By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 28, 2018)
Every year we gain new information that shocks our political and social system.
For example, in the year 2018, we learned that Donald Trump is subject to the same political laws of gravity as every previous president. The party of a president with approval in the low-40s is going to get clobbered in the midterm elections and lose around 40 U.S. House seats. [OK, maybe that was known before 2018, but given 2016, more than a few people wondered if perhaps Trump and the GOP had discovered a new formula for electoral success. In fact, they have not.]
We also learned that Donald Trump is not going to change. He’s is not rising up to the office’s status, as many would like, but in reality the office is conforming to him. And that is not a criticism or a compliment of the man. It is an observable fact, for better or worse.
And finally, in 2018, though shocking to some, it is still possible to end a U.S. military engagement. In the most recent case it is Syria, where the wailing outcries of the corporate, warmongering media has been met by Trump’s stone cold resilience to their emotional seizures.
History will record the Syrian civil war as a first-order humanitarian disaster exacerbated by an Obama administration that, in pursuing regime change, actively destabilized not just Syria but two other countries (Libya and Yemen), only to see hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians die in the process. The Bashar al-Assad regime is brutal and culpable in the vast majority of those deaths, but so are the countries that thought arming anti-Assad Islamic extremists was a good idea. An man of integrity would have returned his Nobel Peace Prize in the light of such results.
So, what are we going to learn in 2019?
The most significant revelation in 2019 will probably happen towards the end of the year: Donald Trump will announce he will not run for re-election in 2020.
After months of secret negotiations with the Robert Mueller team and investigators with the FBI’s Southern District of New York, Trump will walk away from the presidency in exchange for — at a minimum — the neutering of any current or likely investigations into his children’s business and political dealings; and, more likely, there will also be an agreement to minimize Trump’s own exposure to criminal prosecution after he leaves office.
It will be a tough pill to swallow for Trump’s most ardent supporters, but equally hard to accept for the political mob that will, figuratively speaking, demand his public execution (i.e., impeachment and Senate conviction).
For the good of the Republic, that will not happen.
Like the removal of U.S. missiles in Turkey as part of the deal to end the Cuban Missile Crisis, we may never know the exact nature of the Mueller-Trump deal. But the results will be observable to everyone. Donald Trump will walk away a one-term president, his supporters lionizing his Quixotic presidency and his opponents celebrating the end of their self-imposed, four-year nightmare.
But this is where the good news might end for the Democrats, however, as they will be forced to rationalize one of the core findings likely to emerge from the Mueller investigation: Pursing evidence on a political opponent’s possible illegal activities is not illegal, even if this includes making direct or indirect contact with Vladimir Putin-connected Russians.
A more complete discussion of the legal questions surrounding the Trump-Russia collusion story can be found here. However, here is a short summary of that essay:
There is no question, based on the known evidence, that the Trump campaign aggressively pursued what they internally believed to be their golden ticket to the presidency. Find Hillary’s missing emails and win the presidency.
[Clinton-haters assume there is something incriminating in the 30,000 missing emails. I do not assume that. When has either Clinton ever written something interesting or embarrassing— much less incriminating — in an email? Never, to my knowledge. They are too smart to be that stupid.]
But finding those emails was Donald Trump Jr.’s motive when he attended the Trump Tower meeting with a Putin-connected Russian lawyer. And that is what Roger Stone was doing when he was communicating with the hacker(s) Guccifer 2.0.
And why pursue the missing Clinton emails? Set aside the presumption that Clinton was involved in illegal activities that would have been revealed had the emails been released. [The Clinton’s prefer to engage in unethical activities for which there is legal cover.] Still, the act of allowing a private email server for work communications and then deleting the emails was a major set of missteps on Hillary Clinton’s part, and probably illegal (independent of any crime being revealed in the emails themselves).
It is a federal crime (a felony) to knowingly or unknowingly destroy evidence subpoenaed by a congressional committee. Furthermore, to premeditatively prevent or impair the ability of the federal government to possess federal records (e.g., work-related emails) in an effort to avoid public transparency laws (e.g., FOIA) is also a crime.
In a court of law would Clinton or her associates have been convicted of such crimes? Probably not, particularly if establishing motives becomes relevant to prosecution.
Nonetheless, it would have been a derelict of duty for the Trump campaign not to make the effort to find the missing emails.
Unfortunately, for the Trump campaign, they were so outside the established political system that they didn’t understand how such opposition research is normally done.
A professional, well-run presidential campaign would have farmed out the task of investigating Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails to a friendly journalist and/or private investigative firm. That is what Fusion GPS did for the Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans. In compiling the Trump dossier on the Democratic Party’s dime, what Christopher Steele did was legal. Now, what the FBI did with the dossier in its effort to justify “spying” on the Trump campaign may not have been legal. Hopefully, someday a full accounting of what really happened within the FBI in 2016 will be brought to light. Color me skeptical, however.
That said, there is already evidence of the many legal landmines Trump operatives tripped over in their pursuit of dirt on Hillary Clinton. First and foremost, you do not lie to the FBI about the existence or nature of contacts with Russians. Roger Stone, the most experienced and sophisticated of the political shitmeisters employed by Trump during the campaign, was by most accounts the most aggressive operative in getting close to the Russians. He appears to have kept those contacts indirect (e.g. Wikileaks, Guccifer 2.0) and focused on ascertaining the existence of stolen emails, as opposed to participating in their theft, providing material support to the theft, or coordinating their release subsequent to the theft.
The latter three actions would be, quite likely, illegal…and, because he is a slimy shitmeister, Roger Stone knows that.
Don’t forget that Roger Stone, perhaps more than any single human, is responsible for George W. Bush winning the presidency in 2000. It was Stone who organized the protests outside Florida’s county election offices during the recount period. It was those protests that significantly slowed down the recount effort to the point where the election officials were destined to miss the court-imposed deadline; and, hence, had the entire issue passed up to the U.S. Supreme Court. We all know how that turned out. You can thank Roger Stone.
But what the Mueller investigation has revealed so far does not constitute a conspiracy-level of wrongdoing by the Trump campaign — and certainly not by the president himself. The public evidence simply doesn’t exist.
Even prior knowledge of Russia’s social media trolling activities would not necessarily constitute a crime.
In terms of concrete evidence about a conspiracy to manipulate the 2016 presidential election, all we have is speculation and conjecture. For example,
What if Cambridge Analytica, a data analytic firm hired by the Trump campaign, shared targeting information with the Russians? [That would be illegal.]
And did foreign contributions end up in the Trump campaign coffers? [Not that such a thing would be unprecedented in American political history; but that would be illegal.]
All would be interesting facts…and, if true, possible elements of a conspiracy. But such evidence has never been offered by the Mueller team or the news media.
And that is where the Mueller investigation is likely to end: A lot of interesting conjecture short on proof. A few Trump associates will be indicted for mostly process crimes (George Papadopoulos, General Michael Flynn), and perhaps low-order conspiracy charges against Roger Stone (and possibly others) for coordinating with foreign agents the release of the Russia-stolen Democratic National Committee and John Podesta emails.
If you believe the Russians stole the 2016 election (and I offer empirical evidence Wikileaks’ release of the Podesta emails did have an impact), the final Mueller report is likely to be a big letdown.
Mueller is unlikely to reveal a grand conspiracy — certainly not on the scale still promoted by the establishment media. However, Mueller has opened the door into Trump’s business and tax activities that do significantly threaten his presidency (and, possibly, his freedom). That, far more than the ersatz Trump-Russia collusion narrative, is sufficient to scare the president into an early political retirement.
And, finally, perhaps the biggest reveal in 2019 will be how much the Washington establishment has lost control and may never get it back they way they’d like.
Trump is an invasive species, much like the python snakes taking over the Florida everglades. Once they’ve invaded, the damage is not only done, it is all but impossible to reverse.
Trump, himself, may not survive politically past 2020. But what he represents — imperfectly as he does — will not go away. Power centers independent of the political establishment are already emerging within D.C. that the current establishment leaders cannot control, at least not completely.
This is particularly the case for a Democratic Party, led by Rep Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, that has offered no answer to the demands of the party’s progressive caucus.
Progressive Democrats have at least one model for how to impact Washington politics going forward:
For 10 years the Republican’s congressional Freedom Caucus has effectively marginalized the power of the GOP’s congressional leadership — despite, as a party, controlling Congress. The Democrats’ progressive caucus is likely to do the same to their leadership with one big, BIG difference. Where the Freedom Caucus never had a true field general — Sarah Palin could have been that person had she shown a capacity for self-improvement and offered more than just her charisma and marketability to the GOP base — the progressive Democrats have deep bench of charismatic and articulate leaders.
Most of the media attention goes to newly-elected New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but she is hardly the progressive’s only field general. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) is already running intellectual circles around party dinosaurs like Howard Dean, whose “grotesque smear” of Khanna’s stance that our military occupation of Afghanistan has run its course gives a good sense of how out-of-touch the Democratic Party establishment has become.
Ocasio-Cortez, Khanna and other progressive movement leaders is perhaps even more revolutionary than the Trump phenomenon. With the exceptions of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, no female politician in my lifetime has been the target of as many personal attacks in such a short period of time — including questions about her intelligence — than Ocasio-Cortez.
And, yet, she hits back twice as hard as she receives.
