Climate Change – An Uncomfortable Truth

Here’s my take on this subject. There can be no doubt that the world-wide climate is changing – rapidly and for the worse from a human perspective. The impacts are already being felt, but not in a way that motivates the average American to be concerned. Until and if it does so, there will be insufficient voter support for doing anything meaningful in response.

I won’t argue these assertions. They are plain to anyone interested in the facts. I honestly believe that many climate change skeptics either don’t wish to deal with the problem or are scientific dullards who grasp at any straws to avoid reality. I grant that there is disagreement about the influence of human activity on this coming climate catastrophe, but that isn’t relevant to my point. It is coming, and that is all that we need to know.

Now, none of the above is at all remarkable. It is probably the consensus of any competent observers. But there is more. I believe that eventually the impacts will be sufficient to move even a lethargic electorate. They will feel them where it counts, in their pocketbooks. This might happen soon or decades hence. The timing is difficult to predict. Climate requires skill, data and perseverance to understand. But when this does happen, we will come to a very uncomfortable realization. One way or the other, we are facing a substantial reduction in our standard of living. Indeed, this could be similar to regressing a hundred years in time!

I say “one way or the other” because we could do nothing and just let it happen, or we could move aggressively and make the best of it. In both cases, however, the reduction will inevitably occur, although managing it affirmatively should lessen the pain.

Those who currently advocate immediate action really haven’t grasped the consequences. They rightly see the danger but they haven’t thought through what a response might entail. Their plans, like the Green New Deal, are pie in the sky. It isn’t just the astronomical cost, though that should daunt anyone. It is the consequential change in how we live, work, travel, and amuse ourselves. Read any good history describing life in the early 20th century for a flavor of our future.

However, this could be misleading because the intervening years have brought knowledge and progress in many ways that would persist in spite of the changes I predict. For example, we won’t suddenly forget our accumulated medical knowledge, nor will the internet mysteriously disappear. The pace of automation might actually increase. Nevertheless, I suspect that it will be fair to say that our lives will slow markedly and some industries will be curtailed or disappear entirely. Our food supplies and distribution chain will be hurt. That will be far worse in less developed countries, and we are hardly immune from turmoil abroad, as recent history makes abundantly evident.

Tracking these impacts so far in advance is very difficult, though their broad scope is certainly amenable to scientific analysis. That is beyond anything I could do, but I do hope that academia turns its attention to this soon so that plans can be formulated for the time when the political will emerges.

I take no pleasure in these predictions and I sincerely hope that they are overwrought. But what if I am right? Think about it, and review your own attitude towards climate change.

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A Political Epiphany

Today I was listening to an author describing his history book when I was struck by something that I knew but couldn’t quite put into words.

In the last 50 years or so, the United States has changed. Of course, that is no surprise. Change has come with circumstances both within and beyond our control. But there is something more fundamental at work, and thus my epiphany …

The American people have changed from citizens to consumers.

Do you think that was always so? Before the end of WWII, the average family income was less than 10% above the poverty line. Moreover, income distribution was even more skewed than today. By and large by most current standards, we were a relatively poor nation. Consumption was strictly for necessity for the vast majority.

Meanwhile, there was a general consensus that “we are all in this together”, though with notable exceptions for some groups, like blacks for example. This grew from the preceding turmoil and stress of the Great Depression and World War II. In my opinion, it is a stretch to label the Americans of that time as “The Greatest Generation”, but they did form a solid basis for citizenship that showed itself in who volunteered for political service.

Now, look around you. Look at yourself. Isn’t it true that the accumulation and consumption of goods and services is what occupies your time and interest? Of course that isn’t everything. Thankfully, there is still family, but even that preoccupation is tainted by a consumerism overlay. Even the most caring parents usually focus their attention upon helping their children achieve financial success, giving short shrift to civic responsibility.

If you asked most American adults for a list of words that define themselves, the word “citizen” would be far down the list or even missing. For those of you with little interest in American history, you will just have to take my word that this was not always true. And we are the worse for this diminution of our cultural identity.

I can’t help adding a personal observation. If you want proof of this change, look at whom we chose as President in the last election. Donald Trump is consumerism personified.

