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“America Is Not A Planet, So Let Us Pollute”: For The GOP, Climate Know-Nothingism Is Out. Climate Do-Nothingism Is In

There are many reasons why a Republican politician might oppose action on climate change. Addressing the problem requires government regulation, which many Republicans think is inherently bad. People they despise think we ought to address the problem, which makes it unpalatable. The Obama administration has taken a number of moves to address the problem, and everything Obama does is wrong by definition. Yet at the same time, there’s a vast scientific consensus that global warming is happening and we should act on it, and most Americans agree — even significant numbers of Republicans.

So if you’re a GOP candidate, what do you do?

Judging by last night’s debate and what the candidates have said lately, what you don’t do is say that it’s all a hoax. You don’t even have to take the widely ridiculed “I’m not a scientist” line in order to argue that we have no idea whether it’s happening or not. Instead, the emerging Republican position appears to be a kind of passive acceptance of climate change — less “This is a real problem” than “Sure, it’s probably happening, whatever” — accompanied by an insistence that we absolutely, positively can’t do anything about it, at least not anything that requires government action.

In the debate, moderator Jake Tapper presented the climate change question by noting that George Shultz, who served as secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, says we should take out an “insurance policy” by acting to address climate change the way we did decades ago on ozone depletion. “Secretary Shultz asks, why not take out an insurance policy and approach climate change the Reagan way?” You can see this question as either a clever way to force the candidates to address the issue outside of a partisan frame, or a ridiculous attempt to shoehorn Reagan in there instead of just dealing with the facts. Either way, the candidates weren’t biting.

To Tapper’s question, Marco Rubio answered, “Because we’re not going to destroy our economy the way the left-wing government that we are under now wants to do.” After explaining that any attempt to reduce emissions would practically leave all Americans wearing sackcloths as they stood morosely in bread lines waiting for scraps of food, Rubio brought in a second element that has become common to the Republican argument, that there’s no point in America reducing its emissions because “America is not a planet.”

Though that’s technically true, it ignores the fact that we can’t get other countries to agree to a collective effort if we make no effort of our own, not to mention the fact that it’s the kind of logic that would have me dump all my garbage in the street on the theory that my house is just one part of my neighborhood and I can’t control whether everybody else is keeping the neighborhood clean. Chris Christie then argued that his state had reduced its emissions without the government taking any steps because New Jersey uses nuclear power, and Scott Walker jumped in to say EPA rules on greenhouse gases would destroy thousands of jobs.

Because Tapper was eager to move on to other issues, nobody got a chance to toss in the final element of the current Republican argument on climate change: “innovation.” For that we can turn to an interview Carly Fiorina gave earlier this week. “The answer is innovation. And the only way to innovate is for this nation to have industry strong enough that they can innovate,” she said, after contemptuously dismissing the idea that nations could band together to confront climate change. “We need to become the global energy powerhouse of the 21st century, for so many reasons. To create jobs, to make the bad guys less bad, and so we have industries — including the coal industry — that’s powerful enough to be able to innovate.”

You may be thinking that the coal industry being insufficiently powerful isn’t high on the list of the reasons we haven’t solved the climate change problem yet. But the handy thing about “innovation” is that it sounds like the person advocating it is forward-looking and optimistic. And there will certainly be a part for innovation to play in addressing climate change; the problem is that it’s impossible to know exactly what that role will be. In the meantime, we can’t just wait around for some spectacular new invention to come along.

That’s why, if somebody advocates “innovation” as the solution to climate change, they ought to be asked two questions. First, what do you think government should  do to spur this innovation? If their answer is to make a huge investment in clean energy research and technologies, then that’s something (and it’s also what the Obama administration has done). If their answer is “Get out of industry’s way,” then you can be pretty sure it’s just a cover for “Let them pollute, like they already want to.” Not to mention that allowing industry to pollute lets them off the hook without any need for innovation at all; force them to meet emissions targets, and out of necessity they’ll find innovative ways to do it.

The second question the advocate of innovation ought to be asked is, “What do we do in the meantime while we’re waiting for this innovation you promise?” If by way of answering they talk about all the terrible things regulation will do, that means their real answer is, “Nothing.”

Which is the end point of the entire argument Republicans are making on climate change (except for those lonely few who actually propose to confront the problem). That applies to the remaining conspiracy theorists who think it’s a hoax, the ones like Ben Carson who falsely believe that scientists aren’t sure whether humans contribute to it, or the ones who acknowledge that climate change is a problem but only want to talk about how terrible government regulation is. The answer they all have is the same.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, September 17, 2015

September 18, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Climate Science, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“I’m Down With The Trends”: Jeb Bush Wants To Be The Uber Candidate. Here’s The Problem With That

Jeb Bush is desperate for you to know that he is the Uber candidate. The old, 20th century ways are not for him and his bold campaign for the future. He’s sharing a ride to the glorious tech-driven tomorrow.

