By Kent R. Kroeger (October 17, 2018; Source: NuQum.com)
As we all watched Elizabeth Warren’s presidential hopes spiral into the ground this week, I realized the Democrats need that one friend or family member that can tap them on the back of the head and tell them, “Snap out of it!”
Senator Warren let Donald Trump burrow so deep into her head, she lost all neural pathways dedicated to common sense. He eats at her very soul, day and night. How else can we explain why she would release DNA results confirming she was 99.9 percent white and has less Native American DNA than the average American? [Most whites are, on average, 0.18 percent Native American, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health.]
Of course, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Daily Beast immediately declared Warren the victor in her dispute with Trump over her “Native American” heritage.
That narrative lasted about 10 minutes.
Facts be damned, The Nation’s Joan Walsh couldn’t hold back her righteous joy over Warren’s DNA test: “Warren is showing Democrats — and the media — that she knows how to fight. She won’t let Trump define her as either a faux Native American, an Ivy League elitist, or a liar.” You are right, Joan. Elizabeth Warren can do that all on her own.
During her academic career, it is indisputable that Warren (actively or passively) allowed others to categorize her as a ‘woman of color.’ Her vulgar use of identity politics rightfully marks the end of her viability as a national political figure.
Warren was never going to win the nomination anyway (It’s Kamala Harris’ nomination to lose unless someone more charismatic emerges or Bernie Sanders decides to run again).
It is premature, however, to think Warren’s public blunder marks the end of identify politics. The Democrats have hard-coded that strategy into their political DNA and, at this point, it would take an extraterrestrial intervention to reprogram them.
But there is something Democrats can learn from Warren: Let go of the Trump obsession. It is now starting to hurt the party. Do they need Max von Sydow standing over them saying, “The power of common sense compels you!”
The obsession may have served a purpose early in the Trump administration in that it reminded Democrats they weren’t suffering through this presidency alone. Semi-contained insanity serves a purpose when it feels like all hope is lost — the pussy hats were even fun.
But all hope is not lost anymore. Short of a GOP Hail Mary in the next few weeks, the Democrats will gain about 35 U.S. House seats in the upcoming election (and my prediction model also says the Democrats will take the U.S. Senate — though that is looking iffy).
Now, the Democrats need to project an image to Americans — left, center and right — that they are prepared to lead this country. Get off the streets, put down the Saul Alinsky rebel handbook and try to look like serious people again.
Pounding on the doors of the U.S. Supreme Court (doors, by the way, the Supreme Court justices never use; so who were they were yelling at?) or chasing U.S. Senators and their wives out of restaurants is not a comforting image to most Americans.
What did the Vietnam Anti-War protests give this country? Two Richard Nixon presidential election victories — and one was a landslide.
Believe it or not, voters generally do not like to see politicians and their supporters display excessive amounts of emotion or employ even minor levels of violence. Too much passion actually scares them away.
Instead, Democrats need to look serious again. Even boring.
To Bernie Sanders’ credit, his unwavering commitment to policy ideas (whether practical or not) keeps him out of the mud swamp where Donald Trump loves to conduct official business. It is why he is viewed as honest, not just by Democrats, but by Republicans and independents. He believes what he says and doesn’t parse his language to fit an audience.
Sanders does frequently mention Trump, but almost always in the context of a policy disagreement. He does not demean himself by resorting to name-calling. I only wish other Democrats took his lead more often (some, like Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, do — but most don’t).
And, finally, enough with the negative, hyperbolic rhetoric about how bad things are in this country.
“In these tumultuous times…” started my local NPR station host this morning as he announced another membership fund drive.
What?! What is he talking about? What is his metric?
Economic prosperity? This country has never been wealthier. Incidents of sexual assault and harassment against women? Twenty years ago a president abused his status to get a blowjob from an intern and two-thirds of the country said, ‘Who gives a cr*p?” Today, thanks in part to the #MeToo movement, this country is significantly more evolved — though still far from perfect.
Is Russiagate weighing heavily on your mood? Well, don’t wait for Robert Mueller’s Russiagate investigation to lift your spirits. It is almost two years now — half of an administration’s term. If Trump is a Russian tool and it takes this long to make an indictment? Thanks for nothing, Bob, the damage is already done. Go back to your retirement.
There areplenty of good reasons to oppose Donald Trump and the GOP — and none of them involve mentioning the Russians. The Democrats don’t need to wallow in the gutter with Trump to make their case.
Here are a few ideas:
Why does this country still spend twice as much as Canadians and Europeans on health care and, yet, experience inferior health outcomes? Is it perhaps time for the Democrats to genuinely challenge the iron triangle formed by lobbyists for pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and physicians?
Is it possible to control the U.S. border and still treat refugees with the same decency and humanity we treat our own citizens? [Um, this country may have a bigger problem than immigration to work on.]
How about oppose a foreign policy that is now farmed out to Moscow, Jerusalem and Riyadh (oops, I mentioned Russia). In the long-turn, that is guaranteed to end poorly for the U.S.
And why must this country’s military continue to engage in these endless cleanup operations all over the world that, in truth, are limited footprint, low-optempo wars? Where has Congress and the Democratic leadership been during all of this?
And, specifically, where is the Democratic Party’s leadership on ending U.S. support to the Saudis and Emirates as those countries continue to commit war crimes against the Houthi in Yemen? Nancy Pelosi? Silent. Chuck Schumer? Silent. Cory Booker? Silent. Kamala Harris? Silent. Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton? Probably best they stay silent given their culpability in what may be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis right now.
In a moment a childlike innocence, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer explained why the U.S. continues its support of the Saudis and Emirates: It’s good for business. I will cut Blitzer, the Brick Tamland of cable TV news, some slack. But when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the same thing, it warrants more than one or two Democrats taking a stand against this cynical misuse of American military power. [Thank God for Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and the GOP’s Rand Paul for making their opposition visible.]
So there are just a few ideas the Democrats might want to talk about Democrats between now and the 2020 election.
What voters don’t need is a continuation of the Democratic Party’s two-year-long pity party over the 2016 election.
It might work long enough to help the Democrats win back the House, but its a losing strategy for the 2020 election.
By Kent R. Kroeger (October 16, 2018; Source: NuQum.com)
If you haven’t heard the story yet about Teresa Sue Klein (aka ‘Cornerstore’ Caroline,’ here is the basic rundown:
Last week, as a nine-year-old African-American boy and his mother were exiting a crowded Brooklyn bodega, the boy’s backpack accidentally brushed against the backside of another store patron, Teresa Sue Klein, 53, who was bent oddly over a store counter. A surveillance video from the store clearly showed the physical encounter was accidental.
However, after a verbal exchange between Klein and the boy’s mother, Klein called the police and said the child of “grabbed her ass.”’ When Klein eventually saw the surveillance video, she realized she was not sexually assaulted and (indirectly) apologized to the child through a local TV news station.
But the damage had been done. An innocent child was needlessly traumatized, crying loudly as his mother exchanged unpleasantries with Klein. As for Klein, apparently this was not the first time she had engaged in a hostile confrontation with her Brooklyn neighbors.
End of story.
Most of the national media covered this event as a white person calling the police on a black person for no good reason-story, as it fits a popular narrative among media elites that the U.S. is teeming with white racists who are the primary cause of the sociopolitical strife found in our nation today.
#WearingABackpackWhileBlack was trending on Twitter for most of the day.
And while a race dynamic may be present in the ‘Cornerstore Caroline’ story, there is another facet to the story receiving less attention and is, perhaps, the more salient lesson from this minor, mostly irrelevant, ado.
Reporters from the New York Post interviewed Klein shortly after the incident and gained some additional background information about Klein. She described herself as an “unemployed feminist and humanist” who was also a practicing Buddhist that occasionally “lets her temper show.”
Originally from Missouri, Klein had recently attended the University of Missouri to complete her PhD in biochemistry. She also has been a “performer” and actor at various times.
Her background isn’t that different from my wife’s — a highly-educated, spiritual woman with a sharp temper.
All good. Except for this fact — Klein’s impulsive decision to accuse a child of sexually assaulting her after what objectively could only be described as minor bodily contact.
Thank God there was a surveillance video to corroborate the child’s defense.
Imagine if there had not been a surveillance video and, instead of a nine-year-old boy, it was a 21-year-old African-American man standing accused of sexual assault. It is not absurd to suggest he might have been booked on a sexual assault charge that day.
Klein’s repeated appeal to the police that she “was just sexually assaulted by a child” cannot be dismissed as a local neighbor squabble. As she’s a Buddhist-feminist-humanist (with a temper), I can’t help but suspect Klein probably drowns herself each night in the current #MeToo zeitgeist. The charge of ‘sexual assault’ flew too easily off her tongue. Her unconstrained outrage crackled as she pointed her finger at nine-year-old boy, traumatized over something he didn’t do. As I watched the store’s surveillance video, I was disappointed Klein didn’t turn the tirade into a broader attack on white male privilege. I know she wanted to.
In all fairness, I’m projecting at this point, but its hard not to conjecture. As I said, Klein is familiar to me. I married a militant couch-feminist who effortlessly regresses into pop-feminist philippics about patriarchies, social privilege and institutional bias as we watch old Star Trek episodes.
As for ‘Cornerstore Caroline,’ my wife contends she’s an extreme outlier. There are too many incentives discouraging such behavior, she says.
A few years ago, I would have agreed with her. Today, I’m not so sure. Particularly after a recent sermon we heard at our Unitarian Church where the minister openly declared supporters of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as “the enemy” (though she didn’t say his name directly, it was obvious in the context).
A Unitarian minister used the pulpit to share with parishioners her enemies list!
What happened to the days of vegetarian Chili cook-offs and Buddhist drum circles? Are we going to learn about the ABCs of doxing in next Sunday’s sermon?
Still, independent of my recent disillusionment with my church, it is possible Klein is an extreme outlier and that very few women (as in none) would willingly put themselves in such a vulnerable position, either on the streets of Brooklyn or in a Senate confirmation hearing. Public scorn and ridicule are a powerful deterrent to making false accusations. Its what keeps me in line.
However, initially in Klein’s mind, she didn’t make a false accusation. She believed she was sexually assaulted (minor as it was) and had no qualms about letting the police, and anyone within earshot, know about it.
If not for the surveillance tape, Klein would have passed a lie detector test with ease. She believed her ass was grabbed by a nine-year-old boy…except it wasn’t.
Klein’s account of the alleged assault was grossly inaccurate at time t-minus-zero. Forget about issues of long-term memory decay or dynamic recall bias, human’s are gloriously capable of screwing up recollections of even simple events in the present.
This is why physical evidence is so critical in criminal trials and why empirical evidence trumps (no pun intended) even the most elegant and elaborate theories (Remember String Theory? Total crap.). Humans need data to make good judgments. Trust but verify. We should always listen to people — that is just good manners — but believing them requires more than just their word.
Let us hope ‘Cornerstore Caroline’ is an extreme outlier, but use her as a reminder of our need for evidence as we go about our everyday lives.
By Kent R. Kroeger (October 12, 2018; Source: NuQum.com)
Current global warming is real, it is man-made, and its consequences will be profoundly negative over time. The significant loss of polar ice, damage to the coral reefs, increased flooding along coastlines and other waterways, more frequent heatwaves, and an increased risk of forest fires are among the most likely consequences as the earth continues to warm.
Theory and empirical data support these predictions, unequivocally.
That reality, however, is being cynically weaponized by an unqualified chattering class that seeks partisan advantage, even at the risk of war.
Reactions to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change exemplify this problem…
“The impact of human-induced warming is worse than previously feared, the IPCC report released Monday says, and only drastic coordinated action will keep the damage short of catastrophe,” warns Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.
“Food shortages and wildfires will get worse, coral reefs will die off and sea levels will rise by feet rather than inches in our lifetimes if too little is done,” writes The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. “It’s the epic battle of our age. Every nation, every major corporation — all of us — must work to win it.”
Replace the term ‘human-induced warming’ with ‘terrorism’ or ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and its the kind of rhetoric you hear right before the bombs start dropping. The president’s national security advisers would already have a prioritized list of ‘rogue’ countries to attack and would be feeding the national media the necessary propaganda to build public support for such attacks.
But Robinson and The Sun-Times are talking about climate change, and their latest hair-on-fire rant on a topic where their knowledge is superficial is just another futile attempt to shock the American people into believing the human race is facing an existential crisis like no other in history. Soon the environmental lobby will be using Shriners Hospital kids to make their pleas.
According to the IPCC’s own economic analysis, for every year through 2050, it will cost the world between $1.6 trillion and $3.8 trillion in “energy system supply-side investments” to possibly keep future global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That could end up costing the world $122 trillion by 2050…or as little as $51 trillion.
The IPCC harms the global warming cause when they float cost analysis nonsense like: $122 trillion by 2050. Economists are already calling the IPCC cost estimate preposterous. Yet, the climate change lobby thinks those mammoth cost numbers will spur people into action on the problem. In fact, the exact opposite is true.
Basic human psychology leads people to tune out such large, abstract numbers. It becomes Monopoly money.
If people are to fund a multi-trillion dollar, global effort to combat climate change, they will need specific estimates about how it will impact their household finances. And they’ll want to know how the money will be used and who will be making the decisions about where it goes. Some will ask, ‘Why are Midwest taxpayers forced to subsidize those who choose to build homes along coastlines in hurricane zones or in dry, heavily forested areas of California?’ And imagine the fraud and abuse that will inevitably occur should the governments around the world get an extra $122 trillion to squander.
Given the options, it is hard to blame someone if they decide to take their chances with global warming.
Let us assume the IPCC cost estimate is accurate. No democratically-elected government would survive raising taxes as much as $49 per gallon gas tax by 2030. Ergo, no government will raise taxes anywhere close to that number, which means the Paris Climate Accord goal to keep anomalous global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius is as good as dead. To limit the warming to 2 degrees Celsius, however, the IPCC estimates a $1.70 per gallon gas tax by 2030 is necessary — that number at least has a puncher’s chance of earning voter approval.
Putting the cost estimates aside, the latest IPCC report is trying to convince us that climate change poses an existential threat to the human race and its negative impact is happening now, is happening faster than expected, and will only get worse. In the IPCC’s view, doing nothing (or ‘muddling through’) is not an option (Truth: Muddling through is always an option). That is why the Paris Climate Accord was so important to the activist community. The primary accomplishment of the Accord, over even the specific country-level goals, was to get every country in the world to sign on to the notion that everyone must do their part. The Paris Climate Accord was good politics and wrongfully dismissed by climate change skeptics.
However, experience tells us that some countries will pursue a zero-carbon economy more vigorously than others. And some countries will be outright freeloaders, continuing to rely on fossil fuels for domestic energy production or as a major export commodity. Try to convince Russia that open Arctic sea lanes in the summer represent a global “crisis” or U.S. Midwest farmers that longer growing seasons are a threat to humanity.
They will never buy what the climate change activists are selling.
But, should the climate change lobby gain access to a new tax revenue stream, they WILL find ways to expand the tax. Give lobbyists the chance and they will pump money out of your paycheck faster than Aramco pumps crude out of the Saudi desert.
Besides, once a government convinces its people about the necessity of a surtax or some other new revenue stream, the lobbyists make sure the problem never goes away.
The Free-rider Problem
In the near-term, there are large segments of the world population that benefit from global warming (for example, people spend more on entertainment when the weather is warmer).
That reality escapes most climate change activists, but if they expect the average citizen to give up a significant portion of their incomes to solve the global warming problem, they will need to understand Who wins? and Who loses? in the battle against climate change.
When the IPCC throws out financial numbers in the tens of trillions of dollars, there will be industries and countries that stand to gain (or lose) a lot of money from combating climate change. It will be one of history’s largest transfers of wealth — most likely, from the advanced industrialized economies (e.g., U.S., Europe, Japan, etc.) to the developing world. So, don’t act surprised if the Kremlin draws a clear line in the sand over the limits of what Russia is willing to sacrifice over climate change. And don’t be surprised if that means using their military power to protect their interests.
And all of this begs the questions: Is it possible the human race could spend tens of trillions of dollars to fight global warming and still not appreciably slow it down? Or might we engage in a geoengineering project to slow global warming — such as creating more clouds — and end up doing more damage to the planet?
Despite the Paris Climate Accord, not all countries are going jump on board this climate change bandwagon with the same levels of fellowship and cooperation as the Germans or French.
If Malawi or Trinidad and Tobago decide not to participate in the worldwide decarbonization effort, it won’t have a major impact. But if the country is Indonesia, currently the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China, the likelihood of meeting the Paris Accord goals are jeopardized.
Despite being a signatory to the Paris Climate Accord, Indonesia continues to develop peatland forest areas, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and remains the world’s second largest exporter of coal and lignite, behind only Australia.
Domestic energy generation remains very carbon intensive in Indonesia and other Southeast Asia countries (see Figure 1). According to the energy consulting firm Enerdata: “The share of coal in the region’s power mix will remain stable through 2050 at current levels: approximately 35% of total generation. Wind and solar combined will account for 15% of the total power generation in 2050, from almost 0% today. Meanwhile, gas-fired generation will drop from about 40% in 2017 to 22% in 2050.”
