Category Archives: Public Policy and Governance

Red And Blue

In the midst of the recent, ridiculous drama over the debt ceiling–the very existence of which is bizarre and in conflict with both the 14th Amendment and common sense–Harold Meyerson published an illuminating essay on America’s “new civil war.”

As Meyerson noted, anyone still mystified about why Democrats and Republicans in Congress can’t even agree to honor the debts that they already incurred need only take a look at what Democrats and Republicans are doing in states that they respectively control.

Meyerson’s examples were Minnesota (Democratic) and Texas (Republican).

Yesterday, we posted a piece by my colleague Ryan Cooper on how Minnesota, where Democrats now control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office, has just enacted its own (to be sure, scaled-back) version of Scandinavian social democracy—including paid sick leave for all, paid family leave, a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers, sector-wide collective bargaining in key industries, and the outlawing of “captive audience” meetings, in which management compels employees to attend anti-union rants. A new law also strengthens women’s right to an abortion. Similar laws have been enacted or are under consideration in other Democratic “trifecta” states, though none quite so pro-worker as some of Minnesota’s.

Also yesterday, we posted one of my pieces, this one on everything that Texas’s Republican legislature and governor are enacting to strip power from their large cities, almost all of which are solidly Democratic. One new bill says the state can declare elections to be invalid and compel new ones to be held under state supervision in the state’s largest county, Harris County, which is home to reliably Democratic Houston. And the state Senate has also passed a bill that would strip from cities the ability to pass any regulations on wages, workplace safety, business and financial practices, the environment, and the extent of property rights that exceed the standards set by the state. Which leaves cities with the power to do essentially nothing.

Meyerson concedes that other Republican trifecta states haven’t gone quite as far as Texas, but he notes that Tennessee’s legislature abolished Nashville’s congressional district and expelled its assembly member, and Alabama’s legislature revoked Birmingham’s minimum-wage law. (And although he didn’t put it in these terms, Florida is fairly far along on the road to fascism.)

Beyond their war on cities, Republican trifecta states have long refused to expand Medicaid coverage, have recently also begun to re-legalize child labor and legislate prison terms for librarians whose shelves hold banned books, and in the wake of the Dobbs decision, criminalized abortions.

As Meyerson observes, Democrats states are moving in what is overall a more humane direction, while Republican states–very much including Indiana– seem intent upon returning to what Meyerson calls “a nightmare version of the past”.

Any dispassionate view of America today has to conclude that the differences between these two Americas are almost as large and intractable as those that split the nation in 1860 and ’61.

I have frequently quoted survey research showing that most Americans, even those in Red states, do not support GOP priorities. As Meyerson says–and as readers of this blog have repeatedly opined–Republican victories in the nation’s Red states rest on the GOP’s relentless demagoguery on culture-war issues and immigration, and the party’s adeptness at gerrymandering.

The result is twofold:  voters in the more thinly inhabited, rural areas of Red states can and do impose their biases on the urban inhabitants of those states (cities are Blue in every state, including the Red ones)–and the Senators they elect stymie progressive efforts in Washington. (In Texas, shifting demographics are eroding the dominance of that state’s rural voters–hence the unconscionable and probably unconstitutional efforts to neuter the electoral preferences of urban Texans.)

There is significant data showing that Blue states have healthier economies as well as healthier citizens–that on balance, Blue states are donor states, sending more dollars to Washington than they receive, while Red states increasingly rely on the excess of dollars they receive over those they remit–making Red states ironically analogous to those shameful “welfare queens.”

Americans “vote” in a number of ways; including with their feet. Thanks to the economic impact of Republicans’ culture war policies, Blue cities and states continue to gain population at the expense of the Red states. Unfortunately for our political system, the votes of rural Americans currently count more than the votes of urban Americans, and thinly populated states punch far above their weight in Washington.

If we could just adjust our electoral systems to fairly reflect the will of all voters, a lot more states would be Blue…..





Allow me to begin with an admission: I’m not a scientist and I don’t play one on TV.

That said, the various newsletters and publications I receive increasingly feature reports of scientific breakthroughs (one of which is described below), reminding me that a constant focus on humanity’s seeming inability to escape tribalism and social discord gives one a distorted picture of where we are as a species.

There is a substantial mis-match between humankind’s social/political progress and our very impressive advancements in science and technology.  I am definitely not advocating that we sit back and ignore climate on the theory that science will save the day. We still need policies to address the reality of a warming planet. But in addition to other measures aimed at reducing harmful emissions, those public policies need to incorporate and encourage insights produced by the scientific community.

