Thursday, March 21, 2019

#80 / Downright Evil

May I emphasize that I am NOT suggesting that Cory Booker, candidate for president, and pictured above, is "downright evil." Far from it. I have no particular opinion about Booker, and am looking forward to finding out more about him during the upcoming campaign. My headline references a March 19, 2019, column in The New York Times, which bore this title: "Cory Booker Finds His Moment." The column, by Times pundit David Brooks, indicates that Booker is, as Brooks sees it, appealing to the voters' "basic decency." If you follow Brooks, at all, you will understand that he finds that appealing. 

Actually, I also think that appealing to the basic decency of other people is always the best approach. You don't get to be a Quaker and a believer in nonviolence by adopting a strategy of "eye for an eye," and "hate for hate." This "hate for hate" approach is the one Brooks objects to, and he believes that Booker is going to see if that "basic decency" idea can be made to work at the level of presidential politics. We know it works best at the level of disputes with a nextdoor neighbor.

I am writing about Brooks' column because he cites to a research paper that has apparently found that "42 percent of the people in each party regard their opposition as 'downright evil.'"

That is not comforting. That is not the way to go. People have different views, and different interests. The great thing about the United States is that we have held, right from the beginning, that freedom to speak out, freedom to get together with others with whom you agree, and freedom of worship, are basic rights that underlie our commitment to democratic self-government. 

Can we eliminate the phrase "downright evil" from sentences referring to Donald J. Trump, Mitch McConnell, and the Republican Party? 

Let's try! That will really put our commitment to diversity and respect for difference to the test!

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

#79 / What We Know And What We Don't

On Saturday, March 16, 2019, The New York Times ran an editorial with this headline: "Why Does the U.S. Put Us at Such Risk?"

The editorial discussed the different approaches taken by various nations after it appeared that there might be a fundamental flaw in the Boeing 737 Max aircraft, pictured above. 

The Boeing 737 Max aircraft is a new model. It has some unique, software-driven features related to efforts to prevent aircraft stalls and to stabilize the aircraft in flight. These automated features of the plane have not been very thoroughly tested in real life situations, simply because the plane is such a new model, just now being introduced into regular passenger service. 

Those new, software-driven features, involving the plane's automatic stabilizers, may have caused an Ethiopian Airlines plane to crash, on March 10, 2019. The Ethiopian Air crash killed all of the 157 people on board, and followed what appears to have been a very similar crash of a Boeing 737 Max plane operated by Lion Airlines. The Lion Airlines crash occurred on  October 29, 2018. 189 persons, including the entire flight crew, died in that crash. 

After the latest crash, almost all nations besides the United States immediately suspended further flights of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft. The United States did not. As The Times explained in its editorial: 

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency acted Tuesday “as a precautionary measure.” 
Britain, which acted separately, and slightly before the Pan-European regulator, offered an even more explicit account of its reasoning, explaining that it was grounding the Boeing planes because authorities did not know the cause of the most recent crash .... 
The Federal Aviation Administration, by contrast, said until Wednesday that the absence of information was the reason it was letting domestic airlines keep the planes in the air.... Daniel Elwell, the agency’s acting administrator, defended the pace of its decision-making, telling NPR on Thursday, “We’re a data-driven organization.… We make safety decisions based on what we know.”

I have written a number of blog postings advocating for the use of the "precautionary principle" as the right guide to action, as we make decisions about what we should do when something "new" is being proposed. Do we want to allow a new pesticide to be applied to the crops that we are going to eat? What will that pesticide do to us? What will it do to the bees? We should know before we start spraying. 

The whole idea behind CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, and NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, is that we need to "stop and think" before we do something that might have some adverse impacts. That is the "precautionary principle" at work. 

This recent Times' editorial highlights the choice involved. Other nations suspended the flight of a new aircraft model beause they "didn't know" if there might be a fundamental flaw. The United States' initial reaction was to allow the planes to continue to fly because regulators "didn't know" that there was such a flaw. 

The "precautionary principle" puts the burden of proof on those proposing to do something new, if there might be some danger. The United States regulates by putting the burden of proof on those who would oppose something new, making them have to prove that there is some danger. Naturally, I'd argue for the European (precautionary) approach. 

What struck me most forcefully, though, in what the FAA Acting Administrator said, is his characterization of the FAA as an organization that makes decisions on "what we know." 


If we really want to make decisions on the basis of "what we know," then we will have to utilize the precautionary principle, because if there is one thing we definitely "know," it is that we "don't know" an awful lot!

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

#78 / Democratic Socialists And Social Democrats

Alan S. Blinder, a professor at Princeton, has taken to the pages of The Wall Street Journal to provide this warning: "Democrats, Stop Pretending to Be Socialists." While Blinder is writing for a newspaper known for its conservative and Republican Party proclivities, he did serve in the administration of President Bill Clinton, and he does have continuing credentials as a bona fide Democrat. Here is how Blinder's column begins: 

It is now clear that the Republican trope for the 2020 campaign will be that the Democrats are a bunch of socialists. That’s ridiculous, of course. But sadly, a tiny number of Democrats are playing right into their hands.

