Category Archives: Public Policy and Governance

Sad But True

Vox recently had an article detailing the environmental efforts of “subnational” units of government.

The actions being taken by a number of states and cities to curb greenhouse gases and slow climate change are impressive, and we should all be grateful that the anti-science, anti-humanity policies of our federal government are being countered, at least to some extent, by state and local units of government.

The article began, however, with a coy promise: to reveal the “very simple” political trick that cities and states can employ to pass sound environmental policies. It even titled the article “This one weird trick can help any state or city pass clean energy policy.”

Federal climate politics in the US remains as gridlocked as ever, but the past few years have seen a remarkable flourishing of climate and clean energy policy at the subnational level, in states and cities across the country.

This has given rise to all sorts of deep analysis — about the potential and limitations of states as laboratories of democracy, about the role of cities in the 21st century, about the ability of subnational actors to offset federal inaction — but, oddly, the simplest lesson of all often goes unstated.

In point of fact, all these subnational jurisdictions, for all their differences, used the same simple trick to achieve policy success.

What is that trick? Well, it’d be no fun if I just told you!

Instead, let’s run through a quick review of recent subnational policy progress on climate and clean energy. Perhaps, by the end of this list, if you squint just right, you’ll see the trick for yourself.

The article then proceeded to identify a number of places doing the heavy lifting: Washington state, where Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, working for the first time with solid Democratic majorities in both houses of the state legislature, passed a suite of ambitious bills; Nevada, where newly elected Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, working with Democratic majorities in both houses of the state legislature, committed the state to 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050;
Colorado, where newly elected Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, together with Democratic majorities in that state’s legislature, has passed what the article called “an astonishing suite of climate and clean energy bills.”

The article also noted progress in New Mexico, New Jersey and California, and listed encouraging deliberations in New York, Massachusetts and Maine.

And it wasn’t just states. As the article reported, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city’s Democratic city council unveiled “LA’s Green New Deal.” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s Democratic council passed a sweeping set of climate bills, which would, among other things, target emissions from existing buildings. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his Democratic city council passed a bill committing the city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

The article detailed similar successes in Boise, Idaho, Missoula, Montana, Cincinnati, Ohio and Washington, D.C.

So what do all these jurisdictions have in common? What “trick” enabled these state governments to address the threat of climate change so aggressively?

The trick is: elect Democrats.

There are many differences among these jurisdictions in size, ambition, and policy details, but one thing they all have in common is that Democrats have the power to pass policy despite Republican opposition. It’s not that no Republicans voted for any of these measures — there were R votes here and there, so some could charitably be called “bipartisan” — but that Republicans were not in a position to block any of them.

Last year, Nevada had a Republican governor; he vetoed a clean energy mandate. This year it has a Democratic governor; he signed it.

That’s how it works, in practice. When Democrats take control, in numbers that preclude Republican veto power, they pass thoughtful, ambitious policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the clean energy transition. Where Republicans have the power to block such policies, they do. There are exceptions — all hail Illinois— but they are comparatively rare.

Perhaps climate and clean energy shouldn’t be partisan. But at the present moment, purely as a descriptive matter, they are partisan.

If you care about the environment,  the simplest and most reliable way to support sane environmental policies is to vote Democratic.

Of course, that’s also the “trick” if you care about civil rights, the Constitution, the rule of law…

 

Sending A (Hateful) Message

The New York Times recently reported on yet another outrage perpetrated by our persistently outrageous administration; the refusal to sign on to a global “call to action” addressing online hate. The call to action came in the aftermath of the horrific slaughter of worshippers in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The White House on Wednesday announced it would not sign the Christchurch call to action, an informal international pact among France’s and New Zealand’s leaders and social media platforms to combat online extremism.

The call to actionis a broad statement of intent, rather than a detailed policy proposal. It urges nations and private tech companies to address terrorist content online. Specifically it urges signers to “ensure its efficient and fast removal and to prevent the use of live-streaming as a tool for broadcasting terrorist attack.” The White House refused to sign the accord on the ground that it violated constitutional free-speech protections.

Anyone who believes that this administration gives a rat’s patootie about freedom of speech should check into a mental hospital without delay.

Of course, in its announcement that the U.S. would not be signing on, the nature of those Free Speech “concerns” was not addressed. Nor could they be, since the “Call” wasn’t a legal decree. It was and is merely a non-binding pledge, lacking any provisions for enforcement or even suggestions for regulations. It was– and is–simply an official acknowledgment of a growing problem that has been exacerbated by the total lack of internet regulation. As the Times article pointed out,

Without legally binding mechanisms or strict policy enforcements, the stakes of signing are low. So the act of not signing sends a strong message and cheapens the free-speech protections the administration claims to hold dear, using the First Amendment as a political tool and an excuse for inaction.

