Saturday, July 22, 2017

#203 / Forget About It

Ulrich Boser thinks it is "Good to Forget." Among other things, Boser contends that "relearning what you once knew makes you smarter." Benjamin Storm, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, which is, of course, located right here in my own hometown, has made human memory, and forgetting in particular, the area of his major academic focus. Storm is cited by Boser as someone who now takes this "forgetting is good" idea quite seriously. 

Speaking personally, I was very happy to hear about this theory, and that forgetting can be beneficial. For whatever reason, and age may have something to do with it, I tend to forget things rather quickly, particularly in the sense that I have no reliable "inner index" to what I know. I often cannot remember, for instance, if I read a particular book, or who wrote it, or what its main argument might have been. And yet, I know that I continue to make use of the books I've studied, as I start thinking and writing about a topic in which I have some interest. I "know" things without being able to say precisely what it is that I do know, and when I need the knowledge it "comes to me," as I am somehow able to resurrect past knowledge and use it in some new construction. 

One book I have never forgotten, by Michael Polanyi, is called Personal Knowledge. In that book, Polanyi says that we "know" things that we cannot document or explain. He uses the knowledge of Antonio Stradivari as an example. Stradivari "knew" how to make violins better than anyone else, but that knowledge was "personal" to him. It could not be reduced to writing, or listed out in a set of instructions, and then transmitted to others. No one else could make violins as good as Stradivari's, even with such guidance. Stradivari obviously "knew" things he didn't even know he knew. Our "knowledge," in other words, is always "personal," not existing independently of ourselves. I take this to suggest that our knowledge is often, and maybe even "always," greater than the sum of the sources from which we have acquired it, and from which sources we assemble what we "know."

At any rate, for those worried that their memory may be "fading," or becoming "unreliable," the Boser piece in The New York Times might provide some comfort.

When you catch yourself not remembering something that you just know that you know, don't get alarmed. Forget about it!

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Friday, July 21, 2017

#202 / Regulation Is Freedom #3

The New York Times ran a front-page story on July 12, 2017, documenting the "deep industry connections of Trump's deregulation teams." The Times' story began by noting that "President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations."

The point of the article was that the regulatory cutbacks being conducted by these "teams" were taking place "out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts."

That doesn't sound good, of course (and it's not), but many people probably think that scaling back government regulations, and cutting the "red tape," is generally a good thing. My purpose today is to suggest that "deregulation" may not, in fact, be an automatically positive activity. Contrary to common understanding, "regulation" is an arena in which our democratic freedoms are directly achieved. I have translated this thought into shorthand by an Orwellian-sounding phrase upon which I have elaborated twice before, once in 2010 ("Regulation Is Freedom"), and once again in 2011 ("Regulation Is Freedom #2"). 

Because it has been almost six years since I have made this point in my blog, I thought it was worthwhile to make it again. What made me think it might be worthwhile to reiterate my point was a letter to the editor appearing in the July 12, 2017, edition of the San Jose Mercury News (on the same date, in other words, that the above-referenced article appeared in the New York Times).

Here's the letter that appeared in the Mercury News, from Morris Chassen, of San Jose: 

Thick smog of the 60s could be coming back 
At age 74, I remember living in Los Angeles in the 50’s and 60’s. I had a personal smog alert: Mom would say, “Don’t go outside it’s too smoggy.” There were times I couldn’t see to the end of the block and coughed when I went outside. Smog was an accepted way of life. When young and old started to die, people looked to the skies but couldn’t see the sun. Things are a lot better now but we still have a long way to go. I live in Almaden Valley, I can look toward downtown San Jose and think, they sure are smoggy over there. I drive downtown and look back toward Almaden Valley and think, they sure are smoggy over there. Smog control is not a liberal plot by a bunch of government bureaucrats. Go to YouTube and look at Los Angeles Smog in the 50’s and 60’s. That’s not what we want for our families.

If my suggestion that we "legislate" our human world has any validity, then our ability to write whatever law or rule we like means that regulation is, in fact, the realm of freedom, in which we discover our human ability to create a world of our own choosing. 

Obviously, not every "regulation" is wonderful, and excessive and oppressive regulations can exist. However, the way that "deregulation" is often equated with an effort to increase "freedom" always rubs me the wrong way. A proper understanding of regulation will recognize that "regulation," in fact, is the arena in which our political freedom is made real. It is the place where, among other things, we can act, collectively, to counteract the bad effects that sometimes come from letting everyone do what they want, individually. To follow up on Mr. Chassen's point, see below:

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

#201 / Politics As A Hobby

Professor Eitan D. Hersh is worried that American politics is turning into a kind of "hobby" for those who engage in it. You can read about his concerns in the Sunday, July 2, 2017, edition of The New York Times. In the hard copy version of the paper, Hersh's column is titled, "Political Hobbyists Are Ruining the Country." Online, you'll find that the title is equally dramatic, and equally negative: "The Problem With Participatory Democracy Is the Participants."

As Hersh sees it: 

Political hobbyism might not be so bad if it complemented mundane but important forms of participation. The problem is that hobbyism is replacing other forms of participation, like local organizing, supporting party organizations, neighbor-to-neighbor persuasion, even voting in midterm elections — the 2014 midterms had the lowest level of voter participation in over 70 years ... An unending string of activities intended for instant gratification does not amount to much in political power.

