t, would plausibly be overturned by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.
“That’s when Buttigieg spoke up:
‘[This is] the conversation that we have been having for the last 20 years. Of course, we need to get money out of politics, but when I propose the actual structural democratic reforms that might make a difference — end the Electoral College, amend the Constitution if necessary to clear up Citizens United, have DC actually be a state, and depoliticize the Supreme Court with structural reform — people look at me funny, as if this country was incapable of structural reform.
‘This is a country that once changed its Constitution so you couldn’t drink and changed it back because we changed our minds, and you’re telling me we can’t reform our democracy in our time. We have to or we will be having the same argument 20 years from now.’”
“So far, I’ve found Buttigieg’s campaign underwhelming on policy. But where he’s clearly leading the field is his emphasis on structural reform. Buttigieg isn’t the only candidate with good ideas on this score — Elizabeth Warren and Jay Inslee have been strong on this too — but he’s the only candidate who consistently prioritizes the issue.
“The reality is Democrats are debating ever more ambitious policy in a political system ever less capable of passing ambitious policy — and ever more stacked against their policies, in particular.
Their geographic disadvantage in Congress is only getting worse, Republicans control the White House and the Senate despite receiving fewer votes for either, and an activist conservative Supreme Court just gutted public sector unions and green-lit partisan gerrymandering.
“Policy isn’t Democrats’ problem. They’ve got plenty of plans. Some of them are even popular. What they don’t have is a political system in which they can pass and implement those plans.
“Buttigieg, to his credit, has a clear theory on this. When I interviewed him in April, he argued that ‘any decisions that are based on an assumption of good faith by Republicans in the Senate will be defeated.’
“The hope that you can pass laws through bipartisan compromise is dead. And that means governance is consistently, reliably failing to solve people’s problems, which is in turn radicalizing them against government itself.”
“We now know that a single Trump judge can gut the Affordable Care Act, or permit a wall to be built on the Southern border, or try to end Roe v. Wade.
This isn’t a thing to contemplate after a Democrat wins the presidential election. It is, with every passing day, the reason to doubt whether any Democrat can win the presidential election ever again. And the same is true for the Senate, and for the House. Which is why it has to be a first-order discussion, not last.
“As Klein wrote: ‘This is what Buttigieg gets: To make policy, you have to fix the policymaking process. Some of the other candidates pay that idea lip service, when they get pushed on it. But he’s the one who places that project at the center of his candidacy.’
“The Democrats on the debate stage are embarrassed to be caught out without answers to questions about battles that their constituents cannot afford for them to continue to lose. Democratic voters showed up in 2018 in part because of their horror at losing the Supreme Court.
Sure, it’s embarrassing that Democrats have been badly outplayed by Mitch McConnell, who follows no norm or judicial ideal beyond ruthless pursuit of power.
“But it should be more embarrassing that reforming the courts has been deemed too hard to warrant a single debate question. By all means let’s talk about Trump and impeachment and ‘kitchen table issues’ and the environment; they all matter.
But the fact that the machinery of justice has been captured by a monied minority means that democracy itself is on the ballot. That should matter enough to warrant a question.”
All this is why I found the debates so disappointing. While the candidates were attacking each other—and President Obama, through Joe Biden—and discussing their plans for what they’ll accomplish once they become the President, for the most part they didn’t talk about these huge, powerful forces at all.
And this is where their energy—and ours—is essential.
I intend to vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination, hoping that person is sufficiently inspiring to energize a broad swath of diverse constituents.
I think the divisions between moderates and progressives figure less in most voters’ minds than does their sense of the decency, competence, integrity, and leadership skills of the individual they’d like to see in the White House—especially now.
Thus, I believe it is essential that we try to defeat Trump with the largest possible mandate, demonstrating total rejection of his racism—as well as his corruption, incompetence, divisiveness, and unwillingness to protect the US from those who have directly threatened our elections and are continuing to do so.
But clearly that’s not enough. It is so important that we educate ourselves and make our voices heard about these structural issues that are making it difficult, if not impossible, to get anything substantive done in Washington.
Democrats need to take the Presidency, House, and Senate, and then focus on the critical changes needed—before a minority party eliminates any chance of the majority’s will being enacted.
These are large challenges,but while some of the candidates talk about the need for “Big Ideas,” we need to let them all know what those big ideas must include.We made it to the moon 50 years ago, you’ll recall. We can do this.
I know, I know. It’s the “Hysterical Doomsaying Scientists” vs the “What’s Wrong With These People? Don’t They Care About Their Grandkids?” folks. How can we ever find common ground? I’ve just discovered someone who’s devoting her life to that effort, and I’ll introduce her to you shortly.
Here’s what we don’t need in this discussion. A recent video surfaced that showed kangaroos hopping in the snow in Australia. Conservative author/filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza tweeted about it: “Global warming comes to Australia. Unless you want to believe your lying eyes.”
D’Souza, an ardent climate change denier, was playing “gotcha” with the climate scientists. The problem was that he was oblivious to the fact that when it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s winter in Australia. As in now.
Nevertheless, Australia is experiencing serious impact from climate change, report its government websites. It’s having less snowfall, but it’s still having some.
So we can strike D’Souza off our list of reliable sources. Agreed? I certainly hope so.
One big change among climate scientists fairly recently is that they have better tools than previously, enabling them to speak more definitively about the association between some dramatic, never-before-seen events and climate change.
They can run giant simulations in their labs to determine the amounts of moisture in the air and energy in the ocean associated with today’s climatic events and compare them with those in the past.
Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons today, they find, are bigger, wetter, and faster-moving than they used to be. Climate change isn’t hovering somewhere in the not-too-distant future. We’re living with it now.
An Important Report
The Washington Post recently published a lengthy report: “2 degrees C BEYOND THE LIMIT: Extreme climate change has arrived in America.” It provides an in-depth look at the two states in the Lower 48 that are warming the fastest of all: New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Scientists have been using an increase in temperature of 2-degrees Celsius as the danger cutoff for some time. But this report cites New Jersey as having already reached that point in some places—twice the average for the Lower 48 states—and Rhode Island having exceeded it. (Alaska is the US state that’s warming the fastest.)
In fact, the Northeast in general is warming faster than some other parts of the country. That may seem surprising, as we’re accustomed to hearing about the forest fires in California and flooding in the South and Midwest. I always thought of the folks in Miami, who watch water burbling up through their sidewalks on sunny days, as the harbinger of things to come.
The reason for this Northeast warming, scientists conjecture, seems to be a cycle involving warmer winters and very warm water offshore, which leads to less ice and snow cover. The latter reflect solar radiation into space, cooling the planet. “But as the ice and snow retreat,” the reporters note, “the ground absorbs the solar radiation and warms.”
During the winter months (December-February), New Jersey’s average temperature is higher than 0-degrees Celsius, the freezing point for water. Not surprisingly, that freezing point, according to New Jersey state climatologist David A. Robinson,”is the most critical threshold among all temperatures.”
It’s happened over three decades, and the result, the Post reports, is that
“lakes don’t freeze as often, snow melts more quickly, and insects and pests don’t die as they once did in the harsher cold.”
