The 2020 Climate Forums, Part 1

Seven hours (minus commercial time) of candidate town halls on climate change.

What I wanted to see was realism, ideas, passion, and purpose on the issues of the climate. I saw a lot of that from almost all the candidates. Plans are something we need to see move through congress, and just because a candidate has a good plan doesn’t mean that happens. But, taken as a starting point, they are still useful and the candidates did a lot to discuss where they’re coming from.

Here’s a ranking of how I saw the candidates who participated. The ranking is in terms of the ideas they brought that differed from the pack, positive or negative, but not as an overall view of their plans. In general, all of their plans are good, particularly compared to inaction, and we need to act. The = # preceding a name means a tie.

  1. Booker
  2. = 1 Warren
  3. Yang
  4. Buttigieg
  5. = 4 O’Rourke
  6. Castro
  7. = 6 Harris
  8. = 6 Sanders
  9. Biden
  10. = 9 Klobuchar

I appreciated Booker and Yang speaking about the role of nuclear power. It’s not a perfect technology, and we should handle the waste responsibly by having a permanent repository, whether that’s Yucca Mountain or somewhere else. But it is carbon-neutral, and it cannot be ignored in our immediate and pressing need to deal with the problem of putting out too much carbon. Those who spoke against it, or who seemed to suggest that a permanent repository is a non-starter seem to deny the fact we already have a wealth of radioactive waste to store, and that even if we phased out all nuclear yesterday, we would still have the responsibility to handle that waste. They lost a point, accordingly.

Booker also spoke credibly on a number of other initiatives including farming, reforestation, and his record as mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

Warren spoke out on the need to do carbon-trade balancing—accounting for carbon in imports and exports, which is important. But she lost half a point for suggesting that all American-invented technologies related to climate would be exclusively manufactured in the USA. If we should eat local, we should also manufacture local, or at least leave the door open to it. (This will happen eventually as automation and fabrication technologies shift, but in the meantime we need to cut carbon more than we need trade protection. Licensing patents and technologies would allow us to spend the fees on other means to create jobs.)

Yang got a half-point for kind-of-implying the need for a treaty on geoengineering, which is something that is necessary and would include the fact that climate change and carbon pollution are already a form of geoengineering, as unintentional as it may be.

Buttigieg, in a question about his use of private flights in campaigning, spoke about the need for ground transportation including trains. Rail is important, so he got a point for that. The fact is that even the airlines should want us to build out rail, so they can save money on vouchers and have improved throughput by having a fully functioning, diverse transportation system. Everyone who complains about leg room or baggage fees should be in favor of rail.

O’Rourke was the only one who favored cap and trade over a direct carbon tax. There are arguments both ways, and either is useful, but I think there are some market effects possible with cap and trade that can be missed with direct taxes. On the other hand, there are hybrid approaches possible. The main downside of the tax approach seems to be that companies will seek to conglomerate on the basis of the tax rather than any inherent economic need, which can worsen an existing and awful feature of our corporate tax code. In any case, point for not bandwagoning on the tax.

Castro lost a point for suggesting that flood insurance should be subsidized in a way that suggested moral hazard. We can’t do that. We just can’t. There are other moves to make for folks who live in places that are no longer viable, but embracing it is simply folly.

Harris also spoke against nuclear power and waste. She did highlight some of her achievements as a district attorney and attorney general.

Sanders was among the candidates who stated unequivocally that some houses shouldn’t be rebuilt, and we have to face that fact. It’s part of the larger issue around rural-vs-urban and balancing freedom and subsidy in ways that make sense, some of which are climate-related and others of which are just fundamental issues we’ve never really worked out as a nation. For example, in some places farmers commute to the farm, rather than living there. On the other hand he was one of the more expressedly opposed to nuclear power. Again, it has problems, but it’s just not reasonable to condemn it given the challenge.

Biden’s main problem is this fundraiser with a fossil-fuel-tied host. That and he didn’t really seem to have a lot to say on the issue beyond a kind of “trust me” outlook.