This much is true: any healthy politics is serious. If politics is serious, that means it is seriously focused on power, and about how to generate power, and about how to mobilize power, and how to use power to achieve the kind of world we want. Activities that lead us away from the serious pursuit and use of power, to achieve serious and important objectives, should be resisted. Those who think that politics is about "letting everyone know where we stand," are missing the mark. "Spouting off," using all the new and high-tech methodologies we now have available, is something quite different from engaging in genuine politics. There is no doubt Hersh is right about that! I think this is the warning that Hersh is voicing.

That point taken, however, I believe that Hersh's rather negative view of current political activity may be overstated. Is the proliferation of anti-Trump petitions and Facebook groups really "ruining" the country? Are all those political "newbies," who are trying to "participate" in our democracy for the first time really the big "problem?"

I don't think so. All that activity is just fine, the way I see it, but the activities that Hersh is concerned about should be seen as "necessary," not "sufficient." 

Career advisors frequently tell their passionate clients to "turn your hobby into your life's work." That's how I'd phrase Hersh's message. Let's find a way to move ourselves from "hobbyists" to agents of genuine political change. That is a "life's work," indeed!

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

#200 / Is This What Victory Looks Like?

The pictures above appeared in an online article in The New York Times. The July 10, 2017, story discussed the "victory" of Iraq's armed forces, as the Iraq government took back the city of Mosul, Iraq, previously occupied by by the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL. You remember them, right? They're the terrorists! The pictures shows what the non-terrorists do.

Below are pictures of Dresden, Germany; Nagasaki, Japan; and young children fleeing Ben Tre, Vietnam. The United States was directly responsible for the "victories" captured in those photos.

It was about Ben Tre that an unidentified American officer said, "it became necessary to destroy the town [in order] to save it."

Check out these images. This is what "victory" looks like, when you go to war:

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

#199 / Ready To Crash? (Silver Lining Department)

Kathleen Pender writes a business column in the San Francisco Chronicle. On July 2nd, here was her headline: "Taking on more mortgage, debt to get easier." Online, the title of Pender's column has been reworded to make it more precise: "Fannie Mae making it easier to spend half your income on debt."

Oh, boy, I thought. Here we go again!

It is generally accepted that the 2007-2008 economic meltdown in the United States, leading to a world financial crisis, began with a crash in the home mortgage market, leading to a chain-reaction of bank failures. As Wikipedia describes it: 

The precipitating factor was a high default rate in the United States subprime home mortgage sector. The expansion of this sector was encouraged by the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), a US federal law designed to help low- and moderate-income Americans get mortgage loans. Many of these subprime (high risk) loans were then bundled and sold, finally accruing to quasi-government agencies (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). The implicit guarantee by the US federal government created a moral hazard and contributed to a glut of risky lending. Many of these loans were also bundled together and formed into new financial instruments called mortgage-backed securities, which could be sold as (ostensibly) low-risk securities partly because they were often backed by credit default swaps insurance. Because mortgage lenders could pass these mortgages (and the associated risks) on in this way, they could and did adopt loose underwriting criteria (encouraged by regulators), and some developed aggressive lending practices. The accumulation and subsequent high default rate of these mortgages led to the financial crisis and the consequent damage to the world economy.

Like I said, "Here we go again." 

The former system encouraged people to buy (with a mortgage) real estate that they couldn't actually afford. Ever-increasing real estate prices (they call it a bubble) convinced homeowners that they were safe, because the price of their home would just keep rising. In other words, working people were encouraged to speculate with the only asset they had, and then they lost. They lost big! It all came from allowing homeowners to finance real estate that they didn't really have the income to afford. 

The Pender column I am citing reported on recent actions by Fannie Mae, a government agency that was deeply implicated in the last crisis. Fannie Mae can buy or insure mortgages that meets its underwriting criteria, and starting on July 29th, Fannie Mae's automated underwriting software will approve loans with debt-to-income ratios as high as 50 percent. Of course, just because some borrowers will be able to spend up to half of their monthly pretax income on mortgage and other debt payments, that "doesn't mean they should." Pender does make that point, and Gillian Kindle, an adviser with Mosaic Financial Partners, completely agrees. "It's a pretty poor idea," says Kindle. "It flies in the face of common financial wisdom and best practices."

This upcoming action by Fannie Mae is something completely separate from the proposal to repeal the Dodd-Frank legislation that was adopted after the 2007-2008 financial crisis. But that is happening, too. Dodd-Frank seeks to prevent a future set of massive bank failures. The Trump Administration and the Republican Congress are determined to roll back banking regulations, and to put banks and other financial institutions back in the business of speculating with other people's money. Chances are, Dodd-Frank is a dead duck

Is there any "silver lining" in this entire debacle? Well, the only one I can think of is this: In the last crisis, the banks took over hundreds of thousands of homes, everywhere in the United States, when their owners could no longer make mortgage payments. As the banks were on the verge of failures that could have totally wiped out the United States economy, they came to the federal government for a bailout, and they got it. But the federal government, then in the driver's seat, did not require the banks to turn over all those homes, taken by the banks when their owners couldn't pay. Next time, it could be different. 