The Changes Around Us
What does this change look like? Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, used to be the site of winter carnivals, with 15,000 ice skaters, cars driving onto the lake’s thick icy surface, and hockey clubs competing. No more. According to the Post:
“That’s because a century of climbing temperatures has changed the character of the Garden State. The massive ice industry and skate sailing association are but black-and-white photographs at the local museum. And even the hardy souls who still try to take part in ice fishing contests here have had to cancel 11 of the past dozen competitions for fear of straying onto perilously thin ice and tumbling into the frigid water.”
This thinning ice allows aquatic weeds, nourished by fertilizer runoff that colder water would kill, to thrive. This year, after one of the warmest springs yet, blue-green algae took over the lake, shutting it down to swimming and fishing “for weeks, if not longer.”
The algae, cyanobacteria, is the same substance that killed 3 dogs swimming in a North Carolina pond and another 3 dogs swimming in a lake in Austin, Texas. Imagine taking your dog for a swim in a lake you’ve always frequented, not knowing it’s become toxic.
Among the changes cited in the Post’s report: rainfall in New Jersey last year was 40% above average, and that means the famous Jersey mosquitoes are in their element, enjoying longer seasons and importing such gifts as the West Nile virus.
The warmer temperatures have attracted the southern pine beetle to travel north, damaging 20,000 acres of the Pine Barrens, a national reserve. A Dartmouth researcher, Matthew Ayres, says:
“It may not be too long before people are driving through the Pinelands saying ‘Why do they call it the Pinelands?’”
When Climate Change Suddenly Becomes Visible
“Climate change plays havoc differently in different places,” the reporters observe.
Beach erosion is the key problem in Rhode Island, where people with homes close to the ocean scramble to move them back farther and farther. Three feet of beach are lost each year. Whole communities are relocating as the water encroaches. A summer resident of one community said the residents wanted the owners to build a wall to hold back the sea. “Last year, they spent a lot of money on sand,” he said. “Guess what? It’s all gone.”
The Post reporters note:
“That’s what people who live in 2-degree Celsius zones are discovering: that climate change seems remote or invisible, until all of a sudden it is inescapable.”
Narragansett Bay has warmed 1.6 degrees Celsius over the last 50 years, and in the past 20 years, Rhode Island’s lobster industry has dropped 75%.
“With 420 miles of coastline, Rhode Island is particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of the Gulf Stream, a massive warm current that travels up the East Coast from the Gulf of Mexico before making a right turn toward Greenland and Europe.”
Scientists believe that the melting of Arctic ice has slowed the currents, moving the Gulf Stream closer to the East Coast. That, in turn, has warmed the water by 2-degrees Celsius or more in places and is apparently responsible for the hotter air temperatures as well.
Lest the skeptics point to severe winters as evidence to the contrary, the reporters note:
“This doesn’t mean the states can’t have extreme winters anymore. Polar vortex events, in which frigid Arctic air descends into the heart of the country, can still bring biting cold. But the overall trend remains the same and is set to continue. One recent study found that by the time the entire globe crosses 2 degrees Celsius, the Northeast can expect to have risen by about 3 degrees Celsius, with winter temperatures higher still.”
These trends are, of course, worldwide. Though much of the Earth has warmed 1-degree Celsius over the century, areas in Romania and Mongolia have also registered the 2-degree change seen in parts of the US.
“…for huge swaths of the planet, climate change is a present-tense reality, not one looming ominously in the distant future.”
The Post quotes Daniel Pauly, a marine scientist at the University of British Columbia:
“…the 2-degree Celsius hot spots are early warning sirens of a climate shift. ‘Basically, these hot spots are chunks of the future in the present.’”
All this sounds quite scary, and those on the “denier” side point to the alleged hysteria as a reason not to pay attention. But there is still time for meaningful action to slow and even reverse these trends—if we work together with common purpose.
A Key Question
So how do we get the skeptics to buy into our shared concern in order to move us toward meaningful action?
Enter Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University, where she is director of the Climate Science Center. Hayhoe spends a great deal of her time talking to people about climate science and how we can both adapt to and improve our changing environments.
I watched her 2018 TEDWomen Talk and listened to Alan Alda interview her on his podcast, Clear and Vivid. She’s funny, knowledgeable, and wise, and I recommend both her TEDWomen Talk (also available in transcript, with references) and the Alda podcast. I’ve intermingled her comments below.
“So when we turn on the TV these days, it seems like pundit X is saying, ‘It’s cold outside. Where is global warming now?’ And politician Y is saying, ‘For every scientist who says this thing is real, I can find one who says it isn’t.’ So it’s no surprise that sometimes we feel like everybody is saying these myths.
“But when we look at the data — and the Yale Program on Climate [Change] Communication has done public opinion polling across the country now for a number of years — the data shows that actually 70 percent of people in the United States agree that the climate is changing. And 70 percent also agree that it will harm plants and animals, and it will harm future generations.”
And yet…only about 60 percent of people think it will affect people in the United States, and only 40 percent think it will affect them personally. (I doubt whether the couple who lost their 3 dogs in a toxic North Carolina lake think that.)
What’s more, two-thirds of people in the US say they never talk about it, and more than three-fourths say they don’t hear the media talk about it either.
“So it’s a vicious cycle. The planet warms. Heat waves get stronger. Heavy precipitation gets more frequent. Hurricanes get more intense. Scientists release yet another doom-filled report. Politicians push back even more strongly, repeating the same sciencey-sounding myths.”
“What can we do to break this vicious cycle? The number one thing we can do is the exact thing that we’re not doing: talk about it. But you might say, ‘I’m not a scientist. How am I supposed to talk about radiative forcing or cloud parametrization in climate models?’ We don’t need to be talking about more science; we’ve been talking about the science for over 150 years.”
Hayhoe says it was more than 150 years ago that climate scientists first discovered that burning coal, gas, and oil resulted in “heat-trapping gases…wrapping an extra blanket around the planet.”
And, she notes, the first formal warning from scientists that changing climate presented a danger was given to President Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago. What’s holding some of us back from accepting this reality?
“…the social science has taught us that if people have built their identity on rejecting a certain set of facts, then arguing over those facts is a personal attack. It causes them to dig in deeper, and it digs a trench, rather than building a bridge.”
And while climate change is also regarded as a danger to our outdated infrastructure, this is one bridge we really need to build—and soon. But how do we do it?
Building That Bridge…
Hayhoe suggests finding something you have in common with a person. In her interview with Alan Alda, she speaks of a mutual interest in gardens.
“I ask them ‘What do you grow? Are there challenges?’ They’ll say ‘no rain, everything died,’ or ‘torrential rains.’
“I ask, ‘Have you noticed…? Most people say “Yeah, we’ve always had droughts, but more in the past few years,’ or ‘Spring comes earlier…’”
She stresses that we can bypass the question of whether or not these problems are manmade. We are seeking commonality in finding solutions. The farmer whose crop insurance consists of devoting some of his acreage to wind and solar is a case in point. Look for local solutions to local concerns. How we got to this point is less important than how we get out.
“All we have to do is connect the dots between the values they already have and why they would care about a changing climate. I truly believe, after thousands of conversations that I’ve had over the past decade and more, that just about every single person in the world already has the values they need to care about a changing climate. They just haven’t connected the dots. And that’s what we can do through our conversation with them.
“The bottom line is, we don’t have to be a liberal tree hugger to care about a changing climate. All we have to be is a human living on this planet. Because no matter where we live, climate change is already affecting us today…”
“What we need to fix this thing is rational hope. Yes, we absolutely do need to recognize what’s at stake…But we need a vision of a better future — a future with abundant energy, with a stable economy, with resources available to all, where our lives are not worse but better than they are today.
