What’s the matter with Kansas … Republicans?

CNN

What’s the matter with Kansas … Republicans?

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large     June 9, 2017  

Story highlights

  • While a lot of the country swung to the right in 2016, Kansas swung back toward the center
  • Brownback promised to gain 25,000 private sector jobs a year during his re-election campaign and the state is not close to achieving that

Washington (CNN) When then-Sen. Sam Brownback was elected governor of Kansas in 2010, he promised to turn the state into a fiscal conservative paradise. For residents of the Sunflower State, the intervening years have fallen well short of that dream. Brownback’s struggles reached a climax earlier this week when the strongly Republican state legislature jettisoned the tax cuts that had been the centerpiece of his governing vision. I reached out to Bryan Lowry, a political reporter at the Kansas City Star, for answers. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below.

Cillizza: Earlier this week, a heavily Republican state legislature overrode a veto of a tax increase by the conservative governor. So, what gives?

Lowry: While a lot of the country swung to the right in 2016, Kansas swung back toward the center. Moderate Republicans ousted conservative incumbents in the August primary last year, and Democrats also made gains in the November general election — even though the state went for Trump by double digits. These candidates won their elections specifically by campaigning on a promise to repeal Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts.

These tax cuts, which Brownback had promised would lead to astronomical job growth, had really become politically toxic over the last four years. The state was running into a budget crisis every six months pretty much from November 2014 onward. For the current year, Kansas faced a roughly $900 million budget shortfall (over the next two years) and an order from the Kansas Supreme Court to increase education funding, so raising taxes was pretty much unavoidable unless you really wanted to make deep cuts to everything but K-12 education. And after three sessions of looking for one-time fixes, I think a lot of members of the Legislature were just ready to end the perpetual budget crisis.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that this was a bipartisan effort. No faction of the Legislature — Democrats, moderates, conservatives — held enough seats to pass a tax plan on their own.

Cillizza: Brownback, from the second he was elected, portrayed his governorship as an experiment in conservative governance. Is the veto override the final sign that the experiment failed?

Lowry: At the very least, it failed politically in the last election. And Brownback’s signature policy — exempting the owners of limited liability companies and other pass-through business owners — was the part that really took the policy down with the general public. Even a lot of conservatives were running away from that part of the tax plan by 2016 because there was a real backlash against a policy that wage-earners found unfair. It was a really effective talking point: Why are you paying taxes on your wages when your boss isn’t?

But I think if you look at statistics, it’s hard to argue that this policy lived up to Brownback’s promises. The governor promised to gain 25,000 private sector jobs a year during his re-election campaign and the state is nowhere close to achieving that. Kansas ranks 48th in the nation for private sector job growth for April 2016 to April 2017.

Brownback has blamed that on other factors like a sagging commodities market, but most of the states around Kansas have been able to grow jobs at a faster rate in recent years. Even the supporters of the tax cuts who think it would have spurred economic growth in the long term think Brownback erred by not aggressively cutting spending. The tax cuts did not pay for themselves.

Cillizza: Kansas has long had a sort of civil war between moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans. What’s the status of that fight today?

Lowry: The fight just escalated. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach just launched his campaign for governor Thursday. Kobach has crafted some of the strictest voting laws in the country and has been at the forefront of the movement against illegal immigration that carried Donald Trump into the White House.

At his campaign kickoff Thursday, he made a point of hammering the moderate Republicans who voted for the tax increase, accusing them of the stealing from hard-working Kansans. He linked the tax increase to the amount of money the state spends on providing public services to illegal immigrants, citing figures from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers extremist.

Kobach succeeded in linking the voting issue to immigration when he first ran for secretary of state in 2010, so it will be interesting to see if he succeeds in this effort to link immigration to taxes in the 2018 governor’s race.

2018 could bring the Brownback tax cuts back to life if Kobach wins the governor’s race and the moderates who voted for the tax increase don’t win their primaries. Expect heavy spending from Koch-linked groups, such as Americans For Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

Cillizza: Democrats came close to beating Brownback in 2014. Do they have any real hope of winning an open seat next November?

Lowry: We’ll see.

Paul Davis, the man who came close to beating Brownback in 2014, is going to pursue an open congressional seat after (Republican Rep.) Lynn Jenkins announced she won’t seek re-election. A lot of Democrats still saw Paul as their strongest statewide candidate.

So far, two Democratic candidates have officially declared and another one has hinted at a run and the three men represent really different strands of the Democratic Party.

Carl Brewer, the former mayor of Wichita, would be the first black governor of Kansas if he wins. Josh Svaty, a former lawmaker and state secretary of agriculture, has a lot of rural Democrats excited. He’s a farmer. He’s only in his 30s. And he has a lot of policy experience. But he had (an) anti-abortion voting record and some progressives are very wary about his candidacy. And then, finally, there’s Jim Ward, the current minority leader of the Kansas House. Ward has a reputation as a progressive bomb thrower. He’s been one of Kobach’s and Brownback’s fiercest critics in the Legislature and I’m picturing a state fair debate between him and Kobach going down like a vintage WWF title match.

Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “The lesson Republicans nationwide should take from Brownback’s plight is __________.” Now, explain.

Lowry: “Tread carefully.”

People love the idea of tax cuts, but they don’t always love the consequences. Brownback entered office in 2011 with a huge mandate, but six and half years later he’s become almost a pariah for doing exactly what he said he’d do: Cutting taxes.

Donald Trump, the Paris Agreement, and the Meaning of America

Resilience

Donald Trump, the Paris Agreement, and the Meaning of America

By Paul Arbair, originally published by Paul Arbair blog     June 14, 2017

Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change has sparked a global uproar. Yet America’s reluctance to reduce its use of fossil fuels is, in fact, logical. Not only because of the U.S. president’s overt denial of man-made climate change, but also and more fundamentally because it reflects America’s historical essence and trajectory.

So he did it. Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States of America, finally announced his decision to withdraw his country from the Paris Agreement on climate change. According to the White House occupant, this agreement negotiated by the Obama administration was a ‘bad deal’ for America, undermining its competitiveness and jobs, costing millions to its taxpayers, imposing disproportionate and unfair restrictions on its carbon emissions, and weakening its sovereignty. This agreement, he said, “is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States”. It is “a massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries”, and “the American family will suffer the consequences in the form of lost jobs and a very diminished quality of life.” Such a bad deal is unacceptable to a president who has pledged to ‘Make America Great Again’ and to put America and its workers first.

Obviously, Trump’s core supporters have cheered this momentous decision. The billionaire real estate mogul-turned-president, they say, has made good on a pledge he made during last year’s campaign, showing once again that he meant what he said. The rest of America, on the other hand, as well as much of the world, couldn’t be more outraged. By reneging on its commitment to help fight climate change alongside the international community, America is abdicating its claim to global leadership, many argue. By joining the group of countries that are not signed up to deal reached in the French capital in December 2015, a group that so far comprises only Nicaragua and Syria, it is even turning into a ‘rouge state’, some suggest. A state that rejects science, progress and enlightened values, choosing instead a one-way trip back to the ‘Dark Ages’. A state that cannot anymore be relied upon, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it just a few days ago, or even that represents a growing danger to the world. Sad!

In the U.S., Trump’s announcement has triggered a sharp reaction from cities, states and businesses, which have vowed to meet U.S. climate commitments regardless of what Washington says or does. More than 1,000 city mayors, state governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors signed a “We Are Still In” open letter to the international community, saying they are committed to delivering concrete carbon emissions reductions that will help meet America’s emissions pledge under the Paris Agreement. Billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg even promised to provide up to $15 million in funding that he says the United Nations will lose as a result of President Trump’s decision to pull out from the climate deal. Emblematic CEOs such as Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Robert Iger announced they would quit Trump advisory councils, and anti-Trump demonstrations have been held across the country.

Outside the U.S., the reaction has been no less virulent, and Donald Trump’s decision has been vehemently condemned across the international community. Emmanuel Macron, the young and newly elected French president, rebuked his U.S. counterpart in a televised speech – the first speech ever given in English by a French President from the Elysée Palace – condemning his decision as a historic “mistake” and issuing a call to “make our planet great again”. This call, a direct jibe at Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ election slogan, went immediately viral on social media… The leaders of the European Union and China, backed by India and Japan, announced they would fully implement the Paris Agreement despite Washington’s withdrawal. The deal, they insisted, is not up for renegotiation, despite what the U.S. president might say. Trump’s decision, many observers suggested, could actually trigger a wide-ranging geopolitical shake-up that would isolate the U.S., or even make it a ‘global pariah’, and hand China a chance for global leadership.

Beyond America’s geopolitical standing and diplomatic reputation, the reactions to Donald Trump’s decision have of course focused on what it may mean for the planet’s climate. A number of observers have suggested that the American president might actually be doing the world and global climate a favor: outside of the Paris deal, the U.S. will not be in a position to block progress as it has done so many times in the past on climate negotiations, and the rest of the world will therefore be able to step up its efforts. The ‘climate revolution’ they say, is already unstoppable anyway, including in the U.S. The stunning growth of renewable energies, fueled by rapid technological progress and by their falling costs, will ensure that the ‘decarbonization’ of the global economy accelerates in the coming years, whatever Mr. Trump may say or do.

