Things we will learn in 2019

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 28, 2018)

Every year we gain new information that shocks our political and social system.

For example, in the year 2018, we learned that Donald Trump is subject to the same political laws of gravity as every previous president. The party of a president with approval in the low-40s is going to get clobbered in the midterm elections and lose around 40 U.S. House seats. [OK, maybe that was known before 2018, but given 2016, more than a few people wondered if perhaps Trump and the GOP had discovered a new formula for electoral success. In fact, they have not.]

We also learned that Donald Trump is not going to change. He’s is not rising up to the office’s status, as many would like, but in reality the office is conforming to him. And that is not a criticism or a compliment of the man. It is an observable fact, for better or worse.

And finally, in 2018, though shocking to some, it is still possible to end a U.S. military engagement. In the most recent case it is Syria, where the wailing outcries of the corporate, warmongering media has been met by Trump’s stone cold resilience to their emotional seizures.

History will record the Syrian civil war as a first-order humanitarian disaster exacerbated by an Obama administration that, in pursuing regime change, actively destabilized not just Syria but two other countries (Libya and Yemen), only to see hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians die in the process. The Bashar al-Assad regime is brutal and culpable in the vast majority of those deaths, but so are the countries that thought arming anti-Assad Islamic extremists was a good idea. An man of integrity would have returned his Nobel Peace Prize in the light of such results.

So, what are we going to learn in 2019?

The most significant revelation in 2019 will probably happen towards the end of the year: Donald Trump will announce he will not run for re-election in 2020.

After months of secret negotiations with the Robert Mueller team and investigators with the FBI’s Southern District of New York, Trump will walk away from the presidency in exchange for — at a minimum — the neutering of any current or likely investigations into his children’s business and political dealings; and, more likely, there will also be an agreement to minimize Trump’s own exposure to criminal prosecution after he leaves office.

It will be a tough pill to swallow for Trump’s most ardent supporters, but equally hard to accept for the political mob that will, figuratively speaking, demand his public execution (i.e., impeachment and Senate conviction).

For the good of the Republic, that will not happen.

Like the removal of U.S. missiles in Turkey as part of the deal to end the Cuban Missile Crisis, we may never know the exact nature of the Mueller-Trump deal. But the results will be observable to everyone. Donald Trump will walk away a one-term president, his supporters lionizing his Quixotic presidency and his opponents celebrating the end of their self-imposed, four-year nightmare.

But this is where the good news might end for the Democrats, however, as they will be forced to rationalize one of the core findings likely to emerge from the Mueller investigation: Pursing evidence on a political opponent’s possible illegal activities is not illegal, even if this includes making direct or indirect contact with Vladimir Putin-connected Russians.

A more complete discussion of the legal questions surrounding the Trump-Russia collusion story can be found here. However, here is a short summary of that essay:

There is no question, based on the known evidence, that the Trump campaign aggressively pursued what they internally believed to be their golden ticket to the presidency. Find Hillary’s missing emails and win the presidency.

[Clinton-haters assume there is something incriminating in the 30,000 missing emails. I do not assume that. When has either Clinton ever written something interesting or embarrassing— much less incriminating — in an email? Never, to my knowledge. They are too smart to be that stupid.]

But finding those emails was Donald Trump Jr.’s motive when he attended the Trump Tower meeting with a Putin-connected Russian lawyer. And that is what Roger Stone was doing when he was communicating with the hacker(s) Guccifer 2.0.

And why pursue the missing Clinton emails? Set aside the presumption that Clinton was involved in illegal activities that would have been revealed had the emails been released. [The Clinton’s prefer to engage in unethical activities for which there is legal cover.] Still, the act of allowing a private email server for work communications and then deleting the emails was a major set of missteps on Hillary Clinton’s part, and probably illegal (independent of any crime being revealed in the emails themselves).

It is a federal crime (a felony) to knowingly or unknowingly destroy evidence subpoenaed by a congressional committee. Furthermore, to premeditatively prevent or impair the ability of the federal government to possess federal records (e.g., work-related emails) in an effort to avoid public transparency laws (e.g., FOIA) is also a crime.

In a court of law would Clinton or her associates have been convicted of such crimes? Probably not, particularly if establishing motives becomes relevant to prosecution.

Nonetheless, it would have been a derelict of duty for the Trump campaign not to make the effort to find the missing emails.

Unfortunately, for the Trump campaign, they were so outside the established political system that they didn’t understand how such opposition research is normally done.

A professional, well-run presidential campaign would have farmed out the task of investigating Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails to a friendly journalist and/or private investigative firm. That is what Fusion GPS did for the Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans. In compiling the Trump dossier on the Democratic Party’s dime, what Christopher Steele did was legal. Now, what the FBI did with the dossier in its effort to justify “spying” on the Trump campaign may not have been legal. Hopefully, someday a full accounting of what really happened within the FBI in 2016 will be brought to light. Color me skeptical, however.

That said, there is already evidence of the many legal landmines Trump operatives tripped over in their pursuit of dirt on Hillary Clinton. First and foremost, you do not lie to the FBI about the existence or nature of contacts with Russians. Roger Stone, the most experienced and sophisticated of the political shitmeisters employed by Trump during the campaign, was by most accounts the most aggressive operative in getting close to the Russians. He appears to have kept those contacts indirect (e.g. Wikileaks, Guccifer 2.0) and focused on ascertaining the existence of stolen emails, as opposed to participating in their theft, providing material support to the theft, or coordinating their release subsequent to the theft.

The latter three actions would be, quite likely, illegal…and, because he is a slimy shitmeister, Roger Stone knows that.

Don’t forget that Roger Stone, perhaps more than any single human, is responsible for George W. Bush winning the presidency in 2000. It was Stone who organized the protests outside Florida’s county election offices during the recount period. It was those protests that significantly slowed down the recount effort to the point where the election officials were destined to miss the court-imposed deadline; and, hence, had the entire issue passed up to the U.S. Supreme Court. We all know how that turned out. You can thank Roger Stone.

But what the Mueller investigation has revealed so far does not constitute a conspiracy-level of wrongdoing by the Trump campaign — and certainly not by the president himself. The public evidence simply doesn’t exist.

Even prior knowledge of Russia’s social media trolling activities would not necessarily constitute a crime.

In terms of concrete evidence about a conspiracy to manipulate the 2016 presidential election, all we have is speculation and conjecture. For example,

What if Cambridge Analytica, a data analytic firm hired by the Trump campaign, shared targeting information with the Russians? [That would be illegal.]

Or how about the Israeli data firm, Psy-Group, which had a cooperative agreement with Cambridge Analytica? What if they manipulated content on social media in a coordinated effort with the Trump campaign? [That would be illegal.]

And did foreign contributions end up in the Trump campaign coffers? [Not that such a thing would be unprecedented in American political history; but that would be illegal.]

All would be interesting facts…and, if true, possible elements of a conspiracy. But such evidence has never been offered by the Mueller team or the news media.

And that is where the Mueller investigation is likely to end: A lot of interesting conjecture short on proof. A few Trump associates will be indicted for mostly process crimes (George Papadopoulos, General Michael Flynn), and perhaps low-order conspiracy charges against Roger Stone (and possibly others) for coordinating with foreign agents the release of the Russia-stolen Democratic National Committee and John Podesta emails.

If you believe the Russians stole the 2016 election (and I offer empirical evidence Wikileaks’ release of the Podesta emails did have an impact), the final Mueller report is likely to be a big letdown.

Mueller is unlikely to reveal a grand conspiracy — certainly not on the scale still promoted by the establishment media. However, Mueller has opened the door into Trump’s business and tax activities that do significantly threaten his presidency (and, possibly, his freedom). That, far more than the ersatz Trump-Russia collusion narrative, is sufficient to scare the president into an early political retirement.

And, finally, perhaps the biggest reveal in 2019 will be how much the Washington establishment has lost control and may never get it back they way they’d like.

Trump is an invasive species, much like the python snakes taking over the Florida everglades. Once they’ve invaded, the damage is not only done, it is all but impossible to reverse.

Trump, himself, may not survive politically past 2020. But what he represents — imperfectly as he does — will not go away. Power centers independent of the political establishment are already emerging within D.C. that the current establishment leaders cannot control, at least not completely.

This is particularly the case for a Democratic Party, led by Rep Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, that has offered no answer to the demands of the party’s progressive caucus.

Progressive Democrats have at least one model for how to impact Washington politics going forward:

For 10 years the Republican’s congressional Freedom Caucus has effectively marginalized the power of the GOP’s congressional leadership — despite, as a party, controlling Congress. The Democrats’ progressive caucus is likely to do the same to their leadership with one big, BIG difference. Where the Freedom Caucus never had a true field general — Sarah Palin could have been that person had she shown a capacity for self-improvement and offered more than just her charisma and marketability to the GOP base — the progressive Democrats have deep bench of charismatic and articulate leaders.

Most of the media attention goes to newly-elected New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but she is hardly the progressive’s only field general. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) is already running intellectual circles around party dinosaurs like Howard Dean, whose “grotesque smear” of Khanna’s stance that our military occupation of Afghanistan has run its course gives a good sense of how out-of-touch the Democratic Party establishment has become.

Ocasio-Cortez, Khanna and other progressive movement leaders is perhaps even more revolutionary than the Trump phenomenon. With the exceptions of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, no female politician in my lifetime has been the target of as many personal attacks in such a short period of time — including questions about her intelligence — than Ocasio-Cortez.

And, yet, she hits back twice as hard as she receives.