Here is her response to a DC Examiner columnist who thought he was clever calling Ocasio-Cortez a ‘bitch’:
While sometimes she gets her objective facts wrong (on usually minor details), Ocasio-Cortez makes up for it with a natural savvy for tactical politics that Bill Clinton would envy.
Ocasio-Cortez’ prompt responses to attacks are always mixed with “grace and wit”— which makes her very un-Trumpian — but pointed enough to discourage even her most prominent critics from pursuing an extended fight on social media.
And this hasn’t happened just once or twice. She does it almost every friggin’ day. She’s like the pride-leading, female velociraptor in Jurassic Park, when she targets you, there is nowhere to run. [My wife warns me that comparing the New York congresswoman to a carnivorous dinosaur is sexist and demeaning. I vigorously disagree and I’m sticking with the comparison…]
And it is not just Ocasio-Cortez showing considerable fortitude amidst constant attacks. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) are repeatedly trolled on social media by agents of Persian Gulf governments, often over their opposition to the Saudi-led war in Yemen and efforts to isolate Iran.
“Academics, media outlets, and commentators close to Persian Gulf governments have repeatedly accused Omar, Tlaib, and Abdul El-Sayed (who made a failed bid to become governor of Michigan) of being secret members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are hostile to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” writes Ola Salem in a recent issue of Foreign Policy.
Of course, none of those accusations have any merit, but highlight the challenges these women, and the progressive Democrats in general, are likely to face in the future.
It may be too soon to write the obituary for Bill Clinton’s New Democrats, but this new progressive surge feels somehow different.
The corporatist Democrats have had a good twenty or so year run, funneling money into the pockets of their core constituencies — Wall Street bankers, pharmaceutical executives, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the defense industry, etc. — and using the divisiveness of culture war issues to distract average Americans from more substantive matters.
That is all about to change…in a big way…and that is the most important thing we will learn in 2019.
Comments and insults can be sent to: email@example.com
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 23, 2018)
Leave it to Hawaii Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard to give a reasoned and thoughtful criticism of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.
“We need to get our troops out of Syria ASAP, but it must be done responsibly,” she tweeted son after Trump’s decision was announced. “Turkey will see this as an invitation to invade northern Syria, decimate our Kurdish allies and strengthen jihadists like al Qaeda, ISIS, etc., undermining our national security and causing more suffering.”
She followed up with another tweet:
“The underlying problem is that for too long our leaders have had no clear direction or objective when it comes to foreign policy. So without a clear mission and objective, it’s impossible to know whether any particular decision will help us achieve that mission.”
Many serious observers of the situation in Syria, like Gabbard, understand the urgent need for the U.S. to leave Syria but also realize the U.S. needs to do so in an orderly and deliberate manner so the Kurds are not completely abandoned and ISIS is not allowed to re-establish itself.
If Gabbard is anything, she is a realist. A personal quality seriously lacking in Washington, D.C.
Syrian government troops are already dashing eastward to fill in the void that will be left after the U.S. pullout, the first goal being to secure the oil and gas rich areas critical to financing Syria’s reconstruction efforts. If Trump has gifted Assad anything, it will be the revival of Syria’s energy revenue stream.
Concurrently, the Kurdish forces in northeast Syria are fast creating and reinforcing trenches and defense barriers in preparation for what now looks like an imminent Turkish offensive against the Kurds (which, if it occurs, will be an illegal act likely to be broadly condemned within the international community).
There was no reason to believe — even a week ago — that Trump was going to make this move in Syria.
“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” said National Security Adviser John Bolton said just last September, publicly acknowledging that the U.S. presence in Syria was now less a counter-terrorism operation than a strategic maneuver to contain Iran.
Specifically, U.S. troops in Syria, particularly those stationed at Al Tanf on the Syrian-Iraqi border and near Jordan, are impeding Iran’s ability to move freely between western Iraq and Lebanon.
Presumably, Iran, Bashar al Assad, Hezbollah and ISIS are the big winners in the U.S. pullout, and the Kurds and Syria’s Sunni majority are the big losers.
But as detailed by Joost Hiltermann and Maria Fantappie for Foreign Policy magazine, the intent of the U.S. occupation in northeastern Syria has never been about establishing an independent Kurdish state (in Syria and Iraq). The Kurds were never going to be the winners once ISIS was defeated (or near defeat, as in the current situation).
“ U.S. officials had long opposed any changes to the Middle East’s borders for fear of setting off an unstoppable domino effect,” they write.
Critics of Trump’s Syria pullout are merely manipulating the Kurdish plight to justify an open-ended occupation of one-third of Syria by U.S. forces. Long before the Trump administration, the Kurds knew the U.S. was never a reliable ally.
Trump just confirmed it.
Instead, Trump just forced a level of realism into Syrian Kurdish thinking that may, in fact, lead to a sustainable arrangement between the Kurds and the Assad regime (and perhaps the Turks as well).
That is a good thing, because there was never going to be an independent Kurdish state in northeast Syria, no matter how loudly critics of the U.S. pullout scream about how close we are to achieving it.
Reality may be the big winner in Syria after the U.S. pullout.
(Send comments and insults to firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 21, 2018)
The spread of Trump derangement syndrome is worse than previously thought.
President Trump offers an eminently defensible idea, that even progressive Democrats support, and the D.C. Beltway establishment becomes downright dotty in the head.
Upon Trump’s announcement of his decision to remove U.S. ground troops from Syria within 30 days, a predictable din of disapproval arose from the GOP war hawks, foreign policy establishment, neoliberal interventionists, and the battlefield tourists in the Beltway press.
“President Trump’s abrupt decision to pull American troops from Syria…ends a low-cost, high-impact mission and creates a vacuum that will be filled by one of a series of bad actors — Iran, Russia, Turkey, Islamic extremists, the Syrian regime — take your pick, they’re all dangerous for American interests in the Middle East,” writes Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
“Low cost” relative to the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and subsequent occupations, perhaps. But it is precisely these small footprint, low visibility U.S. troop deployments — dozens of which are currently ongoing across the globe — that aggregate into significant budget (taxpayer) commitments and, more ominously, increase the probability the U.S. will get drawn into larger entanglements sometime in the future.
Even the slightest chance that another such event like that one could spiral the U.S. and Russia — the two countries with the world’s largest nuclear arsenals — into a broader conflict should chasten even the loudest chicken hawks in the U.S. Congress and Beltway press.
The Deir al-Zour battle alone should have been enough to start the process of removing U.S. troops from Syria.
But, alas. It was not enough for our warmongering class. Since they pay no price for our forever wars and reap many of its financial benefits, the mere suggestion of the U.S. leaving Syria is heresy.
“A lot of American allies will be slaughtered if this retreat is implemented,” warned Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.
Never mind growing evidence that Russia and Iran, situational allies at best, have disparate motives in Syria (Russia wants stability and Iran wants to pester Israel to placate the home audience) that keep open the real possibility that the Russians might limit Iran’s influence once the U.S. has left.
Furthermore, the downing of a Russian military plane in September 2018 by the Syrians, killing all 15 on board, which the Russians blamed on the Israelis, has a had a surprisingly positive impact on Russian-Israeli relations. The tragedy heightened awareness by both that the Syrian conflict cannot be allowed to bring their two countries into a direct state-of-war.
Since the downing of the Russian plane, Russia and Israel are increasingly cooperating on issues related to Syria and Hezbollah, perhaps leaving Russia, not the U.S., better positioned to stem Iranian influence in Syria.
However, my favorite soulless platitude about Trump’s Syria decision comes from one of the reporters who pushed the ‘Iraq has WMDs’ story line in the Iraq War run up and now Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake. “Trump Courts Catastrophe in Syria,” his latest column starts.
As if things had been going so well in Syria for the past seven years. We passed ‘catastrophe’ about six years ago.
Sure, Syria has stabilized in the past two years. But that was after the Obama administration ended its neocon-inspired strategy of fighting both the Bashar al Assad regime and ISIS, and to instead, with marginal cooperation from the Russians, focus on ISIS alone. To the Trump administration’s credit, they built upon the Obama strategy shift and the result has been a significant contraction in ISIS’ strength.
Yet, it is fair for critics of the Syria pullout to note that ISIS is not exactly ‘defeated,’ nor is al Qaeda. As long as their energy source remains plentiful — U.S. troops deployed throughout the Middle East — they will have a healthy number of devotees and sympathizers, with many willing to die for the cause, inshallah.
But 4,000 U.S. troops in Syria is not what stands between the end of ISIS and the rise of a new Sunni caliphate. It never was and won’t be going forward. Stabilizing Assad’s Syria has been the more direct cause of ISIS’ steady decline, as loathsome as his regime may be.
Once the Syria decision is finalized, is Afghanistan next?
In re-crafting Trump’s original tweet announcement, columnist Pat Buchanan offers this clear-eyed rationale of the intended Syria pullout:
“ We are extricating America from the forever war of the Middle East so foolishly begun by previous presidents. We are coming home. The rulers and peoples of this region are going to have to find their own way and fight their own wars. We are not so powerful that we can fight their wars while we also confront Iran and North Korea and face new Cold Wars with Russia and China.”
And once (or if) Trump’s Syria pullout is finalized, eyes will turn to Afghanistan where the U.S. has been leading an occupation for 17 years. Trump has already indicated a desire to extricate the U.S. from that morass as well. And why not? After 17 years, the end game is not in sight. What will be different if we stay another 17 years? Probably not much.
