Archive | April 2016

Clinton vs Trump

We now seem to have decided on our Two Weak Candidates. After a spirited primary season, it comes down to an establishment neoliberal candidate and a populist moderate candidate, both of whom are widely disliked and distrusted outside of their loyal core.

Watching Bernie Sanders’ campaign rattle the jewelry of the increasingly elitist Democratic Party has been an inspiring political story. No, he didn’t win the nomination, but he came out of near obscurity to start a serious progressive movement among the large voting bloc of millennials. He treats his young supporters like adults, and advises that they make their own judgment on the election. Instead of trading his endorsement for a post in the new administration, he is still campaigning for his issues. But has he had any effect on this election?

In his post, Winning in Losing: How Sanders pushed Clinton to the Left, Juan Cole lists several issues in which he thinks Sanders has changed the Clinton platform. Given Clinton’s recent arrogant dismissal of Sanders’ supporters, I am less optimistic:

1. Fracking: Clinton’s support for the controversial method of drilling for oil and gas has turned lukewarm. She puts so many restrictions on fracking that it is hard to see it making a profit under her. Clinton almost certainly adopted this position because Sen. Sanders campaigned on the environment and pushed her to the left.

Nevertheless, she is on record as being in favor of fracking, so I wonder if the restrictions would survive political deal-making. Even as coal is dying, Clinton still pays lip service to so-called ‘clean’ coal. Is there ‘clean’ fracking in our future?

2. TPP: She now opposes the mammoth trade bill, which would certainly have strengthened elites and further weakened individual rights.

No matter what she says while campaigning, I believe she is more likely than Trump to allow the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to be enacted.

3. Clinton may not have flip-flopped on the Keystone XL pipeline, but she came to a clear and strong position against it after she began competing with Sen. Sanders.

Also after it became clear that synthetic oil, and the pipeline meant to carry dilbit from the tar sands in Canada, no longer appeared nearly as profitable when competing with lower prices for real petroleum crude from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

5. In February, Clinton abruptly announced that she was for breaking up the big banks. Sanders on hearing her speech joked that he was looking into copyright issues.

But she still hasn’t released the text of her speeches to Wall Street.

Here is the crux of the matter:

Clinton will continue to need the left wing of the Democratic Party as she campaigns through Nov. 4. The trick for the left will be to find ways of tying her down and making sure she can’t swing back to the center-right of the party after the July convention.

Clinton is not known for her honesty. If she does manage to defeat Trump, we can expect some liberal Supreme Court picks but a lot of thinly-disguised conservative policy decisions, such as those in the PPI which I discussed in Republican Lite. The wealthy and upper classes will feel secure, but life for the working class will continue to get worse.

Chernobyl after thirty years

Thirty years ago, the staff running a test on reactor #4 at the Lenin Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine, USSR were reading unexpectedly high radiation levels. They debated stopping the test, but decided to keep going to find the limits. When the temperature readings climbed too high as well, they tried to shut the reactor down by inserting carbon rods.

There was, however, a design flaw, known by upper levels in the government, but not by the staff doing the testing. Inserting those rods somehow increased the reaction, increasing the heat. Containment water became steam, the roof of the reactor blew off and some ten tons of radioactive uranium became airborne, and was carried southeast, contaminating a large swath of Europe.

McClatchy has a very good article, Ruined Chernobyl nuclear plant will remain a threat for 3,000 years, in which they actually mention other nuclear accidents:

What they figured out was the worst nuclear-energy disaster in human history, far worse than the explosion at Kyshtym nuclear complex in 1957 in what was then the Soviet Union, which released 70 tons of radioactive material into the air, or the 1957 fire at the Windscale Nuclear Reactor in northwestern England, which forced a ban on milk sales for a month, or the Three Mile Island disaster in Pennsylvania on March 29, 1979, where a cooling malfunction led to a partial meltdown.

There are also persistent leaks threatening groundwater at Hanford in the US, and the ongoing Fukushima disaster in Japan.

CNN tries to consign the radiation problems to history, offering more upbeat articles about Chernobyl. In Meet the New Face of Chernobyl they focus on fetching young Yulia, who lives in a nearby community, Slavutych, and was chronicled over three years by Swiss photographer Neils Ackermann:

Ackermann isn’t interested in making you sit through another telling of that tragic tale about the firefighters who couldn’t put out the flames in 1986, or the technicians who failed to stop the poisonous radioactive particles from escaping the facility and raining down on nearby residents.

Instead, he wants to introduce you to Yulia.

“She’s intense, like an energy bomb,” Ackermann said, describing the 23-year-old woman he met in 2012. At the time, Yulia was kissing a man in a park in the center of Slavutych, a town near Chernobyl built for disaster evacuees.

