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.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; November 30, 2018)
She hadn’t been in Washington, D.C. a week before Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) decided to join climate change activists in a sit-in at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s congressional office.
Her act was bold, some would even say imprudent, but it was also unprecedented. Never has an incoming U.S. House member participated in a protest in the office of a fellow congressperson, much less the presumptive House Speaker.
“She was elected as part of the movement, she intends to govern as part of the movement,” Ocasio-Cortez spokesman Corbin Trent told The Hill. “She thinks there is no other priority that we should be focused on and supports the sunrise movements call for Democrats to create a plan to transition the economy to a zero carbon economy so we have that ready to go when we take back the Presidency in 2020.”
On the same day she lent her support to the activists in Pelosi’s office, Ocasio-Cortez unveiled a proposal for the House to appoint a Select Committee for a Green New Deal, thereby bypassing the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is likely to be chaired by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) in the next session.
Within hours of the proposal’s release, Pelosi released a statement urging police to release the demonstrators that had camped in her office, and Pallone arranged a private communication with Ocasio-Cortez, presumably to poo-poo her idea of creating the select committee.
If this should materialize, it will be further evidence that Ocasio-Cortez has no intention of blending into the House chamber’s walnut paneled walls and will instead be one of the CPC’s most influential members — a caucus whose size may account for nearly two-thirds of House Democrats in the next session.
And unless one believes Pelosi is a Medicare-for-All-type progressive (I don’t), the CPC’s rise will mark the beginning of her end as the most powerful House Democrat.
However, that is not the story being offered by the political media.
As the House Democrats begin to pick their leadership for the upcoming session, a predictable flurry of news stories and opinion pieces have emerged promoting the myth of Pelosi’s impregnable hold on power.
“During Nancy Pelosi’s four years as speaker, there was no confusion as to who was in control,” says New York Times writer Robert Draper. “Pelosi used the tools at her disposal — committee assignments, campaign donations — to establish a balance among her party’s coalitions while also reminding everyone that her job was not simply to officiate and appease.”
“(Pelosi) understands the position of all her members, talks to them, determines what their interests and feelings are, and figures out what will induce them to come over to her side,” writes The American Prospect’s Paul Waldman. “It’s a task that requires systematic preparation and careful implementation.”
All true statements. But these Pelosi tributes are mostly retrospective and derivative, offering little insight on the true dynamic now going on behind Democratic office doors.
As there will be no significant congressional legislation passed in the next two years, there is little incentive for a legitimate contender to Pelosi to emerge now.
After the 2020 elections, it will be a very different story.
Ocasio-Cortez’ rise is Kennedyesque and the GOP knows it
Some political observers have compared Ocasio-Cortez to Donald Trump, both making promises to their core constituencies they can’t keep, and if such promises were implemented, might even do more harm than good.
Others, citing quotes like the one below about the ‘three chambers of government,’ compare her to Sarah Palin.
“If we work our butts off to make sure that we take back all three chambers of Congress, uh, rather, all three chambers of government — the presidency, the Senate and the House — in 2020,” Ocasio-Cortez recently said in an Instagram Live podcast. “We can’t start working in 2020.”
The conservative media’s overwrought reaction to Ocasio-Cortez’ calling the presidency, U.S. House and U.S. Senate the “three chambers of government” says more about their respect for her potential than it does about her political knowledge.
Ocasio-Cortez’ point was obvious — to win control of the presidency and both congressional chambers in 2020, congressional Democrats must pursue their legislative agenda now — even if her choice of words did not serve her argument well.
We should all have our every public word monitored by the news media and see how many factual errors we make on a regular basis.
Nonetheless, Ocasio-Cortez’ near constant presence on TV and social media has revealed some genuine knowledge gaps and a Trumpian-like propensity to brush over crucial details.
“Ocasio-Cortez’s 14-point victory over 10-term incumbent Democrat Joe Crowley was certainly impressive,” says conservative Boston Herald columnist Michael Graham. But since then, he’s not as impressed. “Her stumbling media appearances have sparked references to the ‘P’ word: Palin.”
Comparisons to former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin may be warranted, but not for the reasons many assume. When McCain selected Palin to be his running mate on August 29, 2008, she was not a joke to the Democrats. In fact, the attractive populist from Alaska scared them to death.
“People forget, she had the Democratic party shaking in our boots in 2008,” recalls former Democratic operative and CNN host Van Jones. “She came out and she gave that speech at the convention. That was hands down one of the best convention speeches, not by a woman, by anybody in 2008. People were running for the hills.”
Her one debate appearance against Joe Biden was also considered a success. However, two months later, following a worldwide financial meltdown and a series of media-amplified Palin gaffes, McCain would lose the election to Barack Obama by seven points.
Had Palin demonstrated any ability to improve her skill sets and minimize her deficiencies, she may have won the presidency in 2016 instead of Donald Trump. For a brief moment, she seemed like she had that potential — then the media attacks started.
A similarly negative reaction to Ocasio-Cortez by Republicans and many establishment Democrats suggests they are similarly concerned about her fast-rising political prospects.
Ocasio-Cortez is not another Sarah Palin. Indeed, the more apropos comparison is to a young John F. Kennedy.
The common threads between Kennedy and Ocasio-Cortez
John F. Kennedy, when he was first elected to the U.S. House in 1946, was a new money aristocrat, Navy war hero and son of a former U.S. ambassador.
He also could be intellectually lazy in one moment and display his considerable intuitive brilliance in the next. By upbringing, he had a junkie’s compulsiveness to serve his earthly appetites; from that same upbringing he had the personal confidence to stand up to a U.S. military establishment pushing (perhaps even conspiring) to invade Cuba in October 1962.
Yet, these are not the characteristics that bond Kennedy and Ocasio-Cortez.
Kennedy wasn’t shy about defying political norms. He understood that, in national politics, timing is far more important than calendar age and refused to wait for ‘his turn’ when it came to running for president.
Elected as the youngest elected president in history, Kennedy fit the early 1960s in a way LBJ or Hubert Humphrey did not. Had he gone by the textbook, he would have waited behind them before running for president.
Similarly, Ocasio-Cortez is also blowing up political norms.
Both will have first entered the U.S. House at 29-years-old. Like Kennedy, Ocasio-Cortez is charismatic and comfortable within the newest communication platforms. Kennedy mastered the television medium before most other national politicians of his time. For Ocasio-Cortez, her mastery of multiple social media platforms helped her overcome the significant financial and endorsement advantage of her primary opponent, Rep. Joe Crowley.
It also helps that Ocasio-Cortez’ looks work well in the talking-head close-ups typically used for podcasts, just as Kennedy was immanently watchable during his TV appearances.
The informality of social media also serves Ocasio-Cortez’ communication style well and lessens the impact of her verbal gaffes and tics (though she still needs to cut down on her use of the word ‘like’). A semantic mistake like the ‘three chambers of government’-gaffe, that might repel older audiences, is more likely to be forgiven by millennials more accustomed to the lower production values and content quality of YouTube and other podcast platforms.
Nothing shows the growing irrelevance of the political establishment (both on the left and right) more clearly than their collective meltdown every time Trump or Ocasio-Cortez make even a minor semantic or factual error.
The marketability of gotcha journalism finally may be over.
But to really appreciate the comparability of Ocasio-Cortez’ rise to Kennedy’s, a closer look at Kennedy’s early political career is helpful.
A short history of John F. Kennedy’s early years (1917-1946)
Our thoughts on JFK often go to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination, Camelot or any of the many personal tragedies endured by his family, but I’ve always been fascinated by the young Kennedy, particularly his proto-political years. And it is in that part of his life that I see noteworthy similarities to Ocasio-Cortez.
For this reason, I recently re-read Illene Cooper’s book, Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy, which offers a deeper understanding than other biographies of the forces that drove Kennedy to become our 35th president. Focusing on his years leading up to his election to the U.S. House in 1946, Cooper details how his self-image was built on a childhood defined by “ill health, an intense sibling relationship, mixed family messages, (and) prejudice against Irish Catholics in America.”
An inconsistent student throughout his life, Kennedy compensated by relying on his distinctive good-looks, innate intelligence and abundant charisma to navigate through and around life’s typical challenges.
Cooper’s biography reveals the young Kennedy as more ‘street smart’ than a polished intellectual.
Lacking the credentials of an academic historian, a 23-year-old Kennedy nonetheless wrote a readable, if slightly pedestrian, account of why England failed to properly prepare for the aggression of Hitler’s Germany. Published in 1940 under the title, Why England Slept, the book sold around 80,000 copies and offered Kennedy a glimpse of what personal fame feels like.
He liked the feeling, according to Cooper — particularly the pleasure of not being under his father’s and older brother’s (Joe Jr.) shadow.
World War II intervened, however, and a physically fragile Kennedy entered the United States Naval Reserve where he would eventually earn a Navy and Marine Corps Medal and a Purple Heart Medal for his heroic actions as the commanding officer of a Motor Torpedo Boat (PT-109) following its collision (with a Japanese destroyer) and sinking in the Pacific War area on August 1–2, 1943.
This well-earned second encounter with notoriety ignited a work ethic in Kennedy comparable to his already ample ambition. So, what would he do next? Upon leaving the Navy, Kennedy began making speeches around Massachusetts in 1945 with the clear expectation of running for political office.
Whether by luck or familial string pulling, U.S. Rep. James Michael Curleyannounced that he would leave his seat in the strongly Democratic 11th congressional district of Massachusetts to become mayor of Boston in 1946. With his campaign financed by his family, Kennedy won the Democratic primary by beating his 10 opponents with only 12 percent of the vote and went on easily to win the general election.
Despite his many advantages, Kennedy also possessed many liabilities as a political candidate. According to historian Seth Ridinger, his wealth and elite education did not help him in working-class sections of Massachusetts’s 11th congressional district. Accordingly, Kennedy’s campaign developed a stump speech addressing the bread-and-butter issues attractive to working-class voters, the main points of which centered on “affordable housing for returning veterans and well-paying jobs to anyone willing to work.”
Even with significant health issues, mostly related to his back problems, Kennedy was a tireless campaigner — a political natural with a protean knack for maneuvering tricky interpersonal relationships. And he was not just a great public speaker, but a formidable extemporaneous speaker as well.
While most national politicians are generally impressive people, some are far better than others. Transcendent politicians — particularly those that become president — embrace the trials and tribulations inherent in the profession, and for them the combat is the primary attraction, perhaps more than even ‘doing good’ or helping one’s constituents.
If there is one defining characteristic shared by Kennedy and Ocasio-Cortez, it is this love for political battle. Ocasio-Cortez does not let a public insult go unanswered — and the Kennedy’s were no different.
Convinced JFK’s 1960 Democratic primary opponent, Hubert Humphrey, had not done enough to prevent anti-Catholic sentiments from entering the West Virginia primary race, JFK’s campaign nurtured one of the dirtiest political attacks of all time by insinuating Humphrey was a draft dodger. Utterly untrue, as Humphrey tried to join the armed forces three times but was rejected each time for health reasons, the Kennedy campaign was able to put enough layers between themselves and the ‘dirty trick’ to minimize any potential backlash.
There is no evidence Ocasio-Cortez has ever done anything like that, and nothing in her public persona suggesting she ever would. Regardless, she does fight back when attacked and shows no fear in bloodying a few noses, if necessary (see two of her best Twitter replies below).
A momentary digression: My wife insists Nancy Pelosi is more Kennedyesque than Ocasio-Cortez.
My wife reacted negatively to Ocasio-Cortez’ participation in the Pelosi office sit-in. It just rubbed her wrong. “Disrespectful.” “Grand-standing.” “Bad politics.”
She also rightly points out that Nancy Pelosi is an imposing “fighter” in her own right, famously saying once that “any House Democrat voting with the party leadership 99 percent of the time is going to regret that 1 percent where they didn’t.”
Why do I not include Pelosi in the same class as Kennedy or Ocasio-Cortez? Certainly Pelosi was capable of being president, even if she chose a different political path. So, am I just being sexist?
It is true that Pelosi is a fearsome political brawler — one of the best. But many years ago Pelosi made the decision to become the Democratic Party’s preeminent bag man, which makes her duty-bound to the wealthy and corporate donors that have made her the most powerful woman in American politics.
This is not a criticism. That is how the system works. It is a statement of simple fact that even her most ardent supporters acknowledge. And that is why, from universal health care to bank regulation, she never was and never will be a reliable champion for progressive causes in the U.S House. The Democratic Party is too dependent on pharmaceutical and banking money, as just two examples, to ever drastically undercut those corporate interests.
No, Obamacare was not progressive health care reform. It was a special interest patchwork that included some progressive agenda items — mandatory insurance coverage for abortion and the limited expansion of Medicare/Medicaid — but it also protected pharmaceutical companies that insisted their highly-profitable industry not be subjected to more price competition (comparable to every other industrialized country). One of the causes of America’s expensive health care system is the relative high cost of prescription drugs; yet, Obamacare basically turned its back on the issue.
Obamacare is the handiwork of people like Nancy Pelosi, an establishment Democrat, or as I prefer to call them — incrementalists — which to a progressive’s ear should sound like a dirty word.
This is why Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives, such as Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Raúl Manuel Grijalva (D-AZ) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), are potentially change agents in a way that is not possible by any establishment Democrat.
We’ve already seen all five of those qualities demonstrated by Ocasio-Cortez since she’s become a national political figure. In contrast, the Tom Perez-Nancy Pelosi-Chuck Schumer Democratic brain trust falls flat on all five qualities, particularly when it comes to a clear vision and building trust. I don’t know what the establishment Democrats stand for and absolutely do not trust that they will do what they promise to do.
Regardless of whether you support progressive Democrats’ agenda (I, for one, have grave reservations), it is hard not to respect and admire their authenticity and sincerity. I believe the election of Donald Trump is, in part, a product of Americans’ desire for this type of leadership.
That is also why I believe a future president will come from this group of Justice Democrats. And the one most likely to be that person, in my opinion, is Ocasio-Cortez.
JFK’s U.S. House career hints at what may be her path to the presidency.
An even shorter history of John F. Kennedy’s U.S. House years (1947–1952)
JFK was a political outsider from the start of his political career. “He was never fully embraced by the liberal (FDR) wing of the Democratic Party,” wrote journalist John Avlon on the 50-year anniversary of his death.
In his first congressional campaign, Kennedy was one of 11 Democratic candidates and ran his campaign outside the traditional party apparatus — in part, because he had to do it that way.
