I Think I Can Barely See the Light

So I’ve been kicking around this idea for some years now, and it’s been greatly on my mind for the past few weeks. As time goes on, things appear to be getting clearer, and I’m getting a stronger hold on my thesis. This is the beginning of what I hope to be a much longer treatise or series on this theme, and your comments and feedback are very welcome either in public or private to help challenge, develop and hone it. I’ll be around to discuss and explore with commenters, but please, no tech issues or questions today. That’s soon, not today.

Succinctly, I think we are already deep into the effects of Climate Change without realizing it. To be clear, I’m not talking about the alarming carbon dioxide levels or growing average high temperatures, recurring new monthly record high temperature, fires in Alberta, abnormal highs in Alaska, drought in the Southwest, diminished Arctic ice, or decreased reflectivity of glaciers and snow deposits world-wide due to pollution and soot. This is not about any physical aspect of Climate Change and the Anthropocene era. I’m concerned with the internal psychological, value, and cultural effects, those subsequent effects on populations, and what I see as larger trends worldwide.

I’m not usually a doom-and-gloomer, but there are a lot of powerful and scary currents across a wide swathe of humanity right now that seem, at their root, to share some intangible motivation. I think it’s fear – not of the other, not of progress or modernism or capitalism or Judgement Day or gay rights or transsexuals or Donald Trump or women’s rights or blasphemy or sacrilege or hippies or ethnic minorities or anything else rooted in our normal experience.

I think we, as a species, are already waist-deep into Climate Change and we’re acting like many other species do when put under serious, unseen-from-their-perspective environmental stress: we’re freaking out, and as tension rises, striking out against others and tearing down social and cultural edifices and the order that has served us well for the past few hundred years.

I fear that the future truly is undiscovered country as human history, norms, rules, etc. did not develop under this type of environmental stress – we’ve flourished coincident with a mild climate, and moved on when local climate changed too much or too quickly. Too many ascendant disharmonic forces across the globe strongly question, challenge, threaten, or violate their previous norms of behavior, treatment, principles, values, and history for me to not feel there is a trend, and it’s related. And no, it’s not the plants working together to drive us insane and reclaim the Earth for Mother Nature. And yes, for you wiseacres and cynics, in a way, the ascendency of women’s, gay, and transsexual rights is a positive effect of this break with who we thought we were.

It’s Happening Everywhere
I spend a lot of time reading about, thinking about, reading and listening to the Far Right so-called fever swamp. And to my ears, things have changed, and it truly scares me. Trump is like a stumbling, wind-up toy with lit sparklers sticking out of its head in a dry and dusty storeroom filled with rich fuel. But he’s no more than a match, which is horrible enough and will likely be tragic. He’s just one example, too close, gaudy and loud to ignore, and even if we Americans dodge the bully bullet, the rest of the world is also being challenged, and the good guys won’t win everywhere, certainly not every time.

Trumps scares me and it’s taken a lot of introspection to figure out why – it’s what he’s building off of that really scares me. He’s tapped into something for, although I don’t think he’s very smart in a traditional sense, he is a genius (not used lightly) at reading people and getting under their skin, intuiting what will anger them or put them off-balance so he has an advantage. The thing is, the people he’s appealing to are not just in the South or rural areas, or even just the US, or even the Western or developed world. There are far-right/quasi-fascist movements rising across Western and Eastern Europe, even Western Asia that share an anger, rooted in fear. And they are sharing, working together, learning and cross-training. These are movements that promise a return to greatness, incorporating a fundamental theme of palingenesis. They are organizing, recruiting, training, influencing, even winning (or almost winning, thank you Austria!) elections. Far-right leaders across Europe have reached out to or attended meetings or rallies with Trump!

It’s familiar to those of us who have studied the Right or Fascism – a focus on purity, on land, on blood, on heroes of old, on a strong leader who has the will to set things right. On rebirth, trying to recapture some idealized past when things were better and those “others” knew their place and it was at our feet or cowering in fear. When the future was exciting and not full of dread.

