Public Service Post: The Dem Candidates on Climate Change

Science is telling us we have little time left to us to avoid catastrophic environmental collapse, with equally catastrophic loss of life. So as we consider who to support for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, it’s essential we choose a candidate who is ready to do whatever it takes, even at political risk, to save our planet.

It has to be said that any of the Democratic candidates is far and away better on the issue of climate than Donald Trump. All of them say climate change is real. I believe all of them are on the record saying they want to return to the Paris climate agreement. The question is, are they better enough to pursue policies that might head off unprecedented global disaster? Or will they settle for ineffectual tweaks?

Here are the declared candiates, in alphabetial order (and yeah, I hadn’t heard of some of these people, either), with a brief description of their commitment to fighting climate change.

An *asterisk indicates the candidate has formally pledged to not take money from the fossil fuel industry. And while I do not believe the Green New Deal is necessarily the only way to go, those candidates who do not endorse it had better have a strong alternative plan, or they go on the “no” list.

Executive summary: My possibly biased conclusion is that the best candidates on climate change are Buttigieg, Gillibrand, Inslee, O’Rourke, and Sanders. Booker, Gabbard, Harris, Warren, and Yang get honorable mention. Any of those candidates can be trusted to address the issue aggressively, I believe. They differ somewhat in their proposed approaches.

The weakest are Delaney, Hickenlooper,. and Ryan, with Klobuchar getting a “meh.” For the other candidates, I need more information than I could find, which says something in itself.

Sen. Michael Bennet: Bennet has declared climate change to be one of his top issues. Acccording to Axios, “Bennet has been consistent on the issue of climate change, working toward a comprehensive approach to combat climate change. He was not a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, but he recommends investing in renewable energy.” He may be okay, but he’s weak on details.

Former Vice President Joe Biden: He hasn’t been saying much about climate change in his campaign, but then his whole campaign is weak on policy details. Vox: “Biden’s commitment to the climate change issue can’t really be doubted — he introduced Congress’s first-ever climate bill way back in 1986 — and likens climate skepticism to ‘denying gravity.’ But he hasn’t really weighed in in a distinctive way on the subject.”

Sen. Cory Booker: Booker says “envionmental justice” is central to his campaign, although this is not necessarily the same thing as fighting climate change. He is a staunch supporter and defender of the Green New Deal proposal. He has not signed a pledge to not take money from the fossil fuel industry, however, even though that sector doesn’t seem to be a major source of funds for him, according to Open Secrets.

*South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg: Buttigieg insists climate change is not just an issue, but a crisis. All signs indicate he gets the seriousness of the problem.

As a presidential candidate, Buttigieg has called for billions’ worth of investment in research and development to lower the cost of solar and other renewable technologies. He also wants every American home to be a “net zero” energy consumer, with each roof lined with solar panels. “Uncle Sam is gonna mail you a kit,” he told Yahoo News (that’s assuming he manages to get elected).

He has signed a pledge to take no contributions from the fossil fuel industry and supports the Green New Deal.

Ex-San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro: He has sworn to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and supports the Green New Deal. Also,

While he was the mayor of San Antonio, Castro pushed the city’s public utility to close a 900-megawatt coal-powered plant, adopt a 20 percent renewable energy by 2020 pledge, and offer green jobs training. The city also launched a small car-sharing program and a bike-share system aimed at making transportation greener under his leadership.

However, as mayor, he pushed to allow fracking around San Antonio.

Rep. John Delaney: Delaney’s proposals include instituting a carbon tax, re-joining the Paris Agreement, and investing federal dollars in green technology. However, he has slammed the Green New Deal as a “far left” program.

*Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: Gabbard declined to back the Green New Deal, citing concerns that it is too vague. Well, yes, it is vague; comprehensive programs will need to be spelled out within the Green New Deal framework. Nobody is saying otherwise. On the other hand,Gabbard introduced a bill to transition the U.S. away from all fossil fuel use by 2035. I have no feel for how feasible Gabbard’s plan is, but it would be a grand thing to try.

*Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: Gillibrand supports the Green New Deal.

There is no question she does have a strong record supporting environmental issues and an aggressive vision for fighting climate change.

Former Sen. Mike Gravel: Seriously, Mike Gravel is running again. You can read about him here. I hope he makes some more videos. What I can find about his intentions on climate change sounds as if he appreciates the seriousness of the problem.

Sen. Kamala Harris: Environmental activist groups love Harris’s voting record, and she was a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal. Beyond that, I’m not finding details about what she proposes.

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper: Hickenlooper is one of those “I will reach across the aisle” types who belongs in another century. He opposes the Green New Deal and wants private industry to play a larger role in fighting climate change. He has not signed the “no fossile fuel money” pledge.

*Gov. Jay Inslee: Inslee has put fighting climate change at the front of his campaign and has a lot of proposals to deal with it. Supports Green New Deal? Check. Signed “no fossil fuel money” pledge? Check. Here’s an article about his climate change proposals. There’s no question Inslee is a strong candidate on the climate change issue. Note:

Only O’Rourke and Inslee’s climate plans so far address the overall question of how to stop U.S. carbon emissions. Each proposal focuses on a duel purpose of moving the country off fossil fuels and investing in green jobs to grow the economy.