Blinder's frustration is based on the fact that he thinks Democrats may be walking into a pit of political quicksand, as they talk about "democratic socialism" and "social democracy." His concern is similar to the frustration I expressed in this blog, just a few days ago, in my posting titled, "Irredeemable Capitalism." 

Campaigning on the basis of "systems," in my view, is a sure way to turn off the voters. Critiques of "capitalism," in other words, just don't sell well in our contemporary United States - however legitimate it might be to question contemporary capitalism. 

But what about an appeal to "make the giant corporations pay workers fairly for the economic success that those workers create?" 

Attach that to some specific ideas of how to implement the principle, and I think the Democrats would have a political formulation that could really work!

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Monday, March 18, 2019

#77 / Watch Those Parkin' Meters

Are killer robots coming to take our jobs? This is the question addressed by economist Paul Krugman in his March 14, 2019 column in The New York Times.

In essence, Krugman says, the answer is "no." Robots are not coming to take our jobs. Krugman's column has a helpful definitionn of what a "robot" is, in economic terms, and he notes that the key feature is that a "robot" increases productivity. That isn't actually a problem. Increasing productivity is good. The problem is who gets the benefits of the increased productivity that "robots" provide. Krugman ends his column with this observation:

The decline of unions has made a huge difference. Consider the case of trucking, which used to be a good job but now pays a third less than it did in the 1970s, with terrible working conditions. What made the difference? De-unionization was a big part of the story. 
And these easily quantifiable factors are just indicators of a sustained, across-the-board anti-worker bias in our politics. 
Which brings me back to the question of why we’re talking so much about robots. The answer, I’d argue, is that it’s a diversionary tactic — a way to avoid facing up to the way our system is rigged against workers, similar to the way talk of a “skills gap” was a way to divert attention from bad policies that kept unemployment high. 
And progressives, above all, shouldn’t fall for this facile fatalism. American workers can and should be getting a much better deal than they are. And to the extent that they aren’t, the fault lies not in our robots, but in our political leaders.

I think Krugman is right on target - but I do have one important objection to his formulation. I am really tired of the suggestion that what we need is better "leaders." What we need is to get more directly engaged, ourselves, in the political struggles that will determine not only the fate of the economy, but the fate of human civilization. 

Hoping for better "leaders," and thinking that our political leaders have caused our grief, and that better leaders are going to solve our problems for us, just isn't going to work. At least that's my view. The power of the people needs to be more directly exercised if we expect to make any headway against the killer robots of the 1%. 

Many of those whom we characterize as "political leaders" are actually part of the problem. Those "leaders" are the people who have deformed our politics and who are helping to steal the productivity of our society and giving it away to others. Those "leaders" are the people who are ignorning the world-shaking challenges posed to all of human civilization by human-caused global warming. 

As is so often the case, my friend Bob Dylan has some good advice (click the link for a tutorial): 

Don't follow leaders, watch the parkin' meters

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

#76 / Meaner And Crueler

The Nation recently ran an article that pointed out "How Black Lives Matter to the Green New Deal." Naomi Klein, pictured above, is the author of This Changes Everything (her book about global warming). Klein was quoted in the article as follows:

Under our current brutal economic system, climate change doesn’t just mean things getting hotter and wetter,” journalist Naomi Klein said to Green New Deal activists on a conference call the week the resolution was introduced. “It also means things getting meaner and crueler. That is what happens if we just stay on this course.” A Green New Deal, Klein added, can “repair and redress centuries old and very current crimes against African-Americans, indigenous people, women, [and] migrants.”

I have no doubt about what Klein says. It's the "meaner and crueler" aspects of what happens when water and food start disappearing that puts the real challenge to the continued existence of human civilization. 

Can a Green New Deal repair and redress the centuries old and still continuing crimes that Klein mentions?

It could. 

I would say it must

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

#75 / The Wisdom Of Crowds

Scientific American used to be a magazine that focused, for the most part, on the physical sciences. Now, it its online version, the magazine is not shy about venturing into commentaries that have their provenance in the social sciences. Take, for instance, a recent article by Dana G. Smith, titled, "The Wisdom of Crowds Requires the Political Left and Right to Work Together." The article makes a "scientific" case that when persons with opposing political views are forced to cooperate, to achieve a result, the result is better than the result that would be produced by either side alone. 

I teach my legal studies students at UCSC that there is a type of "equation" that gets us to good government: 

Politics > Law > Government

It is the American idea of government that we should be governed by a "rule of law," and as John Adams put it, we must have "a government of laws, not men." 

Law gets the central position in this idea of how government should function, and the origins of law are, always, "political." As I like to point out, in the title of this blog, "we live in a political world."

The fact is, "politics" is all about conflict and controversy, division and debate. When we don't have that as the foundation for our lawmaking, good government is undermined. The principle that Smith's article articulates, based on rigorous social science observation, is related to this fundamental fact about our human situation: there is such a thing as "truth," but no one ever really gets the whole picture. We all get a piece of it. No one can claim full knowledge. Contention and debate, the essence of politics, is how we get closest to the truth, and how we build a better world!