The thing is, it’s not just in Russia, the ‘stans, Europe, or the US. It’s ISIS. It’s the LRA. It’s Boko Haram. It’s Somalia/Kenya. It’s Y’all Queda and other resurgent secession and Confederate movements. It’s the Zetas and other drug gangs that are just as horrible as ISIS. (yes, they’re a drug gang but they are also powerful rebellions and mini chiefdoms that control large parts of Mexico’s territory) It’s a dozen more groups spread across the world. It’s happening almost everywhere, and where there’s not such a growing movement, there are established powers that are dropping their masks and embracing division and cultivating fear, selfishness, scarcity, and envy. And not being called on it like they would have been in the past. It’s like norms and expectations no longer are considered important. And it’s happening everywhere. It’s never been this way before, never so pandemic.

The Era of Migrants
Into this maelstrom of psyche and influence, a new problem has emerged. It’s here, and it won’t stop for hundreds of years – the era of mass human migration. Many point to the unprecedented drought in Syria as leading to the mass migration of the rural population to the cities, the subsequent overcrowding, scarcity of jobs, food and relief, the subsequent rebellion and fracturing of the formerly-strong Syrian state, and it did. You move lots of people and things change.

This instability, coupled with the US-caused fractures and instability in Iraq, and touched off by a millennial cult wishing for an end-times-inducing battle between the powers of the West and their holy warriors bathed in blood, has resulted in ISIS and it has spread. And so we now see millions of refugees, internal and external, and this Era is just beginning.

Germany has been at the lead in accepting their brothers and sisters in humanity, but I fear that a few more exploitations by ascendant movements in Europe coupled with inevitable ISIS attacks will result in walls and dogs and machine guns and barbed wire being first tolerated, then accepted, then embraced as these pressures transform us into something different: more reptilian, less Enlightened.

The thing is, climate migrants are not just far away. Certainly, a not-insignificant portion of Central American emigrants are seeking escape from social fractures heralding collapse of their fragile governments and systems. Just a few weeks ago, an entire city of 125,000 people evacuated due to Climate Change-caused fires in Alberta. Luckily, this was a temporary evacuation, but next time, it may be permanent.

In case you missed it, our first domestic climate migrants are escaping the rising water and sinking land. From Southern Louisiana, very poor rural refugees are being helped by a new model program that will become commonplace the rest of our lives – helping Americans, our brothers and sisters, to relocate and not be thrust into abject poverty and hopelessness.

This is good – while our issues are still small and before they grow, we’re trying to figure out how to best handle this type of situation domestically. But as evidenced by a not-insignificant portion of our governing class (ahem, Republicans) not seeing the importance of fully funding our efforts against Zika before it becomes a much bigger problem (and it will), I fear that we will not continue to develop the capacity and mechanisms to move and incorporate internal climate migrants. So when we need to relocate millions of Americans permanently, we will not be able to do it well, and we will have discord and likely pockets of rebellion and retributive violence against falsely-accused “others”. This is what animals do when under extreme environmental pressure.

When an environment changes and the stresses on a population increase, we humans move on or we fade away. That’s been our history as a species, and one of the chief reasons that we’ve been so successful on this planet the past 500,000 years or so. But in this case, we’re all on the Titanic and we’re all just re-arranging the deck chairs since there are no lifeboats. I think that at a very low, primeval level, we, as a species, know that. And so we are already well into freaking out. We just haven’t realized it yet and we don’t have the leadership and level of trust in our cultures to identify, manage, and overcome our animal nature at the worldwide scale.

So while I look around and marvel at the wonders of everything from our technology, art, science, the beauty and glory of this planet, and the wonderful, kind, silly, beautiful things billions of people do for each other every day, I am filled with optimism and joy. But no matter how much I smile and greet the day, I fear that things will quickly devolve.