Most analysts and climate activists, however, consider that the U.S. withdrawal will severely undermine the international community’s fight against climate change. The disengagement of the world’s only superpower and current second largest CO2 emitter – and by far the biggest carbon polluter in history– might in fact weaken the Paris Agreement in many ways. Not only because it may reduce incentives for some countries that only reluctantly signed up to the deal to meet their voluntary emissions reductions pledges, but also because it may slow down the pace of technological progress needed to enable the transition to ‘clean energy’. The U.S. indeed remains the world’s technological powerhouse, and a lot of the ‘solutions’ required to accelerate the deployment and use of renewable energies (e.g. concerning electricity storage or carbon capture) are expected to come from its research labs and tech companies. Without sufficient political support and government funding, these solutions may take longer to be developed, or even never emerge. In addition, America’s withdrawal will also undermine the Green Climate Fund, which aims to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to the changes already set in motion by past emissions, and to which the U.S. was the largest contributor in absolute terms. Trump’s decision, hence, appears to many as an irresponsible move, a ‘moral disgrace’ or even a ‘crime against humanity’. Future generations will reap catastrophes and conflicts, and “people will die” because of this reckless withdrawal, some have warned.

Climate change denier in chief

Of course, Donald Trump’s decision doesn’t really come as a surprise. Over the last few years he has repeatedly denied the existence of man-made global warming, calling it ‘fictional’, ‘bullshit’, or even a ‘Chinese hoax’ aimed at making U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. Obviously, there is no point in committing to reduce carbon emissions – and hence to enforce restrictive regulations on economic activity – if you believe that climate change is bullshit and/or a hoax. In addition, he had repeatedly promised during last year’s election campaign that he would repeal and renegotiate all international deals that he thinks do not serve America’s best interests – meaning pretty much all international deals, and certainly the Paris Agreement. Some had however hoped that he would change his tune once installed in the White House. Over the last few months, many tried to caution him against withdrawing from the climate deal, including some celebrity climate activists, economists, politicians, prominent members of his administration, and even his own daughter, Ivanka. Some out of conviction, and others for tactical reasons: it would be easier for the U.S., they argued, to control, steer and contain international climate change remediation efforts by being party to the Paris Agreement rather than as an outsider. Just a few days before his withdrawal announcement, European and G7 leaders also tried to persuade him to stay in the Agreement, stressing how much damage an exit would inflict on America’s global standing and leadership. Yet he chose to stick to his election pledge and to renege on the deal.

Donald Trump thus probably really believes that climate change doesn’t exist, that it is not man-made, or that it doesn’t matter. His supporters were in fact quick to point out that ‘climate science is not settled’, that human responsibility in climate change is not proven, and that global warming is anyway not the ‘paramount issue’ that ‘the left’ claims it is.

Yet it is 2017, and evidence is piling up that climate change is happening, that it results from human activity, in particular the burning of fossil fuels, and that it generates rising costs and risks for countries across the world. Global emissions of carbon dioxide have stabilized in recent years, and even apparently reached some sort of plateau, but the concentration of CO2 – and other greenhouse gases – in the atmosphere has continued to rise sharply as a result of past emissions and is now at record levels. Meanwhile, the planet is heating up at a record pace, exactly as climate scientists said it would. The 120-year global meteorological record shows that eight of the ten hottest years have occurred in the last decade, and 2014, 2015, 2016 all set new global temperature records. ‘Extreme’ weather and climatic events are multiplying across the globe, and sea level rise is accelerating worldwide. The science about man-made climate change is, in fact, as settled as science can be, given the partial and provisional nature of all scientific knowledge. And climate change is only one of the many aspects of human-induced environmental degradation, the extent of which is already for all to contemplate. Mankind, it is becoming obvious for all those who wish to see, is breaching several ‘planetary boundaries’, increasing the risk of triggering large-scale disruption of nature and of driving the earth system into a much less hospitable state.

In 2017, in fact, one can have only two reasons to keep denying the existence of man-made climate change: a complete lack of understanding of the basics of the greenhouse effect, and/or an objective interest in the continuation of the fossil fuel-based economic system. Donald Trump, it could be argued, has both.

His decision probably reflects his sheer ignorance of climate science, as well as of diplomacy and the international politics and economics of climate change. These are obviously not the only things he does not understand – in fact, his first few months in office have shown that ignorance is and will be a defining feature of his presidency. He himself recognized that he had no clue that some of the issues he would have to tackle as president “could be so complicated”, and that he thought being president “would be easier”. Climate change is just another “unbelievably complex” subject that probably eludes his comprehension, and on which he has therefore decided to follow his gut instinct: “Pittsburgh, not Paris”, that is… From this point of view, his decision on the climate deal only confirms that his presidency is, for the U.S. and for the world, turning into a farcical tragedy of historic proportions.

But Donald Trump also has an objective interest in the perpetuation of the fossil-fuel-based economic system. As a businessman he has made his fortune in real estate, building residential towers, hotels and resorts across America and the world. The construction industry is a major user of non-renewable resources, and is in particular heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Restricting the use of those resources or making them more expensive would inevitably raise the costs and hit the bottom line of companies like The Trump Organization, with which the president has failed to really sever ties. Moreover, Trump and the Republican Party are obviously under the influence of a powerful fossil fuel lobby, which has for years promoted ‘alternative facts’ to discredit or undermine climate science and splashed huge amounts of campaign cash on G.O.P. candidates. As a result, many Republican Party members and leaders have come to view climate change as fake science, designed to undermine America’s economy. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, in other words, might be first and foremost “a story of big political money”, perhaps “the most astounding example of influence-buying in modern American political history”.

The Trump MAGAthon

Yet Donald Trump’s decision does not only reflect his ignorance of climate science, his manifest conflicts of interest, or even the obvious influence of powerful fossil fuel lobbies over his administration and the Republican Party. In fact, even if a few coal and mining companies effectively lauded his move, most of America’s big oil and gas industry had actually urged him to remain in the Paris Agreement, at least officially, and criticized his decision to exit it. His own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who was until last year the CEO of America’s and the world’s largest oil major, ExxonMobil, was in favor of upholding the deal. In addition, most of America’s ‘big money’ actually voiced support for Paris, from Wall Street bankers to Silicon Valley’s tech giants. The U.S. ‘corporatocracy’, hence, cannot really be suspected of having pushed Washington to pursue narrow-minded, short-term national economic interests at the expense of the planet, not this time at least.

In addition, even if Donald Trump denies man-made climate change and has no grasp of “unbelievably complex” issues, even he must understand that the Paris Agreement is voluntary and does not, in itself, impose mandatory restrictions on the signatory nations nor penalties for failing to meet the pledged emissions reductions. Even he must understand that the U.S. contribution to the Green Climate Fund represents a minuscule portion of the Federal budget, and a very limited price tag for exerting influence and control over climate mitigation efforts across the world. Even he must understand the risks for America of isolating itself, of antagonizing its allies and partners, of retreating from its position of global leadership, and of leaving Europe cozying up to the Chinese. Yet he still thinks that it is in America’s best interests to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Why is that?

Could it be that Donald Trump is just pandering to public opinion, which has traditionally been more skeptical about climate change in America than in other parts of the world? That would probably not be a very clever move, as polls suggest that U.S. public opinion on climate change has significantly evolved in recent years, even if at the same time getting increasingly polarized. Concern about global warming is rising, and a significant majority of Americans actually opposes exiting the Paris Agreement. Most Americans want the U.S., on the contrary, to take “aggressive action” and to lead global efforts to fight climate change, even if they still rank the environment near the bottom of their list of priorities for the country. Overall, it is unlikely that Trump’s decision will win him or the Republican Party any additional popular support and any vote.

Could Donald Trump’s decision be then motivated by a genuine belief that exiting the Paris Agreement will help protect, save or promote American jobs? Jobs in the coal industry, in particular, which he has vowed to bring back to the U.S.? Once again, this is unlikely to be the main consideration here. Countless economists have pointed out that coal jobs are probably not coming back, whatever the President may say or do. Most economists also refute the claim that the Paris Agreement would cost the U.S. economy trillions of dollars in reduced output and millions of manufacturing jobs. On the contrary, they argue that without a decisive push for renewable energy the U.S. may miss out on the growth and jobs opportunities arising from the ‘clean energy revolution’. This debate is unlikely to be settled anytime soon, as trying to evaluate the net macroeconomic effects of the transition to renewable energy remains largely akin to guesswork at this stage. In terms of jobs, however, renewable energy technologies already create far more jobs than fossil fuels. In particular, the solar industry is creating jobs 17 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. Stifling renewables therefore means stifling one of America’s main job creation engines – obviously not a wise move when you pretend to be the champion of job creation for American workers.

So what, in fact, may lie behind the President’s decision?

Donald Trump, let’s remember, has pledged to ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA), in the sense of bringing the country back to the heydays of the 1950s and 1960s, when U.S. manufacturing ruled the world and humming factories provided plenty of well-paying jobs in the ‘flyover states’, in particular for white males with no or little education. The supposed ‘greatness’ of America in those days was entirely reliant on the extensive use of fossil fuels, and most particularly oil. Trump and his supporters thus believe, consciously or unconsciously, that making America ‘Great Again’ requires embracing or re-embracing fossil fuels and is incompatible with reducing carbon emissions – especially since these emissions, in their views, have no significant adverse effect on the environment. Renewable energies, on the contrary, are seen as ineffective, wasteful and environmentally damaging. In particular, wind turbines are, as Donald Trump tweeted, “monstrosities” that are “ruining landscapes” and killing millions of birds every year. They are “an environmental and aesthetic disaster”, not only “disgusting looking” but also “bad for people’s health” and “destroying every country they touch” as the energy they provide is “unreliable and terrible.” Investing in solar energy, on the other hand, is just a waste of money on “unproven technologies and risky companies.” And energy efficiency measures are potentially damaging too, such as those new “environmentally friendly” light bulbs that can cause cancer…

It would be easy to discard these tweeted assertions as uninformed, unfounded, dishonest, or just plain stupid – or to regard them as mere political posturing. Yet they find a wide echo across America because they reflect a deeply held perception of the existence of a close correlation between America’s ‘greatness’, and the unbridled use fossil fuels. A perception that extends well beyond the ranks of the Republican Party, even if in a diffuse way. And a perception that, from a historical perspective, actually corresponds to reality.

