Last month I visited Providence, Rhode Island, getting to know the city. I plan to establish a summer home here next spring. I’ll keep my permanent residence in Austin, but I’ve had it with Texas summers.
I’m a climate crisis refugee. I was born and raised in Texas, and I’ve always been glad of my heat tolerance. I’m comfortable up to 95 degrees. But now we have two months of the year when the mercury shoots up past 100. I’m tired of hearing weather casters tell me not to go outside in the afternoon.
I’m not the first climate migrant. People fleeing drought and flood have been on the move for a generation. It’s global, but it has been mostly a third world movement. Now the first world is beginning to feel it.
It’s possible to ignore the rising heat if you live in air conditioned spaces. But you have to be content to give up summer afternoons. I’m not.
Ironically, that air conditioning that shelters us from the heat outside makes the heat outside worse. The air conditioners use power from plants that exhaust greenhouse gases. And the air conditioners themselves pump heat out to the air. It’s a positive feedback loop. The hotter the environment, the more we use the air conditioner. The more we use the air conditioner, the hotter the environment.
I’m moving away from that loop. Of course, there’s no real escape. There’s another effect. Providence is in the hurricane zone. And with the climate crisis, hurricanes are growing stronger and more numerous.
I took a riverboat tour on the Providence River. The captain told tales of hurricanes past, and he pointed to a gated flood barrier high enough to keep out the flood surge of the worst hurricane on record. But the storms are growing stronger. It’s only a matter of time until a storm surge overwhelms that sea wall. And then another. Then there will be a new wave of climate migrants. More people on the move.
But for now, Providence is a great little city.
(Photos by Robin Cravey unless otherwise noted).
Feature image above: Downtown Providence. Photo by Jeffee Palmer. The city seen from the river.
Donald Trump, despicable demagogue, has been defeated. This is the victory of a lifetime for Joe Biden. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory for Democrats.
Trump is two steps down from Richard Nixon. William F. Buckley gave an apt defense of Nixon. When someone called Nixon a tenth-rate politician, Buckley retorted that Nixon may have been a tenth-rate man, but he was a first-rate politician. Trump is a tenth-rate man and a third-rate politician. His one talent is fulminating.
His talent for fulminating was enough to make him president of the United States, and that is a fearsome revelation of the state of the States. A substantial minority of citizens is ready to burn the country down. And they are waiting for a man with a torch.
Why? Who are they? They are poor, uneducated, and asocial. They live in the big empty spaces of our country, where they eke out a living and glare enviously at the wealth of city-dwellers. When I write that they are willing to burn the country down, I mean they are willing to burn the cities down. Trump’s fulminations are a cocktail for them.
Biden won by soothing the fears of the conservatives. That wasn’t the only way to win, but that’s the way he won. As the Democrats always do, Biden made the calculation that the left would support him because where else are they going to go? And as they always do, centrist Democrats are now busy demanding that the left shut up and not upset the right.
If the nihilism of the right is a harsh kind of insanity, the appeasement of the center is a soft kind. It’s the insanity of doing the same thing and expecting a different result. It’s Mike Dukakis thanking George Bush* for not using the “L” word.
The centrists achieved a tepid victory. Considering the mortal danger we are in, the Democrats made a pitiful showing. They won’t have the strength to do much. How is it that when the Republicans win power, they can do tremendous damage, but when the Democrats win, they can barely manage to do some deferred maintenance?
A more perfect union: step by step. Republicans worked for two generations to take control of the courts. Democrats can take control of the House and the presidency in just one generation. And we can rein in the Supreme Court.
First, expand the House. It hasn’t been done in four generations. Even setting aside the improved representation, this solves several problems. It reduces gerrymandering. It changes the balance of the electoral college. It changes the number of state delegations controlled by each party. It shifts representation toward the cities, where the people are.
Second, expand the Supreme Court. It hasn’t been done in six generations. Also, limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. For example, take away the authority to invalidate acts of Congress. Also, rotate the membership on the Supreme Court among all the appellate judges.
The steps outlined above can be taken with simple acts of Congress. Of course, that requires that Democrats have full control of both the House and the Senate as well as the Presidency. What if we don’t win the two Georgia Senate seats? Below are two steps that might get through a divided Congress.
Third, develop the Dakotas. Three generations ago FDR flew over the South and saw its backwardness. He took the initiative to develop it. Now, three generations later, that investment is paying off. Developing the Dakotas would be the same investment, and because those states are basically empty, the investment required would be smaller and would pay off sooner.
Several developments can draw educated and diverse citizens to the Dakotas. First, establish a major city of at least half a million residents in each state. Make some land grants. Locate a substantial Federal government center there. Also, create an industrial center that would attract major employers like Amazon or Google or Apple. This would bring in educated residents who could have a major impact on the culture of the state. A large center for environmental stewardship of public lands could be a liberalizing influence. These moves would immediately pay dividends by providing employment and hope to the region.
Fourth, expand federalism. Renovate interstate compacts and floor pre-emption. Provide for a comprehensive system of interstate compacts that can handle issues on a regional level that don’t command a majority on the national level. With floor preemption, the federal government sets minimum standards, and the states, or the interstate compacts, set higher standards. This is already done in a hodgepodge fashion. Rationalize it.
Beware of nullification. Nullification is the theory that a state doesn’t have to follow an act of Congress that it believes is unconstitutional. It was favored by Jefferson until he was elected president. Then it was disgraced by John C. Calhoun, who used it to protect slavery. The right has used nullification to restrict abortion. The current very successful movement to legalize marijuana is basically an exercise of nullification. Regardless of federal law, the states are legalizing it. This is dynamite. Handle with care.
