Despite Trump’s denialism, 2017 could be a bright spot in the fight for planet Earth

global warming illustration

2017 may be a bad year for climate change policy. Or maybe not. Image courtesy

I’ve taken inspiration from climate change. As a writer who loves speculative fiction, everything from Star Trek’s optimism to Margaret Atwood’s dark literary visions, I see global warming as fertile ground for storytelling. You might even say I’m taking advantage of the worst crisis to hit planet Earth in three million years.

That only counts in fiction.

When it comes to real life, it’s hard to be optimistic about the fight to fix the crisis, especially after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. He is a denialist of the first order, calling climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. The claim is ludicrous, resembling a post-truth, fake news story.

Virtually all his major picks for high-level posts in his administration reflect a similar view. Scott Pruitt, tapped to head the EPA, uses the three percent of scientists who question climate science as a reason to ignore the 97 percent who know it’s human-caused. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State designate, while acknowledging increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, says its impact is “very hard for anyone to predict,” despite the solid record of predictions going back decades. Of all Trump’s selections, Rick Perry is the worst. “I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects,” he said. That’s simply a lie.

As president, Trump will have a powerful voice. Thankfully, because of America’s diffused political structure, he’s not the only voice.

As president, Trump will have a powerful voice. Thankfully, because of America’s diffused political structure, he’s not the only voice. When you look at what states and localities are doing, I come away with hope that all is not lost. Continue reading

Dammit. Now we have to deal with the “alt-climate.” And they’re going to be in the White House.

Commander-In-Chief, Denier-In-Chief Meme

President-elect Donald Trump has picked Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. Pruitt is a climate change skeptic and part of what I call the “alt-climate.”

Donald Trump believes that climate change is a “hoax” perpetuated by China, and his pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, will be his hatchet man. Oklahoma’s attorney general has pooh-poohed climate science, arguing that the lack of 100 percent agreement among scientists that climate change is human-caused is evidence that they might all be wrong. It’s not only twisted logic, but it’s scientifically ignorant. Disagreement is how science moves forward; it doesn’t indicate a failure to understand what’s happening.

First we had to deal with the “alt-right.” Now we have to deal with what you could call the “alt-climate,” deniers who’ll roll back desperately needed efforts to combat climate change, the biggest existential threat to humanity since… never.

Alt-climate, a noun referring to a group of delusional idiots in loose agreement that climate change is a hoax, unreal, or false.

Pruitt’s friendliness toward the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma is probably the best indication of how he’ll treat climate change. He’s one of the leaders of a lawsuit aimed at rolling back regulations meant to curb carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. Whether the regs might “kill” jobs is irrelevant if we reach a point where having a job is a luxury because the earth is toasted by global warming.

Scott Pruitt isn’t the only Trump pick who’s skeptical of climate change. The “alt-climate” cabal in Trump’s cabinet, according to an excellent analysis by independent news site Climate Central, includes Stephen Bannon, who views climate change as a “con,” Reince Priebus, who has slammed the respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Jeff Sessions, who repeats debunked research denying increases in global temperatures, and Mike Pompeo, who has called the Paris Agreement a “radical climate change deal.”

I don’t mean to suggest that deniers are racists like those in the “alt-right.” However, they exhibit a similar post-truth attitude toward the fact of rising global temperatures and its impact on the planet. No one wants white supremacists in government, but we’re getting deniers instead.

Worse, apologists for Team Trump have already tried to wrap their reactionary threats with environmentally friendly rhetoric, saying Trump wants to keep the nation’s air and water clean, just not so much. Their real targets are activists on the “environmental left,” presumably bomb throwers such as the Sierra Club and Ducks Unlimited. Don’t be fooled. The greens will soon be under attack by policy-makers who prefer black gold to a healthy planet.

Update: Trump has named Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke as his Secretary of Interior. Zinke’s stand on human-caused climate change is unclear, or even on climate change in general, saying that “something is going on.” However, he is not well-liked by climate activists.

Earlier reports said Trump wanted Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, also a Republican, as his nominee. However, she will stay in the House of Representatives. McMorris Rodgers is opposed to greenhouse gas regulations, and she has denied humans have anything to with climate change. “Scientific reports are inconclusive at best on human culpability of global warming,” McMorris told a newspaper in her Washington State district.

