Antisemitism was root cause, but automatic weapons the method for killing 11 at Pittsburgh Synagogue. To stop mass shootings, we must ban automatic weapons!

Reactions by Jews and non-Jews to the massacre of 11 people at Tree Of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh overwhelmed my Facebook feed this morning. Many stars of David. Many portrait photos with “#TogetherAgainstAntisemitism” added. Lots of expressions of shock, anger, fear and sadness.

It was a horrible event, another bloody example that we must pass laws that outlaw automatic and semi-automatic firearms, and pass a number of other gun control and gun safety laws on the federal and state levels. Licenses for guns with mandatory renewals. Seven-day waiting period for all gun sales. A stronger national registry of those banned from owning guns. Repeal of ”stand your ground” laws. Limits on annual purchases of ammunition.

This particular slaughter of the innocents hit me, and many I knew, particularly close to home, not just because I’m Jewish, but because it occurred in my old home—the neighborhood in which I lived for many years. Tree of Life synagogue is located three blocks from our former house in Squirrel Hill. I knew many people that went to Tree of Life. The list of victims includes two people I knew well. One coached one of my son’s Little League teams and the other served as a long-time Treasurer for another Pittsburgh Synagogue which I attended for a while.

In our grief, whether personal or empathetic, we must remember one thing: These 11 Jewish lives are worth no more—and no less—than the lives lost at Parkland, Newtown, the Charleston AME Church, San Bernardino, Las Vegas and the Orlando night club. Going beyond mass murders, usually committed with automatic rifles, the 11 Jewish lives exterminated by the gunfire of an anti-Semite are worth no more—and no less—than the lives of the innocents killed in Yemen, Syria and the Israeli-occupied territories. Only hypocrites can mourn the loss of Jewish lives and not also be moved to tears by the deaths of Palestinian protesters and the starvation of Yemeni children. We can widen the circle of victims of human stupidity, greed and cruelty to include the refugees from war, famine, gangs and government suppression now routinely turned away or forced into captivity in the United States and Western Europe.

Humans are creating a lot of innocent victims in the 21st century, a sad carryover from the gory 20th century, which featured world wars, mass starvations, enormous post-war migrations and the development and use against innocent bystanders of nuclear weapons. What unites the two centuries is not only violence, but the singular cause for most of it: racism—fear and disdain for people of another color or ethnicity. It is clear, however, that Donald Trump has made a bad situation worse. FBI statistics show that hate crimes overall increased precipitously the day Trumpty-Dumpty took office and have stayed high ever since. Some have postulated that his many comments alluding to violence against his opponents have emboldened violent action both by rightists in the United States and by autocratic governments elsewhere. Moreover, Trump and his administration’s hostility towards immigrants makes the Donald the leader of a new world order of nativist political movements in Great Britain, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Brazil and elsewhere.

A new analysis of the global terrorism database shows that the extreme right committed two-thirds of terrorist acts on American soil last year. Under Trump, the American right has felt an expansive sense of empowerment in the United States that has too often manifested itself in violence. The right has so many targets: Blacks, Muslims, Jews, gays, immigrants, Latinos, the transgendered, abortion providers. In many ways, the melting pot has turned into a shooting gallery.

We should learn two lessons from this week of horrors that began with the fallout of the butchering of an American resident by the Saudis and was dominated by the delivery of pipe bombs to a dozen or more people Trump routinely lambasts with violent language: On the spiritual level, we should learn to care about and act against the misery of all people, be they your next-door neighbor, your religious brethren or victims of war halfway around the world.

On the practical level, we’ve learned profoundly that it’s a lot easier to buy an automatic weapon than to construct a bunch of sophisticated bombs from scratch. If we want to stop this particular kind of misery—mass murders perpetrated by nuts of all political and religious persuasion—we have to ban automatic and semiautomatic rifles and place much greater restrictions on owning, carrying and using other types of firearms.

Our Middle Eastern policy favors Saudi Arabia over Iran and that makes absolutely no sense

The reaction of Donald Trump and other administration officials to the butchering of U.S. resident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabian security staff illuminates the larger absurdity of American foreign policy in the Middle East.

Whether it’s not believing it happened, accepting the Saudis’ several sanitized versions of the brutal assassination, or minimizing the transgression and soft pedaling the reaction to this barbarism, Trump, his factotums and right-wing pundits give two reasons for putting their faith in the Saudi version: the money Saudis pay U.S. companies for arms and the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia in U.S. foreign policy. In the age of fracking, few talk about Saudi oil.

Putting money above morality and a free press merely demonstrates—for what seems like the five hundredth time this year—the amoral corruption of Trumpism. Democrats, mainstream journalists and many government officials across the globe rightly see the depths of depravity in going easy on the Saudis. Perceptive commentators have noted that Trump’s frequent violent language against reporters may have made the Saudis believe that they had “permission” to use torture and murder to silence one of the regime’s strongest critics while issuing a de facto warning to other journalists questioning Saudi actions in Yemen and elsewhere. Strangely, no one has yet compared the dismemberment of Khashoggi—likely initiated while he was still alive—to the ISIS beheadings of a few years back.