The Robotics Revolution Continues

Some time ago I predicted that robotics and AI will soon supplant humans in up to 50% of current U.S. jobs. By soon, I meant within the next few decades. You can read this ominous prediction here. There have been numerous instances recently that support that bold assertion, and here is another one that popped up in the news today.

London’s Gatwick Airport is planning to deploy robot valets to park cars in their long-term lots. This saves cost in several ways: no need for valets or lot attendants, no lighting in the lots at all, reduced insurance expense, and – most importantly – far narrower parking slots. They expect to accommodate 8,500 cars in the space now allocated to 6,000 self-park slots. The reason for this should be obvious. They don’t need to allow space to open car doors and those clever robots can park very efficiently.

This is but one of numerous examples of the fourth industrial revolution. If you are curious about this, a good place to begin looking is here. And for those of you in professional or managerial roles, you should not suppose that your occupation is immune. It will impact accountants, doctors, pharmacists, teachers, engineers of all kinds, and many first-level managers. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find any occupation that couldn’t be more efficiently and effectively performed by robots. But the creative arts will most likely survive intact, even though robots have already demonstrated that they can write, paint and sculpt as well as most humans.

While this coming epic change will also open up new kinds of work for humans, most will require specialized skills that are not easily acquired. It will not simply be a matter of suitable retraining. I do believe that eventually our society will adapt, but meanwhile the disruption will be massive, and never again will we need so many people to be employed in keeping our country running.

So, what do you think life without work for so many will be like? My optimistic side sees marvelous opportunities for a better existence, with less tedium and more free time. However that can only occur if we prepare intelligently and if we don’t surrender to Luddite tendencies. What odds would you place on that?

Constructive Immorality

A major issue for those opposing Trump’s southern border wall is that it is immoral. I will give the benefit of the doubt to those saying this by assuming they really mean that the principle of a border barrier is intrinsically immoral — surely not the concrete or steel itself. Nevertheless this charge mystifies me. I can think of several genuine and persuasive reasons for opposing such a wall. It will have at best minimal impact and it wastes precious resources that could be more fruitfully invested in our national welfare. But what is intrinsically immoral about wanting a physical barrier on our border?

Start with the dictionary definition. Would building a border barrier be wicked, dishonest or dishonorable? Not by any calm and impartial judgment. My best attempt at decoding this peculiar framework for opposition is that opponents see a wall as a symbol of exclusion and perhaps even bias or racism. It wouldn’t surprise me if many supporters of Trump’s wall harbor such disreputable beliefs, but certainly not everyone. In any case symbolism is a frail basis for litigating this issue.

Try placing this in a local and personal context. Does your own home have any walls or barriers surrounding the property? Many estates have quite substantial walls surrounding them, yet I have never heard anyone refer to them as immoral. Yet all such barriers serve essentially the same purpose as a national wall. While they don’t obstruct a sufficiently motivated intruder, they do mark property boundaries and indicate that entrance requires permission.

I suspect that the charge of immorality is really just guilt by association. Opponents of the wall are overwhelmingly opponents of Trump himself, and they almost certainly view him and his actions as immoral. Hence the wall must seem immoral in their minds.

Perhaps there are more sensible reasons for this charge of ‘constructive immorality‘. I certainly hope so. The remaining objections — cost and utility — seem inadequate to justify closing down the government. If that became a common standard, very little that the government actually does would survive.

The Deep ‘America First’ Vein

Many speak of Trump’s racist America First movement as if it were a new phenomenon in the United States. It isn’t. In fact it is no more intense, bigoted and widespread than the last outbreak. Take this photo for example. Do you think it was taken in Charlottesville this year? No, it wasn’t. This was from the 1930s in Anytown, U.S.A.

There is a book coming out soon that provides a scholarly look at this disease on the body politic from three-quarters of a century ago. It is called Hitler’s American Friends. Here is a blurb from Amazon.