Figure 1: Energy Generation by Source in Southeast Asia
As long as coal is cheap and available in Southeast Asia, it will be widely used to address the region’s growing electricity needs.
U.S. and European efforts alone are not enough to address global warming. That should be obvious.
Climate change is a collective action problem and the U.S. and Europe are dependent on other countries to do their part — countries that in some cases are already hostile to Western interests in general.
Are the U.S. and Europe going to carry the burden on implementing climate change solutions and passively let Indonesia or Brazil or India or any other large greenhouse gas emitter shirk their obligations?
But what exactly can the U.S. and Europe do to ensure climate policy compliance across the globe?
In the past, the U.S. has used its military to protect vital interests
Some analysts argue the U.S. military has already engaged in its first climate change-influenced conflict: The Syrian Civil War. The argument goes like this: Global warming exacerbated an extreme drought experienced within Syria prior to its civil war; which led to large-scale internal migration; and this migration contributed to the the socio-economic stresses that were the proximal cause of the Syrian Civil War.
Regardless, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) at present sees climate change as a “threat multiplier” because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today — from infectious disease to terrorism.” In the DoD’s opinion, climate change will instigate resource shortages for human necessities such as water and other basic foodstuffs that will, in turn, increase social instability and the likelihood of ‘resource’ wars.
In its 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, DoD planners see climate change most likely impacting U.S. humanitarian and peacekeeping requirements abroad, as well as threatening military training facilities at home and overseas through more intense natural disasters. Specifically, DoD considers rising sea levels, flooding, droughts, wildfires, and more extreme temperatures as the primary threats to U.S. military personnel and readiness posed by climate change.
“We must also work with other nations to share tools for assessing and managing climate change impacts, and help build their capacity to respond,” writes then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in the 2014 Roadmap. “Climate change is a global problem. Its impacts do not respect national borders. No nation can deal with it alone. We must work together, building joint capabilities to deal with these emerging threats.”
Since the publication of the 2014 Roadmap, its most tangible results have been: (1) transitioning as much of DoD’s energy needs as possible to renewable sources, and (2) adapting U.S. military installations worldwide to the most likely weather-related threats associated with climate change.
The problem with climate change, however, is that the U.S. is dependent on other countries to also reduce carbon emissions on a worldwide scale. If only the advanced economies significantly reduce emissions, while other large developing countries such as India, China and Indonesia continue to burn fossil fuels, the U.S. and European efforts will be for naught. For the world to keep global warming from exceeding 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, every large economy must cooperate. Failing on this requirement will have dire consequences on all nations, according to the IPCC.
But what exactly can the U.S. do to impel Indonesia, for example, to abandon its coal industry or for India to stop building new coal plants?
The last three years offer a vivid example of this problem. According to British Petroleum’s data on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions worldwide between 2015 and 2017, the world’s CO2 emissions have gone up 1.8 percent (!) since the signing of the Paris Climate Accord (see Figure 2). And you can’t blame the U.S. for this increase, as its CO2 emissions have decreased 2.4 percent in the same period.
Figure 2: Change in Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions since 2015
Why have U.S. CO2 emissions decreased, while in other regions of the world they have increased? Two reasons: (1) increases in renewable energy power generation and (2) an increase in the exploitation (including fracking) of natural gas reserves account for the U.S. success story.
Contrary to what is often reported in the U.S. mainstream media, the U.S. is aggressively converting to renewable energy and is on the path to a 100-percent renewable energy economy by 2055 — only five years beyond the Paris Climate Accord goals (see Figure 3 below). The U.S. is not the problem.
Figure 3: U.S. Renewable Energy Forecast for Renewables, Nuclear and Hydroelectric (Share of Total Electricity Generation)
Failure to meet the IPCC’s 2030 goals will not be because of U.S. inaction on global warming. More likely, the failure will originate from the fastest growing regions of the world — Asia and Africa.
And how should (or will) the U.S. respond to these climate change laggards?
Apart from doing nothing (an always attractive option), there are four policy options at the U.S.’s disposal when dealing with countries that are falling behind the Paris Climate Accord and IPPC goals:
(1) Engage in diplomacy that incentivizes countries to change their policies,
(2) Implement economic boycotts and trade restrictions to coerce policy change,
(3) Use covert operations to engineer coups against the leaders of climate change laggards, or
(4) simply attack orinvade the laggard countries and force their conversion to renewable energy.
It may sound laughable to think the U.S. and its allies would consider military attacks, coups or invasions to force climate change policy changes, but that is exactly what the advanced industrialized countries have been doing for the past 60 years in the Middle East to protect Western energy interests.
Why should renewable energy and climate change be any different? If U.S. national security is at risk due to climate change, as reflected in official DoD policy and inferred in the most recent IPCC report, why wouldn’t military force and covert intelligence operations be included on the policy options menu?
If the IPCC is correct, failing to address climate change is an existential threat to the U.S. and all nations. In such a circumstance, it would be irresponsible for the U.S. not to consider military options with respect to climate change. If humankind is at stake, why not bomb some coal plants in Indonesia and India?
Even senior U.S. military officers are regurgitating the urgency of the IPCC position on climate change.
“Planning for the long-term implications of climate change today is as important as planning for a major Pacific conflict was in the last century,” according to U.S. Navy Commander Timothy McGeehan. “To address climate change, the Department of Defense (DoD) and Pacific Command (PaCom) in particular need a 21st-century War Plan Orange.”
War Plan Orange was a secret strategy the U.S. military had been developing since 1906 in case a war with Japan ever broke out. As we know, on December 7, 1941, a war with Japan did materialize and War Plan Orange formed the blueprint for our nation’s successful defeat of Japan.
If you believe climate change is as big a threat to U.S. strategic interests as the Japanese were in 1941, why wouldn’t you consider of using U.S. military superiority to enforce the goals set forth by the IPCC?
That argument is not as far-fetched as it sounds.
It doesn’t take much for the neoliberal and neoconservative hawks in the U.S. to justify a regime change war. Offer them the premise that war will save the planet from the ravages of global warming and you have a formula for concocting all sorts of excuses to attack Venezuela or Indonesia or Iran or Russia…and the list goes on…
With this newest IPCC report, we already see the machinations of the political and media elite preparing the American people to fight the good fight against climate change — and, yes, don’t argue with them when the federal and state governments take more and more of your income to solve a problem that’s already being solved. They will do it because they have the moral high ground and know what is best.
We are watching you Indonesia, China, Brazil, Russia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. If you are not doing your part to fight climate change, our Marines are more than happy to set you straight.
That the current climate change hysteria could lead to a hot war is not inconceivable. Is there anything about today’s Democratic Party and Never Trump Republicans that suggests they would rule out using overwhelming military superiority to promote their dearest cause?
The U.S. and international media consistently misrepresent the climate change threat, a man-made menace that is real but manageable, because accepting this doomsday premise further empowers the Davos elites who have been talking about this potential power grab for well over a decade.
Imagine what they could do with an additional $122 trillion dollars of everyone’s money. The climate change alarmists have every incentive to exaggerate its dangers and the cost of its mitigation.
Luckily, history is still on the side of climate change realists. When former Vice President Al Gore warned us in 2006 that we had only a decade left to save the planet from global warming, he was deliriously uninformed. In his words, 2016 was the point of no return.
It is 2018. The Earth is doing just fine. Humans on this Earth have never been more prosperous or safer. Perhaps Al Gore’s apocalyptic prediction has been delayed? Maybe we should still be worried that he is right?
No, Al is not right. He’s never been right on this issue. He (and the Democrats, in general) have taken a real problem — the warming of the planet due to human activity — and exploited it for political and personal gain.
They are exploiters, not leaders.
Al Gore and the climate change panic mavens need to spend more time in the science labs at MIT where they are leading the research on carbon capture and sequestration. Or how about going to China where their research and development of solar farms is on the brink of transforming how humans capture energy?
The climate change scaremongering exhibited by the mainstream media over this latest IPCC report has one unspoken goal: It is a raw power grab by political statists (mostly in the U.S. and Europe) trying to control as much of your money as they can possibly get their grubby hands on.
Don’t be fooled. Climate change is just another problem humans will ultimately solve. It is what humans do best. We solve problems — and make money in the process.
The world is moving as fast as can be expected in converting to a 100-percent renewable energy economy (see the evidence here). It will never be fast enough for environmental doomsayers, but it is fast enough to save this planet from the worst consequences of global warming. And a mix of incremental policy-making and targeted crisis spending will help the world’s nations adapt to the likely consequences of climate change. The incremental adaptive approach is not sexy and will not be as pro-active as the climate change lobby would like, but it is how the human race will address climate change.
Climate change will lead to wars fought over resources (water, arable land) and migration. And, as suggested in this essay, the climate change vanguard may even try to impose their will on some climate change free-rider nations who refuse to take orders from the West.
In the meantime here in the U.S., beware of climate change hysteria being exploited by neoliberals and neocon military hawks as a way to justify their lust for expanding the role of government or finding new ways to get the U.S. military involved in more regime change wars.
Climate change activists are the modern crusaders and they will do anything to save the planet — including spending your money to do it.
By Kent R. Kroeger (October 9, 2018; Source: NuQum.com)
This essay was originally published on October 5th. Since then, a Saudi journalist has disappeared in Turkey and a Bulgarian TV journalist has been killed.
According to sources speaking to The Washington Post, the Turkish government believes Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi was “killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last week by a Saudi team sent specifically for the murder.” The Post’s sources offered no evidence to support their account of events.
Khashoggi, missing since October 2nd, has been an open critic of the current Saudi regime, led by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“The humble man I knew, who disappeared from the consulate in Istanbul, saw it as his duty to stand up for ordinary Saudis,” says fellow journalist and friend of Khashoggi, David Hearst.
“Again a courageous journalist falls in the fight for truth and against corruption,” Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, said Monday in Brussels.
In the other incident, 30-year-old TV journalist Viktoria Marinova was found dead on October 6th in a park in Ruse, Bulgaria.
Marinova was a director of TVN, a TV station in Ruse, Bulgaria and a TV presenter for two investigative news programs, one of which, Detector, recently featured two investigative journalists reporting on suspected fraud involving European Union funds.
Her final TV appearance was on Sept. 30.
Though Bulgarian authorities do not know yet if there is a connection between Marinova’s death and her work as a journalist, many European journalists are concerned as she is the third journalist to be killed in Europe in the past year. The other two murdered journalists were Jan Kuciak in Slovakia and Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta.
These deaths add to a growing concern among European journalists that their profession is being targeted by power elites and criminal elements threatened by investigative journalism.
Original essay (published October 5, 2018):
In late August, an anti-immigration rally jn Chemnitz, Germany provided vivid evidence of the far right’s growing popularity, the crowd’s anger directed mainly at Chancellor Angela Merkel and her 2015 decision to allow into the country more than 1 million refugees fleeing civil war and violence in the Middle East.
In Germany, the anti-immigration sentiment has been accompanied by a rise in violence attacks on journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders(RSF), who reports “after reaching a peak of 39 attacks against journalists in 2015, this figure dropped to below 20 in 2016 and 2017.” However, in 2018, such violent attacks are already higher than in 2016 or 2017.
RSF also reports this trend is growing worldwide.
According to RSF, 70 journalists, including citizen journalists and media assistants, have been killed so far in 2018, and is on pace to exceed 90 deaths by year’s end. In addition, 316 journalists are currently imprisoned, including two Reuters journalists who were recently sentenced by a Myanmar judge to seven years in prison for breaching a law on state secrets.
But RSF does more than monitor violence against journalists. Since 2002, the Paris-based group has computed the World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) for over 180 countries. RSF describes the WPFI as follows:
WHAT DOES THE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX (WPFI) MEASURE?
The Index ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country.
HOW THE WPFI IS COMPILED
The degree of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries is determined by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire devised by RSF. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated. The criteria used in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.
RSF’s 2018 report on worldwide press freedom is one of its most pessimistic.
According to the WPFI, in 2018, press freedom in 74 percent of countries is either problematic, bad or very bad (see Figure 1). In 2002, the first year RSF calculated the WPFI, press freedom in only 45 percent of countries was categorized as problematic, bad, or very bad.
Figure 1: Distribution of World Press Freedom Index Scores (2018)
“Hostility towards the media from political leaders is no longer limited to authoritarian countries such as Turkey (ranked 157th out of 180 countries, down two ranks from 2017) and Egypt (161st), where “media-phobia” is now so pronounced that journalists are routinely accused of terrorism and all those who don’t offer loyalty are arbitrarily imprisoned,” reports RSF. “More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion.”
While citing President Donald Trump as one of the most visible culprits in verbally attacking journalists, RSF’s deepest concern is directed towards younger democracies.
“The line separating verbal violence from physical violence is dissolving. In the Philippines (ranked 133rd, down six from 2017), President Rodrigo Duterte not only constantly insults reporters but has also warned them that they “are not exempted from assassination,” says RSF. “In India (down two ranks to 138th), hate speech targeting journalists is shared and amplified on social networks, often by troll armies in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pay. In each of these countries, at least four journalists were gunned down in cold blood in the space of a year.”
Though physical attacks on U.S. journalists are still rare, the murder of five Maryland journalists last June being a sad exception, press freedom in the U.S. has nonetheless experienced an almost monotonic decline since 2002 (see Figures 2 and 3; high WPFI scores indicate lower levels of press freedom). Only a two-year interlude immediately before and after the 2008 presidential election saw the U.S. score significantly improve.
In 2002, the WPFI score for the U.S. was 4.75 (Rank 17th). Today, the U.S. score is 23.73 (Rank 45th). RSF’s singling out of President Trump as a causal factor in the U.S.’s press freedom decline is misplaced given that the U.S. WPFI score has been relatively flat over the past four years (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: World Press Freedom Index Score for the U.S. (2002–2018)
Figure 3: U.S. Rank on the WPFI (2002–2018)
And RSF is not the only monitoring organization that has found press freedom to be in decline worldwide.
“Only 14 percent of the world’s population live in societies in which there is honest coverage of civic affairs, journalists can work without fear of repression or attack, and state interference is minimal,” according to Freedom House’s Leon Willems and Arch Puddington. “Far too often today, the media present a regime account of developments in which the opposition case is ignored, distorted, or trivialized. And even in more pluralistic environments, news coverage is frequently polarized between competing factions, with no attempt at fairness or accuracy.”
The most troubling aspect of Freedom House’s finding is that even countries within the 14 percent (such as the U.S.) are witnessing an alarming rise in highly-polarized, non-objective journalism. And, in the case of the U.S., journalism is one of the least respected professions, according to the Gallup Poll.
Why has press freedom declined?
The decline in press freedom, worldwide and within the U.S., has many causal antecedents, according to RSF. In explaining the worldwide decline in press freedom in 2014–2015, RSF concluded, “Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents.”
In the U.S. context, RSF’s hypotheses are plausible. Since 2002, the U.S. has engaged in two significant wars (Iraq, Afghanistan), both of which have produced mixed results (at best), has led or assisted military actions in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, has experienced a significant economic crisis (2008), and has seen the rise of two large domestic protest movements against an incumbent administration (Tea Party, #Resistance).
Declining media competition may be the biggest threat to journalism
RSF and other media researchers also cite media competition as a significant factor in explaining levels of press freedom. At one extreme is state-controlled media (China, North Korea) where there is no competition and press freedom is severely or completely curtailed. On the other end are pluralistic, democratic societies where media competition is not only present, but facilitated through government policy (Scandinavian countries, Germany New Zealand, Austria).
For the U.S., the media regulatory environment fundamentally changed in 1996 with the U.S. Telecommunications Act.
“There is no doubt the 1996 U. S. Telecommunications Act fueled increasing consolidation across the communication industries. Designed to eliminate barriers to competition, the 1996 Act greatly liberalized ownership limitations for broadcasting and cable companies, allowing companies to acquire more competitors,” according to media economics researchers Alan Albarran and Bozena Mierzejewska. “For example, in the radio industry alone, some 75 different companies operating independently in 1995 were consolidated into just three companies by 2000.”
In 1983, 90 percent of US media was controlled by 50 companies. Today, according to Fortune magazine, 90 percent of U.S. media is controlled by just six companies.
Figure 4: Media concentration in the U.S.
How can media consolidation be bad given that the average American has access to over 100 TV channels, not to mention the thousands of internet websites? Shouldn’t the profit-motive impel major corporations to increase the number of information and entertainment choices in order to capture as much of the audience as possible?
That is the argument The New York Time’s Jim Rutenberg made in 2002 as the media consolidation trend was hitting its stride: media mergers create more choice, not less, according to Rutenberg.
Unfortunately, the evidence is not clear at all on that contention. In fact, it appears the opposite is true. Instead of getting real choice, consumers are given the illusion of choice.
“As massive media conglomerates persevere in their quest to monopolize the industry, it is important to realize what this means for alternative viewpoints in media and the already overwhelming effort to hush voices these media giants consider outside the mainstream,” according to Rick Manning, President of Americans for Limited Government. “Differing ideas and perspectives are what make up the very fabric of this great nation, and if we’re not careful with putting too much power in the hands of too few, this could all disappear.”
