Sunday, November 15, 2015

Speaking Truth to Power

On a Saturday night the audience for the Democratic Debate was predictably meager.  Those who did tune in, however, got a revealing look at the three current contenders for the nomination.

Bernie Sanders came out looking strong and confident by choosing to emphasize his fundamental differences with Clinton.  He was unequivocal in asserting that health care, economic security and educational opportunity are fundamental human rights.  Sanders' did a good job of countering Clinton's effort to undercut him on the issue of gun control by stressing the importance turning down the heat of that part of the debate, and looking for common ground in common sense.

O'Malley polished his liberal credentials by pointing out Clinton's inconsistencies and by bashing Trump's bombastic racism.  When it came to remedies, however, he offered little beyond platitudes.  Realistically, there is zero chance that he will be the nominee in this election.  If O'Malley stays in the race through the initial primaries, it will likely be based on the idea that, of the three current contenders, he is the only one young enough to still be in the running in 2020.

Hillary pushed the right emotional buttons to maintain her standing with women and minorities.  She had no answer to Sanders' confronting her with her debts to her Wall Street backers; her effort to link her acceptance of big money backing to 9-11 seemed like a rather pathetic imitation of G.W. Bush.  She looked more self-confident in talking about the complexities of dealing with the radical Islamist challenge, but also showed no originality in proposing how to deal with that issue.

The most revealing aspect of the debate in regard to Clinton was her response to Sanders' proposal that a college education should be universally available at no direct cost to students and their families.  She replied that she did not think that the American people should be asked to pay for Trump's children to go to college.

Media pundits will praise Clinton's smirking response as a an effective zinger while ignoring the fact that the American people are already paying for Trump's kids to go college, as well as for Trump's private jet and any number of other of his billionaire perks based on a broken tax system.  To be fair, the same should be said of Chelsea's stint at Stanford because, as Trump has pointed out, the Clinton's and the Trumps travel in the same circles.  In the end, what Clinton is really asking of the American people is that they make a rather fine distinction between the "bad" oligarchs like Trump and the "good" oligarchs like Bill and Hillary.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Greening the Debate

The Blue Marble—Earth seen by Apollo 17 in 1972
How nice it would be if the 11/14 debate participants would offer up some clear ideas about what can and must be done to combat climate change.  Here is one possibility from the economist, Robert Pollin, layed out in a Boston Review forum article about a year ago:

"Federal building efficiency program. In 2007 Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which mandates that 75 percent of the more than 300,000 buildings owned by the federal government undergo efficiency retrofits. The goal is to reduce energy usage by 30 percent by 2015, relative to 2003 levels. But even though the bill passed with bipartisan support, there has been little progress in bringing the project to scale. By May of this year, only 1,702 buildings had been retrofitted, about 0.3 percent of the number targeted. Yet the government reports that even this modest level of implementation produced $840 million in annual energy savings for taxpayers. Advancing the project would easily save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars per year. It would also demonstrate to private building owners how much they can save through retrofitting."

You would think that the possibility to "...easily save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars per year" would catch to eye of just about any politician, and as Pollin notes the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 did have bipartisan support.  Realistically, though, in view of the vacumn of ideas among the Republican candidates, my expectation would be that all of them would suggest that simply down-sizing government would achieve the same objectives as retrofitting federal buildings.  Of course, the first target on their government hit list would be the Environmental Protection Agency, leaving us no objective way to measure climate damage, or to map out and enforce mitigation efforts.