This video has made the rounds on social media lately. The idea to replace all existing American roads, parking lots, sidewalks, and driveways with smart, durable solar panels is an ambitious one. It may even be ingenious. It’s certainly worth more investment, which you can do at the engineer couple Scott and Julie Brusaw’s Solar Roadways Indiegogo page.
For all the entrepreneurial spirit described, and the gigantic, world changing effects of approximately tripling the United States’ energy output from non-carbon sources, this is not likely to be the silver bullet that solves climate change. It will take years, maybe decades, of political wrangling, extreme investment from private, local, state, and federal funds, and it will face fierce opposition from people who stand to lose profits — namely, those in the carbon emission industries like oil and coal.
But, as should always be kept in mind, the good can not be the enemy of the perfect. This will be a tremendous pain in the ass, with unprecedented construction, cost overruns, bitter and petty disputes, and any unforeseen consequences my small mind can’t currently fathom, but the benefits outweigh the headaches.
People like me in the polar north (Chicago) will no longer worry about the roads collecting traffic-slowing snow and sleet. Expensive paint will no longer be needed to create medians because of the LED lights installed in the solar roads. Power lines will be buried underground rather than subject to weather-related damage. Electric car refueling ports can be installed at even intervals so nobody runs out of electricity on long road trips. Other industries, like fiber internet, could join the effort to speed communication lines across the nation. The job gains would be humongous for the initial construction and many could be sustainable for upkeep and repair. Those repairs could be electronically monitored by the roads themselves, which would then alert repair crews.
And the big one: 100 percent energy independence from foreign oil and carbon (industries, not counting things like cattle flatulence) in general. The United States would be world leaders in energy and our technologies and manufacturing would again be the most in demand in the world.
I’ve put down a meager investment, and you should, too. It’s the best climate change solution I’ve seen for its utilization of economic growth, Jetsons-style futurism, and flexibility in helping to improve other industries.
Chris Mooney at Slate has a feature on Katharine Hayhoe, an Evangelical Christian who happens to be a climate change advocate and science advisor on the new Showtime global warming series, The Years of Living Dangerously.
Her research today, on the impacts of climate change, flows from those early experiences [with her scientist father]. And of course, it is inspired by her faith, which for Hayhoe puts a strong emphasis on caring for the weakest and most vulnerable among us. “That gives us even more reason to care about climate change,” says Hayhoe, “because it is affecting people, and is disproportionately affecting the poor, and the vulnerable, and those who cannot care for themselves.”
Hayhoe mentions five strategies she has used to convince Christians like her to become stewards of the environment, including the linguistically obvious “Conservation is conservative” — a line of thinking that has always screamed “blatantly evident” to me that I’m shocked it is not used as a starting point in every argument over what strategies to employ for any climate policies.
But the money quote comes at the end:
“If you believe that God created the world, and basically gave it to humans as this incredible gift to live on, then why would you treat it like garbage? Treating the world like garbage says a lot about how you think about the person who you believe created the Earth.”
Throughout the piece, Hayhoe reminds Mooney and readers that Evangelicals are capable people with minds, able to discern data in front of them. Blasting them for thinking differently than you is not a way to get them to listen to you. These are people who believe the world is a gift from a powerful, benevolent being, but one with a penchant for some wrath if He/She/It sees His/Her/Its creation being messed with by those gifted with the power of free will. Climate change is as biblical as you get in that sense. If you frame your conversation in a way that fits their worldview, like Hayhoe’s showing them climate data from only the last 6,000 years, they will eventually accept your premise a majority of the time. There will always be a portion of any group that falls into the trap of epistemic closure, but after a certain point, you can no longer worry about them so long as you have a majority accepting the overwhelming evidence in front of them. One should never, ever forget that 97 percent of people who dedicate their professional lives to studying the climate agree that it is changing due to carbon emissions from humans; they’re not out to cause alarm, just report on the data they find. When you keep hammering that point home, reasonable people, a group not mutually exclusive with Christians, will look to help in any way they can.