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Friday, March 15, 2019

#74 / The Immunity Challenge

I was quite taken with a recent article in The New York Times. The article suggests, among other things, that compulsive handwashing, especially with anti-bacterial soaps and jells, is not all that great a strategy and could be making us more susceptible to illness. Online, the article is titled, "Your Environment Is Cleaner. Your Immune System Has Never Been So Unprepared."  It is well worth reading.

While there is no denying the benefits of human intelligence, we tend to forget that we have not created ourselves. There is an entire "human world" that we do create. It is, actually, a "political world," and is the result of our common action. The "world of nature," which we did not and do not create, is the world upon which we ultimately depend. We should be wary of trying to substitute human creations for natural ones. Here is just one more example.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

#73 / Irredeemable Capitalism

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, pictured, was recently elected to Congress, and she has got the old boys network running scared. In a recent news articlethe Dallas Bureau Chief for the Bloomberg news service trumpets a statement by Ocasio-Cortez that capitalism is "irredeemable." The headline on the article is as follows: "Ocasio-Cortez Blasts Capitalism as an ‘Irredeemable’ System." Her actual statement is as follows: 

Capitalism is an ideology of capital –- the most important thing is the concentration of capital and to seek and maximize profit. And that comes at any cost to people and to the environment, so to me capitalism is irredeemable.

Ocasio-Cortez then goes on to say, according to the Bloomberg article, that she does not think all aspects of capitalism should be abandoned. The headline, in other words, is probably not a completely fair or accurate representation of what Ocasio-Cortez either thinks, or has said about issues related to capitalism.

I am also tempted to remind us all of the old joke, used when something that is supposed to be "outrageous" has been presented to us for its shock value. One very effective response (and I treasure the few times I have been able to do this), is to say, to whomever has tried to scare you with the horror of whatever outrage offends them: "Wow. You say that like you think it's a bad thing."

Trying to discuss politics in terms of "systems," instead of specifics, can often lead us into fights on unfavorable terrain. I am betting that a lot of ordinary voters are not prepared to be against "capitalism." They've been told for their entire lives that capitalism is what has made this country "great."

But there are a lot of "not so great" things about our current economy and society that Ocasio-Cortez properly says need to be changed. And I think that there is a strong majority that wants to make those kind of changes. So, let's talk about the "specifics" and not the "system."

One way to look at it, in fact, is that we can only find out whether or not the current system is "irredeemable" by trying to redeem it - by trying to make those incremental, step by step, changes that people like Ocasio-Cortez, and Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren are advocating.

Let's focus on the specifics, not on the "system," and let's get to work.

There is an awful lot of very specific work to do!

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

#72 / Take A Pill?

Larry Gerston, who teaches in the politics department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, wrote an Op-Ed for the San Jose Mercury News in which Gerston argued against a bill now pending in the California State Legislature. Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4 (ACA 4) would give seventeen-year-old citizens the right to vote. The bill was introduced by Assembly Member Kevin Mullin, who represents the northern part of the San Francisco Peninsula.

Gerston's position is that providing young people with the right to vote is not, in fact, the best way to get them engaged in the political life of the community. I liked the way that Gerston put it:

Democracy doesn’t come from a pill...

Gerston is definitely right aboout that. Democracy comes from personal engagement in the community, and that personal engagement will only be forthcoming if people believe that their involvement will make a difference. 

I only wish there were a pill that could convince people (of all ages) that this is actually true. 

It is true! But what is really convincing is actual political accomplishment - a proof by example - and the example is most convincing if the political accomplishment comes against great odds. 

When people see that they can use politics to change the world..... When they see that works....

That is when they'll get involved. No pills will be required.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

#71 / Not Even Past

David Brooks, the rather conservative "culture columnist" for The New York Times, has come out in favor of "reparations," by which Brooks means "the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences ... [something] more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about," says Brooks, "is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal."

Brooks references an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates, "The Case for Reparations," published in The Atlantic in June 2014. Brooks didn't think much of that article when it first came out, he says, but Brooks now identifies himself as a "slow convert to the cause."

Click this link for Brooks' column on reparations.

Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator and presidential candidate, seems to be sympathetic to establishing a federal program of reparations.

Kamala Harris, another Senator - and another presidential candidate - also seems ready to commit.

Other Democratic candidates for president don't seem to be in quite in the same position, or so it would appear. Ryan Lizza, writing in Esquire, suggests that a fight over reparations might tear the Democratic Party apart. Right-wing columnist George F. Will thinks so, too, and Will doesn't seem to be any too upset about that, either!

More than anything else, the stories I have been reading about reparations remind me of the statement attributed to William Faulkner, who is pictured above. "The past isn't dead," Faulkner is supposed to have said; "it isn't even past."

The system of human slavery upon which this nation was founded - and it was founded on that system - continues to impact us still. That is the point of the Coates' article, which is lengthy. It is the reason that Brooks has become a "slow convert" to a "national reckoning" with that past.

When the past "isn't even past," we need to confront that past as though it were a present reality.

Because it is. Both the roots and ramifications of slavery are still profoundly present today, and they affect us all.

Here's the thing about any and every present reality: we need to "reckon with it." That's what Brooks is talking about, and I think he's right. 