Here is her response to a DC Examiner columnist who thought he was clever calling Ocasio-Cortez a ‘bitch’:

 

While sometimes she gets her objective facts wrong (on usually minor details), Ocasio-Cortez makes up for it with a natural savvy for tactical politics that Bill Clinton would envy.

Ocasio-Cortez’ prompt responses to attacks are always mixed with “grace and wit”— which makes her very un-Trumpian — but pointed enough to discourage even her most prominent critics from pursuing an extended fight on social media.

And this hasn’t happened just once or twice. She does it almost every friggin’ day. She’s like the pride-leading, female velociraptor in Jurassic Park, when she targets you, there is nowhere to run. [My wife warns me that comparing the New York congresswoman to a carnivorous dinosaur is sexist and demeaning. I vigorously disagree and I’m sticking with the comparison…]

Source: Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

And it is not just Ocasio-Cortez showing considerable fortitude amidst constant attacks. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) are repeatedly trolled on social media by agents of Persian Gulf governments, often over their opposition to the Saudi-led war in Yemen and efforts to isolate Iran.

“Academics, media outlets, and commentators close to Persian Gulf governments have repeatedly accused Omar, Tlaib, and Abdul El-Sayed (who made a failed bid to become governor of Michigan) of being secret members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are hostile to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” writes Ola Salem in a recent issue of Foreign Policy.

Source: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Of course, none of those accusations have any merit, but highlight the challenges these women, and the progressive Democrats in general, are likely to face in the future.

It may be too soon to write the obituary for Bill Clinton’s New Democrats, but this new progressive surge feels somehow different.

The new Democratic establishment darling, Beto O’Rourke — another centrist Democrat posing as a progressive without ever voting like one— may not be enough to make Americans forget how disconnected the national party is from the issues discussed across most kitchen tables in this country.

The corporatist Democrats have had a good twenty or so year run, funneling money into the pockets of their core constituencies — Wall Street bankers, pharmaceutical executives, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the defense industry, etc. — and using the divisiveness of culture war issues to distract average Americans from more substantive matters.

That is all about to change…in a big way…and that is the most important thing we will learn in 2019.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and insults can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

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Reality is the real winner if the U.S. pulls out of Syria

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 23, 2018)

Leave it to Hawaii Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard to give a reasoned and thoughtful criticism of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

“We need to get our troops out of Syria ASAP, but it must be done responsibly,” she tweeted son after Trump’s decision was announced. “Turkey will see this as an invitation to invade northern Syria, decimate our Kurdish allies and strengthen jihadists like al Qaeda, ISIS, etc., undermining our national security and causing more suffering.”

She followed up with another tweet:

“The underlying problem is that for too long our leaders have had no clear direction or objective when it comes to foreign policy. So without a clear mission and objective, it’s impossible to know whether any particular decision will help us achieve that mission.”

Many serious observers of the situation in Syria, like Gabbard, understand the urgent need for the U.S. to leave Syria but also realize the U.S. needs to do so in an orderly and deliberate manner so the Kurds are not completely abandoned and ISIS is not allowed to re-establish itself.

If Gabbard is anything, she is a realist. A personal quality seriously lacking in Washington, D.C.

Syrian government troops are already dashing eastward to fill in the void that will be left after the U.S. pullout, the first goal being to secure the oil and gas rich areas critical to financing Syria’s reconstruction efforts. If Trump has gifted Assad anything, it will be the revival of Syria’s energy revenue stream.

Concurrently, the Kurdish forces in northeast Syria are fast creating and reinforcing trenches and defense barriers in preparation for what now looks like an imminent Turkish offensive against the Kurds (which, if it occurs, will be an illegal act likely to be broadly condemned within the international community).

There was no reason to believe — even a week ago — that Trump was going to make this move in Syria.

“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” said National Security Adviser John Bolton said just last September, publicly acknowledging that the U.S. presence in Syria was now less a counter-terrorism operation than a strategic maneuver to contain Iran.

Specifically, U.S. troops in Syria, particularly those stationed at Al Tanf on the Syrian-Iraqi border and near Jordan, are impeding Iran’s ability to move freely between western Iraq and Lebanon.

Presumably, Iran, Bashar al Assad, Hezbollah and ISIS are the big winners in the U.S. pullout, and the Kurds and Syria’s Sunni majority are the big losers.

But as detailed by Joost Hiltermann and Maria Fantappie for Foreign Policy magazine, the intent of the U.S. occupation in northeastern Syria has never been about establishing an independent Kurdish state (in Syria and Iraq). The Kurds were never going to be the winners once ISIS was defeated (or near defeat, as in the current situation).

“ U.S. officials had long opposed any changes to the Middle East’s borders for fear of setting off an unstoppable domino effect,” they write.

Critics of Trump’s Syria pullout are merely manipulating the Kurdish plight to justify an open-ended occupation of one-third of Syria by U.S. forces. Long before the Trump administration, the Kurds knew the U.S. was never a reliable ally.

Trump just confirmed it.

Instead, Trump just forced a level of realism into Syrian Kurdish thinking that may, in fact, lead to a sustainable arrangement between the Kurds and the Assad regime (and perhaps the Turks as well).

Despite her disapproval of Trump’s pullout decision, Maha Yahya, Director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, notes that the pullout will force the Kurds to negotiate with the Assad regime.

That is a good thing, because there was never going to be an independent Kurdish state in northeast Syria, no matter how loudly critics of the U.S. pullout scream about how close we are to achieving it.

Reality may be the big winner in Syria after the U.S. pullout.

  • K.R.K.

(Send comments and insults to kroeger98@yahoo.com)

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Bella gerant alii (Let others wage war)

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 21, 2018)

The spread of Trump derangement syndrome is worse than previously thought.

President Trump offers an eminently defensible idea, that even progressive Democrats support, and the D.C. Beltway establishment becomes downright dotty in the head.

Upon Trump’s announcement of his decision to remove U.S. ground troops from Syria within 30 days, a predictable din of disapproval arose from the GOP war hawks, foreign policy establishment, neoliberal interventionists, and the battlefield tourists in the Beltway press.

“President Trump’s abrupt decision to pull American troops from Syria…ends a low-cost, high-impact mission and creates a vacuum that will be filled by one of a series of bad actors — Iran, Russia, Turkey, Islamic extremists, the Syrian regime — take your pick, they’re all dangerous for American interests in the Middle East,” writes Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

“Low cost” relative to the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and subsequent occupations, perhaps. But it is precisely these small footprint, low visibility U.S. troop deployments — dozens of which are currently ongoing across the globe — that aggregate into significant budget (taxpayer) commitments and, more ominously, increase the probability the U.S. will get drawn into larger entanglements sometime in the future.

As recently as last February, at least 200 Russian mercenaries (if they were Americans we’d call them ‘contractors’) were killed by U.S. troops during a 4-hour skirmish in Syria’s Deir al-Zour region.

Even the slightest chance that another such event like that one could spiral the U.S. and Russia — the two countries with the world’s largest nuclear arsenals — into a broader conflict should chasten even the loudest chicken hawks in the U.S. Congress and Beltway press.

The Deir al-Zour battle alone should have been enough to start the process of removing U.S. troops from Syria.

But, alas. It was not enough for our warmongering class. Since they pay no price for our forever wars and reap many of its financial benefits, the mere suggestion of the U.S. leaving Syria is heresy.

“A lot of American allies will be slaughtered if this retreat is implemented,” warned Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.

“Russia, Iran, Assad… are ecstatic!” declares South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

Never mind growing evidence that Russia and Iran, situational allies at best, have disparate motives in Syria (Russia wants stability and Iran wants to pester Israel to placate the home audience) that keep open the real possibility that the Russians might limit Iran’s influence once the U.S. has left.

Furthermore, the downing of a Russian military plane in September 2018 by the Syrians, killing all 15 on board, which the Russians blamed on the Israelis, has a had a surprisingly positive impact on Russian-Israeli relations. The tragedy heightened awareness by both that the Syrian conflict cannot be allowed to bring their two countries into a direct state-of-war.

Since the downing of the Russian plane, Russia and Israel are increasingly cooperating on issues related to Syria and Hezbollah, perhaps leaving Russia, not the U.S., better positioned to stem Iranian influence in Syria.

However, my favorite soulless platitude about Trump’s Syria decision comes from one of the reporters who pushed the ‘Iraq has WMDs’ story line in the Iraq War run up and now Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake. “Trump Courts Catastrophe in Syria,” his latest column starts.

As if things had been going so well in Syria for the past seven years. We passed ‘catastrophe’ about six years ago.

Sure, Syria has stabilized in the past two years. But that was after the Obama administration ended its neocon-inspired strategy of fighting both the Bashar al Assad regime and ISIS, and to instead, with marginal cooperation from the Russians, focus on ISIS alone. To the Trump administration’s credit, they built upon the Obama strategy shift and the result has been a significant contraction in ISIS’ strength.

Yet, it is fair for critics of the Syria pullout to note that ISIS is not exactly ‘defeated,’ nor is al Qaeda. As long as their energy source remains plentiful — U.S. troops deployed throughout the Middle East — they will have a healthy number of devotees and sympathizers, with many willing to die for the cause, inshallah.

But 4,000 U.S. troops in Syria is not what stands between the end of ISIS and the rise of a new Sunni caliphate. It never was and won’t be going forward. Stabilizing Assad’s Syria has been the more direct cause of ISIS’ steady decline, as loathsome as his regime may be.

Once the Syria decision is finalized, is Afghanistan next?