And when Manning says “alternative viewpoints” he is not talking about the Traditionalist Worker Party getting its own cable TV network. He’s talking about news organizations such as Bloomberg getting squeezed out of the news and information marketplace. Manning is particularly critical of Comcast-NBCU (which owns MSNBC and CNBC).
“Since the Comcast-NBCU merger in 2011, they have proven time and time again that they are not beneath stifling competition or other viewpoints that may not line up with their own. In fact, not only are they not beneath it, there is ample evidence that points to Comcast repeatedly doing so,” contends Manning. “Take Bloomberg TV, for example. Comcast’s conditions stipulated that they place Bloomberg programming next to MSNBC and CNBC, or other competing news channels such as Fox or CNN, in the channel lineup — yet for three years Bloomberg was blocked from the news channel neighborhood and slotted in an unfavorable spot, which negatively affected their viewership.”
With respect to journalism, another potential information-biasing process occurs when large media companies control journalists’ access to audiences through the allocation of broadcast airtime or print space [Whatever happened to Dylan Ratigan and Ed Schultz on MSNBC?]. And instead of providing in-depth information and analysis, today’s news outlets, particularly the cable news networks, bludgeon Americans with lively but mostly content-sparse debate. Why? Because it is profitable. The rule for cable news is this: find your audience, reinforce what they already believe, and for God’s sake don’t make them uncomfortable. Disney, Fox, and Comcast would be delinquent in their duties to shareholders if they did otherwise.
Noam Chomsky, as he often does, offers the most damning critique of cable news: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”
Large media conglomerates have enormous power through a variety of effective tools to influence, modify, and censor information disseminated through the major media outlets. Only the U.S. Government wields greater power in that respect.
Here is a specific example of how The Disney Company recently attempted (and thankfully failed) to deny the Los Angeles Times access to advance screenings which are critical to the paper’s ability to do its job.
Access to credible sources is the lifeblood for any journalist. A journalist with sources is called an unemployed journalist.
So why would Disney deny the LA Times access to their advance screenings?
The annual Holiday Movie Sneaks section published by the Los Angeles Times typically includes features on movies from all major studios, reflecting the diversity of films Hollywood offers during the holidays, one of the busiest box-office periods of the year. This year, Walt Disney Co. studios declined to offer The Times advance screenings, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with Anaheim. The Times will continue to review and cover Disney movies and programs when they are available to the public.
So why was the LA Times excluded from advance screenings of Disney films during the 2017 Christmas season?
Apparently, the LA Times’ critical reporting on how The Disney Company‘strong-armed’ Anaheim’s local government was not well-received at Disney headquarters, prompting the company to blacklist the LA Times from interviews and advance screenings of Disney films in late 2017.
However, days after Disney banned the LA Times, other critics condemned the Disney action and compelled the company to lift its screening ban of the LA Times. Nonetheless, Disney made its point clear to entertainment journalists: Don’t cross the Mouse.
Since their late-2017 kerfuffle, Disney and the LA Times are cooperating again, but the recent approval of the Disney/Fox merger should raise an alarm for journalists. With every new Disney acquisition, its control over the information and entertainment landscape grows. With their acquisition of Fox’s entertainment properties, Disney will add the Avatar, The X-Men and Planet of the Apes franchises to its portfolio. And for every entertainment journalist working today, the Disney/Fox merger just makes the likelihood of their pissing off Disney (and losing access to critical industry sources) a little more likely.
Where media control is concentrated, press freedom suffers
What evidence exists showing the negative effects of media consolidation on press freedom? The amount of published research demonstrating this connection is small, but growing (some recent examples can be found: here, here, and here).
In his 2016 book, Who Owns the World’s Media?, Noam and his collaborative team provide a data-driven analysis of global media ownership trends and their drivers. Using 2009 data (or later), they calculate overall national concentration trends, the market share of individual companies in the overall national media sector, and the size and trends of transnational companies in overall global media.
Employing a variety of concentration measures — in particular, the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) and the Per Capita Number of Voicesfor firms with at least 1% market share (PCNV), both commonly used measures of market concentration — Noam computes media concentration scores for 30 countries where sufficient market share data are available.
The HHI (λ) is generally computed as follows:
Within each country, Noam computes an HHI score for each media sector and creates a total HHI score using a weighted average across media sectors.
The HHI is influenced by the relative size distribution of the media firms in each country and is not related to a country’s absolute market size. Whereas, the Per Capita Number of Voices (PCNV) is heavily influenced by a country’s population size. Hence, the U.S., China, India, Russia, and Brazil have very low PCNV scores (high media concentration). Also, for the graph below, RCF’s World Press Freedom Index was inverted (100 — WPFI) for ease of interpretation (i.e., high values of the inverted WPFI equals high levels of press freedom).
Figure 5 reveals a negative linear association between press freedom and media concentration (as measured by an additive index combining the HHI and PCNV scores computed by Noam).
While China is clearly an extreme outlier, pulling the relationship into a strong positive direction, its exclusion from the analysis does not change the significance of the relationship. The linear regression models shown in the Appendix — using these explanatory variables: HHI, PCNV, Media Concentration Index (HHI+PCNV) and an indicator variable for democracies — found all four variables to be significantly associated with press freedom. Overall, both linear models explained almost three-quarters of the variance in press freedom.
Figure 5: Relationship between Press Freedom & Media Concentration
Notice in Figure 5 the location of Egypt, India, Russia, Turkey, Mexico, and China. All five countries have experienced significant violence against journalists in the past decade, according to RCF, and are either ruled by autocratic regimes (China, Russia, Egypt) or are democracies under significant internal stress (Mexico, Turkey, India). Press freedom and autocracies are incompatible.
Even within the subset of democratic countries, there remains a significant positive relationship between press freedom and media concentration. In countries such as Switzerland, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands, where media pluralism is strong, their press freedoms are among the highest in the world. Though, Israel is an interesting outlier (low media concentration / relatively low press freedom).
Europe addresses media pluralism as the U.S. continues to approve mega-media mergers
Much of the recent research on media pluralism and market concentration relates to Europe, with the most comprehensive research conducted by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) at the European University Institute. CMPF, a European Union co-funded research center, publishes the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM) to assess the risks to media pluralism in a given country.
In its 2016 MPM report, the CMPF concluded: “Amongst the 20 indicators of media pluralism, concentration of media ownership, especially horizontal, represents one of the highest risks for media pluralism and one of the greatest barriers to diversity of information and viewpoints represented in media content.”
The European Union is actively monitoring media concentration, even using Russian election meddling in the U.S. and Europe as one of the justifications for addressing the issue. In March 2017, the EU’s High Level Expert Group (HLEG) for online disinformation concluded that one way to counter disinformation is through safeguarding the diversity of the European news media. In May 2017, the European Parliament adopted HLEG’s recommendation to create an annual mechanism to monitor media concentration in all EU Member States.
And what has the U.S. done for the past two decades with respect to media concentration?
Despite a significant number of major media mergers since the 1996 Telecommunications Act, most recently the Disney-Fox merger which still needs antitrust approval from Europe before it can be executed, the U.S. has not been silent on media pluralism and the dangers of media consolidation.
In 1945, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in AP v. United States, “[the First] Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society.” In its 8–0 ruling (Justice Robert Jackson did not participate in the ruling), the Court upheld media ownership regulations to ensure source diversity, arguing “freedom to publish is guaranteed by the Constitution, but freedom to combine to keep others from publishing is not.”
Officially, the FCC’s policy objectives are competition, localism and diversity. Thus, before media mergers can occur they need approval from the FCC to ensure competition, localism and diversity are not threatened by a proposed merger.
In 2003, the FCC relaxed its ownership rules by eliminating cross-media ownership regulations in media markets with eight or more television stations, and allowed newspaper/television/radio cross-ownership in media markets served by four to eight television stations.
To assist the FCC in this new regulatory policy, the FCC developed a Diversity Index in 2002, which measured viewpoint diversity using a formula related to the Herfindahl-Hirschmann Index (HHI), a metric U.S. antitrust authorities have used to assess market competitiveness (i.e., concentration). The FCC Diversity Index (FDI) used consumers’ average time spent with each medium to weight its importance. It then assigned equal “market shares” to each outlet within each medium and combined those “market shares” for commonly owned outlets.
The FDI was controversial at its onset with many consumer advocacy groups arguing that it failed to capture the real degree of media concentration occurring in the U.S.
During testimony before the FCC in 2003, Dr. Mark Cooper, Director of Research for the Consumer Federation of America, offered this assessment of the FDI:
“The decision to allow newspaper-TV cross ownership in the overwhelming majority of local media markets in America is based on a new analytic tool, the Diversity Index, that was pulled from thin air at the last moment without affording any opportunity for public comment. The Diversity Index played the central role in establishing the markets where the FCC would allow TV-Newspaper mergers without any review. It produces results that are absurd on their face.”
“The Commission arrives at its erroneous decision to raise the national cap on network ownership to 45 percent and to triple the number of markets in which multiple stations can be owned by a single entity because it incorrectly rejected source diversity as a goal of Communications Act. The Commission ignored the mountain of evidence in the record that the ownership and control of programming in the television market is concentrated and extensive evidence of a lack of source diversity across broadcast and non-broadcast, as well as national and local markets. Allowing dominant firms in the local and national markets to acquire direct control of more outlets will enable them to strengthen their grip on the programming market, which undermines diversity and localism.”
Understandably, PACs and lobbyists for the big media companies put their money behind Hillary Clinton in 2016 (about $50 million, not including internet-related PACs or individual contributions…and that does not include donations to the Clinton Foundation from media-related sources). But, as we’ve seen so far in the Trump administration, the media mergers have continued unabated and, if anything, Trump’s presence in the White House has lifted profits for all of the major media companies.
Why does this all matter?
The news media plays a critical role in informing the public about our democracy and, as we saw in the 2016 election, the mere possibility that malevolent forces might have manipulated information in that election is unsettling. Add in social media and other new media platforms and the potential for real mischief is substantial.
But it isn’t just foreign actors like Russia that we need to guard against. We need to look closely at the domestic forces that can censor and manipulate what information Americans receive.
“How can we have a real debate about media issues, when we depend on that very media to provide a platform for this debate?” asks Boston journalist Michael Corcoran. “It is no surprise, for instance, that the media largely ignored the impact of Citizens United after the Supreme Court decision helped media companies generate record profits due to a new mass of political ads.”
“Democracy suffers when almost all media in the nation is owned by massive conglomerates. In this reality, no issue the left cares about — the environment, criminal legal reform or health care — will get a fair shake in the national debate,” laments Corcoran.
Of course, it is not just the progressive left that suffers under the American media oligarchy — any viewpoint or perspective substantially deviant from the interests of the media oligarchs suffers. The agenda-driven journalism that defines most of what we watch and read today, effectively discharged from the strict requirements of objectivity and backed by the enormous resources of the major media companies, is becoming ever harder to counteract.
Conversely, the major media companies — along with the social media giants — are increasingly equipped to suffocate news and information that threatens their corporate interests.
If Comcast, News Corp., Viacom, Disney, CBS, and Time Warner collectively or informally decide a U.S.-backed invasion of Iran will help keep their corporate revenues growing, what independent news outlet or journalist is going to have the coverage and market share to challenge them?
Democracy Now, The Intercept, and The Empire Files are not enough to defend against the palpable threat the major media companies pose to American journalism and, by necessary extension, the American democracy.
APPENDIX: LINEAR REGRESSION MODELS
Dependent Variable: Press Freedom as measured by WPFI
By Kent R. Kroeger (September 21, 2018; Source: NuQum.com)
President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh instead of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the U.S. Supreme Court will go down as one of the biggest strategic mistakes of the Trump presidency (…there will be so many to choose from, but his antagonizing China thereby forcing China and Russia into a stronger military alliance will probably be his biggest error).
By failing to understand the legitimate grievances addressed by the #MeToo movement, Trump missed the perfect opportunity to offer a definitive response to the #MeToo movement’s excesses through the nomination of a strong, charismatic Republican woman to the Supreme Court. For a party possessing few nationally prominent women capable of attracting Trump’s vote base— UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Iowa Senator Joni Ernst are the only two names that come to my mind —how could Trump’s White House advisers not understand the importance of this Supreme Court nomination decision.
Instead, in an unforced error, Trump nominated an establishment Republican to the Supreme Court, a Bush family friend nonetheless, and the Trump administration will not have another chance to nominate a conservative jurist once the 2018 midterms put the Democrats back in control of the U.S. Senate.
But give Trump credit, his cluelessness keeps his optimism strong.
“Brett Kavanaugh — and I’m not saying anything about anybody else — but I want to tell you that Brett Kavanaugh is one of the finest human beings you will ever have the privilege of knowing or meeting,” President Donald Trump said at a Las Vegas rally on Thursday. “A great intellect, a great gentleman, an impeccable reputation, went to Yale Law School, top student, so we have to let it play out, but I want to tell you, he is a fine, fine person.”
In his uncharacteristically terse and measured statement about his embattled Supreme Court nominee, Trump exposed his deep bias that may have sabotaged his pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
What does ‘(He) went to Yale Law School, top student’ have to do with the sexual assault accusation recently hurled at Kavanaugh by someone he knew in high school?
Yale’s top law students are capable of sexual assault too. Education and talent offer no information on whether or not someone is capable of committing a sexual assault crime.
When Trump speaks, he reveals himself. And by focusing on Kavanaugh’s resume, Trump revealed how disconnected he is from the controversy that will likely end this Supreme Court nominee’s candidacy and kill any chance Trump places another conservative jurist on the Court before the end of his first presidential term.
It is not surprising Trump relies mostly on alma mater and superficial factors when he makes major personnel decisions. Trump, like most senior personnel managers in the private and public sector, is a flawed judge of character and talent.
Nonetheless, Trump has advisers who collectively should have known better than offering Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court appointment given the superior candidates available at the time.
Most frustrating for social conservatives is that the ideal Supreme Court nominee under the current #MeToo zeitgeist was available. Judge Barrett, 46, a former Notre Dame professor and currently a U.S. Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, was on Trump’s final four list of Supreme Court nominees to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
A staunch constitutional originalist in the vein of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Judge Barrett was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the 7th Circuit after a contentious grilling from Democratic Senators Al Frankenand Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
When Senator Feinstein’s said to Barrett during the confirmation hearing last year that “the dogma lives loudly within you,” she signaled to the pro-choice Left that Barrett cannot be “trusted” to defend Roe v. Wade. Senator Feinstein’s ‘dogma’ obloquy was reminiscent of the religious bigotry faced by New York Governor Al Smith and President John F. Kennedy, both Catholics, when they ran for office. Up until last week’s 11th-hour stunt to derail the Kavanaugh nomination, Feinstein’s unsubtle smear of Judge Barrett’s faith was the low water mark in her Senate career.
Knowing how Judge Barrett triggers the worst in Senate Democrats, was there a better nominee for the Supreme Court for the #MeToo era? No, according to conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who said she was preferable, especially to Kavanaugh, as she is “more solid in terms of what originalists are hoping for.” Kavanaugh, Shapiro argued, was the “D.C. insider pick” and was being pushed hard by former members of the Bush administration. To ideological conservatives such as Shapiro, George W. Bush’s endorsement was a red flag.
Kavanaugh is not a legal scholar on par with Antonin Scalia or Neil Gorsuch. He is, to be blunt, a political animal who thrived within the George W. Bush administration’s neoconservative project. He’s a entitled hack — pretty much what one should expect from a Georgetown Prep School grad.
More distressing to ideological conservatives however was Kavanaugh’s 2011 D.C. Circuit ruling that some legal experts say established the legal roadmap to save Obamacare. That ruling and his connection to the George W. Bush administration offer evidence Kavanaugh would be another Justice John Roberts — which is why social conservatives may not be that upset when Kavanaugh is ultimately borked by the Senate.
In contrast, Barrett would be the first female originalist on the Supreme Court, cut from the same legal cloth as Justices Scalia and Alito.
One rumor spread on social media that Barrett was uncomfortable around Trump. Another rumor said Trump thought her voice was ‘too high’ and ‘mousy’ and would not resonate well in a Senate confirmation hearing.
More substantively, White House insiders said the president feared Barrett would face a more divisive confirmation hearing than Kavanaugh due to her devout Catholic beliefs, particularly her strident view on abortion and her membership in a prayer group called the “People of Praise,” a charismatic “covenant community” first formed during the height of the 1960s social revolution.
While Trump’s own statements on abortion rights oscillates between incoherent to just to the right of Opus Dei, he assumed Barrett’s well-documented opposition to Roe v. Wade would turn generally pro-choice Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski against her Senate confirmation.
But, apparently, what also set Trump against Barrett was her non-Ivy League pedigree. Barrett is an alumnus of Rhodes College and Notre Dame Law School, but Trump is said to believe the Supreme Court should be the domain of Ivy League-trained jurists.
Is it inconsistent for a self-proclaimed anti-political-establishment president to still believe an Ivy League degree represents a basic qualification for the Supreme Court? Or for any other high-ranking government appointment for that matter? Not if you are Donald Trump.