After all, what has U.S. troop surges in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2017 reaped? Where previously the Taliban controlled 40 percent of Afghan territory, now they control 70 percent. In the business world that is called a bad investment. To the forever war crowd, its the justification for another surge — only a bigger, better one.
In the end, there is no significant U.S. strategic interest in Syria or Afghanistan. It is time to let others wage war in those conflicts — bella gerant alii. It is simply not our fight. It never was.
Comments and insults can be sent to: email@example.com
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 19, 2018)
With the U.S. Senate recently voting to end U.S. assistance in the Saudi-UAE-led war in Yemen, the symbolic gesture may represent a genuine turning point in the three-and-a-half year conflict.
…or maybe just more false hope.
The Yemen civil war, in which no resolution is in sight, is generally portrayed as a conflict between the Houthi militia in western Yemen, a movement affiliated with the Zaidi sect of Shia Islam, and forces allied with Houthi-deposed Yemen President Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a Sunni Muslim re-elected president in 2012 in a contest where he ran unopposed and received 100 percent of the popular vote.
Figure 1. Religious Map of Yemen
Layered within Yemen’s complex domestic situation, however, is a proxy war between Saudi-UAE-led forces and Iran, who backs the Houthis, though their level of support is disputed. But even this proxy war is itself embedded within a larger regional contest fueled by a U.S.-Israel-Saudi-led obsession with containing Iran’s growing (but limited) influence in the Middle East. The Israeli’s have a palpable and legitimate concern with Iran’s potential to control a continuous land-based supply route between Tehran and the potent and highly-trained Hizballah forces in southern Lebanon. The long-term posture of the U.S. occupation of Syria’s eastern provinces is, in fact, largely predicated on preventing this from becoming a reality.
From the Iranian perspective, their involvement in Syria in supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime, is a much higher priority than Yemen.
“Iran has an obtainable objective in Syria: protecting one of its few allies in the Arab world,” says Dr Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Its goals in Yemen are far less defined.”
“Although both Syria and Yemen have been within the geopolitical radar of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for at least the last decade, the former is much more important geostrategically as it constitutes a bridge to Hizballah and the Mediterranean,” says Dr Ali Fathollah-Nejad, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. “Iran’s Yemen activities are primarily geared towards bogging down its regional rival Saudi Arabia.”
As such, the atrocities being perpetrated against the Yemenis are predominately owned by the Saudi-led coalition forces, which is why American and British complicity is so problematic.
The civilian toll in Yemen (as best we can discern)
Any attempt to measure civilian deaths and casualties resulting from the civil war is fraught with difficult and likely to be imperfect. Nonetheless, growing international attention to the conflict is bringing with it conscientious efforts to measure its social costs.
“We estimate the number killed to be 56,000 civilians and combatants between January 2016 and October 2018,” says Andrea Carboni, an ACLED researcher who focuses on Yemen. ACLED further estimates that 2,000 Yemeni civilians are now dying each month largely due to malnutrition and diseases such as cholera.
The ACLED estimate of 56,000 deaths is significantly higher than previous estimates that have typically assessed the civilian death toll in Yemen to be around 10,000.
“One reason Saudi Arabia and its allies are able to avoid a public outcry over their intervention in the war in Yemen, is that the number of people killed in the fighting has been vastly understated,” writes long-time Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn. “The figure is regularly reported as 10,000 dead in three-and-a-half years, a mysteriously low figure given the ferocity of the conflict.”
Why 10,000 deaths wouldn’t be sufficient to inspire a public outcry is unclear, but regardless of the precise number, what is clear is the consistent attention now being placed on the Yemen civil war by the European media. [Sadly, the U.S. media can’t seem to break away long enough from their mostly dishonest Trump-Russia collusion narrative to actually cover the Yemen conflict with any depth.]
And as this light is being directed towards Yemen, more attention is being focused on the genuine possibility that war crimes have been committed by the Saudi-UAE-US-UK coalition.
(a) To employ poison or poisoned weapons;
(b) To kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;
(c) To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion;
(d) To declare that no quarter will be given;
(e) To employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering;
(f) To make improper use of a flag of truce, of the national flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy, as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention; (g) To destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war;
(h) To declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party. A belligerent is likewise forbidden to compel the nationals of the hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country, even if they were in the belligerent’s service before the commencement of the war.
“Wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile Power, or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in the present Convention, taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”
Finally, in creating the International Criminal Court (ICC), the 1998 International Criminal Court (Rome) Statute formally established the ICC’s functions, jurisdiction and structure. Specifically, it empowered the ICC to investigate and prosecute four international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.
The “extensive destruction…of property, not justified by military necessity” constitutes a war crime according to the Geneva Conventions and Rome Statute and, in the case of Yemen, this would seem to describe the coalition’s attacks on Yemen, particularly its water and food infrastructure (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks on Farms and Food-related Targets (March 2015 to November 2018)
The Laws and Customs of War allow for states to attack an enemy combatant’s economic and military infrastructure in order to degrade its military effectiveness. But the primary consequence of destroying a nation’s food production and distribution system is famine among the civilian population.
That is a war crime.
In an independent report submitted in October 2018 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, London School of Economics and Political Science Professor Emeritus Martha Mundy, the report’s author, offered this observation:
“If one places the damage to the resources of food producers (farmers, herders, and fishers) alongside the targeting of food processing, storage and transport in urban areas and the wider economic war, there is strong evidence that Coalition strategy has aimed to destroy food production and distribution in the areas under the control of Sanaa,” wrote Mundy.
“Deliberate destruction of family farming and artisanal fishing is a war crime,” she concluded, citing the 1977 Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions, which, through International Humanitarian Law, protects objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.
In building the report’s case, Mundy relied heavily on data from the Yemen Data Project (YDP), which has been tracking coalition military strikes and incidents in Yemen since 2016.
Along with the ACLED, the evidence collected through the YDP’s systematic and comprehensive data collection may prove indispensable should the Saudis and its coalition partners be investigated for war crimes in the future.
The Yemen Data Project
The Yemen Data Project (YDP) is an independent, non-profit data collection project aimed at increasing the transparency over the conduct of the Yemen civil war.
The YDP collects military event data through open sources that are “cross-referenced with local and international news agencies and media reports; social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other video footage, and WhatsApp; reports from international and national NGOs; official records from local authorities; and reports by international human rights groups.” When independent reporting is unavailable, the data has been cross referenced with sources from opposing sides to the conflict as to ensure the reporting is as accurate and impartial as possible.
In YDP’s words, their data represents the “best current current understanding of incidents” in Yemen.
Characteristics of coalition attacks on Yemen
Many years ago I taught an introductory international politics class at The University of Iowa and one of its obligatory class segments covered the “laws of war.” As I always allocated the last 15 minutes of the class to an open discussion about the lecture topic of the day, this particular segment elicited strong opinions among students. Even the most marginal students seemed to have an opinion about how wars the acceptable rules of war.
From class to class, variants on these questions would inevitably emerge:
“How is that chemical weapons are unacceptable, but dropping atomic bombs (on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) is OK?”
“If you are at war with another country, aren’t you also at war with its citizens?”
“How can there be rules for war? It’s war!”
Unlike today’s educational environment, my classes in the early 90s made no attempt to suppress or censor ideas or opinions. The class debates were lively, contentious and open-ended, never ending in a broad consensus on what constitutes a ‘war crime’ or acceptable laws for war.
Differences of opinion were exciting in the day.
At some point during the class discussion, I would offer these quotes from U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay, best known for his role in planning and executing a massive bombing campaign against cities in Japan during World War II, in addition to his tenure as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1961 to 1965:
“There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn’t bother me so much to be killing the so-called innocent bystanders.”
“Killing Japanese didn’t bother me very much at that time… I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal…. Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.”
In no way did I endorse General LeMay’s views on civilians and warfare (in fact, I despise the man), but I shared the quotes as I felt he conveyed the fundamental argument (still made today) as to why civilians are legitimate targets in war.
Like it or not, ‘war crimes’ often depend on the eye of the beholder.
Had the U.S. lost World War II, the Allies’ fire bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo would have defined ‘war crimes’ for generations. As it turned out, such attacks, at least from the Allies’ perspective, were just the realities of war.
Why should the war in Yemen require different rules?
Because human thinking has evolved since World War II, that’s why.
Two hypotheses about civilian targeting in the Yemen civil war
With over 18,900 military incidents between March 2015 and November 2018 in their database, the YDP offers the best open-source information available on the Yemen conflict. Along with the date and the time of day (daypart) of the incident, the YDP database also includes location and summary target information.
In analyzing this data, while I use the YDP’s data to reference the ‘target,’ it is dangerous to assume the intended ‘target’ for each incident. What we can assume, however, is that anyone on the receiving end of a coalition bombing attack felt like a ‘target’ and so that is how I define the term in the following analyses.
The guiding purpose in this analysis, therefore, is to describe the anti-Houthi coalition’s ‘targeting’ as part of the process in determining whether civilians weresystematically targeted.
The YDP dataset alone, however, cannot discern the targeting intent of the coalition’s military leadership, but it offers one of the best open-source insights into this question: How would we know if civilians were systematically targeted by the coalition?
