On the Immigration Order

I took this picture in Damascus, Syria, in the summer of 2001:

Bicycle with American Flag, Damascus, Syria, 2001.
Bicycle with American Flag, Damascus, Syria, 2001.

On the day after the President of the United States issued an executive order to ban Syrian immigrants indefinitely, this image has been hovering in my mind.

In 2001, while traveling in their country, Syrians treated me with a mixture of surprise (“You are American, you could travel anywhere, why do you choose here?”) and what I can only describe as Hollywood glamour. It was respect for the wealth, style, and openness that America represented internationally. There is this half-joke among American backpackers that they should put a Canadian flag on their pack so that no one gives them a hard time about U.S. Foreign policy. But in 2001, at the end of the Clinton years, the overall feeling I got traveling through the Middle East was a sort of grudging respect, and more than that, envy. The American dream was alive and well, worldwide.

In the sixteen years since then, we invaded a neighboring country and destabilized the region, bombed their country, and now have shut them out of our country entirely.

I wonder where this bicycle owner is today. He could be one of the many Syrians holding a visa that, even after arriving in the US, is being sent back.[1] Maybe he got lucky and is one of the 1.4 million refugees that were welcomed by Germany in the last two years (if the US accepted refugees at the same rate, that’d be over five million refugees).[2] Maybe he got unlucky and is one of the 400,000 civilians killed in the Syrian civil war.[3] Most likely he is still in Damascus, trying to make do with less and just stay alive.

Wherever he is, it seems very likely he is no longer flying an American flag on his bicycle.

Personally, I’m always aware that I arrived here from immigrants. I don’t have writings to say exactly what motivated Thomas Morris and Anne McGovern to separately leave Ireland around 1910. It was after the big potato famines; but Ireland was still a mess at the time, governed and oppressed by Britain and economically stagnant, so it’s fairly easy to infer some reasons. I don’t know how actively America welcomed them, but it certainly let them in. They they met each other in New Jersey, got married, prospered. My father was born in 1928. Here I am.

Immigration is complex. Certainly not every person who wants to live in the United States can live here. Even as I admire the fact that Germany has admitted over 1% of its population in refugees in the last two years (!), I worry that assimilation will be difficult or result in political blowback; it’s like watching someone you admire trying to scale a mountain that has never been climbed before. However it goes, I admire them for trying.

On the other extreme is this executive order. First, it is very abrupt, and in that abruptness is cruelty. There are people who have been given the greatest hope — a visa to the United States — and told to turn around and go back to somewhere else.

Second, it is immoral for a country in the position of power that the United States has — largest GDP, largest military, whatever ranking you might want to choose — to choose to turn its back on what is probably the largest humanitarian crisis going on in the world. Perhaps admitting three million refugees is too much; certainly the 12,587 Syrians that were admitted in 2016 seems low; setting a target at or near zero is reprehensible.

Third, the religious element is troublesome: written to prioritize Christians, the executive order, continuing to frame the world order in terms of a “Clash of Civilization” between Islam and Christianity. This is a prophecy that will only be fulfilled if we believe it. Christianity is supposed to be the religion and the morality of taking care of the weak and oppressed:

“When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33–34 and 24:22.

Sure, there are those paint the United States in broad strokes as the great evil, but it is a tiny minority of Islam, the crazies. We have crazies too. The answer to is not to paint in broad strokes as well and deem Islam a great evil, or to use national boundaries or religions as an indicator of a person’s worth. The answer is tolerance, acceptance, and taking care of humans that need taking care of. It is of recognizing gray area and subtlety and taking each person evaluating them as an individual. That is how you make the United States the kind of country where everyone worldwide wants its flag on their bike.

[1] NBC Philadephia, Two Syrian Families Detained at Philadelphia International Airport, Then Put on Return Flight Home, Family Member Says

[2] The Guardian, Germany expects up to 300,000 refugees in 2016, official says

[3] Wikipedia, Casualities of the Syrian Civil War

If you want to put more eyeballs on this essay, consider giving it a green heart. More my pictures of Syria 2001 here.

On Obama

In the summer of 2005, I was a summer associate at the law firm Winston & Strawn in Washington, D.C. There were lots of events for summer associates: dinners, concerts, speakers, that kind of thing. One of them was that a newly-elected senator from Illinois was visiting the office for a happy-hour reception. I really wanted to impress some partner with a memo I was writing, so I showed up late. It was too late to talk to him, but not so late that I missed out on shaking his hand and the photo op.

