Saturday, September 03, 2016

Serious About the Real World

"The United States and China, the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, have announced they will formally ratify the Paris climate change agreement in a move campaigners immediately hailed as a significant advance in the battle against global warming" writes the Guardian today.

Earlier China had announced it would formally ratify the Paris accord with President Xi vowing to “unwaveringly pursue sustainable development”. “Our response to climate change bears on the future of our people and the well-being of mankind,” Xi said, according to the Associated Press. Obama said the joint announcement showed how the world’s two largest economies were capable of coming together to fight climate change."

The UK Telegraph has an extensive story along with video of some of President Obama's remarks.

President Obama's current travels began in the Sierra Nevada foothills.  As described by ABC: Standing beneath the forest-green peaks of the Sierra Nevada, President Barack Obama drew a connection Wednesday between conservation efforts and stopping global warming, describing the two environmental challenges as inseparably linked.

Obama used the first stop on a two-day conservation tour to try to showcase how federal and local governments can effectively team up to address a local environmental concern like iconic Lake Tahoe, which straddles California and Nevada. Obama told a sunbaked crowd of several thousand in a small lakeside town that "our conservation effort is more critical, more urgent than ever."

"When we protect our lands, it helps us protect the climate of the future," Obama said, joined by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, California Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Obama's brief stop along the Nevada-California border came at the start of an 11-day international tour that will take the president to Asia for his final time as president. Throughout the trip, Obama is hoping to elevate issues of climate change and conservation...

In Hawaii, President Obama announced a program that will devote $40 million to help vulnerable communities, especially small islands, cope with the climate crisis.
President Obama at Midway Atoll, threatned by rising
climate crisis seas.  He gave a video interview to the NYTimes.

From the smallest nations and victims, to China, one of the largest emitters and victims, President Obama brought action as well as vision.  Ratification of the Paris treaty by the two nations who together emit 40% of all greenhouse pollution was not expected so soon.

Here are excerpts from President Obama's remarks in China:

"We are here together because we believe that for all the challenges that we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other challenge.

One of the reasons I ran for this office was to make sure that America does its part to protect this planet for future generations. Over the past seven and a half years, we’ve transformed the United States into a global leader in the fight against climate change. But this is not a fight that any one country, no matter how powerful, can take alone. That’s why last December’s Paris Agreement was so important. Nearly 200 nations came together as — a strong, enduring framework to set the world on a course to a low-carbon future.

And someday we may see this as the moment that we finally decided to save our planet."

photo: President Obama at Yosemite in June
"We have a saying in America — that you need to put your money where your mouth is. And when it comes to combatting climate change, that’s what we’re doing, both the United States and China. We’re leading by example. As the world’s two largest economies and two largest emitters, our entrance into this agreement continues the momentum of Paris, and should give the rest of the world confidence –- whether developed or developing countries -– that a low-carbon future is where the world is heading.

Of course, the Paris Agreement alone won’t solve the climate crisis. But it does establish an enduring framework that enables countries to ratchet down their carbon emissions over time, and to set more ambitious targets as technology advances. That means full implementation of this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change, and pave the way for more progress in the coming years.

This is the single-best chance that we have to deal with a problem that could end up transforming this planet in a way that makes it very difficult for us to deal with all the other challenges that we may face.

Yes, diplomacy can be difficult, and progress on the world stage can be slow. But together, we’re proving that it is possible.

And I was reflecting before we came in here with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the meeting that we had in Copenhagen in my first year of my presidency, which was quite chaotic. And I think it is fair to say that if you had looked at the outcome of that meeting, the prospects of us being here today, the prospects of a Paris Agreement seemed very far away. And yet, here we are, which indicates that where there’s a will and there’s a vision, and where countries like China and the United States are prepared to show leadership and to lead by example, it is possible for us to create a world that is more secure, more prosperous, and more free than the one that was left for us."

Friday, September 02, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Rejecting the Hater

A fairly stunning poll of registered Latino voters by Latino Decisions gives Hillary a 70% to 19% advantage.  She may not be so popular with the total electorate but Hillary has 68% favorable rating among Latinos, while Trump is viewed unfavorably by 74%. The last day of this poll was Tuesday, so it doesn't even include reaction to Homegrown Hitler's speech in Arizona.

Apropos of that speech, Josh Marshall's followup post Trump's Blood Libel and Press Failure should be highlighted: "Even now, after all that's happened, most political reporters find themselves either unwilling or unable to identify Donald Trump's tirades as hate speech. But they fit the textbook definition, inasmuch as it's even a useful concept...

