Denying Reality, Subsidizing Our Own Destruction

Warnings about climate change began years ago, with predictions of devastating fires, more powerful hurricanes, rising oceans and millions of global migrants.

What’s that line from “bring in the clowns?” Oh yes–“Don’t bother, they’re here.”

The Idiot-in-Chief may dismiss science, may attribute the fires burning much of west coast America to “forest management” (not to get picky, but the federal government is responsible for managing something like 70% of California’s forests), but people who actually know what they are talking about uniformly connect the extent and severity of those conflagrations to climate change.

 How many Americans will be displaced by climate change–not sometime in the future, but soon? The New York Times recently focused on the probability that massive population movement will change the country. Abrahm Lustgarten, the author, explained how he came to the issue:

I had an unusual perspective on the matter. For two years, I have been studying how climate change will influence global migration. My sense was that of all the devastating consequences of a warming planet — changing landscapes, pandemics, mass extinctions — the potential movement of hundreds of millions of climate refugees across the planet stands to be among the most important. I traveled across four countries to witness how rising temperatures were driving climate refugees away from some of the poorest and hottest parts of the world. I had also helped create an enormous computer simulation to analyze how global demographics might shift, and now I was working on a data-mapping project about migration here in the United States.

Noting the obvious, Lustgarten points out that Americans have largely avoided confronting these issues, thanks to politicians who play down climate risks, support continuing the enormous subsidies to fossil fuels and support “other incentives aimed at defying nature.” By “defying nature,” he means Americans’ longstanding preference for settling in areas most vulnerable to environmental danger– coastlines from New Jersey to Florida and the deserts of the Southwest.

The article is lengthy, and the statistics and other data are well worth your time to click through and consider. Lustgarten cites studies predicting that one in 12 Americans who currently live in the U.S. South will move toward California, the Mountain West or the Northwest over the next 45 years. A population shift of that magnitude will increase poverty and income inequality,  accelerate urbanization of cities ill-equipped for the burden, and will deal “repeated economic blows to coastal, rural and Southern regions.”

As he points out, this negative spiral has already begun in rural Louisiana and coastal Georgia.

Meanwhile, the bad climate news keeps coming. 

In New Mexico, the mass death of birds has puzzled–and spooked– scientists.

Professor Martha Desmond of the college’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology expressed deep concern about what the sudden deaths of these birds portends for the environment.

“It is terribly frightening,” Desmond told the Sun News. “We’ve never seen anything like this. … We’re losing probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of migratory birds.”

In Antartica, two major glaciers are in the process of breaking off. According to The Washington Post

Two Antarctic glaciers that have long kept scientists awake at night are breaking free from the restraints that have hemmed them in, increasing the threat of large-scale sea-level rise.

In a recent column, Eugene Robinson pointed out that the fires burning on the West Coast are only one of a number of threats generated by our changing climate: 

For only the second time on record, five tropical cyclones are swirling in the Atlantic Ocean at the same time — including Hurricane Sally, which is gathering strength in the Gulf of Mexico and aiming at vulnerable New Orleans and Mississippi.

These catastrophes horribly illustrate the stakes in the coming election: at risk is the future of our beautiful, fragile planet. The choice facing voters who care about that future could not be more stark. Democratic nominee Joe Biden accepts the scientific consensus about climate change and wants the United States to lead the world in a transition to clean energy. President Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and encouraged greater production and burning of “beautiful, clean coal.”

Along with all the other reasons to vote “Blue No Matter Who,” Robinson reminds us that a vote for Trump is a vote for ignorance and environmental ruin, while a vote for Biden (who has pledged to rejoin the Paris agreement immediately if he is elected) is a vote for Planet Earth.

There’s a reason Scientific American–which has never endorsed a candidate in its 175-year history–has endorsed Joe Biden. You would think that anyone who is genuinely “pro life” (and not just pro-birth/ anti-woman) would vote for an environment capable of supporting human life. 

 

A Once-Good Name

In High School, we all learned those famous lines from Shakespeare’s Othello–“Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands: But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed.”

Sometimes, a political attempt to “filch” another person’s good name ends up dishonoring the name of the “filcher.”

I was a Republican when the party included principled statesmen like Richard Lugar, William Hudnut, and William Ruckelshaus. I’ve watched with sadness as that party has steadily degenerated, elevating truly evil people like Mitch McConnell, incompetent would-be dictators like Donald Trump, and the racists and spineless hangers-on they control.

In the Indiana legislature, the GOP’s super-majority is split between members of the lunatic caucus and obedient servants of the party’s ever-more reactionary base, but until very recently, I thought one Republican Senator was a refreshing throwback to the party of his uncle, Bill Ruckelshaus. (Granted, John Ruckelshaus has been consistently anti-choice and has just as consistently voted the party line, but he wasn’t obnoxious about it, and he worked across the aisle on things like recycling.)