But I’ve yet to see any U.S. politician or pundit push back on the assertion that Saudi Arabia holds a strategic importance in U.S. policy. That strategic importance is tied to constraining Iran, the Saudis fierce rival in the region for the hearts and minds of Moslems. Thus what most people, including Democrats, really mean by “strategic importance of Saudi Arabia” is “we’re choosing Saudi Arabia over Iran.” And what a crazy decision that is in so many ways.

Let’s start with past harm to the United States. An ally of the Unites States before the 1979 revolution, Iranian students took 52 Americans hostage a few days after that revolution started. Iran held the 52 Americans for 444 days. Although the hostages were beaten and lived in fear, every single one of them came back alive. Since then, there has been no documented case of any American dying at the hands of the Iranian military or police. It is true that Iran has supported political groups engaged in violence against America and its allies, but giving groups money and arms is far different from pulling the actual trigger. If it wasn’t, we couldn’t justify our support and military sales to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and other countries which have committed atrocities.

Compare the harm inflicted on the United States by Saudi Arabia. It is common knowledge that virtually all of the 9/11 hijackers who killed almost 3,000 Americans were Saudis who received monetary support from other Saudis. Less well-know are the many direct and indirect ties between the 9/11 perpetrators and financers and Saudi government officials.  can now add Jamal Khashoggi to the toll of dead American residents attributable to Saudi Arabia.

Now let’s consider the assets of our friend the Saudis compared with our enemy the Iranians. Saudi Arabia is a desert country of 33 million with lots of oil and no other natural resources. It has no history of democracy and its educational system does not produce graduates with marketable skills. Besides oil, Iran has a wealth of natural resources, an historically strong, Western-looking middle class, and a well-educated population of 81.5 million. Iran held elections with real meaning for decades until a U.S.-supported coup d’état helped to install Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as dictator in 1953; today there are semi-free elections in Iran. Saudi Arabia occasionally has local elections to offices without any power.

While neither country offers the freedoms we are used to in the West, Iran is definitely a more open society than Saudi Arabia. The cultural history of Saudi Arabia—dominated by nomadic tribes and Islam—has little in common with the West, whereas Iran is Persia, whose civilization is one of the foundational precursors of European thought and culture. Persian/Iranian history is rich in important non-religious thinkers and writers. Other than Mohammed the Prophet and his first prominent followers, who has the Arabian Peninsula produced? Look at the Wikipedia articles titled “List of Saudi Arabian Writers” and “List of Persian Writers.” The Arabian list has 37 names; the Persian has 188, including some I recognized as literary masters: Ferdowski, Omar Kayyám, Saadi, Hafez, Leila Kasra, Muhammad Iqbal.

As usual, our foreign policy has no basis in history. Our saber-rattling for years only goaded Iran to invest more in its military and to developing nuclear weapons. Economic sanctions, however, brought Iran to the table and led to the Iran Nuclear Treaty, which the Trump Administration has unfortunately shredded. Theocrats may often have the last word in Iran, but the middle class and business classes put enormous pressure on the elected government and the religious leaders to provide a growing economy. (The Saudis, of course, don’t face that demand since the sheer wealth of the Saudi Princes enables them to put more than half the population on welfare.) So why the heck do we need to arm anybody to counter Iran, when economic threats have worked just fine? Sure, the military arms industry will suffer, but that shouldn’t matter to any government that feels a responsibility to its people and the world. A foreign policy based on bellicosity often leads to war.

But don’t expect the horrific killing of Jamal Khashoggi to change basic U.S. policy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Prince Muhammad bin Salman, AKA MBS (as in “more BS”) step down as head of government, maybe returning in five or 10 years, maybe forever exiled from political leadership for committing the sin of not covering up his bloody tracks. But the U.S. will continue to consider the Saudis as allies and Iran as a mortal enemy, at least as long as the industrial military complex dominates our political process.

Bad idea of the year, consumer division: Banks now trying to get children hooked on debit cards by enabling parents to use them for giving allowance

If there’s an award for bad idea of the year, non-politics division, the early frontrunner must certainly be giving children their allowance on debit cards. Pushed by banks and app developers, the debit card spares parents the annoying task of getting cash to give the kids for their weekly or monthly allotment or as payment for chores. It also allows them to see all the purchases the kid makes and restrict purchases from certain stores. Many of these new cards attached to apps also give parents the option of designating some of their payments to savings accounts. The past few weeks have seen a very small but persistent media campaign about the paperless allowance, including an article in the New York Times’ “Your Money Advisor” column.

According to the Times’ sympathetic article, financial advocates say that the main benefit of the cards “is that they can prompt parents to talk with their children about money.” Prompt, by the way, means reminds. So even the so-called advocates admit the cards fulfill no real function, since any online calendar or the bugging of the kids for their cash can serve to prompt the parent. Of course, we can’t forget the convenience of not having to stop at the ATM or bank to make sure you have the bucks to pay the little dears. Just load up the cards.