The only reason we as a planet survived the Cold War was through wisdom, procedure, communication, fear, and the knowledge that one small mistake could blow everything up. I fear that because this is not as much of a conflict and certainly lacks a clear enemy and intuitive visual of the results of failure – a barren, lifeless radioactive planet -we are not going to be able to adapt well to this ever-growing pressure. Although it seems logical that if there’s a major climate-related issue before the election, the Democrat would be elected, I fear that we’re gibbering apes, and the cocky bully baboon will step into power.



Some Mostly Stolen Thoughts On That Old Politics Vs. Revolution Thang

So this morning I’m reading a diary on the Great Orange Satan about political doings over in Bagdad By The Bay.  Though I grew up in the San Francisco area, I’m not really current on what’s happening, aside from the fact that I couldn’t afford a shack in SF itself anymore — notamidst all those Twitter-, Apple-, and Google-erati.  So I gobble down the story, assume/accept the big-city, big-money corruption narrative, and move on.

Sucker!

I do have friends and relatives back by the Bay, as it turns out, and one of them has worked in city government for a long time.

Turner_-_Dido

He’s got first hand knowledge of San Francisco’s allegedly lost progressive mindset as it works within local government, and he weighed in.

I’ll excerpt his comment below, but first I just want to say this was an object lesson for me, a reminder of how easy it is trip up in the way that I’ve criticized some of the most extreme of the Bernie camp for doing.

That is: there’s a ton wrong with our politics, our society, and our engagement with each other.  It’s so tempting to leap from a clear problem — the impact on middle and low income residents of the gentrification of San Francisco (and elsewhere!) driven by extreme income inequality — and assume that political actors are obviously complicit.

The reality?  Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t, and it takes some effort to figure out the five Ws and the H in each case.  Worse yet — if the problem is truly complex, then political action is at best an incomplete tool to deal with the issue.

Which is why, in the end, I think Obama is a truly great president: he gets all of that.  The need for policy and politics; the insufficiency of politics on its own; the agonizing difficulty of addressing any truly major problem — which translates into rage-inducing slowness to see the change take shape; and the need to keep plugging away.

I feel that rage often enough, and I know that I don’t have the qualities of character our president does, the off-the-charts focus and persistence required to make sh*t happen, and to wait — years if necessary, decades — to see the results.

I have high hopes for Hillary on this score.  Not that I’ll agree with her on everything — I don’t and won’t, just as I haven’t always with Barack Hussein Obama.  But I trust her (yes, that word) to pay attention, to know her stuff, to hire good, smart folks, and to soldier on and on and on — as the job and the world requires.

Here the sermon endeth…and an excerpt from my old Bay Area companion’s comment takes over:

I’ve worked on the financial administration side for the City of San Francisco for many years, and the truth is that under successive mayors and Boards, San Francisco has put more money behind progressive goals than almost any other city in the country.

The City spends billions of dollars a year on its amazing public health programs, including a universal health access program for City residents that predates and goes well beyond Obamacare, and many hundreds of millions of dollars on programs to help the poor and homeless, including thousands of units of housing for the poorest of the poor and people with severe mental illness and other health problems.  The City spends hundreds of millions a year subsidizing its transit system and setting aside funds for children.  The City spends hundreds of millions a year subsidizing its transit system and setting aside funds for children. 

Mayor Lee …supported not just measures to attract and keep higher-paying tech jobs but also continued one of the largest and best City subsidized jobs programs in the country…

These are great progressive achievements….

You can read more at the link. The writer goes on to acknowledge that despite all this, the reality is that San Francisco’s housing costs put enormous stress on too many, and argues that the drivers of that are at best barely subject to direct political control — and that policy responses offer very tricky alternatives.  The challenge for progressives, among whom he numbers himself is thus to..

examine what housing policies we should we be pushing for that can help the most people of different income levels that need housing (not just the poorest of the poor).

TL:DR:  electioneering — and definitely punditizing —  is easy.  Governating is damn hard, which is something to be mindful of at this and every season.

Over to y’all.

Image:  J. W. M. Turner, Dido Building Carthage, 1815.