Bill and his wife Jill were a bit older than I am. They were from Indianapolis, and I knew both of them slightly. Bill served as the first Administrator of the  EPA (Republicans believed in science back then). He later served as acting Director of the FBI and as US Deputy Attorney General. Famously, in 1973 (in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre,”) Ruckelshaus and then-US Attorney General Elliot Richardson both resigned rather than obey Nixon’s order to fire Archibald Cox, the independent special prosecutor. Bill was a man of integrity.

John Ruckelshaus is his nephew, and the incumbent Republican state senator in Indiana Senate district 30. His reputation–until now–has been that of a civil, occasionally bipartisan, legislator. (They’re rare in our state.) This year, he is opposed by Democrat Fady Qaddoura, who must be mounting an effective challenge, because Ruckelshaus’ campaign has started issuing inexcusably vile and thoroughly dishonest television ads and mailers. The mailers have characterized Fady as formerly homeless–an accusation that is neither relevant nor a character flaw but is especially repugnant since Fady, his wife and young daughter were living in New Orleans when they lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. 

Fady picked himself up and relocated his family–now with a newborn– to Indianapolis, where he enrolled in graduate school at IUPUI. That is where I came to know him well. He was both a student and a “mentee” of mine, and I was honored to serve on his dissertation committee when he completed his PhD in Philanthropic Studies. I know him to be hard working, intellectually gifted and a person of unquestioned integrity.

In addition to the mailers, Ruckelshaus’ campaign is airing grainy, ugly TV ads accusing Fady of using his position as the Controller of the City of Indianapolis–a position he held during the first term of the Hogsett Administration–to “award a consulting contract to a firm that later employed him” and cutting funds for an educational program and thus causing “children to suffer. “

Rather than asking Fady what this was all about, I did a bit of research. It turns out that Fady “awarded” exactly zero city contracts–although as City Controller, he was obliged to sign contracts awarded by the various city departments–and his current employer never had one, although an unconnected firm with a similar name evidently did. The “children suffering” references a non-renewable education grant that ran out--no one cut it.

If my cursory research was enough to find the real story, Ruckelshaus’ campaign certainly could have–and probably did.

The accusations are an invention by a SuperPAC hired by Ruckelshaus– America Rising, which got its start with  Trump’s 2016 campaign, and which describes its mission as defeating Democrats and brags about its “relentless pursuit of original and effective hits against Democrats.” 

 “Original and effective,” evidently doesn’t include “true.”

Friends in the local Democratic Party tell me the GOP has put a half-million dollars into the effort to defeat Fady and protect Ruckelshaus –an absolutely stunning amount for a state senate seat in a state that is very likely to stay in Republican hands. (Given the number of times I’ve seen the grainy commercial with the phony charges, I believe it. Television is expensive.)

Evidently, the polling shows Fady ahead, and I’m sure his recent receipt of an endorsement from Jennifer McCormick–Indiana’s Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction–was unwelcome  (Ruckelshaus has made education one focus of his campaign, despite poor marks from educators). 

Whatever has  prompted these sleazy ads, and whatever their effect on the election, they have certainly accomplished one thing: by engaging in a  despicably dishonest effort to smear his opponent,  these attacks have besmirched a once-storied Hoosier name, and confirmed that this generation’s Ruckelshaus is a true member of today’s disgraceful GOP.

 

 

Education Versus Indoctrination

The title of this post could just as accurately be “racists versus non-racists.” With his recent announcement of an upcoming Executive Order requiring the nation’s schools to teach “patriotic” history, Trump has abandoned any effort to veil his message or obscure his target audience.

The federal government has no authority over school curricula, but that’s irrelevant; the point of this announcement was to reassure his base that the administration and the Republican Party will continue to support white supremacy. Calling accurate history “leftwing indoctrination” leaves no room for misunderstanding. ( Talk about “whitewashing” history!”) 

According to the Guardian, 

Speaking at a conference in Washington DC on Thursday, the president announced a new national commission to promote “patriotic education” and counter the “decades of leftwing indoctrination” to which he claims US schoolchildren have been subjected. “Our youth will be taught to love America,” he said.

Trump once again attacked the New York Times’s Pulitzer prize-winning 1619 Project; that project– which marked the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship arriving in America–was a meticulously-researched history of slavery and its aftermath. 

As Kevin Kruse tweeted: “History that exalts a nation’s strengths without ever examining its shortcomings, that prefers feeling good rather than thinking hard, that seeks simplistic celebration over full understanding–well, that’s not history, it’s propaganda.” 

As Bill Barr (aka crazy corrupt person) recently noted, history is written by the victors. That’s true, even though Barr said it. What he didn’t say–and clearly doesn’t understand–is that to the extent that history is whitewashed, airbrushed and inaccurate, it is an impediment to future progress. Just as fake science interferes with efforts to understand the world around us, fake history impedes efforts to understand the society in which we live.

