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Posts published in April 2019

Helter-skelter foreign policy

joneslogo1

On March 28, a headline on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website proudly declared, “Secretary Nielsen Signs Historic Regional Compact with Central America to Stem Irregular Migration at the Source, Confront U.S. Border Crisis.” The story under the headline told of how El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras would continue to work cooperatively with the U.S. to address the “ongoing humanitarian and security emergency at our Southern Border.”

The only effective means of stopping the flow of immigrants from these countries is to provide them financial and technical support to cut violence, produce jobs, and keep their citizens at home. El Salvador is a success story for that policy. Border apprehensions of Salvadorans decreased from over 72,000 in 2016 to less than 32,000 in 2018. The policy has yet to take hold in the other two countries but it can work.

On March 30, the President announced he was cutting assistance to the three countries because, “They haven’t done a thing for us.” The two-day timeframe might have been a little short for the historic March 28 policy to produce dramatic results. Do people in the White House coordinate with one another?

This is just another example of a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants foreign policy that endangers the security of our country. The North Korean dictator is first a lying murderer, but then a trustworthy pal. Now, he is an estranged love interest. Everyone who understood the North Korean dictatorship knew it would end this way. Kim was not going to give up his nukes.

Syria is another example of the President’s ill-considered policy making. During a testy phone call with Turkey’s autocrat leader, Trump blurted out that the U.S. would yank 2,000 troops out of Syria immediately, leaving it to our enemies. But a few days later, under great Congressional and public pressure, he changed course. Next, he said we were going to leave 400 troops in the country for a short time, but later said it may be for a longer duration. What the heck is it??

More recently, he first said we might resort to military force in Venezuela, but then announced we wouldn’t. As the U.S. dithers to decide upon a Venezuela policy, a stalemate has set in there, and the dictator, Maduro, might not be dislodged from power.

Our allies in NATO and the European Union are sometimes our friends and sometimes our enemies. We may withdraw from NATO one day, but we might not the next day. Canada and Mexico are valuable trading partner at times but a national security threat at others. The U.S. has become an untrustworthy trading partner, driving allies in both Europe and Asia to seek trading alliances with China.

This type of helter-skelter foreign policy is extremely disconcerting to our friends, particularly our North American and European allies. Our friends need to have some predictability as to American policy and should be consulted before a dramatic swing takes place. Our enemies need to understand when there are red lines they dare not cross. An erratic foreign policy blurs the location of those critical lines.

Because our President is enamored with the Russian dictator, who is also the enemy of our closest allies, is it likely that those allies will share sensitive intelligence with us regarding the common Russian threat? With our President so beholden to the Saudi despot, can we ever disengage our support for his murderous and failing war in Yemen?

The U.S. presidency is not an ideal place for on-the-job training in foreign policy. If a novice ends up in the White House, he should recognize his limitations and hire competent people to do the job for him. That has not happened yet in the Trump White House and it endangers our alliances and the security of our beloved country.
 

Joe and me

rainey

In this nation - and I suppose others as well - we have a constant national problem. Well, we have lots of national problems. But, this one you find in our news media, entertainment, religion, societal issues and a lot of other institutions. Including politics.

It usually becomes a major part of our national dialogue when some issue - or someone - becomes the major topic of the day capturing people’s attention. For good or ill. When it happens, the pendulum - discussion - swings from one side to the other at such a fast pace that reason and logic are often forgotten.

At the moment, Joe Biden is being victimized by that kind of national momentum that’s mostly undeserved. I say that as a man a decade older than Joe but as someone who was also raised in the ‘40's and ‘50's in a middle class working home. A home with two loving parents, public schooling, religious training and proud of it all.

We learned the social expectations of the time, learned to live by the right values of that era and, in most ways, evolved as the decades rolled by. We both are creatures of that background and, like Joe, I still live and most often practice those ways in daily life. It’s who we are.

Now, Biden’s being pilloried for some of the behavior which is part of his being. Just like mine. Not sexual actions or threatening, violent behavior or socially unacceptable language. But, he’s being subjected to daily public criticism as if all that were true of him. They’re not.