“There are solutions. And that’s why the second important thing that we have to talk about is solutions — practical, viable, accessible, attractive solutions. Like what? Well, there’s no silver bullet, as they say, but there’s plenty of silver buckshot.”
Some “Silver Buckshot”
Here are a few pieces of silver buckshot that Hayhoe points out both save money and reduce our carbon footprints:
*eating lower down the food chain
*reducing food waste
This last one fascinates me. We throw away about one-third of our food, and methane from rotting foods in landfills is an even worse source of warming than carbon dioxide. After China and the US, food waste is the third leading contributor to climate change, Hayhoe says. So I guess it’s time for me to compare our shopping lists with our actual eating habits and what we toss away.
There’s also hope in the corporate world. Apple has decarbonized its entire operations. Walmart and Berkshire Hathaway are making changes. So are various agricultural and oil and gas companies (but not BP, which obstructs climate improvement actions behind the scenes, Hayhoe reports.)
And guess who Hayhoe finds the most effective sector of the population in driving awareness and working toward solutions? Kids!
“Children are speaking up—so genuine and real: ‘We need to preserve the planet.’”
Hayhoe cites a North Carolina study that found educating children about climate change had a positive and noticeable impact: when a young daughter spoke to her conservative father, she moved his position.
“The world is changing. But it just isn’t changing fast enough. Too often, we picture this problem as a giant boulder sitting at the bottom of a hill, with only a few hands on it, trying to roll it up the hill.
“But in reality, that boulder is already at the top of the hill. And it’s got hundreds of millions of hands, maybe even billions on it, pushing it down. It just isn’t going fast enough. So how do we speed up that giant boulder so we can fix climate change in time? You guessed it. The number one way is by talking about it.
“The bottom line is this: climate change is affecting you and me right here, right now, in the places where we live. But by working together, we can fix it. Sure, it’s a daunting problem. Nobody knows that more than us climate scientists. But we can’t give in to despair. We have to go out and actively look for the hope that we need, that will inspire us to act. And that hope begins with a conversation today.”
So are you encouraged to have a conversation? Do you think it’s realistic to find common ground on this vital issue that affects us all—including those who don’t think it’s even an issue? And are you letting your representatives at all levels know how important you think this topic is?
And if you’re a skeptic, how would you react if your child, grandchild, or other young person close to you made a rational appeal—for the sake of their future?
It was a gorgeous sunny day, and we were visiting friends. But all four of us spent last Wednesday indoors, in front of the TV. We were watching Special Counselor Robert Mueller testify, first before the House Judiciary Committee, and then before the House Intelligence Committee.
We knew our vigil wasn’t accomplishing anything in the larger scheme of things, but we are all political junkies with deep concerns about the fate of American democracy, so we felt compelled to watch and listen.
And while many have faulted Mueller for his halting, weary performance and his insistence on sticking to the “four corners of his report,” much emerged from those hearings.
Most important, Mueller was quite emphatic that our democracy is under attack. When asked by Republican Congressman Will Hurd if he thought the Russian involvement was a single episode, he did not equivocate.
“No. It wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.”
What’s more, Mueller said:
“Many more countries have developed the capabilities the Russians have done.”
We’ll get back to the implications of that statement shortly.
Here are what I felt were the most significant of Mueller’s responses:
*His report DID NOT exonerate the President.
*The finding of lack of complicity with the Russians by the President and his associates was based on insufficient evidence to reach that conclusion (and not the absence of evidence)
*The investigation into that matter was impeded—not only by those who were convicted of lying, but also by others who told “outright lies” or were “not telling the full truth.”
*Those individuals included President Trump.
When Florida Rep. Val Demings asked if the President’s written responses to Mueller’s questions about, among other matters, the Trump Tower Moscow plans, given under oath, were “inadequate and incomplete and weren’t always being truthful,” Mueller responded: “Generally.”
Many questions Trump did not answer, and when Demings asked if some of his other responses conflicted with other information the investigation had revealed, Mueller said, “Yes.”
*Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois read public comments that Trump had made about WikiLeaks— including “I love WikiLeaks” and “This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove”—and asked Mueller if any of these quotes disturbed him.
Mueller answered: “Problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays, giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity.”
*In a significant exchange that seemed to go beyond the “four corners of the report,” House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff questioned the Special Prosecutor:
Schiff: You believe knowingly accepting foreign assistance in a campaign to be unethical?
Mueller: And a crime…under certain circumstances.
Schiff: And it undermines our democratic institutions and is unpatriotic?
Schiff: And wrong?
Schiff: And we should hold our elected officials to a higher standard than the mere avoidance of criminality? Mueller: Absolutely.
Schiff then asked if the need to act in an ethical manner is not only a moral one but also necessary so that it doesn’t expose the individual to compromise—which can be of a foreign nature.
Mueller: Also true.
Then Schiff noted the President’s denials. He’d said he hadn’t done business with the Russians. He also said if he had been doing business with Russia, “That’s not a crime. Why should I miss out on all those opportunities?”
“We are all left to wonder whether the President is representing us or his own interests.”
I won’t go through the morning session with the House Judiciary Committee concerning potential obstruction of justice, other than to note that it yielded Mueller’s important statement that Trump could, indeed, be indicted after leaving office.
(As I mentioned in my previous post, more than 1000 former prosecutors, who worked for both Democratic and Republican presidents, signed a statement that anyone other than the President [who couldn’t be charged due to a Justice Department precedent] would certainly have been indicted based on the findings in the Mueller Report.)
Somehow, all that possible criminality—and it seems fairly evident there was a good deal of it—does not get to me on the same visceral level as the President’s apparent indifference to/encouragement of the Russians’ disruptions of our elections.
Further evidence of the Russians’ impact came the next day, when the Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan report, the first of several, stating that the Russians targeted the election systems in all 50 states in 2016 and actually probed the election systems of 21 states.
The report noted the Russians’ “unprecedented level of activity against state election infrastructure.” Though they found no evidence that any votes were changed, they observed that “Russian cyber actors were in a position to delete or change voter data” in Illinois’ voter registration database.
The report recommends that US intelligence agencies place a high priority in quickly identifying cyberattacks, and the Department of Homeland Security should develop clear channels of communication between the federal government and the states. Old outdated machines must be replaced, and paper ballots are important for backup of every vote cast.
In a statement, Committee Chair Richard Burr of North Carolina spoke of improvements that have been made “to bridge gaps in information sharing and shore up vulnerabilities” but said “There is still much work that remains to be done, however.”
Vice Chair Mark Warner of Virginia said,
“I hope the bipartisan findings and recommendations outlined in this report will underscore to the White House and all of our colleagues, regardless of political party, that the threat remains urgent, and we have a responsibility to defend our democracy against it.”
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to refuse to bring bipartisan legislation that has already passed the House to the Senate floor for a vote.
I’d like to return for a moment to Mueller’s comment that many other countries are now also pursuing ways to disrupt our elections.
One commenter noted that McConnell’s plans to keep the Republicans in control of the White House and Senate by stonewalling election system improvement funding may backfire. Iran and China, he suggested, may have other ideas about the best ways to disrupt our elections.