Accepting this, though, leads to the question: Why do only 44 percent of Evangelicals accept climate change?
Mooney points out that, on the whole, they are politically conservative on top of their social views. This puts them firmly within the Republican coalition. The problem with the Republican coalition as currently constituted — and all gigantic coalitions (the Democrats are far from exempt here), which brings up the need for more than two parties, but that’s a discussion for another time — is that there are four main, sometimes competitive fixtures. You have the libertarians (excuse me for being brief, but they essentially boil down to fiscally very conservative, socially liberal people with a strong aversion to governmental surveillance and a relaxed foreign policy; retired Texas congressman Ron Paul is the stereotype here), the business people (the Mitt Romneys of the world who probably don’t care as much about social issues so much as running a tight fiscal ship), the neoconservatives (you’ll recognize the strong defense, muscular foreign policy with less regard for fiscal restraint from the previous administration), and the social conservatives (Evangelicals like Mike Huckabee who are focused on fixing perceived social ills derived from the Bible).
One can see that these fixtures are not necessarily compatible with each other. It’s impossible to be all things to all people at all times, and yet that’s what politicians of any expansive coalition must do to preserve their support. As one might expect, none of them do it particularly well when examined with any critical eye. A Republican senator who denies climate change may be trying to help any number of people. Maybe he represents a state rich in the oil or coal industries, which, as carbon-based pollutants are the primary cause of climate change. They have a financial stake in what happens, so the senator has a duty to serve his constituents. But as money is not the only motivation in the world, serving that part of his constituency is not enough. He must bring in other supporters from other parts of the coalition, and this is where the Evangelicals can be called upon. If the senator can get people with preaching experience to start talking about how God wouldn’t want to hurt the world or wouldn’t let us hurt it, it makes his job a lot easier in trying to appease everyone he represents.
Of course, when the lives of billions of people, animals, and entire ecosystems are at stake, appeasing one state’s — or collection of states’ — constituents is not of primary concern for humanity as a whole. When people like Hayhoe start convincing Evangelicals, people just trying to be good in their God’s eyes, of the dangers of climate change — she mentions in the interview that the number of Christians whose acceptance of climate change has risen 10 percent in the last six years — they can raise their objections to their elected officials. If those officials have strong parts of their coalition against the business side, those oil and coal company officials, perhaps they will convince the oil and coal people to start diversifying their businesses by experimenting more with nonpolluting energy sources like solar, wind, biofuels, or, fingers crossed, fusion one day. Climate change is a problem that requires all hands on deck, and the free market — that supreme tenet of conservative ideology — will have a field day figuring out how to make money from saving the world.
President Barack Obama signs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, March 23, 2010.
The big political news of the week is the Affordable Care Act having secured approximately 7.1 million signups through its internet marketplace exchanges, after months of arduous problems on the federal website and years of heated opposition before its implementation. There are concerns about the number of young and healthy people who signed up, which will significantly determine the health insurance premiums people will pay next year, and about the number of people who have paid their first month’s premiums, which insurance companies (rightfully) deem as being covered.
It is a significant undertaking, and one I support on a general moral level, even if many (probably most) details of the gargantuan legislation often fly miles over my head — I all but guarantee they do the same to most of the talking heads at CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. But whether I’m happy about it or not does not matter, because in reality, we are currently lacking in key information — because its implementation has not even been completed yet — to accurately determine the ACA’s efficacy as a functioning part of American social policy. Only in the coming months and years will we be able to quantify the ways it helps, hurts, or stays neutral in Americans’ lives. Maybe it will explode the federal budget to unsustainable levels and severely hamper the job market, but based on the Congressional Budget Office’s report and subsequent analysis on the matter, I doubt it. It’s possible, if highly unlikely, the report has flaws, and the law as it stands could fail, at which point other options — the longstanding liberal preference of single-payer, “Medicare for all” healthcare or any number of the Republican options they themselves cannot choose as their alternative — must be considered.
