Problems and Solutions: A Brief Recitation

As 2022 fades away, David Rothkopf, an author and political analyst, presents a few facts to keep hold of in 2023:

Decades of research have conclusively shown that:

–The solution for homelessness is building homes for those who need them

–The solution for poverty is giving money to those who don’t have it

–The solution to our lack of mental health care is providing mental health care for those who need it

–The solution is to the climate crisis to stop using fossil fuels and stop carbon emissions.

I could go on. The point is that very often the solutions are obvious and politics is the art of obscuring them, distracting from them, making those common sense solutions impossible to achieve.

Good News, Bad News on Climate

The New York Times has a long article about the climate crisis that can be summed up thusly: It’s going to be very bad for a lot of people but doesn’t look like the end of the world.

Here’s a link to the whole article: “Beyond Catastrophe: A New Climate Is Coming Into View” by David Foster-Wallace. Some excerpts:

With the world already 1.2 degrees hotter, scientists believe that warming this century will most likely fall between two or three degrees…. A little lower is possible, with much more concerted action; a little higher, too, with slower action and bad climate luck….Thanks to astonishing declines in the price of renewables, a truly global political mobilization, a clearer picture of the energy future and serious policy focus from world leaders, we have cut expected warming almost in half in just five years….

First, worst-case temperature scenarios that recently seemed plausible now look much less so, which is inarguably good news and, in a time of climate panic and despair, a truly underappreciated sign of genuine and world-shaping progress.

Second, and just as important, the likeliest futures still lie beyond thresholds long thought disastrous, marking a failure of global efforts to limit warming to “safe” levels. Through decades of only minimal action, we have squandered that opportunity. Perhaps even more concerning, the more we are learning about even relatively moderate levels of warming, the harsher and harder to navigate they seem. In a news release…, the United Nations predicted that a world more than two degrees warmer would lead to “endless suffering.”

Third, humanity retains an enormous amount of control — over just how hot it will get and how much we will do to protect one another through those assaults and disruptions. Acknowledging that truly apocalyptic warming now looks considerably less likely than it did just a few years ago pulls the future out of the realm of myth and returns it to the plane of history: contested, combative, combining suffering and flourishing — though not in equal measure for every group….

“The good news is we have implemented policies that are significantly bringing down the projected global average temperature change,” says the Canadian atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe,…The bad news, she says, is that we have been “systematically underestimating the rate and magnitude of extremes.” Even if temperature rise is limited to two degrees, she says, “the extremes might be what you would have projected for four to five.”

“Things are coming through faster and more severely,” agrees the British economist Nicholas Stern… In green technology, he says, “we hold the growth story of the 21st century in our hands.” But he worries about the future of the Amazon, the melting of carbon-rich permafrost in the northern latitudes and the instability of the ice sheets — each a tipping point that “could start running away from us.” “Each time you get an I.P.C.C. report, it’s still worse than you thought, even though you thought it was very bad,” he says. “The human race doesn’t, as it were, collapse at two degrees, but you probably will see a lot of death, a lot of movement of people, a lot of conflict over space and water.

…. What will the world look like at two degrees? There will be extreme weather even more intense and much more frequent. Disruption and upheaval, at some scale, at nearly every level, from the microbial to the geopolitical. Suffering and injustice for hundreds of millions of people, because the benefits of industrial activity have accumulated in parts of the world that will also be spared the worst of its consequences. Innovation, too, including down paths hard to imagine today, and some new prosperity, if less than would have been expected in the absence of warming. Normalization of larger and more costly disasters, and perhaps an exhaustion of empathy in the face of devastation in the global south….”

So we shouldn’t worry about the Earth turning into another Venus, a planetary greenhouse with surface temperatures of 800 degrees. That’s the good news.

71abd1cb372a70c9c80e80cfa60aaa91--space-planets-the-planets

For more on the bad news, there’s a companion article by the same author: “The New World: Envisioning Life After Climate Change”.

The moral of this story: We’ll still be around for a long time but we have plenty of work to do to make things not so bad.

