Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit: Buyer's Remorse (With Updates)

Apart from the folks who may not have known what they were voting to leave, there are others having strong regrets.  Two and a half million of them instantly signed a petition for a do-over referendum.  Parliament has to discuss it, but the petition as written is a non-starter.  Update Sunday: It's 3 million signatures now and a Labour MP on BBC radio said it was Parliament's responsibility to make the decision.  Also this and other signs of buyer's remorse--from Brexit supporters.  A Reuters piece went so far to say: "To leave, or not to leave: that is the question. Still. After Britain's historic vote to leave the European Union, there is no indication that a so-called Brexit will happen soon. It maybe never will.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who is resigning, has said he will not take the formal step to an EU divorce on the grounds that his successor should. Because the referendum is not legally-binding, some politicians are suggesting a parliament vote before formally triggering Brexit." 

The Wall Street Journal reports that European leaders are changing their tune about demanding a swift process, and some "suggest giving Britian a chance to reconsider its decision."

 Leadership struggles in the Conservative and Labour parties intensified, as in the words of the Washington Post: "The turmoil here underscored the degree to which the decision to break with Europe — an action seen widely here as the most significant event in the postwar history of Britain — has left the country politically divided, deeply unsettled and in uncharted territory on multiple fronts. "

As for general lessons applicable to the US, Jonathan Freedland at NYReview of Books writes: "it suggests that even great nations, those whose democratic arrangements were once regarded as a beacon to the world, are capable of acts of grievous, enduring self-harm." 

Meanwhile, a WAPost column suggests why many who didn't sign that petition will live to regret voting for Brexit.  It reflects my own puzzlements over the stated reasons, as this won't help any of them, so we are once again left with the irrational, from understandable if on balance misguided national pride to racism, unfocused rage and despair, to anarchical death wish.

Meanwhile the BBC has a clear summary of the process going forward (with graphics!) as well as a roundup of the fallout, so to speak.

To add another theatre of the absurd layer to all this, Donald Trump was in Scotland as the Brexit vote happened.  He was on a diplomatic mission opening his two golf courses in Scotland.  I give credit to major media for several articles immediately fact checking his "disciplined" speech on Hillary, but this Scotland adventure illustrates why the media can't stay away from Trump---he's just too tempting an inspiration for comic copy, even if it's basically gallows humor.  For example, Jenna Johnson's chronicles in the Washington Post, and Liz Jones in the UK Daily Mail.

Among the people Trump managed to insult were GW's Treasury Secretary Paulson (who endorsed Hillary in a WAPost takedown) and Trump's own foreign policy advisers--"most of them are no good."   In the past several days Trump lost foreign policy advisers for George Bush I and II, columnist George Will, who resigned totally from the Republican Party (all of whom are voting for Hillary) and reportedly "many experienced GOP strategists."

Two new polls--Reuters and Washington Post/ABC--show Clinton with a double digit lead over Trump, whose negatives remain at oceanic depths.  In the Post poll, Clinton  is just above the 50% threshold, an important indicator.  Two-thirds of respondents don't believe Trump is qualified.  Clinton has solidified support among Dems (including Bernie's) but Trump hasn't among GOPers.  However, an NBC poll also out Sunday gives Hillary a much more modest lead, and a CBS polls shows some swing states are close, although Trump isn't ahead in any of them.  President Obama's approval rating has gone higher, to 56%. These and other polls analyzed here.

Back to Brexit, the images above and below were two submitted in response to a call for expressing responses to it in five words or an image.  The one below may take a moment to suss out (as the Brits say--it's about the consequences of leaving) but it's the most trenchant.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Broke It

Brexit washes over today's news like a tidal wave.  The UK referendum vote to exit the European Union has already led to Prime Minister Cameron resigning (effective at a date to be determined) and may well lead to early elections.  It has thrown the UK political parties into chaos, and more than one leader may fall. Scotland is now likely to vote for independence in the hopes that it can rejoin the European Union (that country voted heavily to remain), and the politics of Northern Ireland and the non-UK Republic of Ireland also got more complicated.

If the UK is in shock at the outcome, the US is stumbling from not having paid much attention to the vote, especially with the likelihood--including election day polls--that the status quo would be maintained.  Today the US stock market tumbled along with other financial markets around the world, the British pound fell into a hole it isn't likely to climb out of for awhile.

All this over something that hasn't happened yet, and may not for a couple of years. British Parliament has to have a vote on enabling legislation, and there's a negotiation of terms process that involves all 27 EU countries.  Right now the EU leadership is pissed off and says it wants a quick divorce, but nobody actually knows whether this spins forward out of control, or as the reality sinks it, the process slows and disappears from the headlines.  There's even the possibility that the final agreement in a couple of years will be put up for another referendum.

