Thursday, June 29, 2017

#AmazonSmart

During the presidential debate of September 26th, 2016, the following exchange took place:

Hillary Clinton: Maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

Donald Trump: That makes me smart.
On  June 28th, 2017, now-President Donald tweeted the following:

The #AmazonWashingtonPost, sometimes referred to as the guardian of Amazon not paying internet taxes (which they should) is FAKE NEWS!
So I guess that makes Amazon's leadership smart.


Most of the discussion around this has focused on the idea that President Trump is a hypocrite who is attempting to have it both ways, a thin-skinned whiner who calls any media he doesn't like "fake news" or an idiot who either doesn't realize that there are no "internet taxes" in the United States or somehow missed the fact that Amazon.com does collect and remit state and local sales taxes. (Although given that many Americans see no differences between a price discount and tax evasion, and thus will make buying decisions based on not having pay the tax, I doubt they're very pleased about it.)

But this tweet, like a lot of others, can be boiled down to four words: Us good, Them bad. When Mr. Trump embraced tax dodging as a marker of intelligence during the campaign, he was holding himself up as someone who understood the system well enough to make it work for him - and therefore someone who understood it well enough to make it work for the people who supported him. And for many of those people, one of their primary grievances with (big) government wasn't its size, reach or spending habits; it was the fact that they perceived it as acting to benefit "Them" at the direct expense of "Us." And it's a common refrain. In the 1990's a politician from downstate Illinois was fact-checked after saying that rural Illinoisans were paying their tax dollars to support Chicago and the suburbs. Which locations, it turned out, paid some 60% of state tax revenues, while only receiving 15% in state spending, leaving rural downstate residents to have their wallets sucked dry to the tune of less than 50¢ in taxes for every dollar the state spent on them.

The mythical "internet taxes" that President Trump feels that Amazon should be paying are perhaps better viewed as a "Liberal tax;" money that wealthy liberals should be paying to make life better for the hardworking Conservative voters who elected him into office. And their failure to do so is portrayed as simply another way in which Liberal America is disloyal to the people who really matter. And likewise, their unflattering coverage (or covfefe) of President Trump isn't due to the fact that the President has done things that ideological opponents may disagree with, or even different views of the same events. It's cynical, and knowingly dishonest, payback for the President siding with his voter base, rather than the wealthy "élites" who think they should run everything.

It's a simple political strategy, and the President goes to that well over and over, because he can still draw water from it. It's unlikely to run dry anytime soon.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Air Orca


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Keeping Up Appearances

I was on LinkedIn, and someone had posted an "article" that was little more than a cropped photograph of some legislators sitting down, while other stood with their hands over their hearts. It was titled: "Our disrespectful congress members," and called for members of Congress who refused "to stand for our country" to be voted out of office.

The first thing that crossed my mind was "Do you want empty ritualism? Because this is how you get empty ritualism."

I'm one of those people for whom The United States of America, Pledge of Allegiance and the flag of the United States are separate and distinct things from one another. Accordingly, I can come up with ways in which Congress has been much more "disrespectful" to the United States and its population than simply refusing to be bothered to stand every time there is a recitation of the Pledge, the National Anthem or whatever other patriotism litmus test someone came up with this week.

There isn't a high enough correlation between love of country and certain specific words or actions to be able to equate the two. Sure, there are people who use their public refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or to salute the flag as a means of protesting what they understand to be wrong with the nation. It does not follow from this, that everyone who, for whatever reason, doesn't recite the pledge or stand when expected to is protesting something. (Nor does it follow, for that matter, that protest is a form of expressing disrespect.) One can do "all the right things" and still have no love or respect for the United States. Feeling that the nation does not deserve positive regard does not render one incapable of saying the words.

Choosing to sir during the national anthem or to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with gusto are matters of style and not substance. Conflating the two has never been useful.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Broader Shade of Blue

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States of America and the current Republican majorities in the House of Representatives, Senate, Governorships and many state legislatures (not all of them Red States) has placed the Democratic Party in a position somewhat similar to the one that the Republican Party was in after the 2012 election cycle - out in the political wilderness, wondering how they got there, at a loss for a concrete plan to find their way back and looking for one of their own to take the fall for it.

