Category: Politics

Longing for President Bartlett

Washington Post political columnist Kathleen Parker — one of the keenest observers of the American political scene — brought a tear of nostalgia to my eyes this morning with this comment in a well-reasoned piece on Trump’s future:

A single episode of “The West Wing” would have taught Trump more about his new job than he seems to know — or care.

Ah, Jed, we hardly knew ye!

Read the entire column here. And if you’re not watching her regularly, and you’re a political kin to me, you should be.

Even Trump Can’t Destroy the Environment

Angry Donald Trump photoThe assault on the environment has begun in earnest. The effort to debunk and de-emphasize the global warming catastrophe looming just over the horizon is already moving into high gear.

A litany of all the steps Trump has already taken to reverse the minimal progress the U.S. has made on global warming during the eight years of the Obama administration would take up too much space. But here are some of the most disturbing highlights. In one week in office, he has:

  • named several cabinet nominees — including the centrally positioned Environmental Protection Agency — who are ostriches on the climate if not outright deniers;
  • overseen the removal from several government Web sites, including that of the White House, of any mention of global warming and climate change;
  • issued gag orders for the National Park Service and its employees to prevent them from talking about global warming’s impact;
  • signed executive orders resurrecting the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline projects, two of the largest environmental-disaster-in-waiting monuments to our ability to ignore truth at the expense of exorbitant corporate profits; and,
  • decreed that EPA studies will now be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by Trump’s team, some of whom are known climate deniers.

Trump, in short, is proving to be — as promised — his own climate disaster.

But it’s important for those of us who are focused on the global warming problem to keep one thing in mind: the rest of the world is, broadly speaking, more concerned about the immediate impact of global warming than is the United States. This is true both at the level of the population and at the level of government. Just because the United States has a brief memory lapse and forgets the importance of the issue, doesn’t mean the problem just runs amok. Other nations — notably China, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK (if May doesn’t screw it up) and in fact most of the EU as well as Australia and New Zealand — will step into the leadership vacuum created by our temporary amnesia. Then, when we finally rid ourselves of this aberration and right the ship, we’ll see how it feels to be a second-rate nation playing catch-up with a world that has moved beyond us. And perhaps that loss of innocence, of that belief in America as the great power and leader in the world, of the claim of American Exceptionalism which has never been more than a patriotic slogan, is just what is needed to further the cause of world peace.

And, as a bit of an aside, it’s not going to be all that easy for Trump to reverse the progress we’ve made on global warming. Many, many American businesses have already recognized the significance of the issue and have made major investments in clean energy technologies, weaning themselves off fossil fuels, and building new infrastructure for a green future. They are going to push back against a man who appears at least to listen to other successful businessmen more than any other audience other than Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump. He’s going to get an earful on global warming on his own golf courses.

 

What Did We Expect?

More and more pundits are pointing it out. In his first week in office, Trump has given us pretty much exactly what he warned us he would.

Why do we keep assuming the best from this guy? Maybe it’s the incurable optimism that is such an essential part of being American. Maybe it’s the old “any port in a storm” thinking. Or maybe it’s our blindness.

Whatever is at work here, it doesn’t. Work, that is.

When Trump announced his candidacy, we all said, “What a joke. He won’t last a month in real campaigning.”

Then when it became obvious he would be one of the last candidates standing, we made excuses for him. “He’s got to be a vicious attack dog to get the nomination. He’ll temper himself once he’s the nominee.”

He got the nomination and things, if anything, got worse. So we said, “Even if he wins (which clearly ain’t gonna happen), he’ll have to temper himself. After all, the office makes the man, not vice versa.”

Now he’s the “leader” of the free world and “president” of the United States. Has he shown the first glimmer of tempering? Nope.

Brace yourself, my friends. Trumplethinskin (I love that word!) is going to be giving us the same petty behaviors, ill-considered policies and narrow-mindedness he’s shown us from the start. For however long this reign of error lasts, we’re stuck with it.

Resist!