The stated issues are loss of some control to the central EU bureaucracy, the costs paid to the EU, and immigration.  Though there seems a racist element to the anti-immigration argument, it's probably more complicated.  The only immigration the EU mandates is from other EU member countries, which basically means Poland.  Racially GB is still 87% white, but "white" means different things to different people.  The fear of possible future refugees from Syria was exploited.

More worrisome to anyone who knows a little about 20th century history is a possible reversal of the trend of European unification.  Two world wars started with a lot of separate small states and competing alliances in Europe, after centuries of earlier if less globally devastating wars the same way.  The vote has energized and may embolden right wing groups in other EU countries that advocate exit and ultimately dissolution.

The power elites and the global 10% do bear a lot of responsibility for ignoring the plight of the 90%, particularly due to EU (and UK) austerity after the Great Recession.  They are the ones who will be hurt first by Brexit--from London banks to the British film industry.  But of course the price will ultimately be paid by the employees and the economy as a whole, as it always is.  If they are smart, they will respond, and quickly.  Though countering a wave is a lot more difficult.

The Brexit vote wave was inundating the world when Donald Trump showed up in Scotland to open his golf course, which is already apparently underwater (in the financial sense) and has pissed off a lot of Scots.  Though he was described as pretty clueless about the significance of the vote, he predictably made common cause with it.  People are angry, he said.

But the real question that Brexit raises is are they apocalyptically angry.  UK leaders were confident that Brexit wouldn't pass because they had so graphically described the catastrophic economic consequences, including a steep drop in average income.  People would be sensible, especially British people.

But they didn't listen, leading to the sense--or the fear--that this anger is so strong that a large enough segment of the electorate is willing to burn the house down.  So apart from his white separatist base, Trump is counting on millions of votes from people who not only don't care that he is clueless, crude and infantile--they like it, because it means he's not one of the experienced professional officeholders they despise.  Better an entertaining egomaniac buffoon than the hated establishment.

Hillary may be well ahead in the polls, but the polls in the UK suggest that a lot of people told pollsters they were voting to remain, when in fact they voted to leave. Pollsters are also part of the despised system.  (And the polls are much closer in some swing states anyway.)

There's a limit to the numbers that white racists can access in the US in a presidential election, and the guy who threw golf balls onto Trump's course that were etched with swastikas indicates that a lot of people know what's at stake.  But there may be this contagion.

 Only time will tell if, in any sense, the Brexit vote was the bullet that got an obscure archduke, or an indicator of a desperation that invites apocalypse.  If so, it will not yield to logical analysis.  There will be reasons but not reason enough.  It will have gone beyond that, an eruption from a collective unconscious that sows anarchy at precisely the time that civilization needs systems of cooperation and responsive institutions on a global scale.

Update: Two late stories of interest: Tim Teeman in Daily Beast suggests GB is undergoing a certain buyer's remorse already over Brexit, including some of the leaders who promoted it:  "On Friday morning, the so-called respectable figures of the Brexit campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, looked as shocked and ashen as those who wanted to remain in the EU. If there is triumphalism it is of the most funereal sort. Britain is split down the middle, and all Johnson really wants to do is play politics, pitching at his first press conference to be Prime Minister."

And a Washington Post story says that Britons have been "frantically Googling what the EU is" hours after they voted to leave it.  NPR, the Atlantic and other outlets jumped on the same phenomenon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Climate Crisis: Extremes and Extremists

Summer begins with an intense heat wave in parts of the western U.S.   Monday record-breaking heat in Phoenix, Arizona pushed the 115F mark.  Several deaths are already attributable to the heat.

Such temperatures are the beginning of a practical education in extreme heat.  Because at a certain point it is not just hotter.  It is extreme, with its particular and extreme consequences.  For example: "Health experts say even a difference of a few degrees outside can cause the body temperature to spike, potentially affecting the brain and other organs."

Update 6/23: Scientific American: "As many as 3,331 people annually could die from heat waves by 2080 in New York City alone if no steps are taken to adapt to warming temperatures and reduce emissions, a new study warns."

Extreme heat is quiet --it isn't as dramatically obvious as a tornado or a monsoon.  But as a Weather Channel feature titled You Will Never Guess What Kind of Weather is Deadliest says:"Violent winds from a hurricane or tornado, lightning from thunderstorms, and rising floodwaters come to mind. But the weather event that actually produces the greatest number of fatalities is heat."

Extreme heat also has consequences for the natural and human-made environment, including infrastructure.  In part of Arizona yesterday it was even too hot for airplanes to fly safely.

Despite the now routine warnings that come with news of extreme heat--including that due to the climate crisis, there's going to be more of it--extremists still deny the connection, and are therefore less likely to prepare for this onrushing future, personally and at any level of community.

How is this possible? To admit this is something other than some freak weather is to accept the reality of the climate crisis--which is to begin to accept the climate crisis future.  And to realize that there is a discouragingly noisy and contemptuous group that constitutionally and perhaps professionally, deny it and any efforts to address it, and do so with violence.

