Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fighting Fossil Fuels Is Good Foreign Policy, And Good Politics

In the world as it was before the ISIS attacks on Paris, a great deal of attention was paid in the press to the outcome of Kentucky's gubernatorial election.  The Republican candidate, who had appeared to be doing no better than break-even in the pre-election polls, won by a decisive margin against a Democratic opponent and an independent candidate.  In a state that frequently sends Democrats to state-wide offices despite its tendency to "go red" in Federal elections (hello, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul), this was treated as a major upset, and yet another harbinger of a bleak electoral future for Democrats in the South.

I'm not so sure the Kentucky election is as much about the electoral future of the South as it is about the electoral future of the "coal belt," which includes not only Kentucky, but also West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.  Those four states will have a combined 51 electoral votes in the 2016 presidential election--and the latter two are considered to be "swing states," historically and more recently as well.  They also have 43 congressional districts, enough to tip the balance with regard to control the House of Representatives.  So both parties have a major stake in appealing to voters in those states.

Much has been made of the tendency of voters in these states to vote for the GOP largely because of social issues.  But I'm not so sure that social issues are what really tip the political balance.  After all, the voters of these states have always held fairly traditional views on social issues--and, despite that fact, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when they frequently sent Democrats to govern at all levels.  It's worth remembering, however, that, in that not-too-distant past, Democrats were much more courageous in engaging voters on economic issues.  That was how, starting with the New Deal, Democrats became the nation's majority party in the first place--asserting itself as the party of economic opportunity for all.

When it comes to the "coal belt," however, and other states whose local economies are heavily dependent on the production of fossil fuels, the Democratic Party has paid a steep price for its commitment to protecting the environment, and especially its commitment to climate change. Voters whose economic livelihood depend directly and indirectly on "dirty energy" are not going to be impressed with a commitment to an issue that provides them with no immediate benefits and the prospect of a long-term loss of their financial way of life.  Even someone as "green" as I am gets the power of that political reality.

But there are two ways by which Democrats can go after those voters and recapture the loyalty of voters in not only the "coal belt," but all of the dirty-energy states.  Actually, it's one way--but there are two compelling reasons for Democrats to pursue it, and for voters everywhere to accept it.

ISIS is the first reason.  Its existence and power, both politically and militarily, is completely dependent on oil.  In that regard, it is no different than al-Queda, or any of the Islamic terrorist groups that have defined national and international politics in this century.  No armies, no navies, no aerial assault will stop what are basically guerrilla organizations that coalesce and vanish at the drop of a hat--but like conventional armed forces, they need money, and they depend 100% on oil. And, as long as our economy depends as much as it currently depends on oil, ISIS will always have a lifeline from us to condemn all of us randomly to death.

And the second reason?  The simple fact that fossil fuels are not an unlimited source of energy. Even with the advent of modern drilling techniques, like "fracking," and leaving aside the real dangers of those methods (hello, earthquakes), we will run out of oil, coal, and natural gas one day.  And present rates of consumption mean that many of us may be alive when that day comes. Anti-environment politicians like to talk about the alleged economic costs of environmental measures. They rarely talk about whether it's possible to have an economy without an environment.  Probably for a very simple reason:  even they know that it isn't possible.

Which is why Democrats need to embrace their inner solar panels and windmills, go into dirty-energy states fearlessly, and talk up the foreign policy benefits and the economic benefits of alternative energy.  Never mind telling the voters about the environmental benefits; most of them simply do not care, even though they should care.  But the benefits with regard to issues they do care about--peace and prosperity--are real, and spectacular, and it's time to stop hiding them under a bushel.

Get going, Democrats.  Hillary Clinton gets it.  The rest of you need to do so, too.

Conservatives Are Unapologetic, Total Hypocrites When It Comes To Terrorism

That headline, which is redeemed for its lack of subtlety by its honesty, has been demonstrated to be tragically true by two events of the past week:  the backlash against Syrian refugees, in the wake of the Paris attacks by ISIS, and the tragic assault on the Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs which claimed the lives of three victims.

First, the backlash, which has been uniformly a conservative phenomenon.  It began across the pond with Poland, and spread quickly to our governors, no fewer than 18 of them were quick to announce that they would oppose any efforts to re-settle Syrian refugees in their states.  With one exception (and shame on you, Maggie Hassan), all of these governors are Republicans, with so-called "moderate" Rick Snyder of Michigan leading the way.  And never mind the fact that doing so is utterly, completely, absolutely illegal.  That doesn't matter when, with a few notable exceptions (take a bow, S.E. Cupp), there's a right-wing blogosphere (filled with hatred and lies) to appease. Even Congress is getting into the fact, using the refugees as yet another excuse to not do its job.