As the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain from 1938 to 1940, Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, developed a close relationship with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who would declare after 1938 peace treaty with Adolph Hitler’s Germany that it would usher in the ‘peace of our time.’ Also known for his insistence to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that the defeat of Hitler’s Germany would be too difficult, Joe Kennedy’s political career was over with the start of World War II.
Similar to the way slurs like ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’ are used today to diminish political opponents, in 1946, the term ‘appeaser’ was the tag used to identify politicians considered too weak to be trusted — and that was a label that would follow JFK into his presidency.
Perhaps it was advantageous to Kennedy’s long-term political goals that he learned how to work outside the party system. Given the strategy was successful in his House campaigns, he continued this outsider strategy in his 1952 U.S. Senate and 1960 presidential campaigns.
Reviewing the book, “The Road to Camelot,” by Thomas Oliphant and Curtis Wilkie, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, highlighted their observation that “the Kennedy presidential campaign kicked off unofficially years in advance, with a focus on defying traditional party politics, building a strong grass-roots organization and bringing new voters into the process.”
Unlike Ocasio-Cortez, Kennedy’s family money offered him the luxury of shunning the campaign resources that comes with the traditional party structure. Even so, once elected, both entered Capitol Hill lacking a strong relationship with party leaders.
We will find out soon how that will impact Ocasio-Cortez’ committee assignment(s), but we know how it impacted Kennedy’s House career.
“We were just worms in the House,” Kennedy would later say about his time in the House. “Nobody paid attention to us nationally.”
Contributing to the young congressman from Massachusetts’ frustration was a Democratic House leadership, led by Sam Rayburn, that had a hard time separating the young Kennedy from his father’s ignominy.
The 80th Congress
Ninety-three new members entered the House on January 3, 1947. Among them, along with Kennedy, was Jacob Javits (R-NY), who served in Congress from 1947 to 1981, John Davis Lodge (R-CT), the grandson of former Senate Majority Leader Henry Cabot Lodge, and Richard Nixon (R-CA), a future president and Kennedy adversary.
Javits and Lodge were rising stars in the Republican Party, evidenced by their both being assigned to the prestigious House Committee on Foreign Affairs. In contrast, Nixon and Kennedy found themselves on the House Committee on Education and Labor. While not a low prestige committee, it was not what Kennedy wanted. Nixon, at least, would also get assigned to the Committee on Un-American Activities, fulfilling one of his major policy interests. Kennedy’s second committee assignment, on the other hand, was to the Committee on the District of Columbia, often a dumping ground for lowly regarded House members.
For a Democrat with presidential aspirations, a tight relationship with labor unions is essential and there is no better place to start those relationships than on the House Committee on Education and Labor.
But that was not Kennedy’s core interest.
“Our foreign policy today may well determine the kind of life we will live here for generations” Kennedy told an audience at the Crosscup-Pishon American Legion Post (Boston, MA) on November 11, 1945. “For the peace and prosperity of this country are truly indivisible from the peace and prosperity of the world in this atomic age.”
From the start of his House campaign, Kennedy showed a preference for foreign policy and veteran’s issues. His first book was on the British response to Germany’s military buildup leading up to World War II. It was no secret Kennedy wanted an appointment to either Armed Services or Foreign Affairs, and finding himself on Education and Labor simply activated his susceptibility to boredom.
Kennedy would get re-elected to the House in 1948 and 1950, but his committee assignments remained the same. By the end of his six years in the House, Kennedy would have few accomplishments as he turned his attention to a U.S. Senate race in 1952.
Richard Nixon, having made a name for himself on the Committee on Un-American Activities, would become vice president. If it wasn’t evident before then, Kennedy’s impatience became palpable. Eight years later, Kennedy and Nixon would square off in one of the closest (and most controversial) presidential elections in American history.
What does Kennedy tell us about Ocasio-Cortez?
If Donald Trump has taught us anything, there are no absolute rules in politics. There is no single path to the presidency and there probably never has been. But there are four personality attributes common to almost all presidents — ambition, assertiveness, independence and charisma.
Kennedy had them. Ocasio-Cortez has them.
And most important among them may be independence. Which is why what some would consider the biggest difference between Kennedy and Ocasio-Cortez — personal wealth — actually binds them together.
Through his family’s significant financial resources, Kennedy was never as beholden to party, big donor, corporate and labor money as were most other Democratic politicians. Kennedy’s family wealth offered him a level of ideological and policy independence that freed him to make more compelling appeals to working class Americans, not unlike candidate Donald Trump. This independence makes for a much stronger candidate — one that can openly tick off corporate interests without fear of financial retribution.
Kennedy had that relative autonomy and so does Ocasio-Cortez, who did not accept corporate PAC donations during her House race.
“She’s untethered from the donors so she is much braver than the average Democrat in Congress. She calls for a Green New Deal and says the people on the Select Committee should not take any fossil fuel money. Now, the Democrats plan to put Frank Pallone (D-NJ) as the head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee (who) takes a $180,000 from energy companies — that’s institutional corruption! Establishment Democrats go, “No, don’t criticize the Republicans because we also take money from fossil fuel companies,” but since she doesn’t take any large donor money like that, she can criticize the Republicans all she likes.”
When Ocasio-Cortez says Frank Pallone cannot be trusted to lead congressional action on climate change because he is too dependent on big gas and oil campaign money, she means exactly that. And she gladly repeats it on Instagram, Twitter, and whatever other media platform available to her.
Ocasio-Cortez sometimes gets her facts wrong and propels social and economic theories that are plainly false. For example, holding two jobs does not contribute to today’s lower unemployment rate. And how our nation could ever pay for universal health care, free public university tuition, and a federal job guarantee, while still having enough money to address climate change, is a question nobody on the progressive left can adequately answer.
“You just pay for it,” as suggested by Ocasio-Cortez, is not an answer — even though that is exactly what we already do in this country to pay for defense, Medicare, Social Security, etc.
Ocasio-Cortez is only 29-years-old and shows every sign that she is coachable. Over-time, if she is disciplined (in contrast to Palin), she will be a formidable force on the national political stage. She already is, frankly.
Just as Kennedy’s career marched from a U.S. House seat, to the U.S. Senate, and ultimately to the White House, Ocasio-Cortez demonstrates every attribute necessary to follow that same path. She is smart, charismatic and optimistic. She also works hard (you can see her campaign shoes here). And, most importantly, she looks like the future, not unlike how Kennedy’s cool charm reflected America’s growing economic prosperity and world dominance in the early 1960s.
Ocasio-Cortez is not there yet and lionizing her now is probably not prudent. Besides, she has twenty years to prepare for a presidential run.
And while Pelosi’s lieutenants will do everything in their power to either turn Ocasio-Cortez to the dark side or simply destroy her national-level political viability, in the brief time we’ve known her, she appears resilient to such pressure and has already demonstrated a willingness to go around her party’s leadership to get her progressive message directly to the people. Unless Pelosi can close down her Instagram account, there is not much that will stop Ocasio-Cortez, except maybe burying her on the House Committee on the District of Columbia.
Will Ocasio-Cortez succeed in the long-term? Who knows. Few observers in 1946 saw JFK as a future president. In fact, he was viewed by many as a lightweight.
But Kennedy was no lightweight, and neither is Ocasio-Cortez.
In the near-term, expect establishment Democrats to passive-aggressively undermine the Ocasio-Cortez brand, as she and the progressive movement represent the greatest threat to their hold on power. Don’t be surprised, however, if Pelosi uses a prime committee assignment to attempt to blunt Ocasio-Cortez’ passion for ‘fundamental political change.’
The Republicans recognize the longer-term threat, which is why they are tearing Ocasio-Cortez down now (just as the Democrats did to Palin) — so they don’t have to face her at full strength in the future.
Will the Republican character assassination strategy work on Ocasio-Cortez?
After all, they successfully demonized Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. Why would Ocasio-Cortez be any different?
But I think she is different. For one, she has already shown the ability to respond quickly to attacks, while still keeping her progressive policy message front and center. Secondly, she is deft at taking her message directly to voters through social media. Lastly, she is independent of the corporate interest pressures endemic to establishment politicians like Clinton and Pelosi. Those are Trumpian qualities in a Trumpian age and that seems like a solid indicator of her political viability going forward.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; November 14, 2018)
Late Palestinian writer Edward Said once said Muslim women would lead the Islam into the 21st-century.
Said’s prediction may not have yet materialized in the Islamic world, but his words echoed in my head with the election of two Muslim-American women to the U.S. House last Tuesday. Among the many ‘firsts’ coming from the midterm elections, their election victories may have the most substantive impact.
Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), a social worker and the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, and Somali-American and former refugee Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) are both Democrats and poised to upend the status quo in the Democratic Party.
From both sides of the political establishment, the long knives were drawn against Tlaib and Omar before they were even elected.
Rep.-elect Tlaib’s initial apostasy occurred when she seemingly changed her opinion on U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, suggesting that the two-state solution is a failed project (it is) and that the one-state solution, where Israel officially annexes the West Bank and Jews and Palestinians live together as full citizens, is now the only just and viable option (also true).
Responding to a reporter’s question after she won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House seat, Tlaib said: “One state. It has to be one state. Separate but equal does not work. I’m only 42 years old but my teachers were of that generation that marched with Martin Luther King. This whole idea of a two-state solution, it doesn’t work.”
However, some Israelis and pro-Israel Democrats claim Tlaib has either changed her opinion or deliberately misled them.
According to the Israeli paper Haaretz, a senior adviser to Tlaib, Steve Tobocman, told the paper prior to the primary that she supported a two-state solution, as well as current U.S. aid levels to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Whether Tlaib’s opinion shift was calculated or simply a misunderstanding, the Democratic Party’s pro-Israel lobbyists did not take long to respond.
“J Street will not endorse candidates who don’t endorse the two-state solution,” announced the Democrat-aligned lobbying group. “After closely consulting with Rashida Tlaib’s campaign to clarify her most current views on various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we have come to the unfortunate conclusion that a significant divergence in perspectives requires JStreet PAC to withdraw our endorsement of her candidacy.”
The New York Times wondered out loud if Tlaib, along with Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) might represent a trend among newly elected Democrats to more aggressively question the party establishment’s uncritical support of Israel and their stale ideas on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Under pressure from party leaders, Ocasio-Cortez has backpeddled somewhat from earlier criticisms she made regarding Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, but Tlaib and Omar have not. Nonetheless, the Times article ultimately concluded Congress’ iron-clad support for Israel is not threatened by these Democratic Party newcomers. In an age of extreme partisanship in U.S. politics, it is remarkable at the unanimity of opinion between the Democratic and Republican parties regarding Israel.
“We’re talking about a handful of people,” Ronald Halber, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council for the Washington, D.C. area, was quoted as saying in the Times article. “They’re certainly not going to move Congress’s wall-to-wall support for Israel.”
Still, Tlaib’s mere suggestion that a one-state solution remains the only viable option left has aggravated the Democratic and Republican political establishments. And, despite 80 years of failure in implementing a workable two-state solution, the fact that mainstream foreign policy experts consider a one-state solution a ‘radical’ idea exemplifies their general lack of creativity and relevance.
The one-state solution train has already left the station, as evidenced by the passing of Israel’s new law officially recognizing Israel as the Jewish homeland and effectively creating a legal wall of separation between Israeli Jews and non-Jews that will keep Palestinians in a second-class status should Israel annex the occupied lands.
Tlaib’s support of the one-state solution was simply acknowledging what is already becoming a reality on the ground. Her concern has therefore turned to ensuring that Palestinians attain full citizenship rights when this solution is implemented.
Yet, if Tlaib’s criticism of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians were her only heresy, she could easily be dismissed as someone biased by her ethnic and cultural heritage. Instead, she is far more balanced and realistic in her thinking on Israel, to the point where she has many critics on the progressive left as well.
For starters, she bristled at criticisms from Palestinian activists over her original J Street endorsement (which was subsequently withdrawn over her one-state stance). “Palestinians are attacking me now, but I am not going to dehumanize Israelis,” she said. “I won’t do that.”
Tlaib further aggravated some on the progressive left with her nuanced opinion regarding the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. While she supports the right of Americans to voice their opposition to Israeli policies towards Palestinians through the BDS movement (something the U.S. House will likely be voting on in this next term), she has purposely distanced herself from some of its tactics. Her non-conformity with progressive left orthodoxy has not gone unnoticed and might aid any attempt by the Democratic Party establishment to isolate her should they decide it is necessary.
In that regard, Tlaib casts a similar image to Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who is not shy about criticizing her own party’s leadership or ideologues on the progressive left.
Gabbard, a consistent supporter of Israel, has nonetheless criticized specific Israeli actions and policies over her congressional career, such as Israel’s expansion of West Bank settlements and strong support for a U.S.-led regime change war in Assad’s Syria.
Tlaib shows every indication that she will confront her own party when she needs to do so — which is not good news for Nancy Pelosi’s upcoming struggle over the next two years in keeping the party unified.
Rep.-elect Omar, who will be replacing Keith Ellison in the House, is a more typical progressive in comparison to Tlaib. Her soft, striking beauty belies a prickly, sharp-edged personality that is direct and often combative.
An immigrant herself, she made U.S. immigration policy under Donald Trump a centerpiece of her campaign, including a call to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE):
“Our immigration system is fundamentally unjust. Instead of extending humanity and compassion to migrants and refugees, we treat them as criminals,” she posted in a statement on her campaign website. “ICE is an unreformable organization that has become increasingly militarized, brutal, and unaccountable. However, we must not simply revert back to the immigration system that preceded ICE. We must welcome immigrants into our country and provide them simple and accessible means to becoming documented.”
Sharp, blunt and uncompromising.
Unsurprisingly, Omar’s sharpest critics are on the political right, who as of late like to chide the Democrats for name-calling and character assassinations (think: Brett Kavanaugh). Unfortunately, the political right has never shied away from using these tactics themselves, as witnessed in their scathing, personal, ad hominem attacks on Omar.
Their ugliest slur against Omar has been to call her an ‘anti-Semite,’ citing her past statements such as the following tweet in 2012:
The language(s) we speak affect how we view the world and how others view us. For example, when they translate linguistic norms and idioms into rough English equivalents, bilingual Arabic speakers are often misinterpreted by English-only speakers.
In other words, according to Raymond Cohen, professor of international relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, “communal life is possible only because members of a community possess a set of shared meanings, enabling them to make coherent sense of the world.”