These so-called financial advocates must represent the banks and app companies, because they certainly don’t represent families.

Forget about the fees, which give parents and children less buying power. The prepaid cards deny children the opportunity to learn firsthand what money is and what it can do: With a card, the child is unable to see money accumulate or understand what it means to exchange money for a product or service. With a card, the child doesn’t get the experience—and pleasure—of going to the bank to deposit or withdraw money and seeing principle grow in the passbook or knowing when you see the new deposit appear online the number and denomination of dollars and change it represents. The card thus denies the child the opportunity to use money to learn basic math and financial skills.

Because the child knows or will find out that the parent can use the card to monitor and veto purchases, the child loses the sense of ownership over the money. When the parent designates some of the allowance to savings, it’s not the child saving, it’s the parent. The child is the active saver only when she-he sees the money and makes the decision to put some away. Part of learning how to handle money is to make mistakes with the small amounts children get for their allowance. Parental supervision of how every penny of an allowance is spent is an ultimate form of helicopter parenting, keeping children intellectual slaves to their parents long after they should be stretching out and starting to take responsibility for themselves.

One app company makes cards for children as young as six. Imagine a six-year-old who never gets to convert ones to fives or to count out fifty pennies and stuff them in a paper roll. Moreover, think of the kind of consumer this child will grow into. A consumer who has primarily used debit cards. One who is used to paying fees, and in fact probably grows up not even knowing that his use of the card comes with fees. A consumer whose concept of money is completely abstract. One whose math skills may not translate into a practical understanding of what buying power is and means. In other words, a consumer trained to be a financial rube. Perfect for banks and retailers.

Frankly, I don’t see any use for a debit card, because federal laws free banks to pile on fees. No-fee credit cards I like, but only if you do what I have done since I got my first credit card 48 years ago—pay off the entire balance at the end of every month to avoid incurring any interest or fees. But use of both credit and debit cards should wait until a child has basic math skills and has demonstrated financial responsibility. Most college kids are forced to use credit cards to make purchases at their universities. That’s soon enough to be introduced to this very complicated and fee-ridden way of keeping track of your money.

Time to do more than just protest immigration policies. Comment on a bad new regulation Trump wants to inflict on immigrants

The latest Trump scheme to suppress immigration is to give immigrants a Sophie’s choice—two equally onerous options: either forgo all government benefits or forgo the option of becoming a citizen.

Immigrants must meet many qualifications before they can obtain permanent residency and citizenship. Part of the process is the requirement to undergo what is called the “public charge assessment,” which evaluates, on a case-by-case basis, whether an individual applying for permanent residence is likely to become dependent on the government for public assistance. If an applicant is categorized as a potential “public charge,” immigration services can reject their green card application. The “public charge assessment” has been part of federal immigration law for decades, but up to now has always been narrowly defined. The proposed rule, however, would make the assessment consider many more federal programs than in the past, including, for the first time, health and nutrition programs.

Critics rightly point out that this proposed new regulation will discourage poor people, including virtually all refugees, from crossing the border, and encourage many to return to their country of origin. Critics assume that the regulation won’t affect the wealthy, who don’t need benefits. But that ends up being a miniscule number of immigrants, as most people in all countries are poor or middle class. Much of the middle class in the United States has to take government benefits like subsidized healthcare, disaster relief or unemployment compensation from time to time, so we can imagine that many if not most immigrants will fear having the same experience and therefore face the dilemma of deciding between the security of citizenship or the pressing needs of food, shelter, healthcare, education and disaster relief.

The new regulation will thus negatively affect virtually all immigrants from all countries. To view it as another example of the rich getting special treatment while the poor suffer is to miss the broader problem: that it will lead to far fewer immigrants, which will be disastrous to the American economy. We are already facing labor shortages, which are expected to grow as more baby boomers retire. Caregiving, agricultural, hospitality and construction are just a few of the industries already crying out for new employees.

A heap of current research proves that immigrants—legal and illegal—increase the rate of employment of native-born Americans and also increase the average wages of the native-born. Immigrants also pose less of a crime threat than native-born Americans, since both legal and illegal immigrants commit fewer crimes overall and fewer violent crimes.

In other words, if we stem the flow of immigrants, as the Trump administration intends to do, we shrink the economy and the average wage while increasing the crime rate.

There is still something we can do to prevent this awful new regulation from taking effect. We are in the middle of the comment period on the regulation, a time when anyone—corporations, think tanks and individuals—can publicly comment. By law, the administration must take those comments into account when creating the final rules.

The easiest way to comment is to follow the instructions on a special web page set up by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the lobbying arm of the Quakers. Now FCNL is framing the issue primarily as one of rich and poor, and they are absolutely right that the rich will end up having a much easier time to citizenship under this nasty reg. But don’t let that cloud the main point. This regulation will lead to far fewer immigrants at all economic levels, from all countries, which goes against the best interests of every American.

