Saturday, June 04, 2016

The California Primary

For awhile it seemed that the California primary might matter this year in presidential contests.  Now it looks as if, after all, it probably won't.

 Despite campaigning here anyway, Trump no longer has opponents.  And it seems that Hillary Clinton will have won enough delegates to attain the majority needed for nomination on Tuesday but before California polls even close.  (It's possible but not likely that she will obtain the delegates necessary before Tuesday. She started well this weekend by reportedly picking up all 7 Virgin Islands delegates.)

 That would blunt even a Sanders victory in California in terms of impact.  Her presumptive nomination will likely be announced in network prime time, after the New Jersey polls close.  Whatever happens in California won't be known probably before midnight Eastern, and possibly much later.  By Wednesday morning, when all the votes are counted, Hillary will likely have won an outright majority of total elected delegates this year, even absent her substantial haul of super delegates.  Even if Bernie wins California, it will likely be by a narrow margin.  It will be a story, but not the big story.

In his CA speeches, Sanders says "If there is a large voter turnout, we will win and win big."  A surge in voter registration this spring helps make that a possibility.  And if this indeed happens, it will have an impact on the 2016 race.

The possibility of a CA victory hinges on Sanders expanding his appeal beyond young white voters to young Latino, Asian and African American voters, which the last Field poll indicates is happening.  His speeches continue to gather very big audiences.  (But he would not be the first candidate to win large, enthusiastic audiences, and lose elections.  George McGovern in 1972 spoke before such large crowds even in the general election campaign, and lost every state but one.)

In Oakland for example, Sanders gave about an hour speech before tens of thousands.  He called out a corrupt campaign financing system.  He said the economy is rigged for the rich, the criminal justice system is broken.  He called for investing in young people, in "jobs and education, not jails and incarceration."

 He wants to de-militarize local police and end corporate prisons, to rethink the war on drugs, deal with the crisis in opiates and heroin, treat addiction as a health issue (not a criminal issue), expand mental health treatment, decriminalize marijuana on the federal level, and in CA legalize it.

In one of his few direct swipes at "Secretary Clinton," he said his campaign is financed by small individual contributions and not a single superpac.  He questioned whether a candidate who takes Wall Street money can stand up against Wall Street.

To further the goal of every American child being able to obtain a college education regardless of income, public college and university tuition should be free, and existing student loans re-financed at the lowest available rate.

How will this be paid for?  Middle class incomes have been redistributed upward to the 1/2 of 1%; it's time to redistribute them back to working families.  A tax on Wall Street speculation, break up the major banks.

He is favor of immigration reform and a path to citizenship, and if Congress fails to pass such a law he will do "what I can" by executive action.  No more unnecessary wars.  No more tax breaks for Wall Street. More investment in inner cities and rural poor.  He criticizes Trump for being a climate crisis denier and says we have a moral responsibility to the planet, so he supports moving from fossil fuels to clean energy. He said we need to go beyond the Affordable Care Act to guarantee health care as a right, as every other industrial country does.

His rhetorical finish was to go through various movements that changed America--union, black, women, gay.  "Let's go forward with this political revolution."

When I look at this speech--admirably honed, simply stated--I see almost nothing that President Obama hasn't said, as a candidate or President, and with the exception of breaking up the big banks, nothing that Hillary Clinton doesn't support as a principle or goal.

In fact there is so much of Obama here--the campaign financed by small donors, the agenda--that at one point, some in the audience began chanting "Si se puede" and Bernie actually said "Yes, we can!" Bernie's promise to do what he can by executive action on immigration is what President Obama has already done.

Bernie's promises are apparently more restrained now than at other points in his campaign.  He said the word "revolution" exactly twice--in his closing sentence, and earlier he called for a "revolution in mental health treatment."  There is in reality nothing revolutionary in the proposals he made in this speech, with little that progressive Democrats from Robert Kennedy to Barack Obama haven't said. Nevertheless, his young supporters seem to believe what he says is revolutionary.  (Free college tuition and legalizing pot don't exactly hurt with this demographic either.)