“While it is legitimate for English speakers to use their native-language paradigm as a baseline against which to measure non-English versions, speakers of other languages are equally entitled to consider their own paradigms as normative,” concludes Cohen.
I read Omar’s above tweet about Israel as relatively benign and consistent with mainstream criticisms of Israeli policies towards Palestinians.
Not everybody, however, interprets Omar’s comments that way.
The entertaining and often thought-provoking Steve Deace, a conservative radio host based out of my home state of Iowa, enjoys serving as an expositor of Omar’s public statements. While he has echoed calls for more civility from both sides of the political spectrum, he does not extend that olive branch to Omar [Nor would she accept it, I suspect].
“This woman is an open anti-Semite,” he declared last week on his TV-radio show simulcast, suggesting her pro-Palestinian activism is nothing but a cover for a deep-seeded enmity towards the Jewish religion. When offering evidence of Omar’s anti-Semitism, he usually cites her November 2012 tweet (above).
So much for Deace’s eschewing the use of name-calling. Labels like ‘anti-Semite’ and ‘racist’ are easy to toss around and convenient cudgels in cases where someone wants to end all constructive dialogue with a political opponent. Democrats are no better, of course, doing the same thing when they call Trump supporters ‘racist.’
Beyond the petty name-calling, more harmful is Deace’s reinforcement of the dialogue-impeding insinuation that criticism of the State of Israel’s policies with respect to the Palestinians is, de facto, an expression of anti-Semitism.
Of course, that is not true.
Even Omar’s November 2012 tweet condemns the ‘evil doings’ of Israel, not the Israeli state itself. In fact, Omar’s views on Israel exist firmly within the boundaries of the mainstream progressive left — which is fair game for criticism, not on the grounds that it is latent anti-Semitism, but on the merits of its policy rationale.
Yes, anti-Semitism is all too real, as recent events in the U.S. can attest. But it bears repeating: criticism of Israel is not sufficient evidence to call someone anti-Semitic. [British academic Ahmad Samih Khalidi, writing for The Guardian, offers a much better discussion on this topic here.]
For example, the Reverend Louis Farrakhan, who is not a member of the progressive left, is openly anti-Semitic. That is an easy call.
In contrast, Omar is a devout Muslim critical of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. There is a vast chasm between the views of Rev. Farrakhan and Omar and that divide deserves recognition. If anything, it is the small pocket of virulent anti-Semitism residing in the darkest corners of American conservatism that seems far more alarming than anything found on the progressive left.
Ironically, it is commentators from the Israeli political media that are more clear-eyed about the political rise of Omar and Tlaib. Times of Israelcolumnist Ramon Epstein keenly summarizes the conflict between the pro-Israel Democratic establishment and Reps. Tlaib and Omar:
“The rapid advance of democratic socialism and far left confrontational politics is displacing a calcified and failed establishment class. A significant proportion of this youthful grassroots movement opposes Israel on many policy issues, and stands logically on the side of the Palestinian activist community that as many of you are well aware has taken college campuses by storm throughout the USA,” writes Epstein. “Depending on the geriatric pro-Israel left to eventually ‘right the ship’ in the Democratic Party means depending on the empty threats of Alan Dershowitz, incompetent leadership from Chuck Schumer, and the Orwellian censorship of the Anti-Defamation League. In short — a losing playbook.”
Epstein is not a fan of the progressive left’s growing comfort level with rebukes of Israel, but he sees it for what it is (an anti-establishment movement) and what it is not (overt anti-Semitism).
Taking Epstein’s thesis to its logical conclusion, the Democratic Party’s aging and entrenched congressional leadership will struggle to hold the party together with the rise of progressives like Tlaib, Omar and others in the party’s left flank, such as Ocasio-Cortez and Gabbard.
If Edward Said were still alive, he would not be surprised to find Omar and Tlaib becoming two of the most vocal and impactful members in the U.S. House going forward.
Oumuamua, a cigar-shaped object observable from Earth for only a few days, was seen to enter and leave our solar system in a manner quite different from previous solar system intruders. Whereas previous objects, such as comets, followed a Keplerian orbit indicative of objects under our Sun’s gravitational influence, Oumuamua was under some other intragalactic object’s gravitational influence. Or, perhaps, Oumuamua was moving under its own power, as would an alien spacecraft or probe. The two scientists at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics lightheartedly posed the question (and quickly dismissed it) in their paper published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Nonetheless, their research paper does lay out the argument for why we cannot instinctively dismiss the possibility that aliens will someday visit our planet.
One inference I made from the Astrophysical Journal Letters paper was that, if our planet is visited by an alien civilization, it will most likely be through one of their interstellar probes and not directly by the aliens themselves.
Keeping a living, biological entity alive for what would be an interminably long trip — most likely taking hundreds of years — is just not practical and probably not necessary, unless this alien culture is in the process of colonizing another planet. Let us hope that is not their ultimate motivation when their first probe arrives here.
The layman argument for why aliens will arrive (probably in the next few hundred years)
To start the conjecture process, accept these three broad assumptions:
(1) Advanced-intelligence alien civilizations exist within 250 light-years of our planet and the number of such civilizations is not less than 100. Given that there are 260,000 stars within 250 light-years of our own, that would translate to at least one advanced civilization for every 2,600 stars.
(2) Among these advanced-intelligence civilizations, humans are average in intelligence and technological advancement.
(3) And finally, like Earthlings, aliens have a powerful drive to explore beyond their own planet.
The net result of these assumptions is the expectation that they will contact us, should one of these alien civilizations know we exist and live relatively close by (say, within a few hundred light-years).
But how will they contact us?
Our own experience helps answer this question. Human civilization organized beyond mere tribal and local congregations is only five- to ten-thousand years old, not even the wink-of-an-eye in astronomical terms. And, yet, in that short time, we’ve moved from simple wheeled-carts to interplanetary probes. We’ve even sent probes that have left our solar system.
However, leaving the solar system is nothing compared to visiting an exoplanet (i.e., a planet outside our solar system). But we’ve taken the first big step in this process. Humans can now observe other exoplanets, some as close as a few light-years away (Ross 128b is only 11 light-years away and possibly life-supporting). We know the composition of their atmospheres and what the temperatures are like between day and night and at different moments in the exoplanet’s orbit.
Humans are rapidly compiling a list of “nearby” exoplanets most likely to support advanced, intelligent life. The list is not long, but it is not zero either.
If humans are doing this, intelligent aliens are doing it too. Yes, I only have a sample size of one, but as noted, I assume humans are average among the advanced-intelligence lifeforms in our galactic quadrant.
Therefore, I expect half of the advanced-intelligence civilizations are far beyond observing and categorizing exoplanets and are much closer than ourselves in identifying specific exoplanets where advanced life exists.
Once identified, there are two options: Send messages to this exoplanet or travel there directly, most likely via an interstellar probe.
The advantage of sending messages is that those will travel at light-speed. If the target is 10 light-years away, it will only take 20 years to complete the first conversational exchange, assuming the target receives and understands the message.
Frankly, it is much more logical to travel there straightaway and avoid the improbabilities of starting a constructive long-distance relationship.
To do that, however, requires fast spacecrafts. Super fast. As in, a significant-percentage-of-light-speed type of fast.
Currently, the fastest outward-bound human-built spacecraft, Voyager 1, has traveled 1/600 of a light-year in 30 years and is currently moving at 1/18,000 the speed of light. At that speed, it would take Voyager 1 over 80,000 years to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri C, a red dwarf about four light-years from Earth.
We must go much faster to reach a nearby exoplanet in any reasonable amount of time.
Lightsails are large sheets of reflective material that are propelled forward by photons (rather than wind as in the case of ocean ship sails). Laser arrays based on earth will supply the propulsive power.
Using technologies that still need to be developed but are theoretically possible, scientists believe these lightsail-equipped probes could achieve 20 percent of light-speed — that is over 200 kilometers per hour. At this speed, human probes would reach Alpha Centauri C in 20 years and the exoplanet Ross 128b in under 60 years.
If that is what humans are relatively close to doing, imagine what a significantly more advanced civilization has already achieved. One of the conjectures offered about Oumuamua was that it was powered by a lightsail system (retracted by the time it arrived in our solar system).
Even at 20 percent of light-speed, 60 years to reach a nearby exoplanet represents slightly more than a scientist’s career span (~40 years). It is possible to imagine an advanced civilization would readily make such an attempt once the technological challenges and cost factors were adequately addressed.
It is possible such preparations to visit Earth are about to get underway and, if so, we can be near certain of these following facts:
(1) Their arrival will not be a case of random chance. Aliens are right now observing the third planet from our Sun, a big blue ball situated conveniently within the Goldilocks orbital zone — the ideal location for abundant, advanced lifeforms. We are being watched by ‘people’ only hundreds of light-years away from us.
(2) By observation and measurement, they know we have lots of liquid water and an atmosphere composed mostly of nitrogen and oxygen. They will know that this environment is a likely breeding ground for life, even if their own biological existence is based on some other, yet unknown, alternative basis for life.
(3) There is no reason to assume we are the only planet in this small section of our Milky Way galaxy with these life-friendly characteristics, but our Earth may have a distinguishing characteristic unlike any other life-conducive planet: We have been broadcasting our existence for nearly 100 years now, and doing it with significant and consistent power for about 50 years. Now, chances are excellent our future alien visitors have not yet observed our unique electromagnetic signature, so we can’t assume that this Earth feature has aided their decision on where to visit. Still, it is possible our unique signature could help the aliens decide on visiting us first.
(4) Even if they don’t ‘hear’ us, our big yellow Sun will set us apart from other exoplanet candidates for alien visitation.
(5) Our new alien friends will probably be from a red dwarf star system (the most common in the galaxy) where initial conditions are not as conducive to advanced, intelligent life as offered by our warm Sun. Earth’s home star has kept our nights cool but life-supporting and our days quite pleasant. We haven’t had to struggle in the way our alien visitors most likely will have experienced.
(6) That means advanced lifeforms may have taken longer to initially develop on their home planet, but once they did, their significant environmental challenges probably pushed their intellectual and technological achievement along a steeper, higher development curve.
In other words, when our new alien friends do arrive, they are probably going to consider us fat, lazy and stupid. Hopefully, they will find our big, drippy eyes cute enough to save us from immediate extermination, but make no assumptions in that regard.
In fact, once the alien probe arrives, humans will have many decisions to make.
The first decision is to decide who among us will make the first contact with the probe. In most movie versions of first contact, its the scientists who make the discovery but the military that coordinates humanity’s response. If it were me, I’d leave the initial contact entirely in the hands of scientists, and make sure the diplomats, politicians and military leaders are kept as far away from our visitors as possible.
Why scientists? Because of all the aforementioned groups, scientists will best understand and appreciate the enormous effort it took for this alien civilization to traverse the vast emptiness of space to arrive here on earth.
Of course, we will all want to know if their arrival is hostile or purely exploratory in its intent. And, frankly, it could be a mixture of motivations, some friendly and some not so much.
But even before we can discern intent, we must determine what exactly is visiting us. Is it actual aliens? A probe? A planet-killing weapon? Are they looking for a new homeland? That determination will not be easy.
Assuming the probe offers little information and is not capable of communicating with us (which is likely), we must still try to understand its origin and technological features. Again, only scientists are going to have the relevant knowledge to make such a determination.
And once all that is done. We sit and wait. If the probe has actually landed on the Earth’s surface, we may at some point try to carefully dissect it. Or, if the probe plants itself in orbit around the Earth, we would send our own satellites or manned spacecraft to observe the probe more closely.
In the end, our first contact with an alien civilization might be somewhat of a letdown, particularly if it is a mechanized probe with no engineered capability to communicate with us.
Still, an alien civilization probing our solar system would psychologically be one of the most monumental events in human history. Oumuamua’s brief appearance in our solar system was not that event, but it was a vivid reminder to me that it could happen…nay, it will happen.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; November 9, 2018)
The NuQum.com statistical model, which employed variables measured six-months prior to the actual 2018 midterm election, predicted the Democrats would gain 39 seats in the U.S. House. As of mid-morning on November 8th, the Democrats are most likely to have gained 37 seats according to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com.
I normally don’t toot my own horn, but ‘toot toot.’
In truth, forecasting the number of U.S. House seats gained or lost by a particular party during a midterm election is relatively easy, at least compared to other more difficult political forecasts such as ‘Who will be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020?’ (Kamala Harris) or ‘Will Donald Trump run for re-election in 2020?’ (No) or ‘Will Nikki Haley run for president in 2020?’ (Yes).
One of the basic issues in judging statistical forecasts is how to weight the time in which the forecast is made. Which is more valuable to an organization? A precise prediction made within days of the outcome? Or a less precise but directionally accurate prediction made months prior to the outcome?
By training and temperament, I prefer the latter. My experience has also been that most organizations prefer the latter as well…with the exception of the American news media. The news media’s business model is built on the day-to-day drama of modern American electioneering. After all, the cable news channels have 24-hours of inventory to fill every day.
But the question should nonetheless be asked, ‘Are the millions of dollars spent by news organizations leading up to a midterm election on polling and data analysis worth the effort?’ ‘What did the time, effort and expenditure of resources gain them?’
In terms of understanding the factors influencing the 2018 midterm outcome, the news media’s effort in the past three months has been worth almost nothing. Yes, news and political junkies were entertained by the daily horse race statistics; but for the average American, there was very little substance to be found within the last three months of election news coverage.
We knew six months ago the Republicans would not only lose control of the U.S. House, but would lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 seats.
That is what happened, minus two or three seats. This election was set in stone months ago and there was little, short of an unpredictable shock to the political ecosystem like a stock market collapse or a surprise military attack against us, that was going to change the final result.
This past midterm election was one of the ugliest and most unenlightening in my lifetime. Unlike the 1994 and 2010 midterm elections, which were genuine wave elections that went beyond merely a referendum on the incumbent president and revealed a genuine political shift within the country, the 2018 election was largely unspectacular and offered few insights on the where this country is politically or ideologically headed.
The 2018 midterm election was, first and foremost, the American people’s judgment on the first two years of Donald Trump’s time in office; and for some, no doubt, it was their judgement on how Donald Trump rose to the presidency. His presidency will never be legitimate in their eyes.
For the most part, this was not an ‘issue-based’ election, with two possible exceptions: health care (Obamacare) and immigration. While it is inaccurate to suggest the 2018 midterms “cemented Obamacare’s legacy,” as some pundits have suggested, the election did show there is still life in the Obamacare and the Democrats have the better argument on health care.
“Voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah approved ballot initiatives to include in their Medicaid programs adults with incomes of up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line,” notes Washington Post political reporter Amy Goldstein. “The results accomplish a broadening of the safety-net insurance that the states’ legislatures had balked at for years.”
In addition, she points out, “Maine voters elected Democrat Janet Mills as governor, clearing the path for a Medicaid expansion that voters approved by referendum a year ago.”
The health care issue helped Tony Evers beat incumbent Republican Scott Walker in Wisconsin and was the top issue among Kansas voters who led Laura Kelly to victory against Republican Kris Kobach. Both Evers and Kelly support Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in their respective states.
We are talking Kansas here. Kansas voted to expand Medicaid! That is a big deal. Kansas, like many other parts of the country, found health care and immigration to be top two issues among voters. Clearly, health care was a winner for Democrats in the midterms.
It may be time for Republicans like New York Representative Peter King to stop blindly saying ‘the American health care system is the best in the world’ when clearly it is not. In the aggregate, when compared to other advanced economies, we eat up twice as much of our national economy on health care and still end up with inferior health outcomes.
If the worst criticism Rep. King (New York) can come up with against the Canadian single-payer system is that they have to wait eight weeks for an MRI (I had to wait six weeks for mine), I’m willing to take may chances with government-run health care. And, increasingly, so are most Americans.
Health care is one issue where the general population often knows more about the complexities of the system than the politicians. Many people interact with the health care system on a weekly or even daily basis. They know the problems with our health care system on a personal level: health insurance premiums taking more and more out of paychecks, drugs that are too expensive, and household budget-busting out-of-pocket costs are among the many issues Americans face every day.
Immigration, on the other hand, is more complicated and neither the Democrats or Republicans seem to fully appreciate the ambivalence many Americans feel about the issue.
In terms of overall public opinion, Americans understand the value of immigration, but prefer legal immigration and do not support increasing current immigration levels, according to recent Gallup Poll data. The Democratic Party emphasizes the ‘social value of immigration’ while the Republican Party understands the ‘legal immigration’ part. Neither party, however, seems prepared to put these complimentary attitudes together into a coherent policy platform.
Trump’s stoking fears about the ‘caravan’ and illegal immigration in general may have saved some Republican politicians in Florida, Texas and Arizona who seemed destined to lose in 2018, but will that strategy work across a larger swath of the country in 2020?
Voters care about their reality, not ideology
One of the biggest mistakes politicians and political consultants make is the assumption that Americans have an ideological preference (even if their own opinions do not hold together in any coherent ideological pattern).
Analysts should never take the results from a national opinion survey, add up those issues where Americans take the ‘liberal’ position versus where they take the ‘conservative’ position, and then declare: ‘The American people are left-of-center.’ Or whatever the conclusion might be in the context of that survey.
That is not how the human mind works.
Opinion surveys are mirrors on the most recent political campaign (which are usually fought along partisan and ideological lines, though not always). Surveys reflect the ideological nature of the political system (elections, politicians, political institutions, policy debates etc.), not necessarily the ideological nature of the American people.
On a political spectrum, Americans are largely non-ideological — as opposed to a country like France where political ideology has a more palpable meaning and manifests more noticeably within their political ecosystem. Americans, in contrast, have a founding culture of muscular individualism that reflexively rejects collective or group-based ideologies, to the point where anytime one ideology appears too powerful within the political structure, Americans instinctively knock it down. It is in our political DNA to do so.
That is what Americans do best and will do again against the Democrats in 2020 if they over-reach given their regained power. The same, of course, is true when the Republicans over-reach.
Americans do not generally seek politicians that agree with their left- or right-leaning ideology, they seek politicians that align with their personal perception of reality. ‘Does a political party or candidate speak to my reality?’ is the question on voters’ minds. It is the politicians and intellectual class that map voters’ reality-based way to thinking to the ideological spectrum. But they do so at the risk of misinterpreting the public mind — which politicians and the news media are already doing with respect to the 2018 midterms.
There is a lot of news media attention on the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya (among others).
“It proves Trump-Russian collusion,” says Rachel Maddow, Don Lemon, Ari Melber, Joe Scarborough, Chris Hayes, Joy Reid, Anderson Cooper, and the guy running the Falafel King food truck on the corner of 7th Avenue and 31st Street.
Everyone not currently employed by the Fox News Channel or the White House has concluded: The mere intent on Don Jr.’s part to receive ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton from Russians constitutes evidence of a conspiracy.
The defense of the meeting’s legality, in contrast, rests on the belief that conducting opposition research, even with foreign nationals, is not just legal, it is part of every presidential campaign. You could even argue that it is a campaign’s patriotic duty to discover any misdeeds perpetrated by their opponent, even if that means working with foreign nationals or going overseas.
Unsurprisingly, the partisan website PolitiFact rejects that defense, citing Democratic political consultant Mike Mikus from Pennsylvania, who says, “I have been working on campaigns since 1994 and have managed races since 1998. I have never heard of any operative meeting with a representative of a foreign government — friend or foe — to discuss opposition research.”
A guy from Pennsylvania who has worked on statewide elections is not who you talk to in trying to find out if presidential campaigns have ever conducted opposition research on foreign soil or using foreign nationals.
The obvious example is the Steele dossier. Its original genesis was as a Washington Free Beacon investigatory effort on Donald Trump. Ostensibly, it was journalism, funded by a major GOP donor opposed to Trump’s candidacy. Later, that effort would become what we now know as the Steele dossier and its funding was taken up (indirectly) by the Hillary Clinton campaign.
The Steele dossier is nothing less than opposition research, conducted by a former British spy and funded by political operatives connected to a presidential campaign. Furthermore, it contains information sought and derived from ‘representatives of a foreign government,’ and a hostile one at that.
Now, I will grant, a well-run campaign does not send the son and son-in-law of the candidate to gather such information from such sources. Even if it was legal, it was just dumb.
Had Don Jr. taken possession of stolen emails or some other illegally obtained information, then he would be in trouble. But that would have nothing to do with a conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
The Steele dossier is what aggressive, well-run presidential campaigns do. The Trump campaign just did it poorly.
Direct Evidence of a Trump-Russia Conspiracy Remains Elusive
What does the public evidence so far say about an alleged Trump-Russia conspiracy?
Here is what we know as fact: Trump campaign operatives gamboled around with a Russian lawyer purporting to have ‘dirt’ on Clinton, an Australian diplomat, a Maltese academic, a hacker going by the name Gucifer, and, through Paul Manafort, a variety of other Russian and Ukrainian consorts, some connected closely to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Trump campaign also actively (but amateurishly) pursued a new detente with the Russians during and after the 2016 campaign — which is not inherently illegal — and is probably a good policy.
Conspiracies are not hard to engineer, but proving one exists is
If the Trump campaign engaged in a conspiracy with the Russians to defraud the U.S., this question must be answered: “Did the Trump campaign premeditativelyconspire with the Russians to defraud the American people by interfering in an U.S. presidential election.
As yet, the evidence of such a crime is conspicuously elusive.
However, a conspiracy does not require that the Trump campaign actively helped the Russians hack the DNC and Podesta emails or helped in creating and promulgating some Facebook and Twitter memes.
The Robert Mueller probe could indict principles from the Trump campaign on conspiracy charges if they either: (1) aided and abetted any criminal behavior by the Russians, (2) willfully participated in the planning of a crime prior to its commission (“accessory before the fact”), or (3) helped to conceal a crime already committed or give assistance to perpetrators of the crime to help them avoid detection, arrest or prosecution (“accessory after the fact”).
As yet, no evidence reported by the news media or rising from the Mueller probe’s initial indictments suggest the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians on that conditions outlined by Wallin.
Some legal experts believe Donald Trump himself committed a crime when he encouraged the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails during some of his public rallies in the early Summer of 2016 (which the Russians subsequently tried to do, according to U.S. intelligence sources). That opinion seems like broad conjecture; and, besides, how dumb would a conspirator have to be to announce their conspiratorial intent on live, national television?
Who could be that dumb?! Who?! Who?!
But here is what else we know…
The documented associations of the Trump campaign to the Russians almost all postdate the moment the candidate became the presumptive Republican nominee in March 2016. That is probably not mere coincidence.
Furthermore, the FBI opened a counterintelligence case (“Crossfire Hurricane”) against the Trump campaign only after “Western intelligence assets and Clinton-affiliated political operatives repeatedly approached the Trump campaign and tried but failed to damage it through associations with Russia,” reports Real Clear Investigations.
In my opinion, we all need a healthy dose of skepticism towards everyone involved in this collusion hash.
“I have certain rules I live by. My first rule: I don’t believe anything the government tells me,” once said comedian George Carlin. I would just amend that by adding: the news media, cable TV personalities, politicians, comedians, and myself.
With that caveat, here is my developing theory on the Trump-Russia collusion narrative:
The Trump-Russia collusion story is most likely borne from four sources:
(1) Trump’s associations with wealthy Russians (call them oligarchs or mobsters, if you must) involved in the real estate industry in New York City and elsewhere (And there is circumstantial evidence the Trump Organization carries substantial financial debts with Russians and other foreign lenders),
(2) campaign manager Paul Manafort’s falling into the arms of pro-Russia Ukrainians while trying to dig himself out of debt,
(3) the Trump campaign’s clumsy and reckless efforts at conducting opposition research and policymaking, and
(4) a political establishment, burned by the fact they were outmatched by Russian intelligence and unwilling to accept a Trump presidency they never believed possible, that manufactured elements of the collusion drama to drain the new administration’s political capital and neuter its impact while in office.
This fourth source of the collusion narrative speaks to an issue rarely addressed in the news coverage: How could the Obama administration have screwed up so royally in trying to stop Russia’s election interference?
Why aren’t there career bureaucrats high up in the intelligence community losing their jobs over this debacle?
We know U.S. intelligence was aware of Russia’s intentions to interfere in the election months before the email hacks of the DNC and John Podesta or the propagation of Russian-sourced Facebook memes on social media. And we also know the general public was beginning to become widely aware of the Russian meddling as early as July 2016 (see my Google Trends analysis here).
So what was the FBI and intelligence community doing to harden the defenses of the social media companies and the political parties in preparation for this foreign intrusion?
Apparently, not much, according to The Washington Post’s Philip Bump, who suggests the Obama administration feared they would themselves be accused of trying to manipulate the election outcome if they did too much publicly to stop the Russians.
Perhaps if the U.S. Department of Justice and intelligence agencies weren’t so politicized (and Obama is not the first president to make them so), they could be trusted to warn the American people about impending foreign attacks without it being dismissed as a partisan political act?
The news media’s obsession with the Trump Tower meeting is misplaced. If laws were broken, it is not clear how. If collecting legally obtained intelligence on an opponent from a foreign source is illegal, and someone in the Trump campaign is indicted for it, there willbe a legal challenge and don’t be surprised if it goes to the Supreme Court.
It will be the First Amendment versus federal election laws — and, if the past is prologue, the Constitution tends to win those battles.
Until Mueller finally hands out the crown jewel of indictments — a conspiracy charge — as many in the media expect him to do, I suggest borrowing some more wisdom from George Carlin, “Question everything.”
Its a good life strategy, in general.
About the Author: Mr. Kroeger is a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son (You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 23, 2018)
On all levels, the Trump administration’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy on illegal immigration is an unmitigated disaster.
Politically, the policy has put the Trump administration on the defensive on immigration at a time when the public’s support for increasing levels of immigration is at its highest level in 20 years. Taken together, those two trends will spell disaster in November for the Republicans.
Many conservatives still believe the GOP can win in November if they convince the voting public of the Democrats’ supposed desire for ‘open borders.’ But considering most everything Trump has done with respect to illegal immigration was also done on some level during Barack Obama’s administration, the mainstream Democratic Party has its own anti-immigrant flag it can wave at selectively targeted voters.
Perhaps if the Trump administration’s efforts to slow illegal immigration had been well-planned and humane that political strategy would have merit; but, in the wake of the ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy and its family separations, scaring the public about the Democrats’ views on immigration has become much harder.
Even worse for the Republicans, the ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy has robbed the Trump administration of its months-long momentum in public support. Coming out of the Singapore summit, Donald Trump’s presidency was experiencing its highest levels of public support since early in his term. And now? According to the political futures market, PredictIt, the Democrats’ chance of regaining control of the U.S. House has risen from 58 percent in early June to 62 percent in late June. A four percentage-point increase may seem minor, but considering the Democrats experienced a 15 percentage-point decline in its chances between April and early June, a four percentage-point increase must feel like senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions just handed the Democrats a life-jacket.
Some time soon, Trump needs to temporarily direct his ire away from the media and the Democrats and realize two of his closest advisers, Miller and Sessions, have single-handily jeopardized the Republican’s political fortunes going forward.
Over 2,300 children were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border between May 5 and June 9 according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This human rights atrocity, the product of the administration’s septic form of nationalism and a systemic inattention to policy details, has no clear resolution in sight.
According to Lisa Frydman, an immigration law attorney at KIND, an organization that protects unaccompanied children who enter the U.S. immigration system, there will be cases where children will remain back in the U.S. for months after their parents are deported. Even for a competent administration with a well-defined policy, family reconciliation could take months.
On a social level, the ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy probably creates more problems than it solves. While Sessions said the policy is intended to deter future illegal immigration, including human trafficking, as of now, no evidence exists suggesting it has done so. And while Trump has defended his administration’s aggressive anti-illegal immigration policy as an aggressive approach to preventing the movement of MS-13 gang members into the U.S., there is a real possibility that the trauma thousands of children are experiencing due to the policy’s family separations may increase the risk factors in children associated with their joining gangs.
On a moral level, this draconian and cruel immigration enforcement policy has been condemned by religious leaders across the country, including by Southern Baptist evangelicals at their recent annual convention. Internationally, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights official called on Trump administration to halt its “unconscionable” policy, saying it punishes “children for their parent’s action.” How ironic it is that, as US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announce the U.S. is leaving the UN’s Human Rights Council, the U.S. is committing a human rights violation on a scale it hasn’t seen since our country’s internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
The premeditated and reckless infliction of traumas on children is morally indefensible. Sessions can quote all of the bible verses he wants on the importance of obeying the law, there is no biblical justification for separating families fleeing violence in their home countries. None. And, even if there were, it wouldn’t make its current implementation acceptable.