Showing little depth of knowledge on just about every major legal and public policy subject he’s faced as president, it should not surprise anyone that Trump has preferred to bring in Ivy Leaguers for his administration, often with disappointing and sometimes disastrous results (Rob Porter, Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, Steve Mnuchin, Jared Kushner, and Ben Carson).
It must be frustrating to pro-life Americans that Trump’s incurable elitism and inability to understand the #MeToo movement that may well save Roe v. Wade from being overturned by the Supreme Court.
By Kent R. Kroeger (September 20, 2018; Source: NuQum.com)
Thanks Michael Moore.
It is not like Democrats don’t know how divided their party is and how increasingly intractable this split has become. Nonetheless, Moore had to make a movie about it under the guise of warning us how dangerous Donald Trump is to the American democracy.
Moore’s newest documentary Fahrenheit 11/9 takespredictable swipes at Donald Trump — he’s a serial philanderer, a liar, a racist, a lousy businessman, and probably a Russian stooge — all of which we can hear on CNN and MSNBC on any given night.
What is truly shocking about Moore’s newest film is that he has not forgiven the establishment wing of the Democratic Party (‘the corporatist wing’ as many progressives call it) for their culpability in getting Trump elected. The Russians get off easy in comparison.
Just as Moore warned before the 2016 election through his one-man show “October Surprise,” Fahrenheit 11/9 diagrams the fundamental reason why Donald Trump was (and is) attractive to Middle America —particularly people in the Brexit states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania).
Before you have a chance to dig into your popcorn, Fahrenheit 11/9 describes Bill Clinton as a lying cad (which he is), Hillary Clinton as a warmonger and tool of Wall Street and Big Pharma interests (which she is), and laments that Barack Obama’s presidency was more style than substance (which it was).
Moore’s attack on Obama was particularly pointed as he castigated him for failing to do enough during the Flint, Michigan water crisis. Flint, of course, is Moore’ hometown and its contaminated water occurred during the Obama administration, though it was a Republican governor’s effort to cut local government costs that precipitated the crisis.
In Moore’s opinion, the Clintons, Obama and the current leadership of the Democratic Party, are defenders of the status quo, occasionally offering tepid support for progressive ideas such as universal health care and consumer debt relief, only to abandon them or water them down once in power.
Why did Trump win according to Moore?
“Because (Trump) said (correctly) that the Clintons’ support of NAFTA helped to destroy the industrial states of the Upper Midwest,” Moore wrote in a letter posted on his website a few months before the 2016 election. “When Trump stood in the shadow of a Ford Motor factory during the Michigan primary, he threatened the corporation that if they did indeed go ahead with their planned closure of that factory and move it to Mexico, he would slap a 35% tariff on any Mexican-built cars shipped back to the United States. It was sweet, sweet music to the ears of the working class of Michigan, and when he tossed in his threat to Apple that he would force them to stop making their iPhones in China and build them here in America, well, hearts swooned and Trump walked away with a big victory.”
Moore, without apology, is a New Deal Democrat patterned after the party’s mandate under FDR as a workers rights party, which remained the party’s banner through Walter Mondale’s 1984 run for president.
Today we call such Democrats “progressives,” who are effectively marginalized by the centrist neoliberals (led by Bill Clinton in 1992) that now control the party. If the Democratic primary votes in 2016 are an indication, progressives constitute roughly 40 percent of current Democrats.
And the issue that best demarcates the Democratic Party’s two factions is Medicare-for-All (MFA), the universal health care system, most often proposed by progressives, and is basically an expansion of the current Medicare system to cover all citizens.
The neoliberal-progressive split on MFA was on vivid display during the recent New York Governor’s race for the Democratic nomination, with the incumbent, Governor Andrew Cuomo, indicating MFA was an “exciting possibility” for New York, while his opponent, Cynthia Nixon, a progressive, accused Cuomo of allowing the New York Health Act, which would have implemented a single-payer system in New York, to die in the New York State Senate.
Moore even weighed in on that race by endorsing Cynthia Nixon in a tweet:
That race, won by Cuomo by a large margin, was bitter and ugly, though many New York progressives, such as their brightest star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have ended up endorsing Cuomo in the general election.
And what do progressives get in return when they endorse “pragmatic” Democrats like Governor Cuomo?
The one finger salute, apparently.
When asked by a reporter about Ocasio-Cortez’ upset win in a congressional primary in Queens this summer, Cuomo said it was merely “a fluke” and the result of low voter turnout. In Cuomo’s estimation, the progressive wave is “not even a ripple.”
Those are the words of a Democrat comfortable alienating 40 percent of his base, knowing he’ll get their general election vote regardless of how he belittles their movement and ideas.
Moore keeps telling progressives, “Democrats will never succeed by continuing to elect the same old party hacks.” That in fact is the real message underscoring Fahrenheit 11/9. All the negative stuff in the movie about Donald Trump seems included for entertainment purposes only.
Born in 1964, my lifetime has witnessed three transcendent U.S. foreign policy achievements:
(1) Richard Nixon visiting China in 1972,
(2) Jimmy Carter facilitating a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1978,
(3) and Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush presiding over the end of the Cold War and eventually the Soviet Union without doing a gratuitous endzone victory dance.
Those three master achievements still largely define the U.S. relationship with those countries and regions today. And what do these achievements have in common? They all deescalated the chance of a war, though in the case of Nixon’s China visit the intention was more to contain the Soviet Union’s influence than to bring about Sino-American peace.
Nonetheless, Nixon’s China overture may yet have the most lasting impact of all. Today, even with tensions in the South China Sea simmering and the prospects of a trade war looming, China is fully integrated into the world’s market economy and will, in our lifetimes, become the globe’s largest economy. But, more importantly, while China is a major competitor to the U.S. and arguably still engages in unfair trading practices (though many U.S. business leaders dispute this), the long-term forecast remains positive for Sino-American economic cooperation.
As for Israel, Egypt and the Greater Middle East, the region remains a minefield of religious and ethnic prejudices with the constant potential to devolve into an open conflict. Yet, the Camp David peace accords still stand in full force today, unbroken and resolute. And even as most Arab countries don’t officially recognize Israel, the reality is shifting.
“Israel has become a key intermediary in the shipment of goods between Arab and other Muslim-majority countries, primarily because of the unrest in Syria,” according to journalist Joe Charlaff, who covers Israeli business and technology for The Media Line news service. “Israel has been serving as a continental bridge for Turkish-Jordanian trade, in particular, as well as for freight making its way to Turkey from other nations.”
And, finally, the end of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, occurring on George H. W. Bush’s watch but initiated towards the end of Ronald Reagan’s administration, marks one of history’s most unique moments when two bitter and highly armed adversaries ended their hostilities without resorting to a large-scale, direct military conflict.
Three extraordinary foreign policy achievements within a 20-year period.
And President Donald Trump has put all three in jeopardy during the first two years of his presidency.
Failure defines U.S. foreign policy since 1993.
From Bill Clinton to the present, American foreign policy has been ineffective, at best, and dangerously incompetent, at worst.
Clinton’s administration competently shepherded the downsizing of the U.S. military in the wake of the Soviet Union’s dismemberment, but failed to call attention to the Rwandan genocide when it could, and grossly misunderstood the source and significance of radical Islamic extremism’s rise.
George W. Bush, in contrast, was an unmitigated foreign policy disaster on every conceivable level that cannot be adequately dissected here. Suffice it to say, today, we still suffer the consequences of the actions of W. and his neocon compatriots.
The next eight years under Barack Obama did little to rollback W’s mistakes and, in fact, amplified them through his ill-advised expansion of America’s military footprint into Syria, Yemen and the northern half of the African continent. Moreover, the escalating use of drones to attack terrorists (including Americans) was another policy low point for the Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
It is no accident Russia initiated two unprovoked invasions late in the administration of both G. W. Bush (Ossetia 2008) and Obama (Crimea 2014). Both were weakened U.S. presidents unwilling to risk an escalation of hostilities with a relatively weak but aggressive Russian adversary.
Trump is making the same mistakes and some new ones
Any optimism inspired by Donald Trump’s campaign promise that he would ‘drain the swamp,’ is forced to accept that what Trump really meant was farming out American foreign policy to the capitals in Riyadh and Jerusalem, two American allies with decidedly parochial interests compared to the U.S.
The probability of a direct military conflict between Iran and the U.S. is increasing with the renewed imposition of economic sanctions against Iran by the U.S. and its allies. Australia’s state-owned television network (ABC) recently quoted senior sources within the Australian government as saying a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities as could occur as early this month (August).
“A war with Iran would define, consume and potentially destroy the Trump presidency, but exhilarate the neocon never-Trumpers who most despise the man,” writes Pat Buchanan, generally a Trump supporter and a vehement opponent of U.S.-led regime change wars. “If we start a war with Iran, on top of the five in which we are engaged still, then the party that offers to extricate us will be listened to, as Trump was listened to, when he promised to extricate us from the forever wars of the Middle East.”
Establishment Democrats and the Never Trump Republicans are noticeably silent on the growing prospects of a hot-war with Iran.
Even Trump’s greatest potential for a foreign policy triumph, the de-nuclearization talks with North Korea, looks increasingly like a diplomatic dud.
And, finally, we have the Russians. With some prominent Democrats even calling Russia’s meddling during the 2016 U.S. presidential election an act of war (it wasn’t), the chances of at least a mini-Cold War starting back up is a real possibility.
No U.S. foreign policy in the past twenty years however has been more unnecessary and ill-advised than the expansion of NATO to include former Soviet bloc countries, some of whom border Russia today. It started with the additions of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in 1999, the accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia in 2004, and, more recently, the adding of Albania and Croatia in 2009.
Why that would be provocative to Russia has never been fully appreciated by the U.S. and its NATO allies, but can reasonably be cited as an important causal factor behind not only Russia’s military annexation of Ossetia and Crimea, but also behind its meddling in recent European and U.S. elections.
Of the three foreign policy achievements cited at the beginning, only the peaceful rise of China remains largely intact. And though Trump’s ill-advised tariff penalties targeting some of China’s more egregious trade practices threatens to expand into a wider trade war, if Chinese leaders have one predictable trait, it is that they do not over-react to short-term crises.
As for the survival of the other two foreign policy achievements (End of the Cold War and the Camp David Accords), my confidence is shaken.
About the Author: Mr. Kroeger is a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son (You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com)
Donald Trump proudly touts 4.1 percent GDP growth in the last quarter, as he should. For advanced economies today, economic growth at that rate is not the norm and rarely sustained.
In Trump’s words, he’s released the American economy from the “shackles of Obama’s of government-worshiping approach” to policymaking where he increased environmental regulations through executive fiat, raised taxes and imposed even more regulations to fund Obamacare, and supported TARP and government spending increases in hopes of boosting an ailing economy coming out of the 2008 worldwide financial crisis.
There is some truth to Trump’s argument and Democrats would be well advised to recognize its merits. But what makes Trump’s booming economy significant is that he tinkers with it while possessing no structured, interconnected understanding of how the economy works. Trump’s policies are a jumbled mess only loosely linked to anything resembling economic theory.
Where establishment Republicans since Ronald Reagan have attracted voters by touting Adam Smith’s classical economics along with its more recent neoclassical synthesis that acknowledges the utility of Keynesian policies for near-term macroeconomic boosts, Trump just throws economic policies against the wall to see what sticks. Some of Trump’s policies are pure classical economics (fewer regulations) while others are right out of Keynes (increased defense spending). Supply-side Trump has stoked disposable income through short-term tax cuts, and boosted business confidence by cutting corporate tax rates. Trump is no ideologue and his economic policies reflect that fact. And Trump the mercantilist shows no fear in starting a potentially growth-killing trade war with not only our greatest adversary — China — but with our closest allies (Canada, European Union).
Trump’s intellectual malleability— which is a gentle way of describing it — is filled with internal contradictions that could undercut the economy in rapid fashion. The future debt growth arising from Trump’s tax cuts and massive defense budget increases is staggering. In April 2018, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced its projection for the annual federal budget deficit to exceed $1 trillion in 2020 (see Figure 1).
A $1 trillion deficit during an economic expansionary period!
Imagine what will happen to government spending if a deep recession similar to the financial crisis of 2008 were to occur in the next four years. The neoclassical synthesis school recognizes the need for Keynesian policies in recessionary periods, but when the country is already carrying an annual deficit near $1 trillion, the government’s options become more limited. Sure, we could run the deficit to $2 trillion if we had to, but at some point that approach turns the U.S. into Greece and the major U.S. Treasury debt holders (China, Japan, Ireland, Brazil and Britain) will contemplate putting their money elsewhere.
Yet, as I am a ‘Chicken Little deficit-hawk’ in the spirit of Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee, I readily admit predictions of economic doom if we fail to reduce our national debt never materialize.
In the report, Moody’s Investor Service summarized our nation’s current situation: “The stable credit profile of the United States (Aaa stable) is likely to face downward pressure in the long-term, due to meaningful fiscal deterioration amid increasing levels of national debt and a widening federal budget deficit. However, the US economy is very strong, wealthy, dynamic and well diversified, and its role in the global financial system is unmatched. These factors help compensate for the impending fiscal weakness.”
At least Moody’s acknowledges the impending fiscal weakness, which they say will be driven by our country’s rising entitlement costs, rising interest rates, and Trump’s tax cuts.
Still, many factors keep the U.S. from becoming Greece, according to Moody’s report, including our trade competitiveness, rich resource endowment, high income levels and relatively supportive demographic trends.
Yes, President Trump, you read that correctly: supportive demographic trends. There must be some Never Trumpers at Moody’s because their report emphasizes that one of this nation’s greatest advantages over other advanced, slow-growth economies is the significant influx of new immigrants that helps keep our nation’s population growing at a time when others are contemplating losing population over the next 20 years (Japan, Greece, Poland).
Finally, most important to the U.S.’s ability to handle its growing national debt, according to Moody’s report, is the role of the U.S. dollar in global financial markets and the depth and liquidity of the U.S. treasury market. “They insulate the U.S. from external shocks and shifts in financing conditions in a way not seen with other sovereigns,” says the Moody’s report.
While Moody’s shuts up people like myself, I still believe in this economic maxim: All else equal, economies perform better when guided by free markets and lower levels of government intrusion.
What reinforces my belief in small government are charts like the following that I created using data from The Heritage Foundation’s 2018 Index of Economic Freedom report.
Freedom and limited government are strongly associated with economic growth
For over 20 years now, The Heritage Foundation, a free market, conservative-leaning think tank, has been quantifying the levels of economic freedom across the globe.
“Economic freedom is a critical element of human well-being and a vital linchpin in sustaining a free civil society. As the Index of Economic Freedom catalogues, the best path to prosperity is the path of freedom: letting individuals decide for themselves how best to achieve their dreams and aspirations and those of their families,” write Terry Miller, Anthony B. Kim and James M. Roberts in the introduction to The Heritage Foundation’s 2018 Index of Economic Freedom report.
The 2018 Index of Economic Freedom (IEF) grades and ranks countries on 12 measures of economic freedom that evaluate the rule of law, government size, regulatory efficiency, and the openness of markets. A complete description of the 2018 IEF methodology can be found here.
My innovation to the 2018 IEF data set was to reduce the 12 measures of economic freedom down to four (Business Freedom, Gov’t Integrity, Freedom from Gov’t, and Fiscal Integrity) through a principle components analysis which is available upon request.
Of particular interest are the Business Freedom and Freedom from Government factors as they were strongly associated with 5-year GDP growth across all of the models tested.
The Business Freedomfactor measures a country’s regulatory and infrastructure conditions that impact the ease of starting, operating, and closing a business.
The Freedom from Government factor has two major components. The first measures a country’s tax burden in terms of marginal tax rates on both personal and corporate income and the overall level of taxation (including direct and indirect taxes imposed by all levels of government) as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). The second component reflects the burden imposed by government expenditures, which includes consumption by the state and all transfer payments related to various entitlement programs.
I also added these variables to the data set:
(1) Freedom House’s 1997 and 2017 Index of Political Rights to test the association of political freedoms and institutions with economic growth. This variable is coded on a 1 to 7 scale where 1 equals the highest level of political rights and 7 equals the lowest level of political rights.
(2) The economic cost of violence as a percent of GDP (as measured by the Institute for Economics and Peace).to control for the effects of war and domestic violence on a nation’s GDP growth.
Finally, my dependent measure was the 5-year GDP growth for each country from 2013 to 2017 (Source: World Bank) and the linear model generated using SPSS software is in the Appendix.
As I am using a cross-sectional model to investigate the relationship between GDP growth and economic freedom, I am not able to draw strong conclusions about the direction of the causal relationships or how those dynamics change over time and in different economic contexts. It should also be noted that the 2018 IEF dataset occurs within a general period of economic expansion across the globe.
Nonetheless, while I do not pretend that the following results prove anything, they give us a snapshot at one point in time about the economic relationships between freedom and GDP growth.