Anyone who believes that the movement to prevent America joining World War II against Hitler can be confined to Charles Lindbergh and his sinister “America First” movement will be astounded by Bradley W. Hart’s well-researched, well-written and fascinating book. The truth is that isolationism was not a Mid-Western, know-nothing fad; in fact it fed off a deep vein of anti-Semitic, anti-British and often even pro-Nazi sentiment right across America. For every one of the 800,000 members of America First, there were 23 other Americans who were tuning into isolationist broadcasts just before World War Two broke out in Europe. This superb book lifts the lid on America’s dark prewar secret.” – Andrew Roberts, author of Napoleon: A Life and Churchill: Walking with Destiny

The U.S. population in 1938 was about 130 million, many of whom were children. It is thus likely that at least 20% of the adult population were sympathetic to Hitler’s cause in the period leading up to WWII. Many others didn’t much like either side but were vehemently against entering the war, scarcely two decades after WWI, and thus they aligned themselves with the isolationist clique.

The pro-Nazi German American Bund held great rallies in places like New York City, St. Louis, and Chicago. Today they would dominate the news the way Trump’s incessant rallies do.

Keep in mind that the 40% or so still supporting Trump are not all American Firsters. Many are Republicans who simply oppose Democratic candidates and policies. And in any case, that number applies only to voters, who are no more than about 60% of the adult population anyway.

Who are “We The People”?

The preamble to our Constitution identifies those to whom it applies with the opening phrase “We the People of the United States”. But who exactly are these people? Recent disputes related to immigration, and in particular to illegal immigrants, make this a crucial legal issue. Focusing more closely, I want to address this question. “What exactly makes someone who is not a US citizen or a qualified alien eligible for constitutional protections?” Two Supreme Court decisions are most often quoted in reply to this question.

In Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding (1953), the Court found in an 8-1 decision that a permanent resident of the United States could not be deported without a hearing under the constitutional right to due process.

In Plyler v. Doe (1982), the Court held that a Texas statute which withholds from local school districts any state funds for the education of children who were not “legally admitted” into the United States, and which authorizes local school districts to deny enrollment to such children, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The issue of jurisdiction was found to be irrelevant.

But note that both of these cases were understood to apply to persons who are residents of the US. So the issue devolves into what constitutes residency.

Consider the following hypotheticals and see if you can discern a bright line that clearly indicates residency in the US. Have any of the following individuals established residency that is sufficient to qualify for constitution protection?

Someone who approaches the US border and plants his left foot firmly on US soil?

Someone who is standing in Mexico, while waving one foot in the air over US soil?

Someone who visits the US Embassy in Germany? (Our embassies are sovereign territory.)

Someone flying over the Aleutian Islands on a trip from Canada to the Far East?

Someone who trips on a tree stump in Canada and lands on US soil?

Someone who falls overboard into US territorial waters while exercising free rights of passage?

Can you answer these questions confidently, using a clear and unambiguous rule? I believe that I can. The writers of our Constitution never intended that incidental or even deliberate touching of US territory in and of itself confers any kind of claim for Constitutional protection whatsoever. They intended this to apply only to those who purposefully enter our territory, with our explicit or implicit permission, and with the clear intention to remain more than momentarily. There is no other possible reading of either the Constitution or our founding documents like the Federalist Papers. Thus, my answer to all of these questions is “None have established residency.” Do you disagree?

Now consider how the preceding might apply to those sneaking over our southern border. At which point will they have established residency? We have both laws and customs that grant a hearing for claims of refugee status from prospective immigrants. But as far as I know, we have no laws that grant status to those who can’t find sustenance where they now live, or who are at risk from endemic criminality in their homeland, or who simply want a better life for themselves and their families. For those with valid refugee claims, we have policies and procedures in place to process them. But none involve sneaking over our borders.

It is fair to respond that our policies are sometimes overly restrictive and are almost always ponderously slow. But if we can truly claim to be a nation of laws, then these criticisms cannot override legal considerations.

The bottom line seems to be that people trying to avoid our ports of entrance don’t achieve resident status thereby, and hence they are not yet one of “We the People of the United States”. We can grant them due process at our discretion, but I see no constitutional requirement to do so. However, it remains an open question for those clever or lucky enough to escape detection and actual take up residency within our borders.

In his usual bombastic manner, President Trump has called for prompt expulsion of those caught while violating our borders, without due process of law. This has been widely condemned, but I am not so sure that he is entirely off-base with this idea. An old Southern expression comes to mind, “Even a blind hog can find an acorn once in a while.