I’m going to miss this guy. I could have done with fewer drone strikes, I wish Guantanamo was closed, I wish he was less friendly with Wall Street and stayed closer to his activist roots — but at all times in the last eight years I could think that someone was in the White House who was brilliant, understandable, thoughtful, and trying to do more or less the right thing given the constraints and the status of the world. I might have differed with him on tactics, but I felt like we were using the same operative set of facts and values. As my mom always puts it: “I always felt so safe with him in charge.” There may be a president someday whose politics I agree with even more, but I seriously doubt there will be a president in my lifetime who was so stylish, relatable, soulful (I shed a few tears watching that Charleston Amazing Grace, who expects that from a president?) and personally amazing as Barack Hussein Obama.


Use Signal

Signal is currently the best secure messenger. It’s like WhatsApp, but its code is open source and its servers managed by a grant-funded nonprofit, which keeps no metadata. By contrast, WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, which encrypts the messages but keeps activity records/metadata. Probably it doesn’t make a difference in your life or mine which you use to ask your spouse to get milk from the store, but I want to see real privacy be the social norm so that when it matters (I’m looking at you John Podesta), it’s there. On Android it will also act as the default SMS client for insecure communication with folks that don’t have Signal installed, so you can just use it for all messaging. On iOS you can only communicate with people that have Signal installed.

iOS  — Android

Prompted by Romain Aubert’s Medium post.

Let’s Review The Leaders Who Have The Bomb

The list as of January will be: Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, François Hollande, Theresa May, Narendra Modi, Mamnoon Hussain, Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump, and maybe Kim Jong-Un.[1]Federation Of American Scientists: Status Of World Nuclear Forces

I don’t really completely trust any of those people not to use it, and several of them I really don’t trust, including Trump. The lesson I take from this is that no nation should have a nuclear weapon.

In the last year or so, whenever the end of the Obama presidency came up, my Mom would say “I just feel so safe with him as the President.” She said that a couple of times, in different conversations at different times. Usually it was in contrast to Hillary or Bernie. I don’t think she meant it as a criticism of the Democratic candidates, as much as she meant it as praise for Obama. Like everyone else, she didn’t believe Trump could actually win, and like most of us she definitely feels a lot less safe now.

I think we’ve all gotten a little complacent about nuclear weapons safety, maybe because Obama was so good and projecting  an overall sense of safety, and by repeatedly assuring us that his goal was a nuclear-weapon-free world.[2]Personally the drone strike wars in particular make me feel a lot less safe, but that’s kind of an aside here While he made a good show of it, the actual progress was moderate, at best.[3]Reduction of Nuclear Arsenal Has Slowed Under Obama, Report Finds

There is no safety while there are nation-states that have the bomb. Humans are subject to failure in how we organize ourselves. Any state, including our own, can be taken over by a megalomaniac. Megalomaniacs are bad, but megalomaniacs with nuclear weapons should be intolerable.

References   [ + ]

1. Federation Of American Scientists: Status Of World Nuclear Forces
2. Personally the drone strike wars in particular make me feel a lot less safe, but that’s kind of an aside here
3. Reduction of Nuclear Arsenal Has Slowed Under Obama, Report Finds

Note To Coasts: Please Do Not Un-Friend The Midwest.

As a current coastal elite that was raised in Northwest Indiana I’m writing this note to both the Midwest and to the coasts — but mostly people the coasts — to try to get you guys on the same team. Specifically, the team of the Democratic Party. I think historically coastal Democrats have assumed the Midwest would follow along with their lead at all costs, because the Democrats are the party of the working people and the Midwest is historically full of working people. In the wake of the Trump election, I’m afraid that a lot of elites are reflexively going to go along a downward spiral of saying “well screw you white bigots!” to the Midwest, to which the Midwest will continue to respond “screw you! preppy special rich people!”

Let’s take a look at what happened. Here is the electoral map from 2008 and 2016, the states that changed between this election and last are in Midwest (Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio) plus Pennsylvania, Florida, and South Carolina.

Electoral College 2008 vs 2016.
Electoral College 2008 vs 2016.

I’ve also lived in Florida — I went to college there — it’s a weird and less straightforward state. South Carolina I know nothing about. Pennsylvania I also don’t know much about, but I think of it as sort of like a cultural continuation of Indiana and Ohio — rural/industrial — except for Philly which should just be part of New Jersey.

I grew up in Michigan City, Indiana. Indiana, the Mike Pence state. Indiana that voted for Obama in 2008, but not in 2012, and certainly not for Hillary in 2016. Indiana that has flip-flopped its governorship between Democratic and Republican parties for the entire 20th Century.[1]Wikipedia, list of Governors of Indiana There have been few other articles by Midwesterners who are now themselves liberal urban dwellers that I’ve read recently,[2]David Wong, Cracked: How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind[3]Jeff Guo interviewing Kathy Cramer for WaPo: A new theory for why Trump voters are so angry — that actually makes sense but I want to add my voice because I think this is important, and I may have a slightly more political bent than the other ones I’ve read.