What do you think of the idea of an “alt-climate?”

Grrreat! Tony the Tiger chews out Breitbart News and slaps Stephen Bannon in the face.

Stephen Bannon: Only property owners should be allowed to vote.

President-elect Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, once suggested that only property owners be allowed to vote. 71.9 percent of whites own homes, compared to 41.3 percent of African-Americans.

It’s been a living hell the past four weeks. On November 8, voters picked Donald J. Trump as the next president, and he’s already embroiled in the beginnings of a half-dozen scandals. For me, the most egregious is his ignorance of the Constitution, particularly the First Amendment. Of all his staff picks, the most odious is Stephen Bannon, former executive editor of Breitbart News.

Corporate America is taking notice of Bannon and his background. This week, breakfast cereal maker Kellogg pulled its ads from the reactionary website, saying the site’s inflammatory approach to news is not “aligned with our values as a company.” Yes, it may be unbelievable, but some corporations have a conscience. Other brands that have ditched Breitbart include Allstate, Nest, and EarthLink.

Though everyone who knows Bannon even slightly says he’s not a racist, anti-Semite, or kitten-hater, he oversaw the growth of Breitbart News from a nothing to a leading hyper-conservative voice that reaches 19.2 million visitors a month. He blessed its take-no-prisoners approach before leaving in August, but there’s worry that three weeks after his appointment as Trump’s chief adviser and strategist, he may be legitimizing racism, misogyny, and religious intolerance. After all, he did it at Breitbart News. Might he do it in the White House?

Bannon may not be racist, but he’s a bully [Tweet this!]

Big news outlets have now published detailed backgrounders on Bannon, and he comes across as a bully, but not a racist, at least in the KKK sense of outspoken disrespect for minorities. Racism, however, is far more nuanced than using the “n” word when referring to African-Americans, for example. According to the New York Times, he “occasionally” suggested to a friend that only property owners should be allowed to vote. If it ever came to pass, millions of poor people, including blacks, would be disenfranchised. When challenged on this point, he reportedly said, “Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”

The one word applied to Bannon by most of his friends, relatives, and acquaintances is “opportunist,” because of his pursuit of business opportunities. His rise at Breitbart was supposedly because of its profit potential, as well as its conservative politics. The Oxford Dictionary defines an opportunist as “a person who takes advantage of opportunities as and when they arise, regardless of planning or principle.” A more precise word for Bannon might be “carpetbagger,” because he only joined the Trump campaign in August, after seeing how the candidate’s statements matched his extremist nationalist views. With his White House appointment, he becomes Trump’s muse.

Millions of Americans want Bannon stopped, including 15,000 lawyers who have signed an online letter decrying Bannon and asking Trump to rescind his hiring. “Through Breitbart, Mr. Bannon has intentionally legitimized racism, anti-Semitism, and other hate-based ideologies,” the letter says. “Such bigotry runs counter to the values enshrined in the Constitution we promised to defend.”

Up to now, Trump has shown no interest in firing or sidelining Bannon. You can judge another by his friends, and now we know how Trump really thinks, because of the people he gathers round him.

How are you opposing racism and misogyny in the incoming Trump Administration?

Exposed: Does Trump have a secret plan to repeal the First Amendment? Maybe.

We’re less than two months away from a President Trump, and already President-elect Trump has tried to suppress our constitutional rights. With all the comings and goings at Trump Tower as he puts together his administration, his behavior on free speech, press, and assembly ought to give heart to conspiracy theorists.

Trump Kovatch tweet

Donald Trump meets Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to discuss a post at the Department of Homeland Security. Kobach is carrying a briefing paper with his ideas on a registry for Muslims. Could Trump have a similar plan to suppress free speech? Image courtesy Huffington Post.

Here’s my contribution: Trump is out to gut the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this plan better than this tweet:

Flag-burning, as odious as it may be, is protected speech under the Constitution, confirmed by the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Eichman, which struck down a federal law banning flag-burning.

Trump’s attack on the First Amendment started less than a day after the November 8 election, when he accused “professional protesters” of inciting protests against the result, and blamed the media for fanning the flames.