Inslee’s plan is similar to the Green New Deal in that it aims to completely transition to clean energy by 2030. But the governor also leaves open the door to using nuclear power, an energy sector to which some environmental groups are staunchly opposed.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar: Klobuchar gets credit for arguing that Democrats should be running on addressing climate change, especially in farm country. Rural America is dealing with fires, floods, droughts, and unseasonal temperatures both high and low. She calls the Green New Deal “aspirational” and says she would vote for it. The “aspirational” comment angered some activists, but I can’t say she’s wrong. But then she said “I don’t see it as something that we can get rid of all these industries or do this in a few years — that doesn’t make sense to me — or reduce air travel.” This makes her seem a bit squishy to me.

*Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam: Mayor Messam is no doubt a fine man, but I am not finding a lot of information about him. Here is where he stands on several issues.

*Rep. Seth Moulton: Moulton, whose primary focus is national security, has said that he supports the Green New Deal. But in an Atlantic interview he took a swing at the Green New Deal and called it “divisive.”

“Candidates are running on a message of division, just like Trump did. It’s not as bad. It’s not as immoral. But I hear divisiveness in a lot of the other campaigns,” he said. To him, that includes the Green New Deal—he supports an aggressive approach to climate change, but he thinks a collection of estimates and aspirations only hurts the cause. Moulton said he’s working on a version of his own, drawn more deeply from conversations with experts.

“I think we want to be careful that we don’t become hypocrites and start ignoring science, just like the right has been doing,” he said.

No specifics on why he thinks the Green New Deal ignores science. To his credit, Moulton has signed the “no fossil fuels money” pledge.

*Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke: O’Rourke has signed the “no fossil fuels money” pledge but has proposed an alternative to the Green New Deal. The ambitious $5 trillion climate change proposal is aggressive and detailed and aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. As usual, implementation of the plan would require Democrats holding both houses of Congress. See also Nearly two dozen Democrats want to be president. Only two have a climate change plan. The two, the article says, are Inslee and O’Rourke.

Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan: Ryan has not signed the “no fossil fuels money” pledge, and this quote from an interview is not encouraging:

“We need a Green New Deal,” Ryan said. His version would include using the tax code to “incentivize investments” into renewable energies and green technologies, and into “distressed communities.” It would also include an emphasis on making sure we have enough college graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to “help us continue to build out the innovations we need to decarbonize the economy.”

That would have been great 20 years ago. Now it’s too little, too late.

*Sen. Bernie Sanders: Sanders also checks all the right boxes on the climate change issue. He gets it. He has folded combating climate change into his economic justice message: “We’re going to create millions of good-paying jobs weatherizing our homes, changing our transportation system, moving aggressively into wind and solar and other sustainable energies,” Sanders said. In In 2015, he unveiled a plan to cut US carbon emissions 80% by 2050. He has been criticized for not unveiling a comprehensive plan during this campaign, however.

*California Rep. Eric Swalwell: Swalwell has a pro-environment voting record and says he supports the “principles” of the Green New Deal. He does seem to get the urgency of the crisis, but I’m not finding policy details.

*Sen. Elizabeth Warren Warren has proposed banning new coalmining and oil drilling on public lands, which could cut US emissions but fall short of what scientists say is  needed. Her recent floor speech on climate change suggests she gets the scope of the problem. She has promised to make the Green New Deal the centerpiece of her environmenal policy. So far she has not brought out a detailed climate change proposal of her own, but I’d be surprised if she doesn’t before this year is over.

*Author Marianne Williamson: I don’t consider her to be a serious contender, but she has signed the no fossil fuel money pledge and has some proposals on her website. So credit where credit is due.

*Former tech executive Andrew Yang: Yang has some interesting proposals on his website, such as “Invest heavily in carbon capture and geoengineering technologies designed to reverse the damage already done to the environment through a new Global Geoengineering Institute and invite international participation.” I can’t say I’ve heard that one anywhere else. I’d like to hear more discussion of how his proposals might work.

Stuff to Read

This morning I gave myself the task of writing something about where all the Dem presidential candidates stand on climate change. Did you know there are 22 declared and official candidates now? They seem to be multiplying, like wire hangers in the closet or those random USB cords and device chargers that get tangled up in your desk drawer. Anyway, I worked diligently most of the day and only got about half finished, so I’ll try to finish tomorrow. Meanwhile —

The New York Times — Decade in the Red: Trump Tax Figures
Show Over $1 Billion in Business Losses

The data — printouts from Mr. Trump’s official Internal Revenue Service tax transcripts, with the figures from his federal tax form, the 1040, for the years 1985 to 1994 — represents the fullest and most detailed look to date at the president’s taxes, information he has kept from public view. Though the information does not cover the tax years at the center of an escalating battle between the Trump administration and Congress, it traces the most tumultuous chapter in a long business career — an era of fevered acquisition and spectacular collapse.

The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses — largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.

In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the I.R.S. compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners. His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 — more than $250 million each year — were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the I.R.S. information for those years.