I lived in Michigan City from age four to age eighteen. I then left for college in Florida, and moved to California where I became a computer programmer and then went to law school at Berkeley.

Until the age of sixteen, I did not meet any Black people, or LGBT people (some could have been closeted, of course), Muslims, Jews, or basically anyone else who was non-white or non-Christian. There were a couple of girls from Korea in high school, which was exotic and interesting, and one guy who was half-Asian, and one half-Lebanese family. That’s all I can think of for twelve years of school, K-10. I went to Catholic schools, so for me growing up a “minority” was a Polish kid. Michigan City has a fair number of Black residents, mostly segregated, mostly in a housing project.

The most racist statement I can recall was a friend telling me that whenever I drove past the projects I should hope my car didn’t break down. Saying “nigger” was on par with saying “fuck”; one did not do that. It didn’t carry the rage-inducing historical context that it would for a Black person to hear it, but no kid I knew would’ve gone around saying it in front of any responsible adult.

I don’t want to say that the Midwest isn’t racist. I very much believe in implicit racism — across the entire country we all got, and still get, messages that white is superior to black in movies, television, advertising, and all the rest of mass media. But the racism of Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan is fairly weak by American standards. Looking at lynchings as a historical indicator, there have been lynchings in Indiana, but more white people have been lynched there than Blacks — 33 to 14 respectively. There is only a record of a single Black person being lynched in Michigan, and none in Wisconsin. That stands in contrast to, say, Tennessee at 352 lynchings of Black folks, or 539 in Mississippi. The numbers for all states are for the years 1882-1968.[4]Charles Chestnutt Digital Archive, “Lynchings by state and race, 1882-1968” Indiana might have elected Mike Pence as its governor, but Wisconsin holds the title for first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin.

On the Daily Show a few days ago, Hasan Minhaj said in criticism of Trump voters: “You may not personally be a racist, sexist xenophobe, but that comes with the package […] so if you take that deal, what you’re telling me is, ‘Hey man, I don’t hate you. I just don’t care about you.’ ” [5]Marissa Martinelli at Slate: The Daily Show Did a Very Good Segment on Why Trump’s Bigotry Wasn’t a Dealbreaker

Although he meant it as a criticism (as in, “Hey assholes, why don’t you care about my civil rights, my ability to go about my business and not be in fear?”), I think it’s actually also pretty descriptively accurate for most white Midwesterners. For most people in those states, the idea of Black people, Mexicans, Muslims, Jews, and LGBT people are abstract concepts. As Patrick Thornton put it about is fellow Ohioans, “Denying marriage rights to gay people [for someone from rural Ohio] isn’t that much different than denying boarding rights to Klingons.”[6]Patrick Thornton at Roll Call, I’m a Coastal Elite From the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America It’s not that they want to harm you, it’s just that you — and the idea of oppression based on skin color or other protected subcategory — are outside their experience.

I would take Hasan’s words differently: if they don’t hate you, that means they are potential allies. I read recently (unfortunately I can’t recall where) about an American adviser that was sent to somewhere like Turkey or Greece in the ’50s or ’60s to help mobilize a pro-US political party in upcoming elections. Reviewing the various political constituencies with them in a strategy meeting, he was like “How about the gypsies? They are probably as afraid of right-wing oppression as you are.” And the Turks (or Greeks) were like “They gypsies? They are dirty and disorganized. We wouldn’t stoop to asking for their help.” And the American adviser was like “Ok, well you lost that chunk of the vote then right off the bat.” I feel like the Midwest and coastal elites are both kind of doing that to each other: failing to engage because the other seems so different.

Educating The Midwest? Like Thornton, I started to encounter different people as I pursued higher education. I was sixteen and went to the Indiana Academy, a public magnet boarding school that was in Muncie, about three hours from home. Although still mostly white, there were more minorities; some of my best sources for reading about the modern Black experience is from a couple of Black friends from the Academy. I went to college in Florida (still mostly white, but some openly gay people), and then moved to the San Francisco Bay area (lots of openly gay people, and everything else). I traveled around Asia for a year; I went to Berkeley Law school, where I was surrounded by people who were interested in social justice, representing all manner of different underprivileged groups.