You can also go to a special web page that the pro-immigration nonprofit organization, the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign, for an easy way to make your comment on the regulation.

The deadline to make comments is October 21, so don’t tarry. Link to FCNL or Protecting Immigrant Families today, follow the instructions, and tell the Trump administration you oppose the reg.

Research shows carbon markets don’t reduce pollution as much as regulation, yet world governments insist of carbon trading to address global warming

The Spring 2018 issue of Jewish Currents had my latest “Left is right” article that uses the latest research to show that the left position on environmental issues is the correct one: that the government has a role in addressing climate change and that the best way to do so is with regulation and not market solutions.

There are no current plans to post the article on the Jewish Currents website, so I thought I would give you a taste of it in hopes that you will buy the issue to read the whole piece, and maybe even start a subscription. Jewish Currents is a leading left-wing journal of politics and the arts.

Here’s the excerpt:

Instead of regulation, conservatives and even some liberals have proposed letting the market fix what the market broke. Their solution is government-administered markets in which an agency gives or sells a set number of permits (or credits) to emit specific quantities of a pollutant over a specific period of time, requiring polluters to hold permits equal to their emissions. Polluters that want to increase their emissions must buy permits from others willing to sell. In this fantasy, polluters who can reduce emissions most cheaply will sell their permits to heavy polluters, achieving the emission reduction at the lowest cost to society. This solution—called “cap and trade”—is embraced by most governments of the world today and many Democrats, including former president Barack Obama.

Tamra Gilbertson and Oscar Reyes, both of the Carbon Trade Watch/Transnational Institute, demonstrate in Carbon Trading: How It Works and Why It Fails that carbon trading markets are ”a multi-billion dollar scheme whose basic premise is that polluters can pay someone else to clean up their mess so they don’t have to.” For one thing, Gilbertson and Reyes argue, the process of setting emission levels is easily tainted by lobbying and politics, resulting in too many permits issued, and major polluters granted additional revenue streams. Moreover, carbon markets do nothing to speed the transition to solar, wind and other alternatives, but merely manage the use of fossil fuels.

As an article of faith, however, right-wingers believe that simple regulation, be it setting efficiency standards for appliances or assessing fines on companies emitting too much greenhouse gas, stifles the freedom to innovate that they fantasize produces more efficient and higher quality solutions. The reality is that companies will “innovate” to meet a regulation just as readily as they innovate to adapt to any market change. The claim that market-based solutions like emissions trading are “less bureaucratic, less centralized, less coercive, and more supportive of innovation than other forms of regulation does not stand up to scrutiny,” write Gilbertson and Reyes.

Recent history serves as some guide here. Starting in the 1990s, both the U.S. and the European Union decided to combat acid rain by reducing the levels of sulfur dioxide in the air. As stipulated by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the U.S. established a sulfur dioxide trading scheme, while the European Union instituted a series of strict regulations. Using the cap-and-trade strategy, the U.S. obtained mediocre results, reducing sulfur dioxide emissions by 43.1 percent by the end of 2007. Over the same time span, EU countries reduced emissions by a robust 71%.

Yet nations persist in creating carbon markets. For example, China recently announced it was forming a giant national market to trade credits for the right to emit greenhouse gases; the New York Times noted that the trading plan “is not a sure bet to succeed.”

The conceptual problem with cap-and-trade is that it is a market mechanism meant to fix an inherent flaw in the market: The health and environmental costs of fossil fuel extraction and use are not assessed to the companies involved, but are spread to society. This flaw in the overall market repeats itself in the carbon-trading market because it is inherent in all markets not to consider hidden costs to third parties. Further, the reduction of pollution to the lowest common denominator of money conceals the absolute value of an unpolluted environment not threatened by excessive warming. When we reduce all values and inputs to money, it is easy to neglect the overall objectives of society — e.g., the protection of people, the ending of hunger, the maintenance of a clean, safe, biologically diverse environment. These values are better expressed and pursued through regulations and mandates established by a democratic government than by the “logic” of the marketplace.

When Conservatives say regulation kills jobs, they are ignoring a pile of research that says otherwise

The Spring 2018 issue of Jewish Currents had my latest “Left is right” article that uses the latest research to show that the left position on environmental issues is the correct one: that the government has a role in addressing climate change and that the best way to do so is with regulation and not market solutions.

There are no current plans to post the article on the Jewish Currents website so I thought I would give you a taste of it in hopes that you will buy the issue to read the whole piece, and maybe even start a subscription. Jewish Currents is a leading left-wing journal of politics and the arts.

Here’s the excerpt:

It is too early to say with 100% ironclad confidence that government intervention can work to address the damage of climate change. But once we accept the premise that it does — as do virtually all governmental and economic experts around the globe except conservatives in the United States —  it is easy to demonstrate that government solution such as regulations and mandates can effectively address a changing climate, while market-based solutions are bound to fail.

