Tuesday, July 31, 2018


As reported in Grist earlier this month, California's carbon emissions are down to the levels they were way back in the 1990s, while at the same time its economic productivity has soared. According to the state's Air Resources Board, “California now produces twice as many goods and services for the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as the rest of the nation."

California windfarm--part of the state's energy success story
Credit: Creative Commons Zero--CC0 

If one believes economists and politicians who, like Donald Trump, are still pushing coal or other greenhouse-gas-spewing energy sources, California, which is leading the nation in the transition to renewable energy, should be failing. For those still interested in facts, nothing could be further from the truth. California's per capita greenhouse gas emissions are roughly one-half the US average, yet it produces twice as many goods and services for every unit of energy use.

Kudos to California for leading the way. However, there's still lots of room for improvement. Transportation still relies far too heavily on fossil fuels, and accounts for 41 percent of California's carbon emissions. To tackle this, the state has plans in place to multiply the number of electric vehicles on California's roads 12 times within the next 12 years.

If the state has the same success with that plan as it has had on its overall carbon emissions, it's likely to beat that deadline and still lead the country in terms of economic productivity, not to mention improved quality of life.

What are the rest of the states waiting for?


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Monday, July 30, 2018


Whether it's based on politics, racism or both, Donald Trump is placing a huge bet on immigration, an issue he's weaponized to energize his base.  On Sunday, he tweeted, "I would be willing to 'shut down' government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall!"

As we know, Trump hates to back down, and reflexively doubles down instead. So it's not surprising that after having to back away from his, Attorney General Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen's disastrous, immoral and indefensible family separation debacle, Trump is now doubling down with this renewed threat to shut down the government if Congress doesn't authorize and fund his Great Wall.

From sea to shining sea
Border wall meets the Pacific Ocean
Credit: © Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons 

No matter how most of us react to him, Trump is a master at stirring up his faithful followers. I'm sure he's thrilled that his tweet garnered 120 thousand likes within the first 24 hours.

"The United States will not be a migrant camp," he declaimed in June of this year, "and it will not be a refugee holding facility. It won't be. You look at what's happening in Europe, you look at what's happening in other places, we can't allow that to happen to the United States, not on my watch."

Given that Trump has previously referred to migrants as pouring in and infesting our country, his current tweet just builds on a foundation of fear and hate that he has been building for years (we can date it back at least as far as Trump's pushing the so-called Obama birther conspiracy starting in 2011).

Back in September, 2016, two months before the election, I posted a comment on a poll that showed that two thirds of Trump supporters were "extremely enthusiastic" about voting for him, while fewer than half of Hillary supporters were similarly enthused. The polling company commented, presciently as we all now know, that " . . . turnout in a close election will likely decide the winner of the race."

Three months from now, Americans will be voting for 35 of their senators, all of their representatives and the governors of 36 states. Who wins may well determine Trump's political future, the makeup of the Supreme Court for decades to come, and the direction America will take on immigration, womens' rights, workers' rights, climate and the environment, and crucial international issues such as trade, nuclear arms, war and peace.

Again, many of those races will be close, and turnout will likely decide the winners.

We can count on Trump keeping his core supporters--roughly 41 percent of voters--riled up and eager to go to the polls to protect the US from those invading armies of dangerous immigrants, or from the Democrats, who after all are the immigrants' dangerous supporters, or from the press--America's "biggest enemy," or from Iran, or from you name it.

It's up to the rest of us--the 53 percent who do not support him--to be equally enthusiastic. We need to be sure we are registered, register or re-register if we're not, and vote.

If we didn't learn that lesson in November of 2016, 2020 may just be too late.

And going back to Trump's wall--how long can anything built on fear and hate stand? Rather than waiting, watching and someday finding out, let's elect progressives who will make sure it never gets built.



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Sunday, July 29, 2018


It's difficult not to compare the most recent summit in Helsinki between an aggressive dictator, Vladimir Putin, and a naïve Western leader, Donald Trump, with the infamous meeting, almost eighty years ago, between German Chancellor Adolph Hitler and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. The famous picture of Chamberlain returning from Munich in September, 1938, waving a signed document and declaring the immortal words: "Peace for our time," has become one of the twentieth century's most durable and iconic images.