In re-crafting Trump’s original tweet announcement, columnist Pat Buchanan offers this clear-eyed rationale of the intended Syria pullout:

“ We are extricating America from the forever war of the Middle East so foolishly begun by previous presidents. We are coming home. The rulers and peoples of this region are going to have to find their own way and fight their own wars. We are not so powerful that we can fight their wars while we also confront Iran and North Korea and face new Cold Wars with Russia and China.”

And once (or if) Trump’s Syria pullout is finalized, eyes will turn to Afghanistan where the U.S. has been leading an occupation for 17 years. Trump has already indicated a desire to extricate the U.S. from that morass as well. And why not? After 17 years, the end game is not in sight. What will be different if we stay another 17 years? Probably not much.

After all, what has U.S. troop surges in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2017 reaped? Where previously the Taliban controlled 40 percent of Afghan territory, now they control 70 percent. In the business world that is called a bad investment. To the forever war crowd, its the justification for another surge — only a bigger, better one.

In the end, there is no significant U.S. strategic interest in Syria or Afghanistan. It is time to let others wage war in those conflicts — bella gerant alii. It is simply not our fight. It never was.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and insults can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

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Tracking possible war crimes in Yemen

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 19, 2018)

With the U.S. Senate recently voting to end U.S. assistance in the Saudi-UAE-led war in Yemen, the symbolic gesture may represent a genuine turning point in the three-and-a-half year conflict.

…or maybe just more false hope.

The Yemen civil war, in which no resolution is in sight, is generally portrayed as a conflict between the Houthi militia in western Yemen, a movement affiliated with the Zaidi sect of Shia Islam, and forces allied with Houthi-deposed Yemen President Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a Sunni Muslim re-elected president in 2012 in a contest where he ran unopposed and received 100 percent of the popular vote.

Figure 1. Religious Map of Yemen

Source: European Council on Foreign Relations

 

Layered within Yemen’s complex domestic situation, however, is a proxy war between Saudi-UAE-led forces and Iran, who backs the Houthis, though their level of support is disputed. But even this proxy war is itself embedded within a larger regional contest fueled by a U.S.-Israel-Saudi-led obsession with containing Iran’s growing (but limited) influence in the Middle East. The Israeli’s have a palpable and legitimate concern with Iran’s potential to control a continuous land-based supply route between Tehran and the potent and highly-trained Hizballah forces in southern Lebanon. The long-term posture of the U.S. occupation of Syria’s eastern provinces is, in fact, largely predicated on preventing this from becoming a reality.

From the Iranian perspective, their involvement in Syria in supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime, is a much higher priority than Yemen.

“Iran has an obtainable objective in Syria: protecting one of its few allies in the Arab world,” says Dr Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Its goals in Yemen are far less defined.”

“Although both Syria and Yemen have been within the geopolitical radar of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for at least the last decade, the former is much more important geostrategically as it constitutes a bridge to Hizballah and the Mediterranean,” says Dr Ali Fathollah-Nejad, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. “Iran’s Yemen activities are primarily geared towards bogging down its regional rival Saudi Arabia.”

As such, the atrocities being perpetrated against the Yemenis are predominately owned by the Saudi-led coalition forces, which is why American and British complicity is so problematic.

The civilian toll in Yemen (as best we can discern)

Any attempt to measure civilian deaths and casualties resulting from the civil war is fraught with difficult and likely to be imperfect. Nonetheless, growing international attention to the conflict is bringing with it conscientious efforts to measure its social costs.

An effort to measure Yemeni civilian deaths by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), an independent group formerly associated with the University of Sussex (UK), is one such example.

“We estimate the number killed to be 56,000 civilians and combatants between January 2016 and October 2018,” says Andrea Carboni, an ACLED researcher who focuses on Yemen. ACLED further estimates that 2,000 Yemeni civilians are now dying each month largely due to malnutrition and diseases such as cholera.

The ACLED estimate of 56,000 deaths is significantly higher than previous estimates that have typically assessed the civilian death toll in Yemen to be around 10,000.

“One reason Saudi Arabia and its allies are able to avoid a public outcry over their intervention in the war in Yemen, is that the number of people killed in the fighting has been vastly understated,” writes long-time Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn. “The figure is regularly reported as 10,000 dead in three-and-a-half years, a mysteriously low figure given the ferocity of the conflict.”

Why 10,000 deaths wouldn’t be sufficient to inspire a public outcry is unclear, but regardless of the precise number, what is clear is the consistent attention now being placed on the Yemen civil war by the European media. [Sadly, the U.S. media can’t seem to break away long enough from their mostly dishonest Trump-Russia collusion narrative to actually cover the Yemen conflict with any depth.]

And as this light is being directed towards Yemen, more attention is being focused on the genuine possibility that war crimes have been committed by the Saudi-UAE-US-UK coalition.

What is a war crime?

The body of statutes often used to define a war crime are the Geneva Conventionsthe Hague Convention on land warfare of 1907 (concerning the Laws and Customs of War), and the 1998 International Criminal Court Statute.

Article 23 of the 1907 Hague Convention expressly states that it is forbidden:

(a) To employ poison or poisoned weapons;
(b) To kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;
(c) To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion;
(d) To declare that no quarter will be given;
(e) To employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering;
(f) To make improper use of a flag of truce, of the national flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy, as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention;
(g) To destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war;
(h) To declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party. A belligerent is likewise forbidden to compel the nationals of the hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country, even if they were in the belligerent’s service before the commencement of the war.

Similarly, Article 147 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention defines war crimes as:

“Wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile Power, or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in the present Convention, taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”

Finally, in creating the International Criminal Court (ICC), the 1998 International Criminal Court (Rome) Statute formally established the ICC’s functions, jurisdiction and structure. Specifically, it empowered the ICC to investigate and prosecute four international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.

The “extensive destruction…of property, not justified by military necessity” constitutes a war crime according to the Geneva Conventions and Rome Statute and, in the case of Yemen, this would seem to describe the coalition’s attacks on Yemen, particularly its water and food infrastructure (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks on Farms and Food-related Targets (March 2015 to November 2018)

The Laws and Customs of War allow for states to attack an enemy combatant’s economic and military infrastructure in order to degrade its military effectiveness. But the primary consequence of destroying a nation’s food production and distribution system is famine among the civilian population.

That is a war crime.

In an independent report submitted in October 2018 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, London School of Economics and Political Science Professor Emeritus Martha Mundy, the report’s author, offered this observation:

“If one places the damage to the resources of food producers (farmers, herders, and fishers) alongside the targeting of food processing, storage and transport in urban areas and the wider economic war, there is strong evidence that Coalition strategy has aimed to destroy food production and distribution in the areas under the control of Sanaa,” wrote Mundy.

“Deliberate destruction of family farming and artisanal fishing is a war crime,” she concluded, citing the 1977 Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions, which, through International Humanitarian Law, protects objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.

In building the report’s case, Mundy relied heavily on data from the Yemen Data Project (YDP), which has been tracking coalition military strikes and incidents in Yemen since 2016.

Along with the ACLED, the evidence collected through the YDP’s systematic and comprehensive data collection may prove indispensable should the Saudis and its coalition partners be investigated for war crimes in the future.

The Yemen Data Project

The Yemen Data Project (YDP) is an independent, non-profit data collection project aimed at increasing the transparency over the conduct of the Yemen civil war.

The YDP collects military event data through open sources that are “cross-referenced with local and international news agencies and media reports; social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other video footage, and WhatsApp; reports from international and national NGOs; official records from local authorities; and reports by international human rights groups.” When independent reporting is unavailable, the data has been cross referenced with sources from opposing sides to the conflict as to ensure the reporting is as accurate and impartial as possible.

In YDP’s words, their data represents the “best current current understanding of incidents” in Yemen.

Characteristics of coalition attacks on Yemen

Many years ago I taught an introductory international politics class at The University of Iowa and one of its obligatory class segments covered the “laws of war.” As I always allocated the last 15 minutes of the class to an open discussion about the lecture topic of the day, this particular segment elicited strong opinions among students. Even the most marginal students seemed to have an opinion about how wars the acceptable rules of war.

From class to class, variants on these questions would inevitably emerge:

“How is that chemical weapons are unacceptable, but dropping atomic bombs (on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) is OK?”

“If you are at war with another country, aren’t you also at war with its citizens?”

“How can there be rules for war? It’s war!”

Unlike today’s educational environment, my classes in the early 90s made no attempt to suppress or censor ideas or opinions. The class debates were lively, contentious and open-ended, never ending in a broad consensus on what constitutes a ‘war crime’ or acceptable laws for war.

Differences of opinion were exciting in the day.

At some point during the class discussion, I would offer these quotes from U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay, best known for his role in planning and executing a massive bombing campaign against cities in Japan during World War II, in addition to his tenure as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1961 to 1965:

“There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn’t bother me so much to be killing the so-called innocent bystanders.”

“Killing Japanese didn’t bother me very much at that time… I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal…. Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.”

In no way did I endorse General LeMay’s views on civilians and warfare (in fact, I despise the man), but I shared the quotes as I felt he conveyed the fundamental argument (still made today) as to why civilians are legitimate targets in war.

Like it or not, ‘war crimes’ often depend on the eye of the beholder.

Had the U.S. lost World War II, the Allies’ fire bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo would have defined ‘war crimes’ for generations. As it turned out, such attacks, at least from the Allies’ perspective, were just the realities of war.

Why should the war in Yemen require different rules?

Because human thinking has evolved since World War II, that’s why.

