Jerry Brown to announce a climate summit meeting in California

The New York Times reports: Even before President Trump took office, Gov. Jerry Brown of California let it be known he was ready to do battle over climate change, vowing in December that California would launch its own satellite if Mr. Trump cut funding for federal space missions.

On Thursday evening, Governor Brown will mount a new challenge to the administration on climate change. In a videoconference address to a global citizen festival in Hamburg, Germany, where President Trump and other officials will negotiate wording of a statement on the Paris climate change accord, Governor Brown will issue a sweeping invitation to a global “climate action” summit meeting in San Francisco.

“Look, it’s up to you and it’s up to me and tens of millions of other people to get it together to roll back the forces of carbonization and join together to combat the existential threat of climate change,” Brown will tell the thousands of people expected to attend the festival. In the message, a preview of which was provided by aides, he will invite “entrepreneurs, singers, musicians, mathematicians, professors” and others who represent “the whole world” to the September 2018 conference in San Francisco. [Continue reading…]

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Graham Allison’s trap

Michael Vlahos writes: How do you turn a metaphor into an axiom? Try: “Strategist appropriation.” When writing on politics and war, this means lardering your first few graphs with maxims from so-called “masters of war,” preferably Sun Tzu or Clausewitz. Their unassailable wisdom gives your argument the burnish of authority.

Graham Allison, an academic with plenty of his own Harvard authority, goes a step further. He suggests that the great historian (and not so great general), Thucydides, like Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, offers not just quotable truths but also a fundamental law about how wars often happen: The Thucydides Trap.

Allison argues that when rising powers threaten the position of established powers, the inevitable competition can lead to conflict and, eventually, war. Twenty-five hundred years ago, top dog Sparta became fearful and envious of Athens’ rising wealth and arrogant pride. Two towering city-states became trapped in a thirty-year war whose consequences were tragic. Thucydides tells their story.

Allison insists history bears Thucydides out: Head-butting between rising and established powers leads to war 75 percent of the time. Terrible wars happen because powers get ensnared into tragedy. Today, he warns, China and the United States are caught in yet another such historic trap.

But we need to see that Thucydides was not writing history. In fact, he sought to transform the experience of his life into a story of such heroic pathos that it would stand high on the ridgeline, right alongside the Greco-Roman Ur-gospel and ultimate “fall of the city” tragedy—the Iliad. Having failed as an Athenian general, Thucydides, as the Bard himself, wrote an epic that, like the immortal Iliad, would live for the ages:

“In fine, I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time.”

He pretty much succeeded. Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War is incontestably great writing and superb storytellling. But rather than history, it might better be termed, “non-fictive literature.” It sings like grand opera. It is staged as high tragedy. Only a story “bigger than life” could be a “possession for all time,” because it had to speak across time, to all mankind.

If this were Hollywood, the movie would begin with the splash title: “Based on a true story.”

Allison forces this story of Athens’ pride and Sparta’s envy into his law about how great-power wars happen. Yet this is a sleight-of-hand. Allison presents the Trap as though it were Thucydides’ creation, rather than Allison’s appropriation of Thucydides. [Continue reading…]

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What makes America exceptional?

David Frum writes: America’s uniqueness, even pre-Trump, was expressed as much through negative indicators than positive. It is more violent than other comparable societies, both one-on-one and in the gun massacres to which the country has become so habituated. It has worse health outcomes than comparably wealthy countries, and some of them most important of them are deteriorating further even as they improve almost everywhere else. America’s average levels of academic achievement lag those of other advanced countries. Fewer Americans vote—and in no other democracy does organized money count for so much in political life. A century ago, H.L. Mencken observed the American “national genius for corruption,” and (again pre-Trump) Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index ranks the U.S. in 18th place, behind Hong Kong, Belgium, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany—never mind first-place finishers Denmark and New Zealand.

As I said: pre-Trump. Now the United States has elected a president who seems much more aligned with—and comfortable in the company of—the rulers of Turkey, Hungary, Uzbekistan, and the Philippines than his counterparts in other highly developed countries.

That result forces a reshaping of the question of American exceptionalism.

