The “Unprecedented” Cold

Published at 08:16 on 30 January 2019

It’s not unprecedented, and the fact it is being considered so proves rather than refutes global warming.

Yes, it’s cold. Yes, it’s far colder than average. But look at the all-time records in the Midwest. Most of them are colder than the temperatures now being seen. In fact, temperatures in the -20’s Fahrenheit and colder really aren’t historically that super-unusual from about northern Illinois northward. They didn’t happen every year, mind you, but they did happen once or twice a decade.

I know. I lived in northern Illinois as a child between the ages of five and twelve. I remember at least two cold snaps comparable in severity to the one now taking place. When they happened, there weren’t states of emergency. Mail still got delivered. My dad still went in to work. As children, we still went to school, even if we had to walk there.

It was part of every child’s normal experience to learn first-hand that when the temperature falls below zero degrees snow squeaks loudly when you walk through it and ice ceases to become slippery. I remember walking through that squeaky snow one weekend cold snap to my best friend’s house. We spent part of that afternoon playing outdoors, before we came inside and warmed up.

Our parents were not shocked or worried about their children playing outdoors in subzero weather. It wasn’t a natural disaster, it was just a cold winter. Such things happened from time to time, and life for the most part went on.

Yet, now it is a natural disaster. Now you have adults in their twenties and thirties, life-long Midwesterners, talking about squeaky snow as if they are experiencing it for the first time in their lives, because they are experiencing it for the first time in their lives. The mail is stopped, schools are closed, and employees are staying home from work.

People used to expect such cold, of course. Now, they don’t. So they’re not prepared for it. Individuals are not prepared for it, and neither are organizations. The cold is no longer expected, because it no longer happens once or twice every decade. It no longer happens so frequently because global warming has changed the climate: winters on average are milder than they used to be.

The news stories coming out of the Midwest are evidence of global warming.

Howard Shultz’ Presidential Ambitions

Published at 09:02 on 29 January 2019

First, they show that self-proclaimed political moderates can be as ideologically biased, to the point of ignoring obvious political truths, as adherents of either the left or the right. This, despite moderates continually trying to proclaim themselves as intellectually superior because their position in the middle of the spectrum supposedly insulates them from such blindness.

No, it doesn’t. Just look at how Schultz is blissfully in denial about how his campaign is objectively pro-Trump, because it will help split the anti-Trump vote. If Trump were a garden-variety Republican, I’d be more likely to tolerate such denial. The two-party system is unduly restrictive of ideological diversity; as such, I have often been a supporter of candidates to the left of the Democrats. Ultimately, each candidate is responsible for the votes he or she did or did not receive.

But these are not normal times. Trump is not a garden-variety Republican. There is a need for a popular front against Trump’s fascism. This requires sacrifice from all in the front. (You think I enjoy the prospect of for once supporting an establishment Democratic Party candidate? Think again.)

Second, that Schultz is either incapable of or unwilling to make such considerations points to his own unfitness for the office he seeks. That’s above and beyond my dislike for any candidate that runs as a capitalist who believes the rich should continue to be taxed very lightly.

The rules of the US political system are rigged to the benefit of two parties. That sucks, but that’s also the way it is. If Schultz wants to be something other than an objectively pro-Trump force, he should choose which party he wants to affiliate with, and participate in its primary process. I’ll even hold my nose and support him in November, 2020 if he chooses the Democrats and prevails in their primary.

But as it stands, with Schultz planning an independent candidacy, I will see him as the active force for evil and fascism that he has proved himself to be.

For Once, the Democrats Do Not Cave

Published at 17:13 on 25 January 2019

And it worked out spectacularly well for them: they got everything they wanted out of the standoff. This could prove to be a real watershed moment.