Two hypotheses about civilian targeting in the Yemen civil war

With over 18,900 military incidents between March 2015 and November 2018 in their database, the YDP offers the best open-source information available on the Yemen conflict. Along with the date and the time of day (daypart) of the incident, the YDP database also includes location and summary target information.

In analyzing this data, while I use the YDP’s data to reference the ‘target,’ it is dangerous to assume the intended ‘target’ for each incident. What we can assume, however, is that anyone on the receiving end of a coalition bombing attack felt like a ‘target’ and so that is how I define the term in the following analyses.

The guiding purpose in this analysis, therefore, is to describe the anti-Houthi coalition’s ‘targeting’ as part of the process in determining whether civilians were systematically targeted.

The YDP dataset alone, however, cannot discern the targeting intent of the coalition’s military leadership, but it offers one of the best open-source insights into this question: How would we know if civilians were systematically targeted by the coalition?

Short of possessing internal coalition communications and targeting process memos, we are forced to discern targeting intent through identifying patterns within the attacks. And to do that, we must start with hypotheses regarding the patterns we’d expect to see in the YDP data if the targeting of civilians was premeditated and systematic.

Let us start with a hypothesis, if true, would go a long way in exonerating the coalition from charges of targeting civilians.

H1: If coalition attacks against Yemeni civilians were incidental, their occurrence within the YDP data should be patternless, random events that otherwise track closely to the coalition’s non-civilian attack patterns.

And even if this hypothesis (H1) is rejected by the data and we find a pattern within civilian attacks, we may still find evidence that the coalition, while targeting civilians areas, systematically made an effort to avoid excessive civilian casualties.

Our second hypothesis addresses how the data might reflect that reality.

H2: If, in targeting civilian areas in pursuit of military objectives, the coalition attempted to minimize civilian casualties, we should expect coalition targeting of civilian areas to be concentrated on dayparts when civilians tend to be away from their homes.

Specifically, civilians tend to be at home in the evening, nighttime, and early morning hours and away from home in the morning, midday and afternoon hours. Did the coalition systematically try to avoid hitting civilian areas during dayparts when people tend to be home?

Let’s to go the data and see what we find…

Characteristics of coalition attacks on Yemen

Before testing our two hypothesis, let us describe the YDP data more generally.

Figure 3 (below) breaks out the targets of every coalition attack since March 2015 and finds that 35 percent of the coalition’s targets since March 2015 were military or security related, followed by ‘unknown’ targets (33%) and civilian targets (13%). Infrastructure targets (transportation and economic, etc.) accounted for 14 percent of all coalition targets.

Figure 3. Coalition Targets

 

Military and civilians targets were the primary focus of coalition attacks against Houthi forces between March 2015 and November 2018. And as seen in Figure 4 (below), the coalition attacks tended to occur at all parts of the day, though most occurred between midday and the early evening hours.

Figure 4. Coalition Attacks by Daypart

 

A mapping of coalition attacks (Figure 5) closely correlates with the tribal and religious clusters within Yemen, with the most intense bombing experienced in areas populated by the Zaidi (Shia) and Isma’ili (Shia) tribes in the Saada governorate.

Figure 5. Coalition Attacks by Governorate (March 2015 to November 2018)

 

The distribution of coalition attacks over time highlights two other major features of the Yemen civil war (see Figure 6). First, the number of daily attacks have generally decreased over time, going from about 20 per day between March 2015 and March 2017 to about 10 per day after March 2017. The second feature is a more dramatic decrease in attacks during a ceasefire period in May 2016.

Figure 6. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks (March 2015 to November 2018)

Besides the modest decline in the coalition’s daily attack tempo over the three-and-a-half years of the civil war, there are no other obvious patterns (e.g., seasonal) within the YDP data. However, the task here is to discerns patterns (or lack thereof) within the coalition’s attacks on civilian targets.

To do that, let us look closer at the YDP’s civilian target data.

Are Yemeni civilians being targeted by the coalition?

At this point, a brief understanding of what was included (and not included) in the YDP’s definition of a civilian target is helpful. Almost 75 percent of civilian targets in the YDP database were residential areas, followed by vehicles/buses (12%) and market places (9%). There were even 51 attacks on mosques, representing two percent of all attacks on civilian targets.

Figure 7. Sub-categories of Civilian Targets

Source: Yemen Data Project (Data covers period from March 2015 to November 2018) 

There are other civilian targets such as schools and medical facilities which YDP breaks out separately; though, those targets represent less than three percent of all coalition targets (see Figure 3 above).

My sub judice presumption is that, if civilian attacks are not the conscious result of military targeting, then their occurrences over time (‘accidents’ if you will) should be distributed randomly.

That is essentially the argument the Saudis have made when confronted by the international community about civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict.

In October 2018, after the Saudis had killed over 40 school children during an airstrike in August, Saudi Defense Minister Osaiker Alotaibi told an international investigatory panel that the Saudi-led alliance had a list of 64,000 civilian targets in Yemen that they would never attack, including schools and hospitals. Alotaibi stated further to the panel that previous civilian casualties were the result of “unintentional mistakes” and were not premeditated.

But in his testimony to the panel, Alotaibi also said the Houthis were putting civilians — including children — in harm’s way by using schools and hospitals as “refuges” for Houthi fighters.

Houthi representatives strongly deny Alotaibi’s accusation.

Regardless, if the Saudi ‘sloppy targeting’ defense is truthful, we should see evidence of it in the YDP data. Specifically, we should find the number of civilian attacks from day-to-day to be strongly correlated with the number of non-civilian attacks (primarily military/security-related targets); and, where they are not related, the variation in civilian attacks should be randomly distributed over time. Noise, in other words.

Figure 8 (below) plots civilian and non-civilian attacks over time, as well as the trend for each. Clearly, civilian and non-civilian attacks are correlated. Notice in both charts the three spikes in attacks between October 2015 and August 2016. Also, both show a similar downward trend in daily frequency.

On the surface, therefore, there is evidence to support the Saudi’s ‘sloppy targeting’ defense.

Figure 8. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks on Civilian and Non-Civilian Targets (March 2015 to November 2018)

But surface looks can be deceiving, and a more formal analysis was done to see if civilian targeting was, in fact, merely collateral damage resulting from an otherwise legitimate military targeting process.

To do that, I first regressed the number of civilian target events on the number of non-civilian target events and used the residual from that equation to represent variation in civilian target events unrelated to non-civilian target events. Subsequently, I conducted a residual analysis to determine if the model residuals were normally-distributed, random noise.

Figure 9 (below) shows that the variation in the number of civilian attacks not explained by non-civilian attacks (i.e., the residual) is not a normal, randomly distributed variable.* More importantly, we can conclude that the day-to-day variation in coalition attacks on civilian targets cannot be explained by the military necessities of non-civilian targeting.

*The Shapiro-Wilk test of normality was highly significant, indicating the data was not normally distributed.

Figure 9. Normal Q-Q Plot and Detrended Q-Q Plot of Unstandardized Residual from a Linear Model of Number of Civilian Targets Regressed on Number of Non-Civilian Targets

We have rejected our first hypothesis (H1) that civilian attacks by the coalition were merely the product of a legitimate military targeting process, but is there any evidence the coalition tried to minimize civilian casualties when they targeted civilian areas?

To answer that question, I looked at coalition attacks on civilian and non-civilian targets by daypart (early morning, morning, midday, afternoon, evening, night). It is reasonable to presume that any attempt by the coalition to minimize civilian casualties would involving striking civilian targets (typically residential areas) during a time of day when civilians would not be home: namely, the midday and afternoon dayparts.

In Figures 10 and 11 (below) we see evidence of exactly that.

Where non-civilian attacks have tended to occur in the early morning (11%), evening (15%) and night (13%) dayparts, civilian attacks have tended to occur at midday (19%) and in the afternoon (15%). This is consistent with the Alotaibi claim that the coalition has in place procedures to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties.

Still, approximately 28 percent of coalition attacks on civilian targets — most often residential areas — have occurred at times when people tend to be home (evening, night, early morning) — which translates into 688 separate and verifiable incidents (about one incident every other day) that the coalition attacked a civilian target at time when people will tend to be home.

Figure 10. Coalition Attacks on Yemeni Civilian vs. Non-Civilian Targets (by Daypart)

Figure 11 offers further evidence that the coalition may have preferred the midday and afternoon dayparts for attacks on civilian targets. Where civilian targets constitute around 13 percent of all attacks, they represent percent of between 22 and 25 percent of attacks in the midday and afternoon. This suggests the coalition may make an effort to minimize civilian casualties by conducing their attacks on targets in civilian areas at times when people tend to be at work, school or away from home.

This finding may not fully exonerate the Saudi-led coalition for possible war crimes committed against Yemeni civilians, but should the coalition partners face an ICC inquiry, it may offer at least partial exculpatory evidence.

Figure 11. Coalition Attacks by Target and Daypart

Final thoughts and next steps

What is most striking in the YDP data is the unrelenting consistency of the coalition’s operational tempo against Yemen. The bombers take very few days off.

Apart from the brief ceasefire period in May 2016, the coalition has unleashed almost 19,000 separate attacks on Yemen within less than four years (1,333 days). That works out to between 10 to 20 attacks every day.

And to what end? There is no evidence that the Houthis are going to relinquish power in western Yemen, and while there has been a slight decline in the coalition’s operational tempo since the Saudi’s assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the coalition’s attacks show no sign of ending soon either. And as long as the conflict continues, the work of the YDP and other similar independent groups are going to be critical for the foreseeable future.

