What’s the “Humanity First” Response to a Likely Paris Agreement Withdrawal

The maybe unreliable chatter today is that Trump will, one way or another, pull the US out of the plant-saving Paris agreement.  This will surely be a tipping point in the world order, if not the future of the planet and humanity.  Certainly the most important decision the US has made in my adult lfetime.  It is as if the US had withdrawn from the League of Nations, rather than just failed to join it.

But the question then becomes what should everyone, and I mean everyone, do to put “humanity first.”  Some suggestions:

If you can, buy goods made in states that are making every effort to comply with Paris goals.  The less industrial activity in non-compliant states, the lower the emissions.

If you can not make a US “Humanity First” purchase, consider buying goods made in countries that are still committed to meeting the Paris goals.  (Yes, its hard to boycott your own country, and there will be political blow-back, but surely it is the logical thing to do.  After all, lessened industrial activity in the US will reduce emissions.

Make investment decisions based on companies, states’ and countries’ efforts to support the Paris goals.

Encourage organizations to make their decisions on the same criteria. 

Obviously, give to advocacy organizations, particularly international ones.

Accelerate your planting and environmental plans, personally and organizationally.

Remember this could be a tipping point for the planet.  Think of it as a slow moving Cuban Missile Crisis in which we can all influence the outcome.  (For those who remember, think Yenching Palace for all of us — talking of genuine back channels.)

 

 

The US Has Three Paties, Not Two, and Coalition Government, Not Single Party Government

Brilliant and transformative reporting by Politico on the collapse of  the Trumpcare/Ryancare agenda shows that we have passed a critical step in moving from having two parties to three.  A consequence is that we no longer have single party government, but coalition government — and a dysfunctional coalition at that.

The key paragraph describes the crucial March 6 meeting of the Freedom Caucus, just after the release of the plan.  The members of the Caucus were deeply aware of the intense pressure about to be put on them, and fearful of one on one appeals:

In a conference room in the Rayburn House Office Building, the group met that evening and made a secret pact. No member would commit his vote before consulting with the entire group — not even if Trump himself called to ask for an on-the-spot commitment. The idea, hatched by Freedom Caucus vice chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), was to bind them together in negotiations and ensure the White House or House leaders could not peel them off one by one.

With about 36 members, and although only about two thirds formally took the pledge, given the numbers, that was really the end of the game.  The Caucus were so protective of each other that at one meeting, when Ryan tried to get each of them to state where they stood, the gorp in effect refused.

So, going forward, once the Caucus takes this position, nothing can get passed without Democratic help, and that’s even before counting the most moderate members of the House.  Perhaps even more importantly, the group has demonstrated that they are willing to take and hold by such a position, regardless of cost to President, Speaker, and their nominal party and its agenda.  Add the requirement of a coherent intellectual structure (which they have, using a technical definition of coherent) and you pretty much have at least a congressional party in the Freedom Caucus.

There are many problems with having coalition government, but right now perhaps the worst is that there is no institutional experience in managing such a situation.  Indeed, the only ones who seem to have thought it through are the Democrats, including particularly Nancy Pelosi, who had in the last Congress brilliantly kept her caucus in line and used that unity, with the very skilled help of the President, to extract maximum advantage.

Going forward, this means huge leverage for the Democrats, provided they maintain the message discipline of keeping sufficiently quiet that they do not force the two Republic sub-parties back together.

It also means that there has to be a serious question as to whether through public splits and primaries the sub-become really separate parties, and perceived as such by the public.  It helps that there are already strong links to at least two Senators.

Trump is already attacking Ryan, even if only indirectly so far.  Given the Caucus veto on any successor, and given the total lack of appeal of the job of speaker, its hard to imagine any path forward that way.   It is all a recipe for disaster for the group formerly known as the Republican Party.

 

Is There Any Analogy to What Just Happened?

Maybe if George McGovern had won the White House in 1972, and then kept fighting the Vietnam War.

Or if Bill Clinton had urged health care and the Democrats had passed it 50 times in the prior 8 years.

Or if Reagan had won and shrunk the military budget.

Or if Carter had not passed amnesty.

In, other words, it is hard to imagine a more central promise made by a party then given the tools to fulfill it, that got “moved on” from.

Thats not how you win coming elections.  Midterms or Presidential.

A New Thing to Blame Obamacare for — It Cannot Be Repealed

They have not get there yet, but now that the Republicans are finding just how really, really hard it is to repeal Obamacare, its only a matter of time before they start explaining that the worst thing about Obamacare is that has been written to make it hard to repeal.

Some of the reasons:

It was built so that people would like it — how unfair can you get!

It was built to save money — outrageous.

It reduces stress on state budgets — inconsistent with Federal policy.

It gives people choice — worse and worse.

It advances public health — not a government function.

It cleverly removes the donut hole — what a disaster!

You have to agree that a program designed to give people what they want is clearly unfair to the political process, threatens the Republic and serves all those “takers.

You also have to agree that if we are not careful, the same people will come up with a tax cut that helps those who are not rich, will help people get childcare, control campaign contributions, and expand access to education.

What a nightmare.

GNP Rose Less in the Last Quarter. What Was Different About the Last Three Months?

So, the GNP rose less than recently in the last quarter.

What, pray, was different about it.