Overall, the linear model explained about 40 percent of the variation in 5-year GDP growth (R-squared = 0.398) with the parameter t-tests for the following independent variables achieving significance at the p<.05 level (95% confidence level):
⚫ Business Freedom factor (standardized beta = 0.233): More business freedom associates with higher GDP growth
⚫ Freedom from Government factor (standardized beta = 0.226): Greater freedom from the government’s intrusion in the economyassociates with higher GDP growth
⚫ An indicator variable for Asian Pacific countries (standardized beta = 0.258): Being an Asian Pacific country (the “Asian Tigers”) associateswith higher GDP growth
⚫ Economic cost of violence as a percent of GDP (standardized beta = -0.216): Violence due to wars associates with lower GDP growth
⚫ Natural log of GDP per capita (standardized beta = -0.408): High-income countries associates with lower GDP growth
⚫ Index of Political Rights in 2017 as measured by Freedom House (standardized beta = 0.228): Lower levels ofpolitical freedom associates with higher GDP growth (This finding may sound counter-intuitive but it is consistent with the political science literature which has found the relationship between the political rights and GDP growth is curvilinear such that countries in the middle of the political rights scale tend to have the highest growth rates. In future analyses of these data I will explicitly model the relationship as curvilinear as opposed to the linear specification reported here)
⚫ Change in Index of Political Rights from 1997 to 2017 as measured by Freedom House (standardized beta = -0.193): Countries gaining in political freedom between 1997 and 2017 associates with higher GDP growth
The first graph (Figure 2) shows the relationship between the Freedom from Government factor and the predicted 5-year GDP growth. Interesting to note in the graph is how low-income countries tend to have higher predicted GDP growth. Also interesting is that the linear relationship between the Freedom from Government factor and predicted GDP growth is still strong when filtering down to only high-income countries (the green dots). It is apparent that the “Asian Tiger” countries (South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, etc.) predominate among the high-income countries with strong predicted GDP growth. No surprise there.
The second graph (Figure 3) shows the relationship between the change in the Index of Political Freedom (1997 to 2017) and the predicted 5-year GDP growth. Interesting to note in this graph are the countries where political freedoms declined over the 20-year period (Russia, Serbia, Venezuela, Hungary, etc.) also have lower predicted GDP growth. Conversely, countries where political freedoms increased (as many in Africa did), predicted GDP growth was higher (Indonesia, Tunisia, Nigeria, Gambia, Niger, Sierra Leone, etc.).
The takeaway is that economic and political freedom really does matter. The ability to start and operate a business without excessive government intervention aids in a country’s economic development. The more government takes from the economy (taxes) and competes for resources (gov’t spending), the lower the growth prospects for a country.
That sounds like a message right out of the Ronald Reagan playbook.
This is not an argument against all government spending. Governments are vital when ‘tragedy of the commons’ and other sub-optimal results occur in free market environments. And in the provision of many vital services and functions — such as health care, education, and national security — governments are often more efficient and economically rational than the private sector.
It is economically plausible that a Medicare-for-All health care system in the U.S., such as the one as proposed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, would eat fewer financial resources than the current ‘mostly private’ system while also providing better outcomes. A recent study by the Mercatus Center (George Mason University) provides tentative evidence of this possibility, though critics of a Medicare-for-All system are quick to point out that many strong assumptions in the Mercatus study would need to be realized for Medicare-for-All to save the nation money.
Therefore, a general belief in the power of free markets to unleash a nation’s economic potential should not be translated to mean every social function has to be met by an unfettered private sector. Our expensive and ineffective U.S. health care system is living proof that free enterprise has its limits.
Trump has jettisoned the GOP’s ‘small government’ narrative
For my entire adult life, the Republicans have carried the following message to the voters at every level of elected office: Less government is better government; lower taxes, fewer regulations will unleash the power of free markets.
The Republicans’ franchising of this simple message over the past 40 years may well account for their current dominance at all levels of government.
In describing the Republican’s rise to political dominance, starting with Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election victory, Brown University political scientist James Morone wrote:
“The great conservative narrative of American decline-a formidable Puritan jeremiad with all the trimmings-routed the Democrats, who promised only more efficient government and more expansive benefits. Conservatives smeared national health insurance as another big-government, something-for-nothing program aimed at the wrong people-the poor, the failed, and the lazy. Republicans soon converted the backlash into a “Contract with America” and seized control of government by winning the House, the Senate, both legislative chambers in eleven new states, and-over three years-fifteen new governors’ offices. Conservatives have been tightening their grip on power ever since.”
In Morone’s view, the Republican’s have ridden their big government is the enemy trope into power and maintained their political dominance at all levels of government because Democrats and progressives have never countered with equally coherent, grand vision. Democrats and progressives are good at offering policies and solutions to address problems, but that strategy, according to Morone, only reinforces the germaneness of the Republican’s pre-Trump narrative.
It’s not like Democrats haven’t possessed opportunities to turn the GOP’s own ‘anti-government’ sentiments against them given, since World War II, the GOP while in control of the executive branch has never decreased the size of government.
Ironically, it took a Democrat to translate the GOP’s ideas into reality. In Bill Clinton’s last year in office, the federal payroll, when measured relative size to the total U.S population, had almost 25 percent fewer civilian employeeswhen compared to 1992. Similarly, direct federal expenditures under Clinton held constant during his presidency, going from $5,694 per American in 1992 to $5,647 per American in 1999 (when measured in constant dollars). When measured as a percent of gross domestic product, federal net outlays under Clinton fell from 21 percent to 17 percent (see Figure 4).
Clinton was so confident in his belief that his “New Democrats” had discovered the secret sauce in striking a balance between the necessary size of government and robust economic growth, he declared in his 1996 State of the Union address that “the era of big government is over, but we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves.”
As I often quote my father as saying about Bill Clinton, ‘He was the greatest Republican president we’ve ever had.” He wasn’t saying it as a compliment, however; but I now believe, as a libertarian with progressive tendencies (or am I a progressive with libertarian tendencies?), the post-Clinton presidencies squandered an opportunity to put the federal government on a sound fiscal path that could have lasted through the 21st century.
Democrats and Republicans have colluded to make the American economy a permanent war economy
If Clinton’s fiscal model had been pursued through today —smaller government, higher taxes on the wealthy, targeted tax cuts, broad deregulation, and limited military commitments — this country would be in a better financial position to consider substantive policy ideas to address global warming, terrorism, student debt, slow wage growth, and a more rational health care system.
Instead, our country today is too busy funding the occupations of Afghanistan and one-third of Syria, supporting a regime change war in Yemen, threatening new regime wars in Iran and North Korea, and maintaining military bases and special operations forces in over 150 countries, to seriously consider implementing progressive policies such as an economically rational health care system comparable to what EVERY advanced economy in the world already enjoys.
In the shadow of the Trump administration, it is very sheikh in intellectual circles to reevaluate George W. Bush’s legacy as not being as bad as we once thought. The rehabilitation of W. is what happens when corporate Democrats join forces with neocons like Bill Kristol and David Frum in a common struggle to remove Donald the Barbarian from power.
In point of fact, the cost of George W. Bush’s incompetence continues to grow by the day. The hope that Barack Obama would end Bush’s interventionism never materialized — instead, he maintained most of the U.S.’s military commitments abroad and, often at the urging of his Secretaries of State, found new ones (Libya, Syria, Yemen, and half of the African continent).
The ink and airtime spent in the last two years by the news media over Russia’s crude meddling in the 2016 election is a convenient distraction so establishment Democrats and Republicans won’t be held accountable for their failed foreign policy policies and unsustainable military interventions over the nearly past 20 years. The radical Islamic terrorism whose seeds were planted by the First Gulf War in 1991 but isolated geographically in Middle East, now finds sanctuary from Southeast Asia to Northern Africa and has planted roots in many of Europe’s largest urban centers.
Our Middle East regime change wars create more problems than they solve through the killing and dislocating of millions of civilian noncombatants, destabilizing social institutions, inflaming centuries-old conflicts, and increasing the regional influence of America’s competitors like Russia and Iran.
Why are newspapers and TV news among the least trusted institutions in America? Because they fail to address the issues that matter most to people. Russia doesn’t keep 30 million Americans without health insurance. Russia doesn’t saddle college students with debt that will take some most of their adult life to pay off. Russia isn’t warming the planet to where forest fires, droughts and urban flooding are no longer newsworthy but the norm (oh wait, Russia is actually part of that problem…but no more culpable than we are).
The media-fanned Russia scare looming over America today has set this country back on a whole host of important issues. Two years have been lost and there is no reason to believe we won’t lose the next two as well.
As long as the mainstream media continues to profit from fulminating at every word out of Donald Trump’s mouth and trying to convince Americans that Russia and Trump are existential threats to our democracy (they aren’t), as a nation, we are avoiding the real conversations that need to be going on regarding our counterproductive military entanglements and the more pressing domestic issues such as an over-priced health care system, student debt, and stagnant incomes for half of the country.
But nothing demonstrates the feckless and banal content of today’s news media than their uncritical coverage of American’s pursuit of regime change wars across the globe.
The crass cynicism of the corporate media and its unapologetic shilling for the nation’s military-industrial interests is perfectly captured in this discussion between CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) over America’s continued military support to Saudi Arabia in its proxy with Iran in Yemen’s civil war.
Wolf, you muttonhead. You are not supposed to say out loud, ‘We can’t end our substantial role in this tragic war in Yemen because it will hurt American jobs.’
Wolf, sometimes you are a total imbecile.
That some Americans disproportionately profit from the American war machine is not new but it is always news.
Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, one of two Marines to receive Congressional Medals of Honor for two separate acts of heroism, said it first in 1935 and it still applies today: “A few profit — and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war…”
Six companies control 90% of U.S. media
And who is front and center supporting (and profiting) from the military-industrial complex? Comcast. AT&T. Disney. 21st Century Fox. Viacom. CBS.
Just six companies, for all practical purposes, control the media you consume. Thirty years ago it would have been 50 companies controlling 90 percent of the U.S. media.
This is a problem with, not a virtue of free market capitalism.
Animal species depend and thrive on genetic diversity. It helps them avoid going down some potentially unfortunate genetic cul-de-sacs.
For example, when too much inbreeding occurs, this is what you get:
Charles II (1661–1700) was the son of Philip IV of Spain and his second wife, Mariana of Austria. Quite unfortunately, Philip and Mariana were uncle and niece to each other, making Charles, their son, also their great-nephew and first-cousin respectively. Hence, the Habsburg jaw.
As a child, Charles did not talk until the age of four or walk until eight and was considered, using the terminology of the day, an total imbecile. He nonetheless rose to throne in 1665 and reigned for five torturous years.
In Charles II of Spain, I can’t think of a better analogy to represent today’s American news media — inbred, lame, unteachable, yet still dangerous.
The U.S. democracy is under threat, but it is not from the Trumps or the Russians. And while both can do harm to this country, their threat pales in comparison to a national news media that is hopelessly biased, incurious, frequently inaccurate, impertinent and generally not trusted by most Americans.
About the Author: Mr. Kroeger is a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son (You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com)
APPENDIX: Linear Model Predicting 5-year GDP growth rates for 154 countries (2013–2017)
Nathanial Rich’s epic New York Times Magazine essay on the world’s missed opportunity to adequately address climate change in the 1980s is a masterwork of advocacy journalism. Rich’s readable storytelling through a labyrinthine of mathematical models, greenhouse gases, satellites, ice cores, congressional hearings, oil company executives and powerful K-Street lobbyists is a must-read for every politician, environmental lawyer, climate scientist, political scientist, and concerned citizen.
Rich believes humankind could have avoided the global warming mess it is in now if it had seized the opportunity in the 1980s, when conditions were at their apex for the large industrial countries to sign a binding agreement that would put them on the path to zero greenhouse gas emissions.
“Is it a comfort or a curse, the knowledge that we could have avoided all this?” he writes in the article’s prologue. “Because in the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis. The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions.”
For Rich, human nature is to blame for our failure to address global warming in the 1980s. Our tendency to focus on our short-term interests to the detriment of the long-term is the critical flaw keeping us from meaningful collective action.
The Intercept’s Naomi Klein offers a pointed critique of Rich’s thesis: “One could scarcely imagine a more inopportune moment in human evolution for our species to come face to face with the hard truth that the conveniences of modern consumer capitalism were steadily eroding the habitability of the planet. Why? Because the late ’80s was the absolute zenith of the neoliberal crusade, a moment of peak ideological ascendancy for the economic and social project that deliberately set out to vilify collective action in the name of liberating “free markets” in every aspect of life.”
Klein’s uses Rich’s reductionist approach, only she points the finger at the economic system — which is equally unsatisfying if the goal is to find a way to combat global warming. I have a hard time taking seriously a plan whose first step is: Replace capitalism.
Along with Klein, others have also offered tough judgments on Rich’s article. I won’t rehash all of the criticisms here, but I highly recommend Joe Romm’s article for ThinkProgress.org where he cites climate scientists who say Rich over-idealized the history in those early years of the global warming debate. (You can find Romm’s article here).
Instead, my focus here is on the four common mistakes we all make in our discourse regarding climate change. Mistakes that I believe hold us back from making more rapid progress on the issue.
Those mistakes are: (1) A belief that elites producing abrupt, tectonic policy shifts will solve global warming; when, in fact, the most substantive progress is occurring incrementally at more mundane levels, (2) a failure to acknowledge the genuine and profound progress the world is making on clean energy, (3) an emphasis on partisan politics which poisons the public discourse and stunts our progress on global warming, (4) and failing to understand the practical implications of the monetary costs associated with mitigating and adapting to global warming.
We need fewer show ponies and more work horses
I like former Vice President Al Gore. He would have made a good president (certainly better than the guy who beat him). However, his second documentary, “An Inconvenient Sequel,” released last year, underscores the weaknesses in our public discourse on climate change, particularly with respect to the importance of politicians, diplomats, and other elites.
It was sad watching Gore scurrying around the 2015 Paris Climate Conference trying to “save the deal” by keeping India committed to the final agreement. After some intense negotiations with unknown people and phone calls to some other unknown people (who somehow possessed the power to make India change its mind on some aspect of the Paris agreement), the deal was saved…roll credits.
Apparently, the Indian government didn’t appreciate being portrayed as the ‘bad guy’ prepared to scuttle the 2015 Paris Agreement if they didn’t get some last minute concessions. In a review of the documentary by The Guardian, the reviewer writes: “While the movie never quite gets into the specifics of the (Paris) agreement, it positions India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, as a villain whose economic impulses stand in direct threat to the progress the summit represents…This film suggests that Gore’s back channel networking saves the day, and maybe the world.”
Piyush Goyal, the Indian minister of state for coal, mines, power and new and renewable energy, cut to he chase during his speech at the 2015 Paris summit: “The base load in India is coal. It cannot be anything else as we don’t have gas and without a base load we can’t even do renewable energy. We are a developing nation. We are rapidly creating infrastructure, setting up manufacturing, creating jobs for our people, setting up homes, all of which the United States and the European nations did in the last 150 years on the back of low carbon base or coal-based energy.”
Gore is right on this point. It was important to get India and China as signatories to the final Paris Agreement, even if it meant the practical impact of would be minimal.
Which is the problem with the inordinate amount of media coverage (continuing to this day) dedicated to the 2015 Paris Agreement. Diplomats and politicians are not the change-agents needed to address climate change. Global warming is not that kind of policy problem. The progress, instead, is occurring right now in more incremental steps by more mundane social actors. The Paris Agreement was for show ponies, while the real work is being done by millions of microeconomic decisions transpiring every day, independent of (or despite) national or international policy efforts.
And why is this? Climate change is too complex of a problem for bureaucrats and politicians to fully understand, much less effectively and comprehensively address through discrete policy changes.
Even the climate scientists don’t understand the full dynamics behind climate change. It requires one of the world’s most powerful computers to handle the mathematics used to model the earth’s climate system. Operated by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, their current supercomputer (named Cheyenne) is capable of computing at 5.34 petaflops, carrying out 5.34 quadrillion calculations per second. That’s a lot of computing juice dedicated to just one problem.
If we want to understand how humanity will ultimately address climate change, we should reacquaint ourselves with the policy research work of Charles Lindblom. Had Nathaniel Rich done so, he might have written a different article.
Lindblom’s contribution to policy science started with his 1959 article, “The Science of ‘Muddling Through,’” where he distinguished between two methods for creating constructive public policies. The first approach he called the “Root Method” which followed a highly-structured methodology in which a total understanding of a social issue was achieved and then addressed appropriately by an equally rigorous process for testing and finding solutions.
Here is the “Root Method” as described by Lindblom:
According to Lindblom, the “Root Method” works fine with simple social problems (e.g., reducing traffic accidents a specific types of intersections), but is not practical for larger, more intricate problems. Instead, Lindblom’s research found that policymakers tend to use a more ad hoc methodology for the most complex social problems. He called this policymaking approach the “Branch Method” which he described as such:
This type of policymaking became known as incrementalism and still explains a large percentage of public policies, particularly at the national level (e.g., Obamacare).
Rising from Lindblom’s theoretical perspective is an understanding that the policymaking process requires going beyond national policy elites and looking more at local and state actors, both public and private. Lindblom and the incrementalist school seek out the work horses — those people in the smallest corners of America implementing small, but substantive policy decisions, not necessarily because of a federal mandate, but because they think its the right thing to do for their family and community. Individually, their contributions are too small to register, but in the aggregate their actions are doing the actual heavy lifting.