Actor George Takei, best known as Star Trek’s Sulu, whose family was relocated to an internment camp, thinks the ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy is even worse. “At least during the internment of Japanese-Americans, I and other children were not stripped from our parents. We were not pulled screaming from our mothers’ arms. We were not left to change the diapers of younger children by ourselves,” Takei wrote in an essay for Foreign Policy. “At least during the internment, we remained a family, and I credit that alone for keeping the scars of our unjust imprisonment from deepening on my soul.”
The ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy (even without family separations) is a bad idea, and even if it should lead to fewer border crossings in the future, has only polarized the country more on the immigration issue and made it harder — not easier — to pass substantive immigration policy before the 2020 presidential election.
Mr. President, you can start to minimize the political damage now. Please fire Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 6, 2018)
First, the good news for the Republicans…
If Donald Trump has taught us anything, it is that the past is not always prologue.
The assumption is that the President’s party will lose a significant number of seats in the 2018 midterm elections.
History supports this assumption.
Over the past 21 midterm elections, the President’s party has lost an average 30 seats in the House, and an average 4 seats in the Senate.
Don’t assume that will happen in 2018.
The most recent polling data, as summarized by RealClearPolitics.com, suggests the Democrats are losing the momentum they possessed only a few months ago.
The RealClearPolitics.com generic ballot for the 2018 midterms gives the Democrats roughly a 3-point advantage. And, based on past experience, generic ballot numbers are predictive of House election outcomes, as seen in this graphic produced by Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight.com:
Donald Trump’s job approval numbers are also on the rise, and have been since December 2017. If the current trends continue, Trump could be looking at approval numbers around 48 percent around election time.
Nonetheless, even with gerrymandering and geographic clustering working to the Democrats’ disadvantage, the prediction market, PredictIt, is still giving the Democrats a roughly 60 percent chance of re-taking control of the U.S. House. But that is significantly lower than a month ago when PredictIt was giving the Democrats a 70 percent chance.
The trends are in the GOP’s favor right now and have been since the beginning of the year.
Another bad sign for the Democrats is the number of “toss-up” races (based on polling) in the upcoming U.S. House elections.
If we assume the “leaning” Democratic and Republican House districts end up going to the party currently favored, that gives the Democrats 195 seats and the Republicans 206 seats. That leaves 34 House contests considered “toss-ups,” according to RealClearPolitics.com. It takes 218 seats to form a House majority. In other words, the GOP just needs to win 12 of the 34 “toss-up” districts. And if these 34 districts are truly as even as the polling suggests, then we would expect the GOP to win 17 of these races— enough to keep their House majority.
A year ago, it would have been hard to find a Republican that thought their party would be in this position six months out from the midterm elections.
But the GOP is in that position. And why?
Here are the major factors most likely behind the Republicans’ more optimistic outlook for the midterms:
More and more of the American public is giving Trump credit for the strong economy. “Nearly 2 in 3 Americans think the nation’s economy is in good shape, and most of them believe President’s Trump’s policies are at least somewhat responsible for that,” according a recent CBS News poll.
American’s are behind President Trump heading into the Trump-Kim Jong Un summit later this month in Singapore. Three-quarters of Americans support the idea of a Trump-Kim summit, according to a CNN poll, and 53 percent approve of how Trump has been handling the North Korean situation.
There may be a growing Trump-Russia collusion fatigue among Americans. Even Democrats recognize the possibility: “I think the American public will be tired of it (the Trump-Russia probe) if this is not wound down in this calendar year,” Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) said in May at Recode’s Code Conference, a California gathering of senior tech executives.
If it were any other president, these positive factors would have the party in power talking about increasing their legislative majority in Congress.
Donald Trump is not any other president.
He employs a high-risk strategy of sowing division within the electorate (immigration, Spygate, NFL player protests, etc.) on the assumption this will motivate his base and enough independents to keep his governing coalition intact.
We will see if that strategy works.
But, now, here is the bad news for the Republicans…
These current polling numbers, whether it is the generic congressional ballot or for the individual House races, do not yet reflect the potentially higher quality of Democratic House challengers.
Candidate quality remains one of the most important predictors of electoral success (see research on this topic here and here).
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has raised $151 million for the 2018 election cycle compared to $122 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
While there is reason to be skeptical about the impact of money on congressional election outcomes (Please check out G. Elliott Morris’ work on this topic here), I think most politicians would rather have more money than less money when compared to their opponent.
Furthermore, the decision to run for Congress was most likely made in late 2017, when Trump’s approval and the generic congressional ballot numbers were still in the Democrats’ favor. This generally means higher quality Democratic candidates were more likely to decide to run for Congress than in previous election cycles.
The improved approval numbers for Trump and the GOP since 2017 may not be helping the GOP’s prospects as much as they would have had they occurred earlier in 2017.
Yes, the Republicans are looking better heading into the midterms. But is it too late for them to save their House majority?
We are also seeing generally high turnout rates among Democrats for special elections and primaries, which bodes well for their prospects in November. Midterm election results are largely a function of partisan turnout differentials and 2018 is looking more and more like 2006 (when the Democrats gained 31 House seats).
Unpredictable events could still change the dynamics of the 2018 midterms…
Still, a lot will happen between now and November. If we assume prediction markets, such as PredictIt.com, are like other financial markets, only new information (i.e., ‘shocks’ to the system) will alter the probabilities of the Democrats winning control of the House.
Its not hard to think of potential ‘shocks’ to the electoral prospects of either party in November. Here is just a few possibilities:
While the probability of a recession between now and November is very low, it is not zero. According to economist Ted Kavadas, as of June 4th, the “Yield Curve Model” shows a 11.1 percent probability of a recession in the U.S. in the next 12 months. An unexpected recession would be deadly to the GOP’s prospects in November. We might be looking at a GOP loss of 60 or more seats in such a scenario.
And even if the country doesn’t dip into a recession, a trade war between the U.S. and its major trading partners (Canada, China, Mexico, Europe etc.) is a real possibility. Would a trade war help or hurt the GOP’s prospects? In Iowa, at least, where Trump won the presidential vote by nine percent over Hillary Clinton, pork tariffs by Mexico and China could cost Iowa pork producers over $560 million a year. If that is allowed to continue, Trump and the GOP will suffer significant electoral losses in Iowa in November 2018.
The Robert Mueller III-led investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians will produce more indictments over the next six months. If those indictments directly concern an actual conspiracy (i.e., collusion) between the Trump campaign and the Russians, this will not help the GOP’s chances in November; particularly, if future indictments are issued against anyone in Trump’s inner circle: Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Roger Stone, or Trump himself.
In the GOP’s favor, if Trump and Kim reach of tangible decision in Singapore regarding North Korea’s nuclear program, it is difficult to imagine this won’t help the GOP in the midterm elections. A failure to reach an agreement, on the other hand, may not work for or against the GOP. It is hard to know how a diplomatic failure would be perceived by the American voter, but I suspect it will depend on how the ‘failure’ is spun within the major media outlets.
Also, in the GOP’s favor, is a strong economy that is looking more robust by the day. It is hard to imagine an American voting population that does not consider the strength of the U.S. economy when making their vote decisions for U.S. congressional candidates. The Democrats continue to talk down the U.S. economy, but the reality remains…the U.S. economy hasn’t been stronger since 2000.
The GOP should be encouraged by recent trends. Trump is not the drag on the Republicans as he once was only a few months ago. Assuming no major mistakes on his part over the next six months (and that is a tough assumption to make), the Republican Party is poised to minimize the damage from the 2018 midterms. Will they keep control of the U.S. House? Probably not, but it will be closer than many Democrats think. And though the U.S. Senate hasn’t been discussed in this essay, the prospects of the Democrats gaining control of the Senate are diminishing by the day.
Short of Mueller revealing tangible evidence that Donald Trump himself colluded with the Russians in the 2016 election, the U.S. Senate is a lost cause for the Democrats.
All eyes therefore should be on the U.S. House where the Democrats, while not in as comfortable position as they were in late 2017, are still likely to take control of the House after the midterm elections.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 31, 2018)
The U.S. may be on the brink of one of the greatest foreign policy achievements in its post-WWII history. As of today, I’d say the chances President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agree to any substantive plan to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula are slim, though not zero.
But hope is eternal and even Trump’s sometimes erratic behavior is now being viewed by some of his most ardent critics as an asset in dealing with North Korea.
“A volatile negotiating style is sometimes a sign of an inexperienced or uncertain bargainer,” opines Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. “But it’s Trump’s approach, and however bizarre the route, he’s nearing a diplomatic breakthrough.”
Its obviously too soon to put North Korea’s denuclearization on the list of major U.S. foreign policy achievements. But, if it should happen, what else would already be on the list since World War II?
I’ve compiled an informal list of the U.S.’s ten biggest foreign policy achievements since WWII. Why ten? I couldn’t come up with an 11th. So forget an honorable mention list.
The criteria for making the list was fairly straightforward. The accomplishment had to represent not just a significant improvement over the past, but a durable achievement. For this reason, Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear agreement did not qualify for this list.
The achievement had to make the U.S. and its allies safer and/or stronger vis-a-vis its adversaries. The strengthening could be economic, militarily or both.
In addition, the U.S. foreign policy achievement’s impact had to be international and not primarily domestic, which eliminated Bill Clinton’s greatest foreign policy achievement: the investment of the ‘peace dividend’ from the collapse of the Soviet Union into America’s technology and innovation economy.
With these informal qualifications, here is my top 10 for the U.S.’s greatest foreign policy achievements since World War II.
Coming in at number 10…
10. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Treaty of 1948
GATT was a series of multilateral trade agreements designed to reduce trade quotas and tariffs among the treaty’s signatory nations. The first GATT agreement, that included 23 countries, took effect in 1948 and formed the economic foundation for the liberal globalist ideology that dominates today’s world economy.
The agreement itself was not as powerful as many wanted. Yet, President Harry Truman understood the GATT agreement, as weak as it was, would preserve international trade co-operation and become an critical party of U.S. foreign economic and security policy going forward.
Moreover, the 1948 agreement was seen merely an interim measure as there was an expectation the newly-formed United Nations would create an agency to supersede GATT. That never happened. Instead, GATT became the primary tool by which world trade was liberalized and expanded immediately after World War II. It was not until the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 that was GATT finally replaced.
Up to 1995, GATT’s critical role in the world economy was significant as up to 90 percent of world trade was governed by GATT prior to the WTO.
9. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1949)
No post World War II agreement had broader implications than the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Following the end of the war, the fear of Communist expansion dominated discussions in the West European capitals and, in response to Soviet expansion, the U.S. and 11 Western European nations formed NATO.
The rival Warsaw Pact, created in 1955 by the Soviet Union and its Communist partners in Eastern Europe, formed the basis for what would be the Cold War, which would last until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
8. Creation of the United Nations (1945)
In June 1945, a year after D-Day which lead to the eventual defeat of Germany and the European Axis powers, the United Nations Charter was adopted. Its goals were as profound as the diverse collection of countries sanctioning its existence at the San Francisco Conference in April 1945.
Fifty nations, representing the 80 percent of the world’s population that had just defeated Germany to end the European portion of World War II, met in San Francisco to form an international union predicated on the principle that world wars were an unacceptable means through which to solve international problems.
Even as it was agreed, with considerable dissent, that the “Big Five” (United States, Britain, France, China and Russia) could exercise “veto” powers on any action by the United Nations’ powerful Security Council, the General Assemblyof nations signed onto the United Nations charter knowing its imperfections were far outweighed by its potential.
“The Charter of the United Nations which you have just signed,” said President Truman in addressing the final San Francisco Conference session, “is a solid structure upon which we can build a better world. History will honor you for it. Between the victory in Europe and the final victory, in this most destructive of all wars, you have won a victory against war itself. With this Charter the world can begin to look forward to the time when all worthy human beings may be permitted to live decently as free people.”
On October 24, 1945, the UN officially came into existence. To date, despite its many critics, the UN stands as of the post World War II’s greatest international achievements.
7. SALT I and SALT II Treaties (1972, 1979)
It may seem odd to put SALT and START treaty regimes between the U.S. and Soviet Union ahead of the creation of the UN and NATO, but it is done with some thought. As important as the UN and NATO were in creating institutional frameworks for collectively organizing the common interests of nations, they were band-aids — deeply flawed at their conception and in their application to solve international problems.
Upon the learning in the late 1960s that the Soviet Union had developed a Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) defense system to defend Moscow in case of an all-out nuclear war with the U.S., President Lyndon Johnson met with Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin to start strategic arms limitations talks (SALT).
The elimination of nuclear weapons was (and is) a dream. The SALT discussions therefore focused on the more practical goal of limiting the development of advanced offensive and defensive strategic systems.
Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon, took over the SALT talks and on May 26, 1972, in Moscow, he and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signed an ABM Treaty and an interim SALT agreement.
Starting with Johnson’s initiative and Nixon’s follow through, the U.S. and Soviet Union for the first time decided to limit their nuclear arsenals.
The next round of SALT discussions began immediately after the signing of SALT I with its focus on Multiple Independently Targeted Re-Entry Vehicles (MIRVs) and on June 17, 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Brezhnev signed the SALT II Treaty in Vienna.
The key element of SALT II was the limitation of both nations’ nuclear forces to 2,250 delivery vehicles and restricting MIRVs, though the treaty itself was never ratified by the U.S. Senate due, in part, to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
Nonetheless, both countries adhered to SALT II’s requirements, even as the next U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, pursued the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
6. START I Treaty (1991)
Despite opposition to President Carter’s SALT II agreement with the Soviets, President Ronald Reagan adhered to its restrictions, even as he authorized pursuit of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), otherwise known as “Star Wars.”
At the same time, Reagan began negotiations for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), a bilateral treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that would reduce (not just limit) the number of strategic offensive arms. The first START agreement was signed in July 1991 (taking effect in 1994). START I was the largest arms control treaty in world history and its implementation resulted in the removal of almost 80 percent of all strategic nuclear weapons in the world at the time.
START II was signed by U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin on January 3, 1993, and banned the use of MIRVs on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). START II, however, never came into effect, even though it was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996 and in Russia in 2000. In June 2002, Russia withdrew from the treaty in response to U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.
START I, however, remains a milestone in the effort to reduce the number of nuclear weapons on the planet.
5. The First Gulf War (1991)
This was the most difficult decision in the list of Top 10 foreign policy achievements. The First Gulf War is the only U.S. military action to make the list and, while successful in its primary goal of removing Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army from Kuwait, the blowback from this war was significant and could be argued that it continues to this day.
When Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, President George H. W. Bush faced the this country’s first post-Cold War international crisis. In response, Bush orchestrated a large international coalition to oppose Iraq’s aggression and, following an intensive air campaign in January 1991, launched a land war offensive that drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
President Bush and his foreign policy team built a broad coalition ranging from the NATO allies to a number of Middle Eastern countries. Even Russia, an ally to the Hussein regime, while offering no direct military or material support, diplomatically called for Iraq to leave Kuwait.
The run-up to the war’s start was a model for how diplomatic efforts can work in tandem with military planning; and the effort, as executed by the Bush administration, put the coalition troops in the best possible position to successfully carry out their mission. However, the First Gulf War’s unintended consequences cannot be ignored as they led directly to the rise of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda and the subsequent attacks against the the U.S. (U.S.S. Cole, 9/11 attacks, etc.)
The U.S. has proven to be good at starting and executing wars — its the ending of wars where the U.S. has problems.
4. Camp David Accords (1979)
As we read the latest events out of the Middle East, it is easy to forget sometimes that a lasting and durable peace between the State of Israel and Egypt has existed, unbroken, since the 1979 Camp David Accords.
Israel and Egypt had fought two (short) wars against each other in the previous 15 years and the prospects for peace seemed unlikely in the midst of a growing Palestinian armed resistance against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
But, largely through President Jimmy Carter’s personal initiative in bringing two diametrically opposite leaders to the table, a peace agreement was hammered out. Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt for security guarantees (that have not since been broken). It was an achievement that still stands as a model for the future.
Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, gave us a template and path on how to bring peace to the Middle East (at least on a bilateral basis). The Camp David Accords were without question President Carter’s crowning foreign policy achievement and though peace has not been the rule in the Middle East since the Accords, Israel can rightfully point to a peace treaty with Jordan and a significant thawing of relations with Saudi Arabia as indirect products of the Camp David Accords. Of course, having a common enemy (Iran) is playing a big factor in the new Israel-Saudi detente.
Regardless, the important legacy of the Camp David Accords is unquestionable and is still being written.
3. Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)
On the heals of the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba and a disastrous meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchevin Vienna, Austria, President John F. Kennedy had not earned high marks on foreign policy in his young presidency.
That changed over the course of 13 days in October 1962, and for good reason. His leadership, along with that of his Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy, Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, averted the very real potential of a nuclear conflict between the U.S. and Soviet Union. At the very least, a ‘hot war’ was possible, which would have been the first between two nuclear powers.
Screwing up again was not an option for the Kennedy administration in October 1962.
As revealed by U.S. reconnaissance photos, the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles were discovered on Cuba, just 90 miles from the U.S. shoreline. A warhead launch from Cuba could have deposited a nuclear bomb on Washington, D.C. within 5 minutes.
Needless to say, the stakes were high.
In his October 22, 1962, national television address, Kennedy informed Americans about the presence of the missiles, announced a naval blockade surrounding Cuba, and let the world know the U.S. would use military force if the missiles were not removed.
What the American people didn’t know, getting to the naval blockade decision was not an easy one for Kennedy and there was tremendous pressure from the Pentagon and other ‘hawks’ in his administration to invade Cuba from the start.
With the dynamics behind how the crisis was resolved still being debated to this day by historians and academics, Khrushchev offered to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for the U.S. agreeing never to invade Cuba and to also remove U.S. missiles from Turkey.
The Cuban Missile Crisis remains one of the most discussed and analyzed foreign policy crises ever; and, what the U.S. and Soviet Union (now Russia) learned from the October 1962 events has, arguably, kept us from getting that close to a nuclear war ever again.
2. Nixon visits China (1973)
You know something is historically iconic when it can used as a referential device for other, unrelated events. ‘Only Nixon could go to China,’ is one of the common refrains, often used to explain why some major policy breakthroughs can only happen if previously strong opponents of the policy take up its cause. “Only Ronald Reagan could have pushed a national health care system through Congress,” was a frequent lament of a former colleague of mine. And, so on and so forth.
It is true, President Richard Nixon was a staunch anti-communist. It is also likely if a Democratic president had opened relations with Communist China, Nixon would have been its fiercest critic.
But politics has a funny way of turning preachers into sinners and soldiers into poets.
Nixon arrived in China on February 21, 1972, the Watergate break in four months later was still just a glint in his eye. At that time Nixon stepped off Air Force One into the cold air of Beijing, his administration was struggling with a war in Vietnam that looked increasingly like the South Vietnamese regime would not survive. Nixon knew the Vietnam War was no longer about containing communism’s expansion, but containing the damage to U.S. prestige around the world.
Yet, in February 1972, Nixon was never more confident in his ability to change the course of history. He was going to bring about an honorable peace in Vietnam, and further limit the Soviet’s ambitions by opening U.S. relations with the communist Chinese, Realpolitik‘s version of a Phil Niekro knuckleball.
It was diplomatic brilliance, and it worked, more in the long-term than in the short-term, however.
One of President Harry Truman’s most vocal critics at the time for losing China to the communists in 1949, Nixon thought he was ideal to fix Harry’s mistake. But, more strategically, Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, saw an opportunity to drive a small, but significant, wedge between the China and the Soviets, who were having minor border war skirmishes in the late 1960s. Nixon and Kissinger even thought a U.S.-China relations thaw would make the Soviets more amenable to U.S. interests.
China’s interests in the ‘thaw’ were even more complex, as the country was still in the middle of its brutal Cultural Revolution in which millions of Chinese intellectuals, leaders, and common citizens were persecuted for ‘bourgeois’ beliefs and activities. The Chinese economy was a mess and there was no better or quicker fix for a mess like that than American investment and trade.
In reality, Nixon’s trip to China was more symbolic than productive. But it did open the door to a symbiotic economic relationship that would eventually dominate the world economy forty years later.
The U.S.-China relationship is not as close as U.S.-European relations, and as we’ve seen with China’s growing military assertiveness in the South China Sea, disagreements are no longer restricted to economic issues. China is going to be a world superpower soon (if it isn’t already). Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, while not necessarily changing the inevitability or timing of China’s rise, it marks a significant point in history where the U.S., the leading economic and military power at the time, was preparing to welcome the Chinese back into a leadership role on the world stage.
Nixon will not be remembered as a great U.S. president, but by extending a hand of friendship to China, he showed a level of foresight quite rare among presidents.
1. Reagan and G. H. W. Bush manage the demise of the Soviet Union (1980s)
No single post-WWII conflict dominated American foreign policy as did theCold War with the Soviet Union. Our containment policy towards Soviet communism led directly to our involvement in Vietnam and underscored our country’s efforts to secure Middle East energy supplies for the West and our allies. In fact, many of the significant international crises involving the U.S. after World War II involved, directly or indirectly, the Cold War conflict: the Cuban Missile Crisis (1961), the Berlin Airlift (1948–49), and the Suez Crisis (1956–57). The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Suez Crisis, in particular, brought the two superpowers closer to a nuclear war than perhaps at any other time in the post-WWII world.
The arms race between the Soviet Union and the U.S. was the most costly military expansion in world history. The cost of the U.S. nuclear arsenal alone between 1940 and 1996 was estimated by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)to be around $5.8 trillion (in inflated-adjusted 1996 dollars), which was 31 percent of all defense expenditures during that period ($18.7).
The Cold War was expensive. So costly, in fact, some believed the break-up of the Soviet Union was inevitable. But many experts also dispute attributing the Soviet Union’s demise to the Ronald Reagan-era military buildup. As the graph below shows regarding U.S. and Soviet Union defense spending between 1964 and 1998, Soviet defense spending had been increasing on a consistent basis long before the first Reagan defense budgets.
“The Soviet Union’s defense spending did not rise or fall in response to American military expenditures. Revised estimates by the Central Intelligence Agency indicate that Soviet expenditures on defense remained more or less constant throughout the 1980s. Neither the military buildup under Jimmy Carter and Reagan nor SDI had any real impact on gross spending levels in the USSR. At most SDI shifted the marginal allocation of defense rubles as some funds were allotted for developing countermeasures to ballistic defense.
If American defense spending had bankrupted the Soviet economy, forcing an end to the Cold War, Soviet defense spending should have declined as East-West relations improved. CIA estimates show that it remained relatively constant as a proportion of the Soviet gross national product during the 1980s, including Gorbachev’s first four years in office. Soviet defense spending was not reduced until 1989 and did not decline nearly as rapidly as the overall economy.”
Instead, Lebow and Stein, like many experts in this area, considered the proximal cause of the Soviet Union’s demise to lie in the ill-conceived perestroika reforms initiated by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, coupled with the structural problems inherent in the Soviet economic system. If anything, the Reagan defense budgets delayed the Soviet Union’s demise.
Nonetheless, Reagan and his successor, George H. W. Bush, did something perhaps more important than bringing down the Soviet Union. They managed the Soviet decline, regardless of its many causes, and ensured that the new world order emerging from the end of the Cold War would be stable and prosperous.
So much could have gone wrong. From the time when the Berlin Wall came down on December 9, 1989 to December 26, 1991, the complex task of disentangling a Gordian knot of Soviet relationships around the world fell into the George H. W. Bush’s lap.
At the time of the Soviet collapse, the country had about 39,000 nuclear weapons and about 1.5 million kilograms of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, according to Stanford engineering professor Siegfried Hecker, who helped the former Soviet Union secure its nuclear arsenal at a time when many feared ‘loose nukes’ would get into the hands of the wrong people.
And the cooperation between U.S. and former Soviet Union scientists and senior military personnel was, itself, built upon a positive relationship Ronald Reagan (and then George H. W. Bush) had built with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and other senior Soviet leaders.
It is not an exaggeration to suggest Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush made the world safer, faster than at any other time in U.S. history.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 30, 2018)
If there are any civil libertarians left in the Democratic Party who still believe the state’s propensity towards excessive intrusion into citizens’ lives must be constantly challenged, this essay is addressed to you:
Here is a thought exercise that may shed some light on what the Barack Obama administration should have done during the 2016 presidential election…
Rather than what we know (or think we know) about how the Russians interfered in the 2016 election, what if this had happened instead:
Imagine that in the early Spring of 2016, the FBI became aware of a Hillary Clinton campaign effort to discover compromising information about Donald Trump and his financial interactions with the Russians. In their pursuit of “dirt” on Trump, Clinton campaign operatives came into contact with known Russian intelligence agents. There is even anecdotal evidence that the Russians have kompromat on Hillary Clinton arising from their hacking of her homebrew e-mail server.
What would the FBI do in such a situation? What would Obama’s Department of Justice (DoJ) have done under such a scenario?
Most likely, they would have selectively shared their information with Clinton and perhaps her senior staff about what they knew regarding Russia’s contact with campaign operatives— as their primary concern would be protecting the interests of the U.S. and its electoral system.
Would they have run an FBI intelligence gathering operation using a paid informant against the Clinton campaign.
I seriously doubt it, but according Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, were the FBI to do that, he would hope they would first inform candidate Clinton and take their chances that she wouldn’t divulge the FBI operation to the targeted individuals.
But I disagree to this extent. An administration is treading into some dangerous territory when they conduct any surveillance or intelligence gathering on an opposition party candidate for president.
Had the Clinton campaign’s effort to find ‘dirt’ on Trump led them to some suspicious connections to Russian intelligence operatives, based on the investigation standards I saw applied while working in an intelligence community Office of the Inspector General, I believe the Obama administration would have notified the candidate and her senior staff and discussed future steps should the inappropriate contacts continue.
Why do I believe this?
First, they would have understood the effort to find “dirt” on Trump as defensible, even if potentially reckless. But an objective FBI and DoJ isn’t concerned about the partisan politics of the situation. They are concerned with the integrity of the nation’s electoral process.
As South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy and Florida Senate Marco Rubio, both Republicans, have both recently said about the FBI’s using an informant to collect intelligence from Trump campaign operatives, the FBI is doing its job when it investigates foreign power intrusions into our electoral process.
But not informing candidate Trump, particularly given rumors known to the FBI that the candidate might be subject to blackmail by the Russians, is highly questionable and fails to mitigate a potentially active threat against the U.S.
Second, had it been the Clinton campaign in contact with Russians, the Obama administration would trust the candidate Clinton enough to expect direct answers to questions about interactions with the Russians.
Third, a “secret” investigative operation would take time and the electoral calendar would have driven the investigation’s timeline. The Obama administration would want the investigation resolved before the Democratic Convention in late July, such that, if the candidate’s campaign was truly compromised by Russian intelligence agents, the Democrats would have an opportunity to nominate someone else.
That is a ‘political’ consideration, but not inherently a partisan one. You would hope the Obama administration would have used the same consideration with the Trump campaign.
That is the common sense reaction the Obama administration should have to Russian interference with a presidential campaign, regardless of the party involved.
The FBI, under Obama, initiated a secret intelligence gathering operation on selected Trump campaign advisers — presumably in an effort to understand the extent of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — weeks prior to an official counterintelligence investigation into Russia-Trump collusion.
Even if using an FBI-paid informant against the Trump campaign was justified on national security grounds, Gowdy and Rubio have suggested, it is not appropriate for the FBI to use partisan political factors in deciding how to execute such an intelligence operation.
The news media’s focus on Trump’s supposed ‘lying’ distracts from the real question: Were partisan motives involved?
The major news outlets have decided Trump was “lying” when he tweeted that the FBI was spying on his campaign in July 2016.
Such a charge is utterly dishonest. In fact, the charge is more of a lie than what Trump accused the FBI of doing against his campaign.
Please read the public laws, regulations and executive orders that established our intelligence agencies (The Office of the Director of National Intelligence provides them all in one document available here). You will never see the word “spy” or “spying” as it is simply not a term the U.S. government uses to describe what its intelligence agencies do for the country.
It is understandable why. “Spying” has obvious negative connotations. Subsequently, in writing the laws and regulations authorizing our intelligence agencies, the term ‘intelligence’ became the operative phrase.
The word ‘spy’ has no official, government-sanctioned definition.
Nonetheless, the word ‘spy’ is a colloquial term we’ve all used to describe a wide range of behaviors. For example, I spy on my son all the time to see what games he’s been playing or websites he’s visited on his cellphone.
Hence, Donald Trump’s use of the word “spying” to describe what the FBI did with respect to his campaign is with some merit, even if imprecise.