Watch Trump's speeches, with the yelling, the reddened face, the demand for vengeance and you see there's little to distinguish them from what we see at Aryan Nations or other white hate rallies that we all immediately recognize as reprehensible, wrong and frankly terrifying. This isn't 'rough' language or 'hard edged' rhetoric. It's hate speech. Precisely what policy solution Trump is calling for is almost beside the point. Indeed, it wouldn't be hate speech any less if Trump specified no policy solution at all.

This isn't normal. It was normal in the Jim Crow South, as it was in Eastern Europe for centuries. It's not normal in America in the 21st century. And yet it's become normalized. It's a mammoth failure of our political press. But it's not just theirs, ours. It's a collective failure that we're all responsible for."

Marshall also points out that Trump's tactic of trooping victims of violence allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants up to the stage (at the RNC or for this speech) is a tried and true tactic of fascist and Nazi speakers.  However real their suffering is, the idea is to create a frenzy of hatred.  It's also akin to inspiring a lynch mob.

Speaking of Jim Crow, the WPost has a detailed expose of the racist intent of the Republican-created North Carolina voter restriction law recently blocked by federal courts.  The intent to limit black voting couldn't be clearer, as the court said.  Now we have the evidence before us.  The story references other states as well.

Meanwhile, this Business Insider (!) piece goes into detail on why Trump's Wall won't work, as emphasized by the people closest to the border.

The Trump campaign added another rabid/alt. right conspiracy spinner to its leadership.  WPost: David N. Bossie, the veteran conservative operative who has investigated the Clintons for more than two decades, has been named Donald Trump’s deputy campaign manager...The addition of Bossie, who first gained notice in the 1990s as the Republican congressional staffer who aggressively delved into the Clintons’ finances and dealings, is the latest sign that the Trump campaign’s new leadership team is embracing right-wing figures whose ties to the party’s elected leadership have been tenuous or even hostile.

Several stories on Friday referenced growing GOPer establishment disenchantment with Trump, including a rush to follow John McCain in congressional candidates trying to distance themselves from him.  An interesting inside the RNC story in the NY Times is another.

And since it's Friday, it's time for the Guardian roundup of Lies Trump Told This Week, extra-large edition.

For election junkies, Politico has an interesting story on Clinton strategy based at the moment on many paths to victory, and working towards a landslide--though by their definition that means matching Obama's 2008 electoral numbers.

Seemingly the only news Friday was the surprise release of the FBI report on its investigation of Clinton's State Department emails, in which it concluded she did nothing illegal.  So far reporters haven't found much new of any importance.  The general feeling I get is that a less than tech savvy Clinton in a less than up-to-date State Department didn't consider the emails themselves very important, probably because they weren't.  Unlike some businesses, diplomacy wasn't carried out chiefly by email.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

45 Years Ago Today

On September 1, 1971, the Pittsburgh Pirates fielded the first major league baseball team comprised completely of African American and Latino players.  This team would go on to make similar World Series history.  It included several All-Stars and two future Hall of Fame players in Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.

The Donald Chronicles: Return of the Homegrown Hitler

Apart from exciting Ann Coulter and David Duke, Trump's so-called immigration speech (it was not about actual immigration) seems to have galvanized Latino opposition, including erstwhile allies--like his own "Hispanic advisory council" and Latino surrogates--and a major R donor in Mike Fernandez, who announced that he'll be voting for Hillary Clinton.

Trump backer and director of American Principles Project’s Latino Partnership Alfonso Aguilar, withdrew his support, saying "I think we were generally misled."  Another Latino Trump surrogate concluded, "he used us as props."

One of the first Trump advisory group members to resign was Jacob Monty, a Republican and Mexican American who published a column in the Houston Chronicle in June called "A Latino's case for Donald Trump." His feeling of betrayal is probably shared.  Other Hispanic advisory council resignations are expected.

Javier Palomarez, head of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce who has already endorsed Clinton, condemned Trump's speech and called him "payaso," which we on the North Coast know is Spanish for "clown."  But Palomarez evidently did not mean it in a good way.

On Thursday the coverage of Trump's Wednesday speech turned away from any suggestion he had moderated.  The WPost's 202 was most direct in the roundup headlined "Trump triples down on a losing immigration position in Phoenix:

Republicans facing four more years in the wilderness will long recall the raucous rally in Phoenix as a low point of the Trump campaign, perhaps even as the moment that he definitively extinguished his hopes of becoming president.