What if the federal government had taken those homes from the banks, in return for bailing them out, and then turned around and sold those homes to people at prices they could afford, but with a resale restriction, to keep them affordable for ever? Well, that would have been a major action making truly affordable housing available not only immediately, but in the future. 

Check that graphic at the top of the page: "Here we go again!" Get ready to crash. This time, however, when the taxpayers bail out the banks, let's at least get hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing as our price for being so nice to the rapacious financial institutions that are getting ready to do it to us once again!

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Monday, July 17, 2017

#198 / What's In A Name?

The Mercury News carried a story on Saturday, July 8th, documenting how Facebook is planning to make mammoth changes to the City of Menlo Park, building a "vast expansion" to the Facebook campus, to include retail shopping, a grocery store, parks, plazas, and hundreds of homes, all to accompany Facebook's new office buildings. Google is planning to reconfigure downtown San Jose, too, pretty much along the same lines, but at an even larger scale. 

These city planning efforts indicate just how much our local "communities" have become mere adjuncts to massive corporate development projects. And then, there's Salesforce. 

The July 7, 2017, edition of The San Francisco Chronicle told readers that Salesforce was going to claim "naming rights" over San Francisco’s new downtown transit center:

Salesforce, a software company with its headquarters and 6,600 employees in the Bay Area, has agreed to a 25-year, $110 million sponsorship of the 2½-block-long facility set to open next spring at Fremont and Mission streets. The deal includes naming rights, which means that the complex would be known as the Salesforce Transit Center. Similarly, the 5.4-acre rooftop open space will become Salesforce Park if the board of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority approves the contract [as, in fact, it did].

The facility that will soon be known as the "Salesforce Transit Center" has been known, heretofore, as the "Transbay Transit Center," and so far about 2.4 billion dollars in public money has been invested in this new facility

What's in a name? An acknowledgment that our public institutions have been taken over by private, corporate capital. 

We will end up thinking that private corporations are more "important" than the public itself, even though it is the public, acting through its government, that makes the wealth-producing activities of the private corporations possible, and even though it is public money that basically finances the facilities for which corporate capital is now going to claim the credit. 

I'd like to think that the soul of our public institutions is not for sale. But... heads up! I might be wrong.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

#197 / The Reinvention Of Politics

The photo above shows Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known as "Lula," speaking in São Paulo, Brazil, on Thursday, July 13, 2017. Lula is the former president of Brazil, and he was speaking to his supporters a day after his conviction on corruption and money laundering charges. 

Lula left office six years ago, and was, at that time, a widely popular political figure. He denounced his conviction as the product of a "deceitful judiciary that had wandered dangerously into politics." 

Note that Lula seems to take for granted that there is some sort of fundamental distinction between judicially-enforced laws governing corruption and the realm of "politics." Keep your anti-corruption laws out of politics, says Lula, they don't belong there! Lula is pledging to run for President again, but that may or may not happen. If his conviction is upheld (meaning that the Brazilian judiciary doesn't buy into the distinction between anti-corruption laws and politics), then Lula will be spending ten years in prison.

Lula is just one of many former and current elected officials in Brazil who have been convicted of, or who are facing charges of, corruption. An article in the Friday, July 14th New York Times (print edition) provides a partial list, which includes politicians from all parts of the political spectrum. 

On Saturday, July 15th, The Times carried another article on this topic, entitled, "Why Uprooting Corruption Has Plunged Brazil Into Chaos." Basically, that article elaborates upon the observation made by Lula that judicial efforts to enforce the laws against corruption can make "politics" dysfunctional. There is, in other words, a practical problem with rooting out corruption, in a political system in which corruption is taken for granted: "A stunning number of establishment political figures have been implicated, leaving the world's fifth most populous country with few credible leaders." 

So, as both Lula and The Times seem be be saying, be careful about getting too hung up on combatting corruption. The results of the judicially-led campaign against corruption might be worse than the corruption itself. One of the possible horrors The Times sketches in its July 15th article is this: 

Brazil is now as polarized as the U.S.” [said] Carlos Melo, a Brazilian political scientist ... If Lula is absent it would unquestionably open the space for an outside, very emotional leader, a bit like U.S. President Trump.

So, seen from Brazil, the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States is seen as a kind of horror story to be avoided. Many here, I think, would affirm that judgment, and while Donald Trump was not elected to the U.S. Presidency in a political environment in which a major issue was the kind of deeply-rooted "corruption" that prevails in Brazil, the above comment intrigued me. Is there, in fact, a parallel between current politics in the United States and the politics in Brazil? Did Trump's election here come out of some similar political situation?

I think the answer may be "Yes." 

The Times July 14th article said that virtually every powerful political force in Brazil had been "discredited." The judicial assault on official corruption, taking place over the last several years, has discredited not only individuals but the entire "political class." This, it seems to me, sounds a lot like politics in our country. 

In Brazil, political "corruption" has been exemplified by bribes and overt payoffs to individual politicians, and systematic corruption of this kind has "discredited" the entire "political class." In our country, a perception that our politics is "corrupt" is also widespread. While the "corruption" here has been of a different character, I think a good argument can be made that an increasing majority of voters believe that our entire political system is "corrupt," and that virtually every member of the "political class" has been "discredited." As in the case of Brazil, we also believe, many if not most of us, that a "stunning number of establishment political figures have been implicated [in the corruption of our politics], leaving ... [our] country with few credible leaders." 