The news media’s accusations that Trump ‘lied’ about FBI ‘spying’ distracts from the far more important question of whether the FBI was politically motivated when it decided to use a ‘secret informant’ to casually interview Trump campaign advisers about their connections to the Russians.
An independent, inquisitive news media would demand an answer.
And why should they? It’s not like this hasn’t happened before.
Before Obama, another incumbent administration spied on an opposing party’s presidential campaign. In The Wall Street Journal, Lee Edwards shares his experience with how Lyndon Baines Johnson’s administration spied on the Barry Goldwater campaign.
“During the 1964 presidential campaign, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the FBI to spy on Barry Goldwater’s campaign, according to Lee Edwards, a Heritage Foundation fellow and director of information for the Goldwater campaign…
…Every poll pointed toward Johnson winning the election against the conservative senator of Arizona, but LBJ wanted to win by a landslide so he could implement his Great Society vision without restraint. He also wanted to go down in history as one of America’s greatest presidents, Edwards writes in The Wall Street Journal. So he created an “Anti-Campaign” to smear Goldwater’s candidacy, Edwards claims…
…According to Edwards, the operation was run out of the second floor of the West Wing by veteran Washington-based Democrats like Leonard Marks, who later became the director of the U.S. Information Agency, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant secretary at the Department of Labor and later a U.S. senator for New York. Marks and Moynihan would schedule Democratic speakers before and after Goldwater’s appearance in a city. They knew his travel plans and remarks in advance thanks to a spy the CIA planted at Goldwater headquarters, Edwards claims…
…The “Anti-Campaign” went as far as to enlist the FBI, even though the bureau is supposed to limit its investigations to people and institutions considered dangerous to national security, Edwards writes. The FBI arranged for widespread wiretapping of the Goldwater campaign, according to Edwards, and Johnson also illegally ordered the FBI to conduct security checks of Goldwater’s Senate staff.”
It was unethical then, but why is it OK now?
The Washington Post created a detailed timeline of the relationship between known Trump campaign comments related to “hacked Clinton emails” and the release of the DNC and Podesta hacked emails (Their analysis can be accessed here).
One justification of the Robert Mueller investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians is the documented knowledge that the Trump campaign actively sought “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
There is no doubt the Trump campaign sought Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 plus deleted emails.
What The Washington Post and the other major media outlets don’t seem to understand is that it is not inherently illegal for a U.S. presidential campaign to seek the “hacked” emails of an opposing campaign, assuming they didn’t conspire, aid and abet, or hide the crime.
In Summer 2016,Trump and campaign adviser Roger Stone were publicly calling for Wikileaks to publish the Clinton-related e-mails hacked in all likelihood by the Russians. That is hardly ‘hiding’ the hacking crime.
Yet, the Obama administration decided the Trump campaign’s knowledge of the supposed whereabouts of Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails was sufficient to collect intelligence on the Trump campaign using a paid, secret informant.
Based on Gowdy, Rubio and Dershowitz’ opinions, perhaps it was sufficient evidence to use a secret informant, but would Obama have initiated a similar intelligence operation against the Clinton campaign?
That is the question that should animate the American news media today, instead of accusing the president of “lying” about spying against his campaign.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 23, 2018)
A number of my readers have complained that I use images or words from The Beatles to drive home my points. Here is a representative example of that criticism:
“How dare you use an image of George Harrison as click-bait for your pro-Trump bulls**t! George and the other Beatles never would have associated themselves that orange-haired a**hole. SHAME ON YOU! YOUR ARE NOT A REAL BEATLE FAN!”
I appreciate the profanity-soaked feedback…but let me respond.
First, for those of you under 40 that don’t know the significance of The Beatles, think of them as the 1960s version of Donald Glover, only there were four of them.
As to those who criticize my use of Beatles imagery, don’t assume you know how any of The Beatles would react to Donald Trump. Only two Beatles are still alive, of course, and neither have been aggressively anti-Trump (though Paul McCartney has written a song about Trump, which I am told is not complimentary).
But Paul has always had a tendency to aim for popular culture’s sweet spot.
I am all for opposing Donald Trump on policy. For example, it would be nice if these rabid anti-Trumpers would carve out some time to protest the growing likelihood that the U.S. is going to war against Iran. Sadly, I don’t think the Democratic Party establishment has any problem with such a reckless and doomed-to-fail military adventure.
But back to The Beatles…
In contrast to Paul’s criticism of Trump, Richard Starkey (aka. Ringo Starr), who has unexpectedly become the good-looking Beatle in his reclining years, has come out in favor of the Brexit vote; and, offers some sage advice on Brexit that is equally applicable to the Resistance in the U.S.
“I think it’s a great move; I think, you know, to be in control of your country is a good move,” Starkey told the BBC. “The people voted and, you know, they have to get on with it. Suddenly, it’s like, ‘Oh, well, we don’t like that vote.’ What do you mean you don’t like that vote? You had the vote, this is what won, let’s get on with it.”
Damn! Ringo just hammered the European Union globalists like he did to his tom-toms on “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
As for the deceased Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison, it is not so clear to me that they would reflexively support the Resistance.
Lets start with my favorite Beatle, George, who wrote my favorite Beatle song, “While my guitar gently weeps.”
George also wrote the best anti-big government, anti-tax song in the history of popular music: Taxman
If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet
Should five percent appear too small, be thankful I don’t take it all
George hated high taxes.
At the time he wrote Taxman, the top tax rate in Britain was 83 percent.
The Beatles, in general, had middle-class upbringings and were surprisingly bourgeois in their understanding of the world. When George visited San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in the 1967’s Summer of Love, his description of the place when he returned to London was, “It turned out to be just a lot of bums…dropping acid.” Pat Buchanan or Billy Graham could have just easily had that reaction.
Oh, but surely John would be an outspoken Trump critic…right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
One of his most famous songs, Revolution, was actually a song against left-wing revolutions.
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world…
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out…
But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait
Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?
Revolution’s most poignant line is in its chorus: “Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?” If there is one message John was trying to impart in this song, it was that even when serious problems exist, they are not existential.
In other words, the U.S. and the world will survive Donald Trump. We might even be better for having him.
British journalist, Maurice Hindle, who first interviewed Lennon in 1968, said “Lennon much regretted his earlier associations with the radical left.” The song Revolution was Lennon’s sharp reply to these activists that he viewed as directionless and inherently prone to violence.
Like his fellow Beatles, John had a middle-class upbringing. He was raised by his aunt and uncle, Mimi and George Smith, the latter making his career in the bookmaking business, before gambling away the family’s meager savings. John internalized that experience as he gained his own substantial wealth. And, as John’s financial fortunes grew, political groups began asking him for financial support, to whom he basically replied, ‘F**K OFF.’
John was more than happy to donate a song (e.g., “Give Peace a Chance”), but give money? Don’t forget one of John’s favorite childhood songs was Berry Gordy’s Motown song, Money, which included the lyric: ‘Money don’t get everything, it’s true, but what it don’t get, I can’t use. I need money, that’s what I want.’
And it wasn’t just on the topic of money where John was unapologetic about his bourgeois-esque attitudes.
While appearing on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, Lennon was asked by a female audience member about whether he was concerned about overpopulation. Lennon’s answer surprised her and Cavett: “I don’t really believe it,” Lennon said. “I think whatever happens will balance itself out. It’s alright for us all living to say, ‘Well, there’s enough of us so we won’t have any more.’. I don’t believe in that.”
John would later dismiss the ‘over-population’ problem by noting that as he flew over the U.S. he noticed there was “a lot of room for more people.”
The issue of overpopulation was popular on the Left in 1971. Three years earlier, Stanford biologist Dr. Paul Ehrlich predicted in his book, “The Population Bomb,” that half of Americans would die by the late 1980s due to overpopulation and the resulting famine. (Where do you think Marvel’s idea for The Avengers’ main villain, Thanos, came from?)
Over 40 years removed from Lennon’s critique of Ehrlich’s overpopulation thesis, the intuition of an art school-educated rock star was far more accurate than that of the Stanford biologist.
If you want to draw an analogy to global warming and climate change, I won’t stop you. And I think the evidence supports the hypothesis that John, if he were alive today, would dismiss climate change alarmists as he did the overpopulation alarmists in the 1970s.
And in the end…
One last thought for those who are offended or bored by my frequent reference to The Beatles when writing about contemporary politics.
We all get to interpret their music and lyrics as we wish. I use Beatle music as a background choir to my daily diet of partisan, corporate-driven half-truths being promulgated by the mainstream news media (and I include Fox News in that wretched heap — though, I confess, I am a Bret Baier-fan).
For me, when The Beatles introduce to us the Fool on the Hill who thought the criticswere the actual fools, they are warning about the fine line between arrogance and self-confidence. When John sings about the apolitical Nowhere Man who ‘knows not where he’s going to’ because he’s just like you and me, he’s talking about the importance of humility.
And, most importantly, The Beatles were about challenging authority. “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” environmental activist Jack Weinberg once said. [I prefer Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify.”]
As I write this I am watching CNN’s Don Lemon lecture us about what a big liar Donald Trump is, and how anyone that believes the FBI spied on the Trump campaign is being duped.
Perhaps. Don, after all, has all of the Obama administration’s authorities on his side.
One of the risks in challenging authority is that, sometimes, the authorities are right.
This is not that time, however.
If you want to believe the FBI didn’t secretly investigate (i.e., ‘spy on’) the Trump campaign using informants and all of the intelligence collection tools available to them, go right ahead.
But listen to our nation’s former intelligence chief, James Clapper. When asked by The View’s Joy Behar whether the FBI spied on the Trump campaign, Clapper’s response was interesting.
“No, they were not,” Clapper answered. “They were spying on, a term I don’t particularly like, but on what the Russians were doing. Trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage or influence which is what they do.”
In layman’s terms, the FBI was spying on the Russians by hanging around the Trump campaign. That is what we call a distinction without a difference.
Clapper’s response shows how much the Obama administration crafted their public response for when the “spying” program was revealed (which they knew it would be eventually).
Even if you accept Clapper’s distinction, it doesn’t change the fact that at least one Trump campaign adviser was targeted by a FISC-approved surveillance operation and a FBI counterintelligence operation targeting Trump campaign advisers was opened in late July 2016.
Those facts alone justify this simple question: Did political motivations influence the approvals of these intelligence efforts? And the suggestion by that skeptics of the Obama administration’s story are peddling conspiracy theories, is simply a shaming technique. It doesn’t require a conspiracy to believe the U.S. government lies. Out of convenience or perceived necessity, our government lies…a lot. Such behavior by our government leaders has been ‘normalized.’
It is therefore fair to ask if politics influenced the FBI’s decision to run a counterintelligence operation against the Trump campaign. As yet, we have not received from the news media or the government a verifiable answer. A healthy skeptic is not going to just take their word for it. Show us the memos, the e-mails, and the meeting notes that started this operation. How was it funded? Who authorized? Who managed it? Was President Obama briefed? When? Etc. etc.
I don’t believe for a moment that the FBI’s decision to launch ‘Crossfire Hurricane’ (high marks to the FBI for their naming creativity, by the way) was sparked by a drunken George Papadopoulos spilling his guts to an Australian diplomat in a London bar in May of 2016.
NO F-ing WAY.
When the truth does comes out, we will likely discover our intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ were interested in Donald Trump long before that May 2016 meeting — probably around the time the Fusion GPS contract to collect intelligence on Donald Trump passed from the Washington Free Beaconto a Democratic Party-aligned law firm (with ties to the Clinton campaign). Just an educated guess.
At the same time, I am hardly shill for Trump. For example…
…I would not be surprised if Donald Trump is on a ‘pee pee tape’ and has allowed his business interests to get tied up with some very unsavory types (including, but not restricted to, Russians).
…I believe the Trump campaign made a significant effort to find dirt on Hillary Clinton, including her ‘deleted emails,’ even if that meant meeting with Russians. None of which is necessarily illegal.
…I also believe Paul Manafort and Roger Stone are money-grubbing Beltway Bandit has-beens, proven by their known past to be devoid of integrity, and entirely capable of using their connections to Trump and Russian oligarchs for personal financial gain. They are pit vipers posing as human beings. The last two people a legitimate presidential campaign should bring aboard.
…and I swear, as it became clear on election night that Trump had won, I went onto my deck and could hear the Russians laughing at the stupidity and incompetence of the Obama administration and our two presidential candidates (Куча идиотов!).
Even if we take everything Clapper and other Obama administration officials have said as fact regarding spying on the Trump campaign, they need to account for they still allowed the Russians to not just meddle, but affect the final election outcome. [I have previously published evidence that the Trump campaign’s social media efforts, which had help from the Russians (knowingly or not), had a quantifiable impact on a significant percentage of voters. You can find my research here.]
That is my summary of the 2016 election. And everyone involved, from our two political parties to the partisan news media, is trying to cover their butts.
And, sadly, our journalists are not doing the job protected by our Founding Fathers when they wrote the Constitution. It is possible to believe the Russians meddled in the election, Donald Trump was unaware of this meddling, and the Obama administration spied on members of the Trump campaign. All three statement can be true. It would be nice if our journalist corps would press the current and former administrations for the truth.
Instead, today’s journalists are more likely to be telling us what their government handlers want us to hear instead of what we should hear.
Which is why I am always skeptical of corporate media. They’ve already misreported too many things in the Trump-Russia story for us to trust them now [Don’t believe me? You can find a list here].
Yes, the news media gets some things right. For example, I’m confident there is a volcano spewing lava in Hawaii right now.
There are still some good reporters out there, but many of them are trapped under the fetters of corporate media, motivated more by career advancement incentives than a healthy skepticism of ‘official sources.’
We would all be better served if we stopped accepting access journalism driven by anonymous government sources. For when we do, we are probably being played for fools.
We should demand independent, verifiable evidence. We should demand the truth.
The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald calls these access journalists the ‘stenographers’ for our nation’s political and economic elites. You don’t have to like Greenwald to know he’s right.
But the truth will come out eventually about what really happened in the 2016 election…unless we stop demanding it and just accept Don Lemon’s advice.
And for those of you that have made to the end of this essay, you are rewarded with the 2010 stereo remaster of John Lennon’s political rock masterpiece, “Gimme Some Truth.” Enjoy!
Presumably, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his investigative team will eventually present evidence to the U.S. Congress that will justify such an investigation. Former intelligence chief James Clapper is already priming the pump for the news media narrative that the Obama administration “spying” on the opposition party’s presidential campaign was the “right thing to do.”