Klobuchar lost points for her stances on nuclear power and fracking. While natural gas is better than coal when responsibly extracted, it’s not great and there’s plenty of evidence that it’s not responsibly extracted in too many cases. If the industry wants to be a bridge, it needs to show itself to be a safe one, not a rickety one. She did a good job talking about the opportunities with farms, as did several other candidates.


The climate is a big deal, and the Democratic candidates have set themselves apart from the Republicans by showing themselves to be thoughtful and studious on the issues. The challenge will come in implementing any of their plans, should a Democrat be inaugurated in 2021. But that’s always been a challenge, so long as Republicans have denied reality. It’s hard to move a couch when the other person carrying it doesn’t believe in the stairs.

In general, the 2020 Democratic candidates form a healthy slate. Most of the candidates are worth considering, and it’s hard to pick a favorite out of the pack. We will see how the debate goes this Thursday, and one hopes a few of the climate issues (maybe nuclear power, for example) can be brought up to help the candidates further explain how they approach the issue.

As to plans, they will be changed to become law. And they will be changed after they are law. Some changes good, others bad. There will be mistakes and unexpected wins, both. But we have to act on it. The Republicans fail to even propose plans on many of the pressing issues of the day, where for every single one there will be at least a few Democratic proposals.

That failure is a fundamental problem for our nation. The Republicans that cannot plan cannot lead. And yet there they are, in the driver’s seat of our nation, pressing nobs, turning buttons, and doing a whole lot of damage and nothing particularly useful. It is a shame.

They Elected Trump To Erase Obama….

In 2015 and 2016, opponents of President Obama’s administration and its legacy backed Donald John Trump as a repudiation and erasure of Obama. They didn’t like Obama, they wanted him to be forgotten and nullified. Donald John Trump was the man for the job. He would renounce everything that Obama stood for.

But to renounce President Obama was to renounce the entire system that afforded him his office. Everything from the Constitution to Christian values to capitalism. And so, they set out on that task. “In case of a black president,” it said on the sign above the glass with a red steel hammer dangling by a chain, “break everything.”

President Obama stood for the rule of law, so it had to go. He stood for kindness and good humor. Who needs those? Get ’em out! Obama wanted people to have healthcare, and so the party and Trump must be opposed to healthcare. And so on. Everything from climate to Christmas. “Tear it all down,” they said.


The phenomenon is most often seen among disillusioned extremists of all stripes. The cult failed them, and now everything connected must be jettisoned. The problem, of course, is that cultists never had a strong philosophy, any kind of foundational outlook on the world. Otherwise, the cult never would have duped them to begin with.

The cult strips away associations with outside influence, much like the media bubbles that various tribes wrap themselves in today. The cult seeks to supplant the individual’s identity, usually with the identity of the cult. Wear a red hat. Chant the slogan. That’s who you are now. Reject the way of the outsiders. Reject the rule of law. Reject allegiance to the state. You’re on a new team, now. We’re a family. Don’t sleep, practice owning the libs. Don’t question, there’s a new message from the messiah coming soon, and you must be ready to accept it.

The cult scam only works as long as its members keep believing. Once they stop, the cult only lasts as long as it takes for enough of the members to jump ship. They will remain if they believe they’ve locked themselves in, which is why more extreme cults push for criminal activity or other threshold-breaking behavior. Make them think they’ve crossed over, that they’re past the point of no-return.


But most of the supporters of Donald John Trump were never that far gone. Most of them thought Hillary Clinton would win, and if he won, he’d turn out to be a regular Republican or maybe a little bit of a windbag, but nothing crazy. He wouldn’t really try to erase Obama and everything that entails, right?

We will see. He’s suggested as ruined about everything in the Constitution except the Second Amendment, and even that he’s flirted with on occasion.

It reminds me of “There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.”

We’re 61 weeks from the 2020 election. The next Democratic debate is in just under two weeks (12 September 2019).

1619 and Hard Choices

The thing I think most about when I think about slavery is the hard choices that people faced, and the many failures and successes they had in thought and action that contributed to history arriving to us as it did. The best histories draw out those choices, and they remind us of our own challenges on issues like climate change or having a generally horrible president.