Short of possessing internal coalition communications and targeting process memos, we are forced to discern targeting intent through identifying patterns within the attacks. And to do that, we must start with hypotheses regarding the patterns we’d expect to see in the YDP data if the targeting of civilians was premeditated and systematic.
Let us start with a hypothesis, if true, would go a long way in exonerating the coalition from charges of targeting civilians.
H1: If coalition attacks against Yemeni civilians were incidental, their occurrence within the YDP data should be patternless, random events that otherwise track closely to the coalition’s non-civilian attack patterns.
And even if this hypothesis (H1) is rejected by the data and we find a pattern within civilian attacks, we may still find evidence that the coalition, while targeting civilians areas, systematically made an effort to avoid excessive civilian casualties.
Our second hypothesis addresses how the data might reflect that reality.
H2: If, in targeting civilian areas in pursuit of military objectives, the coalition attempted to minimize civilian casualties, we should expect coalition targeting of civilian areas to be concentrated on dayparts when civilians tend to be away from their homes.
Specifically, civilians tend to be at home in the evening, nighttime, and early morning hours and away from home in the morning, midday and afternoon hours. Did the coalition systematically try to avoid hitting civilian areas during dayparts when people tend to be home?
Let’s to go the data and see what we find…
Characteristics of coalition attacks on Yemen
Before testing our two hypothesis, let us describe the YDP data more generally.
Figure 3 (below) breaks out the targets of every coalition attack since March 2015 and finds that 35 percent of the coalition’s targets since March 2015 were military or security related, followed by ‘unknown’ targets (33%) and civilian targets (13%). Infrastructure targets (transportation and economic, etc.) accounted for 14 percent of all coalition targets.
Figure 3. Coalition Targets
Military and civilians targets were the primary focus of coalition attacks against Houthi forces between March 2015 and November 2018. And as seen in Figure 4 (below), the coalition attacks tended to occur at all parts of the day, though most occurred between midday and the early evening hours.
Figure 4. Coalition Attacks by Daypart
A mapping of coalition attacks (Figure 5) closely correlates with the tribal and religious clusters within Yemen, with the most intense bombing experienced in areas populated by the Zaidi (Shia) and Isma’ili (Shia) tribes in the Saada governorate.
Figure 5. Coalition Attacks by Governorate (March 2015 to November 2018)
The distribution of coalition attacks over time highlights two other major features of the Yemen civil war (see Figure 6). First, the number of daily attacks have generally decreased over time, going from about 20 per day between March 2015 and March 2017 to about 10 per day after March 2017. The second feature is a more dramatic decrease in attacks during a ceasefire period in May 2016.
Figure 6. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks (March 2015 to November 2018)
Besides the modest decline in the coalition’s daily attack tempo over the three-and-a-half years of the civil war, there are no other obvious patterns (e.g., seasonal) within the YDP data. However, the task here is to discerns patterns (or lack thereof) within the coalition’s attacks on civilian targets.
To do that, let us look closer at the YDP’s civilian target data.
Are Yemeni civilians being targeted by the coalition?
At this point, a brief understanding of what was included (and not included) in the YDP’s definition of a civilian target is helpful. Almost 75 percent of civilian targets in the YDP database were residential areas, followed by vehicles/buses (12%) and market places (9%). There were even 51 attacks on mosques, representing two percent of all attacks on civilian targets.
Figure 7. Sub-categories of Civilian Targets
There are other civilian targets such as schools and medical facilities which YDP breaks out separately; though, those targets represent less than three percent of all coalition targets (see Figure 3 above).
My sub judice presumption is that, if civilian attacks are not the conscious result of military targeting, then their occurrences over time (‘accidents’ if you will) should be distributed randomly.
That is essentially the argument the Saudis have made when confronted by the international community about civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict.
In October 2018, after the Saudis had killed over 40 school children during an airstrike in August, Saudi Defense Minister Osaiker Alotaibi told an international investigatory panel that the Saudi-led alliance had a list of 64,000 civilian targets in Yemen that they would never attack, including schools and hospitals. Alotaibi stated further to the panel that previous civilian casualties were the result of “unintentional mistakes” and were not premeditated.
But in his testimony to the panel, Alotaibi also said the Houthis were putting civilians — including children — in harm’s way by using schools and hospitals as “refuges” for Houthi fighters.
Regardless, if the Saudi ‘sloppy targeting’ defense is truthful, we should see evidence of it in the YDP data. Specifically, we should find the number of civilian attacks from day-to-day to be strongly correlated with the number of non-civilian attacks (primarily military/security-related targets); and, where they are not related, the variation in civilian attacks should be randomly distributed over time. Noise, in other words.
Figure 8 (below) plots civilian and non-civilian attacks over time, as well as the trend for each. Clearly, civilian and non-civilian attacks are correlated. Notice in both charts the three spikes in attacks between October 2015 and August 2016. Also, both show a similar downward trend in daily frequency.
On the surface, therefore, there is evidence to support the Saudi’s ‘sloppy targeting’ defense.
Figure 8. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks on Civilian and Non-Civilian Targets (March 2015 to November 2018)
But surface looks can be deceiving, and a more formal analysis was done to see if civilian targeting was, in fact, merely collateral damage resulting from an otherwise legitimate military targeting process.
To do that, I first regressed the number of civilian target events on the number of non-civilian target events and used the residual from that equation to represent variation in civilian target events unrelated to non-civilian target events. Subsequently, I conducted a residual analysis to determine if the model residuals were normally-distributed, random noise.
Figure 9 (below) shows that the variation in the number of civilian attacks not explained by non-civilian attacks (i.e., the residual) is not a normal, randomly distributed variable.* More importantly, we can conclude that the day-to-day variation in coalition attacks on civilian targets cannot be explained by the military necessities of non-civilian targeting.
*The Shapiro-Wilk test of normality was highly significant, indicating the data was not normally distributed.
Figure 9. Normal Q-Q Plot and Detrended Q-Q Plot of Unstandardized Residual from a Linear Model of Number of Civilian Targets Regressed on Number of Non-Civilian Targets
We have rejected our first hypothesis (H1) that civilian attacks by the coalition were merely the product of a legitimate military targeting process, but is there any evidence the coalition tried to minimize civilian casualties when they targeted civilian areas?
To answer that question, I looked at coalition attacks on civilian and non-civilian targets by daypart (early morning, morning, midday, afternoon, evening, night). It is reasonable to presume that any attempt by the coalition to minimize civilian casualties would involving striking civilian targets (typically residential areas) during a time of day when civilians would not be home: namely, the midday and afternoon dayparts.
In Figures 10 and 11 (below) we see evidence of exactly that.
Where non-civilian attacks have tended to occur in the early morning (11%), evening (15%) and night (13%) dayparts, civilian attacks have tended to occur at midday (19%) and in the afternoon (15%). This is consistent with the Alotaibi claim that the coalition has in place procedures to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties.
Still, approximately 28 percent of coalition attacks on civilian targets — most often residential areas — have occurred at times when people tend to be home (evening, night, early morning) — which translates into 688 separate and verifiable incidents (about one incident every other day) that the coalition attacked a civilian target at time when people will tend to be home.
Figure 10. Coalition Attacks on Yemeni Civilian vs. Non-Civilian Targets (by Daypart)
Figure 11 offers further evidence that the coalition may have preferred the midday and afternoon dayparts for attacks on civilian targets. Where civilian targets constitute around 13 percent of all attacks, they represent percent of between 22 and 25 percent of attacks in the midday and afternoon. This suggests the coalition may make an effort to minimize civilian casualties by conducing their attacks on targets in civilian areas at times when people tend to be at work, school or away from home.
This finding may not fully exonerate the Saudi-led coalition for possible war crimes committed against Yemeni civilians, but should the coalition partners face an ICC inquiry, it may offer at least partial exculpatory evidence.
Figure 11. Coalition Attacks by Target and Daypart
Final thoughts and next steps
What is most striking in the YDP data is the unrelenting consistency of the coalition’s operational tempo against Yemen. The bombers take very few days off.
Apart from the brief ceasefire period in May 2016, the coalition has unleashed almost 19,000 separate attacks on Yemen within less than four years (1,333 days). That works out to between 10 to 20 attacks every day.
And to what end? There is no evidence that the Houthis are going to relinquish power in western Yemen, and while there has been a slight decline in the coalition’s operational tempo since the Saudi’s assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the coalition’s attacks show no sign of ending soon either. And as long as the conflict continues, the work of the YDP and other similar independent groups are going to be critical for the foreseeable future.
And who will be paying attention to this unfolding tragedy that the UN calls the ‘world’s worst humanitarian disaster?
With all due respect to the U.S. Senate vote condemning the Saudi’s actions in Yemen, don’t expect much more from the America’s greatest deliberative body. There are few Capitol Hill advocates for Yemen, which controls no major oil or gas reserves and is home to not one oligarch likely to attend Davos next year. Taken together, this all but guarantees Yemen will not stay on the front burner of Senate business.
Even the world’s news media organizations have taken a ho-hum approach to covering the Yemen tragedy, as they have been far more more preoccupied with the conflict in Syria. The U.S. media, in particular, continues to show little interest in Yemen. In an analysis by media journalist Adam Johnson, it was found that between July 3, 2017 and July 3, 2018, MSNBC (the number one cable news network in that period) dedicated “zero segments to the US’s war in Yemen, but 455 segments to Stormy Daniels.”