 Neville Chamberlain, 1938
"Peace for our time."
Credit: YouTube

Peace had indeed been preserved, but only temporarily, and with the enormous cost of giving in to Hitler’s demand for the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Along with French Premier Edouard Daladier, Chamberlain had acceded to Hitler’s threat to declare war on the neighboring country in the name of ‘protecting’ the rights of the German speaking population of the Sudetenland province.

Having tested Western resolve and found it lacking, Hitler moved swiftly to absorb the province, then engineer the takeover or Anschluss of Austria, and within the year launch his campaign to conquer Poland and subsequently the rest of Europe--igniting World War II.

Over the ensuing decades, the names Munich and Chamberlain have stood as notorious reminders to all those with historical memories of the dangerous consequences of appeasing dictators and giving in to aggression.

Trump's mysterious admiration of Putin, a Russian nationalist strongman who has already transformed European boundaries by military means in Georgia, Crimea (a Russian-speaking region of neighboring Ukraine), and by continuing to intervene and destabilize Eastern Ukraine, was on obsequious display last week in Helsinki. Even more puzzling, Trump's inability or unwillingness to accept the unanimous findings by his own intelligence services that Russia and Putin had mounted covert attacks on America's own electoral systems in 2016, and were planning to do so again in 2018, have left many Americans in a state of disbelief, unnerving even some of his most loyal Republican political supporters.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, Helsinki, 2018
(Image by cnn.com)
More disturbing to America's European allies have been Trump's own sustained attacks on the cornerstone policies devised in the aftermath of the World War to keep the peace in Europe and further the development of democratic governments worldwide. Along with promoting tariff wars and a throwback "America First" policy reminiscent of isolationism in the 1930s, the American President appears to be either ignorant of or determined to rewrite eight decades of world history.

While Putin is no Hitler and Russia currently lacks Nazi Germany's global ambitions, a destabilized European Union and fractured NATO alliance certainly further the longstanding Russian goals of strongly influencing and even potentially dominating the continent, politically and economically if not militarily. Neighboring countries, until recently under direct Soviet control, and many with Russian-speaking minorities, have valid and renewed concerns about America's commitment to their protection.

True to form, and despite serious criticism at home and abroad, and evidently against the better judgment many in his own administration, Trump doubled-down on his policy by deciding to honor Putin with an invitation to visit the White House in the fall for another summit. Opposition from Republican Party leaders and political considerations relating to midterm elections may well have caused a delay in the proposed second Trump-Putin summit--or if Putin has his way, its transfer to Moscow!

Still, whenever or wherever it occurs it's hard to imagine a more appropriate--or ominous--way to commemorate the events in Munich those eight decades ago.
Les Adler Emeritus Professor of History
Sonoma State University 

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Thursday, July 26, 2018


It's rare when something that seems easy turns out to be good for you. Even though it seems too good to be true, new research finds that riding an e-bike to work for a month boosted cardiovascular fitness as much as riding to work on a conventional bicycle.

Cardio benefits of riding an e-bike
Credit: Richard Masoner

This research, reported in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, took place in Basel, Switzerland. As part of a national bike-to-work month, the researchers recruited 32 "untrained, overweight" men and women. Their median age was 40 and their median Body Mass Index was 29, just on the border between overweight and obesity. 

The participants we're divided into two groups, those who rode normal bicycles to work for the month and those who rode e-bikes. They had to commute at least 6 km (3.75 miles), three days per week. All were tested for cardiovascular fitness before and after the one-month trial, as measured by peak VO2, the body's ability to absorb and utilize oxygen.

Measuring peak VO2
Credit: Cosmed

At the end of the month, both groups showed comparable and significant improvements in cardio fitness. Interestingly, the e-bike riders rode farther and took on more hills than those using normal bikes. "This indicates that the e-bike can increase motivation and help overweight and older individuals to maintain fitness training on a regular basis," says Arno Schmidt-Trucksäss, Professor of Sports Medicine at the University of Basel and part of the research team. 

When he takes into account other studies, Schmidt-Trucksäss is bullish about the benefits of e-bikes. "Those who use e-bikes on a regular basis benefit permanently, not only in terms of their fitness, but also in terms of other factors such as blood pressure, fat metabolism, and overall mental well-being.”

Not bad at all for something as practical and enjoyable as riding an e-bike.


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Tuesday, July 24, 2018


In 1601, Shakespeare wrote these exquisite lines about our potential as human beings:

"What a piece of work is man, How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, In form and moving how express and admirable, In action how like an Angel, In apprehension how like a god, The beauty of the world, The paragon of animals."