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Monday, March 11, 2019

#70 / Waiting For The Defenders Of Free Speech

Caille Millner writes a column for the San Francisco Chronicle. On March 8, 2019, her column said that the young person who is standing on the left, in the picture above, has been sentenced to jail for publishing a song called "Fuck The Police." The rapper in question is named Jamal Knox. I am betting his friends call him, "Mal." Millner says his rapper name is "Mayhem Mal."

As Millner points out, "Fuck The Police" statements are not exactly unusual. I actually find it pretty hard to believe that anyone could actually be charged with a crime, and then convicted, for putting out a rap song with a "Fuck The Police" message. But Millner says it's so, and she is not happy.

Millner is mad, of course, at the police and the prosecutors who have put Jamal Knox in jail, but it appears that she is even more steamed up about those whom she calls the "Defenders of Free Speech." Where are they, asks Millner? Why haven't those Defenders of Free Speech stepped up to defend Knox? She conjectures that the Defenders of Free Speech are "too busy suing UC Berkeley" to be bothered by the problems of a young black rapper.

I would like to hope that Millner is wrong. I've been teaching a legal studies course at the University of California, Santa Cruz and have been reading a lot of free speech cases. They all seem to hold that the First Amendment means just exactly what it says, and it is pretty obvious to me that when governmental agencies start getting away with suppressing all the speech they don't like we are in for a difficult time ahead.

So, if Millner is accurate in what she says, I will join her in saying that "Fuck The Police" is not a rap lyric that should lead to jail. As whether or not it should lead to commercial success, I leave to your own judgment. Click right here to hear "Fuck The Police!"

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

#69 / Time For Some Therapy?

The picture above was published on the Vice website, associated with an article entitled, "The Climate Change Paper So Depressing It's Sending People to Therapy." The woman in the photo is holding the paper to which the Vice article refers. You can click the link, above, to read what Vice has to say about the article. Click the link in the next paragraph to read the article itself. 

The depressing article mentioned by Vice is titled, "Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy." The article was published by Professor Jem Bendell on July 27, 2018. Bendell is a professor of "sustainability leadership" at the University of Cumbria, located in Great Britain. He doesn't paint a very pretty picture. In fact, Bendell claims that his study of climate change literature has compelled him to the conclusion that there will definitely be a "near-term collapse in society." It is very likely, he writes, that we are facing something even worse, something he calls "INTHE." That acronym stands for the phrase "Inevitable Near Term Human Extinction." Bendel is not happy about his own forecast: 

Writing about that perspective makes me sad. Even four years after I first let myself consider near-term extinction properly, not as something to dismiss, it still makes my jaw drop, eyes moisten, and air escape my lungs. I have seen how the idea of INTHE can lead me to focus on truth, love and joy in the now, which is wonderful, but how it can also make me lose interest in planning for the future. And yet I always come around to the same conclusion – we do not know. Ignoring the future because it is unlikely to matter might backfire. “Running for the hills” – to create our own ecocommunity – might backfire. But we definitely know that continuing to work in the ways we have done until now is not just backfiring – it is holding the gun to our own heads. With this in mind, we can choose to explore how to evolve what we do, without any simple answers. In my post-denial state, shared by increasing numbers of my students and colleagues, I realised that we would benefit from conceptual maps for how to address these questions. I therefore set about synthesising the main things people talked about doing differently in light of a view of inevitable collapse and probable catastrophe. That is what I offer now as the “deep adaptation agenda.”

What Bendell is "offering now" is not a particular program of economic, social, and political action. He is not counting carbon, and devising schemes to hold down global temperature. Instead, he is saying that we are definitely going to have massive social disruption, up to and including a possible  "collapse," and with "extinction," not just collapse, definitely within the realm of possibility.

His idea? In this situation, we need to focus on how we can live together in the extreme conditions we will need to face - how we can care for each other; how we can cooperate.

Whatever the future, that is good advice.

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Saturday, March 9, 2019

#68 / Ivan Vallier

This Quarter, I am teaching a course at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The course is called "Introduction To Legal Process." Last Tuesday, as I came up to the campus to prepare for class, rain was pouring down, and I had to find a new place to park. All the close-in spaces I normally utilize were completely spoken for. Thus, sprinting through the raindrops to reach my office, and coming from a different direction from normal, I entered the building where my office is located through a door I rarely use. As I did so, I suddenly realized that I didn't know anything at all about Ivan Vallier.

My office on the UCSC campus is located in Ivan Vallier Hall. Since Crown College is the "science" college at UCSC, I had always assumed that Ivan Vallier was some sort of physicist, or something like that. Other nearby buildings at Crown bear the names of famous scientists. There are, for instance, dormitories named "Harvey," "Maxwell," "Leonardo," "Galen," "Galileo," "Rutherford," "Descartes," and "Gauss." Even though I am no scientist, I recognize those names. I had always assumed that "Vallier" was just another one, but if he was, what the heck did Vallier do? As I came through the doorway with his name above it, my refuge from the rain, I decided to look him up.

As it turns out, Ivan Vallier was not a physicist. He was a beloved professor of sociology, a member of the faculty at Crown College when UCSC was actually organized and operated on the "college system." Vallier died, tragically young, at age forty-seven, in 1974. A very nice tribute to him, by Brewster Smith and Kenneth Thimann, can be found online. Just click that link.