And I am deeply concerned that Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, who emphatically warned about the Russian involvement in testimony before Congress, and has been a target of Trump’s wrath for some time, has now “resigned.”
Trump has appointed John Ratcliffe, a Republican Congressman who strongly supports him, to replace Coats. (Senator Burr, the Intelligence Committee Chair and a Republican, has already said this nominee is unqualified.)
We know the President recently jokingly castigated Putin for his interference when they met. There is no reason to believe he will change his attitude and acknowledge and act upon this threat to our national security.
We Americans all have many important issues on our minds—pocketbook and healthcare matters, climate change and a host of others. We each have our priorities. But this is a huge issue for our democracy that I believe we must find time to act upon.
Our involvement in these matters—contacting our elected officials to urge them to fund cybersecurity measures on the state and county levels—is critically important.
Tomorrow begins the next round of debates among the Democratic candidates for President in 2020. I will be looking for those who are concerned and knowledgeable about these issues and are thinking about ways to protect our elections.
These candidates have a difficult balancing act—to show they’re tough enough to take on Trump in the general election—while not destroying one another in the primaries.
But true leadership requires strength, knowledge, character, and the ability to effectively communicate one’s vision for America.
Surely thoughtful approaches to preserving our democracy in the election in which each of them seeks to be the Democrats’ standard bearer should be a major aspect of the leadership they demonstrate to us now–when we sorely need it.
Do you agree with me about the importance of protecting our elections from cyberattacks? Polls generally say that most Americans don’t really care about this issue that much. I hope those polls are wrong.
“Two nights, four hours, so, so many candidates: the first Democratic presidential debates will be like nothing we’ve ever seen. A former vice president on stage with a self-help author. Three female candidates on one night, three female candidates the next — more than have ever been on the debate stage at once. A 37-year-old squaring off against two septuagenarians.”
Now listen, friends, as I unveil the chorus Of those I’m calling 23&WE. We’re not discussing folks who came before us;
It’s those who say what this country should be
And how they’ll make enough of us agree. They’re poised to set out from the starting gate, And one of them may well decide our fate.
How do they call attention to their vision And talents that will make them best to lead? So many voters now voice skepticism
Re: turning those fine words to solid deeds
To build a worthwhile new American creed That knits together vastly different types Of folks who harbor vastly different gripes.
The polls agree the leader’s now Joe Biden,
A man well known who was a fine VP.
Experienced in world affairs, he’s ridin’
On hopes he’ll bring us back to normalcy
And thus is safe to take down Covfeve.
But some say Uncle Joe is just too dated,
And can’t forget Anita Hill deflated.
There’s Bernie S., who never seems to waver;
In 40 years he hasn’t turned the page.
He’s moved the Dems on issues gaining favor:
Medicare for all; a $15 wage.
But others now are acting on that stage.
A Democratic Socialist with pride,
If he falters, would he just step aside?
Someone to watch, the pundits say, is Warren,
On each issue she has a plan, for sure.
An ultra-millionaire’s tax could be transformin’
With free child care for all and so much more. For inequality she has a cure. But will pro-banker, moneyed folks resist,
Despite her self-description: “capitalist”?
One candidate whose fame has come quite quickly
Is South Bend, Indiana’s Mayor Pete
(Trying to rhyme his last name is quite tricky)
His scholar/military resume is neat,
But politically he fits into a tweet.
Still, he has generational appeal
And messaging that sounds both wise and real.
Kamala Harris, tough in prosecuting
Won plaudits for her querying Bill Barr.
She says in office she’d be executing
Punishments for employers who’re sub-par
In the male/female equity pay bar.
A woman of color, bona fides deep,
She’s on a lot of short lists for the Veep.
Amid the current tones of acrimony,
Cory Booker’s words sound so very nice.
He talks of love, civic grace, and harmony
And exhorts men to protect women’s rights.
And cares a lot to end our urban blights.
This Rhodes Scholar who’s certainly no fool
Has Wall Street ties and supports charter schools.
Amy Klobuchar is praised quite highly
Across the aisles in a once true blue state
She’s also known to view events quite wryly,
And humor’s in too short supply of late.
Some feel her plans don’t carry enough weight.
But one’s important, not just symbolically: Her push for statehood for Washington, DC.
Beto leapt to fame by losing narrowly;
In Texas that was seen as quite a feat.
His campaign started off quite powerfully
And then began to lose a bit of heat,
Though he engages each voter he’ll meet.
His message is important as can be:
Immigration: with “respect and dignity.”
I’ve long thought that the job of governor
Makes President a ready move to make.
There’s Hickenlooper, Inslee, and another:
Steve Bullock, who will miss next week’s debate.
Each has records touted as first-rate.
And each has worked to combat climate change
With Inslee’s speech most often in this range.
It’s time, say many Dems, to crack that ceiling
Re: healthcare, equity, diversity,
To all these goals the party is appealing
And I believe that voters sensibly
Will weigh their thoughts while seeking to agree
And try to find which candidate’s around
Who’s most likely to find that common ground.
I see I’m in trouble here numerically,
And fear my rhyme is starting to grow weak.
I’ve gone through less than half the twenty-three.
There’s still a dozen more of whom to speak,
And showtime’s coming middle of next week.
But since to verses’ end you’ve still held tight,
You’ll find all contenders’ pitches through this site.
I clearly gave only the briefest attention to the candidates I covered, and none at all to the rest. Here is how they present themselves to voters:
I know it’s early, but if you’re committed to the idea that we need new leadership in 2020, these debates are important in winnowing the field, and you may find yourself wanting to support someone who hasn’t yet gained much public attention.
So I hope you’ll watch the debates, review the candidates’ positions as they state them on their web sites, and support the candidate(s) of your choice. Small donations will be vital for qualifying for subsequent debates, so please consider even minimal financial support of candidates as well.
FIRST DEBATES: JUNE 26, JUNE 27 ON NBC, MSNBC, AND TELEMUNDO
In these highly partisan and polarized times, there’s been a fair amount of talk denigrating what’s referred to as identity politics. Why should we be talking about the needs of individual groups when we really should be finding ways to unite us as a country?
Many well-meaning people stake out this position, and as my blog is devoted to finding common ground, I understand that sentiment—and feel we must pursue both goals simultaneously. I long for the time when we are all so comfortable with one another that we embrace our differences, while those differences recede in importance in the ways we respond to each other. But we sure aren’t there yet.
In Part 2 of my exploration, “How Do We Talk About Race in America?,” I spoke with Doug Glanville, a friend of my daughter’s whom I’ve known since they were children. After graduating as an engineering student from the University of Pennsylvania, Glanville has gone on to do great things in his life: his rich and varied career, which included nine years of playing major league baseball (twice with the Chicago Cubs), now involves being a sports commentator, writer, podcast co-star, and lecturer at Yale University, teaching a course titled “Athletes, Activism, Public Policy, and the Media.” He is a uniter and optimist by nature—confronting racial injustice when needed but always trying to put it into perspective and not overreact.
In my previous post, we discussed his being profiled by a police officer from a neighboring town while shoveling the snow off the driveway of his Connecticut home. His response was to work toward what eventually led to a change in state law governing police jurisdictions. He received an apology from the governor, who appointed him to the Connecticut Police Officers Standards and Training Council.
Somehow, due to his largeness of spirit, he retained no animus toward the police officer who confronted him, viewing the episode instead as an opportunity to work with the police to improve their procedures. He told me when we spoke that he likes to “take lemons and make lemonade.”