“Why was the United States vulnerable to such a person when other democracies have done so much better?” Part of the answer is a technical one: The Electoral College, designed to protect the country from demagogues, instead elected one. But then we have to ask: How did Trump even get so far that the Electoral College entered into the matter one way or another?

Thinking about that question forces an encounter with American exceptionalism in its most somber form. If, as I believe, Donald Trump arose because of the disregard of the American political and economic elite for the troubles of so many of their fellow-citizens, it has to be asked again: How could the leaders of a democratic country imagine they could get away with such disregard? [Continue reading…]

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Most Americans like science — and are willing to pay for it

Bethany Brookshire writes: Americans don’t hate science. Quite the contrary. In fact, 79 percent of Americans think science has made their lives easier, a 2014 Pew Research Center survey found. More than 60 percent of people also believe that government funding for science is essential to its success.

But should the United States spend more money on scientific research than it already does? A layperson’s answer to that question depends on how much that person thinks the government already spends on science, a new study shows. When people find out just how much — or rather, how little — of the federal budget goes to science, support for more funding suddenly jumps. [Continue reading…]

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NASA denies that it’s running a child slave colony on Mars

The Daily Beast reports: A report on Alex Jones’ InfoWars claiming child sex slaves have been kidnapped and shipped to Mars is untrue, NASA told The Daily Beast on Thursday.

“There are no humans on Mars. There are active rovers on Mars. There was a rumor going around last week that there weren’t. There are,” Guy Webster, a spokesperson for Mars exploration at NASA, told The Daily Beast. “But there are no humans.”

On Thursday’s program, the InfoWars host welcomed guest Robert David Steele onto The Alex Jones Show, which airs on 118 radio stations nationwide, to talk about kidnapped children he said have been sent on a two-decade mission to space.

“We actually believe that there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a 20-year ride,” said Steele. “So that once they get to Mars they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony.”

Jones echoed Steele, saying “clearly they don’t want us looking into what is happening” because “every time probes go over they turn them off.”

“Look, I know that 90 percent of the NASA missions are secret and I’ve been told by high level NASA engineers that you have no idea. There is so much stuff going on,” Jones said.

At the beginning of his campaign in December of 2015, President Donald Trump told Alex Jones that “your reputation is amazing” and “I will not let you down” in a half-hour interview on InfoWars. [Continue reading…]

If an objective metric for establishing population-wide gullibility was internationally accepted, I have little doubt that America would rank #1.

Paradoxically, the incapacity to think clearly renders the gullible at risk of repeatedly getting duped rather than wising up.

When those with little power and little education, through the experience of being marginalized form an indiscriminate suspicion of all branches of The Establishment — government, science, academia, the mainstream media — they all the more easily get seduced by anti-establishment crackpots like Alex Jones. His perceived credibility derives solely from his clownish posturing as a fearless rebel — a little guy bold enough to challenge power.

Culpability for this state of affairs does in part rest with those in positions of influence who long felt comfortable with the notion that segments of the population could effectively be written off and treated as though they don’t exist.

The failure to build a truly inclusive society is what opened the door to throngs of crackpot radio show hosts and now a deranged president. America is now paying the price for all those it has left behind.

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A chilling NRA ad gaining traction online appears to be ‘an open call to violence’ and civil war

 

Business Insider reports: A National Rifle Association ad that has gained traction on social media this month urges Americans to join “freedom’s safest place” as protesters and members of the “resistance” movement who oppose Donald Trump’s presidency “smash windows, burn cars,” and “terrorize the law-abiding.”

The one-minute ad features footage of protesters and marches overlayed with commentary by the conservative media personality and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch.

Loesch describes anti-Trump protests as “madness” and terror that “shut down interstates and airports” and warrant a heavy-handed police response.

Here’s the full transcript:

“They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again. And then they use their ex-president to endorse the resistance.

“All to make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia. To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding — until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness.

“And when that happens, they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth. I’m the National Rifle Association of America, and I’m freedom’s safest place.”