And who will be paying attention to this unfolding tragedy that the UN calls the ‘world’s worst humanitarian disaster?

With all due respect to the U.S. Senate vote condemning the Saudi’s actions in Yemen, don’t expect much more from the America’s greatest deliberative body. There are few Capitol Hill advocates for Yemen, which controls no major oil or gas reserves and is home to not one oligarch likely to attend Davos next year. Taken together, this all but guarantees Yemen will not stay on the front burner of Senate business.

Even the world’s news media organizations have taken a ho-hum approach to covering the Yemen tragedy, as they have been far more more preoccupied with the conflict in Syria. The U.S. media, in particular, continues to show little interest in Yemen. In an analysis by media journalist Adam Johnson, it was found that between July 3, 2017 and July 3, 2018, MSNBC (the number one cable news network in that period) dedicated “zero segments to the US’s war in Yemen, but 455 segments to Stormy Daniels.”

That pretty much sums up American broadcast journalism today.

With that backdrop, this article represents the first in a series of data analyses I will be conducting on the YDP data. Additionally, I will be augmenting the YDP event data with other data sources (such the temporal-geographic distribution of cholera cases) to further investigate the impact the coalition’s attacks have had on the Yemen civilian population.

Only with transparency will there be any chance to hold Saudi Arabia, UAE, and their coalition partners accountable for their actions in Yemen.

-K.R.K.

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Atlantic basin tropical cyclones are increasing in frequency and intensity

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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.

What is it about climate change?

I write about Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez being the Democrats’ most charismatic and intuitive politician and compare her to John F. Kennedy…not a peep.

I declare the elections of Rashida Tlaib and Illhan Omar to the U.S House the most important election outcomes in 2018…not one hostile comment.

I call out the faux-outrage over Megyn Kelly’s ‘black face’ comment and rue her firing by NBC…and, again, nada.

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.

Nice.

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.

Not once.

If anything, my analyses of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and International Energy Agency (IEA) public use data match closely to the forecasts made by mainstream climate scientists.

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.

For example,

  • People need to start moving away 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.

-K.R.K.

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I am the original ‘snowflake’

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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, conservative writer 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.

-K.R.K.

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This is a teachable moment for climate change activists, but are they listening?

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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

Source: www.opinion-way.com

 

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 2. World CO2 total emissions

 

Why is the U.S. performing better than France and most of the world on reducing carbon dioxide emissions? The increased extraction of domestic natural gas, the secular decline of coal and the early stage rise of renewables is putting the U.S. on a solid path to be near-100 percent renewable energy by 2055, according to my forecasts generated using data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) (see Figure 3 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

First Lesson

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.

In a 2018 study by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, researchers Joseph Rosenberg, Eric Toder, and Chenxi Lu determined that, in most scenarios, a carbon tax in the U.S. would disproportionately burden lower- and working-class Americans.

“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.

Second Lesson

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.

Third Lesson

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.

More importantly, there is nothing the Trump administration can do to bring coal back. Despite last week’s decision by the Trump EPA to relax emission standards for new coal plants, the trends are irreversible.

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.

Fourth Lesson

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.

This is a preview of climate change’s grave threat to our way of life, declaredThe New York Times.

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.

Actor Ed Begley Jr. (L), with his daughter Hayden Carson Begley at the 2014 Oscars, shows the subway card he used to get to the award ceremony (Michael Buckner/Getty Images North America)

 

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.

Leonardo DiCaprio with his buddies in the Maldives (L) and on his yacht ‘Big Bang’ (R)

 

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.

  • K.R.K.
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Ocasio-Cortez: The next JFK?

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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.

Yet, don’t assume this is another victory for the imperious political establishment. On the heals of an agreement between Pelosi and Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) leaders, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, to ensure 40 percent of the Democrats on five of the most powerful House committees would be CPC members, rumors are also spreading that Ocasio-Cortez will be assigned to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the most powerful House committees.

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.

Navy lieutenant John F. Kennedy (1944)

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.

The Patrol Torpedo Boat (PT-109) commanded by Lieutenant John F. Kennedy

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.

Change agents possess five qualities, according to leadership expert and author George Couros: (1) a clear vision, (2) persistence, (3) ready to ask tough questions, (4) leads by example, and (5) builds trust by saying what they will do and doing it.

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 DemocratsAnd 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.

Freshman congressmen John Kennedy and Richard Nixon (right rear) journeyed to McKeesport, PA, in April 1947, to debate the merits of the new Taft-Hartley labor law.

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.

The Young Turks Network founder and CEO, Cenk Uygur, who also co-founded the Justice Democrats political action committee that endorsed Ocasio-Cortez during her House race, sees the eschewing of corporate PAC money as one of her key strategic advantages vis-a-vis the Republicans:

“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’ Future

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.

-K.R.K.

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Muslim women are about to rock the Democratic Party establishment

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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.

Rashida Tlaib

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.

Ilhan Omar

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.]

Echoing many in the American political establishment, Deace’s contention that the progressive left provides cover for latent anti-Semitism among some of its members is misleading and unenlightening.

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.

Omar (middle front) and Tlaib (right front)

Ironically, it is commentators from the Israeli political media that are more clear-eyed about the political rise of Omar and Tlaib. Times of Israel columnist 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.

  • K.R.K.
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There were no aliens this time, but someday they will arrive…really, they will.

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; November 9, 2018)

Despite headlines suggesting two scientists concluded an alien ‘probe’ — nicknamed Oumuamua, meaning “a messenger that reaches out from the distant past” in Hawaiian — may have recently entered (and left) our solar system, the researchers actually came to the exact opposite conclusion.

A big thumbs down for today’s science journalism.

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.

The good news is, we already know theoretically how human-built probes might achieve fast space transport in the near distant future: lightsails using nanotechnology harnessing the power of lasers.

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.

  • K.R.K.
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Good riddance to the 2018 midterms

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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.

Source: 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.

Health Care

Health care was the top issue among 2018 voters and, today, the Democrats are best aligned with public sentiment on the issue.

“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

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).

At every opportunity, filmmaker Michael Moore loves to say ‘America is a liberal country.’ He is among many liberals and Democrats that insist this is true.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

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.

  • K.R.K.
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The Partisan Divide Con

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; November 2, 2018)

Americans, we are being conned. We have been trained by the political and media establishment to not see the forest for the trees. If we did, we might very well vote them all out of power.

Instead, we buy the myths they sell and reflect them back to the establishment every two years when we go to the polls.

And what is the biggest myth? That our growing partisan divide — which is real when viewed across all possible issues — defines our current political state of affairs.

Name almost any issue and you will most likely find Americans deeply split along party lines.

Transgender rights. Climate change. Gun control. Abortion rights. On every one of these issues, the rift between Americans seems irreparable. And none more so than on immigration.

The rhetoric by both political parties on immigration over the past few months has bordered on apocalyptic and has been mostly dishonest. The Democrats cry ‘Racism!’ — though, there is no deterministic relationship between racism and wanting to control a country’s borders. Conversely, the Republicans accuse the Democrats of cultural sabotage and treason — when, in fact, new immigrants from Latin America are among our country’s fastest growing population of new entrepreneurs.

Most of what is heard on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News regarding the migrant ‘caravan’ on its way to the U.S. border is tripe, creating far more heat than light — yet, this issue may well help determine the outcomes in a number of critical U.S. House and Senate races next week.

And why?

This country is so enormous and powerful, it can absorb the 7,500 migrants like the Borg assimilates entire star systems on Star Trek. Fox News’ Shepherd Smith got it exactly right when he said this week, “There is no invasion. No one’s coming to get you. There’s nothing at all to worry about.” Score one for the Democrats.

Sadly, the Democrats are just as mendacious.

A nation wanting to control entry and exit across its borders is not manifest racism. It is what countries are supposed to do. Since the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, controlling one’s borders is part of what defines a nation-state.

But this issue is nonetheless going to partially define the 2018 midterm elections. It is unfortunate because, once again, Americans have been duped into thinking immigration policy is going to determine our country’s trajectory over the next few decades.

It will not.

Yes, immigration policy is important and, particularly as it relates to state-level budgetary pressures, sharp attention to our southern border should not be dismissed as irrelevant or used to slander the millions of Americans — both Republicans and Democrats — who believe stopping or slowing illegal immigration is a good idea.

The real purpose of the immigration debate, however, is that it feeds the current narrative that Americans are more divided than ever. While true on a superficial level, this narrative cloaks the true nature of the American political and economic system — a system best defined by a bipartisan, durable consensus among the political, media and financial elites regarding the nation’s policy priorities.

Political elites are not as divided as we think

When researchers recently determined that the policy priorities of the U.S. are far more representative of economic elites’ interests over those of middle class Americans, what they are seeing is this bipartisan consensus among elites.

And what are these ‘policy priorities’?

As Mohandas Gandhi famously said, “Action expresses priorities.” And nowhere does his quote obtain more relevance than in the U.S. context.

And to know our country’s highest priorities, we need only look at how it spends our federal dollars (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1. U.S Mandatory Budget (2019)

Source: Office of Management and Budget

Figure 2. U.S. Discretionary Budget (2019)

Source: nationalpriorities.org and U.S. Office of Management and Budget

All told, our federal government has four priorities: (1) Social Security, (2) Medicare/Medicaid, (3) Defense, and (4) Unemployment Insurance and Income Security programs. In addition to mandatory and discretionary spending, there is a third federal spending category: interest on the national debt. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the U.S. will pay $363 billion in interest on the debt in 2019, or about half of what we spend on the military ($727 billion). By 2026, interest paid on the debt will double.