In such a situation, there is a real danger that a political outsider of some kind, a "very emotional leader," as the Brazilian social scientist rather gently put it, will be elected as the only available alternative to set of possible candidates who all come from the discredited "political class."

Such, I would argue, is precisely how we wound up with Donald Trump. He is definitely a "very emotional leader," who came from the "outside," and he won because virtually every other political leader who presented himself or herself (with the exception, I would argue, of Bernie Sanders) came from a "political class" that was, and is, and continues to be "discredited."

I recommend the two articles from The Times, not only for their reporting on what's going on in Brazil, but for some lessons we might think about with respect to our own politics. In fact, it seems clear that the "danger" that Lula warns of is a real danger, and that when attempts are made to reject an admittedly corrupt politics, and when the entire "political class" is then "discredited," the resulting upset of the politics of the nation may not be immediately positive. 

That said, The Times July 14th article ends with a bit of hope: 

Marina Silva, a former member of Mr. da Silva’s cabinet [and no relation to the former president] who broke ranks with his Workers’ Party in 2009, said the scandals plaguing Brazil’s dominant political parties could be a catalyst for a sweeping transformation that the country needs. 
“Brazil’s current crisis requires the reinvention of politics,” said Ms. Silva, who ran for president in 2014 and is widely expected to enter the race next year. “This debate is not limited to Brazil, but extends to the world.”

The debate certainly extends to the United States. A "reinvention of politics" is precisely what is required. 

In Brazil, and right here, too!

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

#196 / One Voice

The other day, as I pulled a tee shirt off a hanger in my closet, I reencountered the 2008 presidential campaign. Here's a shot of the tee shirt: "One voice ... can change the world."

I was pretty happy about the outcome of that 2008 election, and I was pretty hopeful about what was going to happen after Barack Obama won. Looking back, though, I think the "one voice" message on that tee shirt might have been misleading. I think it kind of let us all off the hook.

In a lot of ways, after 2008, we acted as though the "one voice" that had initially changed "a room" was going to be capable of changing "cities," "states," and the "nation," all by itself. A close reading does confirm that the phrasing used on the tee shirt (an official piece of Obama campaign paraphernalia) does suggest that it is the "one voice" that can change not only "a room," but "a city," and "a state," and "a nation" besides. If the "one voice" can do all that, of course, "the world" will be changed by definition. 

Here's the issue, which was the theme of my blog posting on July 3rd (More Followers): "One voice" can't, in fact, change "a city," or "a state," or "a nation." Here's how the process actually works: 

One voice can change a room (and if that is true)
One room can change a city (and since that's true)
One city can change a state (and, going on from there)
One state can change the nation.

Change only BEGINS with an individual, with that "one voice." After that, we all need to be involved, and speak out and take action ourselves. The "next steps" aren't individual, they require collective action. If we think that the "one voice" that we heard at first will be able to do it all, without the rest of us, we are going to be disappointed. We are going to find out that the world wasn't changed nearly as much as we thought it should be, or would be.

Waiting around for the "leaders" to take over and make it all happen is not the way to change the world. We are all going to have to work for the changes.

Next time around, when we hear that "one voice," let's not make that mistake again.

Image Credit:
Gary Patton personal photo.

Friday, July 14, 2017

#195 / A Doomed And Uninhabitable Earth?

Here is a "pull quote" from "The Uninhabitable Earth." This article, by David Wallace-Wells, was published by the online magazine New York on July 9, 2017:  

Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.
Unless you are a teenager, you probably read in your high-school textbooks that [the great] extinctions were the result of asteroids. In fact, all but the one that killed the dinosaurs were caused by climate change produced by greenhouse gas. The most notorious was 252 million years ago; it began when carbon warmed the planet by five degrees, accelerated when that warming triggered the release of methane in the Arctic, and ended with 97 percent of all life on Earth dead. We are currently adding carbon to the atmosphere at a considerably faster rate; by most estimates, at least ten times faster. The rate is accelerating.

Wallace-Wells' article is about as "doomsday" as it could get. The cover photo is above. The following photo accompanies the story. This second photo depicts a typical North American tourist who tried simply to walk around in the jungles of Costa Rica, where humidity routinely tops 90 percent. 

According to the caption on the photo below, "simply moving around outside when it’s over 105 degrees Fahrenheit would be lethal. And the effect would be fast: Within a few hours, a human body would be cooked to death from both inside and out."

There was an extremely prompt reaction to the Wallace-Wells' article, and to his doomsday predictions. The Atlantic, Science, and Mother Jones all deployed significant commentaries by July 10th, one day after the Wallace-Wells article appeared.

Science stated that, "No, New York Mag: Climate change won't make the Earth uninhabitable by 2100." The Atlantic was less definitive, and ended up with a question about the article: "Is it realistic?" The Atlantic claimed that "many climate scientists and professional science communicators say no. Wallace-Wells’ article ... often flies beyond the realm of what researchers think is likely."

The title of the article that Mother Jones ran was, "Our Approach to Climate Change Isn’t Working. Let’s Try Something Else." The "something else" that Mother Jones suggests is to "pour massive amounts of public money into energy R&D and infrastructure buildout."