His next attempt came November 18, when he demanded an apology from the Broadway cast of the musical Hamilton, after the cast made up of all races (looking a lot like America) begged Vice President-elect Mike Pence and the incoming Trump administration to respect all citizens’ rights. Two days later, Trump berated Alec Baldwin of NBC’s Saturday Night Live for his hilarious impression of the ex-candidate, demanding “equal time.”

On November 22, Trump jerked around the New York Times, agreeing to an interview, cancelling the interview, then agreeing to it again, a day after he browbeat television news executives and personalities for their coverage of him during the campaign.

His attitude is clear: Be nice to my administration, or you’ll pay for it.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

A recap of your rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The prohibition applies to presidents as well.

As a former newspaper and radio reporter, I’m most alarmed by the assault on press freedoms. Trump will soon have the immense and frightening power of the federal government in his hands, and history has shown that some presidents are unafraid to abuse it. It’s highly unlikely, even with a conservative Congress behind him, that he could repeal the text of our most cherished amendment. However, as president, Trump is in a unique position to bully the media into parroting his words and putting a positive spin on his policies. His direct appeals via social media could rally supporters to pressure local and national media to be nice to him or else, thus suppressing a key channel for dissent. The same tactic could work against protestors and the entertainment media.

For its part, the national news media has an unfortunate history of falling into line as new presidents take office, though virtually all the previous office-holders had none of the demagogic personality traits of Trump. In his case, reporters, editors, and producers will have to work extra hard to resist his bullying from the bully pulpit, else he will get away with a de facto repeal of all our rights as Americans.

This post was updated November 29 to include information about the flag-burning tweet.

What do you think? Should the media be “nice” to the incoming president?

Stephen Bannon not a white nationalist? He should repudiate Breitbart News.

Stephen Bannon photo

Stephen Bannon is the former executive editor of Breitbart News, a haven for white nationalism. He is President-elect Trump’s pick as chief strategist. Photo courtesy The Guardian.

The justifiable angst over Stephen Bannon’s hiring as soon-to-be President Trump’s chief strategist stems from the former’s time as executive editor of Breitbart News. He quit the job and joined the Trump campaign in August. Known for its incendiary headlines and stories that diss just about everyone who is not a white, male, U.S.-born Christian, Breitbart News is a comfortable home for the alt-right movement, better described as white nationalism.

Bannon is proud of his association with the alt-right.

The alt-right is led by young men like Richard Spencer, who runs a one-man think tank in Washington, D.C. Well-spoken, good-looking, and calm, if intense, Spencer was recently interviewed on NPR and the public radio investigative program Reveal. His main goal is creation of a white “ethno-state” within the borders of the United States, populated exclusively with—you guessed it—white people.

Earlier this week, Spencer and many of his ilk were banned from Twitter for violating its rules on hate speech. Many have fled to another social media site known for attracting the alt-right.

Bannon and Breitbart News are intimately intertwined with white nationalism. However, Bannon’s apologists claim he is not racist himself, and he really is a teddy bear once you get to know him. He denies that he is a white nationalist. His embrace of the alt-right comes from shared views on immigration (stop it) and globalist economics (stop that, too), not racism.

Stephen Bannon should immediately and unconditionally repudiate and condemn Breitbart News and all white nationalists in the alt-right and elsewhere.

Fine. As someone willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt, let him prove his tolerance and love of diversity.

Stephen Bannon should immediately and unconditionally repudiate and condemn Breitbart News and all white nationalists in the alt-right and elsewhere. That might ease the fears of religious groups, supporters of immigration rights, and feminists.

But I doubt it.

What do you think? Should Bannon disassociate himself with Breitbart News?

Trump will lay siege to free speech. Here’s how you can resist.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump says he will change the nation’s libel laws to make it easier to sue journalists.

President-elect Donald Trump has announced the appointment of Steve Bannon to be his strategic right-hand man. Bannon is the former executive editor for Breitbart News, a right-wing news site notorious for publishing articles sympathetic to white nationalism that also stir racist fears and anti-Semitism. Bannon’s site has abused the First Amendment to threaten minorities, women, and Trump’s political enemies.

That’s not the worst of it.