As for the speech itself, Josh Marshall describes Trump in full Homegrown Hitler mode:

"This was as wild and as unbridled a speech as I've seen from Trump. Even if you couldn't understand English, it would be stunning to watch the slashing hand gestures, the red face, the yelling. It's hard to imagine any presidential candidate in living memory giving such a speech. And again, this is if you didn't know what the words even meant...

But watching this speech, compared to the press conference today in Mexico City, what kept coming to my mind was the contrast between Hitler's uniformed rally speeches from the hustings and the suited, statesman Hitler we see in the old news reels in Munich and at other iconic moments in the late 1930s. Hitler is sui generis, of course. His crimes are incomparable. But the demagogic style, the frenzied invocation familial blood sacrificed to barbaric outsiders - these are not unique to him. When we see this lurid, stab-in-the-back incitement, the wild hyperbole, the febrile railing against outsiders who will make us no longer a country - the similarities are real. More than anything, perhaps the most chilling part of this day is the contrast between the two men - a measured, calm statesman figure we saw this afternoon and this railing, angry demagogue figure who captured the emotional tenor of Klan rally. As I said, the ability to shift from one persona to the other is a sign of danger in itself."

Marshall later upped his analysis by calling out other news media for not characterizing Trump's address for what it was: hate speech.
The Clinton campaign announced that it had raised a whopping $143 million in August, its biggest haul of the year.

Meanwhile, the trend toward tightening national polls was at least temporarily broken by the Suffolk/USA Today that gave Clinton a 7 point lead nationally, both head to head and in the four way.  She leads with women by 16 points and is drawing even with men.  The 7 point lead is consistent with the recent Monmouth poll.

New state polls also counter the theme of tightening. Clinton maintains leads in PA, Ohio, Wisconsin and New Hampshire with a slight lead in North Carolina.  She is 3 points behind in Arizona, so it will be interesting to see if Trump's speech there moved the dial either way.  The Clinton campaign just made a major ad buy in Arizona.

Florida is shaping up to be a disaster for Trump.  New voter registration figures favor Democrats, with only 4% of African Americans and 16% of Latinos registering as GOPers.  Trump has exactly one campaign office in the entire state.

The Donald Chronicles: Embracing His Inner Bully

It was a busy Wednesday for the Donald.  He made a suddenly announced trip to meet the president of Mexico (and it turns out not to be true that the President of the United States offered Mexico five billion dollars to keep him there) and then he made his big immigration speech in Arizona.

He managed the one-hour visit calmly, though he said he didn't discuss making Mexico pay for The Wall, while the Mexican president said he told him that's never going to happen, hombre.  Then came the speech, a reversion to form according to everyone, though not everyone could agree on just what he meant about deportations.

"Donald Trump on Wednesday doubled down on deporting anyone inside the U.S. illegally if elected president, outlining a militant immigration plan that vanquished swirling questions about whether he would soften his position for a general election audience," said the US News report.

But the NY Times had a different take: "Donald J. Trump made an audacious attempt on Wednesday to remake his image on the divisive issue of immigration, shelving his plan to deport 11 million undocumented people and arguing that a Trump administration and Mexico would secure the border together."

NBC however headlined their report: Trump Recommits to Mass Deportation in Fiery Immigration Speech.

The WPost sort of splits the difference and figures Trump isn't still talking about deporting all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.  Just six million.   Where have we heard that number before?

The contradiction--nicey nice in Mexico, fulminatingly Homegrown Hitler in Arizona-- was handily explained by NY Times columnist Charles M. Blow:

"Donald Trump is the internet troll of presidential politics. When he’s securely removed from the objects of his scorn, he’s tough as nails; when he’s in their presence, he quivers like a bowl of Jell-O. Such is the way of a bully.

Furthermore, when he is surrounded by supporters who cheer his base nature, he amplifies the enmity. When the applause of hostility is out of earshot, he tones down his vitriol to a whimper."

And so on.  The column doesn't relent.  Dana Milbank gives a similarly caustic if intentionally funnier account.

The WPost provides an annotated transcript, and a fact check.  Good luck.

Meanwhile, some polls have tightened, Hillary is as unpopular as ever, and Paul Waldman explains cogently if depressingly why it is unlikely that she will ever have high favorables as President.  The basic melancholy numbers are that while many Presidents before G.W. Bush sometimes got around 40% approval from members of the opposing party, President Obama has never gotten more than 11% from Republicans.  Something else that G.W. ruined.