Well, not noticed in the media, is that 60% of the last quarter fell in a time when we knew that we were about to enter a Trump presidency.

Now I realize that these things lag, but that actually it would make sense that lots of people would hold back to see what is going to happen with an unpredictable, to put it kindly, president.  Uncertainty about health care alone could produce this kinds of effect.  Remember, Trump has claimed that mere optimism generated by his election would help the economy.

Something to think about, particularly if the trend continues, and the Republicans insist that things were going south before Trump took over.

Silver Lining Long Term View

We all know that in the long term, the demographic dynamics will result in this political episode being an aberration — assuming that our political system has the strength to resist the assault on it.  Moreover the collapse of the assault seems to be happening even faster than expected.

What we have not thought about is how the rules will distribute power.  The following are likely:

Elimination of the filibuster,

Reduction of the power of individual senators to delay legislation.

Recognition that a president can play a wider and more unpredictable range of roles.

Limits on the power of the president — unless House and Senate go along.

So, assuming Democratic majorities in House and Senate, and a Democratic President, there would be much less power in the minority to slow things down.  That is what the demographics are ultimately going to give us.

Imagine, if these rules had been in effect in 209 and 2010.  We would have had a decent instead of a patchwork ACA that it would have been much harder for the Republicans to tear down, and the Tea Party might never have gotten traction.

And, think about how different the Supreme Court confirmation process might have been.

The Republicans should be careful what they wish for.

 

Understanding The Wisdom and Weaknesses of Trump’s Promises

Trump has surely made a lot of promises.  Maybe it is time to analyze how voters really think about promises and the failure to keep them.  Some thoughts.

1.  Many voters treat affirmative promises as symbolic rather than specific, regardless of how specific the words appear to be.

Thus, the promise to build a wall is not expected to be kept by a physical wall.  Rather it would be kept by sending a strong unqualified message of exclusion, accompanied by strong acts of the kind others would not perform.

Moreover, the phrases that go with the promise, like “beautiful,” can often be designed to signal intentional use of hyperbole.  That the hyperbole often generates overreaction on the other side is a further plus.

In other words, such promises are easy to wriggle out of, and effective at winning elections

2.  On the other hand, voters take “negative promises” i.e. promises to not do or cause something specific, very seriously indeed.

These tend to be the promises that, if broken, sink presidencies.

When George Bush senior said: “Read my lips no new taxes,” it would have been far better for him, but not the country, if he had meant it.

Although some have argued that Johnson did not promise to keep the US out of Vietnam, all agree that the public thought that he did.  Thus his failure to keep this perceived promise doomed his presidency and much else.

Most recently, Obama’s promise that no one would “lose coverage” under Obamacare, while only technically incorrect, when shown to be inacccurate, was one of the major reasons that public support did not increase significantly after implementation.

Breaches of such “negative promises” are obviously much harder to wriggle out of, because of their specificity, and because they can not usually be said to have been met in other ways.  For example, the phrase “lose coverage” could not be redefined in the public mind to “have appropriate coverage available.”  (The dishonesty of the media coverage, while breathtaking, obviously hurt, and it is illustrative that revealing the dishonesty did not mitigate the damage much.

Moreover, the breach of these “negative promises” serves to undercut not only credibility, but often perceptions of competence and reliability, and that does ever further harm.

3.  There are advantage for candidates of promises treated by voters as symbolic rather than specific.

For a candidate, having a promise treated as symbolic is obviously a huge advantage.  It means that you can get a value, a goal, an alignment of perception, communicated to your potential voters.  Moreover, it means that many voters will not think through whether they really want the specific to happen.  This cycle there is so much evidence of voters who want their candidate to promise something, because it expresses their anger, their need to be heard, or their tribalism, without really wanting it to be done.  The obvious example is Obamacare.  While many of us would regard voting for a candidate who promises something you do not want to happen as hard to understand, not so for many of these voters.

Moreover, the really skilled candidate can present a specific promise, knowing that different voting blocks will read it as a different metaphor, thereby having their cakes eaten in many flavors.  That can be achieved by the right “dog whistle words,” by techniques such as careful selection of delivery location, staging, surrogates, etc.

4.  But there are also problems, for those then seeking to govern, in promises treated by voters as symbolic rather than specific.

The problem comes when you have to govern.  It will turn out you have made a lot of maybe inconsistent promises.  While inconsistent promises that are perceived as specific are more of a problem than those perceived as metaphorical, even the metaphorical ones can create problems.  The trick is to find ways to deliver specific “achievements” that show compliance with the symbolic versions of promises, while minimizing their overall lack of consistency.  That is not so easy

5.  To attack failure to keep affirmative promises, its a mistake to focus only on the specifics of the promise, unless you can persuade that the specific failure itself is symbolic of the failure to do what was generally promised.

The Mexico wall promise is an obvious example.  Voters do not really care about the specifics of a barrier.  But they care about their jobs and getting back the perception that the USA is for them first. Failures on either front will be potentially disastrous for Trump.  But the “Us first” failure opens him up to attack more from the right.

Homework:  Using the criteria introduced above analyze the promise that follows, from the Washington post list (#282):

“Together we will make American wealthy and prosperous again. We will make America strong again. We will make America safe again. And we will make America great again.”

No credit given for analyzing the obvious false assumptions in the promise.

For Extra Credit:  Using the criteria, apply to all the 276 promises listed here.