Consider, for example, the southern tradesman who made farm equipment. Maybe he believed in abolition, believed slavery a grave and indecent institution, and yet he was powerless (in his mind) to stop it. He had choices. He could speak out against it to all who could hear, mostly his customers, losing their business. He could move north or west or overseas, giving up all he had worked for and risking his family’s future. He could do the little things, trying to raise the issue indirectly through microaggressions against the institution.

There were plenty who did all of them, and more who ignored their call, and others still who did worse. One tell that’s worth noting is that those die-hard slavers bothered to make arguments about the intellect of the enslaved and other pseudoscientific endeavors in that vein. That’s a good sign they knew everything was not right. Nobody bothers to excuse the digging of dirt, for nobody is afraid that the dirt is capable of offense. But those who went through major efforts to distinguish and codify the condition of the enslaved Africans seemed often in doing so to admit their guilt.


Today’s hard choices are often on the backs of Republicans who are faced with the institution of Trumpism. The stakes are not now as high as with slavery, at least in terms of numbers, but they are more dear to us in that they are real to us today. And the same options avail the average Republican as then. And the same excuses bubble in their minds, that their livelihood depends upon them going along with the wickedness. Or that they would risk too much for not themselves but for their family. Or that they are merely powerless, too insignificant and too busy.

And today’s hard choices are on all our backs, with climate change. That we do not and cannot decipher the choice between metal straws and paper straws and maybe we should all just carry around funnels and pour liquids in our mouths that way. Or that we need the SUV rather than something more efficient, because roads are dangerous. Or we need the SUV to show we’re not sissies into that green revolution shite.


That’s where I come to mostly when I think about slavery. The stain on the fabric of society that it represented, and how we have our own stains today, most of which are not as directly evil, but still significant and still we face the same sorts of difficulties in navigating them, which acts to slow our ability to wash clean our body and act surely for our own and our children’s betterment.

Think of the Children, GOP.

The future is bleak for the GOP. They have a generation of kids doing active shooter drills. They have a generation of kids with a racist president. They have a generation of kids watching as they deny science and block concerted action against climate change. They have a generation of kids seeing other kids in cages, while they argue they shouldn’t have toothbrushes. They have a generation of kids whose parents worry about their healthcare, whether they can afford insulin, whether a crazy lawsuit (or a Senate vote without Senator McCain) will tump the apple cart.

The future of the GOP will depend upon outright abjuration of the current party, which will take wide swaths of policy (but not all) with it. It’s clear enough that if you wanted to turn off a whole generation to your party forever, you couldn’t build a better party to do it than today’s Republicans.

None of which is much consolation to the kids who have to grow up listening to a racist president, or who will have to endure a worse climate scenario than they would if we had responsible conservatives in the US. They will be more likely to repeal the 2nd amendment than to tweak it or be satisfied with gun safety laws, which isn’t the best outcome.

In general, having two (or more, but at least two) useful parties is always healthy. It keeps the majority party responsible, and it keeps the minority party relevant enough to temper the worst instincts of the majority. But the Republicans, railing against socialism, are pushing for a future where they are powerless to stop the very socialism they fearmonger about. They are, obstruction by obstruction, denial by denial, racist tweet by racist tweet, ceding the future to the Democratic party.

Even the children who will inevitably dislike the Democrats will be more likely to splinter off into the Libertarians or Greens or some new third parties, which will never have enough strength to respond. The long-term strategy of the Republicans is to make sure they never need a long-term strategy. Poisoning a whole generation against them is a safe bet. They won’t need to solve any problems circa 2050, because they will have dwindled into irrelevancy.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is the idiocy about demographics as destiny, that California being a “blue state” is caused by who lives there rather than the policies that are put forward. There’s all this woe that Americans don’t fuck enough, aren’t having kids. But the Republicans aren’t putting forward policies to change that (and I don’t mean some Handmaid’s Tale policies, either).

How many damned autopsies from elections would they need before they actually embrace change? They are the victims of campaign funding capture that is detrimental to their own future. The check writers want to see not electoral performance but stump performance, dictating a bad platform that calls for gag rules and walls and tax cuts and little in the way of compassionate or reasonable policy.