Sexy events like the Paris Conference garner the airtime and most lines of print, while few who notice when the Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines invests in windmills and solar cells in an effort for their religious community to be 100-percent renewable. One church’s specific contribution to the nation’s renewable energy reformation is minimal. Yet, when added to the thousands of other organizations, churches, schools and businesses doing something similar, it can change an entire country’s energy profile.
And it is…
A clean energy transformation is happening all across the U.S. right now — with or without the Paris Agreement. My 12-year-old is so well indoctrinated by his public school on the environment, global warming and renewable energy, he lectures me when I make recycling mistakes or buy the wrong light bulbs.
Again, one 12-year-old doesn’t change much. But hundreds of thousands of 12-year-olds undergoing a similar indoctrination will in ten to fifteen years be filling up the lower and middle management of American companies, and in another 10 years becoming the CEOs or COOs of those same companies. I can’t imagine an America without Exxon-Mobil or Shell Oil — I’m certain my son and his generation can.
The world is on a rapid trajectory towards near 100% clean energy
This may be the most heretical statement in this essay: Humanity in winning the war on global warming. The clean energy transformation is in its earliest stages and one must look hard to see the indicators and signals, but the evidence is everywhere that we are winning. And I don’t mean Donald Trump-like false assertions of winning. I mean real evidence that the adoption of clean energy is well underway across the globe (except maybe Russia where people are probably embracing the idea of a warmer planet).
Our clean energy progress was too slow for the those that tragically died recently in the California fires, or those in Puerto Rico still recovering from a hurricane that struck their island almost one year ago. Sadly, ending the use of fossil fuels will occur too late for far too many people who will die due to the higher-order effects of global warming (e.g., floods, droughts, fires, etc.). To paraphrase The Godfather II’s Hyman Roth, this is the world we’ve chosen. We don’t always make the right decisions fast enough, and some people will get hurt more than others, but we willsuccessfully mitigate and adapt to climate change.
If I could collect the proceeds, I would gladly bet anyone $1 million that the world in 2100 will have more people (approximately 11 billion according to United Nations demographers), living longer, safer and more prosperous lives, on average. Likewise, the year 2200, will exceed 2100 on those same measures. My evidence? Human history up to now. And see the forecasts of the World Health Organization and Brookings Institute forecasts that support this view.
But back to the issue at hand.
Optimism on clean energy’s growth is tempered by the reality of the global warming we’ve already experienced. The current warming of our planet (by human activities) is as plain as the sun at noon. The following chart forecasts current land and sea surface temperature anomalies (as compiled by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) up to the year 2100:
Figure 1. Global Land and Ocean Temperature Anomalies (Actual and Forecast)
The above forecast (which is mine, not NOAA’s) simply takes the current curvilinear trend and extends it forward on the assumption the world does not dramatically change its consumption of fossil fuels. On the current trajectory, the planet will pass 3°C above the pre-industrial average around 2100 and go 4°C above before 2150. This assumes we, as a planet, burn all of the cheap fossil fuel available to us.
If one focuses on the blue dots in Figure 1, the curvilinear trend is unmistakable. It is not a statistical slight of hand or an optical illusion caused by ‘natural variation’.The planet has been getting warmer since at least the 1950s and is doing so at an increasing rate. If we do nothing, our great-grandchildren and all kin thereafter will suffer the worst consequences of the global warming (assuming we haven’t permanently colonized a terra-formed Mars by then).
Now the good news.
As I detailed in a previous article — “The renewable energy revolution is progressing faster than we realize” — the world is generally on a path at current trends to reach near 100-percent clean energy electricity generation around 2050 (the U.S. comes in a few years after that). The blue line in Figure 2 below shows the S-curve for renewables (as a percent of total electricity generation). The world is only at the beginning of a new technology adoption S-curve for renewable energy, but if the initial year-to-year increases continue to grow at their current rate, by 2025, almost 20 percent of the world’s electricity generation will be from renewables and by 2040 it will pass the 50 percent mark.
Figure 2. World Forecast for Renewables Share of Total Electricity Generation
Adding to this optimism are recent scientific advances in energy storage and transport technologies which could significantly bend the renewable energy adoption curve upward even more. If the solar and wind’s intermittency problem is solved sooner rather than later, it is possible the U.S. could reach near-100-percent renewable electricity by 2040.
And while my previous article doesn’t address forecasts on the phasing out of gasoline-powered combustion engines for transportation, once the momentum starts (though it hasn’t yet) the transition should be swifter than for electricity generation since cars and trucks are smaller investments with much shorter lifespans than coal electricity plants. Nonetheless, it would be nice to see more worldwide sustained progress in eliminating dirty combustion engines.
The irony of Klein’s article on capitalism’s culpability in our delay in addressing global warming (a premise I agree with) is that it is free market capitalism and the profit motive that will ultimately drive the world to 100-percent clean energy by 2050.
Partisanship is holding back our ability to fight climate change
Nothing has harmed how the U.S. has addressed global warming more than partisan politics and nowhere greater is the current divide between Americans than on the issue of climate change.
In a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, the issue on which Democrats and Republicans differ most is climate change (see Figure 4). On climate change, 68 percent of Democrats and those that lean Democrat consider the issue a priority. Only 18 percent of Republicans and those that lean Republican consider climate change a priority.
Figure 4. The Partisan Divide on the Priorities of Selected Issues (2018)
The impact of this partisan divide harms climate change efforts in two ways:(1) It has hindered the use of two viable bridging solutions — natural gas and nuclear —that would have accelerated the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the U.S., and, (2) has made it difficult for the U.S. to sustain any climate change policy from one presidential administration to the next.
Partisanship distorts and shuts down constructive debate. And it is true for both sides of the political divide. Too many Republicans and independent conservatives continue to deny the most basic scientific fact — the earth is warming by approximately 0.15°C every 10 years and, if the climate models are reliable, that rate will increase over successive decadal periods. The Democrats, however, are not blameless in explaining Republican stubbornness as they have misused climate science as a political cudgel against the GOP, never resisting to exaggerate and misrepresent climate science when it is convenient.
Even climate scientists have a hard time laying off the hyperbole when it comes to climate change. Prominent CIA and Nixon administration geophysicist, Gordon MacDonald was referenced by Rich as saying people could see “a snowless New England, the swamping of major coastal cities, as much as a 40 percent decline in national wheat production, and the forced migration of about one-quarter of the world’s population, not within centuries — (but) within their own lifetimes.”
MacDonald said that in the 1980s. None of those predictions have come even close to being true. One could fill multiple book volumes with examples of where climate change predictions are far off the mark.
The most serious partisan abuse of science has been in the debate over whether to allow the gas and oil industry a substantive role in the solutions to climate change, particularly in the role of natural gas and nuclear energy as transitional energy sources until renewable energy can reliably cover base load electricity requirements (i.e., solve clean energy’s intermittency problem).
Writing in 2012, environmental journalist Fred Pearce lamented that “many environmentalists who argue, as I do, that climate change is probably the big overarching issue facing humanity in the 21st century, nonetheless often refuse to recognize that nuclear power could have a role in saving us from the worst. Nuclear power is the only large-scale source of low-carbon electricity that is fully developed and ready for major expansion.”
Anti-nuclear environmental activists will argue that nuclear energy is too dangerous and not as clean as its advocates assume. Unfortunately, that argument is not based on science, it is based on unwarranted fear.
“To abandon our primary current source of low carbon energy during a climate change emergency is madness,” argues George Monbiot, the UK’s most prominent environment columnist. Monbiot specifically cites a widely quoted but entirely discredited scientific study on the consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident which concluded that up to a million people died. In truth, only the 28 plant workers that put out the reactor fire are known to have directly died and indirect deaths — due to higher cancer rates — don’t come close to one million.
That is still a big number, but Chernobyl is not representative of the risks associated with today’s nuclear power industry. In a 2013 United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) reporton Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, the most serious accident since Chernobyl in terms of radiation released, researchers found no increase in spontaneous abortions, miscarriages, perinatal mortality, birth defects, or cognitive impairment; and no discernible or expected increase in radiation-related cancers.
In the case of the U.S.’s Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979, two separate studies, one by the World Nuclear Association and the other by Columbia University, have confirmed there were no immediate deaths or indirect deaths associated with that accident.
Between 2008 and 2017, an average of 8.6 people per year die in the U.S. due to accidents related to the building and operating of windmills, according to the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum. In that same period, the number of deaths in the U.S. related to the operation of nuclear power plants was one — in Russellville, Arkansas when a worker was killed and two others injured as they were moving part of a generator.
While the risks of nuclear energy have been misrepresented by environmental activists, not to the degree the risks related to ‘fracking’ and shale gas extraction are exaggerated.
The rapid decline in coal’s share of U.S. electricity generation during Barack Obama’s administration was aided by a significant increase in domestic natural gas production, which included the expansion of gas extraction through ‘fracking’ methods (see Figure 5).
“A switch from coal to shale gas is the main reason why, in 2011, U.S. CO2 emissions fell by almost 2 percent,” says Pearce. Yet, too many Democrats and environmental activists dismiss natural gas out of hand as an interim solution to greenhouse gas emissions.
Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, was driven out of his position by environmental activists for just suggestingnaturalgas could be a “bridge fuel” on the path to a clean energy world.
And what is wrong with natural gas? Well, for one, it is a fossil fuel — far cleaner than coal, but still a carbon-based fuel.
Fair enough. If a purist view of clean energy is more important than reducing greenhouse gas emissions now, than rule out natural gas.
And then there are the dangers associated with ‘fracking,’ which is a a well stimulation technique in which rock is fractured by a pressurized liquid, creating cracks through which natural gas is more easily extracted. The primary risks are the (1) release of methane gas (a potent greenhouse gas), (2) the contamination of ground water, and (3) and the exposure to harmful chemicals by workers involved in the ‘fracking’ process.
All legitimate concerns. But a wide range of U.S. and European studies have concluded that those risks can minimized through well-regulated operational standards (see a 2014 UK study here).
Again, the choice is between making a rapid and substantial impact on greenhouse emissions today through the expanded use of natural gas, or delaying those emission reductions by many years as we wait for solar, wind and other clean energy sources to come online.
“There is a good environmental case to be made that shale gas, like nuclear energy, can be part of the solution to climate change,” argues Pearce. “That case should be heard and not shouted down.”
But that is what partisan politics does best — shut down honest debate and eliminate valid solutions.
The other way partisanship hurts our attempt to address climate change is that it forces administrations, such as Obama’s, to almost exclusively use policy tools that do not require a congressional vote. Executive orders and bureaucratic rulemaking procedures have become the primary tool for dealing with climate change. The problem is, such an approach is relatively easy to reverse once a new administration from the opposite party takes over.
The pattern goes like this: The Obama administration issues a series of climate change related executive orders (EOs), EPA rules and Energy/Commerce Department policies, only to have the Trump administration reverses them within a few months of taking office. And when the Kamala Harris administration takes over, the Trump-era EOs, policies and rules will themselves be reversed, until the Nikki Haley administrations steps in an undoes those rules and policies, and the pattern repeats over and over again.
That partisan-induced cycle is not an effective way of addressing a serious problem. It is only good at maintaining the status quo.
If you want gov’t to spend money on climate change, tell me what you want gov’t to stop doing…
This is where the conversation gets difficult. How much will mitigating and adapting to climate change cost humankind?
But throwing out big, overly-aggregated financial costs related to climate change only numbs the American people and inhibits collective action. Average people can’t react to $535 trillion in any meaningful or constructive way. The cost estimates (or, rather, guesses ) bandied about need to be brought down to a household level and disaggregated so that Americans can make informed choices. How much money will climate change cost the average American household and where is this money most likely to be effective? Should we focus on mitigation or adaptation?
So, lets give it a try here…
Almost any number currently in circulation is speculative at best, and dishonest at worst. In the service of continuity, let us work off of a number quoted in Rich’s New York Times Magazine article.
Rich writes: “(Climate scientist James Hansen) and his team have concluded that the only way to avoid dangerous levels of warming is to bend the emissions arc below the x-axis.We must, in other words, find our way to “negative emissions,” extracting more carbon dioxide from the air than we contribute to it. If emissions, by miracle, do rapidly decline, most of the necessary carbon absorption could be handled by replanting forests and improving agricultural practices. If not, “massive technological CO₂ extraction,” using some combination of technologies as yet unperfected or uninvented, will be required. Hansen estimates that this will incur costs of $89 trillion to $535 trillion this century, and may even be impossible at the necessary scale. He is not optimistic.”
For climate realists like myself, a price tag upwards to $535 trillion this century makes me genuinely wonder if we should just take our chances and embrace a planet that is 5°C warmer.
Borrowing from nautical lore, the most cost effective way to address climate change may be to yell, “Every man, woman and child for themselves!” Don’t expect the government to help you and don’t buy ocean front property.
But, of course, a civilized world can’t do that. We need to have a collective plan and that will require governments directing vast sums of (someone’s) money to a fund dedicated to combating climate change.
Here is my back-of-the-envelope estimate of what many of us will need to pay every year to help address the climate change problem in the 21st century:
A quick walk-through on how we get to an estimate:
(1) Take the midpoint of Dr. Hansen’s cost estimate ($323 trillion)
(2) Use the population in 2050 as an estimate of the total number of people potentially expected to contribute money to address climate change (10 billion)
(3) Divide $323 trillion by 10 billion people to get an estimate of $32,300 as the lifetime contribution potentially required by every human being
(4) Divide $32,300 by 40 (the avg. number of working years for each person) to get the yearly contribution potentially required by every human being
(5) Subtract the 3.1 billion people expected to be living below the poverty line from the 10 billion people on earth
(6) Subtract another 3.1 billion people living just above the poverty line from the 10 billion people on earth
(7) Which leaves us with 3.8 billion people comfortably above the poverty line that will be expected to contribute to the climate change fund
(8) Which means they will be expected to pay $85,000 in their lifetime to the climate change fund
(9) Or, if we divide $85,000 by their 40 working years, we get $2,125 as the amount everyone will need to pay during their productive years to mitigate and adapt to climate change
(10) For a family of four, that translates to $8,500 every year during your productive work years.
That is $8,500 every year sent to the government by a family of four.
Good luck selling that additional tax burden to the average voter at election time.
I don’t blame Tucker Carlson for thinking climate change is nothing but a cynical money grab by the East and West Coast literati to control Americans’ lives more than they already do now.
Equally plausible, climate change is the perfect ruse to punish the oil and gas industry barons for the 100 years they profited enormously for our collective addiction to cheap (but dirty) fossil fuels.
You don’t have to agree with those theories to understand their logic and seductive power. Republicans (and more than a few establishment Democrats) will gladly turn the costs to address climate change against progressive Democrats and their social spending ideas.
“How can we implement ‘Medicare-for-all’ or ‘tuition-free public college” given the expected costs of climate change?” Republicans will ask. It is a fair question, independent of your partisan inclinations.
But narrow, partisan thinking may be one of the first casualties of climate change. It is quite possible that one of the most cost-effective ways to protect Americans from the consequences of global warming is to make sure all Americans have quality health insurance and are in good relative health.
And education will be even critical as individuals start facing the real challenges of rising sea levels, more powerful storms, longer droughts, more frequent flooding, and more arid living environments.
Everything is interrelated and partisan political rhetoric, ad hoc theorizing and lazy assumptions will not be as tolerable when the earth is 3°C warmer. Trust me, there’s going to be a lot more bar fights.
So what will most likely happen?
We will muddle through is what Lindblom would predict. Incrementalists will expect to see small year-to-year policy changes that, over time, may pay dividends. But will it be soon enough?
What I would ask climate change alarmists who expect a ransom’s sum from the average American, what are you willing to give up to fund such a project? What are we doing now as a society that we will have to stop funding in order to afford the costs of climate change?
It is easy to say, “Cut the defense budget.” If you cut it in half, you save $300 billion every year. Great. We just need about $125 billion more from the current discretionary U.S. budget to cover our nation’s share of the climate change fund.
These are not easy decisions.
[Side Note: I hope partisans from both sides of the political spectrum will agree that the money the U.S. currently spends helping the Saudis kill Yemeni children needs to stop ASAP.]
Fundamentally, global warming is easy to address. On the mitigation side of the ledger, stop using coal power plants to generate electricity and replace gasoline-powered combustion engines with something far cleaner. Where the damage is already done we will need to adapt to our slightly warmer world by, for example, limiting the building of homes on ocean shorelines or in thick alpine forests. How we use water will have to fundamentally change.
How we think will also need to change.
Rich writes : “If human beings really were able to take the long view — to consider seriously the fate of civilization decades or centuries after our deaths — we would be forced to grapple with the transience of all we know and love in the great sweep of time. So we have trained ourselves, whether culturally or evolutionarily, to obsess over the present, worry about the medium term and cast the long term out of our minds, as we might spit out a poison…
…Like most human questions, the carbon-dioxide question will come down to fear. At some point, the fears of young people will overwhelm the fears of the old. Some time after that, the young will amass enough power to act. It will be too late to avoid some catastrophes, but perhaps not others. Humankind is nothing if not optimistic, even to the point of blindness. We are also an adaptable species. That will help.”