Finally, expand the Senate. This one requires an amendment to the Constitution. This is the long game. It can be incubated in the interstate compacts. Provide that every state will receive one senator for every two (or three) members of the House. Sure, keep the minimum of two senators per state. This will complete the democratization of our government.
Trump will leave fulminating against our democracy. It is up to us to choose whether we will simply stand pat on eroding ground or fix the foundation.
I had to correct this, after I remembered that Dukakis did not run against Reagan. So, was it Mondale who said it to Reagan, or Dukakis who said it to Bush?
In the face of yet another police killing of a black man, protesters raise the call to #defundthepolice. It’s a message of anger, and anger is warranted. Could there be a positive message? Yes, let’s #callthesocialcorps.
The task at hand is to reduce police violence without reducing social order. Wait, that’s two tasks. Reduce police violence and keep social order. And while we’re at it, let’s decide that every person who needs emergency help gets the right help.
The Social Corps could accomplish all those tasks. The Social Corps would be a national corps of professionals trained in the social sciences: social workers. Call them social responders. Social responders would join the ranks of first responders like police officers, firefighters, and medics. Local emergency dispatch offices would sort calls between the police force and the social corps.
To sort emergencies requires making distinctions between the threatening or dangerous and the merely antisocial. Okay, true, antisocial can be pretty bad. But if it isn’t dangerous, it doesn’t require a firearm on the scene. In fact, what it requires is someone with the social knowledge to evaluate the behavior and respond as needed.
The title Social Corps fits because the responders protect the marginal in society from losing their places altogether. Someone who sees or experiences antisocial behavior would not need to fear calling for help, because the help would not be armed. Someone who simply can’t cope with society would not need to fear being harmed. In fact, someone in crisis would be attended with respect and assistance.
Social Corps responders would be sort of Andy-of-Mayberry style responders: no gun, but good will and understanding of human nature. They would be uniformed. They would have the authority to give orders, issue citations, make arrests, and testify in court. They would also know when an emergency warrants calling a police officer.
Police violence would decline sharply, because police officers would be responding to fewer emergencies. They would be freed from the call to apply rules of force to someone who is confused or panicky or “suspicious.” It’s likely that many officers would gladly take the education necessary to cross over from the force to the corps.
Social responders would be especially helpful to parents, schoolchildren, teachers, and school administrators. An unruly child who must be transported would be escorted not by an armed officer but a social worker. Children would not be pulled into the justice system.
Creating a corps of social responders would provide more benefits than just reducing violence, keeping order, and helping people. Responders would add a leavening of social intelligence to the general public. Moreover, the Corps would be a fertile ground for first-person social science research, and for internships for social science students.
The Social Corps would reduce government budgets, not in personnel but in other outlays. The number of responders would be comparable to the number of police officers, and similarly paid. But their equipment costs, and their liability, would be far less than for a police force.
In this moment, there seems to be a popular will to make an end of police violence. Now, while this moment lasts, is the time to create a lasting institution to carry the principles forward. The Social Corps could do the job.
I’m for Medicare for All, but not all at once.We should expand Medicare to cover all Americans.But we should do it in steps.Step one: cover the kids.
What is Medicare for All?When I talk about it, I mean the current Medicare system, expanded to cover everyone.People understand the current Medicare, and it was created by our last great President, a Texan.Senator Bernie Sanders (I voted for him and may again.) and some Democrats define Medicare for All to mean a fully comprehensive system that covers all necessary medical costs.That would be great, some day.
Back in 2010, when the so-called “tea party” Republicans were demonstrating against the Affordable Care Act, I went to my Congressman’s town hall meeting carrying a sign that I made. It said:
From my little home-made sign, the idea of expanding Medicare caught fire.(Well, okay, maybe that wasn’t the spark.But the idea did catch fire.)
Universal Medicare should be phased in for three reasons.First, there is not enough support, even in the Democratic Party, to get the expansion done in one time.Second, such a sweeping expansion would be a tremendous shock to the economy.Third, we don’t want another disastrous rollout like we had with Obamacare.The best way to expand Medicare substantially while establishing that it is going to be for everyone eventually, is to extend it to all children under 25.
Start with the kids
We should start with kids for several reasons.First, children are the most vulnerable population.Medicare, like Social Security, was established for the elderly because they are a vulnerable population.Children are also a vulnerable population.Second, covering children will take a lot of financial pressure off families.Third, we are already spending some of the money to cover children, so it’s not as big a budget stretch to bring them under Medicare.
We spend money covering kids now with a program called CHIP.It’s a very limited, means-tested program, so it’s inefficient and unfair.Let’s discontinue CHIP and bring the kids into a solid program.
Forget about expanding Obamacare (Pelosicare, anyone?).It’s a house built on sand.Let’s build our house on rock—Medicare.
The beauty is that, once we have covered both ends of the life span, we will have created a donut hole in the middle that obviously will be closed in time.Just as the donut hole in prescription drug coverage created by the Republicans was inevitably filled…What?The prescription drug donut hole hasn’t been filled?What’s the holdup?
Do you want to lock in the remaining expansion?Sure.Take it in two more steps.Cover 45 to 65 in the thirties.Then cover 25 to 45 in the forties.That’s soon enough to feel definite, but far enough out to feel non-threatening.
Maybe this is our only shot to expand Medicare in this generation.Let’s don’t blow it.Social Security was created in the thirties.Medicare was created in the sixties.If we get this expansion done in the twenties, we may be waiting another generation or two.Let’s make it the most important one.