The modern conservatives will have to break that mold. They should caucus with the Democrats long enough to see it smashed. To get real campaign finance reform, to get real gerrymandering reform, to get real voting reform. To tune-up the system in a way that makes elections about ideas again, and then they can begin to offer conservative shades of policy instead of Day-Glo murals of doom.

What Trump Ought to have Said

Disclaimer: I didn’t actually listen to or read what Trump said about racism, xenophobia, (apparently not guns), video games, mental illness, etc. in the wake of the terrorist attack in El Paso, Texas, or the other shooting (as yet no clear motive) in Dayton, Ohio. I did pick up a few bits of what he said through hearsay and headlines, but I didn’t read any articles specifically about his speech.

I tried to roughly replicate the style and tone of the president, but not so much the content. Instead I wrote what I think he ought to have said, if he were honest, accepting the limitations, in something like the way he might have said it.


My fellow Americans and guests in our nation, I rise today to speak to you about one of the dangers of our time. The danger of violent hatred, which I am more responsible for than most. I own it. I did it to get elected. I did it because there’s a whole media industry built up around it, which made it easy to join in and win the affection of the millions who buy into that tripe. I followed in the sick tradition of George Wallace, who started out his political career moderate, but found his meal ticket in being a race-baiting schmuck with no shame. It’s a time-tested strategy, and it’s not like I’m a particularly creative guy.

The fact is, yes, I, Donald J. Trump, helped continue this horror. I didn’t mean to. It bothers me. I can’t stop, though, for a variety of reasons. I won’t stop. It’s just the way things are going to be, see? We all have our roles to play, and I’m stuck playing this racist gasbag you see before you.

But the problem has never been a lack of losers to try to ride the wave of hate to bigger paychecks. Oh, no. We’re a dime a dozen. The problem is that there are so many who so readily buy in to the racism. You’d think it’d be harder, but people are easy to swindle if you push the right buttons. Some use religion, others use race.

There are people who live lackluster existences, and they need something to make their brains work. Their vapid sitcoms-and-fast-food existence is so meaningless they might as well not exist. But you can wake them up if you plug them into racism. Suddenly things make sense. The juices flow. It’s a lump of clay, ready to mold into any problem they encounter.

It’s not just poor people, either. There are plenty of lucky people who found their way to riches but never had to develop much understanding for the world. You’re looking at one right now, in fact. We skate through life by the law of averages, by the fact we can be useful to others who are happy enough to cover for our foibles if it enriches them.

It’s so easy. Whatever your problem, you can always link it back to someone else, and say it was race. But it’s usually some other problem entirely unconnected to race, like lack of effective social assistance. The politicians have messed up the safety net and the people have got no basic security in society while I cut taxes for the rich.

Point is, sitting ducks, all these people left behind by a system that has no empathy any longer. The forgotten man. Remember him? The one I forgot about the day I was elected? He’s still forgotten, and he still wants to be remembered. He wants to be heard. I’m not listening to him, but maybe racists in some chat room or some forum are.

Most of them have problems with violence. The domestic violence problem. They don’t know how to cope. They get frustrated and snap. They have this lingering doubt in their heads. Even on the good days. They see the shadows in a fully lit room. And then any small thing confirms their doubt, and they’re ready to go full rage. Most of them learned it from their home life growing up. But we can’t fix physical healthcare, so any talk about mental healthcare is pretty much a joke, right?

And the guns. Let’s talk about the guns. The Republican party—Democrats, too, I guess—have made it a mission to prevent Iran from having the bomb. They didn’t set up a red flag law. They didn’t say, “Let Iran get the bomb, then we’ll go take it away after three days if they don’t appeal a court order.” They said: “No bomb for Iran.”

I mean, it’s really that simple with the guns isn’t it? The high-powered rifles. Or no guns if they don’t pass a check. Right? The red flag thing, maybe it works, but maybe gun owners should have a little bit of a check before. No loopholes, none of that. A check, okay? Are you able to be responsible? I mean, it’s not like I can give the name of every would-be gun owner to the media and let them run each name down like I can with my nominees.