America’s fossil-fueled exceptionalism

America, in fact, likes to think of itself as ‘unique’ and ‘exceptional’. This uniqueness or exceptionalism, the story goes, is based on liberty, individualism, democracy, and free-market economics. It is those principles that have made America ‘a shining city on a hill’, a place like no other, where all men of goodwill, regardless of their origin, social class or circumstances of birth, have a chance to pursue a life of opportunities, to achieve prosperity and success through hard work in a society with few barriers, and to reap the rewards from their efforts for themselves and their children. A place where everyone even has an ‘unalienable right’ to pursue ‘happiness’ and can live the ‘American Dream’. It is those principles, Americans often claim, that have made the U.S. the ‘greatest country in the world’, the most powerful and richest nation in history, and a country that in turn has a ‘manifest destiny’ to promote and defend freedom throughout the world…

This quasi-religious mythology, which is cherished and even revered across the American political spectrum, makes up for a nice story, but a story that does not fully reflect historical reality. Political and economic freedom have of course played an important role in America’s ascent, but they have not arose in a vacuum or flourished on a blank sheet. They have taken root in a land blessed with an unusual abundance of natural resources: thousands of acres of fertile land, abundant fresh water, and a wealth of mineral resources – stone, sand, salt, gold, silver, copper, as well as coal, oil, or natural gas. They have taken root in a land that, also, had loads of space, with a large land mass that early on became governed by one political system, that was largely empty once the indigenous population had been ‘removed’, that was bordered by two large coastlines providing food and later ports for commerce, and that was easily accessible via ocean or land and hence attractive to immigrants. Even with all these blessings, though, America’s early economic rise required more work capacity than what could be provided by incoming European immigrants and paid for by its nascent productive system. This work capacity got procured, then, in the form of slave labor. Slavery, in fact, played a much more critical role than individualism, democracy, or free markets in the economic development of the pre-industrial United States. And it is only when industrialization started to take hold in the country – i.e. when the use of various types of machines powered by fossil fuels started to significantly expand the work capacity available to the economy – that it finally renounced slavery. From then on, America embarked on an era of rapid growth that brought it to the top of the world’s economic table at the turn of the 20th century.

What is important in this story is that America’s economic rise has resulted from many factors, but most fundamentally from the fantastic expansion of the ‘capacity to perform work’ available to its economy. This capacity to perform work, in physics, is called ‘energy’. In pre-industrial United States, slave labor provided a significant part of the energy required for the productive system to expand. As America started to industrialize, the energy of slaves got replaced by the much more abundant, powerful and cheap energy obtained from fossil fuels. With coal and then even more with petroleum, the world in fact gained access to sources of energy that were far more powerful, economic, convenient and versatile than anything mankind had been able to use until then. Most importantly, fossil fuels provided energy inputs of much higher quality than previous energy sources in terms of their ability to power useful or productive work, and also of much higher energetic productivity in terms of their ability to deliver massive amounts of ‘net energy’ to society, i.e. energy available to do many other things than procuring, processing and distributing energy. America had plenty of the stuff, and the ideal setting for making full use of it, unconstrained as it was by legacy social and political straitjackets, and populated by a still scarce but rising population eager to fully exploit the riches of their new promised land.

Fossil fuels have therefore been instrumental in making America the world’s leading economic power. Without fossil fuels and the formidable economic expansion they made possible, America would probably not have become the industrial, technological, military and political superpower that it is. Without fossil fuels, there would have been no flamboyant city skylines and no sprawling residential suburbs, no interstate highway system, no mechanized agriculture or industry and no superabundant consumer goods, nor all the joys of the modern consumer culture. Without fossil fuels, there would have been no American muscle cars, no Harley-Davidsons, no Route 66, and of course no Boeings. Without fossil fuels, America would not have won two world wars, built the most powerful military apparatus the world has ever seen, and sent men to the Moon. Without fossil fuels, America would probably not have achieved “the world’s highest standard of living”, given rise to the largest middle class in human history, or come to be seen as a land where anyone can be free to pursue opportunities and dreams. Without fossil fuels, in other words, there might have been no ‘American Dream’ and no ‘American greatness’. As an ‘exceptional’ cultural, historical, anthropological and even civilizational reality, America owes probably far more to fossil fuels, and most particularly to oil, than to liberty, individualism, democracy, and free markets.

Carbon-based empire

The correlation between America’s ‘greatness’ – in the Trumpian sense of the term – and fossil fuels is thus obvious. But what is maybe more important here is that fossil fuels also constitute the fundamental foundations of America’s power structure. Ever since the discovery and exploitation of U.S. petroleum in the second half of the 19th century, the fossil fuel industry has not only exerted massive political influence, but even held considerable political power in the U.S. To this date, it keeps a tight grip on Washington and also on many individual states, even those that have a reputation of being ‘green’ and ‘progressive’, such as California. More importantly, fossil fuels are embedded in every aspect of America’s capitalist system, and in particular in its financial system. The modern financial system was actually developed to support the rapid economic growth that took off in the 19th century with the phenomenal amounts of cheap energy made available through the exploitation of fossil fuels. Since then, there has always been a tight connection between America’s fossil fuel-based energy system and its financial system.

Moreover, fossil fuels also constitute of the fundamental foundations of America’s global power. America’s use of fossil fuels has grown almost unabated to this day, and despite being endowed with massive reserves it has had to import more and more of its fossil energy, and particularly oil, from abroad. U.S. oil production peaked in the early 1970s and then declined steadily for several decades until the recent ‘shale oil’ boom, forcing America to find ways of ensuring that ever more oil could be procured from across the world – and more particularly the Middle East – to feed its economic machine, at a reasonable cost. To this end it established as of 1973 the ‘petrodollar’ system, by which most global oil trade is being denominated in U.S. dollars, and which has become the cornerstone of its global power. This system underpins the dollar’s reserve (and international trading) currency status through the need for all foreign governments to hold dollars to buy oil, and ensures that most of the dollars spent by the U.S. to purchase oil from abroad flow back at some point into the U.S. financial system, as foreign governments park their dollars in U.S. banks or use them to invest in U.S. securities or assets.

This ‘petrodollar recycling’ system creates a never-ending demand for U.S. dollars, and ensures that billions of dollars flow back, year after year, from oil producers to America, propping up financial assets and boosting the U.S. economy. The importance of this endless flow of dollars is often overlooked, yet it lies at the very heart of America’s global power. It is the very reason why the U.S. has been able to uphold the ‘exorbitant privilege’ of emitting the world’s reserve currency after the collapse of the Bretton Woods international monetary system, and hence the privilege of being able to run twin deficits (government and current account) without adverse economic effect. On the contrary, this flow of dollars has increased liquidity in the U.S. financial markets and pushed interest rates down for decades, contributing to non-inflationary growth in America. It has been instrumental in the relentless financialization of the U.S. economy and the growth of an increasingly predatory financial system, which has made possible the debt-fueled economic expansion of the last decades and enabled many Americans and the U.S. government to live beyond their means. It has, also, made it possible to finance the growth of the U.S. military apparatus and the extension of its military presence across the globe, which prime objective is to ensure that nobody messes with the system that conveys dollar-denominated oil to the U.S. or to its trading partners, and billions of dollars back to America. It has, finally, enabled an international build-up of debt denominated in U.S. dollars, which itself further boosts the international demand for dollars and their regular flow back to the U.S. It has been instrumental, in fact, in the maintenance of a global economic system that not only allows one country to exert disproportionate control over international financial flows, but also, and more fundamentally, that enables less than 5% of the world’s population to consume close to 20% of global energy – and even significantly more when taking into account the energy consumed in other countries to produce ‘stuff’ for the American consumer.

This ‘wealth pump’ effect is, in fact, characteristic of an ‘imperial’ system, which in the case of the U.S. is intrinsically linked to the continuous and growing use of fossil fuels. In other words, fossil fuels – and the carbon emissions that their use generates – are at the very heart of America’s global power. The U.S., it can be argued, is fundamentally a carbon-based empire, which regardless of what its politicians may say does not have an objective interest in promoting the ‘decarbonization’ of the world’s economy – that is, if one chooses to ignore or deny the long-term effects of climate change. Nor does it have an objective interest, it should be noted, and contrary to widespread belief, in reaching ‘energy independence’. Such independence would indeed stop the flow of petrodollar recycling into the U.S. financial system and economy and, over time, wreck the ‘wealth pump’ that has made the U.S. the global superpower that it still is. The U.S., in fact, did not become wealthy and powerful by producing energy but by consuming it – directly and indirectly – and by putting in place the means that ensure that it can consume far more than others.

The debate about Donald Trump’s decision to pull out from the Paris Agreement therefore probably misses the point if it remains focused on the inanity of the American President’s climate change denial, on the outrageous political influence of the U.S. fossil fuel lobby, or on the fact that America may be missing the train of the ‘clean energy’ revolution. These are of course very important issues, which deserve careful consideration. In particular, the capability of variable renewable energies such as solar and wind to power the modern world requires further examination. Despite recent investments, technological progress and price drops, solar panels and wind turbines still only produce a small fraction of the world’s energy, and it would actually take giant technological leaps forward for wind and solar to become more powerful, economic, convenient and versatile sources of energy than fossil fuels, capable of delivering energy on the scale needed to replace them. But what is much more fundamental to understand America’s course is that the intended transition away from the exploitation of ‘stocks’ of concentrated chemical energy and towards the harnessing of diffuse and intermittent natural energy ‘flows’ represents much more than just a substitution of a set of energy sources by another. If carried out in full, it will amount to a complete re-engineering of humanity’s societal ‘metabolism’ (i.e. the set of processes by which human societies and their various components ‘exchange’ energy and matter with their biophysical environment and between themselves), as well as of the corresponding power structures and relations. A re-engineering that is probably incompatible with the perpetuation of America’s imperial ‘wealth pump’, and perhaps even with the existence of any kind of imperial wealth pump for that matter.

