Saturday, December 19, 2015

Editorial: GOP vs. Earth

It was largely overlooked by the terrorism-obsessed news media, but President Obama and other world leaders secured a historic agreement in Paris on Dec. 12 to cut fossil-fuel emissions that contribute to climate change.

The US negotiators wanted the agreement to be insulated from the attacks of Republicans in Congress. That was no easy feat in a negotiation over an immensely complicated challenge involving 195 counties and half a dozen rival negotiating blocks. “We met the moment,” President Obama said in an address from the White House praising the deal. The Paris agreement on its own would not end climate change, he said, but “this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change, and will pave the way for even more progress, in successive stages, over the coming years.”

The deal reached in Paris set goals to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), phase out carbon emissions by the middle of the century, help poor countries realign their economies, and review their progress towards hitting those targets at regular intervals.

Obama and French President Fran├žois Hollande reportedly worked the phones to seal the deal. When final approval was held up for an hour late on that Saturday night over typos and a dispute over a single verb – shall or should – Hollande telephoned Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, to assure him the last-minute glitches would be fixed, Suzanne Goldenberg reported in The Guardian.

Obama met the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, at the beginning of the talks and the two leaders were in regular telephone contact throughout the meeting, administration officials said.

Hillary Clinton called the agreement “an historic step forward” in global efforts to address climate change, applauding America’s leadership, and she called for a redoubling of efforts to transition to a “clean energy economy.”

Bernie Sanders said that while the agreement was a step forward, it “goes nowhere near far enough.”
“The planet is in crisis. We need bold action in the very near future and this does not provide that,” Sanders stated.

But as Mark Hertsgaard noted at Dec. 13, “the main reason why it doesn’t [take bold action] are his Republican colleagues in the United States Senate, which would have to ratify any bona fide treaty the Obama administration might have preferred in Paris.”

No sooner was the deal announced than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) led the attack on the deal for Republicans.

“The president is making promises he can’t keep, writing checks he can’t cash, and stepping over the middle class to take credit for an ‘agreement’ that is subject to being shredded in 13 months,” McConnell said.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the global warming denier who chairs the Senate environment and public works committee, said he would continue to scrutinize Obama’s climate agenda and signaled that Republicans in Congress would continue to undermine the Paris climate goals and the work of government scientific agencies.

Republican presidential candidates had little to say on the climate change deal, possibly because they didn’t want to acknowledge Obama’s accomplishment. Of the nine Republican candidates, the New York Times noted Dec. 14, only John Kasich had any substantial comment: “While the governor believes that climate change is real and that human activity contributes to it, he has serious concerns with an agreement that the Obama administration deliberately crafted to avoid having to submit it to the Senate for approval,” Kasich’s spokesman said in a statement. “That’s an obvious indicator that they expect it to result in significant job loss and inflict further damage to our already sluggish economy.”

In the past, Republicans have disputed global warming. “We’re not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing to change our climate,” Marco Rubio said at a debate in September.

Donald Trump said, “I believe there’s weather. I believe there’s change, and I believe it goes up and it goes down, and it goes up again.”

Ted Cruz said before the deal was reached, “Climate change is the perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big-government politician who wants more power.”

At the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas on Dec. 15 CNN’s moderators asked no questions about global warming but there were a few mocking references to Obama’s attempts to deal with climate change. Kasich complained that the Paris talks focused on the climate instead of the threat from ISIS.

As administration officials pointed out after the deal was done, the agreement in Paris was constructed with a view to making it safe from Republican attacks – which was one reason negotiations were so difficult.

Bill McKibben, the founder of, said the agreement would kick off a new wave of activism targeted against big carbon reserves. He said groups would also step up the pressure on Obama.

“It is absurd we are having to have this fight and it is absurd that the administration, even while it is championing these negotiations, hasn’t yet materialized the message of these negotiations,” he said. “If anyone is serious about 2C, you have to understand you can’t be doing on the one hand or on the other hand anymore.”

