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Posts published in October 2019

Impeachment commentary


A few thoughts about a couple of comments from the Idaho congressional delegation on the prospective impeachment of President Donald Trump.

Note first the fact that this delegation has said as much as it has, which though it isn’t a lot, still makes it one of the more vocal Republican state delegations around the country.

Representative Mike Simpson issued this on September 25: “Democrats have been threatening to impeach President Trump before he was sworn into office. To date, I have seen nothing that warrants impeachment, and there have certainly been ample opportunities to analyze their many accusations during their countless investigations. However, they have their constitutional right to proceed in their relentless endeavor. I, for one, believe the American people deserve more from their elected officials. Our country faces real issues including immigration reform, cyber-security, and funding the federal government for fiscal year 2020 which starts next week, and we should be focused on those things.”

We’ll come back to the substance of the charges, but for now think a second about the “real issues” - which, yes, are real issues - the representative urges Congress to focus on. What he leaves unsaid is: Why can’t Congress go ahead and do those things?

Of course it can, if it chooses. The impeachment-inquiry activity, central a topic of discussion as it may be, is preoccupying the actual work of only a small portion of the House of Representatives - mainly one committee, and peripherally a couple of others - and most of the work of the chamber can and does go on. In the last couple of weeks the Idaho congressional delegation has issued a bunch of press releases outlining its progress and activity on a variety of fronts, from rural lands payments to anti-Semitism, having nothing to do with impeachment. I just attended a town hall meeting held (in another state) by a member of Congress, and impeachment occupied no more than three or four minutes of the hour-long session. If impeachment brings congressional things to a slower grind than usual, that’s not because it has to.

Of course, you have to wonder how much progress the Congress this term would make on many really significant subjects anyway, even if the prospect of impeachment were nowhere in sight.

Simpson naturally is entitled to his read of what does or doesn’t constitute reasonable grounds for impeachment; odds are he (and Representative Russ Fulcher) will get their turn at voting and speaking on that subject sometime in the weeks ahead.

As for addressing the substance, Senator Jim Risch had an excellent suggestion.

In a recent Boise radio interview, he said, “Let me give some advice to your listeners, this is really simple. The Democrats are saying this is terrible, the president is a traitor, and we Republicans say, ‘Get outta here, there’s nothing there there.’ So, look: Don’t take my word for it, I’m a partisan. Don’t take the Democrats’ word for it, they’re partisans. Certainly don’t take the national media’s word for it, they are really partisan, they’re full of hate and vitriol for this guy. Read it yourself. … It’s online, every word. … It’s really easy to read, it’s not legalese or diplomatese. It’s just two people talking. And you can understand it crystal clear and can make up your own mind.”

Spot on. The core of what you need to see is right there in the official documents which are neither long nor hard to read and, as the senator suggested, easy to find with your nearest search engine. Such as the request from the American president saying, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great” - the request in essence that a foreign government conduct oppo research on one of the American president’s political opponents.

Of course, we could add to the must-read list a few must-views that also make up original source material, such as the Thursday press conference President Trump held in which he publicly asked the government of China, with which he and this country have a troubled relationship, to do the same as he asks of Ukraine, or his press event with the leader of Finland.

Checking out the original source materials on all this is my preferred approach, and I recommend it over whatever the talking heads have to say. Senator Risch was exactly right about that.

We can all multi-task. And we should.

Politically motivated


If you don’t like what a politician says, a quick response (and sometimes the only one) is to decry their statement as politically motivated. Or attach the phrase to a policy, or a criminal prosecution, or a smear, or …
The purpose of saying so is to cast a sense of distrust on the statement or action. But what does it mean?

Look first at motivation.

The site Business Jargons calls that word (in a not-unusual definition among dictionaries) “a driving force which affects the choice of alternatives in the behavior of a person.”1 I chose a business-oriented source for the word because the study of motivation is so central to modern business activity. (One book on my shelf is Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, by Paco Underhill.) Successful and modern businesses know a lot about our motivations, sometimes a scary lot. But they keep researching, because there’s always much more to learn; they’re smart enough to know they never know all about what motivates us – and what might motivate us to buy from them.