One could think that America is capable of facing up to the demise of its carbon-based empire, which is anyway destined to wane as fossil fuels get depleted, and hence as their energetic quality and productivity decreases. Yet it has for many years obstructed international climate change remediation efforts, including under Barack Obama. And if it finally signed up in 2015 to an international agreement aimed at reducing carbon emissions, it was in fact to an agreement that, despite being the best the international community could achieve, is largely toothless and inadequate to contain global warming under the intended 2 degree Centigrade threshold – something that would require a far deeper and much faster ‘decarbonization’ of Western economies. Even this agreement was too much, though, for the new U.S. President, a man with no filter and little capacity for the hypocrisy that forms an integral part of international diplomacy, especially when it comes to climate change.

Once Donald Trump is removed from office, in 2020 or earlier, his or her successor might decide to bring America back into the Paris Agreement. This will maybe help reduce the damage inflicted to America’s international reputation by The Donald, but it won’t necessarily mean that the country is anymore committed to decarbonizing its economy. The U.S., which per person emits carbon at nearly double the level of Japan and three times the level of most European countries, is among the countries that have the widest margin for emissions reduction, and its greenhouse gas emissions are already on the way down: since their peak in 2007, they have actually decreased more in absolute terms than those of any other country. However, this drop has resulted from the replacement of coal with natural gas in electricity generation and from the economy’s sharp slowdown after the 2008-2009 global recession rather than from the growth of renewable energies, and it may not continue if the American economy picks up significantly. America, despite the Obama administration’s standing on climate change, looked already set to miss its emissions reduction pledge under the Paris Agreement before Donald Trump’s decision to pull out, and even before his election.

It is therefore easy and probably justified to vilify Donald Trump for his decision to exit the Paris Agreement, and to condemn him for his ‘crimes’ against the planet. This decision, though, does not mean that America dramatically reverses its course on carbon emissions reductions, but rather that it ceases to pretend. Imperial powers never voluntarily give up on what forms the basis of their imperial rule; on the contrary, they tend to cling to it and fight – literally – to maintain it for as long as they can. America’s carbon-based empire has no reason to be any different, and it will not give way without a fight, not even for the sake of Paris.

Amsterdam Mobilizes for a Clean, Prosperous Future

Resilience

Amsterdam Mobilizes for a Clean, Prosperous Future

By John J. Berger, originally published by Solutions Journal,  June 9, 2017

Amsterdam has ambitious aspirations to slash its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), phase out fossil fuels, and usher in a clean energy future.

The city’s sustainability vision is panoramic in scope, encompassing the management of public space as well as how energy, water, and material resources can be used more efficiently.

City leaders are convinced that the same steps that Amsterdam must take to reduce and ultimately eliminate fossil fuels will also improve air quality, reduce traffic, make buildings more comfortable, and render the workforce more productive, all while saving citizens money.

As its leaders are drawn toward a vision of Amsterdam as a clean, prosperous, and sustainable city, they are also motivated by a desire to avoid the problems that fossil fuel dependency entail. These include air and water pollution, price volatility, and limited fuel reserves, hence the looming threat of eventual fuel shortages and price increases.

The Netherlands has been drawing down its once-abundant natural gas supplies for some time. It is projected that the country will have to start importing natural gas by 2025, as will much of the European Union.

In Groningen province, where most of the Netherlands’ natural gas is extracted, gas wells are being blamed for severe earthquakes over the past four years. Groningen residents have demanded a halt to gas production. If that happens, the Netherlands would become more dependent on Russian natural gas, a dependency which is politically unpopular.

In Amsterdam: A Different Energy. 2040 Energy Strategy,1 the city outlines its strategy for becoming sustainable by 2040, and for cutting GHG emissions 75 percent from 1990 levels. If Amsterdam succeeds, its emissions goal would surpass the European Union’s 60 percent emissions-reduction goal for 2040.

Municipal officials see the city’s 2040 GHG target as an important milestone that must be attained if the city is to reach its even more exacting goal of an 80 to 90 percent reduction in GHG by 2050. Achieving that, however, will be a lengthy process requiring broad cooperation, patience, and perseverance.

That’s one reason city officials have made it a practice for almost a decade to reach out to the business sector, government, and civil society groups to build a broad social consensus in favor of the city’s new energy and climate strategy.

So how did Amsterdam formulate its ambitious climate and energy planning programs, stealing a march on many other cities?

Origins of the City’s Sustainability Strategy

Amsterdam has had a municipal climate agency since 2006, long before most other cities. With that, the city also embarked on its first intensive studies of climate and energy. Those studies culminated in Amsterdam: A Different Energy. 2040 Energy Strategy, published in 2010.

Over the next four years, the city council and vice mayors led the city in creating and implementing a clean energy strategy that included goals for energy efficiency, as well as for solar and wind power.

During a wide-ranging interview in Amsterdam, Peter Paul Ekker, spokesman for Amsterdam Alderman Abdeluheb Choho, Vice Mayor for Sustainability, discussed the city’s ambitious sustainability goals and why Amsterdam is so receptive to innovative climate-protection programs.

A Culture of Openness

Ekker believes Amsterdam has high sustainability aspirations in part because, “there’s a lot of creativity and entrepreneurship” in Amsterdam, and also because the city has universities, a high-tech community, and “people with bright ideas.”

“If you come with a new idea” in Amsterdam, Ekker explains, “everybody is open to it. This is also why the city council has quite unanimously supported working on climate change and climate mitigation.”

Since 2014, the city has begun to hit its stride, scaling up programs and, according to Ekker, focusing on getting results across the board while developing and refining policy instruments. To an observer, the city also appears to be blessed with competent, dedicated leadership.

Securing Popular Support

A big reason why climate mitigation has strong public support in Amsterdam, Ekker explains, is that the municipality rallies support for climate mitigation not by trying to debate the impacts of climate change or scare the public, but by calling its climate policies “sustainability measures” and underscoring their economic and public health benefits. “Our analysis is that the public in general doesn’t need convincing on the need for mitigation measures,” he says. “But it does need examples and solutions on how to become a sustainable economy.”

The city therefore talks about what is technologically possible and cost-effective along with the co-benefits of sound climate policies, including cleaner air, fewer respiratory problems, and a more livable environment.

Thus, for example, the city’s policies on electric vehicles (EVs) are not specifically climate change-driven, Ekker notes. Support for those policies is borne of concern about public health.  Of course, the net results benefit the climate, too.

Moving away from fossil fuels also has real economic benefits, and “we are not afraid to celebrate that,” Ekker says. These benefits include attracting large companies, like Tesla, to Amsterdam. The electric auto maker now has its European headquarters in the city, and Ekker attributes this in part to the fact that, “we are front-runners in electric cars and electric transport.”

Carrots and Sticks for Sustainable Mobility

Amsterdam is also discouraging the use of inefficient fossil fuel vehicles by establishing restricted environmental zones in which older, less efficient vehicles are banned. “Dirty trucks, dirty cars, [and] motorcycles in the future, will not be allowed to enter the city anymore,” Ekker asserts.

Apart from imposing progressively tighter regulations on polluting vehicles, the city also provides incentives to encourage the switch to EVs.

“Public transport is going to be totally electric by 2025,” according to Ekker. Some businesses have already opted to have their delivery trucks drive to the edge of the city using fossil fuels and then transfer to an EV, as it’s cheaper to enter the city in an EV.  This, Ekker believes, could be a model for other cities.

The city is also currently changing from diesel to electric buses, and has 40 electric buses on order for delivery within three years. Ultimately, all of Amsterdam’s public transport will be emission-free.

By 2025, all the city’s taxis will also have to be electric.  The city’s taxi fleet will have gradually worn out by then, and will be replaced by electric taxis. “Technology is coming to our aid,” Ekker observes.  “In two or three years, you’re going to have a fine Tesla for US $35,000 [that will be] comparable to any taxicab that you buy now.” EVs, however, will be cheaper to maintain and operate than fuel-burning cars.

Amsterdam also has a subsidy program for EVs, providing €5,000-6,000 to a business buying an electric van, and up to 40,000 to a business buying a large, heavy electric truck.

In addition, EV owners in Amsterdam receive tax credits and avoid the increasingly onerous regulations being applied to fossil fuel vehicles in the city. In fact, those with the dirtiest vehicles are not granted city parking permits at all.

Finally, fuel costs in the Netherlands and Europe are far higher than in the U.S., which makes EVs even more attractive economically. Gasoline in the Netherlands now costs US$1.80 per liter, or US$6.80 per gallon.

Moreover, as part of a city noise abatement policy, commercial vehicles are not allowed to come into the city center on Sundays, unless they are electric, as EVs make less noise than fossil fuel vehicles.

So, while climate change may be a significant factor, what truly motivates people to make the switch to EVs in Amsterdam and the Netherlands? “Even if you don’t believe in climate change,” Ekker notes wryly, “you still can believe in a great Tesla car.”

Clean Power

The city plans to increase the number of households with rooftop solar generators from 5,000 to 80,000 by 2020, while it expands the city’s wind power generating capacity from 67 MW to 85 MW. The challenge Amsterdam faces in this regard is that whereas many residents are interested in solar, relatively few have suitable roofs to support rooftop generators.