Since I teach in the social sciences, I was pleased to find (however late-breaking the news) that my office is located in a building named for and dedicated to a scholar in the social sciences. I also appreciate that Vallier was "deeply interested in the welfare of students," and that he "would have made an outstanding judge." I always felt a bit out of place in the "science" college. It's nice to know that Ivan Vallier Hall is, actually, an appropriate home away from home for someone like me. I am very happy to have looked him up! Now I know something about Ivan Vallier - and if you have read this blog post, so do you!

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Gary Patton personal photo

Friday, March 8, 2019

#67 / The Globots Are Coming

I really like Jill Lepore. She is a historian, who teaches at Harvard. She also writes articles (frequently) for The New Yorker. She also writes books!

I greatly enjoyed The Secret History of Wonder Woman, and I have now become entranced by Lepore's latest book, These Truths, a one-volume history of the United States, from Christopher Columbus to Donald J. Trump. Definitely recommended! You can click right here to listen to a book talk by Lepore, discussing These Truths.

As I noted, Lepore writes articles, as well as books. The March 4, 2019, edition of The New Yorker has an article by Lepore on automation, artificial intelligence, and the forecasted invasion of robots. If you're worried about robots, this would be a good place to find relief from some of the near-hysterical analysis that is now predicting what amounts to the almost complete elimination of all things human from our economy and workplaces. The hard-copy version of Lepore's article is called "The Robot Caravan." The article is five pages long, and just one click away.

I'll cut to the chase and let you know why I am recommending you read "Are Robots Competing  For Your Job?," the title of Lepore's article in its online iteration. Lepore is a historian. In other words, she studies what human beings have done in the past. She does not believe that there is some historical "law of gravity" that makes all things fall to the worst possible place. Lepore, having studied history, has figured out what makes history happen. Based on her extensive knowledge of history - and of historiography - Lepore provides some cautionary words about prediction: "Futurists foretell inevitable outcomes by conjuring up inevitable pasts. People who are in the business of selling predictions need to present the past as predictable - the ground truth, the test case." 

The quotation below is what I think of as the bottom line for Lepore as she thinks about history and possibility. This is an approach I suggest we extend to all our ruminations about what is (or, as we may think, is not) politically possible: 

Machines don't drive history; people do. History is not a smart car. 

Hopefully, we will be smart enough, ourselves, to figure this out, and act accordingly. We face lots of challenges, and the hypothesized robot invasion only one of them. As we confront the truly daunting challenges ahead, we need to remember this lesson from Lepore. 

History is not the story of what happens to us. It is the story of what we do! Every day, instead of succumbing to the momentum of past choices, we can do something new, something totally unexpected, something that brings into the world of reality a possibility that no one had ever thought of before, that no one would ever have predicted could be achieved.

That kind of thing happens when we start driving the car!

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Thursday, March 7, 2019

#66 / It's Entertainment, Right?

Yesterday, I spoke out against what I consider to be a kind of "empty calorie" politics, which has increasingly occupied the field of "real" politics like an invasive weed moving into a field of native plants, driving out genuine political discourse and political involvement. 

It wasn't until I got to the end of my blog posting yesterday that I thought of the "empty calories" analogy. I plopped that idea right into the end of the posting, reflecting the point at which I had that idea, instead of rewriting the whole posting to feature this insight, which I might well have done. I do think that identifying some political behavior as "empty calorie politics" is a pretty good way to describe a dangerous political affliction. Thus, I decided to feature this warning about "empty calorie politics" in today's blog entry. 

Actually, my purpose in today's posting is to refer you to an article that appeared in the March 2, 2019, edition of The New York Times. That article, linked right here, is titled, "Ruffling Feathers in a Global Conversation on Income." Of course, that is the title I read in the hard copy edition. Online, the article is titled, "He Took Down the Elite at Davos. Then He Came for Fox News." The "he" spoken of is Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian, who is pictured below. 

As I say, getting an idea of what Bregman has to say about income inequality and utopian politics is highly recommended. I also note that Bregman seems concerned about what I am calling out as "empty calorie politics." Bregman doesn't use that phrase. Here is what he says about the political controversies in which he has, I gather, become involved: 

It's entertainment, right?

Real politics can be entertaining, but I want to suggest that when politics becomes nothing more than "entertainment" we are definitely in "empty calorie" territory. The politics associated with any genuine form of democratic self-government is not an "entertainment."

It's not something you "watch" or "look at." 

It's something you do!

Rutger Bregman

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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

#65 / Just One Quibble About That "We"

While I never asked to be part of "Onward Together," I regularly receive emails from Hillary Clinton on behalf of that organization. These emails always ask for money. The latest email solicitation I have received is shown below: 

As someone who does make quite a few political and other contributions, I expect to be solicited, and I really don't mind being asked. The way I am asked, though, can sometimes rankle, and I tend to react quite negatively to appeals based on false claims of familiarity. 