To those saying “Times have changed and we must change with ‘em,” I say, “I understand.” God knows, I understand. Even as our culture has grown grosser, our language in public more highly offensive and our acceptance of what was once unacceptable in entertainment, media, sports and other public activities continue unabated. But, I understand.

Joe is being accused of “touching” women or making them “uncomfortable.” Not by women he may have “touched” today or even this week. But, by women who said they felt “uncomfortable” several years ago. My question: “Where the hell have they been, why didn’t they speak up before a presidential campaign and, most important, when the behavior made them “uncomfortable,” did they say so to Biden?

As for the woman from Nevada, she and Biden were making a public appearance that day. She was about to speak. He leaned forward and touched her hair and shoulder as if to say, “You got this. You’ll do fine.” Encouragement is what I get from the details. Did she tell Joe afterwards he was wrong - that his actions upset her or made her more nervous? Did she?

Let’s talk about “behavior” for a moment.

When it comes to public “touching” or “caressing” or any other social act of greeting, I remember the late Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus and Senator Frank Church as they “worked” a room or campaign appearance. Both approached you with an extended right hand - palm up - followed many times by a left hand on someone’s body. Male or female. And, the gestures were nearly always returned.

Politicians of every stripe do the same. Always have. Many hug - or are hugged by - the other person. Sometimes even a kiss on the cheek. In a basic sense, it’s part of the “job description.” You may not like it or get upset. But, that’s a most common political social environment.

I understand some people - female and male - not liking physical closeness. I get it. Joe gets it, I’m sure. It’s always been that way. Many folks like their “space.” These people - female and male - aren’t new. Their feelings aren’t new. But, the current uproar by some voices is. The pendulum has swung quickly.

That pendulum swing of currently “acceptable” social behavior has gone far from center. Joe’s been around for 70+ years. Me for more than 80. This sudden “foot-on-the-brake” of what’s now “expected” is new to people - men and women - with all our previous years of experience. Of 70-80 years of what was acceptable conditioning.

Education is a two-step process for most of us. Especially seniors with years of history. Step one: forget - unlearn - what you know and have done in the past. Step two: learn the new, even if it’s radically different. Forget and re-learn. Forget and re-learn.

When you ask people who know Biden the best, what you hear most about are his many little - and mostly very private - acts of kindness toward both friends and strangers. How he often goes out of his way to do or say something to support individuals he doesn’t even know. How personable and, yes, even loving he is with just - people. Not the kinds of things you hear about other vice presidents or senators.

What angers me most, at the moment, is the sudden outbreak of female criticism of Biden. Aside from being probably the most experienced of all candidates in both parties, he’s an old “war horse.” But, some of the very experiences that make him so highly qualified are now being seen as inappropriate. In many ways, the older you get, the more history you have to overcome.

And, let’s not forget. Among Democrat contenders to take on Trump next year, Biden is the leading candidate. Hmm.

Finally, for Joe and me - and the millions of other men out there who are long-lived - give us some time. We’ve made careers - fathered families - lived long lives of achievement - been accepted for who and what we are. We’re paying attention. We’ll make the adjustments necessary for what’s expected today.

And, we’ll still be here when that pendulum swings back to its proper place.
 

It’s time

richardson

We cannot fulfill our roles as citizens if we are unable to evaluate the president’s conduct vis-à-vis Russia and the Special Counsel’s investigation. And we cannot evaluate that conduct unless we can read the full Mueller Report. A four page cherry-picked summary written by an Attorney General who won his job by promising to have the president’s back will not suffice.

When he auditioned for the job, Attorney General William Barr sent to the White House an unsolicited 20 page Memorandum in which he gave an extremely expansive view of presidential power. He suggested that the president has all-encompassing constitutional authority over actions by the executive branch in enforcing the law.