Enter the Dean-Moulton Line of Demarcation. It's a term that NPR's Domenico Montanaro pretty much made up on the spot, but it's a useful one, so let's run with it a bit. The central debate of Dean-Moulton is this: in order to get more votes especially in redder areas than their normal stomping grounds, Democrats have to shift their party platform. So, do they shift towards a more Progressive platform, to put more daylight between themselves and the Republicans - the Jim Dean position? Or, do they prepare themselves to run to the center when required - the Congressman Seth Moulton position?

The answer, I suspect, lies in what one thinks of how the electorate works, and what it wants. The Dean position says, in effect, that there are more votes to be had by running harder to the Left. From my layman's perch, this says a couple of things to me, both of which I've heard from people who would strike me as being in the Dean camp. 1) That there is a relatively large number of disaffected voters to be picked up, who are currently to the Left of the Democratic Party as a whole. These are people who are highly unlikely to ever vote for Republican candidates, and the reason that they don't turn out for Democrats is, when it comes down to it, from that far to the Left, the center and the Right are pretty much indistinguishable, to the degree that many "moderates" are, as far as they're concerned, simply Republicans who may or may not have actively pledged allegiance. 2) That most reliably Democratic voters are reliable to the point of being givens. Their brand loyalty means that wherever the party platform goes, left, right or awkward, they'll still be reliable votes. To be pejorative about it, they're sheeple, unthinking drones who'd vote for Satan or a ham sandwich, as long at they ran on a Democratic ticket. So those votes don't need to be contested for. So moving to the left to pick up the disaffected progressives has little, if any downside.

The Moulton position says that a move Right towards the center, or at least the flexibility to do so, is a more likely winning strategy. Again, my layperson's analysis of the calculus involved tells me that the thinking is that most of the votes that have been left on the table are in the space between the Republicans and the Democrats, and that many people who don't vote, and thus are available to be wooed, feel that both parties have moved too far away from their positions to be worth chasing down. I suspect that it also postulates that people do make the switch from one party to another, depending on which is closer to their own interests. Generally speaking, to be politically active without it being more or less a waste of time requires that one line up with one of the Big Two political parties. Smaller groups, like the Libertarians and the Greens, are seen as something between protest votes and markers of mental illness, and so are taken at all seriously in the political scheme of things. The centrist position strikes me as less self-assured than the alternative; their pitch to those on the leftmost edge of the spectrum is less "Who else are you going to vote for?" than "Half a loaf is better then none, and while we won't go as far as you'd like, it's certainly farther than you'd get otherwise." I'm not sure that I see the wisdom in appealing to the pragmatism of the edges, but then again, I'm not in politics, either.

Whether or not the Dean-Moulton Line of Demarcation takes into account the current ground truth is, for me, an unknown. My own analysis of the election in November tells me that there simply wasn't enough enthusiasm for the Obama years left to carry a Democrat into the White House and give the party control of Congress, regardless of whether that was Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. And so, like the recriminations of the Republicans before it, the issue may simply be solved when the population tires of the brand of government that President Trump and the Republican Congress have brought with them. For those people who felt that the Obama Administration had adopted a policy that lay somewhere between ignoring them and throwing them under the bus, I'm uncertain of either Mrs. Clinton or Senator Sanders represented enough of a change to gain their votes. But when the nation sours on the Republicans, it's also unlikely to matter whether or not Dean or Moulton have won the argument. Bigger events will likely have been the deciding factor.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Way With Words

After last Wednesday's shooting at Republican practice for the annual Congressional charity baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia, one of the targets for blame was "overheated political rhetoric." And one of the phrases that came back into the public consciousness was "words have consequences."

One of the interesting things about public anger at politics and with politicians is that people tend to see it as genuine emotion when it comes from people the agree with, and the result of cynical emotional manipulation when it doesn't.

Three guesses which side of the political spectrum "NewsBlaze" comes down on...
There seems to be an understanding that co-partisans can be legitimately upset with policies enacted by the other side, to the point of anger or even literal outrage. But people on the other side are often seen as passively accepting of the world around them, unless someone takes action, either deliberate or careless, to "rile them up." Part of it is simple political blind spots. It's easy to understand how policy choices that one doesn't like, either because of the policies themselves or the people who enacted them, are simply bad. And it makes sense that people would be angry at wrongheaded, perverse or treacherous policy choices. It seems to be more difficult for Americans to understand that the policy choices they support might create losers, or people who honestly perceive themselves as possible losers, and that those people would have a genuine (if perhaps premature or misplaced) grievance with those policies and their supporters.