Well, life just handed him another big lemon, which he described in The New York Times Sunday Review. (He’s also a contributing opinion writer for the Times.) I hope everyone will read his entire Op-Ed: it’s a powerful, nuanced, sophisticated view from a very thoughtful person about issues we should all be aware of and thinking about. Here’s the beginning:
“Ambiguity has always been a friend to racism.
On May 7, during a television broadcast of a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field, I was on camera doing in-game commentary for NBC Sports Chicago when, unbeknown to me, a fan behind me wearing a Cubs sweatshirt made an upside-down ‘O.K.’ sign with his hand. The meaning of this hand gesture can be ambiguous. It has long been used to simply say, ‘O.K.’ Some people also use it to play the ‘circle game,’ where you hold your hand below your waist and try to get others to look at it. And most recently it has been co-opted to express support for white supremacy. The man accused of committing the New Zealand mosque massacres flashed this sign during his first court appearance.
Because I am a person of color, the fan’s gesture suggested its sinister meaning.”
He wasn’t aware of what had happened until after the game, when he noticed his Twitter feed “overrun by strange avatars, unrecognizable handles, aggressive trolls and a heated debate about racist imagery.” There was considerable discussion about whether the man’s actions were or were not sinister.
And that ambiguity is precisely the point, Glanville writes.
“According to the Anti-Defamation League, users of the online message board 4chan originally introduced the idea that the ‘O.K.’ sign was a white supremacist prank to get the media to overreact to innocuous gestures—but the sign soon morphed into a genuine expression of white supremacy as well.”
In other words, we are all being gaslighted by the most racially extreme elements among us. But for people of color, including those like Glanville who still manage to be optimistic about race in America, this gaslighting is particularly odious and exhausting—the degree of fatigue varying with the extent of racism they’ve experienced in their lives.
Glanville seeks to explain what it’s like by depicting a coordinate graph in which people of color might plot the various episodes that could be racist that have either happened to them or they’ve heard about.
“The x-axis represents the passage of time and the y-axis represents the degree of racism of an episode—from someone’s assumption that you’re a valet when you’re parking your own car to the burning of a cross on your lawn. For each experience, you mark a dot.”
The pattern that emerges when those dots are connected, Glanville says “allows you to notice correlations, to make predictions. You are learning from evidence, in part for your self-preservation.”
Then comes the tricky part, when someone who has learned from such evidence meets with an individual who hasn’t had similar exposure.
“He sees evidence of racism only from time to time, and when he does, it tends to be stark and unambiguous—the use of racial slurs, an explicit avowal of hate.”
To this person, “racism seems to be a rarity, maybe even invented.”
Glanville, who teaches courses focused on communication, wonders how he can convince such a person of the pattern he sees, when the listener is inclined, based on his own experiences, to depict subtle racism as an “isolated incident” and even accuse Glanville of “playing the race card.”
How often have we heard that phrase in our political rhetoric?
Equally troubling, the person may say all this talk about racism is just making things worse.
Glanville stresses that he, and most people of color, continually look for the innocuous explanation, trying not to think the worst of people. He recognizes that despite the overwhelming evidence from the data he’s experienced, he can be wrong in a particular instance.
“An ‘O.K.’ sign means nothing on its own. But racism thrives in ambiguity, in shadows. In this form, it is cowardly with double meanings.”
Despite his instincts, he didn’t immediately condemn the Cubs fan who made the gesture. He waited until the facts were in. Indeed, the Cubs quickly did an investigation, found that the fan’s intent was malicious, and banned him from Wrigley Field.
The Washington Post (May 8) quoted the Cubs’ president, Theo Epstein: “We’ve made clear how egregious and unacceptable that behavior is, and there’s no place for it in our society, in baseball, and certainly no place in Wrigley Field.”
Said Tim Elfrink, the Post writer:
“The case marks the latest high-profile emergence of the hand symbol and suggests yet again how thoroughly troubling language and memes pushed by the alt-right and adopted by hate groups have infiltrated American culture. But such gestures, which can run the gamut from ironic jokes to long-running games to outright symbols of intolerance, are also notoriously difficult to interpret.”
It bears repeating that ambiguity is precisely the point. The Post quotes Salon writer Amanda Marcotte, who observed that the O.K. sign was to serve as both white supremacist symbol “and also one that is just ordinary enough looking that when liberals expressed outrage, the white supremacist could play the victim of liberal hysteria.”
And as Glanville points out, the impact of ambiguity on people of color can be profound, making them feel…
“That their sanity hinges on a single verdict. If the Cubs fan was flashing a white nationalist sign, we are in danger; if he was not, we are ‘politicizing’ things or ‘race-baiting.’ This is an incapacitating position to find yourself in, especially when you are just an innocent bystander. You are thrust into the public eye and forced to relitigate the existence of racism. Before you know what has happened, you find yourself on the defensive.”
And Glanville draws the very straight line from such soul-bashing episodes of racism as symbol to racism as system:
“…institutional power that can crush neighborhoods, generations of children, stripping people of validation, self-worth and opportunity. Those who have been on the losing end of this power are never certain that they will be O.K.”
Still, he holds out hope that we as a society will “choose the path of empathy and hope.” pointing out that baseball “is played by teams of people from all walks of life, following universal rules, competing on a level playing field.” Acknowledging that this image may be part mythology, he still sees it as an “aspirational ideal, a goal for us as a society.”
But only if we are willing to acknowledge
“that racism operates not only with fire hoses and police dogs but also in whispers, in fine print, in invisible ink, in coded language. Until we are fully against it, we are letting it fester, and while we try to sort out the ambiguities, people are suffering.”
His closing sentence: “They will still suffer once we have our answers, no matter what we find out.”
Though that is more hard truth than optimistic conclusion, I know Doug Glanville will continue his work of building bridges, teaching and writing about social justice, guiding his own children to focus on the good around them and rise above the rest.
Of course we’ve made progress since the Jim Crow era, but with the current trends, including deliberate attempts to deny or make it nearly impossible for people of color to vote, and the far too numerous killings of unarmed black people by police officers—many of whom are not held accountable—how can we possibly expect people of color to ignore racial slights or “put them in perspective” when, regardless of their accomplishments, they know how close they are to the next indignity—or worse?
How does it feel to hear TV commentators focus on how important it is for Democratic candidates to appeal to the white voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, etc., when the water situation in Flint, Michigan, has still not been fully resolved five years later, and we don’t even know how many other predominantly black cities are similarly affected? What will it take for us to care—as if they are our own—about the children being poorly educated and poisoned by environmental pollutants that are getting worse as the EPA standards are lessened or removed?
And why does the shocking data that African-American women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women—regardless of their income and education levels—not cry out for national attention?
With so many hate crimes and “anti-isms” against various groups on the rise in this country, some may be tempted to belittle the kind of assault Doug Glanville recently experienced. After all, he wasn’t physically injured.
I don’t use the word “assault” lightly: when someone so accomplished—a good-hearted, caring individual with a long history of trying to ease tensions among groups—lets us in on how devastating the accretion of these insults can become, we dare not ignore his words.
Yes, we must strive to overcome our differences and reduce the terrible polarization that threatens us now. We must always seek those things that unite us, rather than divide us.