Poor reporting won't help, though.  Headlines (and the Donald) screamed Tuesday that the FBI found 30 emails about Benghazi that Clinton hadn't turned over to them.  But in their ill-advised, bound-to-be-misunderstood statement, the FBI didn't say that.  They found 30 emails that might have something in them about Benghazi, but they aren't yet sure if they are duplicates of emails they already have--from Clinton.  You'd think they could wait to make sure before they talked about it.

Photo above (from BBC):A version of Trump's wall created by artists David Gleeson and Mary Mihelic next to the US-Mexican border in California

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Consensus of the Numbers

A consensus of the presidential campaign numbers and the media people who study them as we enter September makes two basic conclusions: Hillary Clinton is far enough ahead in enough states with enough electoral votes to win the presidency, but a true landslide is unlikely.

The latest state poll--Monmouth's in PA--shows Clinton's substantial lead there has not diminished.  The New York Times daily summary of polls  shows that poll averages have her comfortably ahead also in Virginia, Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, clearly if narrowly ahead in Florida and Ohio, and slightly ahead in North Carolina and Iowa.  Trump has no path to victory that doesn't include some combination of Ohio, Florida, PA and Virginia.  National poll averages continue to show Clinton up by about 6 points.

To win back the Senate and the House, Dems are hoping for the landslide tide that lifts all boats.  That would probably follow from a vote victory of over 10 points. While within the realm of possibility in an unhinged election year, most media commentators say it's unlikely.  Stuart Rothenberg at W Post is among the latest. He emphasizes demographic clusters defining blue states and red states in suggesting Clinton's victory will most likely be of Obama-like proportions (probably the narrower 2012 win.)  Other analysts emphasize the two party polarization, to the extent that they exist in separate opposite universes where the candidate of the opposite party is the devil.

However, NBC First Read is among the media analysts who believe, even absent a landslide, the Dems are "on track" to win back the Senate, but just barely.  A Clinton landslide would likely add seats.

This is all "state of the moment" stuff, but indicates that Clinton has some margin for a bad debate performance, say, or negative external events.  The presidential campaign they say used to start after Labor Day weekend.  No more.  But it's still true that it gets more intense.

Monday, August 29, 2016


I can't let any more time go by without noting probably the most significant governmental act of the summer: President Obama (in the words of the WPost) "created the largest ecologically protected area on the planet when he expanded a national marine monument in his native Hawaii to encompass more than half a million square miles.

The president more than quadrupled the size of the Papahanaumokuakea (pronounced “Papa-ha-now-moh-koo-ah-kay-ah”) Marine National Monument to 582,578 square miles of land and sea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands."

Under the media radar tuned exclusively to perturbations in the Donald universe,  President Obama made another apparently unobtrusive yet most meaningful contribution to address the climate crisis future.

In the climate crisis context we get somewhat used to speculating on sea level rise, increased flooding and fires, even diseases and epidemics.  But it's harder to even think about the ultimate threat to the world's oceans.  The health of oceans is already weakened by chemical pollution, plastic garbage and other degradation that is deadening huge areas of these massive seas.  But the chemical effects of global heating is perhaps the most pervasive threat.

This ocean area now protected is as close to pristine as the ocean now gets, teeming with life that includes ancient species, and the actual oldest known living beings on the planet, coral that is estimated to be 4,500 years old.   National Geographic:

"Papahānaumokuākea is a sanctuary for endangered species, including blue whales, short-tailed albatrosses, sea turtles, and the last Hawaiian monk seals. It contains some of the world’s northernmost and healthiest coral reefs, considered among the most likely to survive in an ocean warmed by climate change. The seamounts and sunken islands of its deeper waters are inhabited by more than 7,000 species, including the oldest animals on Earth—black corals that have lived for more than 4,000 years. In all, a quarter of the creatures living in the monument are found nowhere else."

If ocean life is to survive and regenerate, this sanctuary may be vital.

Marine biologist Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, said Obama’s announcement buoys hope that the United States can lead the way to a global network of marine-protected areas large enough to save and restore the oceans. These “blue parks,” as Earle calls them, “are not a luxury – a place to go and have a good time,” she said. “Resilience to climate change is dependent upon having significant areas of natural protection—for biodiversity and for all the things that hold the planet steady. This is vitally important to protect our life-support system.”

Quoted in the Atlantic, This is one of the most important actions an American president has ever taken for the health of the oceans,” Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who formally proposed the expansion last year, said in a statement.

And as the species that's brought such destruction to the ocean, it's the least we can do.

The media will perhaps pay more attention to this when President Obama goes to Hawaii midweek.

50 Years Ago Today

The Beatles last concert.

The Donald Chronicles: Are We Too Stupid To Live?