What really concerns me about all this from a cultural critical perspective (which this site aspires to be), is the way this law, a bastion of uncertainty but with much positive society-altering projection to its merit, is placed by its opponents in reductive, confusing, competing narratives of totalitarian tyranny and governmental incompetence without the supporting details discussed above. The vast majority of the rancor around the law has been based entirely in ideology, much of which is not playing fair. Case in point: this campaign ad for Will Brooke, currently running for Alabama’s sixth congressional district.
My education is not in political science, but in communication, particularly the visual and aural elements that accompany film criticism. So let’s take a semiotic approach to analyzing this ad, which takes the “dog whistle” idea to unsettling and fundamentally confounding places.
Brooke’s “two important issues,” the second amendment and “see[ing] how much damage we can do to this [pictured] copy of Obamacare,” are in no way connected as pieces of policy. But being as though President Obama is considered in conservative circles to be wholly against the second amendment they champion (he is not on record as saying any such thing, though he has proposed certain gun control measures), Brooke’s idea is to marry a rebellion against that perception by literally taking up arms against the government, in the form of the printed out ACA. He packs his robust arsenal, the ACA copy, and some other tools in his pickup truck, adorned with a bumper sticker that says, “I prefer the dangers of a limited government!” while soothing acoustic guitars and banjos play an ambling tune.
This strongly projects Brooke’s bonafides as a man of the people from his region. He drives a pickup truck, ubiquitous in the south for people who must haul large quantities of equipment for farming, construction, and other jobs booming in the region. However, Brooke is a businessman from the Birmingham metropolitan area, not the type of man who requires a truck; this kind of pandering, though, is standard fare for all political campaigns and not particularly egregious. The bumper sticker implies President Obama, whose ACA support (recall: he didn’t write the bill, Congress did) is the only explicitly mentioned part of the ad, is directly threatening Alabama citizens. The government Brooke considers ideal is not only better for them than Obama’s vision, it’s actively trying to protect them from his advances.
Nothing to this point of the ad is especially outstanding for being provocative. I consider it wrongheaded and an unfair approximation of the president (with nary a mention of the Democrat he will trounce in the November election, the only person he should care about in the race), but not really worrisome, either.
It’s what happens next that concerns me about the unhealthy quality of rhetoric involved in our current politics. Brooke drives to a secluded field in the woods and constructs a coffin/effigy for his ACA copy, which he places with utmost care inside. He returns to his arsenal — at least three rifles, an assault weapon, and a handgun — several yards away, at which point he opens fire at his legislative target with progressively larger weapons, a look of utter seriousness and determination on his face. Several cuts show him assaying the damage between taking slow motion shots. He checks how deep the bullets travel through the (admittedly huge) ream of lawmaking; the disappointment on his face would be silly if it weren’t unsettling. This is blatantly inflammatory and the invocation of violence against something you disagree with is far from a healthy message to send to people. Furthermore, Brooke is aggressively against a body to which he is working hard — and spending plenty of money — to join; this cognitive dissonance is inconsistent at best and intentionally intellectually dishonest at worst.
It’s important to note that Brooke talks about the “fun” of this at the beginning and end of the video, because it gives him plausible deniability of his intentions. But saying “I was just kidding” or “I didn’t mean any harm” is undercut by the filmmaking techniques on display. The slow motion bullet casings falling from the chamber recall action movies of all stripes, in which we root for the person at the center of the slowed exploits. He props himself up as a defender of humanity versus the tyranny of centralized government, with Obama its figurehead. By asking for votes, he is inviting people to join his cause and arm themselves against the enemy in charge.
Does Will Brooke actually want to overthrow the government? I doubt it. He wants to cause a stir (kudos, because look at my reaction) and get a seat at the table where he will feel important, just like all politicians. But what we say, and especially what we show, matters. Humans are visual creatures, and we pick up subliminal (and in this case, blatant) clues about messaging and intention. When we start from a place of unfairness and outrageousness, it pollutes the actual message. Brooke disagrees with the president’s signature achievement, but the way he handles it is counterproductive to his goal by painting him as an immature reactionary lashing out at a confusing, unfair world. He could indicate a measured skepticism about the harm the ACA is doing to Americans. He would be wrong because of what I mentioned above, but it’s a valid point worth grappling with.