And once you've convinced yourself that the only reason why someone could be roused to violence over what is obviously sound policy is that they are weak-willed, ignorant and easily- mislead, it's only a short step to pointing out the strongest voices that one disagrees with as engaging in incitement. Which is not to say that incitement doesn't happen - but it rarely, if ever, directly comes from the highest halls of power. Open calls for violence tend to erode the support that politicians depend on. It's the rare office holder who could, as then-candidate Donald Trump bragged, shoot a man in the street and not lose any support. And so people hear dog whistles everyone (despite the fact that the whole point behind a dog whistle is that it's not universally audible).

While far from the worst place in the world for political violence, the United States is always going to have an undercurrent of it because we tend to view violence as a way of solving problems. Even when the problem is politics.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Wait For It...

A great blue heron, on the lookout for a meal.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Strings

At a press conference from the scene, Virginia governor and Democrat Terry McAuliffe was the first to raise the spectre of gun control. "There are too many guns on the street," he said, before remarking that it wasn't the day for that debate. "If it's not the day for it why are you bringing it up?" replied a reporter.
Virginia shooting raises spectre, but not likelihood, of gun control
This, perhaps, is illustrative of the problem that we have with the "gun control debate" here in the United States. The focus appears to be more on being seen to be on the same side of the issue as particular constituent groups than it is on advancing any particular policies. Perhaps because the general consensus is that the status quo will remain inviolate, at least for the foreseeable future, posturing and virtue-signalling are the only remaining avenues for action. Just as it's conventional wisdom that Republican lawmakers have the National Rifle Association and firearms manufacturers pulling their strings, that same convention holds that Democratic lawmakers are beholden to the more activist wings of their voter base. Why being responsive to voters (regardless of whether one thinks those voters are wrongheaded, un-American or spot on) should be considered as bad as being dictated to by a trade organization is a mystery to me, but I suppose that few have ever decried American politics for an over-reliance on rationality.

In any event, both sides of the debate see the "thought leaders" and legislators on the other side as captured, and doing what cynical others bid them to do.

Puppetry

And the other point I would make - and my oldest son is a police officer, not a detective. The point he makes - and I agree with him - is, this area has pretty strong gun control laws, had no impact whatsoever on this gentleman. The reality is the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun because in my opinion, gun control laws simply limit citizens, limit law-abiding citizens.
Paul Mitchell - (R - Michigan)
Freshman Lawmakers React To Virginia Shooting
On the one hand, you have to give the Republican's credit for their message discipline. But on the other, sometimes, you'd think that someone would say: "Maybe this isn't a good time for this particular talking point." Most people in the country are familiar enough with the partisan positions on this issue to understand that a shooting, even one of other members of Congress, is unlikely to change their stance on gun control. But this seemed sort of shoehorned into the conversation - no mention of gun control had been made, and so as much as I dislike partisan sniping around the topic, Representative Val Demings' (D - Florida) comment that Mr. Mitchell was parroting an NRA statement rang true. Even though Mr. Mitchell attributed the sentiment to a police officer son, it came across as if Wayne LaPierre had put a hand up his butt to make him talk.

Republicans tend to use the idea of "with a gun" as a stand-in for "ready, willing and able to commit violence." And these really aren't the same concept. And even though they should have an understanding of what the genuine conflation of the two should look like, they speak as though they don't, and the simple presence of more guns in the hands of "good guys" (because, you know, you can tell them on sight) is going to solve a much deeper problem.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

All Are Welcome

One of the recurring motifs of posts on LinkedIn (other than how LinkedIn is not Facebook, and should not be treated as such) is a mutual complaining society made up of equal parts recruiters and candidates/job seekers. Both groups grouse about unprofessionalism on the part of the other, list out the problems that the other has caused for them or basically just take pot shots at each other.

And part of the issue, as I am not the first person to point out, is that the barriers to entry are low. Anyone who can gather up some résumés and farm them around to employers in exchange for a cut of the salary of anyone hired on can call themselves a recruiter, and it's even easier to be a candidate or job seeker - anyone with a résumé posted online or who is unemployed can get in.