The city has therefore been working with the owners of large factories and commercial buildings to arrange for them to lease their roofs to residents for solar energy generation. The city has even arranged for the “site”ing of residential solar collectors on the roof of a metro station.

The people of Amsterdam are also solicitous of their next generation. “All schools will have green roofs, solar panels, [and] good insulation,” according to Ekker. Green roofs insulate buildings, reducing heating and cooling needs. They thereby improve air quality along with occupants’ comfort. “It’s a win-win situation.”

Simultaneously, the city plans on becoming more flood-proof with the help of green roofs and better storm water management.

The Circular Economy

Amsterdam became a strong proponent of the “circular economy” once the city realized that it could replace a third of the building materials it used every year by recovering and reusing old building materials. “But to do that,” Ekker says, “you need to build smart,” by which he means constructing buildings so that they can be more easily recovered once the building has reached the end of its useful lifespan.

In addition, all concrete that the city uses in the future is going to be recycled. That will be “a huge CO2reduction,” Ekker says. In contracting with developers for buildings in Amsterdam, 30 percent of a prospective project’s rating is based on its sustainability score. High-risk projects get loans from the city’s new €50 million sustainability fund.

Amsterdam is already reusing municipal waste to co-generate heat and power for residents in the northern and western quadrants of the city. The waste is collected and delivered to a central incinerator with advanced pollution controls. Heat from the plant is distributed to households in large insulated pipes, replacing individual gas furnaces.

Excess heat from a gas-fired power plant on the east side of Amsterdam in Diemen serves residents in the city’s southern and eastern quadrants. Meanwhile, the city plans to create a region-wide heat network, extending from its Tata Steel smelter on the North Sea shore in Ijmuiden, 25 km west of Amsterdam to the city of Almere, 25 km east of Amsterdam.

In total, Amsterdam plans to have 102,000 homes on district heating by 2020 and 240,000 by 2040. Geothermal heat sources and surplus heat from urban greenhouses where flowers and vegetables are grown will provide heat throughout the region.

The city also strongly supports recycling and has ambitious city-wide recycling goals. Amsterdam seeks to more than double its 2015 recycling rate by separating 65 percent of urban waste by 2020 into resource flows of glass, paper, plastics, and even textiles.

City leaders believe that accomplishing its climate, energy, and recycling goals will make Amsterdam a more prosperous, cleaner, quieter, safer, more pleasant, and more affordable place to live. These improvements will also help make Amsterdam a more socially diverse, inclusive, and sustainable city.

Amsterdam has built a public consensus favoring its ambitious energy and climate program by emphasizing its health and economic benefits. Rather than focusing on the problem of climate change and emphasizing the severity of climate impacts, city leaders focus on the opportunities that ambitious solutions offer, particularly the money that could be saved or earned.

As Ekker says, “Solutions are where we can make an impact.”

Acknowledgements

Editorial assistance by Joanna Jiang.

As Climate Change Threatens Food Supplies, Seed Saving is an Ancient Act of Resilience

Resilience

As Climate Change Threatens Food Supplies, Seed Saving is an Ancient Act of Resilience

By Sarah van Gelder, originally published by YES! magazine    June 9, 2017

On Feb. 26, 2008, a $9-million underground seed vault began operating deep in the permafrost on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, just 810 miles from the North Pole. This high-tech Noah’s Ark for the world’s food varieties was intended to assure that, even in a worst-case scenario, our irreplaceable heritage of food seeds would remain safely frozen.

Less than 10 years after it opened, the facility flooded. The seeds are safe; the water only entered a passageway. Still, as vast areas of permafrost melt, the breach raises serious questions about the security of the seeds, and whether a centralized seed bank is really the best way to safeguard the world’s food supply.

Meanwhile, a much older approach to saving the world’s heritage of food varieties is making a comeback.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a group of volunteers in the northern Montana city of Great Falls met in the local library to package seeds for their newly formed seed exchange, and to share their passion for gardening and food security.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen to our climate in the future,” said Alice Kestler, a library specialist. “Hopefully, as the years go by, we can develop local cultivars that are really suited to the local climate here.”

For millennia, people the world over have selected the best edible plants, saved the seeds, and planted and shared them in sophisticated, locally adapted breeding projects that created the vast array of foods we rely on today. This dance of human intelligence, plant life, pollinators, and animals is key to how human communities became prosperous and took root across the planet.

The Great Falls Library Seed Exchange is continuing that tradition even while a modern agribusiness model works to reduce the genetic diversity of our food stocks and consolidate control over the world’s seeds. Six seed companies now control three quarters of the seed market. In the years between 1903 and 1983, the world lost 93 percent of its food seed varieties, according to a study by the Rural Advancement Foundation International.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that giant agribusiness companies have no interest in the vast varieties and diverse ways people breed plants. It is hard to get rich off of an approach based on the distributed genius of people everywhere. Such a model doesn’t scale or centralize well. It is intensely democratic. Many people contribute to a common pool of knowledge and genetic diversity. Many people share the benefits.

Making big profits requires scarcity, exclusive knowledge, and the power to deny others the benefits. In this case, that means the appropriation of the knowledge built up over generations, coupled with the legal framework to patent seed varieties and punish those who fail to comply.

Especially in a time of climate change, though, genetic diversity is what we need to assure food security and resilience.

The Great Falls Library Seed Exchange is on the second floor of the library, which sits less than a mile from the Missouri River. Climb the brick building’s big, central staircase, and you can’t miss the brightly painted seed catalog. Borrowers are encouraged, but not required, to save some of the seeds and return them to the library for others to plant.

The exchange began just over a year ago, and is one of 500-some seed libraries worldwide. It sources its seeds from local organic farms and distant companies that specialize in plants that can grow in the rugged terrain of the northern plains, as well as heirloom varieties that have proven their worth over generations of seed saving. Locals also bring in their favorite varieties to share.

Each grower chooses which of each variety to save for seed, and those choices shape future availability.

“Since we have such a short growing climate here, getting seeds from plants that fruit early is really advantageous,” Kestler said. Some growers, though, select for the biggest fruit; others for the best-tasting. This built-in diversity helps to secure a resilient food supply.

“The seed in its essence is all of the past evolution of the Earth, the evolution of human history, and the potential for future evolution,” author and seed saver Vandana Shiva told me when I interviewed her in 2013. “The seed is the embodiment of culture because culture shaped the seed with careful selection. That is a convergence of human intelligence and nature’s intelligence.”

The Norwegian doomsday vault makes an important statement about the irreplaceable value of the genetic diversity of our planet, and it may prove to be an important failsafe in the event of disaster. But the time-honored process of saving and sharing seeds is dynamic. It naturally adapts to changing conditions, like climate change, and keeps the power with people everywhere to make choices that assure local resilience.

“Seed saving is such an important political act in this time,” Shiva said. “Save the seeds, have a community garden, create an exchange, do everything that it takes to protect and rejuvenate the seed.”

Eric Trump shows that cluelessness runs in the family

CNN

Eric Trump shows that cluelessness runs in the family

By Michael D’Antonio     June 8, 2017

Eric Trump: Dems aren’t even people

Story highlights

  • D’Antonio: Eric Trump saying Democrats in D.C. “are not even people” shows a lack of moral compass similar to his father
  • Trump children have yet to face reality because they’ve never lived outside comforts provided by their billionaire dad

Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” (St. Martin’s Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)The nation is in a crisis that may soon exceed Watergate, at least in the estimation of James Clapper, former director of national intelligence. Having interfered with America’s election, Russia is disrupting governments around the world. China is racing to fill the gap created as world leaders conclude they cannot expect leadership from the United States. Top intelligence and law enforcement officials are testifying about a White House that crosses ethical lines. And Eric Trump wants us to know that he takes it all very personally.

The president’s 33-year-old son was asked Tuesday by Fox News host Sean Hannity, “Don’t you wish you went to Washington so you could be dealing with this every second of every day?”

Eric Trump replied, “I’ve never seen hatred like this. And to me, they’re not even people. It’s so, so sad. I mean, morality’s just gone. Morals have flown out the window. We deserve so much better than this as a country.” But the real pain, he wants us to know, is being felt by his family because, “They try and obstruct a great man, they try and obstruct his family, they come after us viciously, and it’s truly, truly horrible.”

Coming within hours of a report in Forbes that the Trump organization profited from events held to benefit Eric Trump’s cancer charity, young Trump’s complaints match his father’s record of audacity under fire. (A spokesperson for Eric Trump took issue with the Forbes story and called it “truly disgusting,” saying, “Contrary to recent reports, at no time did the Trump Organization profit in any way from the foundation or any of its activities” and pointing out the charity has raised more than $16.3 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.)

The President has long practiced the art of throwing stones from glass skyscrapers and it’s obvious the son has learned the lesson well. He also possesses a host of tendencies — to exaggerate, to personalize and to complain — that appear to have been direct inheritances.

With roughly 150 words, the youngest son of President Trump and his first wife, Ivana, provided compelling evidence he is as self-impressed and clueless as his father. Eric Trump has never lived outside the cosseted comfort provided by his billionaire father, and never worked outside the family enterprise. This background is not enough for anyone to consider that his personal experience matters much at all. Eric asking us to give weight to what he has seen reminds one of a 5-year-old who complains he’s never been given the keys to the car and therefore life is terribly unfair.

Even if we generously credit Eric for his life experience, we run immediately into his declaration that his father’s critics aren’t really people and that morality has been evicted from the public arena. Nothing in these words, or his expression, suggested that Eric recognized anything ironic about dehumanizing substantial numbers of people in one breath and complaining about the moral climate in another. And then there’s the question of just who might be responsible for the moral decay that bothers young Trump so much.

