This Trump Tarbaby Will Leave a Permanent Stain on the GOP

This Trump Tarbaby Will Leave a Permanent Stain on the GOP

John Hanno      June 16, 2017

The best all of Trump’s apologists, just like Sen. Marco Rubio, can muster in defense of the Trump administration’s run-away train wreck, is that he’s not a typical politician. All the stumbling and bumbling is only because he doesn’t do things like Presidents have always done in the past; in spite of the hundreds of times Trump had denigrated “all” politicians because they really needed to conduct themselves more like successful businessmen like Trump.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says of Trump, after it was discovered Trump tried to get FBI Director Comey to shut down the Russia investigation: “The President is new at this….he’s new to government….he probably wasn’t steeped in the long running protocols that established the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses….he’s just new to this….”

But did Ryan and these Republican apologists in Congress and in the far right media give President Obama the same consideration and latitude? Would they have afforded the same courtesy to Hillary, if she had been elected but were conducting herself like Trump is now? The answer is a resounding no. These highpocrits would be conducting dozens of congressional hearings, 6 days a week and on Sundays and holidays.

No one first elected as President of The United States, has previous experience for the job; but they typically hire consultants and cabinet members who do have previous experience. And they council with experts and rely on career government employees to get them up to speed.

The Republicans handed Barack Obama an economy in free fall. Banks, the housing industry and businesses were collapsing and we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Obama put his nose to the grindstone, hired capable experts and with the help of a Democratic controlled Congress, eventually dug us out of the Great Recession, all in spite of the Republican conspiracy to oppose him at every turn. He worked hard (and actually studied and read books) and based his corrective policies on facts, not the flawed alternative reality and conspiracy theories or conflicted and disproved dogma Trump and the Republicans rely on.

But Trump has so denigrated, and has such a low opinion of, politicians and career federal employees, that he’s clearly shot himself in the foot by hiring sycophants and family members to run the most complex organization on earth. He thinks he knows more than anyone, more than the intelligence community, more than the generals, more than budget experts in the Congressional Budget Office, more than the scientists, more than legislators and their staffs, more than the judiciary, more than leaders throughout the world, especially our historical democratic allies. His self promotion and aggrandizement is boundless.

But when have you ever heard of an American President’s spokesperson (Sarah Huckabee Sanders) actually deem it necessary to come out and say: “I can definitively say the president is not a liar and I think it’s frankly insulting that question would be asked;” probably because a vast majority of Americans and folks around the world are convinced Trump has lost any shred of credibility and believe he’s the most dishonest person they have ever encountered. Its not surprising his approval ratings are in the mid 30’s and disapproval ratings are more than 60%.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that Trump’s business acumen and aura is as symbolic and unsubstantial, as the TRUMP brand displayed on properties around the world. He’s obviously not as rich nor as savvy as he claims and was probably on the verge of another business bankruptcy, until the Russian devils bailed him out and sunk their fangs into his business empire and soul. This Russian/Trump saga could be the next Coen Brothers sequel to the current Season 3 Fargo series on FX.

His campaign boasts and promises as a great builder, is as credible as the real estate properties that someone else actually builds and then pays Trump to put his name on. He’s spent the first half year of his first and only term tearing down President Obama’s programs and accomplishments. Trump Inc. should be more appropriately, in the demolition business. He’s not a builder; he’s a destroyer. What has he actually built or accomplished?

Trump fired United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, because he was investigating Russian money laundering in the New York real estate business. He fired FBI director James Comey because he was stepping up the Russian hacking and collusion investigation of Trump’s campaign and administration. Trump obviously has a lot to hide. All he’s clearly building is a classic case of obstruction of justice that closely resembles the Watergate cover-up.

Everyone seems to agree that the most remarkable and telling theme, is that Trump hasn’t once asked or tasked anyone in his cabinet or the intelligence departments to get to the bottom of the Russian interference in our election. Its seems he couldn’t care less.

Trump said he would be “100% willing to testify under oath” about his meetings with James Comey. I guess I’ll believe it when I see him in front of the cameras, taking the pledge to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

As in the past, and in spite of the Trump brand accruing a patina of tarnish and scandal, Trump personally, will probably survive America’s national disgrace financially in tact, as he did from his six bankruptcies and the Trump university scandal (minus the $25 million). Trump’s conflicts of interests, and entanglement with the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, are already paying dividends to his failing empire.

Unless all these investigations are able to prove Trump and his family engaged in Russian money laundering schemes or shady real estate deals, Trump will end up bloodied, bruised and thoroughly defrocked, but probably not broke or in prison. That probably can’t be said for all the Trump administration folks caught up in the scandals and cover-up shenanigans. They’re already hiring defense attorneys. Even their defense attorneys are hiring defense attorneys. Trump voters didn’t know the jobs Trump promised were all going to Washington lawyers. Historical note: Nixon was able to resign but dozens (I think 59) of the conspirators in his administration went to jail. And all those millions in legal fees are probably still not paid off. I’m guessing the plea deals are already in the planning stages.

Trump will call it all fake news and blame the media. He and his apologists will stonewall and obfuscate, they’re even attempting to somehow implicate Hillary Clinton in the Russia Thing; and Trump may even try to fire Special prosecutor Robert Mueller. But sooner or later, we just might get the whole truth.