The political revolution Bernie calls for however is one in which, thanks to a popular uprising at the ballot box throughout the country, progressives take over Congress and pass the legislation he favors.  That is very unlikely to happen this year (even if Democrats take majorities) but presumably his election he hopes would be the beginning.

I can see the appeal, and not only to the young who perhaps haven't heard--or haven't listened--to these statements or positions before.  I can understand their strong commitment to him, but I don't share it. I don't have the confidence in him that I had in Obama as a candidate.  He has not demonstrated to me that he can be a more effective President than Hillary.  And since Republicans haven't attacked him--hoping he would be the nominee--the polls that show him beating Trump are invalid.

 But it's a long way now past simple preferences.  The maniac Trump is the other party's candidate for President of the United States, and we all have a lot to lose.

Hillary is not just coasting on her early huge majorities in primaries.  She picked up major endorsements this week--from Governor Jerry Brown, from the political arm of the National Resources Defense Council (which her campaign director John Podesta worked for, after the Clinton White House and before he started the Center for American Progress) and a major gun safety group.  More endorsements are likely before Tuesday.

More to the point, her scathing attacks on Trump this past week (what CNN writers called an "evisceration") have energized her supporters and relieved other Democrats.  The latest Reuters poll returns her to a double digit lead over Trump with likely voters nationally.  A long-awaited trend of rising wages in the Obama recovery may eventually help her as well.

Sanders now says that he is taking his candidacy to the convention, no matter the electoral outcomes.  This is a little different than his campaign has said recently, that he will reassess when all the nominating contests are over (June 14.)

Chances are that once Hillary has the majority, and especially once the primaries are all over, Democratic officials including super delegates will add their weight to support her, so Sanders candidacy will become less and less relevant to the campaign.

Sanders' campaign can still cause discord at the convention, and cause supporters to turn bitterly away from voting in November, which helps only Trump.  There is no compelling moral cause involved in this as a protest--it isn't 1964, when the party discriminated against southern African American delegates, and it isn't 1968, with the party leadership supported an immoral war.  Sanders' agenda is just not that different, while his means to attain it may be, though frankly what those means are is a mystery to me.

It's likely that a Sanders victory in California would encourage him to continue, while a defeat might cause him to re-evaluate. Since I believe the party needs to unite behind Clinton, the certain nominee, in order to defeat Trump, and Sanders must begin, as soon as possible, the work of bringing his supporters to vote for her in November,  I will be voting for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday.  To bring us closer to the time that all progressives can concentrate on defeating the worst threat in generations to American democracy and to the future, including the future of Bernie's young supporters.

So maybe the California primary will play a role--in beginning the sustained and unified fight against Trump, or  delaying or even dangerously dividing it, which is risky at best.  I don't see any real reason to take that risk at this point, not with the stakes as high as they are.  

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Climate Crisis Challenges: Zika and A Country Breaking Down

The Zika virus poses particular known and heartbreaking threats, mostly to pregnant women and specifically their offspring. As bad as a big outbreak might get, it so far it has not had widely lethal or debilitating effects otherwise.

Nevertheless, it is both a specific threat and a likely harbinger of things to come. It offers a kind of tryout of public health responses, and so far it's not a reassuring sight.

It is a harbinger because it is disease carried by an insect, a certain breed of mosquito (though there may be other breeds who can carry this virus.)  Mosquitoes are most prevalent in hot times and places, and as global heating expands both, mosquito-borne diseases are among those likely to also expand, even to the point of epidemic.  More communities are going to be vulnerable and affected, including many that have not experienced such a threat before.

This is only one of the public health challenges that are effects of global heating and the climate crisis.  Add to the independent or force multiplier factors that make pandemics more likely (global travel spreading infectious contact very fast, overuse of antibiotics leading to resistant mutations, etc.), and a public health system that can respond quickly with the necessary resources is one of the most important functions of communities and their governments, especially national governments and global connections among governments.