First, Mitch McConnell is a long-time skeptic about government shutdowns, believing they are far more likely to hurt than help the fortunes of those who instigate them (typically, Republicans). Like most Republicans, he has become cowed by Trump. Now, Trump’s strategy has blown up. This is likely to cause McConnell revert to old form on shutdowns, and smack down any future talk from Trump about such things. And McConnell has the power to smack such talk down, hard: threaten to pass a bipartisan CR with a veto-proof majority. Give Trump the choice between the humiliation of backing down and signing or the greater humiliation of a veto override. Or, more likely: backing down, hushing up the private conversation in which the threat was made, and publicly professing support for the CR. (In fact, exactly such a scenario might have been what prompted Trump to cave today.)

Second, assume an alternate history in which the Democrats caved. Trump would have been rewarded for his bluster. He has just learned by experience that he has an ace up his sleeve by which to cow Pelosi into obeying his will. What are the odds he’d continue to play that particular card? Near certain, of course. Democrats would then lurch from defeat to bitter defeat. Result: dispirited Democrats and a rejuvenated and Trumpier-than-ever GOP. This would pave the way not only for a long series of legislative defeats, but for a defeat in 2020. (Why, after all, should voters support a party that is repeatedly demonstrating the depths of its own craven ineptitude?)

This time, thankfully, the wise choice was made.

Left-Wing Authoritarianism

Published at 09:39 on 25 January 2019

Just how is left-wing authoritarianism even a thing? I’m not denying it is actually a thing; I’m wondering how it can be. And if your blood pressure is rising rapidly to the boiling point at the mere mention of the phrase “left-wing authoritarianism,” then just consider the decades-long history of the USSR and its all-too-large retinue of political sycophants.

For me the essence of what “the left” is goes right back to the origin of the terms left and right in a political context: the French Revolution. Actually, it predates the French Revolution: there has been a very long tradition of the right side being the favored side and the left being the disfavored one, which is probably grounded in the simple fact that most humans are right-handed. This led to a tradition, in the West at least, of those with the most favor of the monarch sitting to his or her right in court. When parliaments evolved, that led to a tradition of the regime’s supporters sitting to the monarch’s right in parliament.

So when the Estates General was finally reconvened in response to growing unrest after decades of being moribund, those who supported the ancien regime sat in the accustomed place for such parliamentarians. They became referred to as “the right” and their opponents “the left.” These terms have stayed with us to the present day.

At the core of being a leftist, then, is being against the ruling establishment, whatever that establishment happens to be in the current social context. Or perhaps I should say at the core of being a leftist for me, because it is clear that is not the case in general (if it were, left-wing authoritarianism would not exist, being a contradiction in terms).

Again, you can trace it right back to the days of the French Revolution, in this case how that revolution went seriously wrong and degenerated into a Reign of Terror, wherein the professed revolutionaries had become a new and tyrannical ruling class. At that point, suddenly being “on the left” meant being a loyal and fervent supporter of organized, corecive authority. At least, it did for many.

I think the only thing it can be chalked up to is an aspect of human nature; namely, how conformity leads people to respect and follow leaders. It’s the same troublesome thing that makes authority and hierarchy so tragically easy to evolve and persist in the first place. Whether one’s political proclivities lead one to consider this aspect a bug or a feature, it should be clear from any study of human history that it is very much a thing.

So there’s my answer. Like many answers, it begs a question: what can we do about it? I could now go on to answer that, but instead I think I’ll close and let the reader think about it for a while.

Venezuela on the Ropes… Again

Published at 17:01 on 24 January 2019

So, it looks like the Chávez-Maduro regime in Venezuela is on the ropes yet again. Some points:

  1. Realize that we’ve been here before, only to see the regime bounce back. So don’t think this is necessarily the regime’s last days.
  2. Those reading this who count themselves, as I do, as among the regime’s opponents should realize that the USA’s very blemished record of intervention in Latin America means it’s best to stand back, play a supporting role, and let other Latin American nations (of which there are a number interested in doing so) take the lead in this.
  3. Those reading this who count themselves as among the regime’s supporters should study its record better and realize how bad the regime there really is, and how much of the problems there are the fault of the government, its corruption, its authoritarianism, and its mismanagement. Start by going here and studying Amnesty International’s reports on Venezuala from about 2004 onwards.