In the mean time, the folks who went all in on Trump will suffer. Obamacare will get worse and may ultimately fail because of Republican tactics to defund the Affordable Care Act. Trump and the Republican controlled congress will go to any extreme to give the super rich their tax cuts by cutting Medicaid and health care subsidies for the poor, elderly and disabled. Workers and the middle class, even those with employer subsidized health insurance, will get the same crappy substandard health insurance they had before the ACA was passed, with double digit increases, skyrocketing deductibles and cancellations because of pre-existing conditions. And the insurance industry will be back to skimming 30% off the top of America’s health care costs instead of the 15% mandated under Obamacare. And good luck with any legitimate type of tax reform or infrastructure plan. And I wouldn’t count on those coal jobs coming back. Hillary and Bernie at lease had a plan to replace those lost jobs.

These pretenders and evil doers will try to reverse the progress the Obama administration made towards sustainable energy and slowing climate change and global warming. They’ll embarrass America in the eyes of the world by exiting the Paris Agreement, they will bend over backwards for fossil fuel and corporate polluters, they will try to turn back the clock on progress made in the Cuba accord and try to overturn Dodd-Frank, but the 2018 elections are right around the corner. Hopefully they will be so bottled up with the criminal investigations, the amount of damage they do will be limited.

And the loyal Trump supporters may be very slowly coming to their senses. Its reported that the super die hard Trumpers have gone from 30% down to close to 20%.

Unfortunately we can’t say the same for the Republicans in congress. What will it take before they find the courage displayed by Republicans during the Watergate and Iran Contra scandals? It could be the damage done to the Republican party by this Trump Tarbaby will be far worse than Watergate.     John Hanno

Newsweek

Neil Buchanan: Is Trump Naive? Stupid? Evil? Or All of the Above?

Neil H. Buchanan,  Newsweek    June 18, 2017

This article first appeared on the Dorf on Law sire.

Donald Trump is wrong almost all of the time about almost everything.

He lies constantly, and even though he is constantly being caught in his transparent lies, he never admits error, pressing ever forward on his destructive path.

Does he do this because he knows nothing about the world? (That is, is he naive ?)

Alternatively, maybe it is because he is incapable of logical thinking. (Is he stupid ?)

Or is it instead because he has horrible policy goals? (Is he evil ?)

All three of those explanations fit, and then some. As Michael Dorf argued in a recent column, normal human beings can be “evil, stupid, or ignorant,” but “Trump is not a normal human being. He is not even a normal but evil, stupid, or ignorant human being. Trump is Trump.”

In order to understand how Trump is different, we first need to understand what it means to be normal yet wrong in one of those three ways —naive, stupid, or evil. Because those three categories should be sufficient to explain every bad decision, it is important to understand how Trump is a category unto himself.

When Professor Dorf and I were much younger men, we frequently discussed the many ways in which the nation’s then-new president, Ronald Reagan, was wrong. It was a frustrating experience to watch a touchingly naive fool lead the nation in harmful directions, but it certainly created a need to understand exactly what was going wrong.

For me, the issue that helped to clarify how to think about all of this was Reagan’s opposition to imposing economic sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid regime. Led by protests and boycotts on college campuses, politicians on the left at that time were beginning to pressure our reactionary president to force the Botha regime to change its shockingly racist legal and social system.

Reagan resisted, arguing at one point that South Africa was simply in the process of evolving into a civil rights-friendly nation, just as the United States had evolved in the fifties and sixties. This was jaw-droppingly wrong, so much so that it took a great deal of effort to tease out Reagan’s many errors.

One possibility was that Reagan simply did not have the facts necessary to see the situation clearly. As bad as the Jim Crow era had been in the United States, it was obvious that South Africa was not “merely” going through what the U.S. had experienced.

Moreover, Reagan seemed not to know how bad things had been here, even though he had lived through those decades. Saying, “They’ll be fine, just like we figured it out,” could have been explained by complete ignorance about one or both countries. The problem was that, even if Reagan himself believed these fantasies, he surely had access to advisors who should have known otherwise.

If ignorance about the facts was not at work, it was possible instead that Reagan knew the facts but was not smart enough to draw logical conclusions from them. Was there something like 2 + 2 = 5 error at work in Reagan’s head, a reasoning error along the lines of “All men are mortal, Socrates was mortal, therefore all men are Socrates”?

Reagan argued that sanctions would do no good, even though it was clear that South Africa’s government (notwithstanding its claims to the contrary) was being forced to respond to world pressure. The civil rights leaders in South Africa also rejected Reagan’s argument, saying that outside pressure was key to reaching the goal of ending apartheid.

In any case, Reagan’s policy errors did not seem to fit into the category of mere logical folly. What seemed much more likely was that Reagan, who had been supported by American racists and who had perfected Richard Nixon’s ” southern strategy ” to scare white voters away from Democrats, was simply not particularly concerned about the evils of white supremacy (and maybe actually supported racist goals).

In short, Reagan’s bad policy views could be explained by one of three possibilities. He was naive, or he was stupid, or he was evil. He might also have been some combination of the three.

Being a young man, I thought that maybe I was onto something with the naive/stupid/evil framing of policy debates. Admittedly, there was nothing genuinely new in my taxonomy. People have often said things like, “He’s either a fool or a liar,” when trying to explain their opponents’ errors.

Moreover, one has to decide how to treat things like willful ignorance. Is that a fourth category? It turns out, however, that it is easy to explain this as a version of evil, because a person who decides not to gather facts must be doing so in order to avoid facing the consequences of that knowledge. (This is currently seen, for example, in Republicans’ blocking government statisticians from gathering facts about gun violence.)

The naive/stupid/evil taxonomy can also be expressed with different synonyms—ignorant/illogical/malevolent, uninformed/irrational/malicious, and so on—and the order can be changed. Hence, Professor Dorf’s “evil, stupid, or ignorant” rendering of the taxonomy.

