Op-Ed | Courting the U.S. Environment

This essay originally appeared in The Globalist and was adapted from a speech Bill Humphrey delivered to a Citizens Climate Lobby chapter meeting in Brookline MA.

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Here is an interesting twist in the annals of U.S. democracy: The country’s federal and state courts are likely to set as much, if not more, of U.S. climate policies as the president, Congress, governors or state legislators.

Broadly speaking, that is because the courts, not the other branches, are the ones who make the decisions interpreting and applying state laws and regulations.

But it is also a direct reflection that the environment remains more of a politically contentious and divisive issue in the Unites States than in any other advanced economy.

All of this became glaringly clear once again in the recent, unprecedented U.S. Supreme Court order, issued shortly before Justice Scalia’s death.

The temporary decision in West Virginia v. EPA blocked implementation of President Obama’s regulations to restrict the emissions of coal-fired power plants.

The courts, now or never

The role of courts on climate policy extends well beyond coal, as the growing number of environmental and climate lawsuits winding their way through U.S. and state courts in recent years makes plain.

This includes a recent suit filed in Massachusetts alleging that the state has not met its legally mandated emissions targets.

Given this lay of the land, it is more important than ever in the United States to pay attention to judicial nominations – whether to the U.S. Supreme Court or to state supreme courts in places that do not elect judges – and assess the candidates from the perspective of their views (and hence potential impact) on global climate change. Read more

Trump and Teddy Roosevelt: Bull Moose in the Made-in-China Shop

This essay originally appeared in The Globalist.

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Could the past be prologue? Are Americans going to experience a repeat of the peculiar electioneering experience of 1912?

Signs increasingly point toward no U.S. Republican presidential candidate arriving at his party’s 2016 convention with a majority of pledged delegates. This would be the first time since the 1976 Republican Convention that the nominee is chosen at the convention itself.

The parallels could reach back farther into U.S. history, however.

Just over a century ago, former President Teddy Roosevelt launched a divisive campaign for the Republican nomination against his erstwhile friend (and War Secretary in his own administration), President Howard Taft.

Before even a first ballot had been taken at the 1912 Republican convention, Roosevelt had stormed out with his delegates, promising to form a new party. Read more

Op-Ed | Trump’s Foreign Soulmates

Alexei Bayer and Bill Humphrey for The Globalist: “Look at commodities-export strongmen like Chavez and Putin if you want to understand Trump.”

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Foreigners see Donald Trump as one of those outlandish characters the New World periodically produces and then thrusts upon the international stage.

It is, however, far more than a bewildering one-man show. The rise of Trump underscores that we are witnessing a split of the United States of America into two distinct nations.

It is, perhaps, a return to form for a country that has often split politically (and once militarily) between its economically developed regions and its farm- or mineral-driven regions.

One of those two nations remains closer to the image that America has projected toward the outside world for nearly two centuries – an industrialized, highly innovative nation and a modern society that is open, liberal, tolerant and democratic.

The other America is once again displaying the characteristics of a commodity-exporting nation, as it did for much of U.S. history.

Poor role models worldwide

It is therefore only logical that — in order to understand Trump and above all the folks who cast their votes for him – it is fitting to look at other modern commodity-export-dependent nations, such as oil-rich Russia, Venezuela and so on.

Commodity exporting nations are a mess everywhere – from Algeria and Azerbaijan to Zambia and Zimbabwe.

They live off the distribution of free-flowing revenues which require a strong state. Friends and family of those who control the distribution obviously get a lot more. These nations tend to be ruled by charismatic strongmen who safeguard the interests of their cronies while feeding nationalist rhetoric to the masses.

Naturally, the masses hate immigrants and outsiders, because they represent additional mouths to be fed by crumbs from the strongman’s table. They are full of disdain for neighbors who aren’t fortunate enough to have natural resources in their soil.

Commodity exporters don’t need representative democracy, appointing their leaders by popular acclaim and very often for life. Read more

Higher taxes (for some) have to be on the table

Bill Humphrey in The Boston Globe: Should higher taxes be off the table in state budget talks? No.
In early 2015 and again last month, Democratic Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo promised that the House of Representatives would not pass budgets that involved new revenues of any kind. This goes beyond Governor Charles D. Baker’s Republican standard of no-new-taxes.

Anti-tax conservatives in both parties have been dominant for a full generation now. The unchallenged politics of tax cuts — and spending cuts to offset them — has become self-sustaining. There has been comparatively little defense of what spending actually means: programs and policies that deliver vital public services.