That pretty much sums up American broadcast journalism today.
With that backdrop, this article represents the first in a series of data analyses I will be conducting on the YDP data. Additionally, I will be augmenting the YDP event data with other data sources (such the temporal-geographic distribution of cholera cases) to further investigate the impact the coalition’s attacks have had on the Yemen civilian population.
Only with transparency will there be any chance to hold Saudi Arabia, UAE, and their coalition partners accountable for their actions in Yemen.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 12, 2018)
Nothing brings more hate mail to my inbox than articles I write about climate change.
It’s the new Obamacare. Not open for debate. It’s the third rail of Democratic Party politics. Any criticism, no matter how minor, of the tactics or policy proposals generated by the activist community is unacceptable. And you will be called an uneducated, bucktoothed climate change denier — which was one of the more civil comments I received concerning my article on France’sYellow Vest protests.
But I suggest carbon taxes that disproportionately hurt low-income households are politically nonviable, and that climate change activists that drive BMWs and regularly vacation in the Maldives are hypocrites and probably frauds…and boom, here comes Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, and I get annihilated.
‘Your ignorance of the science shines through in every dim-witted, ill-informed sentence you burden on your readers,” wrote one of my more loyal readers.
“Blood is already on the hands of people like you who stand in the way of climate change justice,” wrote another reader. [Is there a word more chronically overused and misused than ‘justice?’ Climate change justice? What does that even mean? The word ‘justice’ has become a verbal tic for the progressive left. Similar to how teenagers say ‘like’ all the time. We need a new word. I nominate ‘fairness.’]
“You’re a f**king denier.” was the punctuated end to another email response I received.
Unfortunately, for those critics at least, it is not possible to find one sentence I’ve ever written on climate change where I’ve denied its reality, its human origins, or the urgency of its mitigation.
Case in point, my simple-model forecast for global temperatures (land and ocean) through 2100 is not optimistic. Using an non-dynamic (atheoretic) model where I assume the process generating past temperature anomalies will continue into the future, I forecast the world will pass the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ceiling target of 1.5° C warming around 2050 and reach 3.0° C around 2100.
Figure 1. Land and ocean temperature index
It is impossible to look at the historical data in Figure 1 and not see a positive trend in global temperatures. Some global warming skeptics focus on the brief period between 1930 and 1945 where global temperatures increased more rapidly (almost 1.0° C in just 15 years) than they are now. Clearly, that represents recent evidence that natural factors (non-human related) do affect global temperatures in a systematic way. But the same evidence also demonstrates the temporary nature of the 1930–45 warming period and how it returned to ‘normal’ from 1950 to the mid 1970s.
And then global temperatures started to increase and have continued to do so up to the present. The infamous ‘pause’ between 1998 and 2012 was just that…a temporary pause.
Feel free to question the simplicity of my forecast model, but I do gain some satisfaction in knowing that my prediction of 3.0° C warming by 2100 tracks closely with much more sophisticated models, including ones published in recent IPCC reports (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Global Temperature Predictions
I thought this article was about tropical cyclones and hurricanes?
Critics of the recent IPCC report issued this fall noted that its authors admitted a degree of uncertainty in the conclusion that tropical cyclones (tropical storms, typhoons and hurricanes) have increased in frequency or intensity (energy) due to global warming.
Tweeting out at the release of the IPCC report, University of Colorado climatologist Roger Pielke, Jr. observed:
Pielke and his colleagues also recently released updated research on trends in hurricane damage in which they concluded: “Consistent with observed trends in the frequency and intensity of hurricane landfalls along the continental United States since 1900, the updated normalized loss estimates also show no trend.”
One of the problems with IPCC reports (and the recent U.S. government report on climate change) is that the reports’ executive summaries written for policymakers tend to sound more dire than the actual science detailed in these same reports.
That is the unfortunate outcome when science meets politicians.
Regardless, I am a bit puzzled why there is so much hesitation within the scientific community to declare that we are seeing a definite increase in the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones (at least in the Atlantic basin). I realize, unlike me, climatologists such as Pielke have actual credentials. So when Pielke and his colleagues say there are no trends in hurricane damage, I take it seriously.
But I don’t see how anyone can deny that there are more frequent and powerful hurricanes in the Atlantic basin over the past thirty years.
Figure 3 shows National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) historical data on tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin. It should also be noted that these trends are not significantly affected by the date I chose to start the series. I use 1964 as the starting date because that marks the beginning of NASA’s Nimbus weather satellite program in which the U.S. maintained continuous satellite coverage of weather patterns in the north Atlantic. I could have chosen 1960, or 1950, or 1857. It didn’t matter. The positive trends were consistent across starting points.
This significance in the increase in the frequencies of tropical storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes is not marginal. The upward trends are strong, particularly for the number of tropical storms. By 2100, the Atlantic basin will experience around 26 tropical storms annually, compared to 15 today. The number of hurricanes will increase from about 8 per year now to 12 by the end of the century. Likewise, major storms will increase from about 3 to almost 6 annually by 2100.
Three more major storms in the Atlantic each year will be one of the tangible consequences of global warming.
So what should we do?
If we give Nancy Pelosi and Frank Pallone control of $4 trillion more dollars in the next 20 years, I guarantee most of it will get funneled to big, Democrat-aligned money donors. I guarantee it. And only then will the Republicans find Jesus on climate change so they too can get their friends in on the financial windfall.
What will be the most cost-effective way to address climate change? A prosperous, free market economy empowering people with good, private sector jobs to make the decisions necessary to meet the challenges of climate change. It will be household-level decisions that determine the extent to which climate change negatively impacts the U.S. and the world.
People need to start movingaway from vulnerable coastlines, lowland inlets, riverbanks and areas vulnerable to wild fires. As we saw sadly in California, there is no fire-retardant building material that can always stop a massive wild fire from destroying a home. And low-income households in such areas may need financial help in that regard (so adding more taxes to their life does not sound like an idea that moves that all forward).
Insurance companies need to increasingly factor in the risks associated with climate change. That will be a powerful motivator for decisive action at a microeconomic-level.
Governments need to adjust zoning laws and building codes. Some graduate student should do a case study on how Oregon effectively limits housing and commercial development along its coastline.
Government debt— at all levels — needs to be reduced to help spur private investments in the new technologies that will transform the world’s energy economy (electric cars, battery storage, carbon capture and sequestration, smart grid energy systems, etc.).
To avoid the crucial mistakes Germany has made in moving too fast on renewable energy, the U.S. needs to increase (not decrease) the role of natural gas will play in the next 20 to 30 years as a transitional energy source as we wait for battery storage technologies improve.
If current levels are maintained in the U.S., nuclear power will provide critical power capacity to keep us on track to have near-100 percent non-fossil fuel electricity generation by 2050. Even so, we may end up envying those countries that have maintained an expertise in nuclear power plant construction as their transition to zero-emissions may occur faster and with lower average costs to consumers. Don’t be surprised if Pakistani, Indian or Chinese companies end up re-building the U.S. nuclear power industry in the latter half of this century. I’m sure they will be more than happy to build such plants in the U.S., for the right price.
What not to do?
Stop trying to further empower politicians and bureaucrats by giving them more of our money. They already have enough money at their disposal to address climate change. They just need better priorities (and they can start by ending a few of our current war entanglements). Besides, what major national problem has the U.S. government ever solved in the past thirty years? We are better off leaving Uncle Sam with a minor support role and let the private sector drive the transition to 100-percent renewable energy.
Don’t build out renewable energy capacities too soon, as a lot of that technology will be out-of-date just as it comes online. Furthermore, if too much of the build-out is done before critical battery storage technologies have advanced far enough to address renewable energy’s intermittency problem, it will increase energy costs, disproportionately hurting low- and middle-income households.
Stop using climate change as a partisan wedge issue. It is hurting the ability of the U.S. to address climate change in a long-term, effective manner. The consequences of this approach are clear: U.S. climate change policy yo-yo’s from one administration to the next. The Democrats take charge and implement their climate initiatives, only to have the Republicans reverse them once they take control. And, no, the Democrats are not on the cusp of a permanent electoral majority that will prevent the Republicans from regaining control of the government. A new generation of climate change activists therefore are needed that, on the one hand, are not dedicated to punishing corporate America (particularly the big oil and gas companies) and, on the other hand, are not bought and paid for by that same corporate America. They will need to be what was once called a non-partisan, independent policy advocate. They used to roam freely and in relatively large numbers around Washington, D.C. Now, they are all but extinct. For climate change to be confronted rationally, that has to change.
So, there you go. I solved the climate change problem just in time to catch the end of another Glenn Beck history lecture on Woodrow Wilson. It is amazing how much Glenn can come up with about our 28th president.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 11, 2018)
Stories like this are the red meat Fox News has built an empire around. An elementary school principal in a Manchester, Nebraska public school issued a memo to staff prohibiting all Christmas-related practices and symbols.
The memo (found here) started most inauspiciously:
It seems that I have stumbled upon a ‘big rock’ that I hadn’t anticipated. I know that you all are very kind and conscientious people. I know all of the things you’d like to do, have done, want to do are coming from such a good place. I come from a place that Christmas and the like are not allowed in schools…
Banned items listed in the memo included Santas, Christmas trees, “Elf on the Shelf,” singing Christmas Carols, playing Christmas music, Candy Canes and reindeer, homemade ornament gifts, Christmas movies and red and green items.