And a note for the reactionaries who love oil and coal:

Since 2010, the cost of solar power and lithium-battery technology has fallen by more than 85 percent, the cost of wind power by more than 55 percent. The International Energy Agency recently predicted that solar power would become “the cheapest source of electricity in history,” and a report by Carbon Tracker found that 90 percent of the global population lives in places where new renewable power would be cheaper than new dirty power. 

His Future and Ours

Salon interviewed George Conway, a Republican lawyer married to the infamous Kellyanne Conway (press secretary in the former administration) and who became known as an ex-Republican critic of the ex-president. I had a reaction to his closing comments.

How do we balance political expediency versus legal necessity? The law takes time, but [the former president] is an imminent danger to American society right now. Something needs to be done, and we are running out of time. 

At the end of the day, we have to follow the legal system and apply it evenhandedly — but that should be done as expeditiously as possible. The Justice Department has clearly come around to that understanding. They are now expanding their investigations of Jan. 6, [his] other alleged crimes and related matters at the highest levels. I don’t think it’s going to take them very long to put together a case on the classified documents. And I don’t think they have a choice, even if they wanted to resist prosecuting him. It’s going to be sooner rather than later. [He] could easily be under both federal and state indictment at some point between Election Day [Nov. 8] and New Year’s Day.

What do you think is going to happen with these criminal cases? Does he take a plea bargain? There’s this fantasy among some liberal folks that [he] does a perp walk and goes to prison. I don’t see that happening. If anything, [he] pays fines and takes a plea deal. Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice will not put a former president in prison. 

I don’t believe that [he] is going to plea bargain. I think he could go to prison, but it is more likely that he will serve home confinement. In all likelihood, he will be convicted of multiple felonies. I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a perp walk, but I don’t think it’s a fantasy either. There’s a good chance that [he] will end up with a felony conviction. I know he has cut deals in civil cases, but that’s just writing checks. To reiterate, I do not believe that [he] will plead out. This all goes so much to the core of [his] identity that he will try to tear the country apart before he settles one of these criminal cases.

That is a powerful statement. 

[He] will incite violence on his behalf. He will try to pretend it is something spontaneous. Does [he] have enough power and influence over his followers to threaten the republic? I don’t think so. But I do think it’s enough to be dangerous.

What are you most concerned about? And what, if anything, are you hopeful about, regarding the country’s future?

What keeps me up at night is the violence that [he] could potentially cause. The danger of violence will increase as the 2024 election approaches. What gives me hope is that the legal reckoning is coming…. I am hopeful that the American people will be so exhausted by this whole saga that they will be drawn toward all the things that tie us together as a nation and people. Of course we may disagree with one another, and do so passionately. But in the end we are all Americans, and we have more in common than divides us. I hope we can get back to that and heal….

First, nothing keeps me up at night except the desire to stay up.

More importantly, when the former president is finally indicted somewhere, the authorities will let him show up with his lawyers and hear the charges. He won’t ever be in handcuffs or a cell. If he accepts a deal or is convicted, he’ll get house arrest, not prison, and then may leave the country.

Right-wing violence is always a threat (much more than left-wing or Islamic violence) but my biggest short-term concern is that Republicans will do well-enough in upcoming elections, either legally or illegally (by ignoring the results), that — with the help of radical reactionaries on the Supreme Court — they’ll consolidate minority rule. They’ll change the laws in enough states to make it very hard for them to lose (and the laws to be changed back). Add that to their built-in advantages in the Senate and Electoral College and elections won’t matter much.

The only hope I have is that once enough members of my generation die off, fewer voters will watch network or cable TV and be misled by right-wing and corporate propaganda or local news that “leads with what bleeds”.

My longer-term concern (although it becomes shorter all the time) is the climate crisis and the many ways a warmer climate will affect life on Earth. But it doesn’t keep me up at night.

On that subject, however, here’s an article from the MIT Press called “How to Fix Climate Change (A Sneaky Policy Guide)”:

We may already have a “miracle” fix for climate change. [It’s] a planetary emergency. We have to do something now — but what? Saul Griffith, an inventor and renewable electricity advocate (and a recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant), has a plan. In his book “Electrify,” Griffith lays out a detailed blueprint for fighting climate change while creating millions of new jobs and a healthier environment. Griffith’s plan can be summed up simply: Electrify everything. He explains exactly what it would take to transform our infrastructure, update our grid, and adapt our households to make this possible. Billionaires may contemplate escaping our worn-out planet on a private rocket ship to Mars, but the rest of us, Griffith says, will stay and fight for the future….
.