But we’ll never do so until we realize that the original sin of slavery still hovers over us, and in 2019, we have much more work to do. I am grateful to Doug Glanville for so eloquently sharing his pain with us. He’s still ready to do the hard work to make our country better for us all. Are those of us whose lives aren’t disrupted by the types of incidents Glanville and so many others continually experience ready to do the same?
I welcome your thoughts, opinions, and stories.
NOTE: You can hear an audio interview in which Glanville describes the episode and its aftermath on WBUR’s Here and Now (May 29). Notice that he ends with a positive observation, as he always tries to do.
Today, April 22, is Earth Day. Above is a photo of my favorite T-shirt, with a message that is always worth a reminder, 365 days a year–unless it’s Leap Year. [Note to my darling daughters: you should in no way assume this is directed at you!]
The fact that due to numerous washings, the vividness of that image is fading gives me pause. But as I always seek a note of optimism, I think of all the kids throughout the world who recently staged a school walkout to stress their concern about climate change. They, too, are a reminder to us that it’s their world we’re screwing up–and we’d better get moving–for their sakes.
My fellow blogger Julia Elizabeth, at juliaelizabethblog.com, notes the following:
“Forty-nine years ago, millions of people took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of industrial development, giving birth to an international environmental movement. Today it is estimated that over one billion people across 192 countries take part in this global event, binding together to fight for our planet and our future.”
In commemorations of this day, you’ll probably read and hear tons of things that we mortals should be doing in the face of the huge challenge looming ahead of us as a result of climate change. (I’m assuming my blogging community believes in science, and therefore I don’t have to persuade you about the existential threat we face.)
Julia Elizabeth, who calls herself a “nomad,” offers “19 Small Ways to Celebrate Earth Day 2019 From Anywhere.” Her suggestions include the easily accomplished, such as “Turn off the tap when brushing, shaving, and shampooing,” and the slightly less convenient: “Bring your reusable bags, water bottles, coffee cups, cutlery sets, and so on wherever you go.”
She adds the more challenging but equally important: “Say no to plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic straws…basically anything and everything made from plastic.” And some that are especially aimed at travelers, such as: “Opt for eco-friendly accommodation…”
To remind us what’s at stake, here are some beautiful and devastating photos in a slide show from National Geographic. I thank Gini’s Nature Notes for alerting me to these.
Julia Elizabeth concludes with a quotation from chef Annie-Marie Bonneau:
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
I think that’s a perfect ending, one that I hope leads to new and better beginnings in this journey that calls upon us all to be activists to ensure our future.
As always, I welcome your thoughts, stories, and any suggestions and anecdotes about your own efforts and/or recommended reading related to our topic: “Respect Your Mother.”
UPDATE: An astute member of our community posted a link to an invaluable resource from the Union of Concerned Scientists. I encourage anyone who wants to know more about climate change–including skeptics–to go to the Comments section and scroll down til you see the link from frankaufman. Thank you, Fran!
I am extremely fond of someone whose politics and world view differ significantly from mine. One text exchange with him really brought me up short. I had written what I consider a self-evident truth: unless we do something about the growing economic inequality in this country, it won’t be only the poor and struggling middle class who will suffer. Eventually, our fraying social fabric will tear completely, and the .01% will find society inhospitable to them as well.
My correspondent’s response stunned me. He said that what I’m suggesting will mean the end of a nation based on merit, and my grandchild will face a dismal future. I responded that I do worry about my grandchild’s dismal future, but it’s because of the ravages of climate change—not efforts to reduce inequality. And so our discussion ended.
I didn’t launch into all the evidence demonstrating that our society has never been based solely on merit—from the Original Sin of Slavery to the very 21st Century scandal of famous people bribing coaches to get their kids into the best colleges.
But the idea that any mention of redressing inequality could evoke such a reaction made me think that it’s time to talk about why the wealthiest among us should welcome steps to close the ever-widening economic gap, why some of them are advocating for just that, and what approaches might be feasible for us as a nation.
I realize once again I’m taking on a “you can’t cover such a mammoth, complex topic in a blog” subject. That’s why I won’t mention world economic inequality right now. I have some awareness of my limits, for goodness’ sake (!?). I must add a disclaimer, however: my formal education in economics is practically zero, so you should be skeptical of anything I write that I don’t attribute to others.
What I do have is a heart that hurts when I see so much suffering and anger in this land of plenty, a conviction that this growing economic inequity is unsustainable, and—I’ve been told—an analytical mind in addressing problems. And my blessed blog gives me a bit of a forum to try to evoke discussion of these views.
So here we go.
We’ll start with Nick Hanauer. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with him and his work, but I’ve attached a link to his 2014 TED Talk: “Beware, Fellow Plutocrats: The Pitchforks Are Coming.” It’s worth “eavesdropping” on Hanauer’s speech, which lays some of the groundwork for the reasons and ways to bring about positive economic change. (I’m not endorsing everything he’s ever said or written—simply focusing here on ideas that make great sense to me.)
I think this is especially important as the Democratic Party internally debates how moderate, progressive, or even (gasp!) socialistic its policies should be. Polls show that most voters—not just Democrats—want policies that are moderately progressive—though the word “progressive” may worry them (worries bolstered by the Trump-Republican push to make even the desire for healthcare sound like we’re racing toward the “evils of socialism.”)
Hanauer describes himself as a “plutocrat” and “proud and unapologetic capitalist” who has made a fortune. (He was the first non-family investor in Amazon, co-founded a company that Microsoft bought for $6.4 billion, etc.) But he says he’s neither the smartest nor hardest working person and was a mediocre student.
“Truly, my success is the consequence of spectacular luck, of birth, of circumstance and of timing. But I am actually pretty good at a couple of things. One, I have an unusually high tolerance for risk, and the other is I have a good sense, a good intuition about what will happen in the future, and I think that that intuition about the future is the essence of good entrepreneurship.”
“So what do I see in our future today, you ask? I see pitchforks, as in angry mobs with pitchforks, because while people like us plutocrats are living beyond the dreams of avarice, the other 99 percent of our fellow citizens are falling farther and farther behind.”
To me, that evaluation resonates strongly, and I hope his message is reaching at least some of his fellow plutocrats.
Hanauer stresses that although he believes some inequality is essential for what he calls a “high-functioning capitalist democracy,” inequality today is historically high and worsening daily. If this trend continues, he says, our society will become more like what 18th-century France had “before the revolution and the mobs with the pitchforks.”
“So I have a message for my fellow plutocrats and zillionaires and for anyone who lives in a gated bubble world: Wake up. Wake up. It cannot last. Because if we do not do something to fix the glaring economic inequities in our society, the pitchforks will come for us, for no free and open society can long sustain this kind of rising economic inequality. It has never happened. There are no examples. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state or an uprising.” [All the passages bolded for emphasis are mine.]
What’s more, he says, this inequality is bad for business. Throw out a belief in “trickle-down economics,” which never worked, Hanauer says, because economies aren’t efficient and don’t tend toward fairness. He advocates what he calls “middle-out economics,” which views economies as complex systems that can be effective only if they’re well-managed.
He gives a cogent illustration of why trickle-down economics can’t work.
“I earn 1,000 times the median wage, but I do not buy 1,000 times as much stuff, do I? I actually bought two pairs of these pants…I could have bought 2,000 pairs, but what would I do with them? How many haircuts can I get?…a few plutocrats…can never drive a great national economy. Only a thriving middle class can do that.”