In any case, I have noticed over the years the many ways in which people who are unaware of this taxonomy struggle to identify and understand what they are seeing. Sometimes a shorthand is valuable simply for being a shorthand. And the Trump era has left many people struggling to understand what in many cases boils down to that simple triad.

For example, the conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post recently offered an excellent critique of Trump’s ill considered Muslim ban, concluding with this:

One might conclude that the administration is too incompetent or lazy to make [its case in court]. We prefer a different theory: These orders have no national security or other justification, but rather are blatant appeals to prejudice that have no factual, rational basis. No lawyer in the world can defend that in court.

In short, Rubin first considers whether the administration is incompetent or lazy, which are somewhat fuzzy concepts because incompetence can refer either to stupidity or ignorance, and laziness is most likely (at least in Trump’s case) a version of willful ignorance, that is, evil.

By saying that Trump has “no national security justification,” Rubin means that Trump’s argument is not actually “stupid.” That is, there is no logical argument from Trump’s people that says that A (the ban) causes B (less terrorism). They simply assert their conclusion, as opposed to offering a logically fallacious if-then argument.

Why do they do that? Rubin reasonably concludes that Trump is evil because he is appealing to prejudice. He is so focused on getting to an evil outcome—discriminating against people on the basis of religion and national origin—that he will deny reality and not even bother with logical arguments.

An interesting variation on this method of framing the Trump problem was recently offered by the editorial board of The New York Times : “Stupidity, paranoia, malevolence—it’s hard to distinguish among competing explanations for the behavior of people in this administration.”

Paranoia is a particular form of ignorance, because it means that Trump’s people are living in a different reality from the rest of us. (Using “naive” here would sound too much like an excuse, which is why I am calling it ignorance, with all of its connotations.)

As I wrote above, however, I agree with Professor Dorf that Trump is not simply the unique case of a normal person who is somehow always dealing with an incomplete or incorrect set of facts, or who makes logical errors, or who is always acting in bad faith —naive, stupid, or evil. He is his own category.

The reason Trump is different is that there is always the sense (or hope) that the normal people who have supported Trump are making one of more of those three errors—and, most importantly, that they might be open to fixing those errors.

A person who thinks that there was a “war on coal,” for example, might be persuadable if she exited the Fox New alternative fact zone and saw that it is the simple economics of cheap natural gas and other non-conspiratorial factors that explain the decline of coal.

Also, a person who thinks that Trump will bring back manufacturing jobs might, if prompted, notice that Trump has no actual logical argument regarding how he will make that happen.

Even people who are acting on what I am calling evil motivations are not always beyond reach. Many people are able to confront their demons and say, “Wow, I didn’t realize that I was motivated by hatred.”

That is one of the reasons that same-sex marriage has gained such wide acceptance so quickly. Many people thought, “What was I so scared or angry about?” And the world became a meaningfully better place.

It is impossible to imagine anything like that happening with Trump.

Many of us do hold out some hope every day that even some of Trump’s closest advisors will say, “I can’t do this anymore. I tried to deny to myself what was happening, but this is too much.” It is safe to say that that will not happen with Steve Bannon or some others, but some people have said that even hard-core Trumpists like Kellyanne Conway might harbor doubts.

But Trump? Not a chance. He is ignorant, both as a matter of never having learned anything and because he likes it that way. He is stupid, usually not even bothering to make an argument, but making incoherent arguments when he tries. (We will, he says, just start winning again, somehow.) His goals are racist, sexist, and in other ways bigoted, and he is corrupt to boot.

What are we to think when we learn that Trump does not care about whether the Russian government is undermining American democracy? He only cares about whether he will look bad and lose power if the truth comes out.

“Trump is naive, stupid, and evil” simply does not cover it. Trump is Trump, and heaven help us all.

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a professor of law at George Washington University. He teaches tax law, tax policy, contracts, and law and economics. His research addresses the long-term tax and spending patterns of the federal government, focusing on budget deficits, the national debt, health care costs and Social Security.

HuffPost

Donald Trump’s Attorney Marc Kasowitz Hit With Ethics Complaints

Mary Papenfuss, HuffPost    June 17, 2017

Complaints have been lodged with the District of Columbia and New York City Bar Associations against President Donald Trump’s personal defense attorney Marc Kasowitz, calling for an investigation to determine if he has breached rules of professional conduct.

Separate complaints were filed over the week against Kasowitz by the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit government watchdog organization, and by attorney Neil Goldfarb, a former board member of the American Civil Liberties Union. They both allege that Kasowitz may have inappropriately counseled other White House staffers while representing the president, raising conflict-of-interest concerns.

In addition, the CAF complaint alleges that Kasowitz is not currently authorized to practice law in Washington, D.C.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Kasowitz, dismissed the complaints in a statement to Law.com, calling them “obviously politically motivated” and “based on press reports, which were based on anonymous sources.”

Trump has called on his longtime personal attorney to represent him as investigations heat up into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Trump acknowledged Friday that he is now a target of a probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into possible obstruction of justice linked to the president’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

Last week, Kasowitz issued a statement characterizing Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee as very positive for the president (which he spelled “predisent”). He threatened to file legal complaints against Comey because of Comey’s admission that he had given a memo about a meeting with Trump to a friend and asked the friend to give it to a reporter.

Kasowitz, a member of the New York bar, has been advising Trump and reportedly other members of the president’s staff, even though he is not currently authorized to practice law in the District of Columbia, according to the CAF complaint. He told White House aides it was not yet necessary to hire their own private attorneys, The New York Times reported, citing anonymous sources. Such behavior could be construed as a conflict of interest.