Some of the emerging technologies that promise to have a significant effect on climate change:

  • Carbon capture and storage that captures carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants and industrial facilities, preventing them from entering the atmosphere. Evidently, the captured emissions can then be stored underground or used in various industries.
  •  Breakthroughs in renewable energy promise significant reductions in  the cost of energy. The last few years have seen increases in solar and wind power generation, advancements in batteries that store energy, and improvements in  the efficiency of renewable energy systems.
  • Consumers have warmed to electric vehicles, and we are on the cusp of widespread adoption of electric automobiles as driving range has increased and charging infrastructure improves.
  • Green hydrogen is hydrogen produced through renewable energy sources (such as electrolysis of water using electricity from wind or solar power.) Carbon-free hydrogen (with which I was–and am– unfamiliar) has a wide variety of applications.
  • The movement toward sustainable agriculture doesn’t just reflect health concerns;  innovative agricultural practices reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration.

There’s much more. I lack the background to fully understand these advances, but from what I read, it appears that advanced materials being developed for use in construction and manufacturing can also significantly reduce emissions and our carbon footprint.

And that brings me to the “wow” of today’s title. The Washington Post recently reported that scientists have found a way to create energy out of virtually any material.

Nearly any material can be used to turn the energy in air humidity into electricity, scientists found in a discovery that could lead to continuously producing clean energy with little pollution.

The research, published in a paper in Advanced Materials, builds on 2020 work that first showed energy could be pulled from the moisture in the air using material harvested from bacteria. The new study shows nearly any material, such as wood or silicon, can be used, as long as it can be smashed into small particles and remade with microscopic pores…

“What we have invented, you can imagine it’s like a small-scale, man-made cloud,” said Jun Yao, a professor of engineering at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the senior author of the study. “This is really a very easily accessible, enormous source of continuous clean electricity. Imagine having clean electricity available wherever you go.”

It’s worth emphasizing–as the article does–that this discovery is just the beginning. It will take much more work and experimentation to bring the energy generation to scale and make the invention commercially usable.

The scientists first must work out which material would be most efficient to use in different climates. Eventually, Yao said he hopes to develop a strategy to make the device bigger without blocking the humidity that can be captured. He also wants to figure out how to stack the devices on top of each other effectively and how to engineer the Air-gen so the same size device captures more energy.
It’s not clear how long that will take.

“Once we optimize this, you can put it anywhere,” Yao said.
It could be embedded in wall paint in a home, made at a larger scale in unused space in a city or littered throughout an office’s hard-to-get-to spaces. And because it can use nearly any material, it could extract less from the environment than other renewable forms of energy.

“The entire earth is covered with a thick layer of humidity,” Yao said. “It’s an enormous source of clean energy. This is just the beginning in making use of that.”

Good news, but it’s all about timing. Once again, humankind finds itself needing to avoid calamity in the interim between now and a promising future. At a bare minimum, avoiding the unthinkable will require a Congress composed of rational adults, and that will require the defeat of the GOP’s current clown show.

Fingers crossed.




Want to invade Mexico? The option is on the table if America re-elects Donald Trump (a/k/a “the former guy” or TFG). According to the Washington Post, 

former president Donald Trump is preparing battle plans to attack Mexico if he regains the White House. This is only the latest escalation of saber-rattling in the wake of the recent kidnapping and killing of Americans in Mexico. Former U.S. attorney general William P. Barr, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (Tex.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) are among those calling for U.S. military action in Mexico to take on drug cartels.

The author of the essay acknowledges that the Mexican cartels need to be stopped. But–as he points out–this isn’t a problem Washington can bomb its way out of.  

There is a way to accomplish that goal, however. The U.S. could: cut off the gun pipeline that arms the cartels.


I rarely address America’s gun crisis, because I know what every sentient citizen knows: the “Second Amendment” purists (a/k/a gun nuts) will remain unmoved by death and/or data, and too many of the lawmakers elected by the majority of Americans who want rational regulation are spineless Republicans unwilling to buck the NRA. My two-cents worth is highly unlikely to resolve the stalemate between America’s delusional cowboys and those of us who recognize that the problem is the ubiquity of weapons.

That said, my cousin–a medical doctor I often cite on this platform–sent me an op-ed he recently published in his local paper, and it is worth sharing, because it addresses the predictable effort by pro-gun advocates to divert attention from weaponry to mental illness. 

