By George Harvey
Zachary Shahans’s CleanTechnica articles, “How Russian Attacks On Democracy & The USA Relate To Cleantech,” and “Where Does US Democracy Go From Here?” moved me to examine American Putin and the Alt-Right, the heirs of the old Soviet system and the American right-wing. Together, they are undermining American politics to a dangerous level.
Perhaps I should stop to disclose my own political leanings. I voted twice for Richard Nixon. I voted for Gerald Ford. I voted twice for Ronald Reagan. I voted twice for George Bush. I voted for Bob Dole. I voted for George W. Bush, though only once. You might see a pattern.
It is a matter of great sorrow to me that the Republican Party seems to have completely abandoned its traditional values. In its past, it really achieved greatness, from time to time. That started with what many people regard as the single most important civil rights action in history, the abolition of slavery.
A series of Republican presidents acted to produce important environmental protections, setting aside federal land, building the National Park system, and creating federal wildlife sanctuaries. Richard Nixon founded the EPA by executive order, and it is disturbing to me that politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to have forgotten that.
The traditional support for the Second Amendment survives, though I regard it as very much under threat from Donald Trump and the Alt-Right because of their own incompetence. I was a life member of the NRA, but I retired from that organization when it endorsed Donald Trump. I point out that if we cannot get together to save democracy from the attacks of Russia’s Third Empire, the Second Amendment will fall with the rest of the Constitution.
In the last election, my write-in vote was for a man I admire and respect as being one of the best representative of traditional American values in the race, Bernie Sanders. Any conservative who thinks otherwise should compare Bernie’s positions with those of Theodore Roosevelt’s Square Deal.
Right now, I suspect, Vladimir Putin is rejoicing at the success of his attacks, which I believe were not intended to set up a puppet government, but to destabilize the United States, Europe, and NATO. If he had just made a dent in the stability of those organizations, he would have felt he had done his daily evil deed successfully.
But that is not what happened. In the last election, a very narrow-minded set of pseudo-conservative Alt-Right politicians were put into office. They seem unwilling to consider any thoughts other than those that would would agree with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and an artificially constructed concept of an enforced free market. And so, bound up by Objectivism, they are entirely devoid of objectivity, working toward a market controlled by their political contributors.
The icing on this cake is that the President of the United States is a man who proclaims himself a “stable genius.” (I cannot imagine any circumstance when a sane and intelligent human being would assert such a thing in public.) Donald Trump has his own destabilizing agenda, pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, abandoning its position of leadership, attacking NATO, entering into a punitive trade war with China, and extending that trade war to punish the allies we would need to have with us to win it.
Putin’s agenda is furthered by political divisiveness in the U.S. It is furthered by fake news. It is furthered by conspiracy theories and the suspicions they engender. The American political situation reminds me of a Start Trek episode in which Klingons board the Enterprise, and in the ensuing battle both sides suddenly realize that they have been duped by an evil entity that gets power by manipulating them to produce the fear if feeds on. At that point, a Klingon commander says, “Only a fool fights in a burning house.” And that is where we are. American is a burning house whose citizens engage in artificially created squabbles.
There seems to be little doubt that Russians interfered in the past election. Personally, I don’t think they cared a whit who won, as long as they could use the result to spread chaos. They could have sought both to further the positions and to undermine the authority of both sides, just to add to the confusion.
Climate change is an issue I have been involved in for a long time. I believe it could easily lead to the demise of the whole conservative side of politics because of a combination of two things. First, the conservatives, led by the Alt-Right, have managed to bind themselves to denial of climate change. And second, climate change is almost certainly going to become very obviously threatening to average voters, very soon.
The reason why I did not vote for George W. Bush a second time was that I could see his administration go into denial about global warming, which was already having a profound effect on American agriculture. The hardiness zones for about half the country had changed over a fifteen year period. That meant that the lowest winter temperatures of the whole country had raised about five degrees Fahrenheit, on average. And while that meant that farmers could raise crops they could not have raised before, it also meant that diseases and pests would spread, and old crops would be unreliable. But the administration under George W. Bush resolved to continue to distribute obsolete information, making the chaos worse.