“By meeting with White House staff within the White House complex and offering the legal opinion that those staffers need not hire counsel, [Kasowitz] may have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law,” the CAF complaint states. “In addition, by advising White House staff members, who are not represented by counsel and who have a reasonable possibility of having interests that conflict with those of Mr. Kasowitz’s client, President Trump, Mr. Kasowitz appears to have violated” a rule of professional conduct concerning conflicts of interest.

Goldfarb similarly pointed out in his complaint that “there is obviously a very reasonable possibility that [aides’] personal interests are in conflict with those of President Trump’s.”

The complaints from CAF and Goldfarb come as another of Trump’s private attorneys, Mark Cohen, confirmed to The Washington Post that he has hired his own lawyer to represent his interests during federal investigations into possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign team.

International Business Times

Trump’s Lawyer Broke Ethics Rules, Complaint Claims

Josh Keefe,   International Business Times    June 17, 2017 

President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney is the subject of a complaint filed by a watchdog group Thursday with the disciplinary body in charge of Washington attorneys, allegedly for dispensing legal advice to unrepresented White House staffers, a violation of bar rules and legal ethics.

Campaign for Accountability, a government ethics group, filed the complaint with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals’ Office of Disciplinary Counsel in response to a story in Sunday’s New York Times that said Marc Kasowitz, who has represented Trump for 15 years, told presidential aides they did not yet need to hire lawyers in response to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

By telling White House aides they did not need to hire lawyers, Kasowitz dispensed legal advice to people who not only weren’t his clients, but whose interests in the coming legal storm might be contrary to the president’s, the complaint alleges. The complaint, which asks the office to open an investigation, comes as Mueller’s investigation reportedly has expanded to examine whether the president attempted to obstruct justice.

“It was really concerning to read he was providing legal advice to White House staffers,” Daniel Stevens, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, told International Business Times. Stevens is an alumnus of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics In Washington, the watchdog group that filed suit against the president just days after his inauguration over his foreign business dealings.

“They weren’t his clients and they might take heed of that advice and it might not be in their best interest. [Kasowitz] needs to be held accountable for giving that advice,” Stevens said.

The D.C. bar, as well as the American Bar Association’s model rules, which have been adopted by all 50 states and the District of Columbia, forbid attorneys from giving legal advice to people who don’t have lawyers, other than recommending they retain counsel, if the “interests of such person are or have a reasonable possibility of being in conflict with the interests of the lawyer’s client.”

Kasowitz’s discussions with White House staff reportedly bypassed White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II,  a departure from previous protocol that worried former attorneys who have held that position.

“The president’s private lawyer is representing only his interests, not the interests of the United States government or the individual interests of the White House staff,” Robert F. Bauer, who was White House counsel under President Barack Obama, told the Times.

The White House declined to comment and directed IBT to send questions to Kasowitz, who did not respond to IBT’s inquiries. A spokesperson for Kasowitz previously said the Times’ categorization of the meeting was “inaccurate,” but, according to the Times, “would not specify how.”

Campaign for Accountability copied the complaint to the New York State Bar. Bar. Court records indicate Kasowitz is not a member of the D.C. Bar but is a member of the New York Bar. The committees in D.C. and New York that evaluate complaints would not confirm they received the complaint, as complaints against attorneys are confidential unless a complaint ends in disciplinary action, which can run the gamut from requiring attorneys take continuing education classes to disbarment.

The Committee on Character and Fitness for Manhattan and the Bronx, which has jurisdiction over Kasowitz’s law practice, told IBT that Kasowitz has never been disciplined by the courts for misconduct since becoming a member of the New York Bar in 1978.

Trump hired Kasowitz to represent him in all matters connected to the Russian investigation at the end of May, shortly after the Justice Department tapped Mueller as special counsel.

After FBI Director James Comey testified to a Senate panel June 7th about his interactions with Trump, Kasowitz attacked Comey and defended Trump at the press.

“From before this president took office to this day, it is overwhelmingly clear that there have been and continue to be those in government who are actively attempting to undermine this administration with selective and illegal leaks of classified information and privileged communications,” Kasowitz said. “Mr. Comey has now admitted that he is one of these leakers.”

Trump’s legal team has said it is planning on filing a complaint against Comey for leaking conversations with the president. The team initially planned to file the complaint this week, but the legal team’s spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday the complaint would most likely be filed next week. It’s unclear with which office in the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, the legal team will file the complaint.

Kasowitz has represented Trump in a variety of matters since the turn of the century, including defending the president in the Trump University lawsuit, keeping the president’s divorce records sealed, restructuring Trump casino bondholder debt and suing a Trump biographer in 2009 for citing unnamed sources claiming the real estate mogul wasn’t actually a billionaire.

ProPublica has reported Kasowitz bragged to friends about convincing Trump to fire Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Brahara, who was investigating Tom Price, Trump’s secretary of health and human services, at the time of his firing.

Kasowitz’s firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, employs former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, whom Trump briefly considered for FBI director after he fired Comey. Trump tapped Kasowitz’s partner, David Friedman, to serve as ambassador to Israel prompting the firm to change its name  (until late March, Kasowitz’s firm’s name was Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman). In addition to Trump, Kasowitz also represents Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, which counts the Russian government as a majority shareholder.

Vice President Mike Pence has also retained counsel to represent him in the Russia inquiry, the Washington Post reported Thursday. Pence hired Richard Cullen, a former U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, a Pence spokesman confirmed to the Post.

The Hoarding of the American Dream

The Atlantic

The Hoarding of the American Dream

In a new book, a Brookings scholar examines how the upper-middle class has enriched itself and harmed economic mobility.