The case against government regulation to control and reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases or promote the development and use of alternative energy is built on the myth that every additional government regulation leads to a reduction in jobs and hurts the economy. An overwhelming amount of evidence shows that regulation has little, if any, impact on the number of jobs in the economy in either direction. The best start for reviewing the research on the impact of regulation is Does Regulation Kill Jobs, a collection of 14 articles by a total of 23 leading economic and governmental researchers. In the introductory chapter, the editors conclude that the number of jobs lost through enhanced regulation virtually always will equal the number of jobs gained because of the regulation. They also compare the impact of regulation on jobs in cleaner, less regulated parts of the country with that in dirtier, more regulated areas; these studies indicate relatively few job losses without even taking intoaccount job creation that the regulation produces elsewhere..

As Wayne Gray (Clark University) and Ronald J. Shadbegian (Georgetown University, now at the Environmental Protection Administration) detail in another chapter, the overall effect of pollution abatement on employment is very small: a 10 percent increase in overall abatement costs typically leads to a loss of roughly thirty jobs in industries averaging 40,000 employees. Moreover, they report, the cost to buy, install and maintain pollution-abatement equipment is quite small, measuring about 0.4 percent of all manufacturing shipments (which is far from the entire economy). Coglianese and Carrigan conclude: “The empirical evidence actually provides little reason to expect that U.S. economic woes can be solved by reforming the regulatory process.”

Having failed to prove that regulations remove jobs from the economy — and in fact fully demonstrating that the number of jobs gained through regulation equals the number lost —many economists are now busy trying to quantify the loss in lifetime earnings, self-esteem and other factors that negatively affect those who do lose their jobs.

There can be no doubt that those who lose their jobs because a dirty plant closes down or a toxic material is no longer permitted will suffer, and that there are political costs to that suffering (see: Wisconsin’s, Pennsylvania’s, and Ohio’s swing for Trump in the 2016 election). For every worker who suffers, however, another gains a job in inspection, compliance, or the development and manufacturing of non-polluting technologies. It comes out about even, unless the new jobs pay less, or the newly unemployed receive a lower level of unemployment compensation and other government aid. That’s not a problem with regulation, but reflects critical flaw in America’s advanced free-market economy: a low minimum wage, great inequality in income and wealth, a diminished labor union movement, and the decades-long shredding of the social safety net.

These analyses of jobs lost and gained exclude many substantial benefits of governmental action to address climate change. For that, we can turn to the White House Office of Management and Budget reports to Congress on the benefits and costs of federal regulations.

The agency’s 2016 report, for example, provides a stunning justification for environmental regulation: In the previous ten-year period, thirty-seven EPA regulations produced between $176 billion and $678 billion of benefits (in 2014 dollars) while costing between $43billion and $51billion. That means for every dollar spent on conforming to EPA regulations, the country benefited anywhere from $3.45 to $15.70. Conservatives are ignoring the evidence when they repeat time and time again that environmental regulation hurts the economy and reduces jobs.

Early European settlers in North America ignored weather patterns with disastrous results. Lesson: government must address global warming

The Spring 2018 issue of Jewish Currents had my latest “Left is right” article that uses the latest research to show that the left position on environmental issues is the correct one: that the government has a role in addressing climate change and that the best way to do so is with regulation and not market solutions.

There are no current plans to post the article on the Jewish Currents website so I thought I would give you a taste of it in hopes that you will buy the issue to read the whole piece, and maybe even start a subscription. Jewish Currents is a leading left-wing journal of politics and the arts.

Here’s the excerpt:

Another recent book about how weather affects human history, historian Sam White’s (Ohio State) A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America, reminds us that the 21st century is not the first time that Europeans in North America have ignored the climate or tried to impose their will on it, thereby creating human disasters. In the 16th century, several European nations founded a number of settlements in North America, yet any attempt to colonize north of Florida ended disastrously with crop failures, deaths from freezing, famine, cannibalism, and retreat. White documents how European arrogance in reaction to the Little Ice Age, which peaked in the 1500s, contributed to their many failed settlement attempts.

Following the Greeks and Romans, the European science of that time postulated that all geographic regions at every latitude would have the same weather. The weather in New York would be the same as in Madrid, in Quebec as in Paris, in the north of Canada as in London. In every case, of course, the weather was and is much colder and subject to more extremes in the North American locale than in the European city at the same latitude. Despite the evidence before their eyes, however, European settlers and adventurers assumed and prepared for the milder European clime. Promoters of North American settlements who had experienced the harsh North American winters of the Little Ice Age first hand nevertheless painted a rosy picture of mild climes and long growing seasons for the folks back home. Royal governments, which commissioned and financed the settlements, tended to believe this nonsense.