The ad prompted backlash from some progressives, who called it “an open call to violence” and “barely a whisper shy of a call for full civil war.” [Continue reading…]

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Bloomberg’s next anti-Washington move: $200 million program for mayors

The New York Times reports: Michael R. Bloomberg will throw his financial might into helping beleaguered American mayors, creating a $200 million philanthropic program aimed at backing inventive policies at the city level and giving mayors a stronger hand in national politics.

Mr. Bloomberg intends to announce the initiative on Monday in a speech to the United States Conference of Mayors in Miami Beach, where he will castigate federal officials and state governments around the country for undermining cities. He plans to describe the program, called the American Cities Initiative, as a method of shoring up the global influence of the United States despite turmoil in Washington.

A wealthy former mayor of New York who seriously explored running for president in 2016 as an independent, Mr. Bloomberg, 75, has embraced a public role since the election as a kind of elite-level organizer against certain policies of the Trump administration.

In an interview, Mr. Bloomberg said his city-focused initiative would serve in part as an extension of his advocacy for national policies that address climate change, gun violence, public health and immigration. That largely liberal agenda is aligned with the growing aspirations of big-city mayors, who are mainly Democrats and who have vowed to check conservative mandates emerging from Washington by using their power at the local level. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. lags behind much of developed world in social progress

Bloomberg reports: America leads the world when it comes to access to higher education. But when it comes to health, environmental protection, and fighting discrimination, it trails many other developed countries, according to the Social Progress Imperative, a U.S.-based nonprofit.

The results of the group’s annual survey, which ranks nations based on 50 metrics, call to mind other reviews of national well-being, such as the World Happiness Report released in March, which was led by Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, or September’s Lancet study on sustainable development. In that one, Iceland, Singapore, Sweden, and the U.S. took spots 1, 2, 3, and 28—respectively.

The Social Progress Index released this week is compiled from social and environmental data that come as close as possible to revealing how people live. “We want to measure a country’s health and wellness achieved, not how much effort is expended, nor how much the country spends on healthcare,” the report states. Scandinavia walked away with the top four of 128 slots. Denmark scored the highest. America came in at 18. [Continue reading…]

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America’s cultural divide runs deep

The Washington Post reports: The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities, according to a wide-ranging poll that examines cultural attitudes across the United States.

The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of nearly 1,700 Americans — including more than 1,000 adults living in rural areas and small towns — finds deep-seated kinship in rural America, coupled with a stark sense of estrangement from people who live in urban areas. Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from those of people who live in big cities, including about 4 in 10 who say their values are “very different.”

That divide is felt more extensively in rural America than in cities: About half of urban residents say their values differ from rural people, with less than 20 percent of urbanites saying rural values are “very different.”

Alongside a strong rural social identity, the survey shows that disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy, who deserves the most help in society and whether the federal government shows preferential treatment to certain types of people. President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans.

The Post-Kaiser survey focused on rural and small-town areas that are home to nearly one-quarter of the U.S. population. [Continue reading…]

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Anti-Muslim rallies across U.S. denounced by civil rights groups

The Guardian reports: A wave of anti-Muslim rallies planned for almost 30 cities across America on Saturday by far-right activists has drawn sharp criticism from civil rights groups and inspired counter-protests nationwide.

In cities including New York and Chicago, a few dozen “anti-sharia” demonstrators were outnumbered by counter-protesters.

Hundreds of counter-protesters marched through Seattle on Saturday to confront a few dozen people claiming sharia was incompatible with western freedoms. Local activists set up an “Ask an American Muslim” booth where attendees could meet and learn about their Muslim neighbors.

The rallies have been organized by Act for America, which claims to be protesting about human rights violations but has been deemed an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The demonstrations prompted security fears at mosques across the country and come at a time when hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. [Continue reading…]

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On climate change, Jerry Brown acts as a world leader (because Trump can’t) in talks with China

The New York Times reports: Gov. Jerry Brown of California should be fading quietly into the final days of his career. After 40 years in public life, Mr. Brown, 79, a Democrat, is in the final stretch as the state’s chief executive. He has been talking about the Colusa County family ranch where he wants to retire. And a battery of younger politicians is already battling to succeed him.