And some guns, we just can’t do it. Some of them, with the hundreds of rounds in a magazine, and they might as well be automatic, right? No good. You know how we do with explosives? We don’t mess around with that. Nobody’s just walking around with explosives. No one is open carrying explosives. People go to prison just for mistakes in paperwork with explosives.

And I know, you have these places with so much violence, systemic they call it. In the cities. Cyclical, tit-for-tat violence. And it’s handguns. And most of those places, the gun laws, someone is buying guns and bringing them in. But if you look, those places need more than just gun laws. They do need gun laws, of course. Violence only makes everything harder. But they need—when you have a broken situation, you have these buildings that make people sick. Sick building syndrome. You have to do a major renovation. You can’t just go in and put a few plants in there. You have to tear out and rebuild and revitalize. Or sometimes, the land itself. They built housing on top of polluted places that used to pollute so much you’d have to change your shirt at mid-day because it would change color. That’s what the places, these places where children live. I mean, little ones that play peek-a-boo, all of that, they live in places where there’s systemic violence and deterioration. We have to do better. Remember “No Child Left Behind?” For school, but they left them behind in their neighborhoods and in all these other ways, including healthcare. Left them behind. It can’t be fixed just by getting rid of the guns—guns that people are bringing in from across state lines—but we do have to get rid of the guns. Where they’re paying another state’s sales tax to bring guns in where they shouldn’t. Bet those folks would like to build a big, beautiful wall to keep the guns out. But it wouldn’t work, so we have to try something else.

But the racism, it’s got to end, folks. It’s so stupid. I can’t end it. I’m part of it. If I weren’t racist, my base might actually look at what I am. George Wallace’s voters used to say “He tells it like it is,” too, you know. The only difference was he ran as a Democrat by the time that most Democrats wanted to go straight. He won Florida and it scared the Democrats so bad they nominated George McGovern, who got creamed by President Nixon.

That was over 40 years ago, but the modern Republicans just scooped me into their arms. Right into their bosom, folks. They’ll defend me, no matter what stupid thing I do. But I can’t stop the racism. Even if I tried, I can’t. I can’t stop the racism for the same reason the Republicans go along with every blunder I make. There’s no blueprint. I’m not that creative. And neither are they.

I guess maybe the only way to stop the racism is to spread the wealth, not just money but knowledge and caring, those are forms of wealth too, and to integrate society. If everyone’s got neighbors who are different, being different is normal. If everyone’s got security in society, they know they aren’t going to be starving and homeless because they’re five minutes late—if the elevators have emergency brakes to prevent these people, so vulnerable, so fragile, from suddenly plunging to their dooms. . . .

That’s how you stop the racism. The guns thing? Do like we do with Iran, folks. Like we do with explosives. Stop selling them so easily. Stop selling the worst of them entirely, maybe. Maybe. But at least do backgrounds. Have to at least check. If someone hunts, great, but they have to do it responsibly. People with guns have to do it responsibly. It’s really common sense is what it is.


Something like that, anyway.

Most folks want to see something done about these acts of terror. They don’t want to stop a hunter from being able to help keep the deer population in check. They don’t want to stop people who enjoy the hobby side of guns, or the history side. But they don’t want these shootings to continue like they have done for decades at this point.

Some politicians, mostly Republicans, bring up video games. I play video games and have done for most of my life. If I honestly thought that undergoing a background check or getting a license or such to play them would make anyone even a little safer, I’d be more than happy to. If the Republicans want to pass a law to that effect, I’ll gladly do so. I don’t think video games have anything to do with these violent assholes. It’s also noteworthy that as recent as 2013 the US Army published a video game called America’s Army, which had a combat component (i.e., violence). I don’t recall any Republicans criticizing that effort.

Other solutions outside of guns include mental healthcare. That means we would need universal coverage, which, again, Republicans have opposed. If they don’t think it’s worth it, they should say so. I think it’s worth it even setting the gun violence aside, for the peace of mind and the general welfare that people shouldn’t suffer needlessly.

On the side of guns, most people will accept an incremental approach. Increased background check coverage, for example. Do that. If it’s not enough, we will do more later. But to keep doing nothing, to sit on our hands, is not enough. We will either have a government that will work to improve our society or we will surely cease to have government at all. I favor the former, hands down.