And so this leaves a lot of room for, well, flaky people. And complaining about them won't change that.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Pacific Northwest

The stereotypical understanding of what things are like around here.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

And The Band Played On


Here's Your Handbasket

My mother believes that I'm going to Hell. She's a Jehovah's Witness, and I'm not, so for her it's a simple, if very unfortunate, fact of life. Or afterlife, as the case may be. I understand that various strains of Evangelical Christianity (among other Judeo-Christian-Islamic sects) believe that they, and they alone, have exclusive access not only to spiritual Truth, but to salvation. And I don't have a problem with this. While I don't claim to be a theologian of any stripe, I understand concepts like Original Sin, Total Depravity and Divine Grace, and I see how people put these things (among others) together into a picture that says only certain people will be "saved."

What makes conversations with my mother about this interesting is that she's unafraid of the topic, but doesn't come off as being mean about it. When I was younger, and the family was still Roman Catholic (to varying degrees), some of my father's family could also be very open about the fact that we were all going to Hell, because we weren't the right type of believers. But that openness carried with it a very clear strain of not only divine, but personal, condemnation. My father wasn't a very religious person one way or the other, and so it was my mother, who'd been educated in Catholic schools, who was the main driver of family religiosity. And to my paternal grandmother and some of my aunts, she had driven us into sin by miseducating my sister and me. (Word to the wise: Adults like to think that they can be subtle enough about these things that children won't notice. They normally can't, although I will admit that it took me a while to understand exactly why there was a current of hostility there.) In the eyes of my father's family, my mother had willfully chosen the Wrong Religion, and was thus, basically, deplorable. This is a fairly common line of reasoning, especially for those people who understand divine mandates to be self-evident.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I/D? - Vermont) has stirred up a minor hornet's nest by challenging Trump administration nominee Russell Vought, tapped to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, over whether or not non-Christians are condemned. While there is a fair amount of crying "Foul!" on the part of Christian groups in the United States, I can understand why the Senator posed the question.

"Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology," Vought wrote. "They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned."
To Senator Sanders, this smacks of Islamophobia - although "non-Christian-ophobia" may be just as appropriate a formulation. Christians, unsurprisingly, tend to hold a different viewpoint.
[Russell] Moore[, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention] says there's nothing hostile about Vought's comments. "In Christian theology, no one is righteous before God," he said. "[Evangelical] Christians don't believe that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. Christians believe that all of humanity is fallen."
With all due respect to Mr. Moore, I suspect that he could do with being more in touch with the way that many American Christians, Evangelical or not, actually go about the practice of Christianity. Because "good people [especially one's friends and relatives] go to heaven and bad people go to hell" is precisely the way that many people talk about how the afterlife works.
But most first-graders are not subtle or critical thinkers; they just about understand "good" and "bad" and "right" and "wrong." Religion at this age is indoctrination, as it must be, but it's naive to believe that such indoctrination doesn't affect the outsiders. One mother, who herself teaches Sunday school but nevertheless opted out of the program, explains it better than I ever could: "I asked them whether Jesus was a Christian and they said 'yes.' When I said, 'Jesus was a Jew,' one girl said, 'But Jesus was a good person.'"
Dahlia Lithwick. "Bible Belt Upside the Head" Slate Magazine, 16 Feb., 2005
And from having known religious people of all ages throughout my life, that conflation between Christianity and one's "goodness" as a person isn't limited to first graders. For many outsiders, the religious person's judgement as to whether they are saved or condemned is more than a point of theological dogma - it's an assessment of their worth and value as a person. While it's easy to point fingers at groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and hold them up as what "genuine" Christians are not, they don't have a monopoly on the idea that God has reasons to hate not just sins, but sinners. And from there, it's a short step to the idea that Christians in government shouldn't be in the business of abetting sinful behavior.

This is not to say that everyone who publicly takes the position (even if they seem to be unwilling to own it if presses) that non-Christians are "condemned" views non-Christians as evil or of diminished worth. But the formulation that Mr. Vought used in his defense of Wheaton College, implies that non-Christians have brought the condemnation of God down on themselves for their willfulness - in much the same way my grandmother and aunts regarded their daughter/sister-in-law. This undermines the "hate the sin, love the sinner" argument that is often advanced to blunt charges of judgementalism.

Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, made a really interesting point in an interview once. He basically said that no-one knows what God is thinking, so that when people (especially laypeople, one expects) say "this is what God wants," what they're really saying is "this is what I would want, if I were God." Which is an arguable point. But it's also one that I wouldn't be surprised to find is fairly widespread. And so I suspect that for a lot of non-Christians, their is a belief that Christians point to the condemnation of the unbeliever by God as way of distancing themselves from their own negative thoughts about non-Christians. Senator Sanders' questions to Mr. Vought don't raise this directly, but they touch on it.