I spend about four hours each day researching news on energy and climate change for my blog, geoharvey.com. Several years ago, seeing renewable energy under attack by the Heritage Foundation and other publications supported by the right wing of American politics, I became suspicious. Some of the attacks seemed unreasonable, so I looked into what was going on. In one case, I found that the Cato Institute was backing its arguments against solar power with data that indeed came from the Energy Department, but when I tracked the statistics down, I found that they were about four years old. In the fields like solar and wind power, numbers that are a year old are obsolete, and writers on renewable energy should know that. The Cato Institute seems to have done this consistently, and so I think it is doing it purposefully.
It dawned on me that the Alt-Right press was operating in a manner that made it looked almost like an ally of Russia. Both were pushing fossil fuels and nuclear power over renewable energy. It did not take long to see that there was a connection. They are both financed by fossil fuels. In both cases, money has dictated action. The corporate charters of nearly all American businesses are a devoid of ethical values, as the Russian government seems to be, and so neither might feel any need to be truthful or ethical. Both Russia and American fossil fuels companies seem to be on the same side of a war on renewable energy.
I want to make one thing very clear here. I am not asserting that David and Charles Koch have acted in collusion with Vladimir Putin. In fact I have little doubt that such is not the case. Nevertheless, I do believe that the actions of the American right wing, which has been supported by money from the Koch brothers, have significantly exacerbated attacks on American democracy, made by Putin’s Russia.
The attacks may not be not limited to undermining American democracy. They seem also to have been behind the vote on Brexit, dividing our European allies.
When Freedom Partners announced in January of 2015 that it would put $889 million into making sure that it would have people who supported its agenda in control of both houses of the Congress and the White House, it was signaling an attempt to control the American electoral process, and through it, the government. (I think that is called a coup.) Doing so, it was making it clear that it believed it was acceptable for money to inform our political process, putting aside the interests of the citizens whenever that might prove convenient.
This was made to sound proper, by reference to some really bad values. The premise, “Greed is good,” is itself good only as an example of clear and present evil. How any Bible-thumping Christian can push the worship of Mammon is beyond me. But under the influence of some right-wing clergy, there seem to be some who actually do. And doing so, they undermine the rights of American citizens by giving a perverted sense of moral support the actions of greedy people. (Disclosure: I am a Christian, but I never thump the Bible.)
When I was a child, I asked my father about the song, “Casey Jones.” He was a hero, and his story is illustrative of a problem with the new American right wing.
Casey Jones was a railroad engineer. Seeing an accident was about to happen, he stayed in the cab of an express passenger train so he could hold the break on, slowing the train down to save as many lives as possible. In the end, he saved every life but his own.
In those days, rail signals were practically non-existent. The problem was that the stopping distance of an express train could be well over a mile, but the visibility might be only a couple hundred yards. In bad weather, it could be even less than that. In the case of Casey Jones, a freight train had stalled with two cars sitting on the express tracks. Casey Jones could not see the problem until he was only three hundred yards from it. His only chance to save his own life was to jump out of the train, but doing that was to let the passengers die. He chose to stay at the breaks.
In the 1870s a signaling system was developed that could be used by all railroads. A green light was a promise to a train’s engineer that the track was clear to the next signal and beyond for the stopping distance of trans on that track. The signals had to be no farther apart than that stopping distance, so a green light on a track where the trains would have a mile stopping distance meant that the track was clear for at least two miles. In Casey Jones’ case, if there had been a signal, it would have signaled a stop a couple of miles back because the track was blocked for a stalled train.
There are a lot of reasons why any train might have to stop. A stalled train on the track was only one of them. Another might be a bridge being out. Or there could be a fire, or a road vehicle stuck on a crossing. Clearly, there is no case in which anyone or anything should be allowed onto the tracks of any train against a signal.
But the signals proved not to be enough. There were common reasons why they sometimes failed. And so a new invention was brought into widespread use during the early years of the twentieth century to make the system as close to foolproof as possible. Radio sets were mounted on every train, to provide redundant signals. Given such as system, accidents were greatly reduced.