Hertsgaard wrote that the summit’s accomplishments deserve the adjective “historic.”

“By aiming to limit temperature rise to ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and ‘pursue’ a goal of 1.5 C, the world’s governments went further than ever before in defining the allowable amount of future climate disruption. This was a case of moving the goalposts in the best possible way. What’s more, both developed and developing nations pledged to entirely eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases ‘as soon as possible,’ in effect promising to de-carbonize the global economy. Thus the leaders of both of the world’s climate change superpowers, the United States and China, praised the accord, with President Obama hailing the agreement not ‘perfect’ but ‘our best chance to save the only planet we have.’”

The Paris agreement was seen as the result of a long, slow rebuild of Obama’s climate strategy – after the chaotic end of the Copenhagen summit in 2009 and the death of cap-and-trade legislation in Congress a year later, Goldenberg noted.

In 2013, Obama made the fight against climate change one of his top priorities for his second term and began using executive powers more aggressively to reduce US emissions, including rules cutting pollution from power plants.

To make real progress on the climate, voters will have to remove climate-denying Republicans from power in Congress. Democrats must convince voters that more Americans are threatened by storms due to climate change than will be threatened by radicalized Islamist terrorists — who are still way behind radicalized Christian terrorists in the post-9/11 US body count, by the way.

The numbers are encouraging. The climate action is popular: two-thirds of Americans support an international agreement to curb emissions, according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll released Nov. 30 that showed 63% of Americans — including a bare majority of Republicans — said they would support domestic policy limiting carbon emissions from power plants.

In the United States we have one major party that believes, along with the leaders of 194 other nations, in limiting climate change, to keep it below the point that scientists believe could be catastrophic. The other party ignores the scientific consensus and is content to burn fossil fuels until the dinosaur juice runs dry and the Earth is a cinder.

You can vote Republican, but you can’t also claim that you care what happens to the children or grandchildren you will leave behind. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2016

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Selections from the January 1-15, 2016 issue

COVER/Ben Goldfarb
Will GMO salmon hurt fishing industries? 

GOP vs. Earth


Camouflage for Christmas

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Sustainable ag: what a year

Climate deal could be good for business;
Fossil fuels flail, solar stocks soar;
Congress reaches deal on spending;
TV ‘news’ feeds Trump, starves Sanders;
Right-wing pact spurs Cruz surge;
Latino groups differ: Cruz & Rubio ‘bad’ or ‘worse’?
Strategic voting by French left beats far right;
Election roundup;
Trump's Vegas hotel refuses to recognize workers' union;
States expand gun rights after Sandy Hook massacre;
Huge blow to Obamacare? Maybe not;

Swords into plowshares

Will Paris silence climate liars and nuke deniers?

GOP enters the abyss 

Choice between Sanders & Clinton on climate

Behind-the-scenes climate-change cabal

QR codes aren’t the answer; GMO labels are

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
A candle in the bleakness

The world is still at risk of AIDS

NYT too quick to target assault rifles

Why not a single-payer?

ISIS and the politics of endless war

BOOKS/Seth Sandronsky
New industrial proletariat

Will Kohler strike ignite 3rd major labor war?

Chi-Raq attack

Turning the US into the OK Corral

and more ...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The trend in presidential crises suggests some ugly truths about American politics and government

By Marc Jampole

Reading Malcolm Byrnes’ Iran-Contra reminds me that since the 1970s the United States has endured a presidential crisis in every decade. Comparing these crises reveals some disturbing trends in our government and our so-called free press.

In the 1970s, Richard Nixon resigned rather than suffer the humiliation of impeachment for ordering the break-in of an office of the Democratic Party and then trying to cover it up. Several of his staffers and hired hands served time in jail. Note that Nixon’s fall had nothing to do with his illegal secret bombing of Cambodia.