It is hard to provide a similar experience to everyone in the Midwest, at least on a short timeframe, like before 2020. Many of the people you are trying to reach are dogs that are too old to teach new tricks. You are not going to be able to reach them on the basis of your anger, or shaming them into voting for you candidate. While I think that across-the-board radical increase in funding for public K-12 education is one of the main lessons Democrats should draw from this election, the time frame on that is too slow to be the only thing.

Allying With The Midwest.  The Midwest was union country, once. In 1964, Michigan was the most unionized state, followed by Washington state and Indiana.[7]NPR: 50 Years Of Shrinking Union Membership, In One Map Although the demographics have changed somewhat since then, the unions have more or less been broken, I think there is still enough of a memory and a culture of that kind of class-warfare mindset that could provide a hook to reaching them.

There is no doubt that the Midwest is angry. It is a disappointed flavor of angry. Disappointment, as an emotion, is a result of expecting something, and not getting it. The Midwest grew up expecting to make, build, assemble, and farm things. There’s not much of that left to do in those fields. The largest employer in Michigan City is now a casino, followed by a hospital and then a prison. I suspect big-box retail stores are also high up on the list. There’s jobs, but not ones that pay well or that match the expectations set by the past.

The ideas of fighting big banks and big corporations resonate strongly. Midwesterners feel like a giant truck of some kind of financial nature hit them and they’re not sure what it was. All the manufacturing jobs going away, the subprime mortgage crisis, high costs of healthcare — all kinds of anonymous elite bad stuff that happened to them. They are pretty much open to any kind of solution that strikes back against the abstract elitism, or that proposes a constructive plan for employment and dignity for them.

The strategy of the Democratic party has to be to communicate a “strike back against elites” strategy that has an underlying constructive plan. Right now it seems like Democrats are the party of the top 30% of the population — right all the way to the top. For me, the emblematically fatal moment for Hillary Clinton in this campaign was not the emails, or Benghazi, but the unapologetic alliance with Goldman Sachs. Why did she take so much money to talk to them? “That’s what they offered.”[8]Hillary Clinton is going to really regret saying these 4 words about Goldman Sachs Lots of less-educated less-political Midwesterners were turned off by that financial elitism in a way that Trump was able to channel. You can’t say you’re sticking it to the big banks when you’re taking whatever they offer.

The top one percent is in such a different category from anyone below them that it should be an easy alliance. To be in the top one percent (by wealth, not income) you have to have eight million dollars. To be in the top ten percent, you have to have almost a million dollars.[9]Net Worth in the United States: Zooming in on the Top Centiles Most people who are coastal “elites” are not elite enough to fit into even the latter category — many are elite by education but not by finances.

The challenge for Democrats, then, is focus communicating about sticking it to big banks, taxing the top 1%, and trade agreements: the Sanders-Warren-Reich strategy, in other words. And put it in the hands of those that can deliver that message with honest passion. I’m not trying to say that civil rights, gender equality, or any other issue shouldn’t be more important — just that you can’t connect with the Midwest en masse on those issues.

Chuck Schumer isn’t going to cut it as that messenger. We do not need the voice of the Democratic Party to be another New York Senator. Bernie is the obvious choice, with his national profile and popularity. However, I think that everyone is making a big error in understating the power that Sherrod Brown from Ohio, or Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin could have, if we were all paying attention to them — including perhaps Brown and Baldwin themselves, who may not be doing enough to stand up and lead.  Both are as progressive as it gets, beating even Sanders on the Progressive Punch index, and yet both were elected by Midwestern states.[10]Progressive Punch Senate Index If they were shoved forward by their party as the voice of leadership, or they chose to ally with Sanders to help provide a coherent class-based message of the Democratic Party, I think its odds of success in the future would be much better.


References   [ + ]

Calexit is not funny. It is a horrible idea.

On the eve of the election I was on Facebook and, as things were starting to look grim, one of my friends posted “Jerry Brown will save us.” I thought that was pretty funny and replied about how one of our mutual friends has a “US Out Of California” shirt and maybe I should get one. That was before I knew that Calexit was a serious idea that people were pouring money into.

I would like to just dismiss Calexit as a crazy idea that will never come to pass, but everyone with an education — including me — thought that was the case with Brexit and with Trump and now look where we are. The idea of California trying to secede is getting press in BusinessWeek,[1]Businessweek article on Calexit NYT,[2]NYT on Calexit and elsewhere. I now feel compelled to attack stupid-crazy ideas while it is still small-ish and young and before they grow into a menacing adult stupid-crazy idea, like Trump and Brexit now are.