But of course, this isn’t really about history curricula. This is meant to reassure his racist cult. You need only read what he said. This is from NBC:

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump accused schools of teaching students “hateful lies about this country” and said he would be taking steps to “restore patriotic education” as he continued his opposition to efforts to raise awareness about racial inequalities.

Speaking at what the White House described as a “conference on American history,” Trump said that he plans to sign an executive order soon to create a “national commission to support patriotic education” called the 1776 Commission and that he is directing funding to create a patriotic curriculum for schools.

“Our youth will be taught to love America with all of their heart and all of their souls,” Trump said. The White House declined to say when Trump would sign the executive order.

Trump also repeated his allegation that teaching America’s history of race was “toxic propaganda” and “a form of child abuse in the truest sense of those words.” (I’m sure David Duke agrees.)

This announcement about a proposed Executive Order came on the heels of news that the Office of Management and Budget had prohibited departments from using federal funds for diversity training, and a previous threat from Trump to cut off funding for schools that teach the 1619 Project.

As one pundit noted, “Patriotic Education” is a term and an approach most widely associated with China, North Korea and more recently Hungary, where Trump buddy Viktor Orban supports rehabilitating “cohorts of a mid-20th century leader who also happened to be a brutal Nazi conspirator.” “  

Not that long ago, when the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia removed millions of educated people from cities and moved them to the countryside under the guise of providing them with patriotic “re-education”, and then killed them and buried them in mass graves, now better known as “The Killing Fields”. 

For that matter, patriotism can’t be taught. Patriotism is a form of love, and love can be reciprocated, it can be portrayed and discussed, but it cannot be forced. Ironically, it is more likely to accompany an accurate portrayal of America’s history.( I still recall stories during the Korean War attributing North Korean success in breaking the will of captured American soldiers by showing them evidence of American behaviors inconsistent with what they’d been taught. They no longer knew what to believe.) 

It is no longer possible to avoid recognizing what’s at stake on November 3d. It is no longer possible to pretend that a vote for Trump is anything other than a vote for white nationalism– and a vote against the America we do love.

 

QAnon: Nazism Repackaged?

I haven’t written about the QAnon conspiracy, because it has seemed so ludicrous. Remember the deranged believer who traveled to a DC pizza parlor to rescue children being held in the basement–only to discover that not only weren’t there any children, there wasn’t even a basement…?

Most rational Americans dismissed both the shooter and the conspiracy that motivated him as elements of a small wacko fringe.

Still, a growing number of reports suggest a troubling growth of the cult, and I read somewhere that  at least 80 self-identified adherents had run for Congress in GOP primaries. (At least two emerged victorious–one for Congress in Georgia, one for Senate in Delaware.) And in a recent poll, 33% of Republicans responded that they believed QAnon was “mostly true,” while another 23% said they believed it was “partly true.”

If–like me–you’ve been vague on the disturbing beliefs and origin of the conspiracy, a recent article from Salon provides details:

QAnon, known for their outrageous conspiracy theories, believe that the U.S. government has been infiltrated by an international ring of pedophiles and Satanists and that President Donald Trump was put in power to battle them. And Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch and an expert on the history of anti-Semitism, believes that there are parallels between QAnon’s outrageous views and the views that Nazis promoted in Germany during the 1930s.

Describing QAnon’s views in an article published by Just Security on September 9, Stanton writes, “A secret cabal is taking over the world. They kidnap children, slaughter and eat them to gain power from their blood. They control high positions in government, banks, international finance, the news media and the church. They want to disarm the police. They promote homosexuality and pedophilia. They plan to mongrelize the white race so it will lose its essential power. Does this conspiracy theory sound familiar? It is. The same narrative has been repackaged by QAnon.”

The parallels are certainly frightening. The anti-Semitic 1902 pamphlet, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” is apparently central to both. Stanton points out that QAnon’s ideology is a “rebranded version” of that pamphlet, and that its membership has grown especially rapidly in Germany. (Others have connected QAnon to the Fundamentalist Christian belief that before Jesus returns, believers will be “raptured” to heaven and will  avoid the “tribulation”–a period in which the Antichrist will attempt to rule via a “one world government” and force people to adopt the “mark of the beast.”) 

Drilling down: QAnon members core belief is that a secret, Satan-worshiping cabal is taking over the world. They believe that the members of that cabal kidnap white children– just white children– and keep them in secret prisons (like the one presumably located in the pizza parlor’s nonexistent basement) that are run by pedophiles. They also believe that the “cabal” slaughters and eats children to gain power from the “essence” in their blood. It’s here that we can clearly see the parallels with the blood libel charges against Jews, who presumably needed the blood of white Christian children for our matzoh. (These are clearly people who have never eaten matzoh, which is utterly devoid of moisture of any sort…)

This mythical cabal controlled the American presidency under Clinton and Obama, and it lurks in a ‘Deep State’ financed by Jews, especially George Soros and the Jews who “control the media.” Its members want to disarm citizens and defund the police, to promote abortions and homosexuality, and especially to open borders and allow brown illegal aliens to invade America and mongrelize the white race.