Europeans also ignorantly assumed that the same crops and domesticated animals they cultivated in Europe would transfer readily to the New World, and that they could grow the crops at the same time of year. Thus attempts by the Spanish to grow winter wheat and barley and raise goats and sheep in Florida ended in complete failure. Bad harvest after bad harvest led to cannibalism during the “starving time” that the English colony at Jamestown endured later in the century. Like the Spanish, the English ignored the empirical truth of the weather they encountered — and the recommendations of Native Americans — instead arrogantly persisting in ideas disproved time and again.

Europeans finally learned the way humans have always learned: through observation of empirical phenomena and the accumulation of evidence. With an assist from the warming climate, Europeans applied the knowledge gained from observation and learned how to survive and thrive in North America, building permanent encampments from the beginning of the 17th century onward.

We are just at the beginning of studying how groups of humans have responded to climate change through recorded history. The examples of the Roman Empire and the European early experience in North America came during the only periods of sudden weather change in the 2100 years before the 20th century, and suggest that organized intervention under the aegis of government has often helped human populations adjust to the effects of climate change, while ignoring climate change leads to disaster. Other examples — the actions of the Egyptian government to combat the famine described in Genesis, the British and French governments’ differing responses to the Black Plague, and the lack of response of the Ming dynasty to the famine of the 1660s — all strengthen the premise that government intervention works a lot better than doing nothing. Keep in mind that until about 1800, human activity was not a major factor in causing temperatures to turn warmer or colder, and that it took another century to develop the tools to measure its impact.

Analyses of the Roman climate show government action to address climate change works

The Spring 2018 issue of Jewish Currents had my latest “Left is right” article that uses the latest research to show that the left position on environmental issues is the correct one: that the government has a role in addressing climate change and that the best way to do so is with regulation and not market solutions.

There are no current plans to post the article on the Jewish Currents website, so I thought I would give you a taste of it in hopes that you will buy the issue to read the whole piece, and maybe even start a subscription. Jewish Currents is a leading left-wing journal of politics and the arts.

Here’s the excerpt:

There are two conceptual differences between the left and the right when it comes to the environment and environmental policy. The first difference is fundamental: The left believes it is appropriate for the government to coordinate or dictate action to respond to environmental degradation and climate change, whereas the right questions the effectiveness of any governmental solution that impedes the freedom of individuals or corporations. The second difference is tactical: Once a nation or a group of nations has decided that government intervention is necessary, leftists prefer simple regulation, whereas right-wingers insist on complicated, market-based solutions like carbon trading. Readers may immediately think that I’m leaving out the fundamental issue of whether global warming is actually occurring and, if so, whether humans have caused it. In fact, that question has been decided by science.

Recent research gives us a fresh perspective on the impact of climate change on past societies, and the ways that past governments reacted to sudden modifications of weather patterns. Historians are poring over statistics from carbon dating, tree rings, ice bores, human records of harvests, food prices and plagues, population estimates and fossils to understand how weather has affected humans in the past. Although the discipline of history has only recently begun investigating the impact of climate on past civilizations, a fair amount of research already suggests that government intervention works better than denying the realities of weather.

Before the industrial revolution and the development of vaccines and advanced agricultural techniques and sanitation systems, sudden environmental change typically led to famines and epidemics. A decade of droughts or cold summers could ruin enough harvests to create widespread hunger. As classicist Kyle Harper (University of Oklahoma) details in The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire, a change in temperature could also force a carrier of disease such as rodents or mosquitos to move to a new region and infect human populations already weakened by famine.

Harper finds that weather change is implicated in the entire history of the Empire. From circa 200 [BCE] to 150 [CE], the Roman world had such good weather that climatologists call the period the “Roman Climate Optimum—warm, wet, and stable across much of the territory the Romans conquered. In an agricultural economy, these conditions were a major boost. The population swelled yet there was still enough food to feed everyone. But from the middle of the 2nd century, the climate became less reliable. The all-important annual Nile flood became erratic. Droughts and severe cold spells became more common. The Climate Optimum became much less optimal.

According to The Fate of Rome, the unrest throughout the Empire in the second half of the 2nd century is tied to cooling weather at the end of the Climate Optimum and the epidemic, probably of smallpox, that it helped to cause. Two hundred years later, a large and significant drought in the Asian steppes turned the Huns into “armed climate refugees on horseback.” In the 530s and 540s, a series of violent volcanoes, highlighted by the “year without summer” in 536, ushered in the Late Antique Little Ice Age, which saw the greatest decline in the energy the Earth receives from the sun over the past 2,000 years. This Late Antique Ice Age likely led to the first known outbreak of bubonic plague in 541. Over the next century or so, the Eastern Roman Empire’s population fell by as much as 50 percent, as the plague recurred about every ten years.