On that important point, Rich and I completely agree.
About the Author: Mr. Kroeger is a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son (You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com)
A last-minute provision in the Fiscal Year 2019 John McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has gone largely unnoticed in the mainstream media. The recently passed U.S. defense bill included conditions on the U.S. role in Saudi Arabia and UAE’s military intervention in Yemen.
The current Yemeni civil war, beginning in 2015, is an ongoing conflict between Iran-backed Houthi forces controlling the capital Sana’a and forces loyal to the former government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, now based in Aden.
Originally introduced in the Senate-passed NDAA, the Yemen provision conditions U.S. military support to the Saudi/UAE effort on the U.S. Secretary of State certifying to Congress that the Saudi coalition is: (1) implementing concrete efforts to end the Yemeni civil war, (2) minimizing the impact of Saudi/UAE military actions on Yemeni civilians by providing food, fuel, and medicine, (3) ensuring that other humanitarian efforts are not impeded, and (4) actively reducing the risk of harm to Yemeni civilians.
“Yemen remains an area of intense interest and concern for our members, and we have aggressive oversight in the conference report,” a senior staffer told reporters at a background briefing.
Color me unimpressed.
If history is any guide, the probability Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decertifies U.S. military support to the Saudi coalition is zero. Try to name one instance in U.S. history where a Secretary of State (or any cabinet officer) ‘decertified’ a U.S. military engagement. The U.S. Congress doesn’t even exercise its own constitutional authority to do something like that anymore, much less a Secretary of State.
Instead, the $717 billion defense bill guarantees the U.S. military will possess the manpower and resources necessary to significantly increase its role in Yemen if the Trump administration so desires.
August 9th’s Saudi bombing of a civilian school bus passing through a crowded market in Dahyan, Yemen, in which around 50 civilians died, mostly children, occurred after the U.S. Senate added the Yemen provision to the 2019 NDAA but before President Donald Trump’s signature on August 13th.
In a statement issued soon after the Dahyan school bus bombing, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy said, “US bombs. US targeting. US mid air support. And we just bombed a SCHOOL BUS. The Saudi/UAE/US bombing campaign is getting more reckless, killing more civilians, and strengthening terrorists inside Yemen. We need to end this — NOW.”
Even ardent supporters of U.S. military actions in support of the Saudi coalition in Yemen must now realize the conflict is a bloody mess unlikely to end quickly or peacefully.
But the U.S. is not the only country assisting the Saudi/UAE forces. Thousands of troops, advisers and mercenaries from Sudan, Chad, Uganda, Colombia, Australia and France have been involved as well. And the net result has been anything but successful.
Daniel L. Byman, a Brookings Institute Senior Fellow on Foreign Policy, summarizes the futility of Saudi efforts to remove the Iran-supported Houthis from power in Yemen: “Riyadh has flown more than 100,000 sorties and spends billions a month on the war. Airstrikes managed to destroy much of Yemen’s already-tottering infrastructure and kill thousands of civilians, but the Houthis held on.”
The deterioration of water and sanitation infrastructure in Houthi-controlled areas, caused by the civil war, led to a cholera epidemic in 2016 and has been a constant threat since to the civilian population. The World Health Organization estimates that, since April 2017, there are over 1 million suspected cases of cholera (with 612,70 confirmed) and 2,255 Yemenis have died.
It is unlikely the Yemen civil war will end soon, decisively or well
Good intentions count for nothing in geopolitical chess and warfare. Results are what matter and the U.S.-backed Saudi/UAE military intervention in Yemen has amounted to a public relations victory for Iran and a living nightmare for civilians in Houthi-controlled areas.
There are few clear lines delineating ‘good guys’ versus ‘bad guys’ in this three years and counting civil war.
Since the 2004 Houthi uprising against the democratically elected and globally recognized government of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of supporting the Houthis, who are Shi’a. With the overthrow of the Saudi-allied Hadi government in 2015, Saudi Arabia intervened to prevent an Iran-backed regime gaining a foothold on the Arabian peninsula.
But the U.S. role in the conflict was not automatically aligned with the Saudis. At the start of the 2015 civil war, some U.S. generals at U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) reportedly favored the Houthis, as they had proven to be extremely effective at fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Yemen.
However, the Obama administration eventually chose to support the Saudi Arabia’s goals in Yemen and the U.S. military has since been providing air refueling, intelligence, and logistical support the Saudi/UAE effort. And, quite ironically, reports have surfaced in the past month that Saudi/UAE commanders have ‘cut a deal’ with AQAP and are now recruiting al-Qaeda fighters to fight the Houthis.
This ‘enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend’ approach to building coalition forces has only one guaranteed outcome: whatever the happens in the Yemen civil war, AQAP will emerge better trained, and better equipped than ever before.
“Yemen remains the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. The country has been devastated by a war between forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement. An estimated 22.2 million people — 80% of the population — are in need of humanitarian assistance or protection. This includes 11.3 million deemed to be in acute need; an increase of more than one million people since June 2017.The country is also suffering the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded in modern history, with over one million suspected cases reported in 2017 and over 2 200 related deaths.
Millions of Yemenis are affected by a triple man-made tragedy: the brutal armed conflict, a looming famine and the world’s largest ever single-year cholera outbreak. Civilians are facing serious risks to their safety, well-being and basic rights. All parties to the conflict have repeatedly violated International Humanitarian Law and houses, bridges and other critical infrastructure have been destroyed or damaged. Reports of grave violations against women and children have increased. Despite the massive scale of humanitarian needs — Yemen is classified by the UN as a Level 3 emergency — the country remains a neglected crisis, both financially and politically.”
Despite the emerging humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the civilian death toll, there is no indication the U.S. is prepared to abandon the Saudi/UAE coalition — not as long as an Iran-backed regime potentially threatens the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, where 20,000 commercial ships pass through each year as they go back-and-forth between the Mediterranean and Arabian Sea.
But beyond its strategic geographic location, Yemen’s other economic and natural resource assets are relatively small, with around $9 billion in exports each year, consisting primarily of crude oil, natural gas, coffee, and dried, salted fish. And most of those exports are sent to China, South Korea, Thailand, India and Japan.
In fact, American involvement in the Yemen civil war is about stopping Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East, which grew considerably after the U.S. destabilized Iraq starting in 2004. Largely at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Israel, who have themselves entered into a strategic alliance that once would have been unthinkable, U.S. foreign and military policy is slowly redirecting away from conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan and towards the Islamic Republic of Iran. Whether the proxy war in Yemen is just a precursor to a direct confrontation with Iran is speculative. But the eagerness of the U.S. under Donald Trump’s leadership to enter into such a conflict is less speculative.
What is also not speculative is the havoc created by the four largest military powers currently active in the region (Saudi Arabia, Israel, the U.S., and Iran). Despite the young, charismatic Saudi prince’s worldwide public relations tour over the past year touting his social reform agenda in Saudi Arabia (which mostly consists of women getting the right to drive), a country Human Rights Watch still considers to be one of the world’s worst human rights abusers, the prospects for freedom and democracy advancing in the Middle East have rarely been dimmer.
And Iran is no budding Finland either. Oppression, particularly towards women, and the denial of basic civil rights remains an entrenched cultural norm in Iran and throughout the Middle East.
As for Israel, the second-class status of its Arab Palestinian minority, now codified directly into Israeli’s Basic Lawby the recent passing of the “Jewish nation-state” law, and its continued occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza, represents the moral and ethical standards unbefitting a country which calls itself the Middle East’s only democracy.
And there is the U.S. who, in the post World War II era, has masterfully engineered a global security regime that rewards U.S. economic interests independent of the outcomes in specific military conflicts.
Civilians caught in the middle of these conflicts usually pay dearly— often with their lives — but not U.S. defense contractors. They cover both sides of the military-peace equation.
Saudi and UAE combat aircraft are refueled in air by McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender tanker aircraft.
About the Author: Mr. Kroeger is a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son (You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Will the soon-to-be-released documentary, Active Measures, and the new book by Craig Unger, The House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia, reveal something new about Donald Trump’s Russian connections that will bring his presidency down?
Let me pump the brakes on this one. The film (from what I’ve seen of it) and the Unger book are fascinating and compelling, but they share two deep flaws: a heavy reliance on the testimony of very, VERY shady characters and a healthy dose of speculation in lieu of hard evidence.
Last week, comedian Bill Maher touted the conclusiveness of the evidence presented in Active Measures that alleges the Russian mob ‘made their move’ on Trump in 2002. Maher may have just had his ‘slam dunk’ moment.
“He’s a Russian asset,” trumpeted Maher (pardon the pun).
I have only seen extended excerpts from Active Measures but from what I have seen, the film contains more conjecture than slam dunk proof of Trump’s misdeeds. Accordingly, I fear Trump’s critics are putting far too much weight on the power of this film to ‘take down the President.’ Evidence that sounds iron-clad in a documentary, often breaks down under the legal processes’ bright lights.
As for Unger’s book, even the USA Today reviewer, Ray Locker, questioned the credibility of its main claims. At one point in the book, Unger writes, “But my source cautioned that he had not seen any kompromatfirst-hand, only that he had heard about it, and his allegations have not been corroborated.”
Neither Bryan or Unger sufficiently entertain the real possibility that their Russian sources are deliberately lying to inject even more chaos into the American political system. That is one of Russian intelligence’s bread-and-butter tradecraft methods.
Furthermore, the unholy union of New York real estate developers (including the Trump Organization and Jared Kushner’s family), the Russian mob, and the New York City real estate market was known well before Active Measures. This is just a sample of the many investigative journalism stories on the topic:
How Russians Launder Stolen Money Through Real Estate, by Amanda Abrams (Newsweek, December 21, 2015)
Why the Silence about Donald Trump’s Mob Ties?, by Jon Ponder (Pensito Review, September 8, 2015)
The Ponder story, which details Trump’s alleged American mafia ties (not the Russian mob), describes money laundering processes parallel to the Russian mob’s methods outlined in Active Measures.
“Why are Trump’s Republican opponents silent about his mob connections?” lamented Ponder in 2015. “It’s possible, perhaps, these Republican candidates are afraid that the notoriously litigious Trump might sue them. This seems unlikely. These facts are on the record, and there’s no evidence he sued Wayne Barrett or David Cay Johnston after they exposed his mob connections in the early 1990s.”
But that is the problem with the Trump-Russian mob connection story: it is well-trodden ground with not single money laundering indictment of Trump during that time.
[That might make a great 2020 campaign bumper sticker for Trump: I was never indicted!]
Prior to the 2016 election, the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York certainly must have been aware of the Trump Organization’s alleged mob connections, which some claim go as far back as the 1980s. Of course, pretty much every real estate developer in New York City will, at some point, come into contact with the mob.
The Mueller probe, known to be looking into the Trump Organization’s business practices including alleged money laundering activities, may have financial information on Trump that has never been reported before now. That is always a possibility.
But money laundering is hard to prove in court and became even harder after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that “merely hiding money headed out of the United States is not proof of money laundering.”
According to defense attorney Christopher Morales, money laundering requires three steps: (1) Obtaining illegal cash, (2) a financial transaction meant to disguise the source of the funds, and (3) and the money is used as legal funds.
“To be criminally culpable under 18 U.S.C. §1956(a)(1), a defendant must conduct or attempt to conduct a financial transaction, knowing that the property involved in the financial transaction represents the proceeds of any unlawful activity, with one of the specific intents, and the property must in fact be derived from a specified unlawful activity,” says Morales.
As the Trump Organization would be an intermediary, not the original source of the illegal cash, Trump’s willful ignorance might pay off if he is ever indicted for money laundering.
Eric Trump’s now famous 2014 quote during a golf outing, “We don’t rely on American banks — we have all the funding we need out of Russia,” would actually buttress Donald Trump’s likely defense that he was unaware of the money’s illegal origins, should he be indicted for money laundering.
Again, Mueller may have emails, phone conversations or other incriminating financial documents proving Trump knowingly laundered funds involved in a financial transaction originating from an unlawful activity.
And Active Measures doesn’t just focus on money laundering. It alleges the Trump Organization became deeply indebted to the Russian mob after 2002 which is supposed to explain Trump’s conversion into a Russian asset and his current obsequiousness towards all things Russian.
Like the Steele dossier, Active Measures and The House of Putin often rely on indirect evidence and use conjecture as a placeholder where credible evidence is needed. “Just connect the dots,” is another way of saying, “I don’t have actual evidence.”
We’ll have to wait and see what actual evidence Mueller has found. In the meantime, remain skeptical of Democrat-funded documentaries and quickly written books purporting to have proof of Trump’s fealty to the Russians.
About the Author: Mr. Kroeger is a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son (You can contact him at: email@example.com)
The Russians not only interfered in the 2016 presidential election, in all likelihood, they changed the final outcome.
By hacking the DNC and John Podesta emails and releasing them periodically throughout the general election campaign via Wikileaks, the Russians were able to reinforce issues detrimental to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and keep them at or near the top of voters’ collective minds.
Without this manipulation, it is unlikely an issue such as Hillary Clinton’s conflicts of interest with respect to the Clinton Foundation would have received as much media attention as it did.
Using Google Trends search data as a proxy measure for the campaign issues most interesting to Americans over time, I found that variation in these inquiries were highly correlated with the probability Hillary Clinton would win the election (as measured by futures contract prices on the Iowa Electronic Markets).
The following may not be definitive proof that the Russians changed the 2016 election outcome, as that may never be found, but it gravely wounds my previous belief that the Russians had ‘no substantive’ impact on the election.
Google Search Trends Reveal the Impact of the Russian Email Hacks
My earlier analysis of the impact of social media on voters’ preferences in the 2016 election found that “weak” or “leaning” Republicans that actively used social media for sharing political information had significantly more negative attitudes about Hillary Clinton than other “weak/leaning” Republicans.
[Readers rightfully pointed out that I did not show evidence of opinions regarding Clinton changing during the election; that would require more powerful repeated cross-sectional or longitudinal panel data.]
That study did not address, however, the impact of specific Russia-related tactics, particularly the hacked emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta and released by Wikileaks (and DCLeaks) periodically throughout the 2016 campaign, starting in late June and ending in early November.
While some opinion survey data conducted during and soon after the 2016 election did ask about topics contained in the hacked emails (such as the ‘rigging’ of the Democratic primary system or the alleged conflicts of interest related to the Clinton Foundation), such cross-sectional data are difficult to use for showing causal relationships and opinion change over time.
Time-series data are much better for that. And the time-series data in Figure 1 (below) shows both the Clinton and Trump win probabilities from mid-June to Election Day. An eyeball analysis reveals five major periods in the 2016 where candidate evaluations substantially shifted;
(1) The Clinton win probability declined by about 20 percentage points during the Republican National Convention and heading into the Democratic National Convention.
(2) The Clinton win probability then surged by over 30 percentage points after the Convention.
(3) But then her win probability declined by over 30 percentage points between mid-August and the first debate in late September.
(4) But then she re-surged by over 30 percentage points during the debate period.
(5) Only to decline again by about 23 percentage points following news of the Obamacare premium hikes and the release of the infamous Comey letter.
Figure 1. Win Probabilities and Key 2016 General Election Events
There was significant variation in candidate evaluations during the general election campaign and a significant percentage of it is probably explained by the national party conventions, the debate performances, the news of the Obamacare premium hikes and the Comey letter.
But all of it? Not likely. The early general election period is particularly interesting due to Clinton’s almost monotonic decline in her win probability, as it was a period in which she spent an unusually large percentage of time off the campaign trail to raise money or nurse the flu.
Two issues dominated the news headlines during the early general election: The Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s health. We can rule the Russians out as a cause of Clinton’s collapsing during 9/11 ceremonies on a hot New York City September afternoon. The Clinton Foundation, however, is a different story.
Figure 2 shows Google search trends by specific “negative” issues that arose or were emphasized during the 2016 general election. According to Pew Research, three-quarters of Americans spend at least some time on the internet every day and almost 80 percent of them use Google over the course of a month.
Using specific terms related to major election issues, I utilized the Google Trends service to calculate the relative number of searches on each election issue over the course of the campaign. I specifically chose ‘negative’ issues which anecdotally seemed especially potent in 2016.
Figure 2 presents the relative search frequencies for these issues: (1) Second Amendment (associated with Trump’s thinly-veiled threat on Clinton’s life during a campaign stump speech), (2) the hacked DNC emails, (3) the alleged connection between Trump and the Russians, (4) the Khizr Khancontroversy when Trump mocked a Gold Star family, (5) the Clinton Foundation controversy, (6) Clinton’s health, (7) the hacked Podesta emails, (8) the Access Hollywood tape, and (9) Clinton’s deleted home server emails.
Figure 2. Google Search Trends during the 2016 General Election
The most frequent search was related to Clinton’s deleted emails peaked during the week of October 30th and therefore received the value of 100 for that week. Not surprisingly, Google searches grew steadily from late May to near Election Day.