 

The most tremendous loss of money in history, I’m sure. Our Trump doesn’t screw up by halves; he goes all the way.

WaPo: The White House on Tuesday invoked executive privilege to bar former White House counsel Donald McGahn from complying with a congressional subpoena to provide documents to Congress related to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. McGahn has agreed to not hand over the documents. House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler has threatened McGahn with contempt.  See also Martin Longman, “Does Don McGahn Have to Comply With Congressional Subpoenas?

Meanwhile, the Speaker of the House actually said the I-word. “Trump is goading us to impeach him.”

Reuters is reporting that Michael Cohen says that before the 2016 primaries he “handled” some embarassing photos for — wait for it — Jerry Falwell, Jr.  After said handling, Falwell endorsed Trump for president. heh.

Another school shooting. One student reported dead.

See also An Internal Memo Raises New Questions About Self-Dealing at the N.R.A.

Don’t Forget the Planet

While we’re ringing our hands about the future of the nation, let’s not forget the future of the planet. See Eric Levitz, Humanity Is About to Kill 1 Million Species in a Globe-Spanning Murder-Suicide.

Humanity is reshaping the natural world at such scale and rapidity, an estimated 1 million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, according to the U.N. assessment. Climate change is a major driver of all this death, but burning fossil fuels is far from our species’ only method of mass ecocide. We are also harvesting fish populations faster than they can reproduce themselves, annually dumping upward of 300 million tons of heavy metals and toxic sludge into the oceans, introducing devastating diseases and invasive species into vulnerable environments as we send people and goods hurtling across the globe, and simply taking up too much space — about 75 percent of the Earth’s land, and 85 percent of its wetlands, have been severely altered or destroyed by human development.

We need to be certain that the next president and a majority of Congress is prepared to do whatever it takes to save the planet. No more dithering; no more half measures.

For now, we’re still wringing more food out of the Earth than ever before. But we’re also exhausting the ecosystems on which that bounty depends — land degradation is sapping the agricultural productivity of nearly one-quarter of the Earth’s land mass. The mass death of pollinating insects is already jeopardizing $577 billion in annual crop production. The (now virtually inevitable) deaths of major coral reefs, combined with overfishing, will soon remove a major source of protein from the diets of billions.

See also Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace in the New York Times.

Banks, Biden, and Trump: Oh, Bleep

The New York Times published this story four days ago, and I missed it — “Biden Faces Conflict of Interest Questions That Are Being Promoted by Trump and Allies.”

Here’s the backstory: Back when he was vice president, Joe Biden took on the job of pushing Ukraine to get rid of its notoriously corrupt prosecutor general. This prosecutor general was, by all accounts, a real sleazebag who was intensely disliked by everybody who had to deal with Ukraine. Nobody seems to think that this guy’s dismissal from his job was a bad thing.

However, Joe Biden’s son Hunter directly benefited from this dismissal, because Hunter Biden “at the time was on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch who had been in the sights of the fired prosecutor general,” the article says.

Hunter Biden was a Yale-educated lawyer who had served on the boards of Amtrak and a number of nonprofit organizations and think tanks, but lacked any experience in Ukraine and just months earlier had been discharged from the Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine. He would be paid as much as $50,000 per month in some months for his work for the company, Burisma Holdings.

Nice work if you can get it without being the son of a vice president of the United States. This connection was known at the time and raised some concern in the State Department, but apparently not enough concern that anything was done about it. The prosecutor general was a genuinely bad guy and wasn’t pushed out just because of Hunter Biden.

This story is news today because Trump’s sending Rudy Giuliani to dredge up dirt about it. Josh Marshall writes,

Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal lawyer has been meeting with Ukrainian officials repeatedly and dangling the possibility of better relations with President Trump if they will reopen the investigation into the Hunter Biden-affiliated company. Let’s repeat that. The President’s personal lawyer is going abroad and using the lure of better treatment from President Trump to get them to reopen an investigation that could damage the man who is possibly Trump’s presidential competitor next year.

That’s not all.

Giuliani and Trump have asked Attorney General Bill Barr to get the material Ukrainian prosecutors have assembled and start his own investigation in the US.

Mark my words: If Biden is the nominee, instead of Hillary Clinton’s emails we’ll be hearing about Hunter Biden and the Ukranian bank. Incessantly. Still think Biden’s so electable?

Let’s review.

Possible sketchy dealings from several years ago, long since settled legally and in the past. Giuliani starts meeting with Ukrainian officials who are for reasons we all understand desperate for favorable treatment from President Trump. He tells them that the way to get better treatment is to start an investigation into the Joe Biden’s son. Giuliani routinely briefs President Trump on his activities. They both go to Bill Barr and start pushing Barr to piggy back on the Ukrainian investigation and start his own probe in the US.

And you know Bill Barr will do it.  This is from the New York Times story:

The Trump team’s efforts to draw attention to the Bidens’ work in Ukraine, which is already yielding coverage in conservative media, has been led partly by Rudolph W. Giuliani, who served as a lawyer for Mr. Trump in the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. Giuliani’s involvement raises questions about whether Mr. Trump is endorsing an effort to push a foreign government to proceed with a case that could hurt a political opponent at home.