Were he to consult the record of the recent presidential campaign, his father’s business practices, or his own childhood, Eric Trump could find ample evidence that someone he knows quite well helped lower the standards for the moral example set by public figures.

When Eric was still in grammar school his father helped fuel a sex scandal that ended his marriage to Ivana Trump by leaking tidbits to reporters, who made the tawdry details of an affair public.

It was his own father who fanned the flames of racial tensions during the Central Park Five case, indulged in name-calling to publicly denigrate women, and spoke suggestively about his daughter (Eric’s sister) on the Howard Stern radio show.

Donald Trump’s moral compass directed him to exploit unsuspecting consumers with his Trump University and it led him to utter the gross words about molesting women captured by “Access Hollywood.” In politics Donald Trump’s morality moved him to encourage violence at his rallies, mock a disabled reporter, and call for his opponent to be imprisoned. And let’s not forget the cute names he used to describe his opponents.

Candidate Trump was such an exemplar of moral rectitude that parents were forced to teach their children that he was not a man to be imitated. One would hope that Eric had been taught better, but on Fox he chose to call the head of the Democratic National Committee “a whack job.”

In his name-calling, his emotion, his sense of entitlement, and his lack of self-awareness, Eric Trump showed he is every bit his father’s son. Were Donald Trump a noble figure, the prospect of a younger generation devoted to his presidency would be encouraging. However, Trump is proving to be so unfit — temperamentally, intellectually, and yes, morally — that the traits that bind the family together are more frightening than reassuring.

In the time I spent, while preparing to write a Donald Trump biography, with Eric, his sister Ivanka and his brother Donald Jr. I discovered they all suffered from a lack of experience outside the custom-made universe that revolved around their father. Like him they had always lived inside the precincts of wealth and power, where it was hard to imagine a problem their father couldn’t fix or a mistake he couldn’t repair.

Donald Jr. had worked for about a year in a bar and then joined the family firm. Ivanka had served a similar term in a real estate company headquartered in the same market as the Trump Organization. Eric had gone straight from college into the family enterprise, but sought to distinguish himself as the charitable one, by talking often about his work on behalf of kids with cancer.

As the youngest of the Donald/Ivana kids, Eric expressed the greatest devotion to his father and seemed most committed to the practice of denial that allowed him to tell me, with a straight face, that his father was on a par with Winston Churchill and President Theodore Roosevelt. (This was back when Trump had yet to even say he was entering the 2016 race.)

The older siblings were a bit less effusive, and Donald Jr. even confessed that his father rubs many people the wrong way. (Donald Jr. also stressed the idea that his family could best be understood as a product of breeding, as if the key traits were a matter of blood.) Not surprisingly, as they sat in their glowing offices, where they commanded their portions of the family empire, nary a word of dissent was ever uttered.

The loyalty expressed by Eric, Ivanka and Donald Jr. has placed them among the President’s most trusted advisers, and it should qualify them to give him a perspective that might help him stop the self-destructive cycle that has paralyzed his administration.

But as the world has prayed for the young Trumps, especially Ivanka, to intervene, they have proven to be inadequate to the task. Eric’s diatribe is yet another proof that the qualities that may bring ruin to the Trump presidency reside in some of his children as well.

The Koch Brothers: The Men Who Sold the World

EcoWatch

The Koch Brothers: The Men Who Sold the World

By Richard Eskow     June 8, 2017

When he withdrew from the Paris agreement last week, Donald Trump gave a speech so filled with falsehoods that it triggered detailed rebuttals by publications ranging from Politifact to Scientific American. The Washington Post‘s “Fact Checker” column, which hands out “Pinocchios” for false or misleading statements, was forced to note that “we do not award Pinocchios in roundups of speeches.” But by then Trump probably had more Pinocchios than the Disneyland gift shop.

But Trump is not the only truth-denier in the Republican Party. In a front-page story by Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton, the New York Times documented the GOP’s transformation from a party with leaders like John McCain and Newt Gingrich, who accepted the scientific consensus on the climate, to one whose leader believes it is a hoax perpetrated by China.

When Trump pulled the U.S. from the Paris agreement, “the Senate majority leader, the speaker of the House and every member of the elected Republican leadership were united in their praise.”

And the Times laid this transformation squarely at the feet of the Koch Brothers:

“Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil.”

The Koch network of funders spent an estimated $1 billion over the last few election cycles telling the Republican Party what to do. “It is, perhaps, the most astounding example of influence-buying in modern American political history,” wrote Jane Mayer in the New Yorker.

You could call Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell “the men who sold the world,” after the David Bowie song of the same name.

Climate Cronies

Trump and his party have been marching in lockstep with the fossil-fuel industry for some time now. Even before Trump took office, the Washington Post reported that “the fossil fuel industry is enjoying a remarkable resurgence as its executives and lobbyists shape President-elect Donald Trump’s policy agenda and staff his administration.”

That influence can be seen in Trump’s appointments, in his deeds and now in his budget.

The head of the EPA is the person responsible for protecting our air, land, and water. Trump chose Scott Pruitt, a longtime ally of the fossil fuel industry, to lead that agency. Pruitt is known for his unusually close ties to the that industry, which are extensive even by Republican Party standards.

As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt sued the agency he now runs many times. A CMD review of Pruitt’s emails showed that he allowed the industry to write the comments that he filed with federal agencies. The Koch Brothers’ network of shell “advocacy groups,” which CMD has analyzed at length, turned out in force to support Pruitt’s nomination.

Other Trump cabinet appointees are also closely allied with the fossil-fuel industry, including Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross, Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and of course Rex Tillerson, who led Exxon for years.

The fossil-fuel connection runs deep in the Trump Administration. The Sabin Center analyzed lower-level appointments in agencies responsible for energy, the environment and natural resources. It found that more than half of those appointed “appear(ed) to lack expertise and/or experience” related to their new responsibilities, while more than one-quarter “had close ties to the fossil fuel industry.”

Dirty Deeds

In March, Trump signed an executive order and made a number of other moves that helped the fossil fuel industry by cutting the EPA, easing up on regulations, approving the KXL pipeline, and overturning Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

Trump’s proposed budget, which was released in late May, would cut the EPA by nearly one-third. That budget also includes a number of deep cuts in science spending, including cuts in the kind of research that helps us understand how fossil fuels are harming our health and our planet. Those cuts would end funding for NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), which was established by Congress to track the effects of both natural and human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Other carbon research programs would be cut under the Trump budget. Science, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, observed that additional cuts to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) would “drastically cut into the agency’s climate research, shuttering a host of labs and programs.” The Department of Energy’s climate research would also be cut significantly under the Trump budget.

Science noted that climate expert David Victor believes that Trump’s proposed NASA cuts alone “would be a long-lasting setback to combating climate change.”

With Trump’s pullout from the Paris agreement, the U.S. becomes one of only three nations that is not part of that agreement. One of the other two, Nicaragua, wants a stronger agreement. The other is Syria, which is in the middle of a catastrophic civil war.

With the help of the Koch Brothers, Trump and the Republican Party have “moved in the opposite direction from virtually the rest of the world,” wrote Jane Mayer.

It’s time the world began to hold them to account.

Coal Jobs Aren’t Coming Back, No Matter What the Trump Administration Says

Newsweek Politics

Coal Jobs Aren’t Coming Back, No Matter What the Trump Administration Says

Alexander Nazaryan,   Newsweek   June 6, 2017

They did it for Pittsburgh. As he withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement last week, President Donald Trump made clear that the interests of the American worker were even more important than the inexorable destruction of the planet.

In the days that followed, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, known for his close relationship with the energy sector during his time as Oklahoma’s attorney general, made several press appearances in which he made an astonishing claim, one that seemed to bolster Trump’s argument of putting jobs ahead of the environment: “Since the fourth quarter of last year until most recently, we’ve added almost 50,000 jobs in the coal sector,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “In the month of May alone, almost 7,000 jobs.”

He repeated the claim as he made his circuit of Sunday political talk shows.

This is an incredible number. It would be even more incredible if it were true. Alas, it is not. As Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler points out, during Trump’s short and turbulent time in the Oval Office, only about 1,000 coal jobs have been added nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So where does 50,000 come from? In subsequent press appearance on Sunday, Pruitt referred to coal and mining jobs, seemingly recognizing that he’d grossly inflated the number of coal jobs gained, yet badly wanting the original number to stick with the public as one of the administration’s beloved “alternative facts.”

In fact, as Kessler and others have noted, 50,000 is also both an inflation and misrepresentation. That number has to do with jobs gained in a sector identified by the BLS as “support activities for mining,” of which there have been about 30,000 added since Trump took office. Nor can those gains be attributed to Trump’s striking down of Obama-era environmental regulations. Rather, it’s a simple swing of the market, as Kessler explains: “The plunge in oil prices that started in 2014 wiped out nearly 200,000 jobs in the oil and gas support sector by October, but a recent stabilization in oil prices has helped bring some of those jobs back. It has little to do with administration policy—and nothing to do with coal mining.”

It is Republican mantra that environmental regulations are a “job killer” and that American industry is being hampered by Prius-driving liberals who wouldn’t know a coal mine from an iron smelter. Conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation have long made the argument, even as major corporations like General Electric go increasingly green, in recognition of the high costs of climate change.

That coal is a dying industry is not a liberal wish but confirmable fact. For one, solar and wind power are now cheaper than fossil fuels. That’s one of several reasons that a report by the federal Department of Energy last year found that coal production had dropped precipitously in recent years, to levels not seen since 1981.