Here is my own thought. Whether or not things are as bad as Wallace-Wells depicts them, they are, without the shadow of a doubt, REALLY, REALLY BAD. We should all be energized to do something about it, "massive R&D investments included."

What most strikes me, though, is how much we are going to need to be able to support each other, and to work together, despite all those ethnic, gender, national, and geographic barriers that now seem so profoundly to divide us. In Game of Thrones, the popular television series, the threat that all of the various kingdoms and lands confront, the threat that will call them all to set their enmities aside, is the fact that "Winter is coming." 

We confront a different season, but our dread must surely be similar.

We need now, more than anything, to find it within ourselves to be "humble and kind," as Tim McGraw advises in that powerful music video I featured in my blog posting yesterday

Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way: "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." 

Everyone on Earth. 



Martin Luther King, Jr. got it right, and Wallace-Wells just spells out one version.

Summer is coming.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

#194 / DSMO For The Soul

DSMO, more accurately Dimethyl Sulfoxide, is an organosulfur compound with the formula (CH3)2SO. You can click the link to read about it. 

I don't actually know too much about DSMO, except that I do know that it is a "penetrating agent," and that it has an ability to carry other chemical compounds into virtually all parts of the entire human body, as described below by Wikipedia

Use of DMSO in medicine dates from around 1963, when an Oregon Health & Science University Medical School team, headed by Stanley Jacob, discovered it could penetrate the skin and other membranes without damaging them and could carry other compounds into a biological system.

For me, DSMO has always been a metaphor, and when I first saw the music video that I have linked above (Tim McGraw in his official video for "Humble and Kind"), I realized, again, how powerful music is, in its DSMO-like ability to penetrate the soul, bringing to the very deepest part of us a message that would, probably, never ever get there, if the message weren't dissolved in the music. 

Click that link, above, and let the music penetrate. 

I am pretty sure you won't regret it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

#193 / Baby Driver

The picture above is from the recently-released movie, Baby DriverI enjoyed the movie. If you want to watch the trailer, just click the link!

Since I am teaching "Introduction To Legal Process" this summer, up at UCSC, and since my class has been learning about criminal law, I do have to note a little deficiency in the plot. Here's the name of that little plot problem:

You can click the link, to find out what my students are learning:

The felony murder rule is an exception to the normal rules of homicide. Normally, a defendant can be convicted of murder only if a prosecutor shows that the defendant acted with the intent to kill or with a reckless indifference to human life. Under the felony murder rule, however, a defendant can be convicted of murder even if the defendant did not act with intent or a reckless indifference; the prosecution must show only that the defendant participated in a felony where fatalities occurred.

In other words, no matter how nice you are personally, you don't get probation in five years when you drive a bunch of crazed killers around to the locations where they kill people.

In real life, that wonderful waitress would have to "wait" a lot longer!

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

#192 / Hacking Away...

While a shred or a shard of a unifying and patriotic feeling may still remain among us, following our Fourth of July holiday, let me recommend an opinion piece by Michael Gerson, published in the July 2, 2017, edition of The Washington Post. Titled, "America is hacking away at its own democratic limb," Gerson's brief essay urges the following proposition:

Civility and a spirit of compromise were required, again and again, to prevent the Constitutional Convention itself from breaking apart in anger and recrimination. The structure resulted from the virtues. The heroes of the founding were not those who held the strongest views. It was those who held strong views and still found a basis for agreement — frustrating, disappointing, glorious agreement.

Agreement as "glorious?" What a concept! My personal experience in politics has convinced me that "compromise" should never be the "objective" of our political activity. Gerson is correct, however, that after the debate and discussion have taken place, a "decision" must emerge if politics is to fulfill its essential function. I think that coming to a workable and collective "decision" is what Gerson means when he says, "agreement." By its very nature, a "decision" should represent a collective commitment to follow a particular path, and to steer the ship of state in a new direction. Since we are not simply a bunch of individuals, but are in this life together, we do need a mechanism to make decisions about what we, collectively, will do.

If those who lose a particular political debate will never accede to a collective decision that wasn't their first choice, then this will, in fact, eliminate the possibility that our politics can ever succeed. 

Democratic decision making is the strong "right arm" of freedom. Let's be sure we don't hack it off by refusing to "make deals," "compromise," and move forward. And let's not try to stifle the speech and debate that we need to have, to inform our decisions before we make them, either! 

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Monday, July 10, 2017

#191 / Cap And Evade

I was an environmental lobbyist in the California State Capitol in 2006, working as the Executive Director of the Planning and Conservation League. That year, environmental organizations focused a major part of their efforts on passing the Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 is now being touted by Governor Jerry Brown, who is traveling the nation, and the world, urging governments, at every level, to confront the global warming crisis that has placed human civilization in peril. Brown has very good reason to promote the Global Warming Solutions Act, because this legislation does demonstrate California's exceptional leadership on global warming. Furthermore, our global warming crisis is real. Immediate action is needed, and Governor Brown should get nothing but thanks for making this clear.

There is, however, a major problem with the Governor's advocacy efforts, because Governor Brown, right now, is pulling out all the political stops to pass an extension of "Cap and Trade." As he does so, the Governor may be giving members of the public the idea that our California approach to global warming is wholly defined by the "Cap and Trade" program, and that the so-called "Cap and Trade" system is, in and of itself, the right approach to meeting the global warming crisis. 