So far the US is not responding adequately to Zika, and in the process is making public health worse in general.  Congress--particularly the rabid right Republican controlled House--is not appropriating sufficient funds, and what funds are made available are being stolen from other public health programs, leading to unconscionable layoffs of public health doctors and others.

While Congress plays politics with Zika funding, gaps in state funding for public health research and preparations are exposed, including states most likely to feel the first effects of Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses.  Past federal failures to support public health has led to increased burdens on states and cities, which in turn has led to facilities being closed.

This is part of a resurgent global problem of inattention and neglect by governments, according to the World Health Organization Director-General.  With more resources and steadfast attention, there are better chances of such outbreaks being prevented as well as quickly addressed.

Public health is a vital part of a community's health care infrastructure.  National and international public health is an area that the climate crisis is going to test again and again.  Public health is essential to a community remaining an operative, democratic, peaceful society.

But public health is not the only part of vital infrastructure that's neglected, and in the US, often in the same ways.  Elizabeth Drew's detailed examination of the state of American infrastructure, "A Country Breaking Down" in the New York Review of Books begins:

It would be helpful if there were another word for “infrastructure”: it’s such an earnest and passive word for the blood vessels of this country, the crucial conveyors and connections that get us from here to there (or not) and the ports that facilitate our trade (or don’t), as well as the carriers of information, in particular broadband (if one is connected to it), and other unreliable structures. The word “crisis” is also overused, applied to the unimportant as well as the crucial. But this country has an infrastructure crisis.

The near-total failure of our political institutions to invest for the future, eschewing what doesn’t yield the quick payoff, political and physical, has left us with hopelessly clogged traffic, at risk of being on a bridge that collapses, or on a train that flies off defective rails, or with rusted pipes carrying our drinking water. Broadband is our new interstate highway system, but not everyone has access to it—a division largely based on class. Depending on the measurement used, the United States ranks from fourteenth to thirtieth among all nations in its investments in infrastructure. The wealthiest nation on earth is nowhere near the top."

Much of the infrastructure we depend on for survival was built mainly with federal government money in the 1930s (Roosevelt) and 1950s (Eisenhower.)  Many big cities, including New York, are dependent on even older water and sewage systems.  But public spending has become politically toxic, almost entirely as a rationalization for the country's rich to keep more of their riches.  (And if the dot com billionaires want to do something public spirited, they might band together and lobby Congress for a major infrastructure program to be financed by taxing them and their fellow 10%.)

What little infrastructure Congress has financed--most recently in the highway bill--was done (as Drew's piece notes) through unprecedented thievery from other government resources that are just as likely as falling infrastructure to cause future disaster.  President Obama noted that same impulse in the Congressional approach to financing Zika funds.

Infrastructure is often described as essential to the economy--that is, essential to the businesses that make people wealthy enough to hire lobbyists, lawyers and congresspeople to avoid paying taxes. Fixing and building it is also widely known as an economic stimulus.

But infrastructure is much more important than that.  It is essential to civilized life.  Infrastructure of all kinds is essential to healthy, functioning, democratic, peaceful communities.

Moreover, this infrastructure is going to be additionally stressed by the effects of the climate crisis--by flooding, by drought, by high winds in storms, by fire, by intense heat waves and intense periods of cold, and by the multiplication of such catastrophes in time and in extent.  A healthy infrastructure has a better chance to stand up against such stresses, or to be more easily repaired and restored.  By ignoring this need, we're shooting ourselves in more than the foot.

In sum, strong infrastructure--including civic infrastructure and especially public health--along with forethought and planning, can help citizens and communities in the near future deal with effects of the climate crisis.  Without strong infrastructure, our society is much more threatened.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

In A Word

Today Hillary made news by calling Trump "a fraud," due to revelations concerning what she called Trump U. (as explained here and here and especially here), while others were implying the word when discussing Trump's delayed donations to veterans' organization (summarized here and here.)