At the same time, Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the disastrous ramifications of global warming. A survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change conducted last month found that 69 percent of registered voters polled nationwide wanted the United States to stay in the Paris agreement.

But now we’re out, and the Trump administration is having a difficult time of making the case for why that was necessary. In large part, it has relied on the Pittsburgh-not-Paris politics of resentment mastered by chief White House strategist and ultra-nationalist Steve Bannon.

Pruitt’s defense of those policies, though, continues to go poorly. On Tuesday, the EPA chief appeared on Morning Joe, smirking away as he explained that “when you make decisions on environmental decisions internationally that we put America’s interests first.”

An irritated Joe Scarborough had none of it, pressing Pruitt: “Mr. Pruitt, it’s a simple question. Have you ever talked to the president about whether he believes climate change is real?”

Instead of answering the question, Pruitt fell back on his talking points.

Or at least tried to.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Scarborough interrupted, growing visibly annoyed. “I got to stop. I want to stop it. This interview has to stop in its tracks until I just get a yes/no answer from you on whether you think it’s important that Americans find out whether their president believes that climate change is a conspiracy theory based out of China.”

Pruitt eventually conceded that Trump does understand that the climate is changing.

Trump is finding it easier to tear down old policies than to build his own

The Washington Post Politics

Trump is finding it easier to tear down old policies than to build his own

By Jenna Johnson, Juliet Eilperin and Ed O’Keefe    June 4, 2017

Builder-turned-president Donald Trump has in many ways made good on his promise to be a political wrecking ball.

Last week, he withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord. He has worked to roll back dozens of health, environment, labor and financial rules put in place by former president Barack Obama, and he scrapped a far-reaching trade deal with Asia as one of his first acts in office.

But he and his fellow Republicans have made little progress in building an affirmative agenda of their own, a dynamic that will be on display when Congress returns this week with few major policies ready to advance.

Voters are still waiting for progress on the $1 trillion package of infrastructure projects Trump promised, the wall along the Southern border he insisted could be quickly constructed and the massive tax cuts he touted during the campaign. Even debate over health-care reform is largely focused on eliminating key parts of the Affordable Care Act and allowing states to craft policies in their place.

After being the “party of no” during the Obama years, Republicans are trying to figure out what they want to achieve in this unexpected Trump era — beyond just rolling back what Obama did.

“We are in an ugly era of people who do not understand what the legislative branch is even for,” said Andy Karsner, who served as assistant secretary of energy for efficiency and renewable energy in the George W. Bush administration and is now based in California, working with entrepreneurs as managing partner of the Emerson Collective.

The Trump administration and Republican leadership in Congress, Karsner said, “have no skill set, they have no craftsmanship. They have no connection to the time when people passed legislation.”

Trump’s aides fervently push back at the idea that the president is not already in building mode. Marc Short, Trump’s director of legislative affairs, rattled off a list of things the president has built so far: A better job environment with fewer regulations, relationships with fellow foreign leaders and U.S. lawmakers, a budget and a plan for overhauling health care, along with nominating Neil M. Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. The administration plans to roll out a number of infrastructure projects this week and tackle tax reform this fall, along with getting started on building a border wall, he said.

“The American people elected him president, in part, to undo much of the damage that President Obama did to our economy,” Short said.

But even some Republicans have raised questions about what the party now stands for, as opposed to what it is against.

Asked during a recent interview for a Politico podcast what the Republican Party stands for now, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) responded: “I don’t know.”

Sasse said that both parties are “intellectually exhausted” and too focused on winning the next election, prompting them to get caught up in day-to-day fights instead of looking to the future. Later, Sasse was asked to give one word to describe the Republican Party, and he said: “Question mark.”

Short said the Republican Party stands for keeping the country secure and freeing businesses so the economy can boom and taxpayers can keep more of their money. He added that the president has been slowed by congressional Democrats who dragged their feet in approving Cabinet nominees and continue to obstruct Trump’s agenda.

Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said the appearance that Trump and Republicans are only focused on reversing Obama-era executive actions stems from the fact that “there’s a lot to do there.”

“The one thing that I think is underappreciated is the extent to which the entire Obama agenda in the last term was executed through executive order. Much of what President Trump was elected to do was roll that back,” Holmes said. “To the extent that a lot of this is focused on that, that’s the way you handle it. Most administrations, there are legacies left by signature legislative accomplishments — and [Obama] had health care and Dodd-Frank, but he basically spent six and a half years doing nothing from a legislative perspective.”

Holmes, like many other Republicans, stressed that it’s early in Trump’s term, and he was encouraged to see the president focus on American taxpayers and improving the economy in announcing his decision to leave the Paris climate agreement on Thursday. That sort of focus will help rally support for tax reform, he said.

“I would be concerned if the trajectory didn’t improve. In the next couple of months, you don’t need signature accomplishments, but you need progress towards it,” Holmes said. “I think tax reform is critically important for this administration — critically important. They’ve got to get it right.”

For many Democrats, all they see in Trump and his fellow Republicans is a bulldozer. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that the past six months have shown that “the hard right, which has enveloped the Trump administration, is seasoned at being negative but can’t do anything positive.”

Republicans have used the Congressional Review Act to nullify 14 rules enacted by the Obama administration. Before this year, it had only been used successfully once in 20 years. If Trump and Republicans had not reversed these rules, then companies applying for federal contracts would have had to disclose their labor violations; coal mines would have had to reduce the amount of debris dumped into streams; telecommunications companies would have had to take “reasonable measures” to protect their customers’ personal information; individuals receiving Social Security payments for disabling mental illnesses would have been added to a list of those not allowed to buy guns; states would have been limited in the drug-testing they could perform on those receiving unemployment insurance benefits; certain hunting practices would not have been allowed on national wildlife refuges in Alaska; and states could have set up retirement savings plans for those who don’t have the option at work.

Short said the fact that Trump was able to use the Congressional Review Act more than a dozen times when it had only been used once before is “a pretty significant accomplishment” and one that he says will benefit the economy by billions of dollars each year.

“We look at that as one of the biggest accomplishments,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) recently touted this rollback of Obama-era regulations while visiting a nuclear power plant in Tonopah, Ariz., bragging that Republicans were able to “reach back into the old administration and pull some of the regulations and start fresh.”

Within agencies, the Trump administration has also worked to scrap regulations that it says hindered businesses.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, the administration has revoked several Obama-era policies aimed at reducing pollution and confronting climate change. Trump has signed an executive order to open up oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, while Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has signed a secretarial order to revisit drilling plans in two reserves in Alaska.

Trump has directed the Labor Department to reverse Obama-era rules imposing restrictions on major banks and investment advisers, and the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has also rolled back multiple regulations aimed at fostering worker protections. These include the delay of a rule requiring employers report worker injury and illness records electronically so they can be posted online, and the cancellation of a directive allowing a union official to accompany an OSHA inspector as an employee representative into a nonunion shop.

Multiple agencies have jettisoned or played down policies aimed at fostering LGBT rights. The Department of Housing and Urban Development revoked guidance for a rule requiring that transgender people stay at the sex-segregated shelter of their choice, while the Department of Health and Human Services has removed questions about sexual orientation from two of the surveys it conducts. The Justice and Education departments, moreover, withdrew guidance issued last year that instructed school districts to provide transgender students with access to facilities that accord with their chosen gender identity.

And while Republicans continue to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration has begun to unwind aspects of the legislation through executive action, including no longer enforcing a fine for those who do not have health insurance, broadening exemptions for the contraception mandate and encouraging states to file waivers with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Trump has also proposed significant budget cuts, including reducing the State Department budget by 33 percent, the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, the departments of Agriculture and Labor by 21 percent each, the Department of Health and Human Services by 18 percent, the Commerce Department by 16 percent and the Education Department by 14 percent.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said that career employees at the EPA and departments of Labor and State have told him that Trump’s “destroy not build” approach is causing harm that could last for decades.

“They see their life’s work crumbling, because they see a president taking a sledgehammer to really complex aspects of policy,” he said. “They realize there’s pros and cons and conflicting interests, and they’ve tried to reach compromises that he just impulsively destroys because it was a good campaign slogan.”

Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.

Donald Trump’s Biggest GOP Critics Are Very, Very, Very Sad

HuffPost

Donald Trump’s Biggest GOP Critics Are Very, Very, Very Sad

Eliot Nelson,  HuffPost    June 4, 2017

Whither the Never Trumper?

It’s been a difficult few months for the small but outspoken group of prominent Republican consultants, operatives and media figures who opposed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Since Trump’s inauguration, these party renegades have had to come to terms with the political ascension of a man hellbent on sabotaging a party and an agenda they’ve worked decades to promote.

Put simply: The Never Trumpers have been better. If you’re envisioning a bunch of people in business attire swaddling themselves in bed all day, you wouldn’t be far off.

“I’m emotionally unwell,” quipped Jeb Bush’s former communications director, Tim Miller, “but I’m doing my best.”

“I guess there’ve been some points that haven’t been as brutal as others,” said Meghan Milloy, a co-director of Republicans for Hillary. “It kind of fluctuates day to day based on the news cycle.”

A lot of people and things aren’t faring well during the Trump presidency ― immigrants, women, Muslims, refugees, the LGBTQ community, European Union officials, workers, people with pre-existing conditions, Syrian civilians, arctic ice sheets, Sean Spicer, diplomatic protocol officers, endangered species, journalists and Seth Rich’s family, to name a few. In such an environment, one isn’t inclined to feel much sympathy for a group of GOPers estranged from their party establishment. Far worse fates can befall a person than not landing a West Wing office or being unable to nab GlaxoSmithKline as a lobbying client because that person isn’t tight with Jared Kushner.