When my mother and I talk religion, she's willing to be open about her understanding of how the afterlife works. And that openness is generally missing in the broader discourse. In response to what were basically yes or no questions from Senator Sanders, Mr. Vought replied with "I'm a Christian," and "I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs," which were intended to settle the question, but likely came off as evasive. And so I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Senator Sanders feels that Mr. Vought understands "dignity and respect" differently than he does.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Self Test

I was out walking the other day, and I encountered a young woman panhandling. I'd seen her before, she's popped up in various places along my route to and from work (and nearby destinations) over the past five years, give or take. I've given her food and/or money on prior occasions, and taken the time to talk to her about once a year.

I'm never sure if she recognizes me from one encounter to the next, given the time that elapses between them, but she's always quick to tell me about the travails of her husband, a disabled veteran who received am other-than-honorable discharge, and her two sons, even telling me that one's birthday was coming up. I know that she and her family have lived in different parts of the country before returning to the Seattle area, and I've listened to her frustrations with the Veterans' Administration.

This all seems to come as a surprise to coworkers when I mention to them. Either the idea that one would actually take the time to talk to a panhandler strikes them as unwise or unsafe, or they have a story about someone begging on the street who turns out to drive a nice car, or is otherwise a fraud. To be sure, I understand these attitudes. I've dealt with panhandlers who became aggressive when not given what they asked for, and I've caught a few who were running scams. But these experiences haven't prompted me to keep my distance from the down-and-out population in general. And sometimes, I wonder why.

I'm not a generous person. Let's get that out of the way up-front. I don't give until it hurts. And I tend to do things for other people with a definite eye towards what I'm getting out of them. Giving to panhandlers who seem to really need it helps me to understand that, to borrow a metaphor from Seth Godin, I'm not drowning. My life may not be perfect, but I have things well enough in hand that I can afford to give something to this person who needs it. I have no illusions that I'm helping them with the small amounts of money that I'm handing over. At least not anywhere near as much as I'm helping my own piece of mind.

So I wonder - Do I take the time to interact with the people I see on the street, and spend the mental energy to be concerned with them, because of my own turmoil? Where I more at ease with myself, with less to prove, would I be as aloof as the people I've worked with?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Work To Do

If you're on food stamps, and you're able-bodied, we need you to go to work. If you're on disability insurance and you're not supposed to be — if you're not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work.
Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Housing Secretary Ben Carson Says Poverty Is A 'State Of Mind'
Okay, I'll bite. Doing what, exactly? The reason there are (not all that many) people who are able to work but who are on food stamps or disability insurance is that they can't find jobs.

One thing that's vexed me for years is people telling me that there are plenty of living and family-wage jobs out there "for people who are willing to work." Jobs that allegedly don't even need higher education, specialized training or prior industry experience, and will allow one to grasp the American Dream.

"Great!" I respond. "Tell me where they are. I know some people who'll be happy to move to get them."

And it's always the same answer. Crickets.

Now you could make the point that there are plenty of landscaping and agriculture jobs out there that Americans could take from migrant workers. And there are people who make the point that Americans would take those jobs from migrant workers, if we removed safety net programs. These are commonly described as "jobs that Americans don't want." But guess what - the migrants don't want them either. Sure they're better than the jobs that are available in their home countries, but when was the last time you read about a migrant family that scrimped and saved to put a child or three through college, with the ambition of having the child be the single most educated farmhand or landscaper you'd ever met? Part of the reason why there are so few serious and workable plans to deal with illegal immigration into this country is that for farms and the like to compete for workers would require them to raise their wages. And we all know who, in the end, would likely pay for those wage increases. But I digress.

I understand Mr. Mulvaney's contention that the United States needs every able-bodied person to be working, rather than living (if you can call it that) on government benefits and transfer payments. But the simple fact of the matter is that we don't need everyone eligible to work to actually do work.
We are going to do everything we can to help you find a job that you are suited to and a job that you can use to help take care of you, yourself, and your family.