Welcome to Obama Derangement Syndrome in its most full-blown form.  All that matters to those on the conservative side of our ideological divide is bringing down the President, even if it takes a tragedy in a country they hate to do it (remember "Freedom Fries"?).  The blind animosity toward Obama has reached a point at which they can't even face a simple question, the answer to which would expose not only the irrelevance of their animosity to the refugee crisis, but the danger to our country posed by that animosity in the first place:

Why are the Syrian refugees fleeing in the first place?

For the seemingly obvious reason that they, like us, hate ISIS and want to get as far away from ISIS as possible

And the more we do to prevent the refugees from reaching safety, the greater the likelihood that they and other Muslims in the West already will become susceptible to pressure from ISIS to become recruits for its cause.

A three-year-old child (my oldest granddaughter, for example) could figure this out.  So what does that say about the right-wingnuts' reaction to Syrian refugees?  Either they have the brains of two-year-olds, or they are terrible liars when it comes to hiding their true motives.  I'll give you a hint about which of those possibilities is more likely than not to be true:  though there's much evidence to the contrary, I don't think they have the brains of two-year-olds.

I think that they are terrible, dreadful, horrible liars when it comes to the real reason they want to keep out Syrian refugees.  It's the same basic reason for which they hate the President:  race. Conservatism in its present form is nothing more than a desire to preserve white male Christian power, even if it has to be done at gunpoint in order to be successful.  This is why some wingnuts are calling for the admission of only Christian refugees (as if the bigotry of such a suggestion could go unnoticed).

It is also why the wingnuts don't care if gun rights laws have the effect of arming terrorists.  Don't believe me?  Take a look.  Take another look.

And it's why, to finally get around to the Colorado Springs shootings, nobody is calling for registration or internment camps for white male Christians.  Because those shootings are a terrorist act.  Period.  It's time to start telling like it is, instead of allowing the media to soften our thoughts about white male Christian violence in this country by calling the perpetrators "reclusive," "odd," or even "deranged."  As if the propensity to express one's individuality with the barrel of a gun was some cute personal idiosyncrasy.

You want to find a way to push back against all of this garbage that threatens to destroy not just the nation, but the world?

Be like Michael Moore.

At the very least, be like this Scottish newspaper, which is as nationalistic as they come but doesn't use that fact as an excuse for doing the right thing.

And fight the hypocrisy of our lunatic right-wing with three simple words to Syrian refugees:

Welcome to America.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Unfortunately, We Have To Return To The Unpleasant Reality ...

... that even conservatives know they can only win with violence, such as this attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic.  Hopefully, time and the better angels in human nature will ensure that not even violence will help them win.

And, Equally More Pleasant Than Politics ...

... some of the best opening shots in film history.

And Now, For Something More Pleasant Than Politics

Take a look at nine of New York's best interior landmarks.  And then, take a moment to weep over the mentality that can't wait to tear so many similiar landmarks down.

Who's Smarter About Immigration Than Republican Candidates?

Republican voters, as it turns out.

Let's Hope This "Never-Wrong" Predictor Is Not Wrong In 2016

Because it's predicting a Democratic landslide.

The Difference Between Crony Capitalism And REAL Capitalism...

... is the difference between what Donald Trump actually did with his money, and what he should have done with it.

You Want To "Enforce The Law"? Then PAY For It!

It takes a fairly strong stomach to watch even one Republican presidential debate.  I must have a stronger stomach that I previously realized, because I've watched all four while successfully resisting the temptation to throw up.  Nevertheless, even I will admit that I came fairly close during the most recent one, as I watch each of the clown-car refugees call on President Obama to "enforce the law," by which of course they meant the immigration laws, by which of course they meant to deport every "illegal" immigrant in existence.  Yep.  All 11 million-plus of them.  Right now.

This conveniently overlooks the fact that Obama, far from the being the radical Kenyan turn-'em-loose radical they so badly want him to be, has effectively become the Deporter-In-Chief, perhaps motivated in part by the view that such toughness, imposed even in cases that might have merited some degree of leniency, would give him the ability to woo Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform.  And we all know how that turned out.

In any event, if effort was all it took, Obama couldn't have expended more effort than he has to "enforce the law."  Which begs the question; why do we still have 11 million-plus human beings living in the shadows?

For the same reason that many immigrants have to wait years or even decades just to have a decision granted on their ability to live in the U.S.:  we have an immigration system that doesn't match up to the reality of not just a global economy, but a global culture as well.  And even worse, although we insist that the undocumented are the fundamental threat to the American way of life today, our priorities in federal spending don't reflect that point of view.