Although Barr’s sweeping view on presidential power has scant support in precedent, the Memorandum had its intended effect. Trump wanted someone who would protect him and Barr was the man for the job. But lest we forget, the Attorney General is not the president’s lawyer. He’s our lawyer; he’s the people’s lawyer.

For two years, the American people patiently waited for Special Counsel Mueller to complete his investigation and make his findings. From all outward appearances, Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors and investigators operated with the utmost professionalism, cutting square corners, working long hours, and, in a city known for leaking like a proverbial sieve, the Mueller investigation was absolutely leak-proof.

Now that Mueller has finished his work and submitted his Report, it languishes on the Attorney General’s desk. There is no legitimate excuse for this delay. One could be forgiven for thinking that the only reason Barr has not yet provided even a redacted version to Congress is to give the president’s narrative of complete exoneration time to set in the public mind. But finally, it seems, the public is not so easily fooled.

Not so long ago, Mr. Trump said he wanted the full report to be made public. In fact, he declared that millions upon millions of Americans wanted to see the Report. Indeed we do.

But now the president rattles his saber and threatens to direct the Attorney General to hide the entire document. What has changed? Why does Mr. Trump, who was quick to take a premature victory lap, now fear letting the report see the light of day?

Perhaps it is because poll after poll tells us that the American people aren’t buying what Mr. Trump is selling. He claims the Mueller Report gave him total, across the board exoneration. It did nothing of the kind. With regard to obstruction of justice issues, Mueller wrote: "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

Mr. Barr has noted that Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure forbid the production of grand jury testimony and materials. That’s true. What is also true is that the rule of grand jury secrecy is subject to exceptions.

For instance, a government attorney can petition a federal court to authorize release of grand jury materials in special circumstances. But to the best of our knowledge, Barr has done nothing more than sit on his hands and whistle in the wind.

His failure to take this obvious step to seek judicial authorization to release grand jury materials is inconsistent with his testimony at his confirmation hearing when he promised under oath to make public as much of the Report as possible. He appears to be breaking that promise.

And when it comes to obstruction of justice, we need to know why the Attorney General rushed in to decide the issue when Robert Mueller did not. Special Counsel Mueller is no shrinking violet. In his long career, Mueller has made very tough calls in some of the most complex and challenging investigations of some of the most notorious criminal actors.

Did Robert Mueller expect the Attorney General to take it upon himself to draw a conclusion that Mueller refrained from drawing? I don’t think so.
The whole concept of a Special Counsel is to take prosecutorial decision-making out of the hands of political appointees, such as William Barr. I believe Robert Mueller intended that the Report go to Congress and that the responsibility to decide on obstruction of justice rest with Congress.
But we cannot know for sure because we have yet to see the report.

Our founding fathers wisely divided federal power among three branches of government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. Congress, as the legislative branch, must fulfill its role as a check and balance on the executive branch and that includes oversight, determining whether officials were obeying the law.

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates recently wrote that the Mueller investigation was “not about some tangential issue. It was about a foreign adversary’s attempt to subvert our election; it cuts to the very core of our democracy.”

With each passing day, Congress is limited in its knowledge of what really happened and hamstrung in its ability to keep our elections free from Russian interference. To this very day, Mr. Trump has ignored the findings of his own intelligence agencies and taken no steps whatsoever to protect future elections. Whether he conspired or not, Mr. Trump benefitted from Russia’s interference in our election, and it appears he wants to benefit again.

It’s time Mr. Barr honor his oath of office; it’s time he keep the promise he made to the U.S. Senate at his confirmation hearing. He must stop acting as the president’s wingman and start acting as the attorney for the American people. It’s time he releases the full Mueller Report to Congress. Indeed, it is past time.
 

Just say no …

johnson

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo is about to get his moment in the wacky spotlight of U.S. Senate confirmation politics.

Barring some last-minute change of heart, something never to be dismissed in Trump World, the president of the United States will nominate to the Federal Reserve Board a guy whose ethical and financial baggage would have immediately disqualified him during any other time in modern history. In the past, would-be cabinet secretaries or senior administration appointees have seen their appointments collapse for lesser transgressions than those hovering around Trump’s latest ethical outrage.

