Category Archives: Climate Change

Democrats in 2018: Divided We Fall

Image: Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

What part of “divided we fall” don’t we seem to understand?

Right now, the Republicans are trying to divide us, Fox ‘news’ is trying to divide us, Russian propaganda on Facebook is trying to divide us…they are all in bed together. If we stay divided, we lose!

As we are constantly told: elections have consequences. But so does staying home, as we sadly learned one year ago.

The sad truth is that Democrats vote every four years, Republicans vote every two. If we don’t change this, we will lose!

In 2008, we elected our first African-American president. And then in 2010 we stayed home. The consequences of the 2010 election will reverberate for years to come, especially because it was a census year. That election essentially gave the House of Representatives a veto power over anything that Obama wanted to accomplish, and for the next six years his presidency was hobbled by obstructionism.

In 2014, we stayed home, and that cost us the Senate and thus, a seat on the Supreme Court. The only exception was in 2006, when Americans were finally so disgusted with the failures of the Bush Administration that Democrats took back the House and Senate.

Look at us now: we are squabbling over what happened a year ago, and not focusing on next year. We are at the halfway point between elections and we are lucky that things are not worse. I thought Trump would be a horrible president, but even I didn’t think that he would be this bad. We are lucky that they haven’t been able to pass any major legislation, but behind the scenes they are reshaping the court system with record numbers of appointments, because we stayed home in 2014.

As most of you know, Donna Brazile is trying to sell her book. And nothing sells books like a little controversy. Given her fall from grace in the Democratic Party, she doesn’t seem to care that the controversy that she is sowing will further divide us. Yes, I used to love Donna Brazile, but if she is willing to stir up controversy in order to sell books, then to hell with her. We should only look backward in order to learn how to better move forward.

I am a leftist. I am on the left of the Democratic Party. If there was a viable Democratic Socialist party in this country, I would surely vote for it. But I am also an avowed Pragmatist. There is a big difference between Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton, but there is a huge chasm between any Democrat and any Republican right now. Any Democrat is infinitely better than any Republican.

America has never had a working-class party. We have never had a viable Social Democratic Party. The closest thing we have are the Democrats. If we don’t vote for them, we are stuck with the Republicans. In the 1990s Bill Clinton moved the party to the right, in order to accomplish anything. Democrats elected Clinton in 1992, and then stayed home in 1994. The Republican wave that year brought Newt Gingrich the House and obstructionism over the next six years—sound familiar?

The Tea Party was formed by the Koch Brothers and big tobacco as a reaction to Barack Obama. They were the extreme wing of the Republican Party. They pushed the Party so far to the right that we got Trumped. They vote Republican—they don’t stay home and sulk that their party is not far enough in their direction, they got involved and pushed the party further in their direction. Take a lesson from the Tea Party—only on the left.

We oscillate between hope and despair. Don’t let despair keep you from voting. There is great wisdom in William James’s “The Will to Believe” –where he says that “believe in a fact can help bring about the fact”. If we don’t believe that we can make a difference, we are unlikely to try. William James was the godfather of Pragmatism.

As I said, I am very much on the left. So, let me provide you leftists with my favorite Marx quote: “each generation makes its own history, but not as it chooses.” Marx was above all a realist, and in this sense, he was a pragmatist. You have to work with what you have, not with what you want to have. Wanting things to change will not change them, working toward change with the most viable option is the only thing that is likely to work.

If we don’t act soon it may be too late.  The Republicans will be able to pass legislation over the next three years, if we don’t stop them. The only way to stop them is to take back Congress. From voting rights, to civil rights, from the environment to health care, they will destroy everything that liberals have worked for over the last few decades.

They don’t care about democracy, they care about power. And they will use any means to keep it, especially rolling back voting rights. If it is not too late for democracy in America, it may soon be too late.

The Democrats have one mission over the next year: come together and get out the vote. It may sound like hyperbole to say that this may be the most important election in your lifetime, but if you are paying attention to what is happening, you know that is true. Especially given the fact that we cannot go back and change the last election.

What Kind of a F#&*ing Person Does This?!

 

Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of the Puerto Rico recovery effort. He has also signed legislation to completely undermine The Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare). At the same time, he is threatening North Korea, and is going to decertify the Iran Nuclear Deal.

To say that Trump is unhinged would be an understatement.

On Tuesday night, General Barry McCaffrey told Brian Williams that he thinks we are headed unavoidably toward war with North Korea. Yesterday Nicholas Kristof, who just returned from North Korea thinks that they, too, are gearing up for an inevitable war with the United States. How can ‘cooler heads’ prevail when the biggest hot-head is in the Oval Office? For years, we have had a stand-off with North Korea. But we have had presidents, of both parties, who understood that we must remain calm. Trump could start a nuclear war with the same emotional storm in which he starts his Twitter-tantrums.

This is a man who is willing to hold 800,000 young people hostage (the DACA program) in order to build his “wall”—which even Republicans know is a cost-benefit disaster.

Everything about Trump can be understood as “undo everything that Obama accomplished”. Obama wanted better health care for millions—undo that. Obama wanted a nuclear treaty with Iran—undo that. Obama is a humanitarian—Trump is the opposite. Obama wanted peace…this is getting scary. From clean energy, environmental protection, affordable health care, treaties with other countries… Trump will do the opposite. We can use child psychology to understand Trump, but we cannot control him. He is unhinged and is leading us inevitably toward war, and even some in his own party now recognize this.