Until the real story emerges (if ever), circumstantial evidence, baseless conjecture, and media-fueled hyperbole will be the news media’s primary currency while covering the Trump-Russia investigation.
The following New York Times headline from May 19th regarding the FBI’s interference in the 2016 election says all you need to know about the elite bias of our nation’s most respected newspaper:
That headline is straight-up deceptive, frosted with layers of creamy dishonesty. The definitional nuance between “spying” and “using an informant to investigate” was likely dictated to the New York Times’ writers — Adam Goldman, Mark Mazzetti and Matthew Rosenberg— by their Department of Justice (DoJ) sources. And then there are the story’s opening paragraphs:
President Trump accused the F.B.I. on Friday, without evidence, of sending a spy to secretly infiltrate his 2016 campaign “for political purposes” even before the bureau had any inkling of the “phony Russia hoax.”
In fact, F.B.I. agents sent an informant to talk to two campaign advisers only after they received evidence that the pair had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign. The informant, an American academic who teaches in Britain, made contact late that summer with one campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, according to people familiar with the matter. He also met repeatedly in the ensuing months with the other aide, Carter Page, who was also under F.B.I. scrutiny for his ties to Russia
No independent, unbiased journalist writes opening paragraphs as convoluted as those without being told to.
“President Trump accused the F.B.I…without evidence, of sending a spy to secretly infiltrate his 2016 campaign…,” they write. And then in the next sentence(!) they provide the very evidence the president is referring to when he says his campaign was spied on.
If, after more than a year, we haven’t figured out President Trump doesn’t navigate complexity and nuance very well, then we haven’t been paying attention. The man has a working vocabulary of a fourth-grader. That is not an exaggeration. It has been measured…and he speaks at a fourth-grade level.
So, please, forgive President Trump if his interpretation of the F.B.I.’s admitted use of a secret informant to gather information from three campaign advisers comes out as: “They were spying on my campaign!”
The vast majority of Americans would come to the same conclusion if the FBI had done that to them.
In both cases, the “informant” or “spy” does not reveal their purpose (i.e., collecting intelligence) or their client (i.e., the FBI) to their targeted sources. But the distinction the DoJ and its publicity arm, The New York Times, are trying to sell is that “spying” would be if the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign itself; whereas, using an informant to investigate Russian election meddling is entirely different. To quote the late-Richard Pryor, “Only white people can come up with sh*t like that.”
Did George Papadopoulos really get this started?
There is some good reporting and news analysis going on with respect to the Trump-Russia investigation. My top-of-mind list includes The Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross, the National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy, The Wall Street Journals’ Shane Harris, Carol E. Lee and Kimberley Strassel, Politico’s David Stern, The Federalist’s Sean Davis, and The New York Time’s Michael Schmidt, among others.
All of the reporting agrees that on May 10, 2016, a drunken Papadopoulos boasted to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer that the Russians possessed thousands of stolen Hillary Clinton emails. It was this meeting, supposedly, that prompted the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation (‘Crossfire Hurricane’) into the Trump campaign on July 31st, according toThe New York Times.
But the Times’ own reporting leaves open the question as to when the Australians notified their American counterparts about the Papadopoulos drunken confession? The Times presumes Wikileaks’ publishing of the DNC emails in mid-July prompted the Australians to contact the FBI, but there is no concrete evidence offered by the Australians, the FBI, or anyone else that confirms this. All we have is the formal start date of the FBI counterintelligence investigation (July 31st).
Thanks to The Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross, we know the FBI planted an informant, Stefan Halper, a Cambridge professor with connections to the CIA and its British counterpart, MI6, close to the Trump campaign to investigate Russian election meddling. From Ross’s reporting, we know one of Halper’s earliest contacts with a Trump campaign adviser occurred when Halper met with Carter Page at a London symposium around July 11th.
Was Halper already an FBI informant at that point? If so, the original Papadopoulos-Downer meeting on May 10th was still unknown to the FBI, so how could that meeting have been so pivotal in the FBI’s decision to launch ‘Crossfire Hurricane’? The easiest and most obvious conclusion is that the Papadopoulos-Downer meeting wasn’t pivotal.
Is it possible, however, that the FBI’s interest in the Trump campaign predated even the Papadopoulos-Downer meeting? Consider that the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication, had hired Fusion GPS to collect intelligence on Trump in late 2015, and that contract was taken over by a Democratic National Committee-connected law firm in the Spring 2016.
The U.S. intelligence community (USIC), which includes the FBI, and its web of private contractors is surprisingly small and insular, particularly at the highest management levels. It should not surprise us if, in the coming months, we learn that the FBI knew of Fusion GPS’ efforts from the beginning, or at least after the contract was handed off to the Democrats.
After more than a year, what do we really know?
When considering all of the reporting done so far, an open-minded but always skeptical citizen could reasonably come to these conclusions about the Trump-Russia connection:
(1) Russian intelligence operatives targeted the Trump campaign no later than Spring 2016. It was at that time Professor Joseph Mifsud, suspected to have connections to Russian intelligence, told Papadopoulos that the Russians had thousands of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.
As an aside, Mifsud also introduced Papadopoulos to the woman who would become Papadopoulos’ fiancee (see photo below).
Yeah, I know what you are thinking. Russian intelligence may operate the world’s greatest dating service (if you are a single guy, at least).
(2) More likely, Russian intelligence started an intelligence operation against Donald Trump around the time of the Miss Universe Pageant held in Moscow in November 2013. It would be consistent with known Russian intelligence conventions for them to target wealthy American with a known interest at the time in running for president. If they didn’t, I would ashamed of them.
(3) There is nothing in Donald Trump’s known personal code of conduct that rules out the possibility of a ‘pee-pee tape’ from his November 2013 trip to Moscow. I’d bet my left arm there is one. There is also no reason to believe Trump’s supporters (and potential supporters) would abandon him if such a tape were to surface.
(4) The Russians pursued an aggressive, multi-faceted campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And their efforts were focused on two outcomes: (a) creating division within the American electorate (like both U.S. political parties aren’t doing that already!) and (b) helping to get Trump elected.
(5) Trump campaign operatives, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Carter Page, and, of course, George Papadopoulos, had verifiable connections to wealthy and politically-connected Russians. The Trump campaign was also decidedly aggressive in trying to find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.
None of that behavior is necessarily illegal, but these behaviors obviously opened each of them up to intelligence collection and manipulation by Russian intelligence. Were any of these Trump campaign operatives working “for” Russian intelligence? Highly unlikely (though Carter Page still seems a little odd to me).
(6) And, finally, Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. And did the Russian meddling make a difference? I encourage to read my quantitative analysis on that question, where I do find evidence that the Trump campaign’s digital efforts (which included work by Cambridge Analytica) were an important factor in solidifying Trump’s voter base, particularly voters that would have otherwise considered voting for Hillary Clinton.
So, that is what we know. What will happen next?
It will soon be Roger Stone’s time in the barrel
Media reports are emerging that Roger Stone is now the focus of the Mueller probe, at least until a Trump interview is arranged.
Stone’s uncanny ability to predict the release of the Wikileaks-published Podesta emails and his tendency to promote his important political contacts (e.g., Guccifer 2.0, Julian Assange, etc.) makes him hard to ignore, if you are Robert Mueller.
The truth about Stone and his contact with Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0, however, is not quite as damning as Trump’s opponents would prefer; or, at least, that was my takeaway after reading The Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand’s comprehensive rundown of Stone’s Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0 communications. Stone is a blowhard and serial exaggerator and it is hard to believe anything he says.
As a political science graduate student in the late 1980s, one of my first research projects was documenting the rise of a new generation of political consultants, many of whom were associated with the Ronald Reagan presidential campaigns of 1980 and 1984. Perhaps the most infamous was the firm, BMSK & Associates, started in 1980 by Charles Black, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone (and later joined by Peter Kelly and a young pit viper from South Carolina named Lee Atwater).
[Side note: Reagan’s pollster, Richard Wirthlin, was the real strategic genius in the Reagan campaigns]
Black, Manafort and Stone were infamous to political consultant-wannabes like myself because they were so ruthless and unconnected to common rules of decency…and they didn’t hide it. They helped their political clients win through raw intimidation. Sound familiar?
The firm established their dark side reputation early in their history by representing notoriously brutal dictators such as Mohamed Siad Barre (Somalia), Ferdinand Marcos (Philippines), Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaire) and Jonas Savimbi (Angola).
British journalist Richard Dowden wrote of Mobutu Sese Seko’s reign in Zaire: “The CIA helped bring Mobutu Sese Seko to power to stop the pro-Moscow Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. Protected physically by Israeli security guards and financially by Washington, Mobutu turned the country into his personal fiefdom, treating the national treasury as his own bank account.”
But Angola’s Jonas Savimbi was even more cringe-worthy. During the Reagan administration, Savimbi’s UNITA movement was fighting to overthrow the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which was supported by the Soviet Union (with manpower assistance from Cuba). But even ardent Communism fighters in Reagan’s State Department, like the Secretary of State, George Schultz, found Savimbi’s methods for maintaining discipline in his ranks to be unacceptable. Along with executions, torture and the disappearance of any internal rivals, Savimbi also tolerated public witch burnings.
Just an example of the types of clients BMSK & Associates specialized in serving.
It is hardly a coincidence that Roger Stone and Paul Manafort joined the Trump campaign when they had a chance. These were two old war horses, no longer considered relevant by a political consulting community that generally likes to discard its elders when young mavericks touting the newest campaign methods are available. Political campaigns are a young person’s game and Stone and Manafort were no longer relevant in 2016…until Donald Trump, having won a series of early primaries for the Republican nomination, needed a credible campaign organization as fast as possible.
So entered two of the oiliest, money-hawking bastards to every run a major presidential campaign.
Documenting that period in the Trump campaign, filmmakers Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, and Morgan Pehme released their documentary about Roger Stone, Get Me Roger Stone, to rave reviews for their unfiltered portrait of how Stone’s brand of dirty tricks defined the Trump campaign’s attitude.
As critical as I have been about the mainstream media’s frequently dishonest reporting of the Trump-Russia collusion story, there is no doubt Roger Stone and Paul Manafort are capable of such chicanery. But when one of the Get Me Roger Stone co-directors was recently asked on CNN if he believed Stone could have engineered the Trump-Russian collusion effort, he said, “Roger doesn’t have those kind of contacts in Russia.”
It is much more likely Stone was grasping for relevance in the 2016 election, using any connection he could conjure up to make him look important (and raise some cash).
How will this all end?
Regardless of the Mueller investigation’s final outcome, serious damage has been done to the American political system. This country will not be the same and neither political party and its staunchest partisans will emerge unscathed, to say nothing of the damage the news media has done to itself.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to pass President Trump’s request for an investigation to the Department of Justice’s Inspector General is just a polite way of Rosenstein telling the president to stick his request up his ass.
Inspector General offices are the B-teams of criminal investigations within the federal government. Conservative radio’s Mark Levin is right when he calls for a special counsel to investigate the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign. Unless that happens, nothing significant will happen.
Who ultimately will lose when Mueller wraps up his final report?
(1) Donald Trump is the obvious loser. Independent of whether or not his campaign colluded with the Russians, his presidency is permanently handicapped by the constant drone of a hostile media and D.C. political class (the “swamp” if you prefer) that will never accept him as president. Mueller will have done his duty to Democratic partisans if he can extend his investigation through the 2018 midterms.
However, unless Mueller can offer up a video of Trump taking orders from his Russian handlers, there is nothing that is likely to come from the Mueller investigation that will force Trump to resign or be removed from office.
(2) The news media is the next big loser. When Trump fades away (and he will), the news media will have lost their money tree and will, instead, be left with a public image so tarnished by their collective dishonesty that even Manhattan’s corporate liberals won’t have any patience left for Rachel Maddow’s meandering monologues to nowhere.
If you still live under the fiction that the news media is doing a good job covering the Trump administration, just read journalist Glenn Greenwald’s incomplete list of instances when the U.S. press corps screwed up in their coverage of Donald Trump in 2017 (you can find his list here.)
When I think of the American press’ love for its war on Trump, I am reminded of Lt. Col. George Custer’s famous quote about war:
“You ask me if I will not be glad when the last battle is fought, so far as the country is concerned I, of course, must wish for peace, and will be glad when the war is ended, but if I answer for myself alone, I must say that I shall regret to see the war end.” —Lt. Col. George Custer
(3) The third big loser is the Republican Party’s establishment, led by Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and the Bush family, who will all be culpable for their arrogant exploitation of their electoral base, working-class and evangelical Americans. For forty years, the Republicans ginned up religious, nationalist and ethnic fears in order to keep their base loyal; while, at the same time, pursued social, economic and military policies that ignored their interests. If you want to explain Donald Trump’s appeal, you start there.
(4) Finally, Barack Obama, and the corporatist Democrats that created him, will not be treated kindly by historians. History doesn’t reward whiners.
Barack Obama’s presidential legacy is in ashes; and, even if the Democrats take back control of the government in the next two and a half years (and I think they will), corporatist Democrats offer nothing substantive to think we are on the brink of a new, permanent Democratic majority. if you think Republican obstructionism was bad during the Obama years, wait and see what they’ll be like during the Kamala Harris administration.
I tire of Obama apologists bemoaning how little the Republicans worked with him during his eight years in office. Obama’s inability to work across the aisle was his failing, not the Republicans. If the U.S. had a parliamentarian system like the British, Obama would have been justifiably removed from office right after the midterm elections in 2010.
Hopefully, future presidents will reject the hubris of Obama’s famous brush-off of congressional Republicans when he told them soon after his 2008 victory that “elections have consequences.”
Yes, they do Mr. Obama. And everyone of those Republicans you insulted were elected too.
Will there be any good outcomes?
Hopefully, at least good outcome will arise from the Trump presidency. After four consecutive failed presidencies (Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama and Trump), it is time for Congress take back power usurped by the ever-creeping executive branch.
The days are hopefully over when a president can send Americans to war without congressional approval, enter international treaties without Senate approval, or re-write immigration policy on the whim of a presidential executive order.
Moreover, whether we call it the ‘deep state,’ ‘the permanent government,’ or just the mundane ‘federal bureaucracy,’ the unelected members of our executive branch have become too powerful and unaccountable. Our Founders established a democratic republic, but our democracy has evolved into a bureaucracy in service of oligarchs.
If, as a result of Trump’s time in office, the U.S. presidency were to once again be rendered a co-equal branch of government, a little Russian election meddling in 2016 was a small price to pay.
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