They Are Who We Thought They Were, Part Deux

The CIA really, really doesn’t want us to know just how badly it can f**k up:

The CIA inspector general’s office — the spy agency’s internal watchdog — has acknowledged it “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of a mammoth Senate torture report at the same time lawyers for the Justice Department were assuring a federal judge that copies of the document were being preserved, Yahoo News has learned.

Das_Geheimnis_-_Le_secret

Although other copies of the report exist, the erasure of the controversial document by the CIA office charged with policing agency conduct has alarmed the U.S. senator who oversaw the torture investigation and reignited a behind-the-scenes battle over whether the full unabridged report should ever be released, according to multiple intelligence community sources familiar with the incident. [Via the esteemable Charles Pierce.]

As the aforementioned Mr. Pierce writes

A democracy cannot survive if its people believe they are being played for marks. It can survive for even less time if they turn out to have been right.

Shitty cops are bad enough.  Shitty secret police…

Feh.

Image: Felix Nussbaum, The Secret, 1939



Equality and Nothing Less (or More)

I sense I’m in the minority here, but I find erstwhile BJ front-pager Freddie deBoer consistently interesting to read. Douthat of the NYT references a recent deBoer piece in yesterday’s column:

I like how the left¬wing gadfly Fredrik deBoer framed this issue: “What do you owe to people who are guilty of being wrong?” It’s a question for liberals all across the Western world to ponder, given the widening gulf between their increasingly cosmopolitan parties and an increasingly right-¬leaning native working class.

deBoer, pondering the view of “our liberal intelligentsia,” puts these words in that group’s mouth: “Trump’s rise has nothing to do with the collapsing economic fortunes of the white working class and everything to do with racism.” There are people who oversimplify the issue to that degree, but I think most folks realize there are multiple factors at play. But even if you grant deBoer’s premise, his conclusion doesn’t follow:

…in a deeper sense I think conservatives have won a major victory, one not understood by them or their antagonists: they have written the notion that dignity, respect, and material security must be earned into the progressive imagination. They have made the notion of a moral meritocracy inescapable in American civic life. The terms by which one comes to deserve the good life are different, but the basic logic of meritocracy has been preserved.

Is anyone seriously arguing that even the most vile bigots among the white working class shouldn’t have material security? I don’t think so. The liberal premise I buy into is that everyone should have healthcare, a living wage and a secure retirement. Respect has to be earned, yes. It’s not an entitlement.



Doomed … ooops

The fact that United Healthcare was pulling out of most states on the individual market was a sign that the Exchanges and thus Obamacare (let’s forget about the very successful Medicaid expansion for a moment) were doomed.

There would be no competition and no one could make money on the exchanges.

Doom I tell you, Doom!

And then OOPS

 

Other insurers are submitting bids and prepping applications to expand into markets that United Healthcare is leaving.

Applying for approval in Kansas is a fairly low cost operation as a committment is not needed until mid-September but this means the build teams at Aetna and Medica had been working on these projects since last November and the decision to explore expanding was made last summer with numerous points where pulling the plug on the exploration could be done fairly easily and cheaply.

It could be competition is working the way it is supposed to work. Overpriced and undervalued firms leave markets that they don’t understand while new firms that think they have an interesting angle enter markets.

Was there a Scottish radical who wrote something about that a while ago… what was his name……



Trump-proofing the Republican nomination process in the future

This post is speculation. It assumes that Trump will lose and lose big in November and that the Republican establishment as defined by a variety of rules committees has the power and the will to institute changes to the Republican primary process to Trump-proof the process.

The easiest way for the Republican Party to Trump-proof itself is to stop lying to its supporters. The Republican Party elite is fundamentally not trustworthy to its base voters. The core example is the promise that a Republican House and a Republican Senate could force President Obama to unwind PPACA while he sat in the White House. That was not going to happen. Trustworthy elites won’t happen as there is too much money to be made from fleecing the rubes. Once we take policy honesty off the table, rule changes are the next step.

Trump is the delegate leader (and presumptive delegate majority holder once the process plays out) with a low proportion of the total vote.