Trump’s sudden solicitude for the First Amendment reminded me of Nat Hentoff’s 1992 book, “Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee.”

The administration’s trepidation at intervening in the content moderation processes of social media platforms is also wildly inconsistent with the president’s own behavior on tech-platform oversight. For months, Mr. Trump has used his Twitter feed to rail against perceived social media censorship of conservatives and threatened to intervene.

Last August, he accused Googleof “suppressing” conservative voices and “hiding information and news that is good” about him after seeing an infographic on cable news from a “not scientific” study. In April, the president met with Twitter’s C.E.O., Jack Dorsey, where he derailed a conversation on public health to complain about losing followers of his personal Twitter account. Mr. Trump hinted at intervening in tech-platform moderation as recently as this month after Facebook banned a number of pro-Trump media figures for “extremism.” His response on Twitter: “We are monitoring and watching, closely!!”

As if to make its priorities regarding online freedom even clearer, just hours after declining to sign the Christchurch call, the White House announced an online tool for reporting tech-platform bias. “No matter your views, if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump,” it said.

Trump’a free-speech solicitude is limited to right-wingers and racists.

If there was ever any doubt that Trump’s appeal has always been grounded in bigotry, misogyny and white nationalism, we can add his refusal to sign the “Call” to the mountain of evidence that already exists.

There is a reason David Duke and his ilk claim Trump as one of their own.  For confirmation, you need only read the report in the most recent issue of the Atlantic: “An oral history of Donald Trump’s Bigotry.” It’s a devastating”in his own words” documentation of the life-long bigotry of a man whose only claim to superiority is dependent upon inherited money and skin color.

Thanks to our antiquated and undemocratic Electoral College, we are saddled with a President who repeatedly tells the world that America is now on the side of hatred and white nationalism. Trump’s “Muslim ban,” his ridiculous “wall,” his administration’s appallingly inhumane treatment of would-be refugees at our southern (but not our northern) border, his defense of the “very fine” people among the Charlottesville neo-Nazis, his disdain for “shithole” countries, his move to deny transgender individuals the right to serve in the armed forces….the examples go on and on.

In 2020, if the electorate doesn’t massively repudiate this repulsive, reptilian man and his nest of vipers and idiots, we are no longer the (imperfect but aspirational)  America so many of us thought we were.

The 2020 election will also send a message–it will tell us just what percentage of our neighbors share Trump’s ignorant and hateful attitudes– just how many are willing to vote for a sub-human incompetent because he hates and fears the same people they do.

 

The Hypocrisy Hall Of Fame

Recently, Max Boot–formerly of the GOP and now a self-described “man without a party”–authored a scathing column in the Washington Post. The introductory paragraphs give a hint of the points made in the remainder of the essay.

“In scandals such as this, it is always members of the president’s party who have particular leverage, and therefore who have a particular responsibility, to hold the president accountable for his actions.”

So wrote noted Republican moralist Bill Bennett in his 1998 book, “The Death of Outrage.” Bennett went on to excoriate Democrats who were “troubled by the credible allegations of ethical and criminal wrongdoing” and who saw “the harm that is being inflicted on America” but failed to say so “forcefully, unambiguously, publicly.” “No Democrat went to the president of the United States and insisted, emphatically, that he do what is right, none insisted that he fully answer questions, stop stonewalling, and come out, immediately, with all of the facts, wherever they might lead,” he wrote. “This is shameful.”

Agreed, it’s shameful when members of a President’s party see the harm being inflicted on America and fail to speak out.

Some of us think that personal corruption, incessant undermining of the Constitution and rule of law, encouragement of white nationalism, and refusal to admit economic reality in order to start a trade war likely to devastate the nation’s farmers (among others) might–just might–inflict a greater harm to the body politic than discovering that a President had received a blow job in the Oval Office.

As Boot notes, Republicans have remained deathly quiet, although Mueller’s report documented conduct by Trump that “beyond a shadow of a doubt” is both criminal and impeachable. Over 800 former federal prosecutors signed a letter saying that Trump would have been indicted for obstruction of justice if he wasn’t president.

Trump is committing further “high crimes and misdemeanors” by vowing not to comply with “all” House subpoenas. The House Judiciary Committee has just votedto hold his attorney general, William P. Barr, in contempt for refusing to provide the unredacted Mueller report to Congress. His treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, risks similar sanctions for refusing to provide Trump’s taxes to the House Ways and Means Committee. Yet no Republicans are speaking out to condemn Trump for his lawlessness or urge him to comply with congressional subpoenas. This stands in stark contrast to the way that Republicans rained rhetorical fire and fury on Democratic presidents who stonewalled Congress.