That is not actually true. "Cap and Trade" is the "weakest," and not the strongest way, to fight global warming. Cap and Trade, in fact, is a way to minimize, not maximize, efforts to reduce global warming emissions.

Unlike many laws, AB 32 is easy to understand. It is only thirteen pages long. You can click this link to read the full text. Here is the way the law works: 

  • Section One states the title of the law, The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.
  • Section Two is a set of "findings." The essence of these findings is that human-caused global warming is a "serious threat to the economic well-being, public health, natural resources, and the environment of California."
  • Section Three is a list of definitions, including the definition of "a market-based compliance mechanism." The state's "Cap and Trade" program fits the definition.
  • Section Four outlines the responsibilities of the State Air Resources Board (ARB) with respect to global warming. Most importantly, the ARB has been directed to determine the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in California in 1990, and then to establish a program to make sure that greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 will not exceed the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in 1990. Greenhouse gas emissions, in other words, must be "rolled back," so that even as economic and other growth proceeds, California will not emit more greenhouse gases in 2020 than the state emitted in 1990. Section 38562 of the Health and Safety Code provides both the authority and some specific directions on what kind of regulations can and should be employed to achieve the required roll back in greenhouse gas emissions.

There is no specific mention of "Cap and Trade" in AB 32. Cap and Trade is a "market-based compliance mechanism," and the ARB is told that it "may" implement such "market mechanisms," as part of its program to achieve the required greenhouse gas emission reductions: 

The state board may adopt a regulation that establishes a system of market-based declining annual aggregate emission limits for sources or categories of sources that emit greenhouse gas emissions, applicable from January 1, 2012, to December 31, 2020, inclusive, that the state board determines will achieve the maximum 89 Ch. 488 — 8 — technologically feasible and cost-effective reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, in the aggregate, from those sources or categories of sources (emphasis added). 

One of the things I worked hardest to accomplish, in 2006, was to eliminate "Cap and Trade" as a required element in AB 32. The business community was lobbying hard to make Cap and Trade a requirement, because a Cap and Trade program lets businesses that emit greenhouse gases avoid an immediate reduction, mandated by regulation. Instead, the Cap and Trade system allows businesses to "buy" an exemption from regulation, "trading" money for what otherwise would be a regulatory requirement. 

While environmental lobbyists were successful in eliminating "market mechanisms" as a requirement in the law, such market mechanisms (Cap and Trade) did come in as "permissive," and the ARB has, in fact, permitted businesses to "buy their way out of regulations" that would otherwise have demanded immediate reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Cap and Trade will expire in 2020, and Governor Brown is trying to get the Cap and Trade system extended. The Sierra Club, and lots of other environmental organizations, have been raising a red flag about the Governor's current efforts on behalf of the Cap and Trade system. They are warning the Legislature, and the Governor, that the current proposal to extend Cap and Trade "weakens legislative gains made last year in AB 197 by constraining ARB's ability to prioritize direct emission reductions from oil and gas."

Just to be clear, the Legislature is considering legislation that would reduce, not augment, the ARB's ability directly to regulate emissions from facilities like the one pictured above, and to let oil companies, and other businesses, make a money payment instead of having to comply with a regulatory provision that they reduce emissions. This "market-based" approach is the same system that allows developers to provide an "in-lieu" payment to a local government, instead of actually building required affordable housing. It's a "let business off the hook" program. It wasn't any good to begin with, and it isn't any good now. 

The fact is, IF we are in the middle of a crisis (and we are), and IF we are serious about reducing global warming emissions (and we ought to be) then we need to get rid of Cap and Trade, and should take the following approach, instead: 

If there is a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they need to be reduced, to the greatest extent they can, and as fast as they can, and our regulations should require nothing less.

AB 32 provides the ARB with the authority to carry out such a regulatory program. Cap and Trade is a way to avoid regulations. I think the Governor and the Legislature, if they are sincere about combatting global warming, should forget about "renewing" Cap and Trade. Instead, let's move on from business-friendly "market mechanisms," to a system of regulations that will demand that every possible reduction be made, as soon as possible. 

The fate of our human civilization, and the health of the natural environment, is actually at stake!

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

#190 / Let's Reconsider "Realism"

Pictured is Costa Rican Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez, president of the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons. Gomez was reacting to a vote by more than 120 nations to approve the first-ever treaty to ban nuclear weapons. 

The vote took place last Friday, July 7, 2017. Who didn't vote? None of the nine countries known or believed to possess nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel.

What did Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, say, in explaining our nation's decision not to vote for this treaty? Well, Haley said, "We have to be realistic." 

