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.

The First Democratic Party Debate, 2015-2016

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee, and Martin O’Malley squared off in a debate. Absent were Vice President Joe Biden and Professor Laurence Lessig. The former still hasn’t declared a run, and he may just not run. The latter, a proponent of the “fix it first, then we can govern” strategy, was barred for not polling well enough (which is hard to change if the pollsters leave you off the polling lists).

The debate was at least as much of an echo chamber as the Republican debates, except with different ideas echoing. We have to deal with income inequality. Black lives matter. Global warming sucks. Clinton’s emails suck.

Clinton failed to fail, to the chagrin of everybody who bought into the idea that she was some sort of cardboard cutout, a collective hallucination of the 1990s. Sanders had his “sick of your damn emails” moment, which caused Clinton to jubilate.

But what did we learn? Sanders is left of Clinton, but between their positions and the political landscape they would hold them against, does it matter? If Lessig had been there, I’m sure in the minute time allotted him, he would have pointed out that we have to fix the broken system, too. That, barring a more responsive, less-competitive legislative body, doing much will be very difficult.

Hell, with the Freedom Caucus, America could know the winning lottery numbers and still fail to buy the ticket, because those idiots would be trying to attach a defund-Planned-Parenthood rider to the appropriation bill to purchase the $5 ticket.

So, just like with the Republican debates, we go into these things with a certain amount of our imagination hats on our heads. “It’s pretend time, boys and girls,” the moderators say. “Let’s imagine a world where not only the speaker is the president, but they can do whatever they want.” That sort of hypothetical monarchy game is the form of our debates.

Otherwise, there were the sort of meaningless questions such as whether Edward Snowden should have to go to jail. Whatever your opinions of the man and his actions, it’s moot unless he returns to the USA or a country with extradition. The odds are basically 50-50 on if Snowden ever steps on US soil again, and if he does it will probably be after 2030 or so. Not really a pressing issue.

For the record, Clinton’s couching of Snowden is one of her many safe plays in the debate. Establishment lines, to be expected. She did the same on cannabis, for example. Anybody studying the situation should have grave doubts that Clinton wouldn’t sign a broadly-supported bill to legalize cannabis in a heartbeat. And, similarly, she would either exonerate or condemn Snowden if that were the political choice.

That sounds kind of scary, electing people who will basically color within the lines, whatever the lines may be. Those lines are bent by political gravities that seem hard to change, and the system can commit massive cruelties because of them. The good news is that the lines seem to slowly shift for the better, as with gay marriage. The bad news is that, for millions dealing with convictions for cannabis or for someone like Snowden, the lines don’t move fast enough.

Gun control (or “gun safety” as several candidates called it) came up in a big way. Again, without either side giving ground it is hard to see how things change a lot on the issue. That said, it does set the Democrats at odds with the Republicans. A willingness to do something about a problem, even not knowing the right way to fix it, is still a virtue.

And, right with guns came the talk of war. Would you go to war? Should we have gone to war? What about Syria? What about Iran? The answers weren’t as hawkish as the Republicans’, but weren’t dovish either.

On Wall Street, on the other hand, there were calls by some to replace the firewall between investment and consumer banking. Clinton did not endorse the idea, but otherwise the consensus seemed to be it wouldn’t hurt. Again, not clear that it matters in the real world, where increasing regulations of finance isn’t exactly something easy to get passed.

Who won? Both Clinton and Sanders had strong showings, which basically means Clinton won, at least in the immediate aftermath. She’s the poll leader, which means that absent either a poor performance from her or a stand-out performance from a competitor, she either gains or stays the same. Sanders has a broad following online, which could turn a short-term Clinton win into a long-term Sanders win. Whether that materializes remains to be seen.

The Political Now

Today I started to outline some of the problems I have with the so-called GOP (hereafter RP).  As I did so, I was also interested in highlighting the opposition’s problems (hereafter DP).  Then I decided, on reflection, that it would be a criticism of both parties.  But that still failed to emphasize the solutions.  So this is now less of a pure criticism and more about providing the alternative too.

Taxation

The RP position is that taxation is a form of theft.  They do not see it as funding the scaffolding of society and fail to recognize the role that the government plays in their own personal success.  Taxes should be minimal, as should the size of government.  The DP position is that taxes are there to provide for the minority cases of poverty and illness, and taxes should be expanded to fulfill those needs and others we deem necessary.

My position is that taxes should be seen as an investment in our collective future, and that our government’s parameters should be targeted to the development of our social fabric.  That means I favor taxes for things like scientific development and open source software, anything which can be leveraged by the private sector to improve work there, and anything that can be leveraged by private citizens to improve their day-to-day.

Justice

For both the DP and RP, justice is mostly a matter of punishing the individuals that break the law.  The outlook on the law differs slightly for both.  Treatment of convicted individuals is slightly harsher for the RP, while the DP tends to give a bit more recognition to the role that economics plays in crime, but the general outlook is identical.

My position is that the vast majority of crime has economic origins, and the proper development of society requires economic intervention in the forms of education and rehabilitation.

I also maintain that key reforms in the justice system are needed, including overhauling the current advocacy system of courts and the manner of interactions between law enforcement and private citizens.  These are things the RP and DP both ignore completely.

Gun Control

Long a contentious issue, the RP believes gun rights are untouchable while the DP believes that the state should have the right to restrict weapon access as much as it pleases.

My position is that guns don’t kill people, but people with guns do.  Proper stitching of the social and economic fabric eliminates the motivations for gun control, though it probably does tend to diminish the ownership, it does not urge people to disarm.

Foreign Policy

The RP position favors military intervention, while the DP position is slightly warmer toward diplomatic solutions.

My own position is that, again, economic development precludes the need to intervene militarily and minimizes the need for diplomatic intervention.  The use of foreign aid as a carrot to complement the military stick is fraught with peril, for it avoids the real, needed economic development of the areas being targeted for improved governance.

The Trend

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a trend here.  The RP position is usually one based on the idea that the individual is an island capable of behaving properly ex nihilo.  The DP position is that people need some help and are products of their environment up to the point where they are bad enough to be beyond redemption, at which point their position diminishes into the RP position.

And my position is that people are basically machines that could be functional provided the correct environmental factors (usually economic in nature).

You can extrapolate the positions from the above for welfare, immigration, corporate regulation, etc.