The racism embedded in all this is hard to miss. It’s also hard to believe that people who actually believe any of this are sufficiently competent to tie their shoes in the morning, let alone function otherwise.

Yet we are told that this “movement” has grown by the millions.

Like Donald Trump, who appears to be a fan of QAnon because it worships him, and like the Nazis before them, the followers of QAnon seem bent on revenge and retribution for mythical offenses. They babble endlessly about “The Storm” that is coming, by which they appear to mean a coup followed by a bloodbath. That, too, is reminiscent of Nazi style. Maybe they should just call themselves Storm Troopers.

One reason for QAnon’s explosive growth may be that–according to the FBI– promulgating QAnon has become a project of the Russian intelligence services, which have their internet armies spreading it online. So far, at least, Republican leaders have refused to denounce it, essentially acquiescing to its ongoing influence in the marginally less insane cult that is today’s GOP (although, as more outlets have been reporting on the conspiracy’s influence within the Republican Party, Talking Points Memo reports Pence did drop his planned attendance at a Montana fundraiser hosted by QAnon supporters.) 

Welcome to loony-tunes land. If it weren’t so potentially dangerous, it would be hysterically funny….

 

RBG

This really has been the year from hell.

Yesterday, I wrote that this year’s election will be an inflection point for America. That observation became infinitely more acute with the news that Ruth Bader Ginsberg had died. Mitch McConnell didn’t even wait for her body to cool before announcing that he would abandon his invented (Trumped-up) position that Justices shouldn’t be replaced during the last year of a presidential term, and would move quickly to replace her with yet another “conservative” Justice.

The quotation marks around conservative are intentional, because what McConnell and his GOP ilk are hell-bent on “conserving” is white Christian male privilege. They certainly aren’t interested in extending or conserving the values embedded in the Constitution.

As I sat down to write this, I thought about a line that Mayor Pete often used during the primaries: “I’m mindful every day that my marriage exists by the grace of one vote on our Supreme Court.” That observation about the importance of the Court isn’t limited to the ruling about same-sex marriage. Women who are able to exercise control over their own reproduction, people in interracial marriages, people who can get health insurance despite having pre-existing conditions–the list of the very concrete ways in which Supreme Court decisions affect all of us is long.

Self-styled “conservatives” like to insist that they are originalists. But the real originalists are those like the indomitable RBG, who are faithful to the values the Bill of Rights was intended to protect. An originalism that insists on limiting the application of those protections to the world inhabited by the Founders would be unworkable (which is why self-proclaimed originalists like Scalia frequently departed from them.) True originalism requires that we look at the values the Founders were trying to protect–our ability to communicate free of government control, freedom from state-imposed religious observance (impelled by respect for the integrity of the individual conscience), our right to “due process of law” and other rights of self-determination. To be a true originalist requires continuing to protect those values and expand their application in a world the Founders could never have envisioned.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg was a champion of that genuine “originalism.” 

So–now we face another hugely consequential “inflection point.” The moral pygmies who obey McConnell will move to replace her with yet another tool of reaction. I was briefly heartened to hear that four Senators (Murkowsky, Collins , Grassley and Sasse) have pledged not to vote for a replacement until after the inauguration; it is likely that Romney will take that same position. If those pledges hold, it’s very good news, but I’m not holding my breath.

Speaking of ifs:

If McConnell succeeds, and if the Democrats take the White House and the Senate, they absolutely must expand the number of Justices on the Court.

That expansion, and a number of other court reforms have been advocated by legal and judicial scholars for several years–not just during our Trump/McConnell nightmare. The reforms should be crafted with one overriding purpose: to remove the judicial system from partisan politics–from being seen as a “prize” to be co-opted by whichever party wins an election– and return it to its intended purpose of dispassionately interpreting the law. As Jill Lepore recently warned, the Court is in danger of becoming an instrument of the executive instead of a check against it. 

Judges will always have their own beliefs, and will always bring those beliefs to their jobs. There will always be Justices with whom we disagree. If the people we elevate to the bench are the best and brightest, however, those disagreements will be principled. McConnell has packed the federal bench with partisan hacks and puppets, many of whom the ABA has found to be unqualified–not just mediocre, but unfit.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg became an icon because she was so superbly qualified, so intellectually powerful, and so obviously a person who exhibited decency, integrity and civility.

If she is replaced with yet another partisan hack, all bets are off.