Speaker DeLeo, explaining his position, cited pre-existing pressures on family budgets. It’s true, many Massachusetts families have been struggling to get by. Unfortunately, further cuts likely will worsen that pressure.

Nobody disputes the importance of fiscal efficiency, but after decades of cuts there is virtually no fat left to trim in the state budget. Even the rainy day fund has been exhausted to plug other budget gaps. Without new revenues, even deeper cuts will necessarily be made in vital arenas that intersect directly with family budgets.

Transportation infrastructure, public education, economic development, social safety nets, our courts, and more are funded in large part or wholly by government spending. “Consolidating” services often means reduced access for citizens, particularly the most vulnerable. Cutting back public investment in these areas hurts families, costs good-paying public employee jobs, and shrinks the economy.

How we raise revenues most effectively and fairly is a good question – and a political one.

Our current state tax system is regressive. It shouldn’t be. The proposed Fair Share constitutional amendment would fund transportation and education via an additional millionaire’s tax on those whose family budgets won’t be broken by an extra contribution to our society’s shared coffers. Increased tax compliance by large corporations likewise would ease the burden on small businesses without access to offshore tax shelters.

What is not debatable – given our fiscal situation and our public investment needs – is that we need more revenues from somewhere. Taking revenue increases off the table is fiscally irresponsible and ultimately harmful to the very people the speaker says he wants to help.

The politics of compromise

I’m getting tired of people suggesting state and federal legislators should pass bills with morally reprehensible amendments and carveouts/omissions just to make it “easier.” These advocates have a critically flawed, short-termist view of governance that is ultimately more harmful than helpful.

Here’s a simple rule: Do it right or don’t do it at all.

What this means in practice: Don’t amend out special exceptions that undermine the moral integrity of the overall law. Examples: Don’t leave out trans people from your employment and accommodations non-discrimination bills. Don’t leave exceptions to your death penalty bans. Don’t create loopholes against reproductive freedom (e.g. Hyde). Stop passing bills with giant gaping holes in them just to help some people, when in doing so you’ll make it harder to go back for those you left behind.

This is not a case against compromise. This is a case for understanding how compromise should function at a systemic level. This is a case for making compromise work for you in the long-term, instead of the short-term at the expense of the longer view.

Incremental compromises, when needed, should move everyone forward, not just some. It is a massive political misunderstanding to think that it’s better to establish protections and programs for some people, instead of for all people. Making laws for everyone, without carve-outs, is both consistent with the principles of equality before the law as well as politically more sound, within both the voting public and among legislators themselves.

If it’s politically hard to pass reforms and protections for some people, it’s obviously going to be even harder to do it later for a smaller subset you left out. It is easier (and morally better) to pass laws that protect & help everyone, even if you have to wait, than to sell out some of our society so that others of us are helped.

This is the principle of true solidarity: We all sacrifice a little bit longer so that we’re stronger together and no one has to sacrifice/suffer alone for our advances.

Watching Egypt’s revolution die

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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Germany’s Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom – an NGO dedicated to promoting liberalization of governments and markets – recently announced it was closing its longstanding Egypt office, citing unsustainable pressure from the illiberal environment of the current military-backed government. Ronald Meinardus, now directing the South Asia office in New Delhi but formerly directing FNFF’s Egypt office, reflects in The Globalist on his experience watching the revolution die:

Never, on the other hand, will I forget the images of the massacre at Rabaa Al Adawiya where, in a blood bath, Egypt’s military ended all democratic experiments in the Arab world’s biggest nation.
[…]
One of my biggest frustrations was that long time Arab friends and partners would publicly argue that their part of the world was neither ready nor suitable for liberal ideas and practices. Many of these people would support authoritarian rule, arguing it was by far better than giving space to the Islamists, whom they saw as the biggest threat.

The announcement of the closure of the regional office of the liberal Foundation in Cairo coincides with the fifth anniversary of what used to be termed Egypt’s Revolution of January 25.
[…]
Future chroniclers without ideological blinders will note that Egyptians enjoyed most freedoms under the brief rule of the Muslim Brothers who, not by chance, won every single democratic election they were allowed to participate in.

 

French collateral damage

I believe (based on extensive previous evidence) that Burkina Faso would not be getting attacked by Al Qaeda were it not for France’s selfish decision in 2014 to deploy counterterrorism troops to the country indefinitely (and to put them up regularly at the hotel that was attacked on Friday). Burkina Faso is extremely poor and fragile, but it’s working hard to secure its fledgling democracy. Burkina Faso doesn’t bother anyone or get involved in these matters, but France used its influence to meddle and endanger everyone there. This is spreading terror, not containing it.

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