It seems almost quaintly secondary that Stephen Moore, a frequent Fox News gabber and Trump idolater, is also demonstrably unqualified for the job of overseeing the U.S. banking system and assuring the economy remains sound.

If Trump goes through with Moore’s appointment, Crapo will preside over his confirmation before the Senate Banking Committee and we’ll see how the mild-mannered Idahoan straddles the stupidity of the president’s nominees and the senator’s fealty to the big banks and financial interests, whose water he carries and whose campaign cash he hordes.

Will Crapo go with Trump and the Tea Party wing of the GOP or will he stand with the sane, sober financial realists who openly scoff at Moore’s lack of qualifications to serve on the Fed, not to mention his long record of incompetence?

Let’s review the “accomplishments” of the man who could be a heartbeat away from chairing the Federal Reserve by acknowledging that Moore is no Alan Greenspan, no Paul Volcker, no Ben Bernanke and certainly no Marriner Eccles, the Utahan who presided over the central bank during the Great Depression.

Rather, Moore owes $75,000 in back federal taxes and was held in contempt for failing to pay $330,000 in spousal support to his ex-wife. As the New York Times noted, “In 2013, (a Virginia) court ordered him to sell his home to raise money to pay the debt and forced him to set up an automatic bank transfer each month. After Mr. Moore paid $217,000 toward the debt, Ms. Moore asked the court to revoke the order to sell his home, which it did.” Moore calls his dispute with the IRS “a misunderstanding.”

So much for ethics. How about competence? Economics columnist Catherine Rampell assembled a “greatest hits” list of Moore’s crazy theories and predictions, including the old favorite that big tax cuts pay for themselves. The Congressional Budget Office said recently that the Trump tax cut, supported enthusiastically by Crapo, would add $1.5 trillion to the deficit during the next decade.

During the Great Recession, Moore predicted runaway hyperinflation like that visited on Weimar Germany in the 1920s, with people needing “wheelbarrows full” of cash to visit Albertsons. Moore was a principal architect of the disastrous tax policy implemented in Kansas in 2013, a policy he promised would miraculously lift that state’s economy, but instead slowed economic growth and crashed the state budget. As Rampell has suggested, Moore has been wrong so often — he’s not an economist by the way, but merely plays one on Fox — that he obviously doesn’t know how to use Google to check basic facts.

Moore was so often wrong in his pronouncements about the Kansas economy that he was banned from the editorial pages of the state’s largest newspaper. His lack of political independence was on full display when he said Trump deserved the Nobel Prize in economics. You can’t make this up.

Moore’s appointment comes, of course, in the wake of Trump’s continuing assaults on Fed Chairman Jerome “Jay” Powell, a respected conservative who seems determined to continue the Federal Reserve’s long struggle to remain independent of the kind of partisan meddling the president has raised to an art form. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Trump, who has publicly contemplated firing Powell — he legally can’t fire Powell who serves a fixed term — criticized the chairman on three different occasions recently before mumbling to Powell in a phone call, “I guess I’m stuck with you.”

Outside of the Fox News echo chamber, few people who know anything about the Fed and the economy think having Moore on the job makes any sense.

“Steve is a perfectly amiable guy,” says Harvard economist N. Gregory Mankiw, “but he does not have the intellectual gravitas for this important job.” Before Trumpers dismiss Mankiw as just another pointy-headed Ivy League academic, we should note he is a conservative Republican who worked for both George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.

But back to Crapo’s dilemma. In a normal political world, a senator in Crapo’s position — the conservative Republican chairman of the Banking Committee, a favorite of Wall Street and big banks, the 15th most senior member of the Senate — would have everything to say about this kind of appointment. A genuinely powerful chairman might even be expected to have his own candidate for the Fed, perhaps a trusted conservative economist with a track record of real accomplishment. There must be a few hundred of them available.