The banned item that drew particular attention was the candy cane, which, according to the memo, was shaped as a ‘J’ for Jesus and striped red and white to represent ‘the blood of Christ’ and the resurrection, respectively.
Never mind that there is no evidence that the candy cane originated as a Christian religious symbol, the principal’s prohibition left no opportunity for anything remotely scriptural to trickle into her school.
The conservative commentariat went nuts.
Appearing on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, conservativewriter Mark Steyn observed about the Nebraska principal’s decision, “When the founders came up with the idea of the separation of church and state they didn’t want President Washington being the head of the church of America as the Queen is the head of the Church of England. That’s it. And like a lot of sane concepts, its metastasized into something utterly insane. And when you are actually banning two of the colors on the color spectrum, red and green, so there’s only orange, yellow and blue left, you are bonkers. You are nuts.”
Normally, I would be echoing these howls of outrage at yet another example of political correctness run amok.
Not this time, however.
Well, more accurately, my emotions are mixed on this story.
It is sad anyone has to say, “She was wrong to ban the colors red and green.” Obviously, the principal went too far. I hope there is no one defending thataction.
But…the issue cuts too close to the bone for me to dismiss this principal’s intentions out of hand. In fact, if you read the principal’s memo, she was clearly struggling with the decision and understood the impending crap storm she was going to unleash. But she did it anyway. And why? Because she understands one of the basic principles behind a public school education is that no child should be made to feel unnecessarily uncomfortable. Yes, children will be uncomfortable about taking exams or giving speeches as part of their school curriculum. But they should never be afraid of school because of their race, sex, or religious background.
And that’s not just some lefty, do-gooder speaking. Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, of all people, once said as much while interviewing comedian Chris Rock, who had generated some controversy over a comedy bit where he said school bullies are an essential part of growing up. In Rock’s view, bullies teach us how to cope with life’s guaranteed challenges.
I couldn’t disagree with him more.
I’ve carried one of those traumatizing school experiences for more than 40 years now. The year was 1975 and I was in the sixth grade in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It was the last school day before the start of Christmas break and my teacher, Mrs. Parisho, who up to that day had been one of my favorite teachers ever, decided to kill some time before the end-of-school bell rang.
The whole event probably didn’t take more than 10 minutes.
A devout Catholic, Mrs. Parisho often talked about her Catholic school upbringing in Pittsburgh. She was good a storyteller who often used her childhood memories to kill time. As students, we had no complaints about that. We particularly loved hearing how strict school was in ‘her day.’ I don’t know why we loved those types of stories, but we did.
Unfortunately, on this particular day, her childhood Christmas story segued into a question she posed to each of us in her class: “What church do you go to?”
In the class of 20 or so kids, I am certain there was only one non-Christian (a friend of mine that was Jewish). And then there was me.
Raised a Unitarian — a religious community that professes its acceptance of all faiths — I was terrified about how I would answer the question as my turn was about to come up. Do I say ‘Unitarian’ and just hope nobody asks about what that means. Do I say ‘Methodist’ or ‘Lutheran’ and take the chance a classmate might say, “Hey, I go to the Lutheran church! I’ve never seen you at the Lutheran church!”
I went with ‘I go to the Unitarian church’ and prayed the bell would ring so I could get the heck out there.
The bell didn’t ring (bad news), but the class was silent (good news). I don’t think anybody had clue what a Unitarian was. Fine with me.
And then Mrs Parisho had to interject (why, I will never know): “Class, have you ever heard of the Unitarians? Kent, why don’t you tell us something about Unitarians? Do they believe in Christ?”
I have no doubt she was being genuinely inquisitive about my family’s faith, not judgmental or dismissive. But her intentions didn’t matter. Not at that moment. I fumbled for an answer. I don’t even remember what I said. What I do remember are the muffled giggles and one lifelong nemesis then blurting out, “They’re atheists!” The barely audible laughing became deafening.
I was not and am not an atheist. But there was no point in entering into a theological discussion with a kid best known for bringing to school pages he had ripped from his brother’s Playboy magazines. My humiliation was complete and irreversible, anyway. I only could have made things worse.
When the bell rang, I ran to my locker and then home, feeling ill to my stomach the whole time. I didn’t immediately tell my parents about what happened. I may have told them years later, but I don’t remember doing so. What would be the point?
Long story short. I have no problem with keeping religious customs and decorations out of public schools. Its not a war on Christmas. Its just common sense.
If this makes me a snowflake, then fine, I’m a snowflake.
As for the Nebraska principal, she was placed on administrative leave soon after the story broke in the media.
I feel bad for her. She was trying to do that right thing for her students.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 5, 2018)
Some American climate change activists and progressive journalists are already trying to portray the French anti-carbon tax protests, also known as the Yellow Vest protests, as something unrelated to the actual carbon tax itself.
Don’t blame French President Emmanuel Macron’s climate change policies for the protests — that is merely a convenient excuse — blame Macron’s own political ineptitude, they say.
“What began as an automobile-focused, cost-of-living protest undertaken by a coalition of the white, rural working-class and petite bourgeoisie has evolved into a Hydra-headed autumn of discontent, with many objectives, no leaders, and a base that encompasses a cross-section of French life from engineers to paramedics to Parisian high school students. International coverage has focused on the movement’s opposition to a proposed fuel tax increase that was part of Macron’s plan to combat climate change,” writes Slate’s Henry Grabar. “But that was only the spark. Spurred by everybody’s favorite anti-governmental social network, Facebook, the gilet jaunes crisis is best understood as a revolt against all things Macron.”
That’s like saying about an arson-lit forest fire, “Don’t blame the arsonist, blame those flammable trees.”
Of course, the Yellow Vest protests are pulling in anti-Macron sentiment across the entire French political spectrum. Recent polling data collected by Opinion Way clearly show how support for the Yellow Vests comes from both of Macron’s flanks.
Only 24 percent of 2017 presidential election supporters of the far-left’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon and 26 percent of the far-right’s Marie Le Pen think the protests should end. Likewise, a minority of socialist Benoît Hamon (33%) and mainstream conservative François Fillon supporters (42%) want to see the protests end.
Figure 1. French public opinion regarding the Yellow Vest protests
But what was Macron’s central campaign theme? It was the fulfillment of the requirements set forth by the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Even Hamon, the socialist/environmentalist candidate in the 2017 election, warned French voters that Macron and his Paris literati friends were going to finance France’s climate change policies on the backs of the working-class, while also giving a huge tax break to France’s wealthiest families. Which is exactly what Macron did!
At least in France, politicians do what they promise to do.
So, yes, the Yellow Vest protests are about Macron’s political weakness, but they are also about his unfair tax policies. One causal factor cannot be divorced from the other. The carbon tax increase (which was on top of an existing carbon tax) lit the fire and it is Macron’s record of elite-friendly policies that keep the flames hot.
And what has our warming planet gained from France’s progressive carbon tax policies? Carbon dioxide emissions grew in France by 1.8 percent in 2016 and by 2.0 percent in 2017.
And don’t forget Macron just announced the closing of 17 more nuclear plants by 2025 which are almost CO2 emission-free. Why? Because nuclear plants are economically less viable given the technical expertise in building new ones or upgrading them has shifted away from France, U.S. and Europe to countries like China, India, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Turkey, Bangladesh, Argentina, Brazil, and Japan, according to the World Nuclear Association.
And what about in the U.S. where climate change activists insist not nearly enough is being done to combat climate change? Carbon dioxide emissions fell in the U.S. by 1.6 percent in 2016 and by 0.5 percent in 2017. In recent years, the U.S. has been outperforming the world, including Europe, on reducing carbon dioxide emissions (see Figure 2 below).
Figure 3. Renewable energy forecast for U.S. (2018–2100)
The New York Times has also used its objective reporting to subtly question the authenticity of the French carbon tax grievances.
“While polls show that the Yellow Vests have the backing of three-quarters of the population, questions have swirled about how much pain the protesters are really experiencing — or how much of the outpouring can be chalked up to a centuries-old culture of demonstrating against change,” writes Times staff writer Liz Alderman. “France protects citizens with one of the most generous social safety nets in the world, with over one-third of its economic output spent on welfare protection, more than any other country in Europe. To get that help, French workers pay some of the highest taxes in Europe.”
In other words, according to Alderman, the French are just cranky people who at the drop of a hat will pour their garbage into the streets so they can impede traffic.
First, I need to stop being annoyed when well-paid journalists at prestigious news organizations use lazy rhetorical devices such as “…questions have swirled…” in order to insert their personal biases and opinions into what should be objective journalism. Sadly, that pig left the pen many years ago and there is no point in trying to get him back.
Second, if the climate change activist community — which apparently includes the Times staff — is trying to convince itself that France’s yellow vest protest is the manifestation of a deep-seeded cultural norm against change instead of a genuine economic protest against higher taxes, they will get a real education should a similar carbon tax be introduced in the U.S. after the 2020 elections.
Lessons climate change activists need to learn
If the Yellow Vest protests offer any insight, it is that the financial burden of addressing climate change cannot disproportionately fall on lower- and middle-income households.
Even if one believes the Yellow Vests are merely right-wing populists using the carbon tax increases to exploit the unpopularity of the Macron government (though, as shown above, a majority of leftists in France also oppose Macron’s regressive carbon tax policies), they potentially represent 30 to 40 percent of the French population — more than enough to drive re-election obsessed politicians into a fetal position under their desks.