Byrnes tracks the presidential crisis of the 1980s in excruciating detail, based on his reading of an enormous range of government documents and news reports. The Reagan Administration illegally arranged for the sales of weapons to the Iranians in exchange for American hostages being held in Lebanon. Administration operatives funneled the money to the Contras, a ragtag army trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, in concealed defiance of American law and the expressed wishes of Congress. When rumors and evidence of this illegal activity began to emerge, the White House engaged in a cover-up, which, like Nixon’s of Watergate’s, ultimately failed. The president knew everything from the very beginning. An impeachable offense, you would assume, but people liked Ronald Reagan and didn’t want to go through the slow-motion horror of Watergate again. Many people were indicted, some convicted, but no one served any time.

BTW, Byrne is unable to prove or disprove the rumor that Reagan confidants promised Iran weapons if it held onto 52 American hostages until after the 1980 presidential election. Meetings were held; no one knows or will say what was discussed in them.

The 1990s presidential crisis seems ludicrous in retrospect. The Republicans spent years investigating Bill Clinton, trying to find some sign of illegal activity. All they could come up with was that Slick Willie liked to chase skirts. The House of Representatives impeached Clinton for no act he committed that endangered the United States or subverted the law, our democratic ideals or the will of the people. What he did was lie about one of his affairs, which is like blaming someone for touching third base after hitting a home run. Isn’t lying an essential part of the sin of infidelity and not a new, impeachable, sin?

The presidential crisis of the first decade of the 21st century revolved around the Bush II’s reaction to 9/11: manufacturing a reason to go to war against Iraq and establishing a torture gulag around the globe. The mainstream news media and our political elite seem to have given the Bush Administration a pass on the Iraq War, spinning everything away from the most likely explanation for the misstatements uttered by the President, Vice President and others on the rationale for going to war. As a nation, we prefer to blame bad information instead of out-and-out deceit.

But there is no doubt that Bush II and his henchmen conceived of, approved and implemented our shameful and illegal torture program. Instead of prosecuting these criminals, the Obama Administration chose not to investigate or indict, but to do as much as possible to ensure that no future administration resorted to such Nazi-like barbarism. 

The Republicans should have thanked Obama for burying their toxic dirty laundry, but instead they created the presidential crisis of the 2010s: the calling into question of the very legitimacy of the President. The Republicans have sowed hatred and distrust of our first African-American president by stoking rumors that he wasn’t born in the United States and is a practicing Muslim. They have further delegitimized the president by attempting to conduct their own foreign policy: arranging to have a foreign head of state address Congress without paying a visit to the President and writing an open letter to Iranian leaders. No president before Obama has ever had to endure accusations of being a socialist, a traitor, anti-Christian or un-American outside the campaign trail, perhaps because campaigns now seem to last the full four years of a presidential term.  Also new are criticisms of the President without proposing alternatives. Following the lead of their constituencies, many elected officials came to oppose the war in Viet Nam vociferously. By way of contrast, for eight years the Republicans have accused Obama of projecting weakness in foreign affairs without proposing to do anything differently. 

Let’s review what we’ve learned. All these presidents, except perhaps Obama, were caught lying. Sometimes it mattered and sometimes it didn’t. My conclusion—lying isn’t a presidential crime, unless it’s done to facilitate or conceal something that is considered a crime.

And what constitutes criminal or potential criminal behavior by a president? 

It’s not okay to play dirty political tricks, but it is okay to sell guns to our professed enemy and use the proceeds to contravene an explicit decision by Congress.

It’s not okay to have an affair with a consenting adult, but it is okay to torture dozens of people, many of whom are innocent.

No one seems to care how many people you bomb into the Stone Age, no matter the circumstances.

And it’s still not okay to be a black male in America.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Why hasn’t Justice Scalia proposed sending athletes and legacies to “lesser” schools?

By Marc Jampole

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia expressed an odious racist sentiment the other day when he said that those admitted to elite universities based on Affirmative Action standards suffered a disservice because they struggle at the elite school instead of succeeding at a lesser institution.