Yulia was born three years after the disaster. Ackermann once asked her what she thought about its consequences. “She was looking at me like it was a really stupid question,” he recalled. “Because now, the scale of health consequences resulting from radioactivity in Slavutych are much more limited than what we may think about in the West.” Slavutych residents who work in Chernobyl are protected by strict control systems. The town’s attitude about radioactivity is much more realistic and pragmatic than it would be elsewhere. One young man showed Ackermann the tomb of his best friend in a cemetery and said more people in town die because of drugs and alcohol than radioactivity.

In another article, CNN emphasizes the precautions taken as Ukraine builds a new arched structure over the decrepit sarcophagus that was built quickly after the explosion. This New Safe Confinement structure is supposed to last at least one hundred years, but the buried mass will be a threat for at least three thousand years, so I wonder who will build the next thirty structures?

7-11, Heroin AM and Porn

The top mainstream news story on CNN today is that Donald Trump said 7-11 when he meant 9/11 – thus disqualifying him from public office. Despite countless opportunities, Rudy Giuliani never failed to say 9/11 properly, so there you have it.

Another big story is that Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Saturday Night Live poked fun at the over-prescribed painkillers that have helped to bring the heroin epidemic to white suburbia. According to CNN, the skit with JLD pitching Heroin AM has led to calls from some quarters to boycott SNL.

Today, I got a news release from Addiction Care Interventions, a New York chemical dependency treatment center that is advocating a viewer boycott of “Saturday Night Live” over the heroin commercial….

A Wisconsin sheriff issued his own Sunday-morning news release that called the skit an “unfortunate incident” that the community can survive by using the whole sorry affair “as an opportunity to once again have a conversation about the fight against heroin and the misuse of opiate prescription drugs.”

As an anecdote, I didn’t have or mention any great pain, but was prescribed Tylenol 3 with codeine for my Deep Vein Thrombosis. I was hesitant because I once took that stuff back in the 1980s after having two wisdom teeth pulled, and it made the room spin. I took one before bedtime, then had intense dreams until waking at 2 AM, and was not able to fall asleep again. So the next day I both had a swollen leg and was dog tired. On a client visit I ran into a drug counselor who urged us all to throw away our old meds lest someone steal them.

The Washington Post had an article last week to the effect that pornography has become a public health dilemma, and now Utah’s governor is signing a resolution saying just that and also signing a bill requiring that IT techs report any porn they find on customer’s computers to the authorities. A real crackdown on porn would be interesting because it is reportedly by far the main driver of internet traffic. Requiring people to rat out their clients is a scary thought, though. It sounds like a law that could be selectively enforced.

I do think that most porn is unrealistic, but so is any fantasy material. Look at all the beautiful, willing women dating the gangly nerds in Big Bang Theory. Then look at all the products the characters are holding. There is an agenda behind most of the stuff that is flashed before our eager eyes, and we have to learn the difference between fact and fabrication, truth and truthiness by ourselves.


In Clinton Needs Sanders, Josh Marshall posted a brief comment from John Judis, a well-known, progressive journalist who is joining TPM. Judis is exhorting Hillary Clinton to step up her game:

Clinton’s campaign seems stuck in the mud thematically. I listened to some of her speeches the last week. I heard her appealing to voters to support her because she is a Democrat and Sanders is not really. Look, America isn’t Europe circa 1960. We don’t have membership parties, and partisan allegiance has been declining since the election of 1896. If your main appeal is that you have a D next to your name, you are going to lose.

Maybe that’s why Wisconsin’s left-leaning Independents voted 70-30 in favor of Sanders.

I also heard the appeal from Clinton and her boosters that her programs are practical and pragmatic and that his are airy, grandiose and totally impractical. Clinton seems to be arguing that the test of a good campaign proposal is that it be able to be inserted in the annual budget message that the President sends to Congress in February — a message that is never read and that is inevitably pronounced dead on arrival. It’s no wonder that Sanders is attracting young voters. They know Washington is currently gridlocked, but they want to know where a presidential candidate wants the country to go in five, ten, or fifteen years. What are the larger changes on the basis of which incremental changes could be made?

I’m not sure Clinton has any big plan other than becoming the first woman president, and continuing to serve the comfortable classes while promising to help the struggling working classes, or as Peggy Noonan called them – the unprotected. The struggling classes, however, have lost faith in establishment promises, and are turning out for Trump or Sanders.

Sanders’ independent supporters could have been the core of the Democratic party someday, but probably won’t have much use for the Democrats after an election cycle resulting in business as usual. As Green Party candidate Dr Jill Stein recently reminded Abby Martin, third parties have stepped up to replace older parties that have faltered. If the Sanders Independents start their own movement, and if the Trump/Tea Party supporters do the same, the Democrats and Republicans might be relegated to the history books with the Federalists, Democratic-Republicans and Whigs.