How do we achieve that thriving middle class? One way, which Hanauer sparked, is to raise the minimum wage. Less than one year after his article “The Capitalist’s Case for a $15 Minimum Wage” was published—and Forbes called it “Nick Hanauer’s near-insane proposal”—Seattle did just that: raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour, more than twice the existing federal rate.
“It happened because a group of us reminded the middle class that they are the source of growth and prosperity in capitalist economies…that when workers have more money, businesses have more customers, and need more employees…that when businesses pay workers a living wage, taxpayers are relieved of the burden of funding the poverty programs like food stamps and medical assistance and rent assistance that those workers need. We reminded them that low-wage workers make terrible taxpayers, and that when you raise the minimum wage…all businesses benefit yet all can compete.”
To those who insist this approach is economically disastrous, he points out that Seattle is doing very well, thank you, and is one of the fastest growing cities in the US, with a booming restaurant business, where the restaurant workers can afford to eat where they work (despite restaurateurs who had said they’d have to close their doors).
Hanauer acknowledges these issues are more complex than he can depict in one speech but says there’s simply no evidence that increasing wages will harm both workers and the economy.
“The most insidious thing about trickle-down economics is not the claim that if the rich get richer, everyone is better off. It is the claim made by those who oppose any increase in the minimum wage that if the poor get richer, that will be bad for the economy. This is nonsense.”
When President Bill Clinton said “the era of big government is over,” we had already been on a trajectory that sees government as a necessary evil at best, or pure evil at worst. (Notably, Clinton had added: “but we cannot go back to a time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves.”) Without mentioning those sentiments, Hanauer calls for “a new politics, a new capitalism”:
“Let’s by all means shrink the size of government, but not by slashing the poverty programs, but by ensuring that workers are paid enough so that they actually don’t need those programs…Government does create prosperity and growth, by creating the conditions that allow both entrepreneurs and their customers to thrive.”
“Balancing the power of capitalists like me and workers isn’t bad for capitalism. It’s essential to it. Programs like a reasonable minimum wage, affordable healthcare, paid sick leave, and the progressive taxation necessary to pay for the important infrastructure necessary for the middle class like education, R and D, these are indispensable tools shrewd capitalists should embrace to drive growth, because no one benefits from it like us.”
He concludes with a message to his fellow plutocrats that it’s time to “recommit to our country”—and to a more inclusive and efficient capitalism…
“…a capitalism that will ensure that America’s economy remains the most dynamic and prosperous in the world. Let’s secure the future for ourselves, our children and their children. Or alternatively, we could do nothing, hide in our gated communities and private schools, enjoy our planes and yachts — they’re fun — and wait for the pitchforks.”
Since this speech, Hanauer has continued to push for change. His podcast, Pitchfork Economics, is widely available. I listened to a segment in which US Senator and 2020 Presidential candidate Cory Booker discussed his proposed bill concerning stock buybacks, explained here. May sound dull, but I found it fascinating.
Before 1982, I learned, stock buybacks were illegal: using corporate profits to buy back stocks, thereby raising the price of those stocks, was viewed as market manipulation. Doesn’t that make sense? But now it’s standard practice, contributing nothing to economic growth except what goes into the stockholders’ pockets. The workers whose increased productivity made those profits possible receive zilch; their wages remain stagnant, as wages have since the late 1970s.
Even worse, there are disincentives to corporations trying to be fair.
Booker cites American Airlines. After having a great quarter last year, he says, “they announced long overdue pay raises to the pilots and flight attendants.” But analysts looked askance at this move, and Morgan Stanley downgraded American’s shares, complaining its action established a worrying precedent for American Airlines and the industry.
So they were essentially punished for trying to be fair to their workers. Is that not an example of an economy gone seriously awry?
Booker’s bill, the “Workers Dividend Act,” says that if corporations plan to engage in stock buybacks, they must give a commensurate share to their employees. He stresses that this bill is not intended to “vilify” wealth, but simply to ensure that everyone has more.
Importantly, he points out why it’s needed:
“We make moral and value decisions with how we structure our tax codes, shortchanging workers, adding to wealth disparity, and weakening our democracy as a whole.”
To me, the big question is: How do we get the plutocrats to change direction before our democracy is further weakened—and/or the pitchforks are activated?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Michael Tomasky’s Op-Ed, published today in The New York Times: “Is America Becoming an Oligarchy?,” which echoes the concerns expressed here. Tomasky writes:
“Democracy can’t flourish in a context of grotesque concentration of wealth. This idea is neither new nor radical nor alien. It is old, mainstream and as American as Thomas Jefferson.”
Many writers have examined this topic lately, and I think it’s one that we must face as a nation. I plan to explore some of the ideas in subsequent posts.
Are you with me in having this discussion—whether you agree or disagree?
Bill-Barr used unusual gauges
to file the 400-plus pages: “I’ve made up my mind There’s nothing to find, So you’ll see that drivel in stages.” The people were rather irate
They felt that a lot was at stake.
“If no wrong has been done
And the Trumper has won,
There’s no reason to play with our fate.”
“Let’s see the report as was written
Right now would be timely and fitting.
Place no holds on the facts,
Just forgo the redacts,
We paid for this not to be hidden.”
But Bill-Barr was cranky and dreading
That his reputation was shredding
“My 19-page audition
Said this prez has a mission,
So where did you think I’d be heading?”
And suddenly those with tight lips,
Who’d been wary of not sinking ships
Said “Good grief! Our worst fears
of two long, wasted years
Demand that we now give some tips.”
So the free press arose to report
About several probers’ exhort:
Barr had woven a story
That was really quite hoary,
With the truth it did not quite comport.
And now we’re all in waiting mode,
As Congress takes on this new load
Watch for the subpoenas,
While Fox’s hyenas,
Insist it’s conspiracy code.
But the polls show that most of us feel,
That this onion must finally be peeled.
If it isn’t collusion,
There’s still lots of confusion,
And high time the Whole Truth is revealed!
What do YOU think?
As always, I greatly value your thoughts, opinions, and stories in the comment box below—as well as your feedback in the form of stars (from the one on the left for “awful” to the one on the right for “excellent”) and the “likes” from WordPress folks. Thanks so much.
PS: A note to potential respondents: You’ll see a few early exchanges in rhyme. These are not prerequisites: I value your comments in whatever mode you choose. (Don’t want to discourage anyone who’s averse to verse!) Please also keep in mind that although this topic arouses strong emotions in me and most of you, we do want to remain as civil as possible. Thanks again.
Well, I didn’t really think I’d be returning to this topic—certainly not so soon—but I’ve learned some things since the first post appeared that I feel are worth sharing.
As I noted previously, despite my ambivalence concerning legalization, I’ve been assuming that it will eventually happen. I still do. A number of you have pointed out the analogy to Prohibition, and we all know how that effort to oppose the public will turned out.
But a New York Times report on the collapse of an effort to legalize marijuana in New Jersey, which was a campaign promise made by the state’s governor, Phil Murphy, and had both his strong backing and statewide public support, points to some opposing arguments that legislators made. (I promise if you stay with me through this, you’ll see that I conclude my findings on a high note. Oops, there I go again with the bad puns.)