But let’s spare a moment for the Never Trump Republican, if only because it’s a significant development when so many of the biggest detractors in the ruling party are disillusioned and in disagreement over whether there is anything to be done about their predicament.

The Never Trumpers interviewed for this piece were uniformly appalled by the fire hose-like stream of White House scandals inundating the news. But they’re more despairing over the president’s abandonment of key conservative principles, along with a sense that he has blown the opportunity to advance the principles he does support.

“It’s frustrating for me as a conservative,” said former Ted Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler. “We were told if we won the House and got our speaker in there that all of these wonderful things would happen and that wasn’t true.”

Those “wonderful things” include efforts to overhaul the tax code, repeal Obamacare and gut Wall Street regulations ― ambitions that the Trump administration’s myriad organizational shortcomings and the investigations into Russian connections have largely sidelined.

As if Trump’s own goals weren’t agonizing enough, Never Trumpers fret over the president’s ongoing rhetoric targeting longheld conservative principles. Rick Wilson, a veteran GOP consultant and pundit, took particular umbrage with the president’s proposed budget.

“You can’t pretend that proposing a giant, budget-busting, fantasy math budget like they proposed is fiscal conservatism,” Wilson said, adding that he wasn’t surprised that the president abandoned “most [fiscal] conservative principles and engaged in a narcissistic daily temper tantrum.”

“We’ve got a president who’s telling companies what they can and can’t do, where they can and can’t move, where their workers can and can’t go. [Conservatives] complain about the size of government all the time. To administer Trumpism, you’re going to have to wildly expand the role of government in the private sector,” he said.

The president’s embrace of Russia and confrontational attitude toward NATO hasn’t exactly earned himself plaudits from this crowd, either.

“In foreign policy, he’s moving in exactly the opposite direction as Ronald Reagan did,” said Liz Mair, a Republican communications consultant who has previously worked with would-be Republican presidential candidates Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry.

Things could’ve been different, of course. Many of these Never Trumpers were once well-positioned for White House jobs, having worked for lawmakers who went on to run in 2016, or taking part in 2016 Republican primary campaigns directly. That a bunch of people they see as utterly incompetent are now occupying these dream gigs only compounds the hurt.

“The problem with this team on all levels is they haven’t done the work of putting out a communications plan to inform the country of what it is they’re trying to do,” said Tyler. “They don’t have plan. It’s just a continuous campaign.”

“I can’t imagine if I were somebody who was supposed to be working on something important like policy or presenting the president’s image,” echoed Mair. “Working in communications, a lot of complaints I hear are, ‘Oh my God, their communications operations!’ and I’m like, ‘What the fuck did you people expect?’”
Working in communications, a lot of complaints I hear are, ‘Oh my God, their communications operations!’ and I’m like, ‘What the fuck did you people expect?’ Liz Mair, Republican communications consultant

Some members of the Never Trump movement are trying to combat the trends that led to this despair. After the November election, Meghan Milloy and her Republicans for Hillary co-founder Jennifer Pierotti Lim rechristened the organization Republican Women for Progress. The group, according to its co-founders, seeks to restore the socially progressive, economically conservative brand of Republican once personified by Nelson Rockefeller by recruiting, training and promoting female Republican candidates.

“One big problem is that there aren’t many women in leadership,” said Milloy, “and I think that’s due in large part to the fact that the GOP doesn’t have the support organizations and actions in place like EMILY’s List that specifically cater to women.”

Pierotti Lim said female lawmakers in Congress have proven more willing to “chart their own course” and not walk in lockstep with the president, citing Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), among others. Republican Women for Progress aims to cultivate that approach.

“I think a few Republican women have been able to walk the line of not being 100 percent supportive of the Trump administration,” Pierotti Lim said.

But Milloy and Pierotti Lim’s relative optimism is in short supply. Few Never Trumpers believe there is much hope for a near-term correction of the political and demographic trends that contributed to Trump’s rapid takeover of the GOP.

“From an ideological standpoint, the center of gravity is moving toward the populist right,” said Miller. “I don’t see us swinging back.”

A number of Never Trumpers told HuffPost that Trump’s election prompted a sobering realization: that the largely academic brand of conservatism they support ― actively small-government and interventionist ― doesn’t sync with the beliefs and outlooks of many Republican voters.

“American conservatism has become anti-liberalism,” said veteran conservative commentator Charlie Sykes. “It is united by hating the media and hating the left ― as opposed to supporting small government.”

White House officials dismissed the criticism as textbook wound-licking from people whose side lost.

“The President is holding his promises to the American people by growing the economy, creating jobs, protecting our boarders [sic] and ensuring that every American is safe and prospering,” a White House spokesman said in a curiously spelled statement provided to HuffPost.

Republican officials in Congress also expressed frustration with the criticism, citing a need to deal with the inescapable reality of Trump’s presidency and his support among an overwhelming majority of Republicans.

“We certainly appreciate their advice on Twitter,” quipped one senior GOP aide.
It’s suicidal, it’s self-destructive, it’s a time bomb waiting to go off that will ruin their careers and political legacies Rick Wilson, GOP consultant and pundit

Never Trumpers aren’t unsympathetic to the political bind in which Trump has placed his congressional colleagues.

“I think they’re in a tough spot,” said Miller, who cited polling showing Republican support for the president in the high 80s. “The base of the Republican Party and the people that these Congress folk respond to ― the small-dollar donors, the people who knock on doors, the people who are engaged in the political process ― they overwhelmingly want them to support Trump and his agenda.”

However many more Never Trumpers were exasperated by the relative absence of elected Republicans standing up to Trump.

“I have maintained my entire political career that the Republican Party is one of the most gutless collections of individuals on the planet,” said Mair. “They are some of the most spineless individuals on the planet.”

Others warned that the party will suffer political consequences for inaction.

“I remain absolutely convinced that [Trump] remains unfit for office, but that does not mean that I think anyone will take steps to do anything,” said Sykes, adding that anyone who assumes otherwise “fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the current Republican Party.”

“This is a party that rolled over and nominated Donald Trump despite all their doubts,” he continued. “With every passing day it becomes the defining characteristic of this party that they won’t stand up to Donald Trump and that many of them on a daily basis find ways to pretzel themselves into rationalizing his conduct.”

Rick Wilson was no less blunt in his assessment.

“It’s suicidal, it’s self-destructive, it’s a time bomb waiting to go off that will ruin their careers and political legacies,” he predicted. “Every one of them who comes out and talks about how they’re small-budget conservatives and want to balance budgets should be struck by lighting.”

But, hey, it’s not all bad ― or at least as bad as they thought. Most praised a number of Trump’s Cabinet picks, in particular Secretary of Defense James Mattis and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

“There are a few areas where he’s proving to be not 100 percent horrible,” said Mair. “Everybody’s got to find some bright spots in their day.”

Wilson was more Zen about the situation.

“When you expect the worst,” he said, “you get precisely what you expected.”

Michael Bloomberg, U.S. mayors vow to meet Paris targets even without Trump

CBS News

Michael Bloomberg, U.S. mayors vow to meet Paris targets even without Trump

By Katiana Krawchenko, CBS News     June 2, 2017

Leading members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors announced Friday they are unified in their bipartisan opposition to President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, and affirmed their commitment to meet environmental goals despite the president’s decision, while across the Atlantic, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a similar vow.

“We don’t need Washington to tell us,” the Republican mayor of Burnsville, Minn., Elizabeth Kautz said. “We’re going to do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

The non-partisan organization is made up of all 1,408 mayors of American cities with populations greater than 30,000.  Speaking on behalf of his counterparts, Jon Mitchell, a Democrat from New Bedford, Mass., argued while it’s hard to quantify the exact level of carbon emissions that cities have achieved, he believes what is clear is that initiatives have long been underway in cities across the country. He listed LED lighting, proliferation of solar technology, and the promotion of bike share programs as examples of how cities across the nation are doing their part to help.

“Virtually every city in America is doing these things,” Mitchell said. “And to the extent that any of these initiatives are cost prohibitive, most of the states have incentive programs in place to fill the market gaps. So, regardless of what the president says, these things are not going to slow down. The commitment is there and the rationale is compelling.”

That’s precisely the attitude Bloomberg took in building his own coalition of local officials, businesses and other groups to help reach climate benchmarks. After meeting in Paris Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Bloomberg announced his foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, will help coordinate a U.S. effort called “America’s Pledge” and will submit a societal NDC – nationally determined contribution – in lieu of a government one.

He’s pledged to provide the $15 million that he says the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat will lose from President Trump’s withdrawal from the pact.

“Americans don’t need Washington to meet our Paris commitment, and Americans are not going to let Washington stand in the way of fulfilling it,” he said. “That’s the message mayors, governors, and business leaders all across the U.S. have been sending.”

It remains unclear how Bloomberg’s newly formed group and the U.S. Conference of Mayors will work together, if at all.

The White House appeared to encourage cooperation among state and local entities Friday afternoon, when Press Secretary Sean Spicer said they have the right to govern as they please.

“If a mayor or a governor wants to enact a policy…they’re accountable to their own voters and that’s what they should do. We believe in states’ rights and so, if a locality, municipality or a state wants to enact a policy that their voters, or their citizens believe in, then that’s what they should do.”

“Let me tell you that the mayors won’t quit, because for us – we live close to our people and we care about the environment,” Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said. “We care about energy efficiency and we want to make sure that people know that mayors won’t quit.”

Bloomberg said he has asked Macron and Hidalgo to convey to other national leaders that the United States, “through strong action by local leaders, businesses, and investors, remains committed to fulfilling the Paris Agreement” and that the United Nations has been receptive to his proposal.