A real power in the Senate would have quietly signaled the White House that spouting sound bites on television just wasn’t adequate preparation for such an important job. A senator with a shred of independence would have never allowed a Stephen Moore to get in front of his committee.

All Crapo has said is that it’s a priority to fill vacancies on the Federal Reserve and he would not prejudge Moore’s nomination, while giving “it prompt attention.”

Maybe Crapo will yet head off this economic train wreck, potentially one of the most consequential, indeed disastrous of all Trump appointments. Or maybe he’ll do what Idahoans have come to expect of him and he’ll go along to get along and, in the process, further concede senatorial power and prerogatives to a man Crapo once said was so abundantly unfit for the office that he couldn’t support him for president.
 

The revelations of veto power

stapiluslogo1

NOTE: On April 5, Governor Little vetoed Senate Bill 1159, the initiative restriction bill.

Lord Acton is supposed to have warned that power corrupts, but Robert Caro, author of the multiple volumes of biography of Lyndon Johnson, has a better formulation: Power reveals.

And so now in the case of Idaho Governor Brad Little, and what he does about the measure or measures which seek to restrict or limit statewide ballot access for citizen initiatives.

As this is written - on Thursday - the governor has not acted or publicly announced his intentions. He might possibly have done one or both by the time you read this; but in any event, the point to be drawn from whatever happens next will remain.

The trigger, if you’ve not followed the Idaho Legislature the last few weeks, is a bill - followed by a related “trailer” bill intended to modify its effects somewhat - which changes the specifics of the legal hurdles that must be cleared by activists seeking to place an initiative on the ballot. Little said he wants to examine the two-bill package carefully before announcing his intent. That’s not an unusual precaution, likely wise.

Most governor vetoes of legislation fall into one of two categories (sometimes they overlap). Some of those bills are small in scope, minor in interest, and some troublesome issue has been located within, which may lead to a better or corrected version later. Some of those trashed bills may be more significant but create a problem for the governor with some constituency, in which case a veto might be the efficient thing to do.

Occasionally, not especially often, a high-profile bill with actual strong legislative leadership support, but with very strong external opposition, comes along. Governors must hate that: They’re stuck with a no-win decision, meaning that they’re going to make someone mad, no way around it. Someone the governor has to deal with, which means life could become uncomfortable at least for a while.

That is Little’s situation with the ballot initiative bills: He cannot avoid infuriating someone. It might be the leadership of the legislature and its majority party, most of which has strongly supported the bills (or at least the idea), but has taken considerable heat for it. The emotional response from that quarter (and several large or well connected interest groups, such as the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which also have signed on with it), may pick up on the concept of Little as a betrayer of them.

Or he can infuriate practically everyone else - or so it would seem, given that the governor's office estimates that communications from the public have run upwards of 99 percent in favor of a veto.

That’s the political and emotional calculus. There’s also this: If Little doesn’t veto the bills seen (by a wide range of people including a string of former attorneys general and the one living ex-secretary of state) as likely to be squashed by a court, he would run the risk of being seen as rolling over for legislative leadership and well-connected interest groups.

That would be an unfortunate perception of a governor who - so say a number of legislators - has been vastly more meticulous in carefully reviewing and analyzing legislation than many of his predecessors were.

But this also gets at the question many people had about Brad Little, which is not a criticism, but rather an uncertainty because of the lack of a previous hard test. Not about his intellect, which is widely thought to be among the best in the history of Idaho governors. Not, either, about his good intentions to do positive things for the state. But rather his willingness to stand up to people who also are empowered, in their own ways, and are willing to get in his face. How does he deal with that?

In Brad Little’s long public career, that kind of challenge never has materially emerged until now.

So how Little handles the veto power he now possesses will tell us volumes about who he is and what his governorship will be about. Watch closely how he handles it.
 

Keeping it neat

schmidt

The Idaho legislature has a tradition of protecting funding sources. Sometimes this is done in statute; an agency gets funding from a specific fee. For instance, Idaho Fish and Game is funded through designated Federal tax sources and the fees they charge and collect. This makes it a “Dedicated Fund” agency. F&G does not get money from the Idaho General Fund.