Mr. Giuliani has discussed the Burisma investigation, and its intersection with the Bidens, with the ousted Ukrainian prosecutor general and the current prosecutor. He met with the current prosecutor multiple times in New York this year. The current prosecutor general later told associates that, during one of the meetings, Mr. Giuliani called Mr. Trump excitedly to brief him on his findings, according to people familiar with the conversations.

Mr. Giuliani declined to comment on any such phone call with Mr. Trump, but acknowledged that he has discussed the matter with the president on multiple occasions. Mr. Trump, in turn, recently suggested he would like Attorney General William P. Barr to look into the material gathered by the Ukrainian prosecutors — echoing repeated calls from Mr. Giuliani for the Justice Department to investigate the Bidens’ Ukrainian work and other connections between Ukraine and the United States.

Mr. Giuliani said he got involved because he was seeking to counter the Mueller investigation with evidence that Democrats conspired with sympathetic Ukrainians to help initiate what became the special counsel’s inquiry.

I don’t personally want the future of the planet and human civilization to turn on how much dirt somebody can find on Hunter Biden et al. I also feel compelled to point out that what Guiliani is doing might be described as collusion with foreign governments to change the outcome of an election.

Joe and Hunter Biden

 

Democrats: Don’t Vote for the Electable Candidate!

As soon as Joe Biden declared his candidacy he was declared the front runner. And social media filled up with declarations that we all have to rally around Joe because he is “electable.” I suspect this is part of an attempt to create a bandwagon effect for good ol’ Joe, whom I like personally. But I sincerely hope he’s not the nominee.

Aaron Blake wrote,

Saying someone is a front-runner isn’t the same as saying they will win or even that they are currently the favorite. But the word means even less in 2020 than it does in your average presidential race. …

… The two leading candidates in most polls are Biden and Bernie Sanders. It’s no coincidence that they also happen to be the only two candidates pretty much everyone is at least somewhat familiar with. Gallup and Monmouth polling shows around 3 in 10 Democrats haven’t formed an opinion of Elizabeth Warren, about 4 in 10 don’t have one of Kamala Harris, and around half are similarly noncommittal or don’t know Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg. Biden is popular among the Democrats who have an opinion of him — 72 percent favorable and 16 percent unfavorable in the Monmouth poll — but he’s not appreciably more popular among those who know him than a lot of these other candidates.

Somewhat more damning is this analysis by Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight. He found that perceptions of “electability” tend to correspond to “straight white male.” But this is more interesting:

Some candidates widely seen as electable don’t have as much support from voters, while others who have generated a lot of voter enthusiasm aren’t seen as particularly strong general-election candidates.

What does that tell us? When we decide who is “electable” we’re guessing who other people will want to vote for.  But what does it say when a voter really prefers candidate A but is cajoled into voting for candidate B because he or she is “more electable”? Based on what? And Rakich provides data showing that while a significant number of people polled think Joe Biden is “electable,” a smaller percentage say he’s their first choice.

And that’s how we end up with candidates many voters aren’t all that enthusiastic about. And we lose.

Dave Weigel:

In dozens of conversations during Biden’s maiden Iowa voyage, some voters said they had been pining for a Biden candidacy. They believed in his experience, and his decency, and his work as vice president.

Just as many voters said that they had come to support Biden because he seemed best positioned to defeat President Trump — sometimes offering the names of candidates they considered more inspiring but less electable. And several voters struggled to explain why, if he did defeat Trump, Biden would be able to succeed in his agenda where the Obama-Biden administration struggled. …

… More than any other contender for the Democratic nomination, Biden’s candidacy is premised on how he can win. No other Democrat comes close. The latest Quinnipiac national poll, which put Biden at 38 percentsupport among all Democrats, found just 23 percent of them saying Biden had “the best policy ideas.” But 56 percent said that Biden had “the best chance of winning,” a sentiment shared by every Biden endorser.

And here’s the kicker.

The tautology of the “electability” theory, that Biden is electable because people say he’s electable, is a big reason why his entry did not scare off many rival campaigns.

Weigel then goes on to a brief history of “electable” Democratic candidates, people who the polls said were “electable” but who went ahead and lost.

I understand why long-time  Democrats feel comfortable with Biden. He’s a likeable guy.  You know he won’t be sitting on his toilet at three a.m. sending stupid tweets. You know he’s not going to do anything really off-the-wall, like start a trade war with Canada. He reminds us of a time when we had a president who didn’t make us cringe with embarassment. But in an election cycle when the energy and enthusiasm is coming from younger, left-leaning voters, is Biden really more electable than everyone else running? How do we really know who is electable until they, you know, win the election?

Paul Waldman:

Every four years we have a discussion about electability, and every four years the consensus on electability is mistaken. A buffoonish, bigoted reality TV star without a day of political experience? Completely unelectable. A 40-something African American senator with an Arabic middle name? Absurdly unelectable.

You know who everyone agreed was electable, though? War heroes with long records as respected legislators. Like John McCain, John Kerry and Bob Dole. Also electable: moderates who know how to reach across the aisle, like Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and Al Gore.