But a couple of days ago, the word scientist Steven Hawking used to describe Trump was "demagogue."  Satirist Andy Borowitz at the New Yorker responded: "The theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking angered supporters of Donald J. Trump on Monday by responding to a question about the billionaire with a baffling array of long words.

Speaking to a television interviewer in London, Hawking called Trump “a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator,” a statement that many Trump supporters believed was intentionally designed to confuse them.
Moments after Hawking made the remark, Google reported a sharp increase in searches for the terms “demagogue,” “denominator,” and “Stephen Hawking.”

In this case satire was not far from the truth, at least in one respect.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary site reported an immediate 9000% jump in searches for the meaning of "demagogue."

But reviewing that definition can be instructive for everyone.  While "fraud" is certainly applicable, "demagogue" turns out to be a remarkably precise fit for Donald Trump: "a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.”

Climate Crisis Update: Cause & Effects

First, in this post, an update on climate crisis related news, organized as general, related to addressing causes, and finally to addressing effects.  A post on a couple of big, impending, specific issues will follow.

heat map for this coming week from Weather Underground
May is over so the word on that month will be in soon, but the trend was clear with the April world climate data--April 2016 was the hottest April on record, the seventh straight record month.  Moreover: The latest figures smashed the previous record for April by the largest margin ever recorded.  And it was the third straight month that happened.

All this makes it more likely that 2016 will turn out to be the hottest year on record--and become the third straight time that's happened.

These and related records are so frequently broken now that the stories hardly register, like India recording its highest temperature ever (nearly 124 F) and Lake Mead, the reservoir outside Las Vegas, recording its lowest water level ever--both reported on the same day.

  Elizabeth Kolbert's story links the tar sands oil fires in Calgary that threatened to eat a city to the climate crisis, a connection Naomi Klein later made in a speech.

Among the physical effects of ongoing global heating reported in the last month were a current, serious and growing drop in the oceans' oxygen, and ice melt in Greenland accelerated by a combination of heating-caused phenomena including alterations in the atmospheric jet stream.

Stop It: Dealing With Causes

A CNN piece summarizes ways to slow down and stop the causes of future heating, including what communities can do.

A Mother's Day testimony tells a personal story about dedication to such work, again in context of the future, through the form of a letter to a child.

The Paris Agreement calls for plans to addresses causes-- such as reducing greenhouse gases through various means.  The Ontario province of Canada has stepped up with such a plan in detail.

As for existing plans, four teenagers sued the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for not living up to its promises to reduce carbon--and won.

Those means to address causes include a major increase in using clean energy over carbon polluting energy forms.  The good news, as reported by the BBC, is that: New solar, wind and hydropower sources were added in 2015 at the fastest rate the world has yet seen, a study says. Investments in renewables during the year were more than double the amount spent on new coal and gas-fired power plants, the Renewables Global Status Report found. For the first time, emerging economies spent more than the rich on renewable power and fuels."

The bad news is climate crisis denier Donald Trump and his hyper-carbon polluting energy plan.   In a typical example of Trump's hypocrisy however, he's applied for a permit for a seawall to protect his golf course project in Ireland--from "global warming and its effects."  (In some ways this is even more hypocritical than decrying illegal immigration while employing undocumented workers at his hotels.)

In Scientific American, the chair of Hillary Clinton's campaign John Podesta outlined her pragmatic plans to address the climate crisis. Podesta helped engineer President Obama's second term efforts in this regard.

Fix It: Dealing With Effects 

Because of forces already set in motion, global heating probably can't be slowed down or stopped for perhaps a decade or two.  Effects will continue and probably multiply, and these must be recognized and dealt with, even as causes are addressed to save the farther future.

