Saturday, April 16, 2016

Feeling the Nader

It may be temporary, since the big primaries are coming up that may decide the Democratic presidential nomination, but at the moment things look to be veering towards disaster because of conflict between the two candidates and their campaigns.

By all accounts the most recent debate was loud and acrimonious, with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders shouting at each other simultaneously.  Can you even imagine Barack Obama shouting at someone in a debate?

As embarrassing as that behavior was, the sharpness of attacks and the stories coming out of the Sanders campaign in particular are alarming some observers with the possibility of a split party going into a fateful election, where pretty much the only possibility of losing it would be Democratic voters staying home.

In particular the Sanders campaign is making the argument that Hillary's delegate lead is based on primary wins that don't reflect the will of the party because they were in the red states South.  Or as Ed Kilgore ended his review of the debate:

Sanders seems to be trying out an argument that Clinton's nomination-contest victories are irrelevant because they happened at the wrong time (early in the process), the wrong place (the South), or with the wrong supporters (old Democrats rather than young independents).

If he goes over the brink into a claim that a pledged-delegate victory by Clinton is illegitimate, the Democratic convention could be nearly as divisive as the Republican confab looks sure to become. After tonight, the superior unity of Democrats is at least partially in question for the first time.

(Kilgore followed up with a piece dissecting this argument, finding the argument strange in that Hillary didn't win white southerners so much as African Americans, and one of her biggest wins was in Florida, a swing state.  The argument seemed to be saying that the young white voters Sanders was winning counted more than older and non-white voters Hillary was winning.)

Beyond this argument there were charges that Sanders supporters were getting a little too enthusiastic, making unfortunate metaphors about "corporate whores" and at least making noises about harassing delegates.

Paul Krugman for one saw Sanders righteousness turning into self-righteousness.   After evaluating Sanders' statements on the Big Banks as lacking realistic solutions, he wondered if this increasingly angry tone and Trumpish behavior was moving towards a schism in the party:

Is Mr. Sanders positioning himself to join the “Bernie or bust” crowd, walking away if he can’t pull off an extraordinary upset, and possibly helping put Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in the White House? If not, what does he think he’s doing?

The Sanders campaign has brought out a lot of idealism and energy that the progressive movement needs. It has also, however, brought out a streak of petulant self-righteousness among some supporters. Has it brought out that streak in the candidate, too?

The real problem then would be the feedback effect of Sanders encouraging the rigidity of his supporters, so that if he loses the nomination they won't vote for the Democratic nominee.

In other words, a number of observers are starting to feel the Nader.

Ralph Nader ran for President several times, but most notoriously in the year 2000 as the Green Party candidate.  Nader was a well-known public figure, an effective speaker who began his career as an heroic advocate.

 Meanwhile, the Green Party was growing, nowhere more conspicuously than here in far northern California.  Shortly after our arrival in Arcata, the Green Party actually took majority control of the city council.

So we heard a lot of the Green arguments for Nader, and against the Democratic candidate, Al Gore.  Apart from their ecological and economic issues (with which I had no major disagreements), they argued that there was no essential difference between Gore and Bush.  Or, as their bumper stickers declared, Gush and Bore.

I remember literally being in a fever sweat the night before election day, feeling helpless to effectively warn people about the mistake they were making in believing this.  I knew George W. Bush was dangerous, I could see it.  And I knew from experience that failing to elect the lesser of two evils meant that the greater evil took power.  (In that case it was Nixon.)  But I didn't see Gore as an evil--I saw past the media stereotypes--though I did see Bush that way.

And sure enough, the debacle of the first President dictated by a partisan Supreme Court could likely have been avoided if Nader voters in Florida had voted for Gore.

Later I attended a local meeting of Democrats and Greens who were attempting to reconcile.  I don't remember exactly when it was, but it was far enough long that everyone understood what a catastrophe Bush was.  The Greens were defensive and the Democrats were angry.  Eventually the meeting agreed to pursue common goals etc.

But after the 2000 election, the Green Party hereabouts and in California began a slow but precipitous decline.  As far as I know, there are no Greens on the Arcata city council now (their official biographies don't mention political affiliation) as the council has moved to the right.  In 2015, only five candidates endorsed by the Greens (though not all party members) were elected to any offices in Humboldt, and they were minor offices.  In the rest of California, the number was six.  The Green Party's influence was always greatest on the local and sometimes the state levels.  Not so much anymore.

Today, Bernie is very popular here.  At the last North County Fair I noted a buzz around the Sanders booth, and dead quiet at the Clinton table.  I see Bernie bumper stickers and signs, and none for Hillary.  But just what does that mean?

Some of it is obvious.  Like the campaign sign in the video store on H Street: Free College Tuition, Vote Bernie.  But in political terms it can be more complicated than support for a candidate based on whatever positions, or on attraction to a personality or belief in an individual.

Ed Kilgore has yet another pertinent post. He quotes a liberal journalist who posted on Talking Point Memo to say he backed Bernie, but wasn't sure he would continue to do so if Bernie looked like he actually could win the nomination.