I have this crazy idea that we should use the primaries to vote for the person we most want to be president. Waldman agrees:

Despite all the evidence that the single most important determinant of getting elected president may be whether a candidate can excite their own party’s voters, we never treat that as a factor in electability. We discuss the electorate as though it has a fixed number of voters, and there will be no one who either stays home because they’re uninspired or turns out when they otherwise wouldn’t have because a candidate excites them. If that’s your assumption, then naturally you conclude that all that matters is whether someone can pull votes from the other side.

Not only that, you’re actively discouraged from thinking that the person whom you really like might be electable. After all, if you’re a partisan, and you love a particular candidate, that must mean they won’t be able to appeal to those magical swing voters.

Let’s repeat that last part — you’re actively discouraged from thinking that the person whom you really like might be electable. So you tell your inner voice to shut up and dutifully vote for the candidate Everybody Says is the right one. Again, this is why Democrats lose, and why the party has been so damn unesponsive to ordinary constituents for so long.

Alex Pareene:

Democratic voters did not teach themselves to prioritize electability over their own actual concerns. They were trained to, over many years, by party figures who over-interpreted the loss of George McGovern, or who wanted to use the fear of McGovern to maintain their power over the Democratic candidate pipeline and nomination process. “Electability” is a way to get voters to carry out a contrary agenda—not their own—while convincing them they’re being “responsible.”

Fight the programming! Don’t vote as you’re told! Listen to your own conscience!

And now Democratic candidates and their most loyal voters are stuck in an absurd feedback loop. The politicians campaign and govern as if they themselves don’t believe a majority of voters prefer their agenda, signaling to their most loyal voters that they must vote not for what they want, but for what they imagine their more-conservative neighbors might want. But when voters in 2016 did exactly that, and nominated the candidate they were repeatedly told was most qualified to defeat Trump in the general election, they chose a person who went on to lose to him.

And where is that programming coming from? Jill of Brilliant at Breakfast:

Every time I see the word “electable” used, I know that it’s code that means some candidate that isn’t going to rock the boat, but is palatable to the moneyed pundit class whose jobs can’t be outsourced and who rarely set foot outside the Washington cocktail weenie circuit.

What if — I know this is crazy, but pretend — we had something called a “primary election” in which we all voted for the person we really truly deep in our hearts wanted to be president, and lo, when the votes were counted our first choice actually won! And this same person won primaries in other states as well! Wouldn’t that person be “electable”? If not, why not?

And then, if we more often elected people we really wanted, maybe we’d have a better government. I know, it’s crazy.

Criminal Justice Versus a Sitting Attorney General

I have a question; maybe one of you understands how this works.

When the attorney general of the U.S. is a lawbreaker, what part of law enforcement deals with him? Capitol Police? I’m asking because I don’t know the answer.

If the House decides to subpoena Barr or hold him in contempt of Congress, is there someone who could actually arrest him? The Sargeant-in Arms of the House is supposed to be the person to arrest someone in contempt of Congress, but what if Barr decides he doesn’t peacefully want to be arrested? Barr is, after all, the head of all federal law enforcement.  I’m not sure how arresting him would work.

The famous example of John Mitchell doesn’t provide an answer, because Mitchell wasn’t indicted while in the office of attorney general.. Mitchell resigned in 1972 to manage Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. He wasn’t indicted until 1974, and he began his prison term in 1977.

How William Barr Was Turned Into a Toad

Of course, it’s possible Attorney General William Barr has always been a toad, but in any event Barr really deserves to be preserved in formaldehyde for posterity. Someday science may be able to determine WTF?

The leaking of Bob Mueller’s sternly worded letter to AG Barr made today’s Senate hearings must see TV for a lot of folks, although I had to miss it. I take it that today Barr continued to lie about his interactions with Mueller about the Mueller report; see Paul Waldman for examples. Here’s just one:

Under questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Barr insisted there was nothing wrong with Trump seeking to have Mueller “removed,” instead of “fired,” and then telling the White House counsel to tell a story he knew to be false, because it would be theoretically possible that there would be another special counsel appointed to take his place:

FEINSTEIN: You still have a situation where a president essentially tries to change the lawyer’s account in order to prevent further criticism of himself.

BARR: Well, that’s not a crime.

FEINSTEIN: So you can, in this situation, instruct someone to lie?

BARR: To be obstruction of justice, the lie has to be tied to impairing the evidence in a particular proceeding. McGahn had already given his evidence, and I think it would be plausible that the purpose of McGahn memorializing what the president was asking was to make a record that the president never directed him to fire — and there is a distinction between saying to someone, “Go fire him, go fire Mueller,” and saying “Have him removed based on conflict.”

As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) later said about a separate matter, “That’s some masterful hairsplitting.”

We also had some interesting moments like this:

And this:

See also Jennifer Rubin, “William Barr and His Horrible Hearing“; Aaron Blake, “Five Takeaways from William Barr’s Tense Hearing.

Somebody named Eliana Johnson writes in Politico that Barr’s real cause isn’t Donald Trump but the unitary executive theory that gives presidents expansive powers to act without congressional approval. But I suspect James Comey, of all people, has the real reason.

Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. Sometimes what they reveal is inspiring. For example, James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, resigned over principle, a concept so alien to Mr. Trump that it took days for the president to realize what had happened, before he could start lying about the man.

But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.

This rings true for me. I have personal experience working for narcissists/sociopaths, and there are only two ways to function: One, do your best to do your job as it needs to be done in spite of the daily outrages and constant chaos, but keep your resume in circulation because the day will come when you just can’t do it any more. Or, two, just do whatever the narcissist/sociopath wants, right or wrong, no questions asked.

When you work for someone who is, shall we say, psychologically compromised, you aren’t working for a person but for a pathology. That’s what you’re constantly dealing with; not a human being, but the crazy.

Now, what to do about William Barr? Some Democrats — Kamala Harris, Mazie Hirono, Cory Booker, Liz Warren, and others — are calling on Barr to resign. I understand that Congress can remove a cabinet secretary through the same impeachment process used for presidents, but I don’t know if that’s ever been done before. But even Chris Cillizza thinks Barr is in deep trouble. How long before Barr is returned to his pond?

 

 

If Only There Were a Vaccine for Stupid

I clearly remember that in in my rural Missouri elementary school in the 1950s, once or twice a year the school nurse would line us up in alphabetical order and give us vaccines. That’s where most of us got vaccinated in those days, in shool. The school nurse had all of our vaccine records in a card file, and when we got to the front of the line and bared her arm, she’d check her card file to see what we needed, and dose us accordingingly.

I assume it was some kind of state program, and I don’t know when it ended. But I don’t recall there was anything controversial about this at the time, nor did anyone have a problem with Big Gubmint Vaccines or combining several vaccines at once. By the 1950s the vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis) already were combined in one shot. Nobody complained. Diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough had not yet passed from living memory and were still feared. Immunization was greatly appreciated. The CDC:

Before pertussis vaccines became widely available in the 1940s, about 200,000 children got sick with it each year in the United States and about 9,000 died as a result of the infection. Now we see about 10,000 to 40,000 cases reported each year and unfortunately up to 20 deaths.

Also the CDC:

Diphtheria once was a major cause of illness and death among children. The United States recorded 206,000 cases of diphtheria in 1921, resulting in 15,520 deaths. Starting in the 1920s, diphtheria rates dropped quickly due to the widespread use of vaccines. Between 2004 and 2017, state health departments reported 2 cases of diphtheria in the United States. …

… The case-fatality rate for diphtheria has changed very little during the last 50 years. The overall case-fatality rate for diphtheria is 5%–10%, with higher death rates (up to 20%) among persons younger than 5 and older than 40 years of age. Before there was treatment for diphtheria, the disease was fatal in up to half of cases.

Today, though, Missouri is among the worst states for vaccination rates. Probably the only reason there haven’t been news stories about epidemics here is that so much of the state is rural. In densely populated New York, authorities have closed schools.

Part of the standard schtick of anti-vaxxers is to downplay the seriousness of the diseases vaccines can prevent. It’s true that measles used to be a common disease from which most people recovered. I got it when I was ten or eleven; brilliantly, I managed to get into a poison ivy patch the day before I got sick. The results were epic. Deaths from measles are nearly unheard of in the U.S. these days. But a small percentage of people who get measles will develop encephalitis as a result, sometimes many years later, and that’s a whole ‘nother thing. Do see the website of the British Encephalitis Society for data.

Anti-vax propaganda is all over the web, enabling the ignorance. See “A Look at Anti-Vaxxers’ Monstriously Bad Measles Math.”

A new statistic is circulating in the anti-vaccination corner of the Internet. Two numbers, side by side: zero, the number of deaths caused by measles in the past decade, and 108, the number of deaths caused by measles vaccines in the past decade. The writing’s on the wall: Vaccines kill, measles doesn’t.

The first number, which comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is correct. Due to advances in modern medicine, the mortality rate for measles in the United States is exceptionally low—on average, around 0.3 percent from 1987 to 2000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Not so for other countries, especially in the developing world: In 2000, measles was responsible for 22 percent of deaths of children under 5 in Ethiopia. So although measles remains a lethal disease elsewhere in the world, it is true that it hasn’t killed any Americans in the past decade.

But then there’s the second number: more than a hundred deaths as a direct result of having received a measles vaccine since 2004. This is the one that should strike you as off. And that’s because that figure comes not from the CDC but from the National Vaccine Information Center, a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded in 1982 for parents whose children suffered brain injury or death—they said—as a result of having received vaccines The group campaigns against mandatory vaccination laws, including those that require children to get the measles vaccines to attend public school, for example.

The anti-vaxxers arrive at death from vaxxing by investigating raw numbers of people who were vaccinated and subsequently died of any cause. Someone vaccinated on Monday and hit by a train on Tuesday becomes fodder for anti-vaxx propaganda.

In layman’s terms, either 108 or 69 people (depending on whom you ask) died sometime after having been vaccinated against measles since 2004, but not necessarily because they were vaccinated against measles. In some cases, their deaths were totally unrelated, or the patient had some undiagnosed congenital illness that meant he or she should never have been vaccinated in the first place. This data is all publicly available in the CDC’s VAERS database.