If you want to get caught up on what Calexit means, check out the Yes California proposal document.[3]Yes California “blue book”, a pdf located here Here’s my summary: it proposes that California try to secede, negotiate an exit with the US, we’ll all keep our US citizenship, keep getting social security and stop paying US taxes, so we can stop paying for the US military and more taxes than California’s fair share, and just be a nice peaceful nation like Iceland or Canada. We’ll use the US dollar and have our own military, which will not so large to allow more spending on infrastructure and education and stuff.

First, a lot of the “Yes California” promises are Trump-like “we’re gonna take everything and screw those other guys over” type statements. They are rosy-eyed, simplistic, painting an unrealistic pie-in-the-sky scenario. Californians will keep US Citizenship, the USA will keep paying Californians social security, no one will ever invade California because it’s the 21 Century and no one does that anymore. Just picking one, the wording on Social Security is laughable: “By the way, collecting your Social Security retirement benefits as a U.S. citizen living in another country also means you will still be automatically covered by premium-free Medicare Part A if you visit the United States and need additional coverage while there,” as if all US laws and regulations would be unaffected by something so nation-shakingly fundamental. If California quits the union, the rest of the United States is going to be in no position to do us any kind of favors. This is evident from the stance of the Brexit negotiations. It will likely be a brutal, exhausting fight. The United States is not easily going to give up 14% of its economy. It is not going to keep paying social security to Californians who are no longer paying US taxes. No one can make assurances about what the US will concede in advance. I think the most likely scenario is a Brexit-style pyrrhic victory where California gets some concessions from the other 49, but only after everyone spends billions of dollars on dealing with both possibilities.

Second, suddenly removing a significant chunk of the United States from the United States would leave a power vacuum that is a threat to international security. Look, I’m a dove-ish kind of guy. I am strongly influenced by the ideas of Noam Chomsky. I think we could slash national defense spending by, I don’t know, a third or a half and spend that on public schools.

Bumper Sticker Bake Sale
They’d have to sell a lot of chocolate chip cookies to buy an F-35.

America should meddle less in other countries’ affairs for its own profit. But to suddenly rip apart the country would remove the United States from leadership in foreign affairs. Maybe I’m just being selfish for wanting to live in the global superpower, but I think for all the international sins of the United States, the economic and military certainty that it has provided is, on balance, beneficial. American dominance is fading for sure, and fairly quickly. But to end the union like this would be a precipitous change. It’s harder to make a credible Pax Americana argument after we’ve precipitated so many unnecessary wars and interventions, but the effect is real. We won’t find out what regional conflicts the US was suppressing until the US is unable to suppress them anymore, but I think a Calexit would be so distracting and weakening to the global order as to cause conflicts elsewhere: Middle East and India-Pakistan come to mind off the top of my head. That would be radically awful for Californians . . . and everyone else.

Third, and kind of a follow-on to the last, is that I definitely don’t buy promises that California basically needs no significant military. Calexit asserts “California doesn’t pose a threat to any other country so there would be no risk to California of being attacked by another country” and “[T]his is the 21st Century. Unless you’re the Americans, countries typically don’t amass armies, cross oceans, and invade other countries anymore.” We’ve had a nice run of peace, but, to quote Han Solo “Great, kid! Don’t get cocky.” The very fact that someone like Trump can be elected of a wealthy first world democracy makes me feel extra-uncertain of stating any blanket rules, especially about stability and what can and can’t happen. I think it is ironically appropriate that Shervin Pishevar wants to call the new state “New California”, which a region in the Fallout series of post-apocalyptic video games.[4]Fallout Wiki: New California Between this point and the last, California secession seems like a harbinger of that world.

When I hear "Calexit" or "New California", this is what I think of.
When I hear “Calexit” or “New California”, this is what I think of.

Fourth, the world has enough divisions in it already, we do not need to manufacture another one. The Trump wall, Brexit, Calexit — it’s all attempts at solving your problems by separating yourself from the problem people. While California trends more liberal than the rest of the nation, it does not have a monopoly on progressivism and liberalism. One of the arguments Yes California makes is “We all have a right to self-determination, so let’s let California be liberal and the rest of the country have its conservative tendencies” (not an exact quote, I’m summing up). There are liberals and moderates in the rest of the country, and as a whole the nation is trending liberal over time.[5]Gallup, Conservatives Hang On to Ideology Lead by a Thread Although it looks stark now, seceding is cutting of our nose to spite our face, throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and otherwise self-inflicting deep wounds to make a point. Even if it costs me extra tax dollars and less-than-idea compromises, I want California to be the leader of the United States, not the bratty kid who quit because he thought he was better than everyone else.