Connecting Global Dots

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo looks at the big picture

It’s interesting to step back sometimes and consider … our times. Today we have our ongoing battle over democracy and authoritarianism in the U.S. The UK is in its latest stage of its ongoing national self-immolation. Italy has just elected its first far-right government since Benito Mussolini’s rise to power in the early 1920s. Russia, which has made itself into the international clarion of rightist nationalism, is stumbling through a succession of largely self-inflicted catastrophes in its war of choice in Ukraine.

Let’s go back to the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring unsettles or topples governments across the Arab Middle East. But it triggers long-running civil wars in Syria and Libya. The first especially, but also the second, are the main drivers of the European Union migrant crisis of 2015, in which some 1.3 million refugees/migrants requested asylum in the EU, the most in any single year since World War II. Given the closeness of the vote and the great focus on the migrant crisis in 2015 and 2016, it’s very hard to imagine the UK leaves the European Union without this chain of events … beginning in December 2010.

Less obvious is that you can make a looser but I think still fairly persuasive argument that these events play a key role in the rise of [MAGA-ism] in the United States….The rise of [MAGA-ism] is part of a long progression within the United States. [However, their leader’s] particular platform — to the extent you can call it that — focused on “the wall” and immigrants from Mexico and Central America….

But there’s a somewhat different commonality I am focusing on.

The [reactionary] right is, paradoxically, highly internationalized if not internationalist. There’s a deep confluence and sharing of ideas, imagery and programs between the U.S. and Europe. The narratives of “our out of control migration” and white Christian cultures under threat was a common, interwoven and reinforcing pattern on both sides of the Atlantic….

These are of course only the barest thumbnail outlines of recent history and its relationship to the present…. Why this interests me is that migration flows and their intensity are going to increase over time. The most basic reason is climate. Our potential climate futures range from really bad to truly catastrophic. But anywhere on that spectrum you have lots of people trying to move from places that are less habitable than they used to be or are in the throes of political and economic instability for those same reasons. Telecommunications and transport technology greatly accelerate that process.

A century ago a poor peasant in India or Ecuador may have known in a general way that there were vastly richer societies in Europe and North America. But they couldn’t really know the details and it was close to impossible to get there anyway. Today, almost everyone in the world can see through electronic media how people live in Europe, North America, and other parts of the affluent world and — though it’s hard and often dangerous — it is possible to get there.

What we can draw from this is that the accelerating patterns of global migration which are so central to the politics of the last decade and have helped reshape politics in Europe and North America will almost certainly continue to intensify.

While I Was Away

Here are a few things from the past week or so I wanted to share:

From Paul Krugman at the New York Times:

Wonking Out: The Tax Cut Zombie Attacks Britain

I’ve written a lot over the years about zombie economic ideas — ideas that have failed repeatedly in practice, and should be dead, but somehow are still shambling around, eating policymakers’ brains. The pre-eminent zombie in American economic discourse has long been the belief that cutting taxes on the rich will create an economic miracle.

That belief is still out there: Even as its infrastructure was collapsing to the point that its largest city no longer had running water, Mississippi tried to raise its economic fortunes with … a tax cut….

The important point to understand is that there isn’t a serious debate about the proposition that tax cuts for the rich strongly increase economic growth. The truth is that there is no evidence — none — for that proposition….

Of course, people on the right, raised on the legend of Saint Reagan, believe that his tax cuts did wonders for the U.S. economy. But the data don’t agree [he has charts, etc.]

From Jamelle Bouie, also at the New York Times:

In political writing about the federal judiciary, there is a convention to treat the partisan affiliation of a judge or justice as a mere curiosity, to pretend that it does not matter that much whether a jurist was nominated by Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton or George W. Bush or Barack Obama so long as he or she can faithfully uphold the law.

