Tag Archives: Civics

Beware The Ides of March

There is a Twitter protest (#idesofmarch, #idesoftrump) which suggests that angry citizens deluge the White House with postcards on March 15th.  Julius Caesar was assassinated on that day in 44BC as we remember from Shakespeare’s play in which a soothsayer warns the emperor, “Beware the ides of March.”

 

This is a really bad idea for several reasons. No good purpose would be served by such an action. We already know that the 45th president has a very thin skin, and would react badly with the attendant storm of press commentary.  He uses the drama of such moments to cover actions that he doesn’t want headlined, and the press obliges in the interest of keeping ratings and circulation up.   

 

The act itself is purely rage – an act of hate and cruelty toward someone who evidently can’t help himself and may be mentally ill. “Darkness can not drive out darkness, only light can,” as Martin Luther King famously said. We may be furious with 45’s actions and words, but we must respond with clarity and with words and deeds that promote resolution. Our outrage must be channeled to influence our government representatives positively. They are beginning to see that the game has changed, and that the Trumpists (19% of people eligible to vote) will not suffice to reelect them if the other 80% is mad as hell and organized.

 

President Trump prides himself on counter punching. His instinct, when attacked, is to attack back. I know of no instance where he has paused and looked inward when confronted. In fact he wants the world to see him that way. Much to the dismay of his would-be political handlers, he strikes out on twitter and in public discourse.

 

He does understand leverage and power.  The real leverage he respects is the 2018 election, and a congress that

Rep Contact Info
LWV page to find contact information for elected representatives.

balks because so many of their constituents oppose his policies.

Many of my friends are engaged in issue specific calls, visits, and letters to their elected representatives. This is how and where to strike back. Get the contact information for all of your elected representatives at this League of Women Voters site:

http://hq-salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/5950/getLocal.jsp

Check out the Indivisible Guide written by congressional staffers about how to influence your elected officials:

https://www.indivisibleguide.com

Sending nasty postcards to the White House will squander your time plus half a dollar’s worth of postage and postcard. Worse, in doing it we become that evil we hate. It is essentially a personal attack, a publicity stunt, … exactly the behavior we deplore in our 45th President.

Populists vs. Elite

In 1966 I wasn’t paying much attention to world politics and none at all to Red China, but Mao was tipping over the socioeconomic apple cart much as the populists here in the USA seem to want to do. Mao felt that the pointy-headed elite intellectuals (no, he didn’t call them that) had become over-educated and were perpetuating an elitism that was introducing too much capitalism.

The fix was to tell the elites “we don’t need you” and banish them to the rural mountains and country side where they could be re-educated through hard work on the farm.

Chaos ensued for five years. The resulting hardships took even longer to overcome. In the US, there was little empathy. As commie-fearing devout capitalists, we were happy to see the Reds shoot themselves in the proverbial foot.

I can’t help thinking that today’s populists and their “Make America Great Again” revolution are the US version of China’s cultural revolution half a century ago: so much anti-intellectualism; so much blind faith in a man whose image and career is more smoke and mirrors than substance; so much arrogant ignorance and bravado.

When all our political elites and pointy-headed intellectuals have been dispatched to the hills and country, will we too face a decade of economic chaos while the Trumpists figure out that their leader doesn’t have any capacity to lead or to fulfill his sweeping pledges to make the mythical greatness of yesteryear return?

So far it looks like most Americans are smarter than Mao was, but in less than 90 days we will know for sure.

 

Guns and Freedom

“Freedom’s Safest Place” is how the NRA styles itself in its current series of self-promoting ads. The ads run on YouTube.com and tend to be linked as preludes to gun-related content.  They also show up if Google searches have associated your internet address with gun interest.

Freedom's Safest Place
NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION VIDEO SERIES

Everyone interested in the interplay of gun violence and politics should take time to watch a few of these. They stoke the fears of gun enthusiasts, promote guns as the solution to violent crime and terrorism, and in not so subtle ways reinforce a conservative political agenda.

On August 8th, 2016, Donald Trump was speaking about the prospect of Hillary Clinton nominating the next members of the Supreme Court of the US.  “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment,” Trump said at a rally in Wilmington, N.C., on Tuesday. “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

The facial expressions and body language of those present was alarming. Smiles, glances at companions that said, “Did he really say that out loud?” And, most shocking, nods of agreement.