 Michelangelo's David
the Academia, Florence
Credit: REA

Shakespeare was not the first or the last to express a grand vision of what an individual human can be. Hamlet followed Michelangelo's David--an immortal illustration of a courageous individual facing an overpowering adversary--by a century, and preceded the Age of Enlightenment by many decades. From the 1680s until the end of the next century, philosophers, scientists and enlightened leaders--including the framers of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution--developed and advanced similar ideals, summed up by the German philosopher Emmanuel Kant as:

". . . the courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance. Dare to Know! . . . Have the courage to use your own understanding."

We find ourselves today in a situation where our government, many of our leaders, and other powers  including giant corporations, are bidding or manipulating us to act in ways, or go along with actions, that are inhuman, immoral, and intrinsically disgusting. One example is the Trump/Sessions decision to separate children, even infants, from their parents for purely political reasons, with no plan in place to reunite them or even care for them adequately.

Whether you identify yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, a member of the Tea Party, an Independent, a Libertarian, an Evangelical, an atheist, an advocate of some other group or cause, or none of the above, should not make any difference; tearing children from their parents' arms is simply and terribly wrong.

In this case, the outraged response of millions of people plus rejection by the courts forced the Trump administration to change course and begin to reunite the families it had torn apart. Tragically, many families are still separated, some may never be reunited*, and many children may have been irreparably traumatized by this policy.

However, with Trump and his administration still in power, and with a Congress and, increasingly, a judiciary willing to support him, and with implacable corporations seeking to maximize profits at any cost, we can be sure that this will not be the last outrageous and morally repugnant policy that we, the citizens of the United States, will be expected to accept and implement. Whether it is the grindingly slow pace of reuniting families, the horrible conditions immigrants face in our privatized prison system, the killing of innocent civilians in drone strikes, discharging immigrant soldiers, polluting the environment, destabilizing the climate, or, perhaps the worst case scenario, going to war with Iran or North Korea, we will inevitably be confronted by stark choices between our human values and national or corporate policies.

Clearly there are many people and groups who would like nothing more than to ring a dark curtain down on the Enlightenment, and replace its ideals of the value, rights  and responsibilities of each individual human being with a mindless and amoral obedience to (their) authority. As Trump said about North Korea's absolute ruler, Kim Jong Un, "He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same."

At any given time, most of us will be bystanders or witnesses to these events. I would argue that this is not a time for passivity or inaction; we all need to speak out and act as our conscience dictates. Inevitably, however, some of us will be on the front lines of current or coming events. You may be an ICE or DHS agent, a prison guard, a lawyer being asked to justify an immoral policy, a psychologist asked to advise on torture, a pilot or flight attendant transporting immigrant children, a drone pilot asked to bomb "targets" thousands of miles away, or someone high or low in any number of organizations. If you are being asked or expected to do something that you find morally repugnant, I would plead with you to have the courage to blow the whistle, resist or refuse.

Here's a great example from a very courageous young woman who calmly stood her ground and single-handedly stopped a deportation--bravo to Elin Ersson

Dictators, tyrants, cult leaders and abusers of all kinds rely on followers willing to do their bidding. Let's recognize that any of us may find ourselves somewhere in their sphere of influence or line of command, and in preparation make our own declaration of independence. If, as Kant said, we have the courage to use and act on our own understanding, perhaps then we will see the results of following the better angels of our nature rather than the whims and wishes of the narcissists, fanatics, idealogues, oe the most profit- or power-hungry among us.


*The latest reports indicates that it may take years to reunite many of these immigrant parents and children.  Why? Mark Greenberg, a fellow at the Immigrant Policy Institute, explains, shockingly, that ". . . there wasn't initial tracking to maintain a link between parents and their children."

The failure of the Trump administration even to maintain adequate records to eventually allow parents and children to find each other and be reunited is detailed in a recently released 25-page report by the US Office of the Inspector General. You can read the entire report here. The callous cruelty of this policy and the way it was carried out are profoundly repugnant.


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In case you believe or argue that we humans are too puny and insignificant to change the Earth--a position sometimes advocated by those who find it congenial for one reason or another to deny the reality of  human-caused climate disruption--please take a look at this video. In 30 seconds you can see the impact of 30 years of mountaintop coal mining over a 10,000-square-mile chunk of Appalachia. See for yourself:

Credit: Christian Thomas, Sky Truth


Monday, July 23, 2018

Surprise--liberal values promote economic growth

Liberals are often accused of blocking economic growth, what with our penchant for rules and regulations to protect the environment, mitigate climate change, rein in financial speculation and predation, provide equal rights and opportunities to minorities and other disadvantaged groups and "waste" money on frivolities such as health care and education.