Traditionally, highway funding in Idaho has been in this category. The old-fashioned thinking was that revenue for road maintenance was supposed to come from state gas tax and vehicle registration fees, along with Federal gas tax revenue. This aligned with the principle that highways should be funded like a “user fee”; the folks who use roads should pay the costs. There is nothing in the Constitution requiring this, it has just been tradition.

Highway funding is and will be a big cost. The annual budget totals about $1B, 60% from state sources, 40% from federal gas tax. Compare that to a total Law and Justice (courts, prisons, parole etc.) of $500M. Still, it’s only a third of the Education or Health and Welfare totals, almost $3B each. But it’s big.

There has been a creeping erosion of the “user fee” tradition ever since the gas tax bill of 2015. Raising the gas tax 7 cents a gallon stuck in the craw of many (especially House leadership) and the back-door compromise was a late session bill that directed that any budget “surplus” would be split between the rainy-day funds and the highway department. This was called the “Surplus Eliminator”. Thanks to steady economic growth and conservative revenue estimates, Idaho has been running a $100M budget surpluses for 6 years now. The reserve funds now hold over $500M. It has a statutory cap at 10% of the annual general fund expenses.

The compromise of the Surplus Eliminator had a sunset, saying it would only last for a couple years. This made it more acceptable to budget hawks, who abhorred giving any general fund money to highways. This sunset was extended in 2017 and more money was siphoned from the general fund to pay for highways.

So, is the old-fashioned way of thinking about “user fee” highway funding dying? Was it worth keeping anyway? Why not just throw all the money in one big bucket and spend until it’s gone? Here’s why: stability and planning for uncertainty.

Tax revenues will fluctuate just as our economy does. It took Idaho less than 12 months to burn through $250M in reserves in 2009. Don’t forget the painful cuts to public education, Health and Welfare that had to be done in those years. Some say we have still not fully recovered from those public education cuts. When the next downturn hits, our current reserves will go just as fast.

But more, think of it as responsible budgeting. If roads need more money, who should pay: drivers or all taxpayers? And can we trust our legislature (remember, they could all be replaced every two years), to keep their eye on Idaho’s long-term economic strength? Or will they just react to the crisis at hand?

Another question begs answering: what is the function of reserve funds and just how big should they be? It gives me no comfort to know 58% of Americans have less than $1000 in savings. Most families couldn’t replace a blown transmission without a loan.

If you haven’t learned this about me yet, I’m a fiscal conservative, and I value having some reserves. Is 10% of annual expenditures the right number? We should have a solid goal and aim for it instead of siphoning it off to pay for road maintenance. The budget should be a clear statement of our values. Using the “surplus eliminator” for road maintenance is a messy, indirect, maybe even dishonest process that lets legislators skip the difficult process of expressing their values.

The Idaho legislature is slowly going the way of the US Congress; they’ve given up on budgets. Expect more from our state representatives. Keep highway funding neat.
 

Intended consequences

richardson

From the day Donald Trump descended his golden escalator to announce for president, he has been obsessed with the notion that immigrants are a threat to our nation's safety: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. . . . They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Subsequently, he has expanded his vilification net to include ever more people from south of our border. Late last week, Mr. Trump declared he will cut off all foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and is likely to close our southern border, purportedly to deter migrants lawfully seeking asylum in the United States. Under both U.S. and international law, we must offer individuals a fair opportunity to seek asylum.

Since last week's announcement, pundit after pundit has opined that, if Trump wants to stop migration from Central America, cutting off foreign aid and closing the southern border are the last things he should do. Indeed, the talking heads observe, such actions will almost certainly have a devastating effect on the economies and social structure of these countries, increasing -- not decreasing -- the numbers of people desperately seeking asylum.

They shake their heads and comment that Mr. Trump’s actions will result in “unintended consequences.” To these pundits I reply, “Nonsense! Further chaos and stress at the border are not unintended consequences; rather these are precisely the tensions the president very purposefully wants to exacerbate.” If his national security advisors and the Congress refuse to recognize a national emergency, he’ll see to it there is one. The man is so hell bent on being proven right that he’ll create the emergency himself.