Boot calls out several Senators by name: for example, he quotes Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s criticism of then-Attorney General Eric Holder for failing to provide some of the requested documents during a House probe of a gun-running sting. Rubio’s language was scorching:

“I think that it is outrageous that any attorney general — Republican or Democrat — refuses to comply with Congress’s constitutional right to hold them accountable and the Justice Department accountable. I would say that if that if this was a Republican just like I do now because it’s a Democrat. Not only that, I think this has gone on so long and the stonewalling by the attorney general has been so egregious, that I think he has to resign.”

Now there’s a Republican administration, and Rubio isn’t calling for Barr to resign for his stonewalling.

Then, of course, there’s Lindsey Graham, whose performance as a slavering Trump sycophant must be making John McCain roll over in his grave.

Rubio is joined in the hypocrisy hall of fame by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) who, as a House member in 1998, demandedthat President Bill Clinton be impeached for, inter alia, refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas: “The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena was the day he was subject to impeachment, because he took the power from Congress over the impeachment process away from Congress and he became the judge and jury.”

Well, Clinton was a Democrat.

Boot gives other examples, and concludes that “Republicans believe in presidential power only when the president is a Republican. When it’s a Democrat, they suddenly discover the importance of congressional oversight”.

There is no disinterested principle that could possibly explain or excuse Republican conduct. Their only principle is blind partisanship. We are in a “constitutional crisis,” as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) says, and Republicans are siding with their party over the Constitution.

I remember when many more Republicans were like Max Boot–when, as honorable public servants, they would have been appalled by Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and all the other Republican office-holders who are so eager to place partisanship above patriotism, and who fear Trump’s rabid and ignorant base far more than they love their country.

History will place them all in the hypocrisy hall of fame.

Wag The Dog?

Is Trump preparing to take us into war with Iran? 

The New Yorker recently reminded us that the U.S. has a less-than-glorious history of provoking war:

The United States has a long history of provoking, instigating, or launching wars based on dubious, flimsy, or manufactured threats. In 1986, the Reagan Administration plotted to use U.S. military maneuvers off Libya’s coast to provoke Muammar Qaddafi into a showdown. The planning for Operation Prairie Fire, which deployed three aircraft carriers and thirty other warships, was months in the making. Before the Navy’s arrival, U.S. warplanes conducted missions skirting Libyan shore and air defenses—“poking them in the ribs” to “keep them on edge,” a U.S. military source told the Los Angeles Times that year.

We are still paying the price (fiscally and morally) for our invasion of Iraq–a decision sold to the American public on the basis of misinformation, bad intelligence and outright lies. As the article reminds us, we are still living with the repercussions sixteen years and more than four thousand American deaths later.

Those of us who are older will recall that the Vietnam War was authorized by two purported (and subsequently disputed) attacks on U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. Those “attacks” prompted Congress to give President Johnson  “all necessary measures” to prevent “further aggression.” Fifty-seven thousand Americans and as many as a million Vietnamese died.

Those weren’t the only examples in the article–not even close.

Americans were promised that the war against Iraq would be “easy”–the Iraqis would “greet us as liberators,” and democracy would flower in the Middle East. (Too bad the GOP has so little interest in reintroducing democracy to the U.S.) Those predictions, needless to say, were inaccurate–which explains why chills ran down my spine when I heard similar rhetoric from the usual suspects who can’t hide their eagerness to invade Iran.

The State Department has issued a “Do Not Travel” advisory for Americans going to Iraq; it also ordered nonessential personnel out, and warned of a “high risk for violence and kidnapping.”

This action comes after the United States indicated that Iran was behind attacks on four oil tankers just outside the Persian Gulf. Iran has denied those accusations, but as tensions in the region increase, Republicans are lining up to spread the message that war with Iranwould be easy,  and that it’s time foreveryone to get behind Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton declared that the United States could win a war in Iran with just “Two strikes: the first strike and a last strike.” This is completely at odds with the evaluation of military strategists. There is little doubt about the ability of the U.S. military to overcome that of Iran in the field, but the military of Iran is much more capable than that of Iraq, where the “easy” victory has been followed by well over a decade of low-grade warfare, bombings, and terror attacks.

Tensions with Iran were dramatically heightened when Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear treaty. The withdrawal was opposed by the other signatories to that treaty, and numerous monitoring agencies confirmed–contrary to Trump’s assertions– that Iran was in full compliance with its terms.

It’s a fairly safe bet that Trump is lying about the attacks on our oil tankers.

The New York Times reports that a British military official—who also happens to be the deputy commander of the coalition fighting ISIS—has stated that he sees “no increased risk from Iran or allied militias,” but the U.S. has fired back to say there are “identified credible threats” that generated the State Department warnings. That’s not to say that European officials and coalition members aren’t seeing aggressive moves in the Middle East. It’s just that those moves have “originated not in Tehran, but in Washington.”