As I pointed out in an earlier blog posting, I did not much like an approach by Kirsten Gillibrand, Hillary Clinton's successor in the United States Senate, and now a candidate for president. Gillibrand, with no basis for saying so, claimed that I was a member of her "team." That was not actually true, and I resent communications that do employ the tactics of false familiarity to try to manipulate me into making a contribution or taking some political action. Gillibrand could have said something like: "Gary, I'd like you to be on my team, because..... [then giving me a good reason]." That kind of an appeal might work, if I thought the "good reason" was compelling. 

Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton herself employs the tactics of false familiarity in her political solicitations. She has created the "Onward Together" organization as a way to raise money for political groups that will tell the public how great Hillary is. They are called "partners." The donations she solicits don't go directly to the partner organizations. They go to her organization, Onward Together, which then uses the money collected to advance Hillary's political brand. A clever technique, and some people will probably think it's a good thing to help Hillary as they help other, more grassroots groups. 

Here, however, is the problem I have with the above solicitation: it's the use of the word "we." 

"We," is a word of inclusion, and using "we" in a sentence means that there is some sort of joint and collective responsibility for whatever action is being described. In this case, Hillary says: 

When we launched Onward Together....

This is a claim (I think intentional) that the recipient of the communication (me, in this case) was in some way involved in and part of creating the organization Onward Together. In fact, Onward Together was created of, by, and for Hillary Clinton and her chosen political projects. That sentence pretends a joint action that never existed, and I count that as "false familiarity."

Why should anyone care about things like this? Well, our politics does, truly, need to be "of," "by," and "for" the people. That is Abraham Lincoln's timeless description of what democratic self-government is all about. 

I care about protecting and preserving genuine self-government in the United States. The more our politics is invaded by a politics that is not, in fact, "of" and "by" the people for which it claims to act, the more we can all get confused about what the true nature of our politics ought to be. 

You have heard of "empty calorie foods" haven't you? Don't buy empty calorie foods! Don't eat them! That is good advice, from a human health perspective.

I think it is important to reject "empty calorie" politics in just the same way. The health of our democracy depends upon it!

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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

#64 / Why Are These People Smiling?

Pictured are Tapio Schneider, Colleen Kaul, and Kyle Pressel, of the California Institute of Technology. According to an article in Quanta Magazine, these scientists have identified a tipping point at which stratocumulus clouds break up. Perhaps they are pleased to have undertaken some successful scientific research and to have "proved their thesis." Really, however, there isn't very much to be happy about.

According to "A World Without Clouds," the result of the computer simulation work done by Schneider, Kaul, and Pressel demonstrates that continued emissions of carbon dioxide will not only lead to the level of global warming that we have already heard about. It appears that continued emissions of carbon dioxide will also cause the disappearance of the clouds that currently cover about two-thirds of the surface of the Earth. If or when this occurs (and scientists are saying within a century), the temperature of the Earth will climb far beyond the current global warming estimates, which are, of course, already bad enough: 

The climatologist Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said that even 2 degrees of warming will cause “considerable loss of life and suffering.” He said it will kill coral reefs whose fish feed millions, while also elevating the risk of damaging floods, wildfires, droughts, heat waves, and hurricanes and causing “several feet of sea-level rise and threats to the world’s low-lying island nations and coastal cities.” 
At the 4-degree end of the range, we would see not only “the destruction of the world’s coral reefs, massive loss of animal species, and catastrophic extreme weather events,” Mann said, but also “meters of sea-level rise that would challenge our capacity for adaptation. It would mean the end of human civilization in its current form.”

Some sort of a Green New Deal might help quite a bit, if we can make it substantial enough. We need to cut our carbon emissions to as close to zero as we can get. Heroic efforts will be needed. 

And then, we could also start planting trees. Another article from Quanta Magazine says we are underestimating the power of plants!

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Monday, March 4, 2019

#63 / Citizens And Consumers

Jason Zengerle has reviewed a recent book by Michael Tomasky. Tomasky's book is called, If We Can Keep It. The title references a statement allegedly made by Ben Franklin, when Franklin was asked what the Constitutional Convention had produced. "A Republic, if you can keep it," is what Franklin is supposed to have replied. 

The focus of Zengerle's review (and maybe the book) is our current experience with "political polarization." Political polarizatiion is not so unusual, according to Zengerle (and maybe according to the book). 

I liked Zengerle's review, and I think it is worth reading. Just click the link if you would like to do that. What struck me most about Zengerle's review, however, was not the discussion about political polarization. I was an elected official in my local community for twenty years. I know how that "polarization" process works. While it can be uncomfortable, sometimes, I am not, actually, too worrried about political polarization. A healthy politics is precisely a politics in which there is an "argument" going on, with the idea being that after the discussion and debate, the public makes a decision, and charts its public policy course. You need the debate to be "polarizing" if politics is going to do its proper job. 

What attracted me to the review was a couple of sentences at the end of a paragraph, not central to the argument about political polarization, but central, I think, to our real political dilemma: 

Where Americans had once cherished “thrift, discipline, doing without,” Tomasky writes, “in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Americans started to become a different people than they had been.” He adds: “Our consumer selves have overwhelmed our citizen selves.”

If we care about democratic self-government, we need to remember that we are "citizens" first, and "consumers" very much later on. I am always thinking about how best to explain democratic self-government, at least partly because I do teach Legal Studies classes at the University of California, Santa Cruz, touching on that topic. As is, of course, not surprising, I have decided that Abraham Lincoln has actually given the most succinct and eloquent presentation of what democratic self-government is all about. 