Five, it feels emotionally and culturally wrong. This argument may not hit native Californians or immigrants from other countries, but: my people and my identity are not Californian, they are Americans. I’ve lived in California for seventeen years now — more than I have in any other state — but my friends and family are scattered across the nation: Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, D.C. come to mind. These are my people. I will not be a citizen of another nation than they are. Some of them probably even voted for Trump. I plan to drag them, perhaps kicking and screaming, into a progressively-governed 21st century. If the national Democratic Party got its act together and was a Bernie Sanders kind of party that has a less corporate outlook and supports unions, workers, and ordinary folks, I think there is easily a majority coalition of Americans to be made that has “California values.” I want California to be the Germany of the United States — the part that strives valiantly to pull everyone together even when they’re being self-centered assholes — not the UK.

Sixth, a lot of the momentum of the Calexit is driven by Silicon Valley money. My main occupation is currently as an attorney, but I am also a programmer.[6]github/xenotropic I have a degree in computer science and wrote software for genome sequencing for four years. I love you Silicon Valley, you too are my people, but now is not the time to have another top-down elitist initiative that is out of touch with what ordinary people need. Silicon Valley seems to have pretty much just woken up politically. I don’t blame you, it’s been a pretty easy ride until just now and I’m suddenly feeling about ten times more awake myself. Take a minute, or a few months, to breathe and perhaps read some more Noam Chomsky[7]Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, on Amazon (remember him from computer theory class? Same dude) before you go spending money to market, advertise, and manufacture consent for acute, radical solutions. Calexit seems like Silicon Valley going for a nuclear option without having tried ordinary diplomacy first.

Here’s Some Constructive Things Silicon Valley Could Do. If you want to do something new and different, how about founding a Science Party?[8]Wikipedia: Science Party Australia If you want to do something that advances Silicon Valley’s interests in a pragmatic way, how about laying ground for someone to run against Feinstein in 2018? She’s been pretty good, but seems clueless on technology.[9]TechCrunch, Burr-Feinstein encryption bill is officially here in all its scary glory Or perhaps bring yourself to work with people in other states: if you want California to have more leverage, how about spending money to promote the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact in blue states that haven’t adopted it, so California presidential votes are equivalent.[10]Wikipedia, National Popular Vote Interstate Compact[11]My earlier post: Abolish the Electoral College Or work on helping progressives in other states work on the 2018 midterm elections.

Everyone wants change. Bernie supporters wanted change, Trump people want change; this was one of the most salient features of the exit polls.[12]WaPo, The 13 most amazing findings in the 2016 exit poll, see #8 I know it seems like everything is wrong. I want lots of change. But a Calexit is too much change all at once, and it is likely to be nasty, difficult, expensive, vituperative change. It is another Brexit, a vote for change without thinking through what that change means.

References   [ + ]

We Were In Denial That a Trump Presidency Could Happen. What Else Are We Denying?

“I’ve been criticized for advocating a politics of fear, which is correct. That’s not a criticism. That’s sanity.” Noam Chomsky, Oct. 11, 2016.[1]Noam Chomsky and The Bicycle Theory, NYT

I’m writing this is because I am afraid. There’s a lot of reasons to be afraid of a Trump presidency, but here’s my top two: (1) nuclear war; and (2) environmental disaster.[2]Yes those are also Chomsky’s top two. What can I say? I think he’s a smart guy. Both are immense, looming problems and have been for a while. But a Trump presidency increases the odds the former and will increase the rate of the latter. But more importantly, his candidacy highlights how simple and intuitive it is to deny that something horrible can happen.

Denial About The Possibility of A Trump Victory. I talk to my mom at least once a week. This Sunday, two days before Trump was elected, I talked about how I was very worried about the 30% prediction for a Trump win by FiveThirtyEight. She said she wasn’t so worried: “I just can’t imagine that people would vote for someone who is so inappropriate and has offended so many people.”

I don’t want to pick on my mom particularly, but her words seemed emblematic a widespread mood, especially in cities where there aren’t many reminders of the existence of conservatives. My Facebook feed on Monday was filled with people ramped up and getting ready for jubilation. I’m a worrier. I worried that:

(1) the fact that 30% odds are about the same as an NFL kicker missing a 35-yard field goal.[3]I can’t find the citation for this because fivethirtyeight has published like 1,000 posts since then, but this article on NFL kicker stats will have to do Which is to say, it’s not most likely, but often enough to be worried.

(2) the camera pan of 2012 at the Mitt Romney victory party, with stunned faces of lots of pale white guys in blue blazers that had been expecting victory and seemed unable to psychologically accept defeat. The self-reinforcing reassurances that everything would be ok felt too similar.