But instead, Mr. Brown was in China on Tuesday, emerging as a de facto envoy from the United States on climate change at a time when President Trump has renounced efforts to battle global emissions. In a meeting packed with symbolism — and one that seemed at once to elevate the California governor and rebuke Mr. Trump — President Xi Jinping of China met with Mr. Brown, at the governor’s request, at the very moment China prepares to take a more commanding role in fighting climate change.

“California’s leading, China’s leading,” Mr. Brown said at a wide-ranging and at times feisty news conference after he met with Mr. Xi. “It’s true I didn’t come to Washington, I came to Beijing. Well, someday I’m going to go to Washington, but not this week.”

Mr. Brown has long used his platform as governor to advocate emission reduction policies, both in his state and globally. But the decision by Mr. Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, on the eve of Mr. Brown’s trip here, gave an already planned visit new visibility. [Continue reading…]

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Majority of Americans oppose Trump scrapping Paris agreement

The Washington Post reports: Most Americans oppose President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, with a majority saying the move will damage the United States’ global leadership, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Opposition to Trump’s decision outpaces support for it by a roughly 2-to-1 margin, with 59 percent opposing the move and 28 percent in support. The reactions also break down sharply along partisan lines, though Republicans are not as united in support of the withdrawal as Democrats are in opposition to it. A 67 percent majority of Republicans support Trump’s action, but that drops to 22 percent among political independents and 8 percent of Democrats. Just over 6 in 10 independents and 8 in 10 Democrats oppose Trump’s action. [Continue reading…]

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America is awash in the wrong kinds of stories

Virginia Postrel writes: One of the rare feel-good stories of our current political moment is also terribly sad. On a train in Portland, Oregon, three very different men tried to protect two young women, one wearing a hijab, from a ranting white supremacist who turned out to be carrying a knife. The action cost two their lives, while the third is still in the hospital.

“America is about a Republican, a Democrat, and an autistic poet putting their lives on the line to protect young women from a different faith and culture simply because it is the right thing to do. You want diversity and tolerance? We just saw it,” writes Michael Cannon in an especially good appreciation, concluding “America is already great — and so long as we continue to produce men such as Rick Best, Taliesin Namkai-Meche, and Micah Fletcher, it always will be.”

Cultures are held together by stories. We define who we are — as individuals, families, organizations, and nations — by the stories we tell about ourselves. These stories express hopes, fears, and values. They create coherence out of complexity by emphasizing some things and ignoring others. Their moral worth lies not in their absolute truth or falsehood — all narratives simplify reality — but in the aspirations they express and the cultural character they shape. [Continue reading…]

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America’s CEOs fall out of love with Trump

Politico reports: The relationship between corporate America and Donald Trump’s White House has chilled.

The regular parades of business titans into the West Wing are gone. A gathering of executives led by Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman initially planned for next week fell apart amid scheduling conflicts.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Disney CEO Bob Iger quit as outside advisers to President Donald Trump following his rejection of the Paris climate accords. Dozens of other executives also publicly rebuked the White House over the decision, including Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein—a former colleague of many top administration officials—used his first-ever tweet to criticize the Paris decision, calling it a “setback for the environment and for the U.S.’s leadership position in the world.” [Continue reading…]

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Americans don’t need Washington to meet our Paris commitment

The New York Times reports: Representatives of American cities, states and companies are preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Paris climate accord, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.

The unnamed group — which, so far, includes 30 mayors, three governors, more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses — is negotiating with the United Nations to have its submission accepted alongside contributions to the Paris climate deal by other nations.

“We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed,” Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who is coordinating the effort, said in an interview.

It was unclear how, exactly, that submission to the United Nations would take place. Christiana Figueres, a former top United Nations climate official, said there was currently no formal mechanism for entities that were not countries to be full parties to the Paris accord.

Ms. Figueres, who described the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw as a “vacuous political melodrama,” said the American government was required to continue reporting its emissions to the United Nations because a formal withdrawal would not take place for several years.

But Ms. Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change until last year, said the Bloomberg group’s submission could be included in future reports the United Nations compiled on the progress made by the signatories of the Paris deal.