How did the Roman Empire react to these weather crises? Harper documents that the Roman governments took aggressive action to ameliorate the damaging impact of climate change on the economy and society. Because the emperors and their advisors perceived the menace of climate change as epidemics, their actions primarily related to population management: From Augustus onward, the Roman state penalized childlessness and rewarded fecundity in its policies. About 30 years after the Antonine plague of 165 to 180 CE, Caracalla took the unprecedented step of granting citizenship to all non-slave residents of the Empire, leading to an infusion of talent, growth of the imperial bureaucracy, and the dissemination of Roman laws and customs throughout imperial territory. Diocletian and Constantine’s answer to the Cyprian Plague in the 250s—which devastated the population and led to severe food shortages—was more government control of the economy and the military, producing the economic good times of the 4th century

Justinian, however, ruling from 527 to 565, could not add new peoples into the imperial system in his response to the disasters of the Late Antique Little Ice Age because there was no additional population left to integrate. Instead, writes Harper, Justinian built cisterns, aqueducts, granaries, and transport depots, reclaimed floodplains, and moved riverbeds, trying to “control the flux of nature.” But in the end, the Eastern Empire could not do enough to overcome the depopulation caused by a severe cooling of the Earth that lasted about two hundred years.

Before assuming women disgusted with GOP over handling of Kavanaugh sex allegations will vote blue in November, remember: a majority of white women voted Trump in 2016

Given the way the Republican Senators and Donald Trump are treating the accusations of serious sexual misconduct by three women against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, can there be any American woman in her right mind voting for a Republican this November?

Before you answer that question, consider that a majority of white women voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election after 19 accusations of harassment or assault, plus countless tweets that denigrated women for their looks or sex.

Does that mean racism trumps sexism in the United States? Or that a large number of women buy into the idea of male privilege, the “boys will be boys” morality that forgives men but not women their transgressions—youthful or mature? Or perhaps many are so beaten down by their significant others that, like victims of the Stockholm syndrome, they have taken on the belief system of their oppressors.

The contrast between the claims of Anita Hill and the three—so far—women who have accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct sheds a light on just how serious the charges are against Trump’s choice to fill the open position on the Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas was accused of making suggestive and degrading remarks to Anita Hill and several other female employees (who were not called to testify). Illegal because it constituted workplace harassment, but far less serious than what Kavanaugh’s accusers are saying: Attempted rape. Exposing oneself and thrusting one’s penis towards the victim’s face. Getting a girl drunk and participating in a gangbang of her.

We could theoretically explain away Thomas’ actions in certain circumstances—if it happened only during a short period of time when he was under pressure, if it were his first job and he were under 25 years of age, if it happened in high school or college, if he had issued a sincere apology that showed he had evolved.

But under no circumstances can we explain away, forgive or rationalize what Kavanaugh probably did. It is never right to force yourself on a woman or to whip it out in front of a woman without her permission. And multiple men having sex with a woman incapacitated by alcohol, drugs or mental illness—there are so many levels of immorality and sociopathy about that scenario that is hard to contain my anger and sense of shame thinking about it.

What unifies the probable actions of Thomas and Kavanaugh with those of Weinstein, Trump, Moonves, Cosby, Franken, et. al., is that it is never about sex. In Franken’s case, I’m convinced it was the sheer stupidity of a professional clown who thinks everything is funny. I still think Franken was right to resign because the fact he went over the line from horseplay to harassment several times in inexcusable, especially in a workplace setting. I’m still shocked that running in left-wing circles, Franken never encountered a woman who told him his cracks and horseplay were inappropriate, as happened to me when I told a few risqué puns in the very first college class I taught at the age of 22.

In every other case, it was an unalloyed power play. The men and teenaged boy wanted to exercise power over women or show how powerful they were by making a woman do something she didn’t really want to do. In many cases, as with a gangbang—or perhaps gang rape is more accurate—the men must have wanted to humiliate the women the way a powerful warrior often likes to humiliate his opponent. What could be more humiliating than having an unwanted penis thrust in your face or waking from an alcoholic stupor to find you have been violated by several men?

What still confuses me, even after being schooled by my life partner, daughter-in-law and others, is why these men feel the need to assert their power over women? By definition, all these men are powerful to begin with. You don’t see front-page headlines in the major media for days on end about John Schmuck in accounting.

Yet power is an aphrodisiac that many women find irresistible. None of these men should have had any problem attracting women of all ages, shapes and sizes for whatever sexual antics they had in mind (except the gang rape). Those with a large appetite for new conquests should have had little difficulty satisfying their needs. I was a single guy for many years, so the insistence of these men on harassing or assaulting women was at first truly befuddling to me. I never used those exact words, but I followed “no means no” and “yes means yes” practices with women all my life. If a woman didn’t want to go out with me or give me her phone number, I moved on. Yet I rarely lacked for consensual female companionship. My experience and that of my friends has always been that women like sex as much as men do, but only with men who attract them and respect them as equals.

When I gave my own experience to express my confusion over the actions of a Cosby or a Weinstein to the several women with whom I feel comfortable having such a conversation, they all said the same thing. “It’s not about the sex, it’s about the power.”