Per that third point, compare and contrast Venezuela with Bolivia, which although it has growing problems with authoritarianism of its own, has still been much better at managing economic policy than Venezuela․ Bolivia has managed to make significant progress against poverty and inequality without crashing the economy․

It’s Official: AOC is Exceptional

Published at 12:03 on 23 January 2019

It has for some time been remarkable that the right has been so obsessed about her; it’s as if she lives in right-wing pundits’ heads rent free. Now the global Davos elite is throwing shade her way. More significantly, she’s secured an appointment to the powerful House Oversight Committee.

Remember, she’s just a single freshman Representative, one who was politically a complete nobody just over a year ago. I can’t think of anyone else who has acquired so much power in Congress so rapidly.

Time for a Strike

Published at 06:48 on 16 January 2019

Really, now, why shouldn’t Federal employees walk off the job en masse? Let’s deal with the two main objections to strikes:

  1. Strikes cost striking employees money (because they aren’t being paid while striking). In this case, however, they aren’t being paid even when not striking.
  2. Strikes are a drastic measure. Well, hello! Isn’t not being paid so much as a cent for twenty-five days and running a drastic measure?

Figure out which agencies would impact Trump voters the most, and shut those down with strikes.

Or just strike some high-profile agencies that would cause widespread chaos and disruption if shut down, such as the TSA and the air traffic control system. (Maybe start that one on a weekend when Congress is mostly out of DC visiting constituents in their home district. Perhaps first focus on the airports that serve prominent Republicans.)

But really, why should Trump think he can: shut down the government (and he’s made it clear in his comments that it’s his shutdown), get away with not paying people, and expect them to continue working as if nothing has happened?

And Another Never Trump Conservative Falls for Sherrod Brown

Published at 09:22 on 12 January 2019

This time it’s Jennifer Rubin, who after spending columns hoping for the Democrats to avoid the temptation of populism and nominate a candidate from the right of their party, suddenly concludes that the candidate they need is… a progressive populist!

This doesn’t make logical sense, of course, but guess what? Logic and facts are not what win elections. (If they were, Trump would have been eliminated early in the primaries.) Ideally, they should be, but “what should be” and “what actually is” are two different things. To be successful, a candidate needs to triumph in the political process that actually exists, not in some alternate theoretical process that might hypothetically exist.

As I’ve said before, Brown appears to be a uniquely skilled messenger. So far as I can tell, he’s probably the leftmost viable candidate the Democrats have.

Is he ideal? Of course not! No establishment politician is. But overall a Brown presidency would be a vast improvement on what we currently have, and offers at least the hope of catalyzing movements from below that would push for more sweeping and needed change.

Trump’s Odds Seem to Be Slipping

Published at 07:29 on 8 January 2019

It’s not just the left wing of the Democratic Party that seems to be settling in on “hell no” as the answer to Trump’s border wall. Never Trump conservatives David Frum, Rick Wilson, and Tom Nichols all appear to be settling in on it as well. Wilson in particular is significant, as he is quite good at telling when the Democrats are vulnerable (he made a career of it as a Republican political consultant). More significant yet is this rant by newly-elected centrist (so far to the right in the Democratic Party that he was one of the small group of centrists who thought Pelosi too liberal to be speaker) Representative Max Rose.

It’s really starting to appear as if there’s an increasingly strong consensus among the Democrats to stand firm and not be pushed around on this, and increasing wavering on the Republican side about standing firm. This was always a very real possibility (it’s why I gave the Democrats significantly lower odds of caving than is typical).

If the Democrats do cave, it will just make things worse for them. It will teach Trump that the Democrats are indeed the party of craven weakness. He will continue to use shutdowns or the threat thereof to neuter the opposition. Voters, meanwhile, will lose faith in the Democrats; more will decide to sit things out (or back third parties) in the next election, given how disappointing the results of voting Democratic were in 2018.

Time will tell which of the two outcomes happens, of course, but as of now things are hinting at the encouraging option being the more likely one.