Annie Lowrey   June 16, 2017

There’s a certain type of financial confessional that has had a way of going viral in the post-recession era. The University of Chicago law professor complaining his family was barely keeping their heads above water on $250,000 a year. This hypothetical family of three in San Francisco making $200,000, enjoying vacations to Maui, and living hand-to-mouth. This real New York couple making six figures and merely “scraping by.”

In all of these viral posts, denizens of the upper-middle class were attempting to make the case for their middle class-ness. Taxes are expensive. Cities are expensive. Tuition is expensive. Children are expensive. Travel is expensive. Tens of thousands of dollars a month evaporate like cold champagne spilled on a hot lanai, they argue. And the 20 percent are not the one percent.

A great, short book by Richard V. Reeves of the Brookings Institution helps to flesh out why these stories provoke such rage. In Dream Hoarders, released this week, Reeves agrees that the 20 percent are not the one percent: The higher you go up the income or wealth distribution, the bigger the gains made in the past three or four decades. Still, the top quintile of earners—those making more than roughly $112,000 a year—have been big beneficiaries of the country’s growth. To make matters worse, this group of Americans engages in a variety of practices that don’t just help their families, but harm the other 80 percent of Americans.

“I am not suggesting that the top one percent should be left alone. They need to pay more tax, perhaps much more,” Reeves writes. “But if we are serious about narrowing the gap between ‘the rich’ and everybody else, we need a broader conception of what it means to be rich.”

The book traces the way that the upper-middle class has pulled away from the middle class and the poor on five dimensions: income and wealth, educational attainment, family structure, geography, and health and longevity. The top 20 percent of earners might not have seen the kinds of income gains made by the top one percent and America’s billionaires. Still, their wage and investment increases have proven sizable. They dominate the country’s top colleges, sequester themselves in wealthy neighborhoods with excellent public schools and public services, and enjoy healthy bodies and long lives. “It would be an exaggeration to say that the upper-middle class is full of gluten-avoiding, normal-BMI joggers who are only marginally more likely to smoke a cigarette than to hit their children,” Reeves writes. “But it would be just that—an exaggeration, not a fiction.”

They then pass those advantages onto their children, with parents placing a “glass floor” under their kids. They ensure they grow up in nice zip codes, provide social connections that make a difference when entering the labor force, help with internships, aid with tuition and home-buying, and schmooze with college admissions officers. All the while, they support policies and practices that protect their economic position and prevent poorer kids from climbing the income ladder: legacy admissions, the preferential tax treatment of investment income, 529 college savings plans, exclusionary zoning, occupational licensing, and restrictions on the immigration of white-collar professionals.

As a result, America is becoming a class-based society, more like fin-de-siècle England than most would care to admit, Reeves argues. Higher income kids stay up at the sticky top of the income distribution. Lower income kids stay down at the bottom. The one percent have well and truly trounced the 99 percent, but the 20 percent have done their part to immiserate the 80 percent, as well—an arguably more relevant but less recognized class distinction.

Why more relevant? In part because the 20 percent are so much bigger than the one percent. If you are going to raise a considerable amount of new income-tax revenue to finance social programs, as many Democrats want to do, dinging the top one percent won’t cut it: They are a lot richer, but a lot fewer in number. And if you are going to provide more opportunities in good neighborhoods, public schools, colleges, internship programs, and labor markets to lower-income families, it is the 20 percent that are going to have to give something up.

Reeves offers a host of policy changes that might make a considerable difference: better access to contraception, increasing building in cities and suburbs, barring legacy admissions to colleges, curbing tax expenditures that benefit families with big homes and capital gains. Still, given the scale of the problem, I wondered whether other, bigger solutions might be necessary as well: a universal child allowance to reduce the poverty rate among kids, as the Century Foundation has proposed, say, or baby bonds to help eliminate the black-white wealth gap fostered by decades of racist and exclusionary government policy, as Darrick Hamilton has suggested. (So often, the upper-middle class insulating and enriching itself at the expense of the working class has meant white families doing so at the expense of black families—a point I thought underplayed in Reeves’ telling.)

Yet, as Reeves notes, “sensible policy is not always easy politics.” Expanding opportunity and improving fairness would require the upper-middle class to vote for higher taxes, to let others move in, and to share in the wealth. Prying Harvard admission letters and the mortgage interest deductions out of the hands of bureaucrats in Bethesda, sales executives in Minnetonka, and lawyers in Louisville is not going to be easy.

Members of the upper-middle class, as those viral stories show and Reeves writes, love to think of themselves as members of the middle class, not as the rich. They love to think of themselves as hard workers who played fair and won what they deserved, rather than as people who were born on third and think they hit a triple. They hate to hear that the government policies they support as sensible might be torching social mobility and entrenching an elite. That elite is them.

The Standing Rock Sioux Claim ‘Victory and Vindication’ in Court

The Atlantic

The Standing Rock Sioux Claim ‘Victory and Vindication’ in Court

A federal judge rules that the Dakota Access pipeline did not receive an adequate environmental vetting.

Robinson Meyer      June 14, 2017

A federal judge ruled in favor of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Wednesday, handing the tribe its first legal victory in its year-long battle against the Dakota Access pipeline.

James Boasberg, who sits on D.C. district court, said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to perform an adequate study of the pipeline’s environmental consequences when it first approved its construction. In a 91-page decision, the judge cited the Corps’ study of “the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice” as particularly deficient, and he ordered it to prepare a new report on its risks.

The court did not, however, order the pipeline to be shut off until a new environmental study is completed—a common remedy when a federal permit is found lacking. Instead, Boasberg asked attorneys to appear before him again and make a new set of arguments about whether the pipeline should operate.