Kilgore suggests this liberal isn't alone.  I've been hearing this for at least a couple of years: "Back Elizabeth Warren in the primary, vote for Hillary in the general."  Except Warren didn't run and Bernie did.

There are three reasons people take this approach.  First, the assumption that a farther left candidate wasn't going to win the nomination, but it was important to send a message, to influence Hillary and prep for the future.  Second (and not everyone who holds the first reason would agree with this) is that Bernie is great for representing these issues, but he hasn't shown he's ready for the Presidency.  The third reason is that if he were the Democratic nominee, he would lose.

The Sanders campaign is touting poll numbers that show that this last reason is not valid--that indeed, Bernie polls stronger than Hillary against the likely Republican candidates.  But there are strong reasons for not believing those numbers will hold up.  First, Sanders is still a kind of symbol, and otherwise an unknown quantity.  Which means that, second, the Republicans have not yet tried to define him, to run against him.

Their quiet is ominous.  Bernie Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist.  It's pretty remarkable that someone calling himself a socialist has gotten this far, and while that might be a good reflection on the times, it is probably also because the Republicans haven't said a word about it.  If he actually won the nomination, their currently whispered prayers would be answered.

The sludge they are preparing to throw at Hillary is nothing compared with what they would attempt to do to Bernie.  It used to be that Socialist meant Communist, and people felt about Communists about the way they feel about ISIS terrorists today.

After the success of McCarthyism in eradicating socialism from legitimate public dialogue in America, the rabid right has been so successful in moving that dialogue farther and farther to the right that since the Reagan 80s, the word "liberal" has taken on much of the sinister taint of the word Communist or at least socialist in the 50s.

Also consider that some Republicans continued to call Barack Obama a socialist, a radical, and unAmerican.  (That indeed was the establishment candidate Marco Rubio's claim.)  Consider then what they would do with a candidate who actually is--or at least who actually calls himself--a socialist.

There is no doubt that capitalism is coming up against its fatal flaws, which are its addiction to growth and its need to push costs off on the helpless in order to make a profit.  They do it with "cheap" or slave labor (just as they used to with actual slaves), and by benefiting from government spending on the infrastructure and the regulations that keep them in business, and by forcing costs onto future generations while depleting the ability of the planet to sustain life, through profligate use of natural resources, and the damage they cause to the planet's natural systems, to water, soil, air and climate.  Some of which others have to pay to clean up (usually in the future) while much of it everyone pays for with their health, their planet's bounty and its character, and with the depleted lives of their descendants.

Capitalism as it is now constituted is unlikely to be up to the challenges of the future, the climate crisis in particular.  Our economics will have to change.  Whether that is a large change to something like socialism (and of course, we already have many of the features that socialists have advocated for more than a century, and some other countries have even more) remains to be seen.

Though Sanders talks about a "revolution," his proposals are not quite worthy of the name.  Still, there is obviously a hunger for addressing the issues of economic inequality and economic injustice that Sanders has focused, and that's good.  Somebody has to be talking about these things, and somebody should keep alive such notions as a carbon tax.

So if Bernie Sanders can convince a majority of Democratic voters in New York, Pennsylvania, etc. to California sufficient to a plurality of delegates that he should be the nominee, then perhaps the "revolution" he speaks about is real. (Though it falls far short of what a revolution might be.)  But these attempts to delegitimize the outcome of prior primaries, to intimidate superdelegates and to demonize the opponent won't prove it.  Quite the opposite.

Susan Surandon, supporting Nader in 2000, supports
Sanders now--and refuses to say she'd vote for another
Democratic nominee.
And with the confrontational nature of this campaign--between, it must be said, two candidates who seem to lack a sense of humor--threatening to damage the eventual nominee's chances in November, it's getting into Naderite territory.  The result of which could again be the election of a disastrous President--and we may not be able to afford another one--as well as a serious setback for the very issues and politics that Sanders and his supporters advocate.

Hillary Clinton is hardly the ideal candidate, in any number of ways.  But at least her campaign is locked into supporting and continuing the policies and approach of President Obama.  Up until recently, Sanders was effectively focusing her attention on his issues as well.  Lately, as he attacked her, she has become defensive on these issues in a way that is the opposite of the desired effect.

Maybe this phase will be over by Tuesday night.  But the longer it continues and the more extreme it gets, the more dangerous it becomes, and the more likely to spiral out of control.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

#24 and #73

What an amazing night for basketball fans.  Especially in California.

It was the wonder of the past and of the future, both dazzling in the present moment.

After 20 years, Kobe Bryant played his last NBA game Wednesday night at home in LA. An old guy near 40 and coming off injuries, his farewell tour performances were often cameos, in the worst Lakers season in their history. But in several games late in the season, there were flashes of the old Kobe. He scored in the 30 point range a few times.

Wednesday the Lakers were playing Utah, a team that until game time was hoping for a playoff berth, but Houston had nabbed it. The Lakers players fed Kobe the ball and urged him to shoot just about every time down the court. But these advantages mean nothing unless you make the baskets. And Kobe did. Drives to the hoop, steals and one-man fast breaks, and three pointers. He hit two three pointers in the last minute and a half of the game, to give the Lakers their first lead. And improbably, they won.