In his famous address at Gettysburg, Lincoln said that it was the mission of our nation to be sure that a "government of the people, by the people [and] for the people shall not perish from the earth." 

It is my belief that the most important part of this admonition is its statement that the government must be both "of" and "by" the people, and that these requirements come before the suggestion that the government should be "for" the people. 

It is desirable, of course, that our government be "for" the people, but to the degree that we are looking to someone besides ourselves (to the "government," in other words) to respond to our needs, and to achieve our deepest hopes, we are positioning ourselves as "consumers" of what "the government" gives us. We must, instead, realize that it is we, ourselves, who have the power to create and destroy. We are not "consumers" of governmental good works. Rather, as "citizens," we are the government. We must never forget that if we truly want our government to be "for" the people, it must first be "of" and "by" them.

Forget about "polarization" as our primary problem. Start focusing in on political participation.

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Sunday, March 3, 2019

#62 / Sy

I suppose I could write a whole year's worth of blog posts that use a person's first name as the title. There are a whole lot of people I both love and admire, and I don't think I would mind telling the world just why.

My post yesterday, for instance, "Lennie," celebrated Lennie Roberts. She is, without any need for me to add my thoughts, already a celebrated personality, and correctly so. If you missed that blog posting yesterday, but are reading this one, check out Lennie's "Ten Tips For Advocates." 

I consider Lennie Roberts to be a personal friend. The guy in the photo above, Sy Safransky, is not someone I have ever met, or can claim to know. He is, though, a celebrated personality, and correctly so. 

Sy Safransky is the editor and publisher of The Sun Magazine, which I have come to honor and admire. I am late to the party, I must admit, since the magazine has been cooking along under Safransky's direction for the best part of fifty years. He started the magazine in 1974, the year I was first elected to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. While I am here confessing a pattern and practice of unfortunate obliviousness, I have concluded that late to arrive is better than never. 

I have been subscribing to The Sun for a year or so, now, and I find that every issue leaves me, in some way, shaken. You can consider this a definite recommendation. Oddly enough, I have also noted that almost every issue of The Sun that I have read since I started subscribing has included a contribution from someone in Santa Cruz.

Just by chance, I stumbled upon the article linked below, which is the article where I found the picture. The article is titled, "Beginner’s Mind: Sy Safransky On God, LSD, And The Magazine He Founded." I am providing a quick quote, which says something I never tire of repeating: We are individuals, but we are not only individuals. We are together in this life:

[Safransky] In the course of a year we publish nearly a half million words, and I want to make sure they’re the right words, not the almost-right words. I want to make sure they’re words that bring us together, because I want The Sun to remind us that separateness is an illusion — a very compelling illusion, but an illusion nonetheless. Are we really separate from this earth? Are we really separate from one another? This separate self we cling to — how real is it?

I may never have met Sy Safransky, but I have met his magazine, and I think that what Safransky has just said, above, is absolutely true. Ojalá that we can find a way to transform our politics, so that we turn from the illusions that have ensnared us and begin to "reason together." 

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Saturday, March 2, 2019

#61 / Lennie

Pictured is Lennie Roberts. She is "Lennie" to all who have worked with her (and maybe even to some of those who have worked against her). Click that link to her name, and you'll be able to read a Sierra Club accolade to Lennie Roberts as an "environmental hero." The write-up might even be a bit understated!

A tribute to Lennie, and a celebration of her conservation work, will be held on June 21, 2019, under the auspices of Committee for Green Foothills. Lennie played a leadership role in preventing Caltrans from constructing a new, growth-inducing freeway to connect the San Mateo County coastside with San Francisco. We have the Devil's Slide tunnel instead, plus a coastal trail of breathtaking beauty. Take a ride and try it out, if you haven't already. Thanks to Lennie's work on that project, the San Mateo County coastside is now better protected from growth pressures originating on the other side of the hill than anyone could have hoped for. You can click right here for some information on the June celebration

Lennie has been on the Board of Directors of Committee for Green Foothills for fifty years. She has served as a policy and legislative advocate for the Committee for forty years. Here is a link to an edition of the Committee for Green Foothills' Winter 2018 Newsletter, documenting Lennie's contributions. It is well worth reading, and I particularly commend Lennie's "Ten Tips For Advocates."  Lennie is trying to "pass on the spirit," and I am reproducing them, below, to save you a "click."

My summation? Thank you, Lennie! My suggestion? Let's hunt down the "environmental hero" possibilities we all have within us. It's time to start working on the next fifty years!

My Ten Tips for Advocates
By Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate

Here are ten common sense tips that I point to when people have asked me, “how do you do it?”

1. Learn everything you can about your issue. Knowledge is power!

2. Research the decision-making process and timelines for decisions. Find out what is important to people you are trying to influence.

3. Enlist allies to increase your clout. Empowering others is often a critical element in success.

4. Develop relationships with key people. Building trust with others gives you a huge advantage.

5. Never lie or mislead anyone. If you inadvertently use wrong information, admit your errors!

6. Do not attack others personally. Even with the most vexatious provocateurs, you can—and should—strongly argue against ideas, but not the person.