In the 1950s, a story appeared about a railroad executive who ordered an express train, full of passengers, onto an express track in violation of a signal, and without reference to the radio signals. Clearly, such a person belonged in prison for reckless indifference to that safety and lives of the railroad’s passengers. Somehow, however, that story was twisted from one about the appalling arrogance of a person who was grossly incompetent into one exalting the self-confidence of a person who could act decisively.
Twisting the story did not make that person anything other than arrogant and incompetent. But it did confuse, badly, some people who still push the story’s importance as an illustration of what they believe is the best behavior of a confident and competent person.
Dagny Taggart was a woman whose incompetent arrogance showed she belonged in prison instead of a railroad boardroom. But she may illustrate something important about Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged, the book in which she appeared. I believe Taggart was incompetent because Rand did not understand competence at all. What she promoted was ignorant arrogance, not knowing the difference between it and the confidence of a competent person.
Today, we have appointees going into offices for which they are utterly unprepared, because our leadership does not understand the difference between expert competence and ignorant conformance to political positions. Appointees are confirmed by politicians who are addicted to the Objectivism of Ayn Rand and do not realize that it is anything but objective. They are guided by the self interest of political donors, and they are so blindly addicted single minded, inflexible greed that they seem to think it is good to be so.
That greed is destroying America.
We live in times of change. That should not be much of a surprise, because all times are times of change. Worldwide, a new energy paradigm based on renewable resources and been advanced to address increasing shortages of resources for older plants and new problems with those plants’ by-products. It is a change as profound as the adoption of telephones, radios, automobiles, or computers. It is further driven by increasingly obvious patterns of climate change.
That new paradigm addresses what may be the worst problem ever to beset humanity in its history, but it is also arguably the biggest business opportunity in history. It is an opportunity that is largely denied to America because of antagonism from our political leadership and those that pay for their political campaigns.
Just one example of this is stunning. Electric buses are about 60% more expensive than buses powered by diesel oil. The pay-down period on them, however, is very short because of savings in fuel and maintenance, so they are usually preferable. The U.S. has about 1,000 of electric buses and its output has grown over the past three years to about 1,000 per year. By contrast, China has about 300,000 of them and is making about 100,000 each year. Electric buses form an economic sector that might currently be $50 billion per year, and America barely has its toe in the water. Our president is letting China have the market while he brags, “It is easy to win a trade war.”
Renewable energy does have one serious drawback. It is a threat to a number of very wealthy people with whom it competes. Some of them are Russian oligarchs. Others are the Americans who put the most money into campaigns of the last election. They are meeting a common threat, renewable energy, in similar ways.
Many years ago, a number of American businessmen with experience of the methods of Soviet practices set up organizations that stood to oppose the advance of socialism. Rising to promote American patriotism, they founded the John Birch Society and similar organizations.
Somehow (perhaps partly thanks to Ayn Rand) their patriotism seems to have become twisted. I believe this was largely due to the fact that they happened to have fossil fuels as such a large part of their funding. And since that funding represents the same economic sector as Russian oil and gas, the two are acting to suppress competition from their common enemy, renewable energy.
America is being held back as the rest of the world moves past the resources to which we kept in thrall. I believe that this has nothing whatever to do with any conscious collusion by Putin and the Koch brothers. Nevertheless, there might as well have been collusion, in terms of the damage done.
There is good news, amidst all the turmoil. According to an article in Bloomberg, non-utility corporate spending on renewable energy sources in the first seven months of 2018 was 133% of what it was for the entire year of 2017. Much of the growth was in the United States, despite pushes by the Trump administration to maintain obsolete coal and nuclear technologies. The administration is acting in violation of the principles of a free market, but that should not be a surprise, because pseudo-conservatives seem to be in violation of just about all other principles apart from greed.
We are turning to renewables without the support of our congress or the Koch brothers, without the support of Donald Trump, and without the permission of the man who sometimes appears to be Trump’s boss, Vladimir Putin.
Perhaps we will survive. But for now, America’s greed has cost much of its greatness. Perhaps America can be great again. But to do that, we will have to abandon the politicians who are holding us back.