Unfortunately, it’s too easy to set up an authoritative-looking website with photos of doctors on it and make all kinds of wild claims, and the anti-vaxxers will eat it up. And, of course, they don’t believe any information coming from the World Health Organization or the Center for Disease Control because government or black helicopters or whatever. We’re now at a place where the young adult children of anti-vaxx parents are boldly getting themselves vaccinated against their parents’ wishes. People with autoimmune diseases or getting cancer treatments or too young to be vaccinated are at the mercy of these selfish jerks.

Enough with this nonsense. Make vaccines mandatory unless one has a verified medical condition that makes them risky.

When Numbers Lie

This week I’ve seen several headlines proclaiming that Donald Trump will win re-election in a landslide. Why? If you read the articles, they boil down to because the economy doesn’t completely suck.  “In the first quarter of 2019, the US economy grew by 3.2%, the zippiest pace of first-quarter growth since 2015,” it says here. Well, let’s go dance in the streets!

Of course, if you’ve been around awhile you should have noticed that quarterly GDP growth bounces around a bit, and one quarter does not a great expansion make. Still, it has to be said that recent quarters haven’t been bad.

Further, the S&P 500 topped a record yesterday. But investment pros are telling people to enjoy the bullish market while it lasts.

Scott Minerd, the global chief investment officer for Guggenheim Investments, left a Milken Institute audience gasping with a prediction of 10 years of shaky returns.

“For US equities over the next decade we should be expecting maybe a 1% to 2% return” based on current stock market valuations, Minerd said. “This long period of outperformance is eventually going to run into a period of underperformance.”

Even so, it’s understandable that Trump supporters see the economy as a great argument for re-electing Trump. But hold on — a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that most people don’t trust the economy is working for them. “The survey finds broad dissatisfaction with the country’s economic and political systems. Overall, 60 percent of all voters say the country’s economic system mainly benefits those in power, while 72 percent say the same for the nation’s political structures.”

Eric Lutz:

By all appearances, Trump’s campaign hasn’t accounted for this type of shortcoming. “The economy is still really, really good, and I’ve told [Trump] many, many times that, you know, people vote their pocketbooks,” chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told the Atlantic earlier this month. “What does Clinton say? ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ I still think that’s the case.” Politicos are similarly bullish. “The economy is just so damn strong right now and by all historic precedent the incumbent should run away with it,” Donald Luskin, chief investment officer of TrendMacrolytics, told Politico in March. “I just don’t see how the blue wall could resist all that.” Look past unemployment, market strength, and gas prices, though, and the picture gets more complicated. Market booms, which tend to benefit the wealthy, aren’t always felt on Main Street, and obscured in low unemployment numbers are concerns about the kinds of jobs available, including a growing reliance on a gig economy.

The truth is that most people don’t care about the bleeping GDP or even the bleeping stock market. They go up, their lives don’t get any better. Like Trump’s fabled tax cuts, somehow the benefits are invisible for working people.

Paul Waldman wrote today,

What’s important about this is that even when the economy is doing well by many measures, it hasn’t dissuaded Americans from the belief that there is something seriously wrong.

I have no doubt that Trump understands this. When he ran for president, he told people that the system was “rigged,” and they believed him because they could see it all around them. If you live in a place that used to have manufacturing jobs with good wages, good benefits and job security, all negotiated by a union, but now the only place you can find work is at Walmart or a fulfillment center, it doesn’t seem like all our problems have been solved. Having a job is better than not having one, but having a job that barely makes it possible to get by is still going to leave you dissatisfied.

What Trump faces is that while he hinted at the right problem in 2016, the solution he came up with was standard Republican economics — tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, deregulation for corporations — with some trade wars tossed in. And at the same time trying to slash the safety net.

Which means that what Democrats should be talking about is not this month’s job creation numbers but the things that are more fundamental. What kind of opportunities do you have? Are you treated with respect and dignity on the job? Can you afford college for your kids? Is your health care secure and affordable? Do we have a tax system that isn’t skewed toward those at the top, and that funds the things we need? Is this really the best we can do?

This is right, and this is an argument that some Democrats are making.  But that doesn’t mean the Dems don’t have their own evonomic vulnerabilities.

That same discontent was around in 2016; Pew Research’s “direction of the country” poll shows about the same satisfied/dissatisfied numbers in the spring of 2016 as today. In 2016, Donald Trump persuaded a big chunk of the electorate that he felt what they were feeling and would do something about it. The Democratic nominee, um, didn’t do that. See William Greider, “What Killed the Democratic Party?” for a 2016 autopsy.

“The mainstream Democratic story line of victims without victimizers lacks both plausibility and passion. The idea that the Democrats can somehow convince Wall Street to work on behalf of Main Street through mild chiding, rather than acting as Main Street’s champion against the wealthy, no longer resonates. We live in a time of unrest and justified cynicism toward those in power; Democrats will not win if they continue to bring a wonk knife to a populist gun fight.”