Consider today's posting as a follow up to yesterday's which focused, specifically, on North Korea, and mentioned an important article by Patrick Lawrence. Here is Patrick Lawrence, at length: 

The elephant in the room since August 6, 1945, now grows fatter by the day. I refer to ... the illogic of the logic of nuclear weapons ... The world is haunted by these devices because—and at this point only because—those who have them decline to give them up while promising incessantly they want and intend to. Keep them, and others, most of all adversaries, will develop them. China, when we called it “Red China,” was such a case. Pakistan is a more recent example. Iran, faced with Israel’s nuclear arsenal, was due to become another. North Korea is an extreme case, but at bottom nothing more than a variant. We can put a trillion dollars into modernizing our nuclear weaponry, sure. No one can stop us. Do we think there is no consequence? We Americans, in the bubble we have inflated for ourselves and now dwell quiescently within, are far from reality in any number of ways. But are we this far? We have nuclear-armed missiles aimed at Pyongyang and lately let our twitchy fingers show. Now the North tests an ICBM and we hike up our skirts? ... 
On this question the sound position is very simple. One must stand opposed to all that makes deterrence a necessity ... When the Security Council convened an emergency session Wednesday, Haley pronounced that Pyongyang’s latest missile launch is “quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution.” This statement is almost exquisitely upside down. If you can find the logic of it you are a better reader than I.

In calling the new treaty to ban nuclear weapons "unrealistic," Haley made specific reference to North Korea. "Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons," she said. 

Well, as Lawrence notes, is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would vote to ban nuclear weapons when the United States, a nation that has them, uses them to threaten North Korea?

It's about time to reconsider the "realism" that is standing around waiting to see who is going to push the button first, and blow up the world. 

"Reality" is what we make it. A world without nuclear weapons is just as "realistic" as the world we inhabit now. 

But that would be an entirely different world. 

I'd say a better one!

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Saturday, July 8, 2017

#189 / What Cost Is That?

Donald Trump made a speech in Krasinski Square, in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday, July 6, 2017. According to reporters for The Washington Post,  here is what the President said: 

The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost?

What cost is that, Mr. President? And who bears that cost? And what are those "values" you're talking about, that you think might be lost?

According to The Wall Street Journal, Trump's Warsaw speech was largely the work of political advisor Stephen Miller. As Wikipedia notes, Miller is the guy who "questioned the concept of the Separation of Powers and the role of the judiciary ... and said 'our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see ... that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.'"

Will not be questioned, Mr. Miller? Not so fast! I am questioning them right here.

I am questioning what this president is talking about when he suggests there is "no limit" to what those with "courage" will do. 

Is our president aiming for a unilateral strike at North Korea, something he has indicated that he might be willing to undertake? Is a nuclear exchange in the offing?

I am questioning all of that, and I am quite nervous about the president's assertion that "our values" must be defended at "any" cost. 

Read this essay by Patrick Lawrence, who is a longtime columnist, essayist, critic, and lecturer. Lawrence was a correspondent abroad for many years (writing as Patrick L. Smith), chiefly for the Far Eastern Economic Review, the International Herald Tribune and The New Yorker. 

Lawrence is more of an expert on the "East" than our current president, and surely knows more than his constitutionally challenged political advisor. Lawrence's most recent books are Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post-Western World (Pantheon) and Time No Longer: America After the American Century (Yale). His next book is tentatively titled After Exceptionalism. You can learn more about Lawrence by visiting his website. If it's a West versus East confrontation that our current president is talking about, it's probably worthwhile to know about the "East."

Lawrence's essay, which is from a recent edition of The Nation, is titled, "The Unacknowledged Logic of North Korea's Missile Tests." Here is what Lawrence has to say: 

 We come to the nub of the North Korea question. The true locus of this conflict lies between Washington and a negotiating table somewhere across the Pacific. It is a fight in defense of American primacy. It is the American policy elite resisting the limits to American power the 21st century imposes even as we speak. In this the confrontation with North Korea—which is at bottom a confrontation with China—ranks with Ukraine and Syria. The three are fundamentally similar in character. As in Europe, then as in the Middle East, so now in Asia: Washington wages rear-guard actions to preserve a prerogative that rests, finally and only, on military might.

I think this is exactly what our current president is talking about, when he talks about defending "our values" at any cost. 

If "our values" means American world hegemony, sustained by the threat of nuclear war and military might, then I'm not interested in defending those "values" for even one minute. 

This is just an FYI, Mr. President!

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Friday, July 7, 2017

#188 / Doing What Is Expected

The picture above was taken at the funeral of Jordan Edwards. It illustrates an article published online in the June 30, 2017, edition of The Washington Post. The article was titled, "Does military equipment lead police officers to be more violent? We did the research."

Not to keep you in suspense, the answer to the question posed in the headline is, "Yes." Being furnished with military equipment does lead police officers to be more violent. That's what Ryan Welch and Jack Mewhirter say. Welch is a senior data analyst for the College Transition Collaborative at Stanford University, and Mewhirter is an assistant professor in the department of political science at the University of Cincinnati. They did the research! 

To review the research, click the link. You can also ponder what I consider to be a fundamental truth about the way human beings conduct themselves. Mostly (not always, admittedly), people do what they are expected to do. If you expect the worst, you'll almost certainly get it. If you expect the best, you will often be surprised by very positive reactions.

What do we expect from our police officers? From coast to coast, as we provide them with military equipment, we tell them that we expect them to act like members of a domestic army. When that is our expectation, we are telling the officers we arm with those military weapons that we, the public, are "the enemy." Does that seem too strong a statement?

On April 29, Officer Roy Oliver of the Balch Springs Police Department in Texas shot and killed Jordan Edwards, who was a passenger in a friend’s car. Oliver claimed that, responding to a call about underage drinking at a noisy high school party, he heard gunshots, ran to his police cruiser, and grabbed an AR-15 rifle. Body camera footage shows that as the car carrying Edwards, 15, was moving away, Oliver fired three rounds into the car, hitting the teen in the back of the head and killing him.