The 49 newly-elected U.S. House Democrats that won in tightly contested battleground districts may be more resistant to carbon tax increases than climate change activists may want to accept.
If the U.S. House tries to pass even a meager 35 cent per gallon tax on gasoline — an increase close to the Obama administration’s 2015 estimate of what is necessary to offset the damage to the environment caused by each incremental ton of CO 2 emission — resistance will be fierce, even among some Democrats.
But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered. And recall that Trump suggested a 25 cent per gallon tax increase to pay for transportation infrastructure improvements. So, it is possible that an additional gasoline tax (or some form of carbon tax) could pass the Congress in the next session and receive the president’s signature, particularly if sold on the premise of fixing our roads and bridges.
But climate change is probably a more costly beast and an additional 25 cents a gallon is grossly insufficient, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report issued this fall, which suggests a gasoline tax increase measured in hundreds of dollars may be necessary.
Nothing on that scale will ever happen (World War II would break out if it did). However, for many good reasons — such as climate change, pollution, and ending the disproportionate influence of brutal Middle East dictatorships — the world needs to end its dominate use of fossil fuels to power economic growth.
In that effort, economists tell us the best way to stop an unwanted type of economic activity — such as burning fossil fuel — is to tax it directly. William D. Nordhaus, this year’s co-winner of the Nobel Prize in economic science, describes carbon taxes as “the most efficient remedy for the problems caused by greenhouse-gas emissions.”
The overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that addressing climate change will require a fundamental transformation of the world’s energy economy. Fossil fuels must be phased out as quickly as possible and zero-carbon-emissions achieved by 2050, according to the 2015 Paris Agreement’s communique; and to do so, carbon taxes (or variants such as cap-and-trade) are going to become a common policy tool for governments to achieve the Paris goals.
There many carbon tax variants. Some target businesses. Others target households. Some disproportionately hurt lower income households. Others shift the burden to wealthier households.
Recent research by Columbia University says, if and when some form of carbon tax is passed in the U.S., choose it wisely.
“A federal carbon tax in the United States would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate significant new revenue for the federal government,” conclude the study’s authors.
Depending on how its revenues are used, such a tax would potentially burden lower-income households more than higher-income households. For example, when the revenue is used to reduce the deficit or reduce the corporate income tax (as Republicans would likely insist), a carbon tax is regressive. However, using the revenue to provide lump-sum rebates would more than offset the carbon tax burden for low- and middle-income taxpayers while leaving high-income families with a net tax increase. The carbon tax revenues could also be used to reduce employee payroll taxes, resulting in “a net benefit for upper middle-income taxpayers, while increasing tax burdens modestly for low-income and the highest-income households.”
Adele Morris of The Brookings Institution and Aparna Mathur of the American Enterprise Institute developed a carbon tax model that attempted to balance the need for behavior modification (reduce fossil fuel use), deficit reduction (pay down the national debt to free up financial resources for when the costs of climate change become more explicit) and fairness (minimize the tax’s impact on lower-income households).
In their proposal, the carbon tax would start at $16 per ton of CO2 and increase with inflation plus four percent each year. According to their estimates, such a tax would reduce emissions in the U.S. by 9.3 billion tons and raise $2.7 trillion in new revenues over the next 20 years. To meet the three goals of behavior modification, deficit reduction, and tax fairness, their proposal calls for distributing the revenues across three channels: (1)
They’d split the money three ways: (1) Use $800 billion to reduce the national debt (a drop in the bucket, but a step in the right direction), (2) cut corporate taxes (the Morris and Mathur proposal predates the Trump tax cuts), and (3) and offer tax rebates to low-income households to partially offset the tax’s impact on their family budgets.
That may be the minimum cost for weening ourselves from fossil fuels. But smart policy and good intentions are not enough to completely mitigate the financial stress such tax increases may have on some households. A no democratically-elected government can ignore the electoral implications of significantly higher carbon taxes. Trying to call it something other than a tax (which was tried in selling Obamacare to the American people) is dishonest and will only feed an already historic level of distrust directed towards our elected leaders.
If Macron falls, you can be certain democratic governments across the globe will think twice about creating new carbon taxes or raising existing ones. At the very least, they will need to balance taxation equities with the potential effectiveness of such carbon taxes.
Technological advances are not achieved through good intentions or by simply throwing money at the problem. Breakthroughs require an unknown amount of time — sometimes they happen faster than expected and sometimes they don’t. I am still waiting for nuclear fusion to finally come around.
That is why pushing too fast on the expansion of renewable energy before certain technical advancements are made will add needless costs to energy consumers.
Ask any German.
Germany’s Energiewende, or “energy transition,” has led to record breaking high electricity prices in Germany that are among the highest in the world, in part because the Germans were too aggressive in building out renewable energy capacity. Since renewable energy sources like wind and solar are intermittent (there are a lot of cloudy, windless days in Germany), the potential for grid failures is not negligible.
“Energiewende has required that Germany build more coal fired electricity plants; 10 gigawatts worth in the last several years,” writes Utah State University professor Randy Simmons and Josh Smith, a research manager at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University. “In sum, despite Germany’s expensive and exuberant renewable energy support, they aren’t even achieving their supposed goal of lowering carbon emissions. This is true even though renewables make up about 40 percent of Germany’s total electricity supply.”
Apparently, even Germans are not immune to idiot-groupthink (where the dumbest ideas rise fastest). In their tunnel-vision approach to policymaking, exhorted by environmental lobbyists that show no sensitivity to how rising energy prices hurt society’s most vulnerable, the Germans have hurt their lowest-income households while also under-performing the U.S. in reducing CO2 emissions in the past few years.
“The regressive effects of energy policy and the ways that well-intentioned environmental policies have actually contributed to energy poverty, meaning it made it harder for the poor to heat and power their homes, is an underappreciated area of debates around the transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources,” writes Simmons and Smith. “Policymakers around the world ignore it at the peril of “greening” the economy on the backs of the poor.”
This is not right wing propaganda and that is why good intentions are not a substitute for smart policymaking.
Therefore, significant technological advancements — particularly in battery storage capabilities and carbon capture — must be made soon in order for the conversion to renewable energy not cripple the world economy.
Today, industrial-level batteries can store energy for 2 to 8 hours, but we will need that storage life-expectancy to exceed 2 to 8 months if renewables are to overcome their intermittency problem. Countries and cities moving too fast now in becoming ‘100-percent renewable’ are forced to duplicate electricity generating capacity using reliable sources (natural gas, nuclear) to compensate for daily and seasonal variation in renewable energy generation. That is making electricity twice as expensive in countries like Germany which has moved very fast in converting to renewable energy, and California is facing the same problem.
Another technology critical for there to be any chance to meet the IPCC and Paris Agreement global warming and emission goals is carbon capture and sequestration (also known as CCS). As the planet is likely to push past 2050 and still be using fossil fuels for at least transportation purposes, it will be important for technologies to exist that can draw CO2 out of the atmosphere and to capture it at the energy generation level (e.g., tailpipes and smoke stakes).
In an August 2018 Congressional Research Service report, Peter Folger, an expert in energy and natural resources policy, details recent advancements in CCS and the amount of federal research monies going into the research. But despite some positive developments, he concludes: “There is broad agreement that costs for CCS would need to decrease before the technologies could be deployed commercially across the nation.”
Therefore, for these technological breakthroughs in battery storage and CCS to occur, more research will be needed and that will cost money. Most of that money should come from the private sector, but some will nonetheless come from the public sector and will probably be raised through additional taxation — possible increased carbon taxes.
If the U.S. never increases carbon taxes in any substantial way, you can thank Barack Obama.
That is not a criticism. Quite the opposite, the Obama administration showed countries how they can fundamentally alter their energy profile trajectories without directly raising taxes.
To address climate change, the Obama administration circumvented legislative pathways and implemented a substantive array of energy policies using existing law. The result?
Largely through regulatory changes (which typically raise costs to businesses that are then passed on to consumers), the Obama administration effectively killed the coal industry by imposing on it a comparative economic disadvantage to renewables and natural gas.
The policy change would have been significant if U.S. energy companies were still building coal plants or significantly extending the life of existing ones. But there are no new U.S. coal plants in the construction pipeline. A small research coal plant in Alaska is still scheduled for construction, but inconsequential in the broader scheme of things.
And what about the rise of clean coal? Like the monster Grendel in Beowulf, its more myth than reality.
What the Obama did to cut the coal industry off at the knees is important to repeat: They killed the coal industry without directly raising taxes on consumers.
Therefore, the third lesson for climate change activists is to challenge the presumption that higher taxes are necessary to effectuate meaningful climate change policies. But if taxes are raised, don’t let the government gets its grubby hands on the proceeds.
That is not the same as saying households can avoid making financial or lifestyle sacrifices to address climate change. It is saying that sending $50 to $150 trillion — the IPCC’s cost range estimate required to limit global warming to 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels — through government bureaucracies does not sound like a good answer to any problem. Global warming will be limited far faster by private sector investments and ingenuity than expecting Nancy Pelosi to know how to spend it.
Nobody has forgotten how solar cell manufacturer Solyndra received a $535 million U.S. Energy Department loan guarantee as part of the Obama administration’s 2009 economic stimulus program. A loan that left the U.S. taxpayer with a $528 million loss entry on the balance sheet.