 

Carl Sagan’s Prescient Quotation Foreshadows Trumpian Ignorance

Carl Sagan PhotoI ran across this quotation from Carl Sagan this morning. Given some of the Donald’s recent executive actions and many of his Cabinet nominations, I felt it was appropriate to share with you.

Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. -Carl Sagan, astronomer and author (1934-1996)

 

More Fragmentation in the Progressive Ranks

I’ve written recently here about my hope that the Progressive movement in the U.S. would begin to coalesce around a single leader or small group of leaders to unite behind the important causes of a day when a right-wing demagogue of the first rank has just been handed the nuclear codes.

Now along comes yet another Progressive claiming to be the uniter who can bring all the Progressives together under one umbrella. This time its Cenk Uygur, the Internet TV commentator who is quite popular among the same constituencies who found their Presidential candidate of choice in the person of one Bernie Sanders.

Uygur has announced that he is stepping forward to head up an organization he calls Justice Democrats. Uygur, host of the Young Turks show, said the new group plans to launch primary attacks against Democrats who have abandoned Progressive causes and stances. He cited specifically, by way of example, Sen. Corey Booker of NJ.

So add one more splinter to the rapidly disintegrating Progressive movement in the  United States. And we’ll wonder in 2018 and 2020 why we don’t make the gains we expect. It will be because we are not like the Republicans, united as a solid front. If the Tea Party movement didn’t teach us anything, it should have taught us that.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad to see this resurgence of interest in Progressive causes. I just wish it could be integrated and focused so that it could leverage resources instead of competing for them.

 

Whither the Greens and Me?

In the just-concluded election, I cast my vote for Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein and was quite vocal about it. And, no, I didn’t help elect Trump: I live in California where our electoral votes were never in doubt for the Democratic Party’s well-worn candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Now the election is over and I’m considering what, if any, role I want to or should play on the American political scene going forward.

I have concluded that I am not going to continue with the Green Party, at least not as an active supporter and participant. That decision has little or nothing to do with how the party conducted its campaign or with any specific outcome. It has everything to do with my new vision of hope for the progressive cause in America and with my desire to remain flexible and independent until that scene sorts itself out.

I won’t do anything precipitous; I don’t need to worry about my party affiliation until the next election in 2018. But I have cut off contributions to and volunteering for any specific party-supporting activities in the meanwhile. Instead, I choose to spend the little time I’m willing to devote to politics these days to the progressive movement in the broader sense.

progressivismThe stunning election of a right-wing demagogue to lead a nation that has traditionally stood for diversity and democracy seems to be having an unintended positive side effect: a coalescence and re-energizing of the progressive base. Today, a progressive interested in the broad agenda can pick from several national movements to support. There’s MoveOn.org, which is practically venerable at this point, and which claims 7 million members. There’s Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution, which staggered out of the starting gate with internal disputes about leadership but which has the most clearly articulated progressive “platform” with more than 20 planks. And there’s Organizing for Action, the successor to outgoing President Barack Obama’s Obama for America campaign group. OFA claims 5 million supporters and counting.

Then there’s Keith Olbermann’s loosely defined movement which he dubs “The Resistance”. (If you’re not watching his regular vidcasts sponsored by GQ, you owe it to yourself at least to sample them over at YouTube.

Here’s the problem. Unless these various attempts at creating an umbrella group over the Progressive Movement come together to share resources (mailing lists, information sources, donors, organizing expertise and more), conservatives will continue to win the day electorally despite their demonstrably minority position among voters.

So where does this leave the Green Party?

Given that it is a political party, and despite its clearly progressive platform and agenda, its primary focus is not on carrying out that agenda directly, but rather on getting candidates elected. Frankly, I’ve reached a place where I don’t care what political label a candidate chooses to adopt; the question is whether he or she is progressive. In recent years, that has meant they were either Democrats or Greens or Socialists. But if that weird anomaly called a “Progressive Republican” were to appear on the landscape, I would unhesitatingly vote for that candidate.