In total, the mandatory and discretionary budgets come in around four trillion dollars, with mandatory spending accounting for 70 percent of this spending. For the remaining $1.19 trillion in discretionary spending, the military eats up 61 percent of the budget, and when discretionary veterans’ benefits are added, it comes close to 70 percent.

These budget priorities have defined the American political consensus since 1964, when LBJ passed his Great Society legislation with bipartisan support.

For all the heat generated in today’s partisan political environment, when it comes to the major elements of the federal budget, the establishment wings of both parties couldn’t be more bipartisan and cooperative with each other.

On an 85 to 10 vote, the U.S. Senate passed the Trump administration’s bloated 2019 defense budget with the help of 38 Democrats. Only two deficit-hawk Republicans, Rand Paul (Kentucky) and Mike Lee (Utah), and Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein (California), Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), Kamala Harris (California), Ed Marley (Massachusetts), Jeff Merkley (Oregon), Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) voted against the defense authorization bill. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont) also voted against the bill. It is not a coincidence that four of the eight Dem./Ind. Senators who voted ‘No’ are likely to run for president in 2020.

Knowing the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee will need substantial support from the party’s progressive wing, the Democrat’s Senate leadership likely released its prospective presidential candidates to vote against the defense authorization bill to enhance their viability in 2020.

The result was similar in the House, with 139 Democrats joining the GOP to pass the 2019 defense authorization bill.

The American people are also not as divided as we think

It is not a mystery why Congress can muster up so much bipartisanship when it generously funds the military or Social Security or Medicare/Medicaid. It isn’t just the political elites who are bipartisan — the American people are equally unified on these issues.

You wouldn’t know it by watching the news or reading a newspaper. But it is true — the American people are unified on the nation’s biggest budget priorities (though there is evidence that progressive Democrats and some libertarian Republicans are prepared to tear down the existing consensus).

One of the fundamental mistakes made by political scientists and pundits when they observe the significant and growing partisan divide in the U.S is this: they generally treat all issues as equal, which makes Americans look like they disagree on most everything.

They don’t.

If one were to quantify the opinion gap between partisans across all of these issues, the reasonable conclusion would be that Americans are deeply divided (see Figure 3).

Providing assistance to the world’s needy — a 43-point gap. Government assistance to the unemployed — a 34-point gap. Environmental protection — a 32-point gap.

But what is more interesting is where Americans tend to agree, regardless of party affiliation: Defense spending — a 19-point gap. Medicare — a 10-point gap. Social Security — a 7-point gap.

Figure 3. Where do Americans want to cut federal spending? (Pew Research, 2017)

Figure 3 shows how public opinion is nicely aligned with where Congress places its budgetary priorities. But doesn’t that argue against the conclusion that elites drive public policy more than mass opinion?

Not necessarily.

The 2014 Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page research study I’ve cited many times in my work demonstrates that the strongest causal arrow goes from elite opinion to public policy outcomes. Gilens and Page, in fact, address this criticism in a reply to their critics, published in 2016 in The Washington Post. In their study, even when mass opinion strongly correlated with elite opinion, there was still enough of a difference in elite opinion to show its more significant influence on public policy.

Regardless, the current bipartisan consensus on military, Social Security and Medicare spending is real, it has driven this nation’s budget priorities at least since the mid-60s, and it serves — not accidentally — the long-term interests of economic elites.

And this latter point gets at why the partisan divide con is hazardous to our democracy.

If partisans are aligned on the most important budgetary issues, where is the con?

Political scientist Michael Parenti observed over 30 years ago that “the state is more than a front for the economic interests it serves; it is the single most important force that corporate America has at its command.” But to control that force, control must extend to the mass populace that possesses the potential through the democratic process to constrain corporate America’s power over the state.

Where Parenti gets too deep into gooey socialist dogma, a more temperate understanding of the American economic system recognizes the significant self-interest economic elites have in propagandizing their policy preferences to the public, particularly to voters. More covertly, especially when the policy status quo is already in corporate American’s favor, there is a strong incentive to distract the general public so they won’t disrupt the status quo through the voting booth.

Migrant caravans. A #MeToo take down of another media executive. Fake news. Shadow banning on Twitter. What does Melania’s jacket say again? Russia. Russia. Russia. Stormy Daniels.

The con is that we are fighting our political battles over issues that pale in importance to issues such as military spending, an inefficient and costly health care system, or keeping Social Security and Medicare solvent.

But hasn’t health care been one of the biggest election issues over the past 10 years?

Yes, and it resulted in Congress passing Obamacare in 2009 (along strict party lines), but even its most ardent supporters recognized the program’s flaws and uncertainties would make it vulnerable to dismemberment should the GOP take back control of the government (which they did in 2016— though they failed to subsequently repeal Obamacare!).

What defines Obamacare as much as anything is that it doesn’t substantively address the many of the problems in the current employer-based health care system, while it protected pharmaceutical companies from genuine price competition, and did little to reduce the administrative costs generated by private health insurance companies.

Obamacare is the type of health care reform you create if you want to protect the vested interests that dominate the U.S. health care system: pharmaceutical companies, health insurance providers, physicians, hospitals and the government.

Don’t ever forget this fact — Obamacare was originally a Republican idea.

Why did the Democrats fail to truly reform the U.S. health care system when they had the chance in 2009? Because they really didn’t want to reform it. Obamacare focused on the margins where it could have an impact on the uninsured. For the rest of the health care system, Obamacare’s impact has been minimal.

It is not hyperbole to suggest that establishment Democrats are heavily influenced by their big campaign donors from the health care industry.

In that regard, it is disheartening to look at the biggest U.S. Senate candidate recipients of pharmaceutical PAC money during the current election cycle. Of the Top 20 recipients, 13 are Democrats (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Top 20 Senate candidate recipients of pharmaceutical PAC money (2018 election cycle).

Source: OpenSecrets.org

Despite what our good-spirited Republican Representative Steve King (New York) calls the ‘greatest health care system in the world,’ the U.S. health care system is inefficient, too costly, and produces inferior health outcomes. We don’t even have the best health care system on the North American continent.

Unfortunately, recent history offers no evidence that voting for Democrats will do anything to change that fact.

But that is exactly why the partisan divide con is so corrosive — because voters actually believe there is a significant difference between establishment Democrats and establishment Republicans on health care. There is not.

It is not just health care system where the status quo has become so entrenched that it is now nearly impossible to reform.

Where Bill Clinton gave us the concept of the never-ending campaign, George W. Bush and Barack Obama gave us the never-ending wars. Demonstrating in retrospect a certain degree of moderation when compared to his successor, George W. Bush kept our number of military ground wars and occupations down to two (Iraq and Afghanistan). Ah, those were the days.

Obama, on the other hand, jacked that up to seven (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan) and Trump would clearly love to add Iran and Venezuela to that list.

The Obama administration’s lust for bombing Muslims, while feigning its commitment to peace, is a deadly example of how the partisan divide conworks: (1) Convince Americans of your party’s virtue (and the opposition party’s lack thereof), (2) enlist your media allies to promote this false posture, and (3) sit back and wait for the votes to roll in (and possibly even win a Nobel Peace Prize along the way).

I’m not even singling out Obama here. The same outcome would have happened had Hillary or John or Mitt been president. When it comes to war, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore who sits in the White House — which, of course, is why the partisan divide con is so important to status quo elites. There are no consequences anymore for bad policy outcomes since they can be drowned out in a sea of partisan rancor and recriminations.

The good news, therefore, is that when you go into the voting booth on Tuesday, your vote will not carry the burden of deciding whether this country will continue its never-ending war policy. That policy is already established and locked down. I mean, if killing 40 Yemeni children on a bus field trip is not enough to get the U.S. to stop its involvement in the Saudi/UAE war on Yemen, nothing will.

Bipartisanship can be both good and bad

Bipartisanship is a double-edged sword. It is obviously helpful during the legislative stage when garnering votes is critical to a bill’s passage. It’s also important to a program’s survival once it is in place. Without bipartisan support at the start, a yo-yo effect can occur where a program is repealed or weakened once the opposition party takes over control of Congress and the presidency, only to come back again when the other party regains control once more (think: Obamacare).

The downside to bipartisanship is that it can be used to preserve the status quo at times when change is most needed. In other words, bipartisanship can make the system less responsive, particularly when the consensus reinforces or promotes the interests of power elites (think: defense spending).

This is a lesson for climate change activists who are calling for the fundamental reorganization of the energy economy. By failing to build a broad, bipartisan coalition they all but ensure any climate change legislation that does pass, assuming the Democrats take control of Congress next week, won’t survive should the Republicans subsequently return to power.

The frequent cry heard among strong partisans, Democrats and Republicans alike, is that they’d love to more bipartisanship in government, but it’s the intransigence of the other side that prevents it.

That simply isn’t true. As this essay has identified, the overwhelming majority of federal spending today is supported by a bipartisanship consensus. Apparently, Republicans and Democrats can get along too. And they’ve being doing for a long time, all the way up to today.

Here is what an enduring bipartisanship consensus looks like when viewed from the public opinion perspective. Figure 5 shows levels of public support for cutting Social Security and Figure 6 shows such levels for cutting national defense. As the charts show, since the mid-1980s, public support for cutting Social Security has never exceeded 20 percent, regardless of party identification. This is why cutting Social Security is the third rail of national politics.

Figure 5. Public support for cutting national spending on Social Security.

Figure 6. Public support for cutting national spending on national defense.