The reason I know Scalia’s comments carry a racial tinge—the false notion of black intellectual abilities—is because Scalia says nothing about the struggles faced by the less qualified student who happens to be an athlete or a legacy.  Studies show that legacies get a bigger break than either African-Americans or athletes do in college admissions, that is, that legacies have the lowest grades and SAT scores on average of any studied group.  A legacy, don’t forget, is someone who gets admitted because mom and dad and maybe granddad and great-gramps went to the college in question and have been giving it a lot of money for a long time.  I imagine that many of Scalia’s bosses, their children and perhaps one or more of Scalia’s own children have benefited from the special treatment given legacies. I vividly remember my son’s friend complaining that the legacies held back the classes at Harvard because they were so unprepared. Legacies and athletes would also do better at lesser schools by Scalia’s reasoning.

Scalia also doesn’t take into account many realities of higher education. For vast numbers of programs such as engineering, hard sciences, medicine and law, there is no difference between what is taught at any university. The only difference is who teaches it. An engineering course will be just as challenging at Harvard as at Arizona State as at New Jersey Institute of Technology. Why shouldn’t someone deprived of the breaks routinely given to legacies get a chance to interact with a more prestigious and probably better connected professor at an elite school? Society will benefit from the greater diversity and equality of wealth and income that will ensue.

As to much of the rest of the university curricula—the humanities and social sciences plus the burgeoning if sometimes dubious fields that try to apply the research in those venerable disciplines such as mass communications and marketing—grade inflation over the past few decades has eroded my confidence in the meaning of the grade performance at the university level. 

I also find that the easier SAT test no longer serves as a valid measure of how the very most talented students are performing in relation to each other, and so is of no value in sorting which kids should go to the very top universities and which belong in the next level down.

Universities mouth mealy justifications for admitting great athletes and the children of former grads. Their reasons for affirmative action are much more compelling: those admitted under affirmative action programs have often gone to segregated schools with fewer resources, not gone to specialty camps or taken SAT prep course, not had consultants help them write their essays. Some may have suffered food insecurity or other trauma, which research now tells us will reduce a person’s ability to perform on an intellectual level. Some suffer because of the reverberating effects of racism through the decades: There is little social mobility in the United States, and the ancestors of most affirmative action students were slaves, including those who come from middle class backgrounds.

The Wall Street Journal is carrying an opinion piece by Jason l. Riley, another of what seems to be an army of right-wing policy analysts from the Manhattan Institute, which praises Scalia’s comments. Riley argues that society suffers by allowing less qualified affirmative action applicants to attend elite schools instead of the more qualified because the school at the second tier now has to go to even less qualified applicants creating a chain of less qualified applicants attending each subsequent level of school. That reasoning doesn’t take into account that the white who is bumped from Harvard or Michigan for an affirmative action candidate—or a legacy or athlete for that matter—will now bring up the standards of the lower rated school.

Riley uses anecdotal evidence to state that affirmative action students do less well in college. I was unable to find any large study on the topic, but it seems beside the point for several reasons. First of all, we don’t ask the same question of legacies and athletes, although I suspect that since they come into schools less qualified than affirmative action students they will perform worse. Besides, the leading institutions have a value beyond the grade point average. In fact, the value of the elite diploma outweighs the grades for many—just ask Al Gore, Jack Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy or George Bush II.

Perhaps the most significant reason that the performance of affirmative action students is a moot point is that affirmative action is not about guaranteeing success, but about creating opportunity. Affirmative action gives someone from a disadvantaged background the opportunity to make it. As in the Texas case before the Supreme Court, the kids who get accepted to elite schools on an affirmative action basis are no slouches, and often the tops in their school and tops in the competitions in which they have participated. They deserve the opportunity to attend the elite school at least as much as the gifted athlete or the pampered scion of a wealthy family.