Still, producing what Mr. Bloomberg described as a “parallel” pledge would indicate that leadership in the fight against climate change in the United States had shifted from the federal government to lower levels of government, academia and industry. [Continue reading…]

Michael Bloomberg writes: In the U.S., emission levels are determined far more by cities, states, and businesses than they are by our federal government.

Over the past decade, the U.S. has led the world in emission reductions – and our federal government had very little to do with it. It happened because of leadership from cities, public opposition to coal plants, and market forces that have made cleaner sources of energy – including solar and wind – cheaper than coal. It makes no sense to pay extra to poison our environment – or to kill jobs. And the clean energy industry is now creating far more jobs than we are losing in the fossil fuel industry.

The fact of the matter is: Americans don’t need Washington to meet our Paris commitment, and Americans are not going to let Washington stand in the way of fulfilling it. That’s the message mayors, governors, and business leaders all across the U.S. have been sending.

So today, we want the world to know: The U.S. will meet our Paris commitment, and, through a partnership among American cities, states, and businesses, we will seek to remain part of the Paris Agreement process. The American government may have pulled out of the Agreement, but the American people remain committed to it – and we will meet our targets. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. lags behind majority of developed countries in providing health and security to its children

CBS News reports: On this International Children’s Day, the nonprofit group Save the Children is releasing a new report that underlines the stark challenges and dangers facing kids around the world. The “End of Childhood Index” evaluates countries for a number of serious events that threaten children, including food insecurity, infant mortality, violence, teen pregnancy and lack of education.

Among the findings, the U.S. ranks 36th out of 172 countries, far down the list of industrialized nations. Norway, Slovenia, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden top the list.

“I think the U.S., we have made progress in things like high school graduation rates and teen pregnancy, but if you look at the rest of the world, we haven’t made the progress that everybody else has made. We’ve got to invest more,” Save the Children president and CEO Carolyn Miles said Thursday on “CBS This Morning.” [Continue reading…]

Among countries where relatively few children miss out on childhood, the United States ranks next to last, just above Russia.

By the time Donald Trump has left office, it’s reasonable to expect the U.S. ranking will have fallen even further.

What does it say about a nation and its pretensions of greatness, if other nations with far less wealth can nevertheless provide better lives for their children.

What secret might the Slovenians or Irish share about the prospects for a country’s future and the value it places on its children.

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The small Texas city fighting to remain a ‘safe haven’ for immigrants

The Guardian reports: When Texas passed a law this month banning so-called sanctuary cities and empowering police officers to ask the immigration status of anyone they detain, protests rippled through the state’s major cities. Politicians and activists vowed legal action.

The first place to sue was not liberal Austin, the hub of the fightback, but tiny El Cenizo, a city of 3,800 that nestles along a bend in the Rio Grande and faces Mexico to the north, west and south.

Here, where 99% of residents are Hispanic and 15% to 20% are undocumented, a “safe haven” ordinance has been in place since 1999, forbidding local authorities from making immigration inquiries. When the new state law goes into effect in September, the failure of Texas officials to cooperate with immigration authorities will become a criminal offence also punishable by fines.

The lawsuit argues that the Texas bill, known as SB4, unconstitutionally inserts the state into the federal government’s job of immigration enforcement. SB4 is the most hard-line immigration law passed by a state since Arizona introduced SB 1070, a rule dubbed “show me your papers” by detractors that has largely been neutered by litigation from civil rights groups.

While the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, claims SB4 promotes law and order and keeping dangerous criminals off the streets, it was opposed by sheriffs and police chiefs in the state’s major cities, who worry that it will erode community trust and discourage the reporting of crimes. Critics of the law also worry that giving individual officers the option to pose immigration questions invites racial profiling and will turn routine traffic stops into preludes to deportation.

El Cenizo is now back in the national news, 18 years after a flurry of attention when it decided to make life easier for most of its residents by holding city meetings in Spanish, generating criticism from conservative groups who felt that not using English was unAmerican.

The timing is unfortunate for the 33-year-old mayor, Raul Reyes. In the week of 8 May, when the suit was filed, he was studying for his finals for a master’s degree in public administration. He also runs two businesses; being mayor pays only $100 a month. [Continue reading…]

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