Defense spending is somewhat more complicated. Since the 1970s, Democrats exceeded 50 percent support for defense spending cuts during the Iraq War in the mid-2000s and came close to that level during the Reagan administration. Nonetheless, as a whole, a majority of the American public has never exceeded 45 percent in desiring cuts to defense spending. It is safe to say, large cuts to defense spending are not going to occur anytime soon.

Being aware of the partisan divide con is the first step to immunity

The partisan divide con is engineered to make Americans believe they are being offered substantive choices when they go into the voting booth.

Americans are not.

Unfortunately, in addition to a political establishment that has mastered the art of the irrelevant policy difference to ensure their own re-election, the news media has also learned how to profit from emphasizing partisan policy differences on status-quo-friendly issues.

And those that profit most from the status quo — economic elites — are more than happy to let Americans believe a migrant caravan out of Honduras is the most important issue facing Americans today.

It is not.

  • K.R.K.
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Did Megyn Kelly sabotage her NBC morning show to get back to prime-time?

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; October 28, 2018)

Megyn Kelly was fired by NBC because she was an unapologetic conservative on a network at war with conservatives, at least the Trump variety. That’s my opinion, at least.

But few in the media explain her firing that way.

NBC cited Megyn Kelly’s insensitive ‘blackface’ comments as the proximate cause of their ending the network’s relationship with the mercurial TV host. The New York media critics were quick to reference Kelly’s mediocre TV ratings as the more substantive factor. And still other media snarks suggest Kelly’s dishonest attempt to pose as an ‘apolitical’ morning show personality was doomed from the start.

“The truth is, I am kind of done with politics for now,” Kelly told the audienceon her NBC morning show’s first day.

Initially, the TV ratings for Megyn Kelly Today were underwhelming — certainly not what corporate NBC expected when it signed Kelly to a 3-year, $69 million contract.

“[NBC News Chairman] Andrew Lack made the mistake with Megyn Kelly [from the beginning] with the decision to hire her to an anachronistic celebrity contract in the mistaken belief that star quality could turn into ratings gold,” said Andrew Tyndall , a television news analyst and consultant, told The Wall Street Journal.

When Kelly impolitely asked Jane Fonda about her extensive history with plastic surgery, the critics were quick to jump on Kelly’s weak celebrity-interview skills. Even Fonda’s surgery-mutilated face had enough elasticity left to show her disgust with Kelly’s ‘inappropriate’ line of questioning.

The awkward Fonda interview was great television, even if there wasn’t much of a home audience to see it.

Month’s later, in response to Fonda’s continued complaints about how she was treated on Megyn Kelly Today, Kelly’s petulant response to Fonda’s complaints revealed the real story.

“If Fonda really wants to have an honest discussion about older women’s cultural face, then her plastic surgery is tough to ignore,” opened Kelly’s rejoinder. “When she came here, however, again to promote her film about aging, I was supposed to discern that this subject was suddenly off-limits.”

Then the conservative, flame-throwing Kelly re-emerged from hyper-sleep:

“I have no regrets about that question nor am I in the market for a lesson from Jane Fonda on what is and is not a appropriate. After all, this is a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage. Look at her treatment of our military during the Vietnam War; many of our veterans GIs called her Hanoi Jane thanks to her radio broadcast which attempted to shame American troops. She posed on an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down our American pilots. She called our POWs hypocrites and liars and referred to their torture as understandable. Even she had to apologize years later for that gun picture. But not for the rest of it, by the way. She still says she is not proud of America.”

The real Megyn Kelly was destined to be fired by NBC

Kelly, whose demeanor during interviews can change from breezy to combative as quickly as she tilts her head, is a master-class practitioner of the ambush interview: let the guest talk at first; once they’ve burned through their prepared talking points, ask a loaded question; get the interviewee off-balance; and spend the rest of the interview hammering on a small set of conservative talking points while taunting and pestering the guest into oblivion. While the technique rarely enlightens audience, it often makes for great (though sometimes too cringe-inducing to watch) television.

Kelly’s Fox News interview with Malik Shabazz, National President for Black Lawyers for Justice, during the 2016 Republican Convention is a textbook example of her interviewing style:

Source: Fox News Channel

As Shabazz explained his views on racial bias in the country’s criminal justice system, Kelly offered this follow-up question: “Do you believe white people are inherently evil?”

In vain, he tried to redirect the conversation back to systemic racial bias, only to have her cut him off again with this prosecutorial gem of a question: “Do you use the term cracker to refer to white people?”

Exhausted by that point, Shabazz accused Kelly of deviating from the subject matter, prompting her to say, “No, I want the audience to know what you stand for?”

No, Megyn, you really didn’t want your audience to understand what this man stood for — had that been your motivation, your approach to the interview would have been entirely different. Your goal was to embarrass and shame him in your pursuit of entertaining the Fox News audience.

And you know what? Interviews like the one with Shabazz is what made Kelly the household name she became on Fox News. That is why NBC paid her $69 million to bring her act to their network.

In the right context, she is worth that kind of money.

Her ambush interviews made her rich and famous — her peers in the business were few. She could make Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly squirm when she threw her head-tilt-with-stink-eye-glare in their direction — and towards the end of her tenure at Fox News, she did that a lot.

But, of course, presumably NBC was hoping Kelly would leave the ‘conservative’ stuff back at Fox News. After all, she had just become public enemy number one among Donald Trump supporters for her sharp-tongued presidential debate question directed at the candidate regarding his past verbal abuse of women. As NBC signed her up for three years, she seemed genuinely unleashed from the ideological shackles imposed by the Fox News system.

The honeymoon didn’t last long. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any honeymoon period between Kelly and NBC. Her short-lived Sunday evening news program died as quickly as it was thrown together. Even a Vladimir Putin interview failed to generate ratings.

By the time Megyn Kelly Today was launched in September 2017, there were already industry rumors that she was over-bearing, aloof and roundly disliked by her NBC colleagues. Her latest book, after all, was titled Settle for More. In it, she basically admitted she can be a b*tch to work with and doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about other people’s fragile egos.

Its not like Kelly was hiding her personality traits from the NBC senior brass. They got exactly the person they thought they were getting — but they did believe the ‘conservative’ Kelly would be replaced by something more…centrist, even a little bit liberal.

Boy, were they wrong.

Kelly was only a few weeks into her morning show when she could barely stomach the cast of Will & Grace as they promoted their show’s pointless relaunch. Kelly was no phony that day. She didn’t care for the show to begin with and wasn’t going to sit there and mindlessly enable its comeback. Kelly oozed contempt and the Will & Grace cast did not appreciate it.

The Jane Fonda brouhaha would soon follow and the network by then was already leaking stories to the entertainment press that Kelly’s show was failing.

“Bad ratings.” “Her personality doesn’t work well with the morning audiences.” “Her talent doesn’t match her ego.”

The truth?

Most new shows struggle with ratings at the onset. While Kelly was a big name in prime-time cable TV news, her fame did not necessarily follow her to weekday mornings. She would have to earn those viewers, as she did at Fox News.

In April, The Wall Street Journal reported that Kelly’s ratings were down 18 percent from what that hour pulled for NBC a year earlier, and down 28 percent among viewers aged 25–54, the most coveted morning show demographic.

Adding to the ratings decline was the difficulty Kelly’s show had in booking A-list guests, particularly after she infuriated Fonda, who was more than happy to use her fame and industry clout to scare away other celebrities from appearing on Megyn Kelly Today.

Yes, Kelly’s show was struggling for ratings.

“It averaged about 2.4 million viewers a day, while its direct competitor, ABC’s Live with Kelly and Ryan, leads the time slot with 3 million,” according to The Hollywood Reporter’s Marisa Guthrie. “Kelly’s show also was off 400,000 viewers from the (cheaper) show it replaced.”

That is normally a formula for a show’s cancellation.

However, networks actually care more about the ad dollars from a show, not necessarily its audience ratings. And, in that regard, Megyn Kelly Today was not failing at all. According to the ad spending tracker service, Kantar Group, in the first six months of 2018, Kelly’s show earned $65.8 million in advertising — a 26 percent increase over the year-earlier period, when that hour was hosted by NBC Today Show veterans Tamron Hall, Al Roker, Willie Geist, and Natalie Morales.

It is unlikely audience ratings alone are behind NBC and Kelly parting company.

So, was it really Kelly’s insensitive remarks about racism and blackfaceHalloween costumes that led to her demise?

Here is the exact quote of what Kelly said on her show about racism and blackface costumes:

“But what is racist? Because you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”

For the record, the 47-year-old Kelly grew up in DeWitt and Albany, New York. I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that blackface Halloween costumes were prevalent or tolerated in upstate New York in the 1970s. But, if Kelly says so, I’ll take her at her word.

Nonetheless, while Kelly’s blackface observation was ill-considered and mildly insensitive, it was hardly a firing offense. Much, much more was behind her firing than that off-the-cuff remark — a remark I would sooner believe she premeditatedly planned in order to get herself fired.

When viewed in the show’s full context, Kelly’s ‘blackface’ comment didn’t fit well in the panel discussion. It was a needless remark and begged the question, “Why say that?” In fact, it felt almost rehearsed, as if she knew the comment would be provocative and she was waiting for the right moment to launch it.

And why would she do that? Conservative Megyn Kelly was miserable at NBC. She knew she had made a bad career move — which is probably why she fired her agent immediately after being dumped by NBC — and most likely wants to get back to prime-time news where her skills are still valued.