As a former journalist, I’m appalled at Trump’s thinking about our human rights when it comes to free thought. Throughout the campaign, Trump disrespected any member of the press he disliked, calling them “scum,” banned reporters from covering his campaign, insulted journalists with disabilities, and promised to reform the nation’s libel laws to make lawsuits against journalists easier. The appointment of Bannon confirms his attitude. His words and behavior are intended to discourage criticism, particularly from the left, and tamp down expected probes by mainstream journalists into his policies and behavior as president.

Wait, there’s more.

According to the Author’s Guild, a writer’s advocacy group, President Trump could veto the SPEAK FREE Act, a bill that would prohibit so-called “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or SLAPP suits. Corporations and individuals file these suits to discourage writers and journalists from publishing material that “harms” plaintiffs.

Given his cavalier attitude toward copyright, as witnessed by his use of music and images in his campaign without permission of the owners, Trump is unlikely to pursue copyright reform, such as laws that prevent copyrighted works from entering the public domain essentially forever.

He’s also likely to show little sympathy for net neutrality, a government policy that guarantees equal access to the internet for all Americans. Without net neutrality, the country will further bifurcate into digital haves and have-nots. Because writers tend to fall into the latter category economically, they will suffer if this right is lost.

Here’s how you can resist these threats.

Speak out – The First Amendment guarantees your right to speak and publish freely. Use your rights with calm determination. Inform, entertain, and educate, but never incite violence or hate. Don’t sink to Trump’s demagogic level.

Buy a newspaper – As it is with politics, money is the mother’s milk of free speech. Support newspapers, magazines, public radio and television, non-profits practicing independent investigative journalism, and writers of all stripes, fiction and non-fiction. Everyone needs to put food on the table, and your financial support helps independent writers and journalists practice free thought in a public setting.

Donate to advocates – Here’s a non-comprehensive list of organizations that fight for free speech in courts of law and the court of public opinion.

American Civil Liberties Union
Free Speech Foundation
PEN America
National Coalition Against Censorship
Sunlight Foundation
Free Press

Giving these organizations money or joining their membership ranks helps them sustain the fight.

You may be thinking that President Trump would never do all the things he says he’s going to do. Don’t fool yourself. Take him at his word, or your rights may be eroded bit by bit until you didn’t notice that they had disappeared. Instead, defend them now, if not for your sake, for your children’s sake.

How will you defend your free speech rights?

A brief video about safety and intolerance, inspired by #safetypin

After the Brexit vote, the UK experienced a spike in attacks on minorities. The vote was largely about immigration, and the choice to leave the EU over border controls gave permission to a small number of Brits to harass dark-skinned and/or non-Christian immigrants. A Twitter user, @cheeahs, also known as miss pomeroy 1926, is credited with an idea for showing support for immigrants and others under attack.

The idea is this: wear a safety pin. It’s a brilliant idea, simple, to the point, and instantly recognizable.

Americans are adopting the symbol after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, women, and members of the LBGT community are all reporting verbal and physical assaults by ignorant thugs.

I made a brief video explaining why I’m wearing a safety pin. Let me know what you think.

Are we creating the dystopia we’ve always feared?

Utopia, Texas, sign

Utopia, Texas. Image courtesy University of Houston, Clear Lake.

This weekend’s opening of Star Trek: Beyond and last week’s nomination of Donald Trump to the presidency puts an interesting spin on the utopia versus dystopia debate in the speculative fiction universe, at least for this writer. Star Trek and Trump appear unrelated, but they represent threads of American thinking about the future. Do we believe things are getting better or getting worse?

Technically, the words “utopia” and “dystopia” refer to an environment of governance, one positive, the other negative. A better pair of words for understanding the choice are “optimism” and “pessimism.” The original Star Trek series represents the former. After watching Kirk and Spock save the universe, nerds like myself wanted to go on a mission to discover new worlds or make the cool things we saw. The show was a product of its time (Vietnam, civil rights, the Cold War, the War on Poverty), but its premise came out of a core American value: That life could be better, delivered by amazing technology in a society that rejected poverty, racism, and armed conflict once and for all. The show expressed a core tenet of America’s genius: a profound, pervasive optimism. Continue reading