7. Keep your eye on the goal. Your issue may require many years of effort.

8. Maintain a sense of humor. It will keep you going through the most challenging times.

9. Remember that results are what counts, not your personal glory. Work with anyone and everyone you can, and let others bask in the spotlight wherever possible.

10. Celebrate others genuinely and frequently. Gratitude for large and small victories helps sustain and inspire our efforts.

Good luck, and remember that victories are often temporary, but defeats are permanent. A great deal of the environment that we enjoy and depend upon today has already been compromised. It is vitally important to defend what is left in order to provide for future generations.

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Friday, March 1, 2019

#60 / Ready, Fire, Aim

When I first heard the phrase, "Ready, Fire, Aim," this expression was emphatically not the title of a self-help book.* The expression is intended to represent a warning that it doesn't make much sense to start doing things that have consequences before you have thought through the implications of what you are doing. The right way to do things is to "aim" before you "fire."

I was thinking about the "Ready, Fire, Aim" phrase, recently, in connection with my online textbook on American Law, which I am using for my "Introduction to Legal Process" class at the University of California, Santa Cruz. 

I was reviewing my chapter on environmental law, which got me thinking about the fire/aim mistake. There is a whole category of environmental law that is premised on what is often called the "Stop and Think" principle. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is one of those "Stop and Think" laws. Here's how I explained the idea in my book, referring both to CEQA and to its federal counterpart, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

Maybe this explanation will be helpful for anyone who sees the CEQA process as an obstacle, instead of an advantage:

Step 1: 
The government first decides that it wants to do a “project” of some kind. That “project” can be something that the government is going to do itself, like build a new road, or it can be something that a private party is planning to do, but for which the private party needs governmental approval. If someone wants to build a factory on some rural land, that person will probably need a permit from the governmental agency that has jurisdiction over the land. If the government says, “go,” then it is really the government, not just the private party, that is taking a significant action.
Step 2: 
Once it is clear that there is a “project” involved (as just outlined), the government needs to ask whether or not the proposed project mightresult in a significant adverse environmental impact. If there might be a significant impact, then the government needs to keep thinking, and move to the next step. If, however, the government determines that no adverse environmental impact is possible, then the government doesn’t have to think any further. The government can just move ahead with the project, since the project won’t have any negative environmental effects.
Step 3: 
If the proposed project mighthave one or more significant environmental impacts, then the government needs to prepare an analysis of what those impacts might be. The government, in other words, needs to prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS—NEPA) or a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR—CEQA).
Step 4: 
Once the Draft environmental document has been prepared (a Draft EIS or a Draft EIR), the government then needs to let the public comment on the draft, giving members of the public no fewer than thirty days to review and submit any comments they might have. Longer review periods are often provided.
Step 5:
At the end of the review period, the government must review all the comments received on the draft, and then respond to those comments, with the responses including detail sufficient to address the issues raised by the comments.
Step 6:
The “Final” environmental document (a Final EIS or a Final EIR) will include the original draft document, plus any comments received on that draft, plus responsesto all the comments received. Generally, a Final EIS or EIR will also include a listing of various mitigation measuresthat would eliminate or reduce, to the greatest degree feasible, any adverse environmental impacts that the analysis has identified.
Step 7: 
At this stage, the governmental decision-making body is possessed of what NEPA and CEQA call an “informational document,” alerting the government to any and all potentially significant adverse environmental impacts of the project being proposed. The Final EIS or EIR, in other words, documents the “thinking” process that will now inform the government’s ultimate decision. The EIS or EIR doesn’t mandate a specific decision but the process does insure that the governmental agency making the decision has an opportunity really to understand the environmental impacts of what is being proposed. The decision makers are legally required to consult the Final EIS or EIR before making a decision on the proposed project. If the project review has been carried out according to CEQA, the governmental agency has to do more than consider the final environmental review document; in California, the government agency is legally required to incorporate any measures that would eliminate or mitigate any identified environmental impacts, if those mitigation measures are determined to be feasible.
Step 8: 
By the time this process is complete, the governmental agency will definitely have “thought” about the project. If the agency decides to go ahead, it will do so with full information on any adverse impacts that may have been identified. Members of the public, who will have been involved in the process, will usually be at the meeting where the final decision is made, and if the impacts are adverse, and the government goes ahead anyway, the elected officials responsible are almost certainly going to hear from the public, and the public is likely to be upset. 
“Stop and Think” statutes, like NEPA and CEQA, almost always lead to better environmental decision making. Public comments and suggestions can be incorporated, the original project can be redesigned to eliminate or reduce impacts, and mitigation measures can be identified, so that they are incorporated into the final decision, thus improving the project from an environmental point of view.

* In fact, I was amazed to find, as I sought for online references to the "Ready, Fire, Aim" phrase, that there is a self-help book that advocates this principle. The book was written by a young tech guy named Michael Masterson, and he thinks that applying the "ready, fire, aim" principle is a way to get rich. I haven't read the book, but it seems like the advice is a species of that "move fast and break things" approach to policy making, and reflects the insufferable arrogance of those really, really rich guys who think that money equals intelligence.

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