But what does that actually mean? So far he hasn’t said, but he’s certainly getting the coverage he wants.

The front page of today’s New York Times features a photo of Bush in an Uber car, over a story about Republican candidates embracing the company. It summed up the purpose fairly well:

Republican candidates are embracing Uber not just as a paragon of their free-market ethos and distaste for entrenched, government-protected industries, but also as an electoral strategy for building bridges to traditionally Democratic cities, where the company has thrived. During his visit to the left-leaning city of San Francisco on Thursday, Mr. Bush was ferried around, fittingly, by an Uber driver, who deposited him at a campaign event in a black Toyota Camry. “Thanks for the ride!” Mr. Bush hollered as cameras snapped away.

So what exactly is Jeb trying to communicate about the kind of president he’d be? On the surface, it’s entirely substance-free. It’s just about attitude: I’m hip to what the kids are into, I’m down with the trends, I’m forward-thinking. In that spirit, Jeb took to LinkedIn and mobilized a phalanx of Silicon Valley clichés to proclaim that his economic ideas are super-futuristic.

In a post entitled “Disrupting Washington to Unleash Innovators,” he went on and on about how liberals just want to crush innovation with their dastardly regulations, while he…well, he actually didn’t say anything about what sorts of policies he would pursue as president, other than to proclaim, “I’ve got a different view on things, and a different approach. I don’t mind disrupting the established order.” Ooo, did he say “disrupting”? How disruptive!

The truth, though, is that the president of the United States has no power to influence municipal disputes over taxi regulations, so there is approximately nothing Jeb will do as president to affect the regulations that govern Uber and other ride-sharing companies. And if you don’t feel at least somewhat ambivalent about Uber in particular, you haven’t been paying attention.

On one hand, the company provides a service that people find invaluable, and the local taxi regulations it fights against are often ridiculous (side note: despite the conservative assumption that the government “closest to the people” is the best government, it’s often local governments that are most corrupt and have the most onerous and illogical regulation). On the other hand, Uber’s leadership is apparently a bunch of arrogant jerks whose business model is built around moving into a new market, blatantly breaking the laws that restrain their ability to operate, and then trying to build pressure to get the laws changed. (Catherine Rampell lays out some of these issues well in today’s paper.)

In any case, one thing the federal government does have power over — and thus something Jeb Bush would have the ability to affect if he becomes president — is labor standards, and that’s a genuine policy dispute worth exploring. If Jeb’s right and more and more people will be earning income from companies like Uber, how should they be treated? What standards will apply to them? How are these workers going to obtain the things we ordinarily associate with a job, like health insurance, retirement savings, or paid leave?

Bush hasn’t spoken to these issues yet, but I’m pretty sure I know what his position is: the market will work everything out, and government just has to get out of the way. But we already have evidence that in some ways this approach is screwing more and more people over. It may or may not be appropriate to consider someone driving for Uber part-time to be an employee of the company, but what about a case like FedEx, which for years classified thousands of its full-time drivers as “independent contractors,” meaning the company didn’t have to pay payroll taxes or overtime, and could evade all sorts of other labor regulations? The company suffered a series of losses in court over the issue, and just settled a lawsuit by drivers in California for $228 million. Does Bush think they were in the right, and other companies should be able to just reclassify workers whenever they want?

That’s an example of what the Obama administration is trying to address with a new guidance the Labor Department just released to employers. It says in effect that you can’t just take an ordinary employee who works only for you and has all the conditions of their work controlled by you, and say, “You’re now an independent contractor” and thereby evade all your responsibilities as an employer. This kind of mis-classification has spread to all sorts of industries, with millions of employees finding themselves with fewer benefits, lower incomes, and less protection than the law says they ought to have. Hillary Clinton has endorsed the administration’s effort to crack down on mis-classification, but as of yet the Republican candidates haven’t addressed it. It’s no mystery what they’ll say, though: this is just more government meddling in the market.

There’s a lot more we should hear from Clinton on this topic and how it relates to companies like Uber, particularly since she’s the one more inclined to have government respond to the ways our economy is changing. In her economic speech Monday, she mentioned it briefly, saying: “This on-demand, or so-called gig economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But it is also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.” Which is perfectly true, but it doesn’t tell us what in particular she thinks government ought to do to protect workers as the economy transforms.

I’m sure she’ll have more to say on the subject, and perhaps in response Jeb Bush can explain why government has gone too far out of its way to ensure that workers get a fair shake. Or he might even surprise us and offer a program of smart, nimble regulations that would allow innovative new models of work to flourish while still protecting people from exploitation. But until he says otherwise, we have to assume that Bush’s answer to the question of what government should do to respond to economic changes that can make workers more vulnerable is: “Nothing.”

