We Should Do Something About Global Warming But Won’t

This Changes EverythingIt’s very cloudy outside here in Northern California. It’s dark too. The clouds are thick. We will almost certainly get a few sprinkles. And then it will be back into the 90s next week. I fully expect that California will be abandoned within 50 years. I’m also expecting the United States to invade Canada on this same time scale. For over a hundred years, the United States has had some of the best farm land in the world. But that land is moving north. On the plus side, we may have the perfect climate to grow blue agave and God knows we’ll likely need more Tequila than we have previously.

What’s interesting about global warming is that the Unite States has always had the most to lose from it. Yet more than any country, we have stood in the way of doing anything about it. Sure: there are other countries that are against it, but if the United States had been on board, it wouldn’t have mattered. We had that kind of power. We still do. But we won’t for long. Rule number one for the Price: keep your army well fed! That’s going to get harder and harder.

Naomi Klein has a new book out, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. I haven’t read it yet. But Joe Romm has a brief introduction to it at Think Progress, This Changes Everything: Naomi Klein Is Right, Unchecked Capitalism Will Destroy Civilization. He summarizes the book as making three points. First, because we’ve denied the problem for well over two decades, our options are much worse. Second, the choice is between the end of civilization and the end of capitalism as we have come to know it. And third, it would be “morally monstrous” to choose capitalism over civilization.

Note that neither Klein nor Romm are against capitalism itself — just the kind of capitalism that we have now: the kind of capitalism that is mostly mythical, that doesn’t produce anything, that claims that people are only free if one person can have as much wealth as the rest of the people in his country combined. But the sad thing is that it really doesn’t matter. In the United States especially, to question the absolute “free market” paper tablets that Ayn Rand provided us means that you are a Socialist! And the people who believe this — who are extremely powerful — would rather destroy civilization than to concede that markets, and by extension themselves, are not perfect.

As Mr Tolstoy told us, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Good civilizations are all alike because they managed to look out for their people and the long term interests of the state. But bad civilizations suck in their own ways. Why did the Roman Empire fall? Who cares! It tells us nothing about why the American Empire is falling. Our civilization is dying because we have allowed a small number of people to become too powerful. And they have developed a kind of philosophy that is destroying the civilization.

Apparently, Klein has some ideas on how we can save our civilization. And Romm notes that Americans are not too keen on capitalism anyway. He even quotes (Twice!) the evil wordsmith Frank Luntz saying that Americans think that capitalism is immoral. But am I really to believe that we are going to have a discussion of this? Back in 2012, the vast majority of Californians were in favor of GMO labeling of food — a reasonable law even if, like me, you have no problem with GMOs. But Monsanto came in and spent just $8 million in this very big television market and the law went down to a resounding defeat.

So as crops fail and property values decline, the people will be upset. But the power elites will be there to make them understand that this is better than the alternative, Socialism! And anyway, global warming will cause all kinds of strife all over the world. There will be any number of groups who are angry because they are starving to death. And our government will be able to label them terrorists. And everyone will agree: they’re the ones who are the problem.

As for the real problem, we will do what we always do: nothing.

Adolph Reed on Obama Before He Was President

Adolph Reed JrHe’s a vacuous opportunist. I’ve never been an Obama supporter. I’ve known him since the very beginning of his political career, which was his campaign for the seat in my state senate district in Chicago. He struck me then as a vacuous opportunist, a good performer with an ear for how to make white liberals like him. I argued at the time that his fundamental political center of gravity, beneath an empty rhetoric of hope and change and new directions, is neoliberal.

—Adolph Reed Jr
Obama No (28 April 2008)

The Senate Model Arguments

Nate SilverThere has been a bit of relatively polite insulting going on in the election model community. Based upon my observations, Sam Wang started it. But that isn’t to blame him. I think it was basically defensive. All the other big modeling outfits were saying that the Republicans were heavily favored to take over the Senate next year and he just didn’t see it. His argument is a simple one: all the models based upon fundamentals are actually less accurate because they are just throwing in noise. So his approach to models is really the best you can do: look at what the polls are saying.

Today at Vox we see a little pushback, Nate Silver: Sam Wang’s Model Showing Democratic Senate Advantage “Is Wrong.” That’s a provocative headline and distorts what Silver is actually saying. Nate Silver is kind of a punk, but he is still a numbers a guy and is careful about what he says. (He’s kind of like me when I was that age but with huge success that greatly raises his arrogance level.) So we should pay close attention to what he has to say.

Sam WangHis complaint is that Wang’s model doesn’t include the uncertainty that is inherent in polls. In a sense, this doesn’t seem a valid complaint. Wang provides two probabilities. The first is the percent chance the Democrats will hold the Senate if the election were held today. Currently, this is 80%. He also provides the percent chance the Democrats will hold the Senate in November. This number is only 70%. But what I think Silver is getting at is that his model is more like a Monte Carlo simulation, and without getting into the mathematics, they do tend to tamp down strong conclusions. When I was doing Monte Carlo simulations of atmospheric chemistry and climate models, they had a shockingly consistent tendency to produce errors right around 40%, regardless of how complex or simple the model.

Regardless, I don’t see Sam Wang’s model as being all that certain. His current 70% chance of the Democrats keeping control of the Senate is not much different from 65% and 67% probabilities that FiveThirtyEight and The Upshot gave Republicans not long ago, not to mention the 86% that The Monkey Cage produced. Given that all of these models have now come down to roughly 50%, it would seem their greater uncertainty doesn’t mean a whole lot.