Consider, for example, the fact that we spend only slightly more than 3 billion dollars on USCIS, the federal agency that oversees immigration, but over 600 billion dollars on defense spending, much of it on redundancies and Cold War-era strategic thinking.  As mentioned in my previous post, we clearly need to redirect at least some of this spending away from conventional military fighting and much more toward intelligence and special-ops, i.e., to fight guerrilla warfare with guerrilla warfare. At the same time, however, we need to re-direct a portion of it toward immigration, which all of us now agree has at least some relationship to the issue of terrorism.

We currently have an immigration system that is almost entirely paid for by the filing fees of petitioners for immigration benefits.  And, if in fact the laws are not being fully enforced, that money clearly isn't enough.  And the answer doesn't lie in jacking up the fees.  Take a look at the fee schedule, which you can find by clicking here, and you'll be amazed by how ridiculously high the current fees are.  One alternative to re-directing defense spending might be, as part of a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, to expand the numbers of visas currently available each fiscal year.  But that may not be a politically viable solution, although it would produce other benefits in addition to paying for the immigration system.

In any case, the money to "enforce the law" has to come from somewhere.  Otherwise, by definition, the law will never be fully enforced.  And presidents like Obama will be forced to exercise some form of prosecutorial discretion--which, ultimately is all that he has offered in his various proposed forms of immigration relief (now stalled in court), and which as as legal as eating a hot dog at the ballgame (thank you, Jack Webb).  And those who complain about a lack of enforcement while failing to explain how to pay for more enforcement should be exposed for what they are: hypocrites.

It is long past time for the clowns in the car that masquerades as the Republican presidential field to put up or shut up on this point.  Either that, or get out of the way and let the grown-ups take over. We've all suffered enough with the status quo.  The 11 million-plus have suffered most of all.

This Is War--But We Need To Be Smarter About Fighting It

In the short run, there is nothing that should be said about the murders in Paris of innocent people by religious fanatics, other than to offer the survivors our support in every possible form.  And yet, there is no stopping the same people who exploited the 9/11 murders into two Bush-and-Cheney terms and a ruinous war from attempting to piggyback a political comeback on the most recently-shed blood of innocents.  You need look no further than here to see this happen.

Have these people no shame?  For that matter, have they no souls at all?  Is there nothing inside of them that will allow them to mourn the dead for so much as a single Tweet?  Does clinging onto their rapidly evaporating power mean that much to them?  And do you really want such people to be in charge of your destiny, which is exactly what will happen if we have an all-Republican government on January 20, 2017?

Those aren't rhetorical questions.  I'm hoping that everyone answers them next fall with votes against the GOP and conservatives of every stripe at every level.  But I worry that the right-wing talent for exploiting fear will take us back into another war that we can not afford, financially or otherwise.  So let's take a few moments to connect the dots by taking a walk down memory lane. We invaded Iraq without any understanding of the composition of the country.  We imposed a form of government with which the underlying cultures and peoples had no experience, and no ability to make it work. As a direct result, the country fell apart.  The military supplies we left behind fell into the hands of religious fanatics, who then collaborated with their fellow-travellers in Syria fighting the kleptocratic Assad family.  The result is the destruction of two nations, and a region in the hands of murderers who have no interest in anything except power.

And NONE of this would have happened if we had not invaded Iraq.  We were egged into doing so by fearmongers on the right.  And they are egging us on again.

But this is not to say that we are not in a war.  This is not to say that we should not fight that war. It is, however, to say that we need to understand how to fight that war.

This is not a war against standing armies, or between recognizable governments.  It is a war without front lines.  It is a war in which any spot on the earth can become a battlefield within seconds.  It is a war in which the enemy thrives on anonymity, of operating withing the shadows, on hitting-and-running so they can hit-and-run another day.  It is a war fought by cowards who know how to hide. And it can only be won with brains, not brawn.

We need to stop investing in the front lines of a Cold War yesteryear, and redirect defense spending in ways that prevent us from making the mistake we made in Vietnam:  failing to recognize a guerrilla war when it stares you in the face.  We need to stop acting like the British Army in our own Revolution, and act more like our own Continental Army. That's how we won that war.  We were outnumbered and outgunned.  And we still won.  We didn't outhammer the enemy; we outfoxed them.

Unfortunately, the GOP has failed to learn the lessons that the Iraq disaster and the ISIS catastrophe that followed it should have pounded into their heads.  They see themselves as hammers, and therefor look at all problems as nails.  We will pay a steep price for that tendency for decades to come.  We don't need to add to those decades by giving them more opportunities to pound our way to oblivion.

Fight the fearmongers.  And fight the terrorists.  But be smart enough to resist the fear on which both the fearmongers and terrorists feed.  Let's work together to fight smarter.  Yesterday's victims, and today's, deserve no less.