The issue with this convention, as we’ve seen in the legal drama over the classified materials found … at Mar-a-Lago, is that it isn’t equipped to deal with the problem of hyperpartisan, ideological judges who are less committed to the rule of law than to their presidential patron….

Thankfully, there is a solution, and it takes only a simple vote of Congress: expand and reorganize the federal court system [well, actually it would only be a partial solution and important votes in Congress are rarely simple].

The practical reason to increase the number of courts and judges is that the country is much larger than it was in 1990, when Congress made its last expansion….

In the 32 years since 1990, the United States has grown from a population of roughly 250 million to a population of over 330 million….. And the federal judiciary is swamped. Last year, the Judicial Conference of the United States, a nonpartisan policymaking body for the federal courts, recommended that Congress create 79 new judgeships across existing district and appeals courts.

Congress, and here I mean Democrats, should go further with a court expansion to rival [Jimmy Carter’s in 1978]…. The goal is simple: to account for growth and to deal with the problem of a cohort of hyperpartisan and ideological judges whose loyalty to [the orange-ish ex-president] may outweigh their commitment to the law.

Would it be a partisan move? Yes. But it is a truth of American politics going back to the early days of the Republic that partisan problems — like the one engineered by Mitch McConnell … and the Federalist Society — demand partisan solutions.

From Charles Pierce for Esquire:

In the End, Climate Change Is the Only Story That Matters

To pretend otherwise is just to build the walls of your sandcastle higher.

While we watch the disembowelment of various lawyers in the employ of a former president* and wrap ourselves in the momentum of the upcoming midterm elections, the climate crisis—its time and tides—waits for no one. Every other story in our politics is a sideshow now. Every other issue, no matter how large it looms in the immediate present, is secondary to the accumulating evidence that the planet itself (or at least large parts of it) may be edging toward uninhabitability….

To stand on the bluffs above the Chukchi Sea [between Siberia and Alaska], looking down at a series of broken and ruined seawalls that have already failed to hold back the power of the ocean, and to consider that there are politicians in this country who are unwilling to do anything about the climate crisis, or who even deny it exists, is to wish they all could come and stand on these bluffs and look out at the relentless, devouring sea.

It probably doesn’t matter, but:

From Verlyn Klinkenborg for the New York Review of Books:

Endless Summer [not a great title]

Brian Wilson’s songs still have the power to astonish on their own terms, from their own time….

I have trouble accepting that Smile—the album he abandoned in 1967—was finally finished in 2004, because I question the continuity of the creative mind that “finished” it nearly forty years after it was begun. My skepticism makes me wonder whether I’m simply clinging to the memory of my own experience of the Beach Boys when I was young. But I don’t think so. They’re the same doubts that apply, say, to Wordsworth’s late revisions to The Prelude.

The joy I experience listening to those early Beach Boys records—through “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains” and slightly beyond—has nothing to do with nostalgia, with memories of where I was or who I was when I heard them. They don’t evoke for me an idealized California or even my adolescent yearnings. I don’t hear them from [Iowa] or Sacramento. I hear them from now. Wilson’s songs still have the power to astonish on their own terms, from their own time. What makes them so remarkable isn’t just the artistic fulfillment they achieve. It’s the artistic promise they embody. You can feel the explosive, disruptive, but ultimately controlled power of Wilson’s musical imagination—usually in three minutes or less….

Wilson marvels, in one of the documentaries I’ve mentioned, how quickly he wrote the melody of a song like “Caroline, No.” To me, that’s a sign that he’s allowed himself to misunderstand—in wholly conventional terms—what’s most remarkable about his work. It isn’t the melodic line or the speed with which it was written that stuns me now and stunned me then. It’s the shape of the mind in which the intricate shapes of his music entangled and resolved themselves. That mind has only ever been captured in one place: in the music as Brian Wilson recorded it long ago. 

Finally, two conclusions about France:

Louis XIV’s Versailles estate is too damn big. Did any of those 18th century aristocrats walk great distances in their 18th century shoes? The “gardens” are not somewhere to stroll around. They’re somewhere to hike or ride around.

And almost every French waiter was extremely nice, even the one who spilled the orange juice. Aren’t they supposed to be mean and snooty? Or is that only at the more exclusive establishments?