Saturday, June 29, 2019

Iconography and Presidents

(Written not long after the election of Donald Trump.)

Let me suggest that not only the Trumpites who are dug in, but also the Berniebros and, yes, the Clintonsistas, too. People are making what ought to be simple fact-based questions (did Russian propaganda influence the election? what was the influence of the Clinton campaign over the DNC?) into identity-based beliefs, which cannot be touched.

Once identity becomes an issue in politics, we start to see behaviors analogous to family dynamics (perhaps these are actually the same.) Roles take precedence over actual behavior: “Dad” may be an abusive alcoholic, but he’s still Dad and deserves some sort of respect. So we have the precedence of image over the person’s actual behavior: Trump is making American great again, Hillary Clinton the great feminist hope, Bernard Sanders is some sort of saint and so on. Everyone is supposed to be the messiah.

What I find striking is the divergence between the image and the person. It is most evident with Trump, of course, many of whose followers still believe even as he works hard to elevate his ego and ruin their lives, but there is some of it in all the leaders. Hillary Clinton is indeed a feminist, but she is also a devout Methodist and conflicted on abortion and charity. (And the less said about her beliefs on foreign policy, the better.) Sanders plainly believes in his socialism, but he is more of a tough practical political survivor than a saint.

As analysts and commentators, we may pay attention to the person behind the curtain, as it were – we supposedly study these matters and pay attention to the actuality as well as iconography – but we have difficulty bringing these insights to a wider public.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Getting Started: the Green New Deal

The Green New Deal proposes to solve environmental problems by hiring a lot of people to do the work, but what is the work? We don’t know what those jobs are, yet. We don’t even know what is to be done. Build wind, solar, tidal, nuclear? (I suspect a lot of GND supporters don’t want to think about nuclear, but nuclear power does not produce greenhouse gases.)
If only there are experts to consult.
And there are. There are 17 US national laboratories. One, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), is focused on renewables. Several of the others do renewables work as well.
I recently wrote an old colleague at one of the US national labs (we corvids get around), asked him how things were going, and what, if anything, was being done by the labs on the Green New Deal. They said that their work was going well though they now had to seek high-level approval for publication and that he had not read anything about the Green New Deal beyond the headlines.
If anything like a green new deal is to be implemented, the US national labs will be the primary research and development institutions. So, what are the national labs doing?
Each of the 17 US national laboratories has their own particular history and research focus. One, The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is focused on renewables. Another, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, does all kinds of civilian research, including renewables work, a third, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), was founded in 1910 to support fossil fuel production and use and continues in that role. The other 14 are largely focused on high energy physics, nuclear weapons, and nuclear energy, though many do work in other fields. Notably, Argonne National Labs in Illinois houses the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), which works on battery technology, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) near Hanford in Washington State, has its Energy Policy and Economics Group.
And this is all very good, and all very fine, and we still don’t have a plan.
We don’t know how to make the Green New Deal work, yet, but we do know how to build a nuclear power system that will do the job – that’s where we have spent most of our efforts over the last 70 years.
Whatever we do, we need to get started.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Kristallnacht, US version

“DHS is planning to target families as part of stepped up effort to deport undocumented immigrants, a senior admin official told me, in response to Trump’s tweet last night. But the official said there are ‘not a lot of happy faces’ at DHS, as Trump revealed plans in the works.” – Jim Acosta,

@Adam L Silverman over at Balloon Juice comments: “We don’t have enough Customs & Border Patrol officers, we don’t have enough Immigration & Customs Enforcement officers, we don’t have enough US Customs and Immigration Services personnel.”

If some local police and paramilitaries join in, would that be enough? It sounds like DHS is working on an updated version of Kristallnacht. The one good thing I can see about this is that support for our immigrants is broader and deeper than that for Jews in Nazi Germany.

In related  news, AOC called the concentration camps concentration camps on Twitter. Liz Cheney (!) wrote to disagree, objecting, “6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.” The conservative never-Trumpers, Tom Nichols, Max Boot and the like, are Very Concerned.

“If, in the course of defending your political positions, you find yourself clarifying that you only support concentration camps, not death camps, I feel like maybe you ought take that as an occasion to rethink some things.” – David Roberts of Vox,

While I was writing this in BJ comments, I  got a spam call from the American Law Enforcement United Alliance (ALEUA), a dark money pro-police PAC. They are a project of something called “Security in America,” also a dark money pro-police anti-immigrant PAC.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Erasure of the History of Collective Activism and Non-Violence in the USA

Americans have been heavily propagandized against collective action exactly because it is effective and is the particular tool of movements to leash the power of wealth. The entire history of US socialism has been erased for many people. Equally, distorted versions of the histories of the Indian independence movement and the US civil rights movement has been promulgated, ones that erase the sternness of their leadership and the sacrifices of their followers.