Most notable about the Morris and Mathur proposal summarized previously is that it does not put the additional revenues from the carbon tax in the hands of the government. Their proposal does the smartest thing you can do with such revenues: pay down the national debt. When the bulk of the costs associated with climate change materialize, the U.S. will be in a better position to address those costs if our total public debt as a percent of GDP is not still over 100 percent.
Figure 4. Total U.S. public debt as percent of GDP
Alas, history makes me pessimistic that the real problem of climate change will inspire Washington, D.C. politicians to suddenly find Jesus when it comes fiscal responsibility.
Instead, expect the U.S. government to solve the climate change problem the same way it is solving the problems of the Afghan people. Throw U.S. treasure at it while padding the bank accounts of those most tightly knit with the political leadership in Washington, D.C. That is how the system works and there is no reason to think now, suddenly, establishment Democrats and Republicans have figured out how to do things the right way.
The fourth lesson builds upon the third: Free market capitalism, warts and all, is the most powerful force we have to combat climate change. The private sector, from the corporate boardroom down to the household level, is where the real progress on climate change will be made…and is being made.
Free market capitalism adapts and profits from change not because it consciously organizes itself to do so, but because it can’t help itself. Every crisis. Every challenge. Every unexpected change to the system activates an entrepreneurial class always in search of the next profit opportunity.
That is what drives the world economy and what foretells that humans will overcome and prosper from whatever obstacles are generated by the current anthropogenic warming of the planet. Free market capitalism, particularly when unburdened from the market distortions generated by a too-powerful oligarchical class, works in the aggregate.
What is free market capitalism’s wheelhouse, after all? Destroying perfectly good crap and replacing it with even more crap. And what is the essential risk from climate change? Its potential to destroy life and property.
We have recent experience to demonstrate this.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit the Texas and Florida coasts, respectively, in Fall 2017. The flooding from Harvey was historic as it stalled over Houston and the damage by Irma was reminiscent of Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane (one of only three to ever hit the U.S.) that hit south of Miami in 1992.
Well, that may be. But if the economic growth is one of our prosperity measures, the argument that the U.S. is not prepared to withstand the hazards of climate change is too simplistic.
As Figure 5 shows, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma did not irreparably harm the Texas or Florida economies. Real GDP growth was at the national average of 3.0 percent in both states during the quarter in which the hurricanes hit. In the subsequent quarter, real GDP growth in Texas fell below the national average (1.2 percent versus 2.4 percent, respectively), but in Florida the economy was stronger in the third quarter of 2017 (3.8 percent growth). By the second quarter in 2018, both states were growing faster than the national average, and in the case of Texas, their economy is booming. Of course, energy prices, defense spending and other factors are playing major roles in the economic health of these two states. Still, the experience from Harvey and Irma reinforces the fact that the U.S. economy is too large, dynamic and diverse to presume it is ill-prepared to handle climate change’s enormous challenges.
Figure 5. Percent change in real GDP for Florida, Texas and U.S. (2017 Q2–2018 Q2)
What about Puerto Rico? Unfortunately, the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria does not leave us optimistic. However, to assign blame for Puerto Rico’s economic struggles to climate change is short-sighted.
Figure 6 shows Puerto Rico’s real GDP growth relative to the U.S. and the world. Since 2005, prior to Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s real GDP growth had been negative, averaging around -1.0 percent annually. In 2017, her growth rate fell over 1 percent to -2.4 percent, in large measure due to the consequences of Maria. But the short-term economic growth trend in Puerto Rico (from 2012 to 2016) was already bleak before Maria ever hit. High public debt and a stagnant job environment was already leading many Puerto Ricans to leave the island for the mainland. That was not Maria’s fault and, in fact, the near term growth forecast is looking more positive, though well below positive growth.
Figure 6. Real GDP growth, actual and forecast (1980–2025)
If there is a lesson from the 2017 hurricane season it is that impoverished communities are most at risk from storms, and as climate change increases the intensity of such storms, it is these communities that will suffer the most.
In truth, the biggest threat from climate change may be its exacerbation of wealth inequality more than its threat to human lives or economic prosperity.
And, yet, we have Democrats like former Hillary Clinton adviser Neera Tanden scolding those who bemoan the regressive nature of carbon taxes and their negative effects on low- and middle-income households.
If that is not textbook establishment Democrat thinking, I don’t know what is. An absolute inability to empathize with others from a different social class or educational background. But if they ever need to exploit the struggles of the poor and working-class for political gain, they push to the front of the line with bells on.
It’s public service as nothing more than posturing and virtue signaling. If you need to demean rank-and-file members of your own party that have a different opinion, feel free. It’s not like they are big money donors or anything. And don’t forget to check your poll numbers before you make a nebulous policy statement that commits yourself to nothing.
This is why newly-elected House members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) are so revolutionary and poised to make genuine change happen in Washington. Despite disagreeing with them both on many issues, I don’t question their motives or sincerity.
That’s a big deal and why they will become powerful counterweights to their party’s corrupt leadership.
But, in the meantime, who can be blamed for not trusting our elected leaders to take $2 to $4 trillion from taxpayers in the next 20 years so they can play ‘climate doctor’ with the money. We know in our hearts the U.S. Congress won’t solve the problem.
There was a time when the U.S. Congress was good at solving large social problems or tackling big challenges. Social Security successfully addressed extreme poverty among our disabled and elderly. The Apollo moon program, funded on the public dime, achieved President John F. Kennedy’s stretch goal of getting to the moon by the end of the decade.
And don’t forget we defeated the Nazis and the Japanese in just three years.
Today, the Congress is little more than a clown school for wealthy lawyers. They don’t solve problems, they perpetuate them and enrich their friends while doing so. Climate change activists, therefore, would be smart to disembark the clown car as soon as possible.
Fifth (and final) Lesson
The fifth lesson is the simplest (and hardest) of all to master: Live your values.
If someone really believes the quality of life for humans on earth is threatened by climate change, wouldn’t they change their personal energy consumption habits, even if their sole effort would not register on a global scale? Wouldn’t that person still want to be a role model for others in the hope that individual-level efforts may aggregate up to important improvements on a higher scale?
Yet, so many of our politicians and opinion leaders advocating for immediate action on climate change show no evidence that they are themselves willing to sacrifice personal luxury or lifestyle to ‘save the planet.’
From Joe Blow’s perspective, climate change activists are just another group of social elites trying to secure their share of the American largess. For every Prius in the parking lot at the Unitarian Church of Hopewell Valley (NJ), there are two BMWs or Volvos with ‘Save the Planet, Vote Democrat’ bumper stickers. That is virtue signaling in its most cynical form.
Overwhelming public demand for higher gas taxes is not going to be the result of a coordinated, nationwide grassroots effort. Not unless at least one fundamental change occurs within the advocacy community.
To have broad credibility, environmentalists must pass what I call the Ed Begley Jr. Test.
The 69-year-old actor is known to many for his role as Dr. Victor Ehrlich on the television series St. Elsewhere (1982–1988). However, since then, he may have become better known for his environmental activism.
He bought his first electric vehicle, a Taylor-Dunn golf cart, in the early 1970s, a time when ‘global cooling’ was seriously discussed within climate science circles.
Begley’s home covers a modest 1,585 square feet and relies on solar power, wind power (via a PacWind vertical-axis wind turbine), and an electricity-generating bicycle (used to toast bread). His annual electricity bill runs around $300. A long time critic of suburban lawns, Begley eschews grass and instead covers his yard with drought-tolerant plants.
In other words, he lives his values.
So, when he talks about climate change, I take him seriously. He’s earned that respect. And while I have no doubt there are clandestine photos of Begley Jr. jumping out of a gasoline-powered limousine, he’s more than established his authenticity on environmental issues.
It would be nice if other Hollywood activists and national politicians showed the same congruence between their words and lifestyle.
When a 2016 analysis of U.S. Senate office spending accounts revealed that Senators Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand spent a combined $442,000 in public money flying private airplanes between October 2014 and September 2015, the story barely made a ripple in the mainstream media.
Every time Leonardo DiCaprio flies his buddies to the Maldives or yachts around the Mediterranean with super models, he’s really telling us: “Piss on you. Do as I say, not as I do.” I don’t believe for one second DiCaprio or George Clooney or Nancy Pelosi or Rachel Maddow believe human civilization as we know it is threatened by climate change. If they truly believed, they would lead by example.
But they don’t.
By not living the values they preach, it is reasonable to assume their advocacy for ‘a fundamental transformation of the energy economy’ is really just a shakedown of the American people to finance the neoliberal hegemon. Climate change scaremongering appears to many Americans as merely a partisan money grab.
The recently released documentary film, “The Panama Papers,” about how the world’s economic elites are hoarding their wealth in off-shore accounts to avoid domestic taxes, only reinforces a belief by many that politicians advocating higher taxes to pay for climate change policies don’t intend to subject their own fortunes to the financing of the world’s energy transformation. That is common hypocrisy.
The Yellow Vest protesters in France may be predominately white and less educated and their grievances may go far deeper than just dissatisfaction over a regressive carbon tax. But to therefore ignore the relevancy to the U.S. of their anti-carbon tax message is a potentially grave mistake for those that want to see the U.S. do more than it already is on combating climate change.