At the end of the ad, the camera tracks Brooke, a visage of resolute defeat, ready to return to fight again. “Well, we had some fun and we knocked some holes in it, but we didn’t quite get the job done,” he says to the camera. Big government remains oppressive to downtrodden Alabamans like Brooke, but he has a plan: “resort to more extreme measures” than, again, literally shooting at stand-ins for the federal government in order to “get rid of Obamacare and replace it with a market-based solution,” he says as he tosses the bill into a wood chipper; it shoots everywhere, probably in a nod to how much environmentalists hate polluting.
Yes, the only detail Brooke gives about what he wants is “a market-based solution” to our healthcare problem, which is a fine goal. That’s why it has already been accomplished by the thing he shot full of bullets. The entire basis of the Affordable Care Act is to eventually expand insurance coverage to 46 million Americans who did not have it when President Obama took office. It goes about this through a series of regulations, taxes, subsidies, and Medicaid expansion in order to provide the health insurance industry with an inflated customer base like none they have seen before. We have the market-based solution on our hands, and those on Brooke’s side have proposed other versions of the same thing, but which will cover fewer people at a similar cost to what the ACA currently does. The only other option is to go single-payer, which would dismantle the health insurance market in order to cover everyone through a Medicare-style system. Brooke’s argument falls apart under the slightest scrutiny in this event. Without explaining anything beyond vague tributes to “the market,” he gets to appear as if he has a well-considered approach to healthcare reform without highlighting the significant similarities such a proposal would have with the hated Obamacare and all its tyranny.
Now, it’s important to examine why this perception exists. I don’t think it’s irresponsible to suggest the biggest part of it might be the old politics-as-sports gambit. Conservatives want their favorite team to win. I have been known to go on tirades about how terrible the St. Louis Cardinals are, when in fact they’re the model MLB franchise and this Chicago Cubs fan is jealous. They win and my team hasn’t in a long, long time. It’s the same thing for Republicans now, although the “long, long time” for them is only the five and a half years 24-hour news has made the Obama era seem to them. Since George W. Bush left the White House, the Democrats have won more fights and the Republicans have split into different, sometimes opposing factions about where they want to go. They’re frustrated about what’s happened in the meantime — a veritable revolution for same sex marriage rights, rapidly changing demographics, a coming wave of marijuana legalization piggybacking on the historic votes in Washington and Colorado — and they haven’t handled their reactions with much maturity or grace. It hasn’t helped that the Democrats in vogue have spent more time calling them homophobic, racist bigots than actually working to convince them of these societal changes’ benefits; or worse, demonizing them as cynical, “too little, too late” flip floppers if they do come around to any aspects of the liberal agenda. For a disconcerting number of people, that’s true, but probably nowhere near the 100 percent of GOP voters and legislators Salon.com’s columnists (and every single Democratic fundraising email I get) would have you believe. And so, the urge to spite becomes irresistible. Opportunists like Brooke take outlandish positions in order to say, “I’ll show them!” and the other Republicans go along because these opportunists are what bring attention and, for now, votes. I highly doubt they’ll “win” this petty-off in the long run (i.e. the presidency in 2016), but this year will likely go their way.
Which leads us to the Affordable Care Act, the largest change to American social policy since 1965. It’s a giant target, and they have thrown everything at it. But what is most important to remember about this act is it is not an act of totalitarianism. It’s unruly, messy, features an amount of crony capitalism that makes people reasonably uncomfortable, it raises premiums on some people while others get breaks (there’s that jealousy again), and it raises some taxes. And people don’t like taxes, especially Republican people. They represent a loss of economic liberty (“You mean I can’t do whatever I want with my money?”), but they’re really just an inconvenience in order to provide things for the rest of society. Of course, they can and have gone overboard (70 percent as the highest income tax rate during the 1960s and ’70s was probably a bit much, especially after the wind down of the Vietnam war), but today’s rate of 39.6 percent for the absolute richest people — who have myriad ways to get breaks available through write-offs — is not particularly horrendous in comparison to other advanced countries. Yes, there are other tax obligations that can complicate things, but 40 percent of someone making tens of millions a year still leaves behind an absurd amount of money.