Young black men at a party. A police officer armed with the civilian equivalent of the Army's M-16 rifle. 


It is already life-threatening for any person of color, and for any mentally ill person, to have to encounter a police officer. Does that seem too strong a statement? Tell it to the family and friends of those who have been killed. 

Unless we all want to live in a war zone, we had better stop furnishing military weaponry to our "cops on the block." We had better take away those guns and tanks. 

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

#187 / Uncivil Wars And The Clenched Fist Of Truth

Pictured above is Dana Loesch, voice of the National Rifle Association. In this video, and in at least one other video, Loesch claims that she "is" the National Rifle Association. Loesch also claims that the NRA is "freedom's safest place." The Loesch videos are controversial. You can check out the controversy by using your Internet browser, searching on "Loesch," "videos," and "controversy." 

"Uncivil Wars" is the headline on an editorial that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle this Fourth of July. The Chronicle said the Loesch video was "crossing the line," by claiming that liberals pose a "threat to American freedom ... in an ominous tone reminiscent of a wartime propaganda campaign." 

If you watch the video yourself, you can decide if you think the Chronicle was exaggerating. It seems to me that the Chronicle's characterization was accurate. The Chronicle denounced the Loesch video for presenting "them" (liberals) as an "evil force." Those whom the Chronicle calls "liberals," the NRA denominates as "the violent left."

I found the Loesch videos painful to watch, but the NRA is definitely not apologetic. Grant Stinchfield, who is a conservative talk show host, defends these ads on NRATV, and his video is painful to watch, too. Stinchfield, who apparently made an unsuccessful run for Congress in Texas, in 2012, bills himself as someone who is good at "simplifying complex issues in an entertaining, yet informative manner."

Maybe it was Stinchfield who came up with the NRA idea that we need to "fight the violence of lies" with the "clenched fist of truth." That may be "simplifying" a bit too much. In fact, this characterization of political debate, with "violent lies" opposing "the truth," becomes the exact opposite of "informative."

"Lies," by definition, are a kind of "speech." In the United States, the remedy for "lies" is more speech, not physical confrontation. That is what our First Amendment is all about. "Clenched fists" don't factor into the free speech equation. Clenched fists are about violent physical actions, incipient or actual, and you don't get to the "truth" by beating someone up. 

You can silence people, of course, by beating them up. You can silence them by killing them, too. Speech itself, not being physical, is not, itself "violent," but speech can certainly be used to incite violence, and that is exactly what the Loesch and Stinchfield videos do. 

Movements that are truly revolutionary in their ambitions must be explicitly nonviolent. Martin Luther King, Jr. has taught us that. So, in a way, has Dana Loesch. 

As we talk to each other, searching for the truth, we must all be careful not to proclaim that we already have it in our hot, clenched hands. 

Employing an "open hand," not a "clenched fist," is how we will discover those truths that can unite us. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

#186 / We Shall Fight Them On The Beaches

The picture above shows New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his family enjoying life, last weekend, on a New Jersey public beach. Where, might you ask, was the public? Well, as it happens, Aaron Blake, a columnist for The Washington Post, has the answer:

The state government has shut down amid a budget dispute in New Jersey, which as we head into the Fourth of July means things like state beaches are regrettably off-limits. Off-limits, it seems, to everyone but the Christie family, which was spotted via aerial photos lounging on an otherwise-empty Island Beach State Park on Sunday
Not only did Christie choose to head to a beach that other families won't be able to enjoy while the government is shut down, but he also seemed to try to hide this fact from the public Sunday during a news conference.

Somehow, when I saw the picture of the Christie family, lounging on a beach that had been cleared of the public by the Governor's own action, Winston Churchill's line about "fighting on the beaches" came to mind. 

Click this link for some historical background on Churchill's wartime speeches to rally Britain, during the darkest hours of World War II. Here is an excerpt from his famous "we will fight them on the beaches" speech:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

As Blake said in his column, "Chris Christie is probably the most unpopular governor in the country, and he seems bent on making sure of it." 

It was Christie himself, apparently, who closed the beaches on the weekend before the Fourth of July holiday, presumably to get leverage in a budget battle in the Legislature. Having done so, it was an outrageous usurpation by Christie then to take possession of these beaches for his private use. Christie, it is clear, is not exactly a statesman on the order of Winston Churchill. There aren't any others out there like Winston Churchill, either, and that specifically includes the current occupant of The White House.

When "our" government is taken over by and operated for the benefit of those who are supposed to represent us (and for their wealthy friends), it is inevitable that disrespect and disdain for politics and government will grow. And so it has, and so our disdain and disgust for government continues to grow, fueled by the actions of those like Chris Christie, who have stolen away government, to use it for themselves and for their private gain. 

We say that our government is to exist only "of, by, and for the people," but those who have stolen our government from us have turned it into a place of personal gain, a sometimes lifetime job, at high pay, and with special privileges for themselves and their friends. 

This theft of our government from the people is intolerable in each and every specific incident, as in the incident outlined here. It is intolerable in general. It cannot be permitted to continue. 

I guess.... We are going to have to fight them in the streets, and at the polls, and on the beaches, too!

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