There is, of course, the motivation to fulfill basic needs (shelter, food, water, and so on). One report suggests motivation can be split into inside and outside factors: “intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation states that people are motivated by internal rewards like fulfillment and contentment. Conversely, extrinsic motivation states that people are motivated by external rewards like a bonus or raise as well as negative external factors like getting fired.”

In any one life, many things are going on, and for any person (even a politician) the cross-currents can run unpredictably. We may jump to a conclusion about why a person did a particular thing, but the truth is that we often don’t know perfectly clearly why we ourselves do some of the things we do. That complexity is what keeps whole economic consulting businesses in business: There’s a lot we don’t know.

Why did a politician do X? We can guess. They can proclaim. But the answer may be hard to determine conclusively.

Was something done with the motivation of gaining some advantage in a political situation? Maybe.

Prove it.

Do you want a livable planet?


Millions of young people around the globe stepped forward on September 20 to plead with world leaders to leave them an inhabitable planet--a world not plagued by unbearable heat and catastrophic weather. They got a cold and deaf ear from our President, perhaps the most prominent climate denier on the face of the Earth.

It is not easy to ignore the evidence of climate change unfolding before our very eyes. The last five years have seen the hottest global temperatures on record. Last July was the hottest ever recorded. Ice sheets around the world are melting at an alarming rate, sea levels are rising, farmers are having their crops washed out by torrential rains, and conflicts over resources are becoming commonplace. And, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Think of Tropical storm Imelda, which surprised southeast Texas in mid-September with a 43-inch cloudburst near Beaumont. Just two years ago, Hurricane Harvey drenched areas of Texas with more than 50 inches of rainfall. Weather experts say that the warming waters of the Gulf fuel monster storms that produce these massive downpours.

Pentagon and State Department planners predict that violent weather events will lead to hotter weather around the globe and changing weather patterns that will result in torrential rains in some areas and persistent droughts in others. That weather, in turn, will cause major population shifts, widespread starvation, and desperate conflicts over water and land, all of which will pose serious threats to our national security.

We have already seen an increased flight of Central Americans to our borders, partly as a result of weather-caused crop failures in those countries. It will get much worse as global temperatures continue to climb.

Rather than taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit rising temperatures, Trump is stepping on the gas to burn more fossil fuels. He has pushed coal, even though it is more expensive than clean energy. He has attacked the stricter auto mileage standards so that families will have to use and pay for more gas, breathe dirtier air, and suffer hotter temperatures.

Trump has stuffed the agencies with climate deniers, hollowed out government agencies that research ways to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, ordered the suppression of their reports, destroyed efforts to cut down carbon dioxide and methane releases, and refused to attend meetings designed to save the planet from environmental disaster. He was an obvious no-show at the G-7 global roundtable last month and will play no part in the UN Climate Summit this week.

If global warming is a Chinese hoax, as Trump complains, why has he not launched an investigation to find out why 97% of the climate experts have agreed that it is an existential threat to life on Earth? If we phase out fossil fuels and spend several trillion dollars to switch to clean energy, only to find that the scientists were wrong, we will have cleaner air, a vibrant energy sector and hundreds of thousands of green energy jobs.

On the other hand, if it turns out that the scientific community was right about global warming and we simply sat on our hands and let it happen, it will be a catastrophe for those kids who demonstrated on September 20 to save the planet, as well as all of the rest of us. (I’m personally inclined to go along with the scientists, given the President’s record in evaluating Hurricane Dorian’s threat to Alabama.)

It is already too late to prevent the kind of violent and destructive weather events we presently experience from plaguing us thousands of years into the future. If we continue to blast billions of tons of planet-warming greenhouse gasses into our closed atmosphere like we now do every year, our children and grandchildren won’t have a chance. Tell our Senators and Congressmen that our kids deserve to have a life.