Denial comes pretty easily to humans. One of the most influential books I’ve read was Ernst Becker’s The Denial of Death, which won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1974. I read it in college, about seventeen years ago now. It wasn’t assigned; a professor just mentioned it in passing. While I was in the library to do something else I picked it up and started reading. I vividly remember not doing whatever that other project was, sitting down, and just turning page after page. It’s one of the primary reasons that, after being raised a Catholic, I no longer believe in God. But it also deeply impressed upon me that each person is psychologically wired to avoid thinking of their own death, or anything else that is deeply difficult and abhorrent.

A Trump presidency is a reminder that bad things happen, even when you wish they wouldn’t. We cannot be complacent. I don’t mind dying myself eventually, but I would be really put out if the species died off because we were unable to face facts.

What else are we denying?

Nuclear weapons have sort of drifted out of public consciousness throughout my lifetime. Growing up in the 1980s, I was terrified of nuclear weapons. I lived in northwest Indiana and I remember looking at blast-radius maps[4]I have no idea how I saw them, without the internet and trying to think about what my odds would be of survival if the Russians launched nukes. Wargames was perhaps the scariest movie I ever saw. And then it was all glasnost and dot-com boom and by the time I graduated from college in 1999 it was not something I thought about much anymore. But I should. We all should. The USA and the Russian Federation each have about 1,700 strategic nuclear weapons (the big ones that can take out a major city) and about 6,000 more that are reserves or stockpiles. The numbers used to be much higher, but it still enough to destroy the world multiple times over. We’ve made some motions towards having fewer such as the new START treaty, but the vision and the momentum should be towards zero.[5]The Nuclear Security Project and Global Zero are the two most significant initiatives. What sort of species keeps devices that can annihilate its habitat? And puts a hotelier in charge of them? Like with most things, it is hard to be clear on what Trump thinks because of his inconsistency, but he’s said that it might be fine for more countries to get nuclear weapons, and that he wants “unpredictable” in nuclear decision making.[6]NBC News: What Does Donald Trump Really Think About Using Nuclear Weapons?

The lesson I take is that if we survive the next four years (hey, we made it through the whole cold war including the Cuban Missile Crisis) pushing hard to come to treaties where all relevant powers scale down to zero weapons is the only sane option.

Global Warming is more in the news and forefront of our minds, but my feeling is that the average American isn’t really worried about it. It’s not very tangible; it doesn’t prevent a person from going on with ordinary daily life. I think even the average liberal Democrat is like “We should do something about that, but we will probably come to our senses soon. Someone will fix it. ”

It is like having termites in your house but not worrying about it because it still works, right? You can still sleep, cook, and stay out of the rain. The difference with Global Warming is that we can’t rebuild another house if we lose this one.

Here’s MIT, which, speaking as an entire institution, wrote: “Humanity’s current carbon-intensive path imposes risks on future generations, including the risk of catastrophic outcomes . . . . The need for action is clear, because the consequences of inaction could be catastrophic.” [7]MIT Plan for Action on Climate Change, see pdf link at topThat’s something written by committee,  from the school that started the fields of electrical engineering, aeronautical engineering, and nuclear physics.[8]Boston.com It’s not one scientist at MIT writing that, it’s all the scientists at MIT writing that. They know what they are talking about. Trump, of course, says he wants to “cancel all wasteful climate change spending”[9]Trump Finally Said Something Concrete About Climate Policy“, HuffPo, 11/6/2016, and just picked a climate change denier to head his EPA transition. [10]Trump Picks Top Climate Skeptic to Lead EPA Transition“, Scientific American, 11/9/2016

What Do We Do?

I wish I had a better call to action to put here. It’s hard to try to put an action plan together for enormously bad stuff that might happen to everyone when you are only one person. I’m struggling with it myself. My immediate plan, and suggestion, is to write it out your thoughts and concerns, using your own words. Share them on Facebook. Be shameless in trying to influence others. Force others to contemplate what might happen. Express your opinions and concerns. Don’t be afraid to argue. Donate money to candidates and organizations that get it. Read Chomsky, Monbiot, and McKibben (and more McKibben). On nuclear weapons, there’s Schlosser[11]I haven’t actually read this yet, but just got it today after coming across it while I was writing. That’s a start.