The tribe faces a mixed result: The ruling may establish some important precedents, particularly around environmental justice and treaty rights. But there’s no indication that the requirement to perform a new study will alter the outcome of the case—or even get the pipeline switched off in the interim.

“This is a a very significant victory and vindication of the tribe’s opinion,” said Jan Hasselman, the lead attorney for the case and an employee of Earthjustice, an environmental-advocacy group that represented the Standing Rock Sioux.

“The court slices things pretty thin, but there were three major areas that he found deficient, and they’re not insignificant. They’re central to the problems that we’ve been highlighting the whole time,” Hasselman told me.

Energy Transfer Partners, which owns and operates the pipeline, did not respond to a request for comment before publication. A representative for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could not be reached.

The Dakota Access pipeline runs 1,100 miles across much of the Great Plains, connecting the Bakken oil formation in North Dakota to a refinery and second pipeline in Illinois. Oil began flowing through the pipeline earlier this month.

The pipeline became a rallying point for both climate activists and indigenous civil-rights advocates last year, as thousands of people—many of them Native Americans—gathered on the Standing Rock reservation to protest and physically obstruct the pipeline’s construction. By late October, Standing Rock had become the largest and most high-profile Native protest in the United States in four decades.

Boasberg’s ruling centered on two ways that the Corps’s environmental study was inadequate. First, he said, the Standing Rock Sioux are assured certain hunting and fishing rights in their most recent treaty with the U.S. government. Many of the tribe’s members rely on fish or hunted game as a steady food source.

Before approving the pipeline, the Corps did not study whether an oil spill at the pipeline would kill most of the river’s fish. It also did not report on whether the chemicals used to clean up a spill could poison local game, rendering them unfit for human consumption

“Even though a spill is not certain to occur at Lake Oahe, the Corps still had to consider the impacts of such an event on the environment,” the judge said.

This emphasis on consideration points to the broader nature of the legal fight: This case is not about how the pipeline may harm Standing Rock, but whether the Corps adequately studied and reported on those harms before approving it in the first place. Most environmental-law cases in the United States are fought on this kind of procedural territory—it’s a product of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, which mandates the government study the environmental effects of any decision it makes but does not require it to make especially green decisions.

Boasberg’s second complaint with the Corps was on similar methodological grounds. According to federal regulation, every major project constructed near a poor community, community of color, or Native American reservation must be studied on environmental-justice grounds. The Corps shrugged off many of these rules, arguing that no affected group lived within a half-mile of the pipeline route.

The Corps was technically correct. The Dakota Access pipeline runs 0.55 miles north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

“Federal agencies are given a lot of leeway until they do something that just, on the face of it, seems ridiculous,” says Sarah Krakoff, a law professor at the University of Colorado. “I think that that’s what happened here.”

Boasberg’s decision, she said, had implications far beyond Standing Rock and this particular pipeline dispute.

“In the vernacular, it’s a big deal,” she told me. “It’s an important step for a court to recognize that both environmental-justice claims and the failure to adequately analyze Indian treaty rights can be the basis for the reversal of an agency’s environmental analysis.”

With the project so far along, she said it was unclear if any procedural problem could convince Boasberg to temporarily shut down the project.

The tribe was not successful on every claim. The judge ruled that the Corps did not violate administrative law when it quickly approved the pipeline earlier this year. He has also previously ruled that the Dakota Access pipeline does not infringe on Standing Rock’s cultural heritage, nor does it damage the religious practice of another group of Sioux, the Cheyenne River Tribe.

The complicated legal history of the Dakota Access pipeline has stemmed from one important conflict: The pipeline mostly runs across private land, allowing Energy Transfer Partners to quickly secure permission and construct most of it last year. But it also must cross the Missouri River, a federal waterway controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Therefore the dispute at Standing Rock has played out over the last year as the vast majority of the pipeline stood completed and ready for operation. In late July 2016, the Corps first granted an easement allowing the pipeline’s construction. But less than two months later, in early September, the Obama administration stepped in and asked Energy Transfer Partners to voluntarily stop work on the project. It also announced it was reviewing the Corps’s easement.

President Barack Obama revoked the permit entirely in early December 2016 at the end of that review. His administration also ordered Energy Transfer Partners and the U.S. Army Corps to study whether the pipeline could be re-routed.

That study did not last long. On his fifth day in office, President Donald Trump reversed Obama’s order and told the Corps to approve the pipeline as quickly as possible.

The president celebrated the pipeline during a speech last week in Cincinnati. “The Dakota Access pipeline is now officially open for business—a $3.8-billion investment in American infrastructure that was stalled,” he said. “Nobody thought any politician would have the guts to approve that final leg. And I just closed my eyes and said: Do it.”

“It’s up, it’s running, it’s beautiful, it’s great. Everybody is happy, the sun is shining, the water’s still clean. When I approved it, I thought I’d take a lot of heat. But I took none, actually none. But I take so much heat for nonsense that it probably overrode the other,” Trump added.

Hasselman referenced the speech as he spoke to me Wednesday. “That’s such a perfect metaphor for this whole process,” he said. “The government closed its eyes to the impacts of this pipeline on the people of Standing Rock—and their history at the hands of the same government.”

David Archambault III, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, told me last week that while he is not ultimately optimistic about the legal battle, he feels duty-bound to pursue it.

“When we first entered into this, we understood the history, we knew the facts, we knew the laws,” he said. “We still have to bring it all up. Because just because [the situation] is legally right, it’s morally and ethically wrong. What happened at Standing Rock is a movement, and you don’t see the benefits of a movement until way later.”