If you're in this country and you want to work, there's good news, because Donald Trump is President and we're going to get 3 percent growth, and we're going to give you the opportunity to go back to work.
I don't know where Director Mulvaney gets the idea that simply growing the economy by 3% is going to magically create demand for human labor, given that we, as a nation, have been putting an awful lot of energy into coding software and building robotic systems that can do many of the things that people can do. Anyone who drives for a living is in the crosshairs of companies who want to make autonomous vehicles ubiquitous, and to the degree that the plan is that "driverless cars" would be shared more often than owned, they've also got a number of autoworkers in their sights. And if computers turn out to be markedly better drivers than people, you can see the auto-repair industry taking a hit... The list goes on, and it's unlikely that the robot car makers will need all of those people to staff their factories.

And that doesn't even take into account simply opening new plants in other countries, where the overall standards and costs of living are lower. Low-skilled or unskilled service jobs don't pay that much, and initiatives to pay for higher education or solid vocational training to give people skills tend to run into angry Republican voters riled up about other people getting "free stuff."

Government cannot simultaneously work to increase the profitability of businesses and the need for labor while treating those things as being in an adversarial relationship with one another. The reason why Ronald Reagan's vision of supply-side economics didn't work as planned was that "supply creates demand" only to the degree that prices can float freely; even if that means dropping below the cost of production. But any reasonably on-the-ball business owner knows to slow or stop production before things get to that point. And if they miss the mark, that's what warehouses are for. And even if government eases off a million dollars in taxes, unless more than a million dollars will come from investing it in production, it makes more sense to simply pocket the money.

I understand the commonly-held idea that the best thing to do for people is to help them become self-sufficient (to the degree that anyone who isn't effectively self-employed, or otherwise independent of someone else's decisions can ever be genuine;y "self-sufficient") by putting them to work, rather than needing assistance from society at large. But the assumption that the demand for labor is there, and that it simply needs to be "unleashed" by cutting taxes and/or government services has yet to be demonstrated. Granted, the saying goes that there's a first time for everything, but sometimes it worthwhile to keep in mind that it's only a saying.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Mismessaged

"I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind," [Carson] said in an interview that aired on Wednesday.

"You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they'll be right back up there.

"And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they'll work their way right back down to the bottom."
Housing Secretary Ben Carson calls poverty a 'state of mind'
My father pretty much told me the same thing when I was in junior high school. It's a common way of understanding inequality. The different between my father and Secretary Carson is that my father didn't come across as blaming people for their circumstances, or chalking up the plight of the poor to character flaws.

And I think that this is a recurring problem for Secretary Carson, because he doesn't seem to have the ability to speak to the public at large. Instead, he seems to craft messages that are designed to appeal to the sentiments of conservative Culture Warriors; sentiments that are inherently moralistic and that imply that the world is just (usually, anyway). And to the degree that the conservative Culture War outlook on poverty is that it results from poor character, Secretary Carson's comments come off as a combination of victim-blaming and character assassination. And as he cultivates (intentionally or not) this reputation, it becomes an expectation, and that expectation colors the way in which his words are taken. And the political distance between Secretary Carson and his critics often means that they are actively motivated to see him in a poor light.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Simple Explanation

While there has been a lot of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over President Trump's decision to have the United States withdraw from the Paris climate accords, it seems to me that this is a move about domestic politics more than anything having to do with the climate or the environment.

The whole thing strikes me as a three-pronged statement to the base of voters who support Donald Trump.

  1. Nations who signed on to this need the United States more than the United States need them, so
  2. They cooked up a climate agreement that was cynically designed to better their economies at the expense of the United States, and
  3. They were aided and abetted in this by an Obama Administration that was feckless at best, possibly "globalist" and actively hostile to the interests of "ordinary Americans" at worst.
These three factors strike me as driving this behavior more than any level of climate skepticism. Because if there's one thing that we understand about voter base that President Trump is appealing to (and needs to keep fearful of an impending Apocalypse) it's that they feel that a) the "Global Élites" and the Democratic Party have it in for them, and will do whatever they can to injure them. (Dirty Socialists, and all that.)
I used to say to our audiences: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"
Upton Sinclair "I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked" 1935
The coal miners and other people that President Trump are counting on are in a position where continuing their livelihoods as they currently know them depends on their not understanding that there is any real need for change. They are not "climate skeptics" in any real sense of the word - that would presume that this were actually about the climate, rather than an unwillingness to risk un- and underemployment, for what they understand to be the sake of people overseas.

And I think that President Trump understands this better than most of his critics. It's easy to call upon people to make sacrifices. But it's difficult to get people to suffer them willingly. And President Trump knows that by casting that call to sacrifice as the work of people who disdain them, that he can count on their continued, and enthusiastic, support.