Even now, it is possible to avoid some of the most ominous signs of the climate crisis.  Maybe news about the increasingly alarming Arctic warming is just too far away.  Or the invisible carbon pollution, that scientists at the same Hawaii observatory that made the first carbon measurements in the 1950s saw spiking to the  level of 400 parts per million--a measurement since confirmed by every observatory in the world, including Antarctica.  This is the highest level in 400 million years, and is unlikely to fall below this level in the lifetime of anyone alive today, implying grave consequences.

Even global temperature rise--which not surprisingly broke records for the 13th straight month in May--are not obvious everywhere.  But the consequences are increasingly obvious, and the situation is so pronounced that scientists are no longer shy about linking effects like the recent European flooding to global heating as a cause.

Some of the tepid or inconstant response to the climate crisis is probably because it's a brand new danger, at least consciously.  Seeing its dimensions, its ramifications to consider when making decisions, requires big adjustments.

So maybe it isn't too surprising that Americans are once again moving in greater numbers to the South, looking for lower living costs and jobs, even though that's where heat and related factors are going to be pronounced.  And again they're moving to Florida, where its already inundated coasts and general low-lying relationship to sea level rise get added to heat and the predicted ferocity of hurricanes.

But a lot is stubborn denial--and denial by its nature is stubborn.  Some denial is healthy, and might even be courage, although in extreme heat, bravado can get you killed.  But a lot of denial is not healthy, and is something like cowardice.

Denial is a powerful habit, a protective mechanism against fear and the necessity of changing to confront dangers.  In his long professional life from the 1930s into the 21st century, American writer Arthur Miller concluded in his autobiography that nothing is more politically powerful and culturally pervasive than denial.

Extremists who huddle together in systematic denial may sooner or later need to confront phenomena like extreme heat, extreme storms, extreme fires, while they deny the causal relationship that could help prepare for dealing better with these effects, and help address the causes that might prevent even worse consequences in the farther future.

By now we know they are always with us, in however dwindling number, and like the extremists who with a straight face can vote against denying guns to terrorists, their residual power--and the power of denial--can still warp our world.

But those who know better and are young must take leadership in saving the future. In a different context recently, history filmmaker Ken Burns quoted Abraham Lincoln, but one part of the quote especially pertains to how we choose to address the climate crisis future: "We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth.”

Monday, June 20, 2016

Happy 70th, Joe K.!  Founder and past president of the Greensburg Central Catholic High School Keilbasa Club.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father's Day

The idea of a Father's Day was first proposed by a woman, Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington.  It came to her during a church service on Mother's Day in 1908.  Mother's Day was a state by state holiday then; it became federally recognized by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.  Mrs. Dodd's mother had died in childbirth, and she was raised by her father.

But Father's Day turned out to be a harder sell.  It was widely celebrated, thanks to the greeting card industry, but it wasn't federally declared until President Richard Nixon, who had already ordered the Watergate break-in and started the cover-up, bombed Cambodia and widened the Vietnam War, had his aides compile and begin using an Enemy's List, permanently established Father's Day in 1972.  So enjoy!

We Hold These Truths

Regardless of Trump's actual chances to be elected President of the United States, his candidacy offers an opportunity to revisit and restate certain values implicit in the American form of government--or more accurately, forces such an effort.  In particular, it's an opportunity to reclaim from the rabid right a living connection to the Founders and the founding documents of the US.  That connection was eloquently and meaningfully expressed for example, at the end of 1941.

On December 15, 1941, all the radio networks in the US carried an original drama called "We Hold These Truths," to mark the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. The program had been commissioned by the Office of Education and scheduled some time before, but its air date turned out to be just 8 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and a week after the US officially entered World War II.

All four radio networks carried it simultaneously--the first time that had happened-- probably in part because President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at the end of it. It was heard by an estimated 63 million Americans:the largest radio audience on record, almost half the US population at the time.

This one-hour program, included above, is as alive and compelling today as it was in 1941.  Not only because of its excellent production values, but because it speaks to us today, especially in the fog of Trump.

 The on-air talent included Jimmy Stewart (already in uniform), Walter Huston, Lionel Barrymore, Edward G. Robinson and other stars of the day.  New music was written for the program, played by an orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski.

But the most important participant was Norman Corwin, its producer and writer.  His name is not much remembered, though he influenced many younger writers and journalists, and was a major influence on these times. Working for CBS radio, he wrote and produced at least 60 programs during the war years, most of them dealing one way or another with the moral issues of the war.  He was called the poet laureate of radio drama for his powers of expression, in a medium that lived on words.

Corwin later recalled the freedom he had working for CBS.  Once a topic was agreed upon, he never had to describe the approach he would take or submit a script in advance.  One assumes this was the case with "We Hold These Truths."