Trump’s Travel Costs Are Staggering, Yet Five Years Ago He Complained About $1 Million Annually for Biden

Newsweek Politics

Trump’s Travel Costs Are Staggering, Yet Five Years Ago He Complained About $1 Million Annually for Biden

T. Marcin, Newsweek     June 13, 2017

Five years is a long time—a veritable eternity in the volatile U.S. political landscape—and how far we have come since June 13, 2012, exactly five years ago Tuesday, when Donald Trump tweeted about then–Vice President Joe Biden’s travel costs, claiming they were a burden to taxpayers.

“Biden @VP Spends $1 Million Annually for Weekend Trips,” Trump tweeted at the time, linking out a Newsmax story. The article noted that Biden was being shuttled to and from his home state of Delaware on the taxpayer’s dime despite the vice president being tasked with “[rooting] out wasteful government spending.” Newsmax calculated, as Trump’s tweet suggested, that taxpayers were forking over about $1 million annually to shuttle Biden around.

Now, Biden’s costs seem downright pedestrian when compared with the amount Trump has required of the taxpayer in his nearly five months in the White House.

Air Force records obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch show that just the flights for two trips to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida cost more than $1.2 million.

Through his first 100 days, Trump spent one-quarter of his time in Florida, costing taxpayers some $7 million, according to Judicial Watch. Exact details of Trump’s total travel costs remain somewhat murky until official documents trickle out, but prior rough estimates suggested that in just a few months Trump may have cost taxpayers about one-third of what President Barack Obama cost through eight years in office.

As a private citizen, Trump often complained about Obama taking time off or playing golf. “President Obama has a major meeting on the N.Y.C. Ebola outbreak, with people flying in from all over the country, but decided to play golf!” he tweeted in 2014.

Democratic lawmakers didn’t seem to forget that. “For someone who complained about President Obama traveling a lot, he’s going to supersede President Obama’s travel, all eight years [of it], within a year, which is just absolutely ridiculous,” Arizona Representative Ruben Gallego told NPR in April.

The Hard Truth Keeps Trickling Out, Little by Little

Esquire

The Hard Truth Keeps Trickling Out, Little by Little

It increasingly looks like Russian hackers may have affected actual vote totals.

By Charles P. Pierce    Jun 13, 2017

The last outpost of moderate opinion on the subject of the Russian ratfcking during the 2016 presidential election seems to be that, yes, there was mischief done and steps should be taken both to reveal its extent and to prevent it from happening again in the future, but that the ratfcking, thank baby Jesus, did not materially affect the vote totals anywhere in the country. This is a calm, measured, evidence-based judgment. It is also a kind of prayer. If the Russian cyber-assault managed to change the vote totals anywhere, then the 2016 presidential election is wholly illegitimate. That rocks too many comfort zones in too many places.

(Bear in mind, for the moment, that we are discussing Russian ratfcking, and not the myriad problems with how we ourselves manage our elections. That’s for another time, except in the context of how those inherent problems facilitated the Russian chicanery.)

It may well be that the Russians didn’t affect the actual numbers last November but, as Bloomberg points out, that was not for lack of trying.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said. The scope and sophistication so concerned Obama administration officials that they took an unprecedented step — complaining directly to Moscow over a modern-day “red phone.” In October, two of the people said, the White House contacted the Kremlin on the back channel to offer detailed documents of what it said was Russia’s role in election meddling and to warn that the attacks risked setting off a broader conflict.

One of the mysteries about the 2016 presidential election is why Russian intelligence, after gaining access to state and local systems, didn’t try to disrupt the vote. One possibility is that the American warning was effective. Another former senior U.S. official, who asked for anonymity to discuss the classified U.S. probe into pre-election hacking, said a more likely explanation is that several months of hacking failed to give the attackers the access they needed to master America’s disparate voting systems spread across more than 7,000 local jurisdictions.

This may be so, but it’s becoming increasingly harder to believe that, in one of those 7,000 local jurisdictions, the Russians didn’t strike gold. American democracy went out on the roof last fall.

Apparently, the Obama administration first caught wind of the attack when the Illinois system was seriously compromised.

Illinois became Patient Zero in the government’s probe, eventually leading investigators to a hacking pandemic that touched four out of every five U.S. states. Using evidence from the Illinois computer banks, federal agents were able to develop digital “signatures” — among them, Internet Protocol addresses used by the attackers — to spot the hackers at work. The signatures were then sent through Homeland Security alerts and other means to every state. Thirty-seven states reported finding traces of the hackers in various systems, according to one of the people familiar with the probe. In two others — Florida and California — those traces were found in systems run by a private contractor managing critical election systems.

The Obama people went to condition red; the Department of Homeland Security tried to declare state election systems to be part of our critical national infrastructure, which they clearly are. The Republicans in Congress shot that down. Curiouser and curiouser, some states declined to cooperate fully with DHS. As the invaluable Marcy Wheeler pointed out on the electric Twitter machine Tuesday morning, one of the recalcitrant states was Georgia, where you can’t audit the voting machines, and where they are having a crucial—and extremely expensive—special congressional election next Tuesday.

Depressingly, the Obama administration decided to keep a lid on most of what it knew so as not to undermine the public’s confidence in the integrity of the election, even though those same people in the Obama administration knew that the integrity of the election was completely up for grabs. There are a lot of dangers to self-government, and one of those dangers that’s done a lot of damage in my lifetime has been the feeling that the American people are such fragile ornaments that we don’t dare risk telling them the truth of something lest they fall to the floor and shatter to pieces. This is just the latest example of this infantilizing attitude toward our general democratic obligation to be wise to what out government is doing.