The term “unintended consequences” usually refers to outcomes that are not the ones sought by someone who takes a given action. Here, Trump claims he wants to improve the situation at the border; in fact, he will make things much worse. But the "making it worse" outcome will come as no surprise to the president. Mr. Trump’s cruel actions won’t “backfire,” they will ignite a fire. And that is precisely what he intends to do.
 

Climate change: Now, or later

jones

Thousands of people were forced from their homes when the so-called “bomb cyclone” storm hit the U.S. Midwest in March. The storm caused record flooding and tremendous property damage. On the other side of the world, a record cyclone struck Mozambique and surrounding countries, displacing hundreds of thousands and causing widespread devastation. February ended the hottest summer on record in Australia, which saw devastating fires and over 200 heat records broken.

Climate change is bearing down on the planet and it is only going to get much worse if we keep pumping tens of billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year. The warmer air holds much more evaporation from warming oceans, which then dumps onto the earth in torrential downpours--think Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Violent weather is becoming commonplace around the world. While some areas are subjected to monumental flooding, other areas suffer drought, crop failures, starvation and massive wildfires.

More people in the U.S. are realizing that we have an existential climate problem on our hands, but some are concerned by the claims of climate deniers that it would be too expensive to deal with the problem--to seriously and substantially cut down on carbon dioxide emissions. It will take dramatic action and trillions of dollars, but we simply have no choice if we hope to leave an inhabitable planet to our children and grandchildren. If we put off trying to fix the problem until it reaches intolerable proportions, it will cost much, much more and may be too late.

There were 14 weather and climate disasters exceeding a billion dollars in the U.S. last year, with damages totaling nearly $100 billion. The total for natural catastrophes in 2017 was over $300 billion. Those are primarily damages for loss of property. As the climate continues to warm, those costs will dramatically increase. For just one small example, increasing property loss claims will cause increased insurance rates, which will raise business costs and be passed on to consumers.

Large areas of the country (and the rest of the world) will be unable to sustain crop production because of drought, devastating downpours, or changing soil conditions. For instance, saltwater intrusion from rising seas is rendering areas along the East Coast incapable of crop production. Changing weather patterns will affect the type of agriculture that can be sustained in Idaho and other inland areas.

And, speaking of coastal areas, the ice sheets on Greenland and both of the Earth’s poles are melting at an increasing rate. The melt water is raising water levels along our coasts and threatening some of our major cities. If there is no concerted effort to cut carbon dioxide levels and hold the melt rate in check, the cost of protecting our cities from rising waters will be astronomical.

The 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment issued by the Trump Administration’s intelligence agencies warned that extreme weather events “can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages.” The financial and human cost of that devastation would be incalculable.

It is time to get serious about trying to avert climate disaster and it is going to take a very substantial investment, which should create an enormous number of American green energy jobs. If we can poop away $1.5 trillion of federal revenue for an unnecessary tax cut, we can certainly find the money to save the planet for future generations.

This may all sound alarmist but there is much to be alarmed about. What do we have to lose by converting to clean, renewable, green energy? If the deniers are right and climate change is a hoax, we will have built a lower-cost energy system and developed valuable spin-off technology to fuel our economy. But, if we fail to heed the dire warnings of the climate and intelligence communities and they turn out to be right about the existential threat of climate clinic, we will leave our children an uninhabitable planetary hothouse.
 

Less light, more heat

rainey

Here’s a fun fact for you. Most recent CNN polling of registered voters has Trump and Orcasio-Cortez statistically tied in “like” versus “dislike.” The numbers approving (about 41% for each) and the numbers disapproving (about 54%). Weird, huh?

Trump’s been in office just over two years. But, AOC reached her numbers in just about 90 days Something of a record, I think, given all the media attention she gets or puts herself out there for. And that’s the problem. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “She runs the risk of being just another Kardashian.”