Corwin's work was so esteemed and so popular that several series of his programs bore his name.  His scripts were reprinted in magazines, and his radio plays were adapted into stage plays across America.

In his wartime dramas Corwin returned, over and over, to two primary issues that were on a lot of minds during World War II.  The first had to do with the reasons that soldiers (American and Allies) were fighting and dying..  The second was related--the conviction that this war could not end up being a repeat of World War I in leading to an even worse war in a generation, that it had to end by establishing a lasting peace through universal rights and global cooperation.

In this broadcast, Corwin was connecting the ideas behind the Bill of Rights with the primary aims for Americans fighting World War II.

Despite the fact that a few Founders had speaking parts, "We Hold These Truths" was not a mealy-mouthed historical pageant for radio.  When some of the 13 states refused to ratify the Constitution until a Bill of Rights was added, Congress assembled to produce those ten amendments.  Corwin did not express the reasons for these amendments through the voices of statesmen, let alone lawyers.  He didn't present arguments, explanations, abstractions.  Some of those reasons were expressed in common sense terms by ordinary people, as they did their jobs.  But some weren't expressed in words at all.

They were expressed in cries of pain, moans and screams.  They were expressed on behalf of people garroted, guillotined, lynched, hanged, burned, shot and slaughtered for suspicions and allegiances based on religious belief, political activities, ethnicity and race. In perhaps his boldest move, Corwin included Jesus Christ among these victims, crucified "because rulers didn't allow free speech, executed over an issue of the rights of man."

The most impassioned speech of the program--not at all in the magisterial tones for which he would later be known--was delivered by the young Orson Welles, describing the final result: the Bill of Rights.  In part (uncertainly transcribed from the broadcast) :

"The Congress of the 13 states, instructed by the people of the 13 states, threw up a bulwark, wrote the hope and made a sign for their posterity against the bigots, the fanatics, bullies, lynchers, race haters, the cruel men, the spiteful men, the sneaking men, the pessimists, the men who give up fights that have just begun.  The Congress wrote a ten part epic of amendments."   

This obviously contains contemporary 1941 issues that the Founders wouldn't have expressed in this way. Corwin often railed against the "America First" Nazi sympathizers who saw the Nazis as the wave of the future and opposed the US entering the war (just as he would defend the 'premature anti-Fascists' targeted by Ray Cohn and the 1950s blacklisters), and some of the language is directed at them.  But a lot of it pertains to contemporary 2016 issues, too.

It is well to remember that for all the other reasons and motives unpacked by historians of our age, a guiding impulse in the Bill of Rights was to protect all by protecting everyone against tyranny, and that the "everyone" these rights apply to has broadened to include, by now, just about everyone-- in law if not in practice--225 years after the Bill of Rights.

That broadening process was well underway in 1941, and so it was broadly believed--from FDR to soldiers that Corwin met in the US and abroad--that the US was fighting to defeat tyranny, and the rule of bigotry, race-hating, fanaticism, state bullying and cruelty.  In the modern world, these were represented as the ideology and machinery of Fascism.

In 1941 the US was a country made up largely of immigrants and especially the children and grandchildren of immigrants. There were wide differences between the richest and poorest, urban and rural, and according to regions.  Though the cultures and ethnicities prevalent then didn't include many well represented in 2016, the country was still "multi-cultural," if only because European countries and cultures were more distinct in 1941, with many religious denominations etc. within them.  So universal rights resonated. Equality was crucial.  At the end of this broadcast, FDR used the word "liberty" over and over.

The titanic effort--beyond what most Americans today can even imagine-- to defeat Hitler and Mussolini in World War II was to defeat what they did and would do, to prevent them from imposing racism, state censorship and dictatorship on a conquered America but also to rid the rest of at least western civilization from these threats and this rule.  This was understood as patriotism in 1941, as coming directly from the Founders and the Bill of Rights.

(Of course, it was not understood that way by everyone.  In an essay that accompanies the script of a later program, Corwin references a Republican "smear campaign with nonaccidental anti-Semitic overtones" conducted against a union leader who supported FDR, during World War II.)

So when Trump is likened to Hitler and Mussolini, this is why.  These truths may not be so self-evident these days, but there does seem to be a residual instinct that overrides some political polarization and partisanship when these rights are overtly threatened, by "a racist bully."

Opposition to such Trumpeting is often expressed in political  terms (it offends certain segments of the electorate), or because it's said too bluntly in a socially unacceptable vocabulary and tone.  But the threat behind these words is the same as presented by Fascist governments with their armies in 1941, and the same as policies inflicted on people through the ages by kings and warlords, churches and governments, which motivated the Bill of Rights.  The threat is to human liberty for each and therefore all, and to the commonwealth and the nation as established in the Constitution and its ten epic amendments.