Possible effects on famous world monuments, including flooding, were reviewed in a UN/UNESCO report.

resilence needed here: map from Climate Central
Dealing with sea level rise effects in coastal cities has led to a new job category in municipal government: resilience officer.

Carbon-breathing trees are known to address global heating causes.  But forests also can moderate heat at ground level--particularly, a study finds, old growth forests.  So preserve them!

The increase in high heat in already hot parts of the world is likely to force people to move permanently.  A study quantified how hot and for how long it is likely to get in the Middle East and North Africa, and forecast a huge migration crisis by the end of the century.

There is already a pretty big migration crisis now.  Though the terrible numbers of migrants due to warfare have captured most of the attention (and some of these are arguably related to the climate crisis),  there's an even bigger number of migrants causes by disasters, many of which are related to climate crisis effects: "There were 19.2 million new displacements associated with disasters in 113 countries [in 2015], more than twice as many as for conflict and violence. Over the past eight years, 203.4 million displacements have been recorded, an average of 25.4 million each year."

Sunday, May 29, 2016

We Can Choose

Today is the 99th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's birth.   There are people among us older than that.  Yet he has been dead for more than 50 years. Fifty years of our recent history. The tragedy of the assassination never ends.

 President Obama's speech at Hiroshima on Friday (see below) inevitably reminded me of President Kennedy's American University speech, for the visionary aspect of both.

 Kennedy's speech was met with some outrage, as it directly countered the Cold War orthodoxy of the day. Yet it broke the ice that led within a year to the first nuclear weapons treaty in history.  Without specific political proposals, Obama's speech was met with indifference, though it also countered the apocalyptic, mechanistic orthodoxies of today.

It did not deal with the latest nuclear threats, which are very worrying.  It's not just the pathetic but dangerous braggadocio of North Korea--there's a much more threatening new emphasis on bigger and more powerful nuclear weapons in Putin's Russia, coupled with the conviction among some in eastern Europe that Russia might even use them there.  The obvious weapons testing aspect of Russia's operations in Syria are also worrying.

Obama also did not make the point I believe needs to be made often, as awareness is slipping of what nuclear weapons really are.  They are not just somewhat bigger bombs, as portrayed in recent video games and movies.  But I fear that's what many people consider them.  (As for the indifference and ignorance to nuclear weapons expansions in the news, that's not a new pattern.  I noted it in my San Francisco Chronicle piece on the 40th anniversary of  JFK's American University speech in 2003.)

But what Obama did say comports with JFK's speech in describing the real consequences of nuclear war, though Obama kept it in the context of modern warfare as a whole.

The main point made by JFK was given a contemporary resonance by Obama.  JFK put it this way: "First: Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many of us think it is unreal. But that is dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable - - that mankind is doomed - - that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.

We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade - - therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable - - and we believe they can do it again."

In the intervening decades we learned some necessary humility and appreciation for limits, that in some respects at least humanity can't be as big as it wants.  But the central point Obama expressed for our day, when in particular our savants of psychology etc. are insisting that people are basically computers that must obey their genetic programming, which moreover is as simple as it is inescapable.

 Here is Obama's key statement that I believe is the most important in this speech: "We’re not bound by genetic code to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can learn. We can choose. We can tell our children a different story –- one that describes a common humanity; one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted."

President Obama does not have the counsel of an elder JFK but he has his speeches and example.  In that sense he lives on in the White House.

It's A Wonderful Story

The other day an 87 year old woman dining at a retirement home choked on a piece of meat.  The 96 year old man next to her at the table promptly administered the Heimlich Maneuver, which dislodged the meat and saved her life.

That 96 year old man also happened to be Dr. Henry Heimlich, who invented the maneuver.  It is named after him.

Though his maneuver has been used many times since he developed it in the 1970s,  this was the first time Dr. Heimlich himself actually used it on a person in distress.

So how did he feel?  "I sort of feel wonderful about it," he said.  And so do we all.