He benefited from a split field and a rules system that allowed factional plurality leaders to amass delegate strength out of proportion to their actual vote counts. Winner take all elections with more than two candidates have this common failure. There were two sets of winner take all elections in this current Republican primary. The first was state level delegates where the winner of a state received a significant bonus number of delegates and then winner take all at the Congressional District level. The Republicans assigned three delegates to each Congressional District without regard to how many Republicans actually lived or voted in that district.

538 has a good example of how this flat allocation of winner take all delegates by district helped Trump:

If Ted Cruz wins by a huge margin in Milwaukee’s suburbs, as expected tonight, he’ll get all three delegates from Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District, which cast 257,017 votes for Mitt Romney in the 2012 general election. But in two weeks, Donald Trump could capture just as many delegates by winning a majority of the vote in New York’s heavily Latino, Bronx-based 15th Congressional District, which cast only 5,315 votes for Romney four years ago.

Three weeks ago, Trump won three times as many delegates — nine — at the Northern Mariana Islands convention, which drew just 471 participants.

This is problem #1. The GOP primary delegation process favors plurality winners and it favors candidates who can win in very low turnout environments. There is a massive variance between the minimum number of votes needed per delegate and the maximum number of votes needed per delegate. Some districts are extremely efficient and some are extremely inefficient places to win. The Republicans treat districts like the Senate treats states. The first rule change would be to scale the delegate award to some measure of Republican vote strength.

Read more



Open Thread: Snowden and the Unasked Questions

There’s a sub-branch of linguistics where the experts search for the words that don’t exist in a particular language — sometimes because certain subjects are considered too dangerous to speak of directly. From the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog, “New study: Snowden’s disclosures about NSA spying had a scary effect on free speech”:

.[I]t’s difficult to judge the effect of government-spying programs. How do you collect all the utterances that people stopped themselves from saying? How do you count all the conversations that weren’t had?

A new study provides some insight into the repercussions of the Snowden revelations, arguing that they happened so swiftly and were so high-profile that they triggered a measurable shift in the way people used the Internet.

Jonathon Penney, a PhD candidate at Oxford, analyzed Wikipedia traffic in the months before and after the NSA’s spying became big news in 2013. Penney found a 20 percent decline in page views on Wikipedia articles related to terrorism, including those that mentioned “al-Qaeda,” “car bomb” or “Taliban.”

“You want to have informed citizens,” Penney said. “If people are spooked or deterred from learning about important policy matters like terrorism and national security, this is a real threat to proper democratic debate.”

Even though the NSA was supposed to target only foreigners, the immense scale of its operations caused many to worry that innocent Americans were getting caught in the dragnet. A Pew survey in 2015 showed that about 40 percent of Americans were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the government was spying on their online activities.

The same survey showed that about 87 percent of American adults were aware of the Snowden news stories. Of those people, about a third said they had changed their Internet or phone habits as a result. For instance, 13 percent said they “avoided using certain terms” online; and 14 percent said they were having more conversations face to face instead of over the phone. The sudden, new knowledge about the surveillance programs had increased their concerns about their privacy.

Penney’s research, which is forthcoming in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, echoes the results of a similar study conducted last year on Google Search data. Alex Marthews, a privacy activist, and Catherine Tucker, a professor at MIT’s business school, found that Google activity for certain keywords fell after the Snowden stories were splashed on every front page. Both in the United States and in other countries, people became reluctant to search for terrorism-related words such as “dirty bomb” or “pandemic.”…

The Wikipedia data suggest that the Snowden revelations had a noticeable impact on people’s Wikipedia behaviors, says Penney. “I expected to find an immediate drop-off in June, and then people would slowly realize that nobody is going to jail for viewing Wikipedia articles, and the traffic would go back up,” he said. “I was surprised to see what looks to be a longer-term impact from the revelations.”…

Of course people will find a way around the Forbidden Terms — people always do, whether it’s Siberian nomads referring to Grandfather (Bear) or devout Jews not speaking the name of their god — but wasn’t there a time when “Watch what you say, watch what you do” was righteously mocked as un-American?