Apologists immediately “clarified” Mr. Trump’s meaning saying he was only acknowledging the legendary political cohesiveness and clout of the NRA.  But here I will make the argument for a much more sinister meaning.

FREEDOM’S SAFEST PLACE

What does this tag line mean? If you follow NRA’s interpretation of the Second Amendment, it affirms the notion that Americans have not only a right but a patriotic duty to own and be proficient with arms. The idea is that freedom’s enemies, foreign and domestic, would never prevail against the populist will of an armed and ready citizenry. Should the government get out of hand, the people so armed can and will defend freedom; or so the myth goes. If you listen carefully to Wayne Lapierre’s “We Don’t Need You” rant, he’s articulating the anti-establishment, anti-elite anger of what’s come to be termed populism. “I am the NRA, and I’m Freedom’s Safest Place,” he says.

Yes it is a myth.  The stereotypical NRA life member is overweight, over 50, and no match for a squad of modern combat trained troops no matter what his gun collection holds. But more important, which political faction do these latter-day Minute Men represent?

In their fantasy, these defenders of liberty imagine a clearly defined enemy. Someone or some ideology that all good souls agree is Freedom’s enemy, and all are willing to die a hero’s death to repel. Alas, the real world is many shades of grey, full of nuance and complexity, and not something that all unite in recognizing as “the enemy.”

But, the myth has become reality in some dark recess of a few minds. And this is the context for Mr. Trump to refer to them as “the Second Amendment people.”

One observer of the Trump crowd said that there was a pause after Trump said, “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. …”  His impression was that Trump heard something in the shouts of the crowd and responded, as he so often does. We can’t tell just what he heard in the crowd’s shouts, but for sure it was not a nuanced statement about the political cohesiveness and clout of the NRA’s Second Amendment defenders.

Thomas Friedman observes, “After all, an informal Trump adviser on veteran affairs, Al Baldasaro, a Republican state representative from New Hampshire, already declared that Clinton should be ‘shot for treason’ for her handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack.” In his column he compares the extreme hatred and anger of Trump’s followers to the climate that culminated in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

Is it really hard to decode “…Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” What would a  gun zealot, one of the Second Amendment people, one who hates and fears Hillary Clinton, be expected to think was meant?

God Save America, my beloved country.

Lobbying Congress: Civics 101

We usually would not want to be thought of as Lobbyists. The profession is not associated with strong ethics or high moral standards. Professional lobbyists are “hired guns” who sell their ability to gain access to those in power to the highest bidder. They are paid advocates, like lawyers, who seek to win the day for a client. Too often the question of what is best for our nation does not override the pursuit of billable time.
When 900 volunteers, all private citizens, invest their own time and money solely because they passionately care about the environment, it’s an entirely different sort of lobbying. None of us are registered lobbyists. We joined Citizen’s Climate Lobby (CCL) to protect our children and grandchildren from the disastrous effects of increasing the greenhouse gasses that blanket our atmosphere. It’s a problem that can only be addressed effectively by government. The purpose of Citizens’ Climate Lobby/Citizens’ Climate Education is two-fold: to create the political will for a livable world and to empower individuals to exercise their power as citizens.
The CCL conference was designed to train us on to meet with our legislators and their aides in an appreciative, clear, and focused manner and then to equip us with the supporting research for the proposed Carbon Fee and Dividend (CF&D) legislation. Armed with facts and “laser talks,” our teams of 5-6 citizen-lobbyists communicated with almost every Congressional representative and Senator.
Our teams generally included constituents, but not always. Because CCL members have earned the reputation of being respectful, non-partisan, and well informed we did gain access in all but a few cases. More about our experience in the meetings we attended later, but first a brief explanation of CF&D.

Carbon Fee and Dividend

We’ve all heard or read about “Carbon Tax” proposals that would levy a tax on any industrial product that contributes carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. The concept is not to unfairly tip the scales against fossil fuels but to put all energy sources on a level playing field, each paying the full costs of the energy it produces. Fossil fuels are “free riders” at present because prices do not include the collateral social and environmental and resource depletion costs. A carbon tax harnesses market forces to encourage investment and innovation in renewable energy technology, while reducing the use of fossil fuels year-by-year over a 20-year period.
The Carbon Fee we advocate would have this effect, but instead of the fee revenue going to grow government, it would be distributed directly to every American household on an equal basis. This dividend approach has many advantages over a tax:

• It offsets the incrementally rising price of fuel and other products that contain carbon for those who most need it. About two-thirds of US households, those in the middle and lower income brackets, would break even or be money ahead, receiving monthly checks of $288 for a family of four with 2 adults by 2025 and $396/monthly by 2035.
• It is not a “new tax” and thus is not repugnant to conservative Republicans.
• It allows market forces to accomplish the needed reduction of emissions, eliminating the cost and intrinsic unfairness of regulatory and enforcement action. (A $10/ton fee would cause CO2 emission to decline 33% after 10 years and 52% after 20 years.)
• It can be efficiently administered without adding layers of bureaucracy.
• It creates a net gain in jobs (2.1 million jobs in 10 years and 2.8 million jobs after 20 years)
• It stimulates the economy, increasing GDP by $70-$80 Billion from 2020 on, with a cumulative increase due to CF&D of $1.375 Trillion
• It saves lives (13,000 lives per year after 10 years due to the drop in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses)
• It allows businesses and investors to adapt to and plan for the new energy environment, allowing for incremental, systematic change by starting with a low fee ($15/ton) and increasing $10/ton each year for 10 years.

These legislative advantages appeal to both progressive and conservative values. Both sides of the political divide could and should get behind this approach. But how do we know it can deliver?

Econometric Modeling

Regional Economic Modeling Inc. (REMI) is a company that has developed a model for projecting the economic impact of policies and events. They work for businesses, nonprofits and governments and don’t skew their findings to please their customers. CCL commissioned them to simulate the effects of implementing a $10 per ton at-the-source fee on carbon adding yearly increases of $10 a ton. The model tabulates the changes from the baseline (doing nothing) so that we see what effect the carbon fee has on Gross Domestic Product, jobs, income, etc.
In addition to the national predictions mentioned above, the model projects the effects on smaller geographic areas so that a Congressional representative can see what the impact on his or her constituents would be.

Devilish Details

Over the past four years the Carbon Fee and Dividend idea has been thoroughly discussed and debated to identify objections and address them. We were impressed at the research that has been done to answer both obvious criticisms and narrower local concerns. The work is summarized in a series of briefing papers. By internalizing the content of these laser talks, we CCL volunteers were able to address objections with confidence, and if a question arose that we couldn’t answer, we were equally confident that it can be answered in a follow-up communication.
Though not all of us were fully conversant with all of the laser talk materials, someone on the team could usually respond to questions. This allowed us to pitch our idea convincingly, and make our request (the “ask”) in a powerful and professional way.

Our Personal Experience

What’s it like to be a citizen-lobbyist? Individually most of us couldn’t have pulled it off, but in our teams, it was exhilarating, eye-opening, deeply satisfying—and surprisingly inspiring. CCL had recommended we asked fellow constituents who couldn’t come to Washington to make a phone call the day before we lobbied saying, “I support action on climate change, and I want to see Congress do something about it,” and, if they agreed, to also mention their support for the proposed Carbon Fee & Dividend legislation.
Each member of our team had an assigned role so that we stayed focused and used the time we were allotted effectively. The staffers (mostly talented, smart, politically savvy people in their 20’s-40’s) received us respectfully, asked good questions, took notes, and represented their understanding of their elected officials’ position which could range from “climate deniers” to “enthusiastic change agent.” If they couldn’t (yet) support CF&D, we came prepared to make a secondary ask that would allow them to consider a smaller step.
Our timing was the best. The Pope released his long-awaited Encyclical on Climate Change the week before we arrived in Washington. We also had a book of “faith-based” statements on Climate Change that represented the spectrum of reasons that different religions had for supporting action on climate change: “care for creation” to “seeking environmental justice” to “threat of global warming/climate change” from all branches of Christianity, Hindus, Islam, Judaism, Native Americans, and ecumenical and inter-faith groups. There were also massive thunder, lightning and hail storms the day we arrived and the day we departed.
Now we’re home, tired but gratified by the experience, armed with plans to follow-up when our members of Congress return to their home districts on break, while we citizen-lobbyists return to our homes, our children, our jobs, our lives.
We know our work isn’t over until Carbon Fee & Dividend becomes the law of the land. But the experience of walking the halls of Congress and meeting with the people who make our laws gave us renewed faith in our capacity as citizens to influence government. It was, for us, the lab course for Civics 101.