As we slouch towards September, there's still almost a month before the first debate and early voting in some states.  So the media is all about speculation--is Trump done?  Or is there time? Is Hillary overconfident? Are the polls tightening, or is Trump's base eroding?

And now all this speculation on what Trump is going to say about his immigration policy.  At least some of  the media believes a slight change in Trump's doubletalk bullshit is going to convince some people that he should be President after all.

Trump has garnered a plethora of appropriate descriptions, "psychopath" being the latest.  But what does his nomination as the candidate of one of only two major parties say about the rest of us?

Let's separate the underlying factors that leads some people to a desperation that expresses itself as anarchism.  In more general terms, is Trump more disconcerting evidence that we're culturally decadent?  That in a moment of existential crisis--perhaps the greatest crisis of human global civilization--humanity is too stupid to live?

If the evidence is the television we avidly watch and the popular culture it expresses, TV expert Michael Rosenblum says oh yeah.  Unfortunately he did so at the excerable Huffington Post, which blocks the copy feature, and what he said isn't so profound that I'm going to type it all out.  Basically his evidence is  the devolution of TV--notably the cable stations like Bravo!, A&E and the History Channel that once actually did programming that expressed the purpose inherent in their name but now traffic in the same reality show sewerage as the networks.  This is Trump's America, and why he will win, Rosenblum says.

A transatlantic view in UK's Telegraph focuses on credulity there and in the US:

American and British politicians at the highest level appear to be engaged in a competition to see who can utter the most defiantly ill-informed, aggressively ignorant statements about precisely the issues that governments have traditionally regarded as life-and-death matters. Somehow, this brazen guilelessness – the shameless display of the failure to understand even the basic meanings of significant words – seems to be offered as a bond with the common man, as if not understanding complicated things was a measure of authenticity."

There's a chicken or egg problem here--is the electorate getting really stupid (clueless about even recent history, heedless of real world consequences) or are our political leaders?  I think the second proposition is easier to prove.  Donald Trump is the most ignorant human ever to be a major party nominee for US President in at least my lifetime, which is something I could have said (and probably did say) just 12 years ago when G.W. Bush ran.  Yet Bush's knowledge could run rings around Trump.

That perhaps the most ignorant available candidate (and remember, Rick Perry was among them) got the nomination throws suspicion on the electorate, at least in Republican primaries, but also on the cynicism of party leadership.

It seems the cynical ignorance is broader and deeper--and perhaps institutionalized.  The cynicism and lack of responsibility to the country permeates the Republican political leadership.  Arthur Vandenberg in the 1940s, Everett Dirksen in the 1960s, for example, were Republican leaders, partisans and conservatives, but they had major moments of statesmanship that helped their country through great crises and improved the lives of Americans and others.

It's worth noting now, so near the March on Washington anniversary, that Dirksen's greatest moment as Senate Republican leader was supporting Civil Rights legislation.  He did so using a quote that has since become famous--I remember when he said it (I was in high school), and it's the reason I know the quote at all:

 "Victor Hugo wrote in his diary substantially this sentiment: 'Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.' The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied."

Can anyone seriously hear Mitch McConnell saying something like that?  McConnell, currently the Senate majority leader, is 100% cynical partisan.  The name "statesman" can't conceivably be applied to him in any circumstance.  McConnell also appears to be a dim bulb, though with a tunnel vision cunning.  Lots of those in politics, but he's the Majority Leader.

Democrats lack personality in their leaders, and there's nobody I know of who is at Obama's level of combining personal force and vision with knowledge both broad and deep.  But statesmanship is not yet dead in the Democratic party at least.

Both parties suffer from a political system in which members of Congress and other officeholders spend much if not most of their time raising money for their next election, and can't bother to even read (let alone write) the bills they occasionally vote on.

Still, voters gave us Trump, just as they gave the UK the catastrophe of Brexit.  Not comforting.

Otherwise: the New York Times suggests that particular Donaldalian vulnerabilities encourage Dems to pursue a House majority, and publishes a feature that's really worth looking at--a timeline of Trump's Greatest Homegrown Hitler Hits together with the dates on which Republican leaders announced they were abandoning him.

Polls: A new Monmouth U. national poll of likely voters has Hillary up 7, though their previous had her up 13.  Emerson has a confusing bunch of state polls, which show Hillary up 10 pts. in Ohio (more than others) but only up 3 in PA (less than others.)  Josh Marshall suggests Emerson's methodology isn't reliable. Polls by other outfits show tie games in Arizona and...yes, South Carolina.