New research, however, shows that this belief is simply wrong--a rise in liberal values, especially respect for individual rights, preceded and predicted economic growth in a variety of countries throughout the 20th Century.

Surprise--progressive values boost economic growth
Image credit: Creative Commons 

As reported in the prestigious journal Science Advances, researchers at the University of Bristol, in the UK, and at the University of Tennessee in the US used large data sets on European and world values, along with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita to trace changes in secular vs. religious values and economic development throughout the 20th Century. They were able to rule out the hypothesis that economic growth came first and stimulated secularization or liberalization. Rather, increases in liberal values, especially tolerance of differences and respect for individual rights, consistently preceded and predicted growth in per capita GDP.

The authors point out that one powerful factor behind this effect is a fuller use of human resources. When the rights and value of women and other disadvantaged groups are respected, and they are included in the workforce, economic productivity surges.

The bottom line--the common presumption that progressive ideas impede economic growth is wrong. Instead, acceptance of "others," and opening doors to everyone's inclusion and development are powerful drivers of economic growth.


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Saturday, July 21, 2018


 It’s difficult to pinpoint precisely when ‘The American Century’ died, but close observers place its passing somewhere between the 9th and 16th of July, 2018 after a long Illness. Cause of death has been tentatively listed as complications due to ‘heart failure.’

Credit: USAF

Born in 1941, it was christened by Time/Life media founder Henry Luce just as the United States was emerging from a Depression decade marked by isolationism and severe economic hardship, and mere months before the nation would be plunged into the Second World War. The fresh and timely concept was quickly adopted, for better or worse, by key architects of the coming transformation of America’s postwar foreign policy into one of internationalism, intervention and global leadership.

            Reflecting the optimistic side of a victorious and expanding middle-class society, ‘The American Century’ grew to express a strong belief in sharing the benefits and bounty of a booming domestic economy along with the energetic promotion of democratic-capitalist ideology abroad. Despite debilitating setbacks and growing pains in the late 1960’s and 1970’s as a consequence of deep racial conflicts at home and the country’s failed policies in Southeast Asia, belief in the concept rebounded strongly in the 1980’s and 1990’s, particularly during the nation’s brief appearance as sole global hegemon following the fall of the Soviet Union.  

The 9/11 terrorist attack on the homeland, however, coupled with disastrous and inconclusive interventions abroad and a serious economic debacle in the early decades of the twenty-first century drained its reserves, leaving it much more vulnerable than many knew to the next new contagion that might come along.  Ironically, the fatal infection came from within in the guise of a virulent campaign to “Make America Great Again,” against which the national immune system proved ineffective.

With an alternative and distorted image of both the postwar world  and American values in mind, and in the service of his own much narrower and darker nationalist vision, once in power Donald Trump moved rapidly and effectively to devalue, reverse and ultimately erase the very policies Luce and other leaders of that era had spent decades putting in place to stabilize a troubled world. 

In rolling back America’s leadership promoting worldwide democracy, and in erecting barriers to free trade and the easy movement of goods, ideas and people across boundaries, demeaning and demonizing allies and carefully-constructed institutions like NATO and the EU, Trump offered in their place only a world of competition, conflict, contention—and often chaos.

 If Luce’s “Century” represented an overly optimistic missionary American spirit, often blind to its own failings, Trump’s stands for its opposite, one which is fearful, suspicious of others, anxiously hoarding its own resources, and hostile to realities which might challenge its own preconceptions. Rather than celebrating and spreading America’s political norms and the nation’s ideals of inclusion, equality and opportunity—even if imperfectly achieved—Trump celebrates their disruption, while actively generating and directing the resentments of those left behind against minorities and real or imagined aliens or other foreign elements.
The final blow came with Trump's public attacks on  core institutions and allies and his embrace of old foes. When the call came from Helsinki this week, it only confirmed what many had already suspected. The decedent's last words were incoherent--disjointed phrases about a missing server--and it was noted in passing that a Do Not Resuscitate order was on file. 

Les Adler
Emeritus Professor of History
Sonoma State University


A slightly different version of this commentary was also published on OpEdNews.


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