He has done nothing about the opioid crisis, except to appoint Invisible Jared to head up something (nobody knows). This has gone nowhere while America is in a drug crisis manufactured by our own pharmaceutical companies.

What, if anything, is it going to take for his supporters to admit that they have been conned?  His tax plan focuses on the Estate Tax, which benefits him and his billionaire friends. He has not even proposed an infrastructure plan, except as a surreptitious tax-cut for corporations which will supposedly ‘stimulate’ private spending.

He, and his minion Betsy DeVos, are trying to destroy public education. But for his Chief Strategize Steve Bannon, who now works for him outside the White House, even this isn’t far enough. Bannon wants to destroy even more, threatening to push the Republican Party even further to the right.

If America is lucky we will avoid a disaster for the next 18 months. But if the Democrats don’t get their shit together and turn out the vote, if we cannot take back the House and Senate in next year’s election, then we are going to pay the price for decades.

Democrats have one main job for the next year—get out the vote!

Should Professors Stop Opining About Trump?

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In last Friday’s New York Times, professional critic Stanley Fish criticized a group of history professors who call themselves Historians Against Trump, for speaking out against the presidential candidate Donald Trump. Fish argues that although they have a right to state their opinion as citizens, they have no right to state their opinion as historians.

Maybe Fish should also criticize climate scientists for speaking out about climate change, given the climate change has also become a political issue. Maybe Fish should tell evolutionary biologists to keep quiet about evolution, given this hotly charged political issue. Fish himself is a law professor. Maybe he should tell law professors that they have no right to write opinion pieces about the constitutionality of some of our legal and political practices…

If this sounds like I am making a reducio ad absurdum out of Fish’s opinion piece– I am: because it is an absurd position. Historians not only have a right to speak out, they have a duty to do so.

“Those who do not remember the past [history] are condemned to repeat it”. This is the warning that George Santayana gave us, and it bears repeating. Historians are uniquely positioned to remind us of what happened in the past and when the results were disastrous. Actually, some of the ‘prophets’ in the Old Testament were simply issuing ‘warnings’ about the direction people were heading– “those who do not remember how to get to the water supply are condemned to die of thirst”.

The United States of Amnesia. This was the term Gore Vidal used to warn Americans of the disastrous results of never remembering what happened in the past. Sometimes we all need a little reminding.

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Maybe Stanley Fish ought to tell political scientists that they should not explain to us what fascism is.

In an appropriately titled book, Fascism: Why Not Here?– Brian E. Fogarty “draws parallels between German culture of the early twentieth century and American culture today”. He wrote the book before the rise of the Tea Party. And I had to go back and read it again after the rise of Trump. It is a very scary book. And we ought to heed his warning.

Most Americans are not just forgetful, they are ignorant as to what is really happening. Who can blame them? It takes a great deal of time and effort (and frustration) to understand more deeply what is happening and why. It is just easier to watch Fox ‘news’, and then vote their conscience.

Maybe historians, and other professors, are speaking out now because they are concerned that if Trump wins the presidency they will not have the ability to speak out later. This happened not just in Nazi Germany, but in the United States during World War I. Many prominent university professors were fired from their positions for merely questioning whether the US should get involved in a European war.

In fact the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the tenure system were started after this disastrous fiasco. John Dewey (my intellectual hero) explained that professors were hired as ‘public intellectuals’– they should not be fired for saying what they think. (By the way there is a fine line between knowledge and opinion that would take too long to explain here.)

The Republicans hate the tenure system nearly as much as they hate very educated liberals. They would love to do away with both, so that they can go back to firing people for saying things they don’t like. Trump has already barred reporters he doesn’t like from attending his rallies. This is the first step toward a ‘slippery slope’ (that I don’t think is a fallacy). The right of freedom of the press is extended to academic freedom. And sometimes a duty to speak out.

Most people do not know who Stanley Fish is, but even less know who I am. However, as I said before I am tired of remaining silent. And I will continue to speak out, not just as a concerned citizen but as a college professor of philosophy (with a focus on ethics and political philosophy).

By the way Mr. Fish, if Trump gets elected and the results are disastrous– do we then not have the right to say “we tried to warn you”.

The Economics of Climate Change

In his state of the union address, President Obama made it explicit that while we have made progress with regards to reducing our carbon footprint over the past four years, for the sake of our future children, we must do more to fight against the growing problem of climate change. In addition, while we could choose to think that the increased global temperature, the most severe drought in decades, and the increased frequency of natural disasters was just mere coincidence, chances are they are a result of the massive amount of greenhouse gas emissions which have become trapped in our atmosphere.

Amongst climate scientists, there is no doubt that the earth is warming. There is also little doubt that the warming is due to the significant increase of greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution caused by human activity. And furthermore, there is also little doubt that the warming of the planet is causing and will continue to cause (at an increasing rate) significant harm to our ecosystem and in turn humanity.

Recently, Richard Muller, an outspoken critic of global warming and a professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley, began a two year study on the issue. It’s worth noting that this study was funded in part by the billionaire Koch brothers, known for their massive contributions to conservative and libertarian free-market organizations. The result of the two year study – the outspoken skeptic is no longer a skeptic. Muller concluded after extensive research, not only is the global temperature rising, but also the rise in temperature is almost entirely caused by the increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity.

But, to anyone who has investigated or studied the issue, this is not surprising. The problem however is that while these findings should be causing a sense of global fear about our environmental situation, those fears are being drowned out by the greed of corporations and special interest groups. The problem is not so much a problem of awareness but rather a problem of how to get the political community to do something about the situation, especially with such political gridlock regarding the issue.

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