Also interesting is the joint spike in Google searches for DNC emails and Trump-Russia collusion the week of July 24th. Any assertion that the Trump-Russia collusion narrative was not factored in by voters before Election Day is most likely false. I have no doubt a lot of voters pulled the lever for Trump knowing or suspecting his campaign may have colluded with the Russians.
The next step in the analysis was to calculate a weekly “relative” Google search advantage between Clinton and Trump. Operationally, issues ‘negative’ towards Clinton (e.g., Clinton home server emails, health, Clinton Foundation, DNC emails, Podesta emails) were summed, and Trump’s ‘negative’ search frequencies were subsequently summed and subtracted. The new variable (Relative Search Volume) was positive if Clinton was receiving more negative Google searches than Trump and negative if Trump received more.
Ten weeks stand out for their relative Google search volume. The weeks of July 31st and October 2nd are the only two weeks when the relative search volume strongly disadvantaged Trump (see Figure 3). Eight such weeks found Clinton strongly disadvantaged (the weeks of July 24th, August 21st, September 11th, October 9th, October 16th, October 23rd, October 30th, and November 6th).
I’m going to go out on a limb and say traditional measures of favorable/unfavorable press coverage (which tend to show both Trump and Clinton received similar levels of negative news coverage) fail to measure the true bias found in media coverage. Clinton took far more cleats to the back from the national news media than did Trump, at least based on what Americans felt were important enough issues on which to conduct Google searches.
Figure 3. Relative Search Volume on Negative 2016 Campaign Issues
Now for the punchline. Figure 4 reveals the strong negative association between Americans’ Google search frequencies and changes in Clinton’s probability of winning the election (as measured by the Iowa Electronic Market’s winner-take-all futures market for the 2016 presidential election). The overall model explains over 40 percent of the variation in changes to the Clinton’s win probabilities. That is not too shabby for a two-variable model and 24 cases.
Figure 4. Relationship Between Relative Google Search Volume & Clinton Win Probabilities
What makes Figure 4 compelling to me is the one weekly case (October 30th) driving the strong negative association. That was the week of the Comey letter (which re-ignited interest in Hillary’s deleted emails) and three weeks after the initial release of the hacked Podesta emails by Wikileaks (which was still being heavily searched on by Americans).
Equally important, a surge in searches on the Clinton Foundation occurred in that second-to-last election week. If we go back and recall the contents of the hacked Podesta emails, one of the biggest revelations regarded Clinton’s potential conflicts of interest as Secretary of State and the Foundation. If you look at Figure 2 again, there is a clear correlation between searches on the Podesta emails and the Clinton Foundation.
The BBC created a useful summary of the thousands of Podesta-related emails posted online by Wikileaks (That summary can be found here). Contained in them were inside conversations going on about Hillary Clinton’s tone deaf understanding of the issue.
The Morocco ‘quid pro quo’ emails are a good example:
Mrs Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin, usually known for her unflinching loyalty, was blunt in her criticism of her boss over a Clinton Foundation summit in Morocco.
At the time of the meeting in Marrakesh, in May 2015, Mrs Clinton was no longer secretary of state but about to announce her campaign for president. But four months before it took place, Abedin voiced concern about her pulling out. “If HRC was not part of it, meeting was a non-starter,” she warned. “She created this mess and she knows it.”
The implication from the leaked emails is that a $12m donation from the king of Morocco was dependent on Mrs Clinton attending the summit.
“Her presence was a condition for the Moroccans to proceed so there is no going back on this,” Abedin wrote to campaign manager Robbie Mook in a November 2014 email.
In the end, Mrs Clinton decided not to attend and sent husband Bill and daughter Chelsea instead. There is no record of a $12m donation.
The Clinton Foundation controversy is not nearly as interesting to the news organizations without the concurrent Podesta email revelations. The emails were like pouring lighter fluid into a fire.
In other words, I find it difficult to deny the importance of the Podesta emails at keeping alive an issue that weighed negatively on Clinton’s campaign.
Not convinced? I don’t blame you. There are a lot of causal steps between a voter doing a search on Google and changing their candidate evaluations. At best, the Google Trends search data is a proxy for a much more complicated causal process.
But there is more…
In the final step in the analysis, I calculated an aggregate estimate of how each ‘negative’ campaign issue affected Clinton’s win probabilities over the course of the general election (Actual calculation: parameter for X in the two-variable model [b = 0.0008] multiplied by the summed search frequencies for each issue).
In the following table (Figure 5) these estimates are likely inflated as I did not directly control for the party conventions and debates which had an obvious impact on the election. Nonetheless, I believe differences in relative effects across the campaign issues are reflected in Figure 5.
Figure 5. Total Effects of Each Campaign Issue on Clinton’s Win Probability
First thing to note from the above table: the absolute values of the total impact on Clinton’s win probability are generally much higher for the ‘negative’ Clinton issues than for Trump’s ‘negative’ issues. Trump’s worst issue was his indirect death threat towards Clinton by way of 2nd Amendment supporters (a 22 percentage point increase for Clinton’s chances overall). The alleged Trump-Russia collusion and the Access Hollywood tape are second and third (a 16 and 17 percentage point for Clinton, respectively).
As for Clinton, the DNC emails (which revealed the Democratic primaries were rigged against Bernie Sanders) did not have a large total impact on her win probability (-7 percentage points). Why? I believe because Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard had pretty much made that point in January 2016 when, as she announced herself as the first Democratic House member to endorse Bernie Sanders, said the primary system was basically rigged against Sanders. It wasn’t news in July 2016 that the Democratic Party system was rigged. Everyone already knew it.
What did have a large negative impact on Clinton’s chances were the issues of the Clinton Foundation (-49 percentage points), the deleted Clinton emails(-41 percentage points), Clinton’s health (-21 percentage points), and thePodesta emails (-19 percentage points).
As noted previously, the impact of the hacked Podesta emails cannot be viewed in isolation from the Clinton Foundation controversy as the emails helped sustain the lifespan of the Clinton Foundation story. Without the Podesta emails, I seriously doubt the Clinton Foundation story would have been as prominent throughout October.
In the month of October alone, the Clinton Foundation and Podesta emails reduced Clinton’s win probability by at least 30 percentage points. More than enough to change the outcome in a close election decided by a mere 80,000 votes.
I still understand why some may not yet be convinced of the impact of Russia’s meddling. There may never be solid proof that the Russian’s changed the election outcome.
But I now think the Russians did change the outcome and the prime suspects are the hacked Podesta emails and a corporate news media that birthed the Trump monster during the primary season and clearly relished sticking it to both Clintons throughout the campaign. Hillary Clinton wins in 2016 otherwise.
About the Author: Mr. Kroeger is a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son (You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
On July 19th, the Israeli Knesset passed what has been called the Jewish Nation-State Law. The new law, which becomes part of Israel’s Basic Law does three things:
(1) Explicitly states “the right to exercise national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
(2) Establishes Hebrew as Israel’s official language, thereby downgrading Arabic to “special status.”
(3) And establishes Jewish settlement as a national value that will be promoted by the State.
Thisrepresents what is likely a de facto acknowledgement by Israel’s political Right that Israeli is headed towards the official annexation of the West Bank and the implementation of a One-State-Solution with Arab Israelis (mostly Palestinians) being legally relegated to second-class citizenship status.
Within Israel’s political class, opposition to the bill has been exemplified by Israel’s most potent challenger to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni. While she had no objection to the text declaring Israel to be “the national home of the Jewish people,” she is no Leftist after all, Livni also argued the law needed a stated commitment to “equality for all its citizens.” In Israel’s Declaration of Independence, she noted, Israel promises “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
Livni has also stated support for a two-state solution which ensures Israel’s security and identity as a Jewish and democratic state. In fact, from 2006 to 2009, Livni served as Israel’s Acting Prime Minister, during which she led multiple rounds of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Outside of Israel, the Jewish Nation-State Law has been openly questioned.
Even the U.S., a strong ally of the Netanyahu government, has asked for clarifications from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. Officials in Washington are particularly concerned about the “Jewish settlement” clause and how that will impact the rights of minority groups.
Those most negatively impacted by the Jewish Nation-State Law are of course Arab Israelis. Jamal Zahalka, an Arab member of the Knesset and vocal opponent of the law, believes it will legitimize anti-Arab racism and increase the building of illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
“The law will now give illegal Israeli settlements legal backing and officially get rid of any possibility of establishing a Palestinian state in the occupied territories,” according to Zahalka. “The law will also back discrimination against Arab citizens who can be legally prevented from residing in Jewish-only areas.”
“Everyone understands what this law is,” says Israeli political scientist Galia Golan of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. “It enshrines the Jewish majority as dominant and ruling without protection of the rights of anyone else. It definitely takes us out of the Western liberal democratic camp and puts us in the xenophobic super-nationalist East European camp.”
What Happens Next?
Like Donald Trump, Netanyahu stokes racist sentiments for political advantage. He ditches any pretense of trying to represent the interests of an entire country and, instead, foments social divisions that keep the people divided and less likely to reach a broad, lasting reconciliation between Jewish and Arab Israelis.
The Jewish Nation-State Law will add twenty years to any legal effort by Israeli Arabs to achieve equal rights in their own country. That is not merely an ancillary effect of the new law, it is one of its primary purposes.
On the other hand, it is time for everyone within and outside of Israel to realize the Two-State-Solution is officially dead and buried. It has no future and cannot be revived. The Israeli Knesset made that official on July 19th.
Now, progressive leaders in Israeli — Jewish and Arab — must recognize this new phase in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be contested more and more in courtrooms, not as much in street and border protests.
That could be a good thing as Palestinians, even with the Jewish Nation-State-Law, will not face as big an asymmetric disadvantage as they do when they confront Israel militarily.
There is still hope for a lasting, peaceful resolution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It just won’t include a Two-State-Solution — may it rest in peace.
About the Author: Mr. Kroeger is a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son (You can contact him at: email@example.com)
There is a lot of news media attention on the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya (among others).
“It proves Trump-Russian collusion,” says Rachel Maddow, Don Lemon, Ari Melber, Joe Scarborough, Chris Hayes, Joy Reid, Anderson Cooper, and the guy running the Falafel King food truck on the corner of 7th Avenue and 31st Street.
Everyone not currently employed by the Fox News Channel or the White House has concluded: The mere intent on Don Jr.’s part to receive ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton from Russians constitutes evidence of a conspiracy.
The defense of the meeting’s legality, in contrast, rests on the belief that conducting opposition research, even with foreign nationals, is not just legal, it is part of every presidential campaign. You could even argue that it is a campaign’s patriotic duty to discover any misdeeds perpetrated by their opponent, even if that means working with foreign nationals or going overseas.
Unsurprisingly, the partisan website PolitiFact rejects that defense, citing Democratic political consultant Mike Mikus from Pennsylvania, who says, “I have been working on campaigns since 1994 and have managed races since 1998. I have never heard of any operative meeting with a representative of a foreign government — friend or foe — to discuss opposition research.”
A guy from Pennsylvania who has worked on statewide elections is not who you talk to in trying to find out if presidential campaigns have ever conducted opposition research on foreign soil or using foreign nationals.
The obvious example is the Steele dossier. Its original genesis was as a Washington Free Beacon investigatory effort on Donald Trump. Ostensibly, it was journalism, funded by a major GOP donor opposed to Trump’s candidacy. Later, that effort would become what we now know as the Steele dossier and its funding was taken up (indirectly) by the Hillary Clinton campaign.
The Steele dossier is nothing less than opposition research, conducted by a former British spy and funded by political operatives connected to a presidential campaign. Furthermore, it contains information sought and derived from ‘representatives of a foreign government,’ and a hostile one at that.
Now, I will grant, a well-run campaign does not send the son and son-in-law of the candidate to gather such information from such sources. Even if it was legal, it was just dumb.
Had Don Jr. taken possession of stolen emails or some other illegally obtained information, then he would be in trouble. But that would have nothing to do with a conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
The Steele dossier is what aggressive, well-run presidential campaigns do. The Trump campaign just did it poorly.
Direct Evidence of a Trump-Russia Conspiracy Remains Elusive
What does the public evidence so far say about an alleged Trump-Russia conspiracy?
Here is what we know as fact: Trump campaign operatives gamboled around with a Russian lawyer purporting to have ‘dirt’ on Clinton, an Australian diplomat, a Maltese academic, a hacker going by the name Gucifer, and, through Paul Manafort, a variety of other Russian and Ukrainian consorts, some connected closely to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Trump campaign also actively (but amateurishly) pursued a new detente with the Russians during and after the 2016 campaign — which is not inherently illegal — and is probably a good policy.
Conspiracies are not hard to engineer, but proving one exists is
If the Trump campaign engaged in a conspiracy with the Russians to defraud the U.S., this question must be answered: “Did the Trump campaign premeditativelyconspire with the Russians to defraud the American people by interfering in an U.S. presidential election.
As yet, the evidence of such a crime is conspicuously elusive.
However, a conspiracy does not require that the Trump campaign actively helped the Russians hack the DNC and Podesta emails or helped in creating and promulgating some Facebook and Twitter memes.
The Robert Mueller probe could indict principles from the Trump campaign on conspiracy charges if they either: (1) aided and abetted any criminal behavior by the Russians, (2) willfully participated in the planning of a crime prior to its commission (“accessory before the fact”), or (3) helped to conceal a crime already committed or give assistance to perpetrators of the crime to help them avoid detection, arrest or prosecution (“accessory after the fact”).
As yet, no evidence reported by the news media or rising from the Mueller probe’s initial indictments suggest the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians on that conditions outlined by Wallin.
Some legal experts believe Donald Trump himself committed a crime when he encouraged the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails during some of his public rallies in the early Summer of 2016 (which the Russians subsequently tried to do, according to U.S. intelligence sources). That opinion seems like broad conjecture; and, besides, how dumb would a conspirator have to be to announce their conspiratorial intent on live, national television?
Who could be that dumb?! Who?! Who?!
But here is what else we know…
The documented associations of the Trump campaign to the Russians almost all postdate the moment the candidate became the presumptive Republican nominee in March 2016. That is probably not mere coincidence.
Furthermore, the FBI opened a counterintelligence case (“Crossfire Hurricane”) against the Trump campaign only after “Western intelligence assets and Clinton-affiliated political operatives repeatedly approached the Trump campaign and tried but failed to damage it through associations with Russia,” reports Real Clear Investigations.
In my opinion, we all need a healthy dose of skepticism towards everyone involved in this collusion hash.
“I have certain rules I live by. My first rule: I don’t believe anything the government tells me,” once said comedian George Carlin. I would just amend that by adding: the news media, cable TV personalities, politicians, comedians, and myself.
With that caveat, here is my developing theory on the Trump-Russia collusion narrative:
The Trump-Russia collusion story is most likely borne from four sources:
(1) Trump’s associations with wealthy Russians (call them oligarchs or mobsters, if you must) involved in the real estate industry in New York City and elsewhere (And there is circumstantial evidence the Trump Organization carries substantial financial debts with Russians and other foreign lenders),
(2) campaign manager Paul Manafort’s falling into the arms of pro-Russia Ukrainians while trying to dig himself out of debt,
(3) the Trump campaign’s clumsy and reckless efforts at conducting opposition research and policymaking, and
(4) a political establishment, burned by the fact they were outmatched by Russian intelligence and unwilling to accept a Trump presidency they never believed possible, that manufactured elements of the collusion drama to drain the new administration’s political capital and neuter its impact while in office.
This fourth source of the collusion narrative speaks to an issue rarely addressed in the news coverage: How could the Obama administration have screwed up so royally in trying to stop Russia’s election interference?
Why aren’t there career bureaucrats high up in the intelligence community losing their jobs over this debacle?
We know U.S. intelligence was aware of Russia’s intentions to interfere in the election months before the email hacks of the DNC and John Podesta or the propagation of Russian-sourced Facebook memes on social media. And we also know the general public was beginning to become widely aware of the Russian meddling as early as July 2016 (see my Google Trends analysis here).
So what was the FBI and intelligence community doing to harden the defenses of the social media companies and the political parties in preparation for this foreign intrusion?
Apparently, not much, according to The Washington Post’s Philip Bump, who suggests the Obama administration feared they would themselves be accused of trying to manipulate the election outcome if they did too much publicly to stop the Russians.
Perhaps if the U.S. Department of Justice and intelligence agencies weren’t so politicized (and Obama is not the first president to make them so), they could be trusted to warn the American people about impending foreign attacks without it being dismissed as a partisan political act?
The news media’s obsession with the Trump Tower meeting is misplaced. If laws were broken, it is not clear how. If collecting legally obtained intelligence on an opponent from a foreign source is illegal, and someone in the Trump campaign is indicted for it, there willbe a legal challenge and don’t be surprised if it goes to the Supreme Court.
It will be the First Amendment versus federal election laws — and, if the past is prologue, the Constitution tends to win those battles.
Until Mueller finally hands out the crown jewel of indictments — a conspiracy charge — as many in the media expect him to do, I suggest borrowing some more wisdom from George Carlin, “Question everything.”
Its a good life strategy, in general.
About the Author: Mr. Kroeger is a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son (You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org)