References   [ + ]

1. Noam Chomsky and The Bicycle Theory, NYT
2. Yes those are also Chomsky’s top two. What can I say? I think he’s a smart guy.
3. I can’t find the citation for this because fivethirtyeight has published like 1,000 posts since then, but this article on NFL kicker stats will have to do
4. I have no idea how I saw them, without the internet
5. The Nuclear Security Project and Global Zero are the two most significant initiatives.
6. NBC News: What Does Donald Trump Really Think About Using Nuclear Weapons?
7. MIT Plan for Action on Climate Change, see pdf link at top
8. Boston.com
9. Trump Finally Said Something Concrete About Climate Policy“, HuffPo, 11/6/2016
10. Trump Picks Top Climate Skeptic to Lead EPA Transition“, Scientific American, 11/9/2016
11. I haven’t actually read this yet, but just got it today after coming across it while I was writing

Abolish The Electoral College

I have a lot of things I want to write about in the wake of Trump’s election, but I’m going to start with the fact that we need to abolish the Electoral College.

The Electoral College is an elitist institution, created on the theory that individual citizens could not be trusted with voting for the president directly.  Hamilton: “A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations” as who should be presidents. So he wanted (and got) an indirect election, through the electoral college. Then some states gamed the system by forcing all their electors to vote in unison, and so other states felt compelled to follow suit.

And we still have that, two hundred years later. [1]Maine and Nebraska partially excepted, since they allow splitting their votes.

A constitutional amendment is difficult. The closest thing currently would be an interstate compact to have electors towards the winner of the popular vote of the nation, not the particular state.[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_College_(United_States)#/media/File:State_population_per_electoral_vote.png It’s been ratified by 160 electoral college votes, but wouldn’t take effect until 270 votes worth of states approve.

The last time there was an attempt at an amendment, in 1970, it was killed by the Senate. “The lead objectors to the proposal were mostly Southern senators and conservatives from small states, both Democrats and Republicans, who argued abolishing the Electoral College would reduce their states’ political influence.”[3]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_College_(United_States)#Bayh.E2.80.93Celler_Constitutional_amendment

What, what? Small states have more influence? Indeed they do. Here’s a graph. This is citizens per electoral college vote.

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:State_population_per_electoral_vote.png
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:State_population_per_electoral_vote.png

So my vote in California was worth about 1/680,000 of an elector, whereas a person in Wyoming’s vote was about 1/190,000 of an elector. Their vote for president was worth about 3.5 times more than mine. Flipping that, my presidential vote is worth 27% of theirs. This is obviously the wrong result.

The reason for this is Article 2 clause 2 of the Constitution.[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_Two_of_the_United_States_Constitution#Clause_2:_Method_of_choosing_electors It says that states get one elector per senator and per representative. Every state has two senators, and a minimum of one representative. The theory was that majority states might oppress less populated states; I think that the framers may not have contemplated what a wide range of populations we have, 220 years later. If you live in a high-population state, you are effectively being disenfranchised. The problem is — as it often is — that only the people with power have the ability to change how the power is allocated, and they are reluctant to give it up. This is so blatantly a misallocation of power, though, that it is worth fighting for.

References   [ + ]

1. Maine and Nebraska partially excepted, since they allow splitting their votes.
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_College_(United_States)#/media/File:State_population_per_electoral_vote.png
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_College_(United_States)#Bayh.E2.80.93Celler_Constitutional_amendment
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_Two_of_the_United_States_Constitution#Clause_2:_Method_of_choosing_electors

I’m Done With Not Talking About Politics

Somewhere along the line I incorporated a sense of “You shouldn’t talk about religion or politics.” I think the logic is that you might upset someone or make a fuss. I’m done with that.

Obviously whatever I’ve been doing is not enough. What we’ve all been doing is not enough. This is a critical period in human history: there are so many of us, and we have so much more technological power to rearrange the Earth. In January, Noam Chomsky described the GOP a “serious danger to human survival”, and that sounds about right. One of the main reasons I was hoping the Senate would flip would be so that Jim Inhofe, the author of “The Great Climate Hoax”, would not continue to be the Senate Environment Committee chair. But he will be, for at least two more years.

The GOP is now also (overtly) the party of misogyny and racism, and as always adheres to the basic principle of corporations and profits over individuals. I’m not the hugest fan of the current incarnation of the Democratic Party, which seems too well connected to big banks and out of touch with workers. But if it is a good enough political for Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Robert Reich, I’ll take it for now and continue to try to push it to the left. I donated to Democratic candidates and GOTV operations this year, much more than past years, and spent maybe an hour on the phone for DFA in NC and NV doing GOTV today.

Had known it was going to be like this, though, I would have given more time and money, and been all over Facebook pushing everyone I know to do the same. Sometimes it feels pretty hopeless, like you’re too small to have any control or make a difference, but we have to be doing something more, something different. *I* have to be do something different. I have a nine-month old daughter and I’d like her to grow up in a world where people govern themselves, and the planet, with dignity, grace, and science. Right now this isn’t looking like it.