Which is too bad. She’s bright. She’s good on her feet. She’s advocating for most of the proper issues: new and better energy sources, improvements to banking and other finance regulations, higher wages. All good. All needed.

The problem is, since she won her Bronx election in November, between her efforts - and with willing support of national media - she’s achieved “rock star” status with a lot of folks. One of the late night talkers took to the streets recently to see what people thought of AOC. Answers were generally positive among those few who actually knew she was a member of Congress. But, an amazing number actually said “rock star!”

She’s not the only one of the new freshmen in Congress putting herself on the front pages and the talk shows. She has the highest public profile but others - mostly on House committees investigating Trump - are getting a lot of air time. IMHO, too much.

These young people have their “track shoes” on and many “hit the ground running.” Good. Mostly. But, some are demanding their predecessors take up their “new” bills right away. Demanding places on upper level committees. Right now. Wanting seats on the Budget & Finance Committee, for example, that traditionally go to members who’ve served longer and know a lot more about the budgeting process. The newcomers have proven patience is not one of their long suits.

Someone once likened the “ship of state” to an actual ocean liner. It takes a long time to turn that large ship around. It’s got to be done slowly, with many adjustments, before the maneuver is complete. There’s a lot of truth in that comparison.

Our national government was deliberately designed to be slow to change, though there are ways to achieve it. But, there’s great protection from making large-scale mistakes by having to push against the resistance to change. Took me years to learn that because, like AOC and the other “newbies,” I wanted to see more and faster responsiveness to ever-changing societal demands. It just doesn’t work that way. Nor should it.

Anyone who thinks change in government should come quickly need look no further for conclusive proof of the dangers than to note what’s happening in the White House. In the demands of one man’s unchecked, ignorant will, we’re seeing national and international carnage to a degree that’s never happened before. The wreckage he’s created can also come from a government unchecked and in too much of a hurry.

There’s a lot of talent in the new folks. Lots of energy that comes from not having experienced what the inside of Congress really looks like. Or how it operates or having been forced to slow down and learn how things get done. How bad ideas sometimes get through while good ones die aborning. Check back with ‘em in a couple of years and you’ll find the successful ones spent some time learning. And slowing down.

The 2020 election promises even more new faces. And the possible elimination of some disastrous roadblocks i.e. Ol’ Mitch. Whatever damage can be rightfully laid at Trump’s small feet, McConnell has done, in my opinion, far more lasting damage to this nation.

He’s done so by (1) stacking our federal court system with dozens of wholly unqualified people who’ll be there for decades and (2) killing any bills he doesn’t personally “like” or thinks shouldn’t become law. His actions have brought stalemate and partisanship to staggering new levels.

Aside from learning the ways Congress really works - when it works - the new folks need to study monoliths like McConnell and a few others. They need to listen. A lot. Listen to the members of both houses that are effective - that get things done. They need to divert some of that inexperienced enthusiasm into developing more patience with both the system and some of the “older” folks. Don’t lose the eagerness. Just temper it a bit.

They might spend some time with Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, who came to Congress some years ago, filled with zeal and lots of good ideas. Some of which are now law. Find out why people in “red state” Ohio keep returning him each election. Why they like his “lunch bucket” approach to governing. Still has the zeal. But, he’s also gathered a lot of knowledge and more than a few successes.

At the moment, AOC has a problem. That polling shows it. Just the fact that I can write “AOC” and you immediately know what those letters mean after only a few weeks makes the point.

There’s joy in recognition and acclaim - to be hounded by an ever-hungry media - to be asked by everyone what you think about this-and-that. But, there’s a deep downside when someone newer comes along; someone with a bit brighter wit, just a bit more enthusiasm, just a little more personality. Someone who’s a bit more “quotable.”

The good ones become better, often by ignoring the spotlight while sharpening their talents. She’s obviously got the talent. She’s just got too much spotlight.

Ask what people think when they hear the name “Kardasian.”

(photo/Dimitri Rodriguez)