Bottom line: Trump is perfectly capable of starting a war if he thinks a war will help him win re-election.

If he moves in that direction, every single sane American needs to take to the streets. We need to mount demonstrations so massive they will make the Women’s Marches look like lightly attended tea parties.

Trump has done enormous–hopefully, not yet irreparable– damage to this country. He has given aid and comfort to neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and white supremicists; trashed America’s image across the globe, and significantly deepened the country’s tribal divisions.

We cannot sit by and allow him to initiate a conflict that–idiots like Tom Cotton to the contrary– would be anything but “easy to win” and that might well trigger World War III–just because he wants to “wag the dog.”

Enough is enough.

Fighting Back

You can file this under “thank goodness the news isn’t all bad”–or, if you are like the worry-wort who writes this blog, you can file it under “this is why the courts are so frigging important and we will lose the rule of law if Trump and McConnell and the GOP keep packing them with partisan ideologues.”

Timothy Egan recently had a column in the New York Times, titled “Revenge of the Coastal Elites.” In it, he celebrated the near-perfect “score” West Coast states have amassed in the numerous lawsuits they’ve brought against Trump and company.

Egan began with an “in your face” celebration in California.

LOS ANGELES — A big crowd showed up for the festive unveiling of President Barack Obama Boulevard here last weekend, at the intersection of “hope and resistance,” as one news outlet put it. Sure, it’s just a three-and-a-half-mile stretch of road, a living ex-president’s name added to streets honoring Jefferson and Washington.

But the ceremony also marked the latest, and one of the most joyous, of the not-so-subtle ways in which the West Coast continues to live free and prosper under a president doing everything he can to hurt the 51 million Americans in the three lower-48 states that hug the Pacific shore.

As Egan noted, Trump absolutely hates the West Coast, and it certainly looks as if the  states of Oregon, Washington and California return the sentiment.

His energy and environmental policies would hasten the collapse of some of nature’s finest handiwork, from a pristine coastline that he tried to open to oil drilling, to forests that will soon be aflame again because the president will not do anything to stall climate change.

His trade war is a bullet that could wound the nation’s most trade-dependent state, Washington, which produces apples and wine and software and coffee and jetliners and trucks andhealth care for the world.

To Trump, everything “Out West” is like occupied territory. Almost daily, he issues legal missives and executive orders intended in some way to make life worse on the West Coast.

But as Egan goes on to report, there’s “good news for E Pluribus Unum: He’s losing.” Consistently.

The West Coast is crushing it against Trump. Using the law to fight a bully, the Constitution to challenge an authoritarian, and facts against Fox News-driven fantasy, California, Oregon and Washington have stalled some of the most despicable of Trump’s retrograde policies.

California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, is currently leading an aggressive coalition to protect the Affordable Care Act, which allows 133 million Americans to keep their health insurance despite having pre-existing conditions. If that effort is as successful as previous ones, he’ll succeed.

Federal judges have repeatedly sided with California against Trump on air pollution, toxic pesticides and oil drilling. In April, the Interior Department was forced to suspend a plan to drill off the Pacific shore. Anda federal judge in Oregonhas so far backed a far-reaching attempt to hold Trump’s government responsible for averting climate change.

West Coast governors have defied Trump’s ban on transgenderAmericans serving in the military; they’ve opened their National Guard ranks to the people Trump is trying to shun from service.

Washington’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson, has filed 36 lawsuits against the Trump administration and has not lost a case. His first takedown of the tyrant halted, nationwide, the initial Muslim ban.

Egan ended his report by reminding the rest of America how economically successful those recalcitrant states on the West Coast have been, and comparing that success with Trump’s performance.

Under Trump’s guidance, the United States is running up debt faster than one of his bankrupt casinos. It’s what he does. By contrast, California, after raising taxes on the rich and wages for the poor, after extending family leave and health care, is projecting a $21 billion budget surplus for the coming fiscal year.

Talent and capital can go anywhere. It’s drawn to the West Coast, because creativity doesn’t grow well in nurseries of fear and tired thinking. Washington was named the best state for business in 2017, and the best place for workers in 2018.

We’ll soon look west for a replacement for Trump. By moving their presidential primaries up to March, California and Washington have assured that the one-in-seven Americans who live in those two states will have an early say. It’s only fitting, given how much they’ve contributed to the fight against the Trump blight on the Republic.

As wonderful as these successes have been, they highlight the critical importance of maintaining a competent, non-politicized judiciary. Without judges whose allegiance is to the Constitution and the rule of law, we have no checks and balances.