But these men already have power. Think about how truly depraved that makes them, whatever the underlying cause. Men so insecure about their self-worth even with the enormous power they possess. Men so drunk with power they must always exercise it. Men who feel sexually inadequate for any of the usual reasons—size or stamina. Men so drunk that they lose control over the inhibitions that prevent social chaos. Men brainwashed into believing they really do have special rights over women. Men so narcissistically self-centered that they don’t care what the other person wants. It doesn’t matter what’s happening in their mind’s deep recesses. They are all sick fucks whose sickness nonetheless doesn’t excuse their actions. They all deserve to lose their power and position.

And the elected officials who condone, forgive or justify their actions don’t deserve our vote. They are fellow travelers to an unofficial subversive party that seeks to undermine and oppress women. As it turns out, these fellow travelers are all Republicans, and an overwhelming number of them want to limit severely or end a woman’s right to have an abortion and many would also limit women’s access to birth control.

That should make the choice this November particularly easy for women, especially in those states electing U.S. Senators. The pink wave of women should lead to a blue wave that takes both the House and the Senate. We have reason to be hopeful until we remember that the pink wave among white women broke Trump’s way two years ago.

In trying to market to minorities, DirecTV inadvertently makes a racial slur against them

For a long time now, DirecTV, a television broadcast satellite service provider, has been making television commercials that insult their viewers by making them seem a little looney. A few years back, one spot featured a man overjoyed that he was receiving a DirecTV package worth about $350 a year as his inheritance instead of getting the business, house and bank accounts. At the time I wondered why DirecTV thought that its potential customers would want to see themselves depicted as fools.

The Summer 2018 edition of “our customers are crazy” TV spots touting DirecTV adds a disturbing element: a subtle undertone of racism that smears both African-Americans and Latinos, presenting them as bad parents who rush through the responsibilities of child-rearing to have more time to watch football games.

First a brief description of each spot, and then a discussion of why they are racist.

In the first spot that came out, earlier in the summer, an African-American father stands at the door of his young son’s room, leaned against the doorjamb, and starts spitting out homilies of advice such as “A firm handshake goes a long way” and “Nobody like a snitch.” The boy, who appears to be around eight or nine, looks more and more befuddled as his father continues. “Whatever the contractor tells you, add six months” “Never get the extended warranty.” Finally, just before fleeing the scene, the father says “Birds? Bees? You get it. Cool.” He doesn’t see the totally confused expression on the boy’s face, nor hear his short, almost apologetic “Huh,” because he’s already out the door.

Where to? The TV room, where we see the entire family watching television underneath the screen-filling caption, “MAKE ROOM FOR SUNDAY.” Meanwhile, the voice-over announcer makes the pitch: “Get every live game every Sunday for no charge when you switch to DirecTV.”

The other commercial started to air a few weeks later, at least in the New York area. It takes the same form, except the lead-up to the family watching football on TV and the sales pitch is a scene of two Latino girls—maybe 11 and 9 years old—selling lemonade outside their middle class home with a big yard. A customer asks for a glass and the mother suddenly appears with an enormous plastic cup into which she slowly pours two complete pitchers of lemonade. The customer and kids look startled, but the mother insists on pouring every drop out of both pitchers. Then she starts to gather the cashbox and other paraphernalia on the table and says, “Time to pack up.” Again, we cut to the family watching football on TV and the big headline “MAKE ROOM FOR SUNDAY.”

In both these spots, parents rush through their responsibilities to their children so that they—and the kids—have more time to watch football on TV.

Bad parents, or at least a humorous caricature of bad parenting, to be sure. But what makes these spots racist?

There is no third commercial featuring a white (or an Asian or Jewish) family. Every person in the series of spots is a minority. The only bad parents we see are minority parents. The only parents who mistakenly think quality time is watching television sports with your child are minority parents.

These spots play endlessly on cable television especially during Yankee games and other sporting events. You would think a TV ad campaign lasting as long as this one would have at least three spots, which when I had an ad agency was pretty standard for an ad series. Perhaps DirecTV and its ad agency wanted to market the dish TV service specifically to minorities who love football, using their long-term advertising brand of caricaturing the foibles of their customers. Maybe they figured since they were targeting only two minority groups that they only needed two spots. Maybe they thought they could save money that way. Maybe.

The insensitivity of DirecTV and its ad agency penetrates down to the details. Most 21st century advertisers are aware of the large number of single-parent families and so try to represent them in TV campaigns consisting of multiple spots. That explains why there is no father watching football on TV in the ad about the Latino family. But hold on a minute! Don’t they know that Latinos have the lowest rate of divorce in the United States? Maybe DirecTV thinks the father was swept up in a Trump immigration raid.

I’m not accusing DirecTV of overt racism, just of insensitivity and stupidity that led to racist undertones permeating the two spots. Clearly the company wants to expand its market among Latin and African-American populations, which is why they featured them. But not to have at least one ad in which a white mother or father models bad behavior in a comic way creates a subliminal false impression that minorities are bad parents, especially among the pro-Trump, white supremacist crowd.