From the Times:
“Some lawmakers were unsure about how to tax marijuana sales. Others feared legalization would flood the state’s congested streets and highways with impaired drivers. Some would not be deterred from believing that marijuana was a dangerous menace to public health.”
The Times pointed out that New Jersey lawmakers, and those in the neighboring states of New York and Connecticut, have tried to avoid problems that have occurred in states that have already legalized cannabis.
Colorado, for example, according to a state-sponsored study published in the March 26, 2019, issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, has seen three times as many cases of people presenting to the emergency room for visits attributable to pot since legalization in 2012.
The greater number of visits was attributed to edibles—“tales of tourists needing emergency care after gobbling too many marijuana gummies”—leading to vomiting, racing hearts, and psychotic episodes. But the worst problems at a Denver hospital were caused by inhaled marijuana. The study was also prompted by three deaths in Colorado related to edible marijuana products.
“The analysis confirmed edibles are trouble. Statewide, they made up less than 1 percent of total cannabis sales, measured by THC content [the ingredient that creates the “high”]. Yet 11 percent of ER visits were triggered by edibles.”
There’s no information on safe dosing of these edibles, according to Andre Monte, MD, lead author of the Annals study. An accompanying editorial by Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, stressed the need for additional research about marijuana’s benefits and harms and called increased oversight of marijuana manufacturing and labeling an “urgent need.”
Some of the legislative concerns have been financial: in California and Massachusetts, tax revenues from marijuana sales have been disappointing. My biggest worry, about how to protect teenagers from the drug, has also evoked serious discussions.
I’m going to digress slightly here because a dear friend who’s a long-time mental health professional observed after reading my first post that discussing marijuana is not sufficient without also talking about vaping, which she knows from experiences among acquaintances has led to psychotic breaks in some adolescents.
If you know any young people who are tempted by or are engaged in this activity, this fact sheet for teens contains information about the dangers of vaping both e-cigarettes and marijuana. Many brands particularly target youth, prompting one report to ask:
“How can a tween, teen, or 20-something looking for inclusion, status, or the next cool thing resist? Given that vaping among high school students in grades 9-12 increased approximately 1286% between 2011 and 2018, it appears they are willing to give vaping a try.”
Some people have suggested to me that if pot were legal, teenagers might be less likely to find it attractive. A 1286% increase in 7 years? If that statistic is even half right, it offers little support for the “if it’s no longer illegal, it loses its allure” argument.
Another important issue in states that have legalized marijuana, notes the Times article,involves “a burgeoning industry dominated by white corporate interests even as advocates in Hispanic and black communities say their neighborhoods have been most negatively affected by the drug.”
As I noted in my previous post, I am deeply concerned that the social aspect of marijuana legalization be addressed. While I touched on that issue, it clearly needs more exploration. (I mentioned that the records for marijuana arrests in areas where it’s legal continue to show racial disparities, and there’s agreement that better police training is needed.)If legalization is to take place, it had better be done in a way that rights the wrongs that have been inflicted by the criminal justice system for years.
In this regard, the bill that was voted on in the New Jersey legislature last week was exceptionally strong. According to the ACLU:
“The bill before the Legislature is truly historic. It includes forward-thinking measures to reverse the injustices wrought by the failed drug war.”
expedited expungements for cannabis-related criminal records;
ability for people to vacate current sentences;
non-discrimination for cannabis use;
opportunities in the industry for people with criminal records;
social justice representatives on the cannabis regulatory board;
meaningful provisions for diversity in the industry.
No other state has leaned into the social justice elements of marijuana legalization the way New Jersey is poised to.”
Let’s hope that any future legalization legislation is equally forward-looking and just.
So the concerns I expressed in that first post—about the need for sensible regulation, careful monitoring, greater awareness of potency, focus on teenagers, and emphasis on criminal justice reform—remain intact, even heightened somewhat by the Colorado study. I guess this is a societal experiment in which we’ll bumble along and, I hope, with good sense and good luck, get better at doing things right with time.
Here’s where I end this unplanned revisit on a high note:
A friend alerted me to an article in Scientific American with the optimistic title: “Marijuana May Boost, Rather Than Dull, the Elderly Brain.” (The original study appeared in Nature Medicine; here’s the abstract.)
Before anyone gets too excited, the senior citizens in question were of the genus Mus—specifically, mice. According to Scientific American,
“…the drug might affect older users very differently than young ones—at least in mice. Instead of impairing learning and memory, as it does in young people, the drug appears to reverse age-related declines in the cognitive performance of elderly mice.”
Scientists not involved in the study who found it intriguing cautioned, of course, that additional research is needed before assuming the findings would be relevant to aging humans. But those who did the study noticed that in the treated elderly mice, the neurons in the hippocampus (the part of the brain essential for memory and learning) had developed more of what’s called synaptic spines, by which neurons communicate with each other.
The Scientific American author pointed out that the researchers were even more struck by the dramatic difference in the hippocampus of the THC-treated mice as compared with the elderly, untreated mice. Andreas Zimmer from University of Bonn, Germany, the lead researcher, stated:
‘That is something we absolutely did not expect: the old animals [that received] THC looked most similar to the young untreated control mice.”
The hypothesis is that the THC and possibly other components in cannabinoids act similarly to the brain’s naturally occurring endocannabinoids, which are directly associated with the brain’s neural activity and appear to decline with age. Thus, externally introduced cannabinoids could, theoretically, reverse that process.
One clinical researcher who wasn’t associated with the study, Mark Ware at McGill University, observed:
“To anyone who studies the endocannabinoid system, the findings are not necessarily surprising, because the system has homeostatic properties everywhere we look.” In other words, it adjusts to changes in order to maintain internal stability.
That can explain the variations we see, points out the Scientific American author.
“For example, a little marijuana may alleviate anxiety, but too much can bring on paranoid delusions. Likewise, cannabis can spark an appetite in cancer patients but in other people may produce nausea. Thus, the detrimental effects seen in young brains, in which cannabinoids are already plentiful, may turn out to be beneficial in older brains that have a dearth of them.”
Of course, this is just one study, but it’s quite fascinating, isn’t it? While I’m still worrying about teenage abuse of the substance, and irresponsible drivers, and lack of information about potency that’s sending people to the ER for glomming down too many gummies (I wonder how many gummies it took…), I find myself eagerly awaiting further research on the effects of cannabis on the aging brain.
I received several new clearly weed-related followers after my first post on this topic, and I wondered why they found me a kindred spirit when I was so filled with skepticism and concerns.Then a friend reminded me of my reverie about cherry tomatoes after my one-and-only experience with pot decades ago.
Another friend had commented that he had been pro-legalization, but my first post made him rethink his position. But I told him about this study. After hearing about it, I now have images of happy elderly folk in all sorts of places, reveling in their carefully regulated dosages of brownies, gummy bears, and the like—followed by a chaser of cherry tomatoes unlike any they’ve ever experienced before.
And in my fantasy view of memory nirvana, all who so engage will be able to promptly retrieve the first and last names of everyone they’ve ever met; the actors, titles, and stories of all those wonderful movies; the plays, players, and scores of sports events they viewed with pleasure decades ago; and…well, you get the picture.
…And Mr. Google will simply have to find another line of work.
As always, I welcome your thoughts, opinions, and stories in the comment box below—as well as your feedback in the form of stars (from the one on the left for “awful” to the one on the right for “excellent”) and the “likes” from WordPress folks. Thanks so much.