We are creeping ever closer to actual evidence that there was Russian ratfcking of the vote totals in the last election. Not long ago, people wouldn’t even suggest that out loud. We were made vulnerable to something like this because of the interference by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, by the curious goings-on in Ohio in 2004, by a relentless campaign to convince the country of an imaginary epidemic of voter fraud, and by a decade of voter suppression by any means necessary. The Russians wanted to undermine the confidence Americans had in their elections? We made it pretty damn easy to do that.

Trump Is Too Late to Stop the Windmills

Bloomberg View, Opinion-Energy

Trump Is Too Late to Stop the Windmills

Coal isn’t coming back. Technology and demand won’t let it.

By Justin Fox        June 13, 2017

There seems to be little doubt that Barack Obama’s energy and environmental policies had a significant impact on how electricity is generated in the U.S. Tougher air-pollution rules, subsidies for wind and solar power, and a commitment to reduce carbon emissions coincided with a fracking-driven boom in natural gas production to shift the fuel mix in a big way: -1-

Now Donald Trump is president. He is an avowed friend of coal who has already signaled that he wants to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on climate change and put a stop to the Clean Power Plan that Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency adopted to force continuing declines in carbon emissions by utilities. He also hates windmills.

So why is it that all of the people I’ve talked to and heard speak on panels this week in Boston at the annual convention of the Edison Electric Institute, a utilities trade group, seem to think the shift toward renewables and away from coal is just going to keep going?

Mainly because they think Trump is too late (and my Bloomberg View colleague Noah Smith agrees). “We’re over the tipping point now,” said Jan Vrins, head of the global energy practice at the consulting firm Navigant. “I think the train has left the station.” Said Gerry Anderson, chief executive officer of Detroit-based utility DTE Energy Co.: “The administration can’t turn a 70-year-old coal plant into a 20-year-old coal plant.”

It’s not that the new administration won’t be able to slow things down. Regulatory policies do matter. It’s just that Obama seems to have seized a moment of opportunity when regulatory policies and subsidies mattered most, -2- but now other factors predominate. Vrins again: “We talk about three buckets: policy, technology and market demand. Tech and market demand are driving it now.”

The basic story is this: Since the advent of electrical utilities in the U.S., burning coal has been the country’s chief means of generating power. -3- That means most coal plants have been around for a while. When they break down, utilities now have all sorts of reasons not to build new ones. During the Obama years, tough regulation of mercury and other pollutants was not only one of those reasons, but it also accelerated the retirements of otherwise still-functional plants. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity sifted through investor and regulatory filings and found that utilities attributed three-fifths of the coal retirements since 2010 to EPA regulations.

Unlike the carbon-focused Clean Power Plan, which was tied up in court even before Trump was elected, most of those rules are already fully in place and will be hard to remove. Meanwhile, there are lots of other factors weighing against building new coal plants. One is the likelihood that, once Trump is out of office, the federal government will go back to targeting carbon emissions. In the meantime, lots of state and local governments are continuing to push for more use of renewables in power generation. Customers are clamoring for it, too, as long as it doesn’t cost more. And because of big efficiency improvements in wind and solar (and, yes, federal and state subsidies, although those are getting less important over time), it doesn’t cost more.

So when a utility needs to “invest in more modern generation facilities,” said DTE Energy’s Anderson right after his comment about 70-year-old coal plants, “the choices for new generation are natural gas and renewables.”

This isn’t to say that everyone in the electrical utility industry is equally enthusiastic about all aspects of this transition. The rapid turn to natural gas as an electricity source, especially in the Northeast, has raised lots of concerns about reliability. “During cold periods, there’s not enough capacity in those pipes to bring in all the gas we need,” said Gordon van Welie, president and CEO of New England’s regional transmission organization. The rise of wind and solar has resulted in negative prices for power in some areas when the wind is blowing especially hard or the sun is shining especially strongly — which isn’t a great thing for power markets. The growth of distributed energy generation and storage, and the state subsidies that support it, brings all sorts of headaches for utilities as well as opportunities.

Utilities have also been coping for the past decade with a decline in per-capita electricity use in the U.S., driven by efficiency gains and new technologies such as LED light bulbs. That actually may be one more reason, though, for them to embrace the transition away not just from coal but also from fossil fuels in general. The only way to achieve sharp drops in overall carbon emissions is for electrification to “move more deeply into transportation, heating, industry,” said Susan Tierney, a veteran federal and state energy official who is now a senior adviser at the Analysis Group, a consulting firm. So electrical utilities have an opportunity to reverse their demand downtrend in a big way — but only if the electricity they generate is largely carbon-free.

Put it all together and, as EEI senior vice president Philip Moeller summed it up for me, “the cost of renewables has come down significantly and customers want them, and those trend-lines are going to continue.” They’re not always going to continue uninterrupted — as you can see in the above chart, natural gas has actually lost ground to coal in recent months as rising gas prices drove utilities to use less of it. I guess it’s also possible that those in the electrical utility business are underestimating the regulatory changes in store from the Trump administration. But it still seems quite significant that the people who generate the nation’s electrical power appear to have no plans to halt the transition away from coal and toward wind and solar.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Where’s solar, you ask? It’s big in a few states — in California it’s the No. 3 source of utility power behind natural gas and hydroelectric — but nationwide it’s still nowhere near the top five yet in utility electricity generation. Counting rooftop solar would boost its share somewhat, but still not nearly enough to surpass wind.

My former Time magazine colleague Michael Grunwald argued this in his 2012 book “The New, New Deal.” Subsequent events seem to be proving him right.

Reliable data on this only goes back to 1949, but it’s hard to see what could have out-generated coal before then.

To contact the author of this story:
Justin Fox at justinfox@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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.”