Even more improbably, Kobe Bryant had scored 60 points in his last NBA game, 23 in the fourth quarter alone. Nobody his age had ever scored even 40 in their last NBA game. Kobe, who once scored 81 and had a string of 50 plus nights, hasn't scored 60 since 2009. He retires as the NBA's third leading scorer. He was praised before the game by Magic Johnson. He even hugged Shaq, who was one of Kobe's former teammates on hand for the occasion.

I remember those 3 championships with Kobe and Shaq.  I still have tapes of Kobe's later two (all with Phil Jackson as his coach.)  And I watched every game I could of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 90s (which was alot since I had cable TV then, and in Pittsburgh the package included the Chicago station that broadcast the Bulls) when they set the NBA record for most wins in a season at 72. (The old record had been 69.)

Kobe's career had a storybook ending Wednesday night. Now Kobe is past, and so is that Bulls record.   Because the future is at Golden State.

On Wednesday night, the Golden State Warriors won their 73rd game, breaking the single season record for victories nobody thought would ever be broken. They had to win their last four games to do it, including two against another team having a remarkable year, the San Antonio Spurs.

Steph Curry scored 46 points, including 10 three pointers. The record for 3 pointers in a season was set last year (by Curry) at 289. Earlier this season Curry became the first NBA player to hit 300. And Wednesday, he became the first to hit more than 400. He finished the regular season with 402.

This storybook season ended where it should have, at home at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Next weekend the Warriors begin the playoffs as the top seed, beginning their quest for a second championship in a row. That's their immediate future, with a pretty bright future as a team.

What a night for basketball.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Future of the Climate Crisis is the Climate Crisis Future

It's finally beginning to sink in.  The future is going to be very different, because of the climate crisis.

Global heating is going to have consequences for the near future, since it is caused by past greenhouse gases pollution.  We should be preparing to address the effects, but apparently we're just starting to understand the breadth and depth of those effects.

From Reuters last week:

Climate change can be expected to boost the number of annual premature U.S. deaths from heat waves in coming decades and to increase mental health problems from extreme weather like hurricanes and floods, a U.S. study said on Monday.

"I don't know that we've seen something like this before, where we have a force that has such a multitude of effects," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told reporters at the White House about the study. "There's not one single source that we can target with climate change, there are multiple paths that we have to address."

Heat waves were estimated to cause 670 to 1,300 U.S. deaths annually in recent years. Premature U.S. deaths from heat waves can be expected to rise more than 27,000 per year by 2100, from a 1990 baseline, one scenario in the study said. The rise outpaced projected decreases in deaths from extreme cold.

Extreme heat can cause more forest fires and increase pollen counts and the resulting poor air quality threatens people with asthma and other lung conditions. The report said poor air quality will likely lead to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths, hospital visits, and acute respiratory illness each year by 2030.

Climate change also threatens mental health, the study found. Post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and general anxiety can all result in places that suffer extreme weather linked to climate change, such as hurricanes and floods. More study needs to be done on assessing the risks to mental health, it said."

These effects include more widespread disease borne by insects whose warm-weather range is increased, which may include the increasingly worrisome Zika virus.

Science Daily offers more details from this multi-agency, peer reviewed report, particularly about the mental effects.  But it also includes this interesting key to the future:

Emerging evidence also shows those who are actively involved in climate change adaptation, or mitigation, might experience considerable health and well-being benefits, the report adds.

Translated into human, it means that people who work at addressing the causes and effects of the climate crisis  are likely to benefit themselves as well as others.  But doing good--and doing something--may well provide more than better health.  Either gradually or suddenly but pretty certainly eventually, a lot of the economy is going to be devoted to addressing the effects and the causes of the climate crisis.  That means more jobs--and what may well be seen as more vocations, more calls to service--in areas like clean energy, public health and new infrastructure.  (See the efforts for 1 million climate change jobs.)

The barriers to understanding and accepting all this are due partly to the climate inside.  In addition to denial, this commentator suggests dissociative behavior in response to predictions and now the realities of the climate crisis are due to societal trauma going back generations.  (He even uses the authentic version of a widely misquoted Jung quotation.) He suggests this trauma must be recognized and dealt with before society can really face up to the climate crisis future.

That future of dramatic effects may be coming soon.  In addition to last week's news about the possible effects of faster polar melting, there's this new study that suggests the cooling effect of clouds has been overstated. "If the findings are borne out by further research, it suggests that making progress against global warming will be even harder," notes the NY Times.

There is a range of uncertainty in all these figures.  But they can safely be regarded as minimums.  That's only prudent.  While scientists and statisticians do their research, leaders and parents ought to be facing up to the general outline of this future, dominated by the climate crisis and its effects.  People will live and work in this future, and how to do that constructively, to minimize suffering and try to prevent even worse outcomes, is the work of the future that starts now.