I have essentially become a one-issue voter. Facing the existential crisis of global warming, it seems to me that focusing on other no doubt incredibly important subjects like income inequality, social injustice, criminal justice reform, and big money in politics is for all practical purposes futile. If we fail to solve the global warming catastrophe looming on the horizon, all of these other issues will fade into oblivion, along with the human race.

Given that reality, and my general disposition to be broadly progressive in my views, it seems too narrow for me to identify with any political party. Unless something drastic changes between now and the 2018 election, I will register as Independent. I will continue to monitor both the Green Party and the Democratic Party to see how progressive their agendas and platforms become — particularly on the subject of the climate — then determine at an appropriate point whether to register for one of those parties or remain independent.

This is an odd place for me to find myself. A lifelong Democrat, it was difficult for me last year to register with a different party and to vote for that party’s candidate for president. But then, these are odd times in our nation’s history.

 

Trump: Citizen or Taxpayer? Brooks Asks

David Brooks in his NYT column for today entitled,”Trump, Taxes and Citizenship,” offers this insight:

”You can say that a billionaire paying no taxes is fine and legal. But you have to adopt an overall mentality that shuts down a piece of your heart, and most of your moral sentiments.

“That mentality is entirely divorced from the mentality of commonality and citizenship. That mentality has side effects. They may lead toward riches, but they lead away from happiness.”

This is the higher ground of which conservatives and progressives alike speak. This is the level of living and civilization which asks not, “What can I get away with here?” But rather, “How much can I give to this situation?” To the level which seeks the beauty and elegance of cooperation in selflessness rather than the personal reward of material gain, however richly deserved, legally attainable and even justifiable.

Just because you CAN lose $1 billion in a single year and then treat that loss as a long-term investment bucket, SHOULD you? Citizen or taxpayer? Giver or taker?

It’s too bad we won’t take time to reflect seriously on this and related critical questions of State as we follow the frenzied run-up to next month’s potentially world-changing elections.

“Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war” – Julius Caesar

Try this one on for size. I find it a bit too close to home for the United States over the past 15-20 years.

Roman Emperor Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE)

Roman Emperor Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE)

Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar. (Julius Caesar)

The Jill Stein-Noam Chomsky Dust-Up: He’s Right, She’s Being a Bit Demagogic

Back in May, the website Democracy Now! published an interview with liberal icon Noam Chomsky in which he opined that if he were living in a swing state and the election was close, he would feel compelled to “hold his nose” and vote for Hillary Clinton. A week or so ago, my candidate of choice, Dr. Joel Stein of the Green Party, took him to task for that suggestion, going so far as to suggest that he was a supporter of the “politics of fear”.

That was a mistake on her part. In fact, it was a mistake on two levels.

First, strategically speaking, he’s absolutely correct. In a swing state whose electoral votes could end up in the hands of Donald Trump as a result of a modest turnout of third-party voters, a vote for Dr. Stein is in fact a vote for Trump. That’s true nowhere else, and I’m not sure there will be any states in the November election where that will be the case. But in the limited circumstances Chomsky describes, he makes the precisely correct choice.

Second, accusing a man of Chomsky’s great political courage and wisdom of essentially being a coward is not a good way to win friends and influence people on the Left. Chomsky, deservedly or not, has a reputation for being a clear thinker who is entirely unafraid to express even the most unpopular viewpoints. I mean, here is a liberal who has repeatedly attacked the centrist Democratic Party that emerged from, in large part, her husband’s administration.

Dr. Stein has committed another faux pas, in my view. Recently she’s begun a strong spate of Hillary-bashing. Taking her campaign negative was a huge error. In the current political climate, one of her biggest draws is her integrity. Her laser focus on the issues — particularly that of the global climate crisis — is a hallmark of her entire political life. To take a side trip in order to level a personal blast at an opponent is out of character for her and feeds into the current American discontent on which she is attempting to capitalize by her third-party candidacy.

Come on, Dr. Stein! Get back on message and on target and stop these silly personal asides which avail you nothing.