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, July 17, 2015

July 19, 2015 Posted by | Jeb Bush, Overtime Pay, Workers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Steve Jobs’s Legacy Says About Innovation

In the wake of Apple Computer  cofounder Steve Jobs’s death, it’s become almost a truism that he provided  consumers what they needed before they even knew they needed it.

I think it’s true not only in the  case of the revolutionary products that Jobs marshaled into existence, but of  many, many consumer goods that seemed exotic or pointless at first, and then  became ubiquitous.

It’s the nature of innovation, the  “novus.” The New Thing.

There’s an important moral dimension  to it, too, I think—this idea  of “needing” consumer goods. Pro-innovation  people—the vast majority of  us—love new things. We love things that make our  lives simpler,  easier, more enriching, or just more fun.

Take the vacuum cleaner.

I remember well a lefty history  professor in college, lecturing in a  disdainful deterministic tone about the  vacuum cleaner. Did it make  housewives’ lives easier—or did it impel them to  remove household dust  that had previously been a nonissue?

On the one hand, Christine Rosen’s 2006  essay in The New Atlantis,  “Are We Worthy Our Kitchens?”, was a  definitive takedown of such  thinking. There have been real gains in human  welfare due to  industrial-era electronic technology:

Despite its humble  status … the electric washing  machine represents one of the more dramatic  triumphs of technological  ingenuity over physical labor. Before its invention  in the twentieth  century, women spent a full day or more every week performing  the  backbreaking task of laundering clothes. Hauling water (and the fuel to   heat it), scrubbing, rinsing, wringing—one nineteenth-century American  woman  called laundry “the Herculean task which women all dread.” No one  who had the  choice would relinquish her washing machine and do laundry  the old-fashioned  way.

Then again, even with all of our  fancy time-saving gadgets, has family/domestic really improved? She continues:

Judging  by how Americans  spend their money—on shelter magazines and kitchen  gadgets and home  furnishings—domesticity appears in robust health.  Judging by the way Americans  actually live, however, domesticity is in  precipitous decline. Families sit  together for meals much less often  than they once did, and many homes exist in  a state of near-chaos as  working parents try to balance child-rearing, chores,  long commutes,  and work responsibilities. As Cheryl Mendelson, author of a  recent book  on housekeeping, observes, “Comfort and engagement at home have   diminished to the point that even simple cleanliness and decent  meals—let alone  any deeper satisfactions—are no longer taken for  granted in many middle-class  homes.” Better domestic technologies have  surely not produced a new age of  domestic bliss.

True, no?

And who can deny the moral, or at  least McLuhan-esque, dimension of “gadget love”?

There’s no simple answer to these  questions—and I ponder them anew  every time I interact with an Apple product.  (Like right now, as I  type.)

I’m far from a Mac nerd, but I am,  in my own way, a heavy user. My  iPod battery has been broken for months, and I  haven’t gotten around to  replacing it. Lately, the idea of driving without  ready access to my  entire music library—something that would have been  unthinkable for  most of my lifetime—is a continual annoyance.

And when I first bought that iPod, I  found myself mired  in a sort of technological obsessive-compulsive disorder:

With  1,000-plus CDs that I’d ideally like to  upload—because you can’t let all those  free gigabytes starve, not with  so many of the world’s poor children starving  for gigabytes—the process  of ripping, in short order, became an object of dread  and crippling  self-doubt. Unripped CDs now taunt me in their unripped-ness. I  can  almost hear them, in their half-broken jewel cases and water-stained   leaflets, in their state of 20th-century plastic inertness, laugh at   me.

I’ve also found  the aesthetic, near-cultic magnetism of Apple products a little creepy, too:

When  I read stories about iPod users rhapsodizing about  how their iPods are profound  reflections of their personalities; how  their iPod shuffle mechanism has the  seemingly mystical ability to  randomly spit out the right song for the right  moment; how life  screeches to a halt when their iPod suffers a technical glitch  [um, yes — S.G.]—when I read these stories I think of Mr. McLuhan’s  chapter on “gadget lovers.”

Riffing  on the Greek myth of Narcissus, Mr. McLuhan wrote that  technology gadgets were  like narcotic extensions of the self; we  worship them as idols and thus become  a self-enclosed system.

Sound  familiar?

“Servomechanism”  was the term of art that Mr. McLuhan employed: a device that controls something  from a distance.

He  said of gadget love: “We must, to use them at all, serve these  objects, these  extensions of ourselves, as gods or minor religions. An  Indian is the  servomechanism of his canoe, as the cowboy of his horse  or the executive of his  clock.”

When  you think of mere gadgets in such terms, it’s no wonder there’s  been such an  outpouring of grief over the loss of Steve Jobs.

But  who among us is willing to pull  a modern-day Thoreau and wall ourselves off from innovation?

It’s  part of the human condition, I suppose.

 

By: Scott Galupo, U. S. News and World Report, October 6, 2011

October 7, 2011 Posted by | Capitalism, Corporations, Economy | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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