Arguing against my assertion that Kelly pre-planned the ‘blackface’ comment to expedite her own firing is her on-air apology the next day. Her eyes were puffy. She looked like emotionally drained. She didn’t look or sound like someone about to receive a generous golden parachute and the freedom to move on to something much, much better.

“I was wrong and I am sorry,” she pleaded to her studio audience.

It was her brand’s lowest moment ever.

For those of us that have watched Megyn Kelly Today on a daily, weekday basis, her show’s tone became darker and more openly conservative in the last few months. The show was still nothing like her Fox News program, but she began to incorporate her courtroom law experience more often into the show.

She was more combative, included more newsy content, and was becoming more like the Megyn Kelly from her Fox News days.

In the past year, Kelly has interviewed a man falsely accused of rape (which was a direct attack on the #MeToo movement), highlighted the unfair physical advantage transgender athletes often possess when they are allowed to participate in girls high school sports, and unceremoniously pounded anti-Trump actor Tom Arnold into dust for his alleged stalking of The Apprenticeproducer Mark Burnett.

The Fox News Kelly is now back, but what should be her next move?

Possible landing spots for Megyn Kelly

There are three likely landing spots for Kelly: (1) Fox News, (2) CRTV, and (3) The Blaze.

Though one should never say never, it is highly improbably that Kelly would return to the network that made her famous. She tried not to burn bridges on her exit from Fox, but anytime a move like that is made, feelings will get bruised. Furthermore, the current Fox News prime-time lineup does not have an obvious weak link.

If Kelly were to replace Tucker Carlson, who is extremely popular among Fox News staff and executives, a mutiny might materialize. As for her replacing Laura Ingraham, that also seems unlikely. For one, Ingraham always seems one annoyance away from becoming an active shooter. If Kelly were to replace her, Ingraham would not go down quietly. Second, Ingraham’s later time slot would not be attractive to Kelly, who would prefer Hannity’s 9pm slot. And Hannity is still the big cheese at the network. The Israelis and Palestinians will agree to peace before Hannity and Kelly ever do.

Fox News is a bad fit.

Instead, Kelly might consider CRTV, a conservative media outlet founded by Mark Levin. But, again, there is a lot of bad blood between Kelly and Levin, particularly after her open hostility to Trump during the 2016 election. And their feud goes back even farther than that (see video below).

In contrast, The Blaze, a conservative-leaning network founded by Glenn Beck, may offer Kelly the best chance to start with a clean slate. Beck, in fact, has been openly and aggressively supportive of Kelly during the blackface controversy and it is well-known that Beck is looking for prime-time talent to lift his network’s TV service.

Beck is a measured speaker not prone to random thoughts. If he were trying to attract Kelly to his network, the first thing he would do is heap praise upon her from his broadcast pulpit.

Of course, The Blaze cannot pay Kelly anything close to NBC’s $69 million. But what the network can do is offer her an ownership share and total control over the network’s prime-time lineup.

Today, The Steve Deace Show sits in the most coveted weekday, prime time slot on The Blaze. A fellow Iowan, Steve Deace is smart and entertaining, but his show is re-purposed radio, not prime time quality.

To hire Kelly would be a bold move on Beck’s part and a risky one for Kelly, but she deserves to back on prime-time and The Blaze may be the best fit given Kelly’s past history with other conservative networks.

The political Megyn Kelly is coming back — and when she arrives— the prime-time cable news landscape will be more interesting for it.

-K.R.K.

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Democrats, stop letting Trump get inside your head

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By Kent R. Kroeger (October 17, 2018; Source: NuQum.com)

As we all watched Elizabeth Warren’s presidential hopes spiral into the ground this week, I realized the Democrats need that one friend or family member that can tap them on the back of the head and tell them, “Snap out of it!”

Senator Warren let Donald Trump burrow so deep into her head, she lost all neural pathways dedicated to common sense. He eats at her very soul, day and night. How else can we explain why she would release DNA results confirming she was 99.9 percent white and has less Native American DNA than the average American? [Most whites are, on average, 0.18 percent Native American, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health.]

Of course, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Daily Beast immediately declared Warren the victor in her dispute with Trump over her “Native American” heritage.

That narrative lasted about 10 minutes.

Facts be damned, The Nation’s Joan Walsh couldn’t hold back her righteous joy over Warren’s DNA test: “Warren is showing Democrats — and the media — that she knows how to fight. She won’t let Trump define her as either a faux Native American, an Ivy League elitist, or a liar.” You are right, Joan. Elizabeth Warren can do that all on her own.

During her academic career, it is indisputable that Warren (actively or passively) allowed others to categorize her as a ‘woman of color.’ Her vulgar use of identity politics rightfully marks the end of her viability as a national political figure.

Warren was never going to win the nomination anyway (It’s Kamala Harris’ nomination to lose unless someone more charismatic emerges or Bernie Sanders decides to run again).

It is premature, however, to think Warren’s public blunder marks the end of identify politics. The Democrats have hard-coded that strategy into their political DNA and, at this point, it would take an extraterrestrial intervention to reprogram them.

But there is something Democrats can learn from Warren: Let go of the Trump obsession. It is now starting to hurt the party. Do they need Max von Sydow standing over them saying, “The power of common sense compels you!”

The obsession may have served a purpose early in the Trump administration in that it reminded Democrats they weren’t suffering through this presidency alone. Semi-contained insanity serves a purpose when it feels like all hope is lost — the pussy hats were even fun.

But all hope is not lost anymore. Short of a GOP Hail Mary in the next few weeks, the Democrats will gain about 35 U.S. House seats in the upcoming election (and my prediction model also says the Democrats will take the U.S. Senate — though that is looking iffy).

Now, the Democrats need to project an image to Americans — left, center and right — that they are prepared to lead this country. Get off the streets, put down the Saul Alinsky rebel handbook and try to look like serious people again.

Pounding on the doors of the U.S. Supreme Court (doors, by the way, the Supreme Court justices never use; so who were they were yelling at?) or chasing U.S. Senators and their wives out of restaurants is not a comforting image to most Americans.

What did the Vietnam Anti-War protests give this country? Two Richard Nixon presidential election victories — and one was a landslide.

Source: Katrina Pierson

Believe it or not, voters generally do not like to see politicians and their supporters display excessive amounts of emotion or employ even minor levels of violence. Too much passion actually scares them away.

Instead, Democrats need to look serious again. Even boring.

To Bernie Sanders’ credit, his unwavering commitment to policy ideas (whether practical or not) keeps him out of the mud swamp where Donald Trump loves to conduct official business. It is why he is viewed as honest, not just by Democrats, but by Republicans and independents. He believes what he says and doesn’t parse his language to fit an audience.

Sanders does frequently mention Trump, but almost always in the context of a policy disagreement. He does not demean himself by resorting to name-calling. I only wish other Democrats took his lead more often (some, like Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, do — but most don’t).

And, finally, enough with the negative, hyperbolic rhetoric about how bad things are in this country.

“In these tumultuous times…” started my local NPR station host this morning as he announced another membership fund drive.

What?! What is he talking about? What is his metric?

Economic prosperity? This country has never been wealthier. Incidents of sexual assault and harassment against women? Twenty years ago a president abused his status to get a blowjob from an intern and two-thirds of the country said, ‘Who gives a cr*p?” Today, thanks in part to the #MeToo movement, this country is significantly more evolved — though still far from perfect.

Is Russiagate weighing heavily on your mood? Well, don’t wait for Robert Mueller’s Russiagate investigation to lift your spirits. It is almost two years now — half of an administration’s term. If Trump is a Russian tool and it takes this long to make an indictment? Thanks for nothing, Bob, the damage is already done. Go back to your retirement.

There are plenty of good reasons to oppose Donald Trump and the GOP — and none of them involve mentioning the Russians. The Democrats don’t need to wallow in the gutter with Trump to make their case.

Here are a few ideas:

Why does this country still spend twice as much as Canadians and Europeans on health care and, yet, experience inferior health outcomes? Is it perhaps time for the Democrats to genuinely challenge the iron triangle formed by lobbyists for pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and physicians?

Is it possible to control the U.S. border and still treat refugees with the same decency and humanity we treat our own citizens? [Um, this country may have a bigger problem than immigration to work on.]

How about oppose a foreign policy that is now farmed out to Moscow, Jerusalem and Riyadh (oops, I mentioned Russia). In the long-turn, that is guaranteed to end poorly for the U.S.

And why must this country’s military continue to engage in these endless cleanup operations all over the world that, in truth, are limited footprint, low-optempo wars? Where has Congress and the Democratic leadership been during all of this?

And, specifically, where is the Democratic Party’s leadership on ending U.S. support to the Saudis and Emirates as those countries continue to commit war crimes against the Houthi in Yemen? Nancy Pelosi? Silent. Chuck Schumer? Silent. Cory Booker? Silent. Kamala Harris? Silent. Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton? Probably best they stay silent given their culpability in what may be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis right now.

In a moment a childlike innocence, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer explained why the U.S. continues its support of the Saudis and Emirates: It’s good for business. I will cut Blitzer, the Brick Tamland of cable TV news, some slack. But when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the same thing, it warrants more than one or two Democrats taking a stand against this cynical misuse of American military power. [Thank God for Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and the GOP’s Rand Paul for making their opposition visible.]

So there are just a few ideas the Democrats might want to talk about Democrats between now and the 2020 election.

What voters don’t need is a continuation of the Democratic Party’s two-year-long pity party over the 2016 election.

It might work long enough to help the Democrats win back the House, but its a losing strategy for the 2020 election.

  • K.R.K.

 

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