That’s a point well worth hammering home whenever someone complains about the oppressiveness of Obamacare based on the taxes. The argument goes, “Why should people get something they can’t afford by themselves?” Because they’re human beings trying to get medicine, not trying to buy a Lamborghini. Besides, the old way of doing things — uninsured sick people going to emergency rooms — still dipped into the pockets of those more well off. Thus, your tax dollars go to the front end of that in an attempt to get these people preventive care, which is far cheaper than disastrous ER visits. It’s a pain in the ass, not someone holding a gun to your head to do something evil.
Andrew Sullivan posted this earlier as part of The Dish’s “Face of the Day” series, and I couldn’t stop giggling at just how unsettling it is. Mr. President, you better start some holiday mascot outreach if you don’t want to lose their support in the midterms. Beware the Bunny.
Yesterday’s New York Times had a piece about former first lady, New York senator, and Secretary of State — if you ever want to feel horrible about your life’s meager accomplishments, look no further than that resumé — Hillary Clinton, detailing her as-yet-unannounced-but-still-quite-likely run for president in 2016. Concerning Clinton’s coyness about her plans, her communication aide, Phillipe Reines, had this to say:
‘Everyone’s gotten way ahead of themselves, and most importantly, they have gotten way ahead of her.’
Venting the frustration of all veterans of Clinton politics and the intrigue that constantly surrounds them, he added, ‘What’s that acronym, WYSIWYG? What you see is what you get.’
Reines’s point is, nobody is certain what Clinton’s plans are at this point and the media should stop hemming and hawing over it for now. However, what Igot from that quote was a minute or so of confusedly trying to guess what “WYSIWYG” meant — “Would You Sign It With Your (word that begins with G)” was the closest I got — before reading the very next line. It wasn’t even in the next graf down.
So remember, people in the media, a group to which I kinda sorta belong, can be remarkably stupid sometimes. Don’t take everything they/we say as gospel.
Just like anyone else, my interests expand as I get older. Unlike most people, though, they don’t necessarily change; I just add to the pile of time-sucking obsessions, like movies, television, baseball, music, comic books, hockey, and for the last year or so, politics. I’m still in the process of determining a solid perspective on where I stand, but I love the Al Gore “raging moderate” quote from way back when.
I want to figure out the most perfect (although I understand that nothing is absolute) political ideology for me, and I think it involves a more literal understanding of the word progressive. To me, it seems like most places, be they the liberal Salon or the conservative National Journal, think of progressives as the farthest left as you can go without being overt socialists, the kind of people who constantly rage against the world’s injustices no matter what kind of social change happens in their lifetime; it may be important to realize everything is always a work in progress, but at least learn to celebrate when you win.
I think a little differently on that matter, as my version of progressivism would involve a moderate, left-of-center approach, gladly accepting the progress at the root of the word and not caring about how things get done so long as they do. A lot of data analysis should be included, as well. Oh, and way less screaming from both sides of the spectrum.
For example, in the current gay marriage debate, I couldn’t care less whether the Supreme Court decrees the United States as a whole must accept marriage equality or simply strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act and makes it a states’ rights issue — which The Dish’s Andrew Sullivan suggests might be the best way to go, as it would allow for a slower, less culturally shocking integration of the idea to more conservative states, which would conceivably help reduce hateful backlash. If either happens, fine. Good. Go for it.
There are plenty more issues to discuss, and as I try to figure my best way forward in political thinking, I invite you to join me, debate, and converse. You can make fun of my relative inexperience with the topic if you want, but calm, reasoned discussion is what will help. So let’s dip our toes in these waters.