I think what is really going on is that Nate Silver is feeling a little underappreciated. And also maybe insecure. In you look at the Vox Senate model roundup, you will see that the FiveThirtyEight model is the outlier. All the models predict the Republicans with 49 or 50 seats, but FiveThirtyEight predicts 52. Now that isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. The model currently gives the Republicans only a 53% of taking control of the Senate. It is just that the most likely scenario is the Republicans getting 52 seats. There is a 14% chance of this. Just the same, there is a 13% chance of them getting 50 seats and another 13% change of them getting only 49 seats.

At this point, the best bet is that the Senate will be evenly divided with the President of Vice to decide. If that turns out to be the case, it will be yet again that Sam Wang looks good, because he’s been predicting the Democrats retaining control of the Senate for a long time. It will be those who claim the importance of political science fundamentals who will have explaining to do.

Afterword

I don’t want there to be any confusion as to where I stand. I think political science can tell us a whole lot about American politics. But in terms of predictions, the only thing that I’ve found that is really important is the economic trend leading up to presidential elections. In off-year elections, it seems to be a mess. I have my eyes peeled for any fundamentals that are important in these cases. But thus far, all I see is a lot of correlation and very little causation.

Looks Like Kansas Court to Help Greg Orman

Greg OrmanYou probably know what has been going on in the Kansas Senate race, but I’ll give you a brief refresher. The Republican Party in Kansas have been so extreme that even many Republicans are turning against it. Art Laffer convinced the state of Kansas that if they just lowered taxes on the rich, there would be economic growth and (Perhaps you’ve heard this before?) the tax cuts would pay for themselves! Instead, what they got was ruinous budget deficits. I wrote about this in some depth back in May, Art Laffer’s Toxic Prescription.

Part of the displeasure with the Republicans in Kansas is with their current senior Senator Pat Roberts, who is very unpopular. He is technically in a three-way race with Democrat Chad Taylor and independent Greg Orman. In that race, Roberts would likely eke out a minor win. Given that Orman was doing much better against Roberts than Taylor, Taylor decided to drop out of the race. In a two-way race, Orman is about ten percentage points ahead of Roberts. So clearly, the Republicans would like to keep Taylor on the ballot.

Not to fear! Kansas has one of the most partisan and unethical Secretaries of State in the nation, Kris Kobach. He has refused to remove Taylor’s name from the ballot based upon some technicalities. Taylor decided to take the issue to court and today, the Kansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kobach v Taylor. Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog watched the whole thing and concluded that Taylor is likely to win the case.

The case has turned out to be different than most people expected. The issue seemed to be that Taylor had worked with the Secretary of State’s office to make sure he did everything right. As a result, the papers he filed should be enough. But the justices didn’t seem that interested in hearing about that. They were more interested in the fact that Kobach allowed other similar petitions to be approved. They didn’t say it, but it is clear enough what this means: Kobach is doing this only to help his party. And Kobach has a history of this. He’s a good example of the revolutionary right that doesn’t see our political system and its norms as valid. Whatever pushes Kobach’s proto-fascist ideology is good.

Even if Taylor loses this case, there is a very good chance that Orman will beat Roberts anyway. Even though Taylor has only dropped out of the race less than two weeks ago, the word is out and a poll released today shows only 6% of those asked plan to vote for him, giving Orman a 7% lead even if Taylor remains on the ballot.

Regardless, the Republicans have gone into Kansas in a big way now. They know that Kansas is likely the state that will decide which party controls the Senate. So there will be a lot of attacks on Orman and his numbers will go down. So he needs all the Democratic support he can get. If the Kansas Supreme Court forces Kobach to take Taylor’s name off the ballot, it will be a great help to Orman.

Sometimes a Great Ken Kesey

Ken KeseyOn this day in 1935, the great American novelist Ken Kesey was born. I really only know him from his two novels One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion. But he wrote more than this and I suppose I will have to go back and find what else he did. Certainly, those are two of the greatest American novels ever written. And he is probably the greatest writer of his generation, except for maybe Heller, but certainly not Salinger or Capote or Roth — as great as they may be.

There are generally two things that I think about with regard to Kesey’s work. First is his decision to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the first person. He could have written it in the third person and it probably would have worked well enough. But there would have been various problems. One is simply the way the plot is told. There would be no reason not to know far more of what’s going on outside the ward. But because Chief is thought to be mute, he is allowed limited access to staff meetings. But the most important aspect of the first person narrative is that the book is about Chief. One of the great disappointments in the film (as great as it is), is that we don’t get to see Chief’s evolution from mental illness to mental health.

The second thing about Kesey’s work is the way he shifts point of view in Sometimes a Great Notion. Basically, he does what Virginia Woolf’s does in To the Lighthouse. But Kesey is far more clear. Reading Woolf is like floating around at see, being pushed his way and that. It isn’t about the story but rather the journey. Kesey is interested in telling a story. And he has great insight into character that isn’t really true of the early stream of consciousness writers.

In 1989, Kesey wrote a novel collectively with 13 graduate students at the University of Oregon, Caverns. Three years later, he wrote his first novel in almost three decades, Sailor Song. And then he wrote a collaboration with Ken Babbs, Last Go Round. All of them sound interesting. I will have to see if I can dig them up. Until then…

Happy birthday Ken Kesey!