The authors are clearly seeking a straightforward repudiation of the governing strategy on economic issues by the last two Democratic presidents. Neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama attempted to challenge corporate and financial interests, and neither did nearly enough to address the lost jobs and wages that led to deteriorating affluence and fed popular cynicism and distrust. Obama, for example, gratuitously appointedGeneral Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to the White House Jobs Council—an odd choice, given that Immelt’s company was a notorious pioneer in offshoring American jobs to foreign nations. Immelt subsequently admitted that he was motivated by GE’s bottom line: American wages were too high, he explained, so he intended to lower them. He succeeded.

In this context, blue-collar workers were not mistaken when they blamed the Democrats. During the campaign, Hillary Clinton was virtually silent on the party’s complicity. The Democratic nominee couldn’t very well quarrel with the party’s embrace of Republican dogma on free trade and financial deregulation, since it would have meant quarreling with her husband. On the central domestic issue of our time, she had nothing convincing to say. Clinton belatedly announced her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal championed by President Obama, but at that point it was already dead. The party platform paid the usual respect to liberal economic causes, but who could believe her? Clinton lacked authenticity.

Back in May 2016 I wrote a post noting that Clinton was in trouble, although at the time I was still confident she would win.

This is so obviously a “change” election. To run a candidate who represents the past, who promises to be pragmatic and not attempt anything radical, is an obvious misstep. Loyal Democrats will vote for her, but independents have already shown they’d prefer somebody else. And while Clinton currently looks weak against Trump, if the GOP had gotten its act together and nominated a more “establishment” Republican, I doubt she’d have any chance at all.

Then I went on to note that Dem party elites had decided that voters really didn’t care about economic unfairness. Why should they? The stock market and GDP were, well, okay. They’d been better, but they didn’t suck. The numbers told us that we had recovered from the financial crisis of 2008. What’s the problem?

So it was that Trump managed to win the Electoral College, mostly because a whole lot of usually Democratic precincts in the Rust Belt went for him instead of Clinton.

I keep saying this, and I still think it’s true: The central message of the Democratic Party needs to be “under new management.” Or they won’t be able to capitalize on Trump’s economic vulnerability.

In politics the messenger is part of the message, which is why I think Joe Biden or any other long-time “establishment” Dem will be the wrong nominee in 2020, because he or she will have no credibility. Biden’s record as protector of credit card companies is a huge liability, for example.

These days Dems as a group have little credibility as the champions of the common man, and that’s their own fault. Do see Frank Rich, “In 2008, America Stopped Believing in the American Dream.” Under Obama, maybe the numbers recovered from the financial meltdown, but people did not. “Perhaps the sole upside to the 2008 crash was that it discredited the Establishment of both parties by exposing its decades-long collusion with a kleptocratic economic order,” Rich wrote. But I don’t think the Dem establishment understands this, even now. They’re still too busy being angry at Bernie Sanders because Hillary Clinton lost the general election.

The key, here, is to stop relating to numbers and start relating to people. Because the numbers and the people are not telling the same story. And it’s people who vote.

The Faux Concerns of the Right

This is rich. Paul Krugman:

“If you live in the Midwest, where else do you want to live besides Chicago? You don’t want to live in Cincinnati or Cleveland or, you know, these armpits of America.” So declared Stephen Moore, the man Donald Trump wants to install on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, during a 2014 event held at a think tank called, yes, the Heartland Institute.

The crowd laughed.

I have written before about the phenomenon of well-known conservates — usually people from monied families who have Ivy League degrees and plum jobs in media and politics — who snear at liberals for being elites. See, for example,”Elitism for Elites” (April 2008), “Elitism for Dummies” (June 2008), and “Those Sneaky Elitists” (February 2012). If such people aren’t elites themselves, I’m Princess Charlotte.

Every now and then, though, the mask slips, as it did in the Heartland Institude. Krugman says such anecdotes illustrate something he’s noticed for awhile — “The thinly veiled contempt conservative elites feel for the middle-American voters they depend on.”

This is not the story you usually hear. On the contrary, we’re inundated with claims that liberals feel disdain for the heartland. Even liberals themselves often buy into these claims, berate themselves for having been condescending and pledge to do better.

But what’s the source of that narrative? Look at where the belief that liberals don’t respect the heartland comes from, and it turns out that it has little to do with things Democrats actually say, let alone their policies. It is, instead, a story line pushed relentlessly by Fox News and other propaganda organizations, relying on out-of-context quotes and sheer fabrication.

That said, I’ve also argued in the past that coastal urban liberals tend to reduce people in flyover country into cartoon stereotypes — see “Dear Sister and Brother Progressives” (November 2016). But it’s also the case, as Krugman explains, that only Democrats are proposing anything that would actually improve the quality of life of small town and rural folks. Republicans do just the opposite. See Krugman for details.

The Democrats have been complicit in this, however. For bleeping decades they failed to put forward comprehensive policy ideas and programs to challenge the Republican deregulate-cut taxes-trickle down nonsense. Instead, they’d offer cautious little tweaks. And what economic proposals they did have were never heard about in most of the country. I’ve been griping about this for years, too.