With his permission, here it is, in its entirety:

The spate of recent firearm deaths at schools and public places has rightfully triggered a lively public debate. Among all the clatter, we often hear politicians stating that we can reduce firearm deaths, such as those occurring in public places, if we would simply employ better detection and management of mental illnesses. But this is a flawed concept: At best it would solve only a tiny fraction of the problem, estimated at approximately 3-5%. In reality, most people who are violent are not mentally ill, and most people who are mentally ill are not violent. Although seemingly logical at its surface, let’s clarify this issue further by applying scientific/numerical analysis.

Since 2006, there have been approximately 550 mass shootings in the United States, resulting in 2,900 people shot and killed. Since most of these shootings are perpetrated by single gunmen, this means that roughly 550 (or slightly more) individuals carried out these heinous acts.

According to the National Institute of Health, the prevalence of major mental illnesses in the U.S. is approximately 4.2% of the entire population, meaning that about 10.4 million people harbor serious mental disorders. Even if one assumes that this entire group of 550 killers were mentally ill, which is clearly false, this total number would constitute an infinitesimally small percentage .0053 of all those suffering from mental illness. Unless we had a fail-safe method of detecting 100% of individual would-be killers from this large group of mentally ill, our ability to detect a future killer remains at nearly zero, which represents the proverbial needle in the haystack. Supporting these data, all mental health professionals freely admit that it is virtually impossible to predict accurately—nowhere near 100%—of those with known mental disorders that are likely to perform such acts of violence. Compounding this problem even further, laws in this nation generally preclude forced detention of mentally ill individuals that have not yet performed any act of violence, for more than brief periods. What this means is that, given these extremely daunting numbers, detection and treatment of those with suspected mental illness in the effort to ward off gun violence is a virtual impossibility, notwithstanding the pronouncements by many ill-informed politicians.

It all boils down to a simple bottom line: Major efforts must be aimed primarily at sensibly limiting everyone—whether or not mentally ill—from freely obtaining firearms capable of killing—especially of the mass variety.

We must allow numeric principles to guide us, not a bunch of mercenary political figures, often under the thrall of the NRA, who wish to apply so-called “common sense measures” to control this national scourge! Detection and treatment of mental disorders is indeed a laudable goal, but not in the effort to reduce firearm deaths!

One of those inconvenient data points: Mass shootings in the United States have tripled since the assault weapons ban lapsed.

If we are going to talk about the role mental illness plays in this mayhem, we might start with TFG and move on to the lunatics arguing that arming everyone in sight will make us safer.




Worse Than Trump

Ron Desantis (Taliban: Florida) has announced his campaign for President in a widely-mocked, glitch-filled Twitter appearance, so it may be time to re-read a February New Republic essay “A DeSantis Presidency Could Be Even Worse Than Trump.”

The sub-head is brutal: “Donald Trump was and is a lazy, ignorant narcissist. The Florida governor is a smart, motivated, very right-wing Catholic who wants to remake America as he imagines God wants it to be.”

The article preceded DeSantis’ precipitous plunge in the polls, and takes seriously the possibility of DeSantis capturing the GOP nomination. Back in February, before the general public became more familiar with DeSantis’ agenda (autocratic) and personality (wooden/off-putting/missing), the Florida Governor was viewed as relatively sane and intelligent, at least compared to Trump, and many in the public  assumed that meant DeSantis would be a better president than Trump.

The following paragraphs from the essay reminded me of a gloomy conversation I had with a friend the weekend after the 2016 election. Her most hopeful prediction–which turned out to be very accurate–was that Trump’s manifest incompetence would prevent him from actually enacting much of the damage he was promising.

DeSantis differs from Trump in several ways. While Trump couldn’t care less about “critical race theory” or transgender people, and simply throws stuff into speeches at his rallies that get the biggest reaction, DeSantis is a deeply conservative Catholic and a true believer in the culture wars he engages in. The other key difference is that DeSantis is a Harvard- and Yale-educated lawyer, while Trump skated through a bachelor’s in business where one of his professors called him “the dumbest goddamn student I ever had.”

The damage Trump was able to do was limited by his lack of discipline, ignorance of how the system worked, laziness, and lack of motivation. He is simply a narcissist who likes feeling rich, powerful, and important. DeSantis, however, is none of these things. He is not lazy. He has discipline, motivation, and an intimate knowledge of how to use the system to get what he wants. DeSantis fully intends to remake America the way he believes God would want it to be, and his knowledge of law and governmental structure allows him to do it on a scale, and with a precision, that Trump could only dream about.

The essay noted that DeSantis was pursuing what it called “one of the most aggressively authoritarian agendas in the country” by using two primary strategies: “capturing the referees and strategic ambiguity.”

DeSantis quietly packed both the Florida Board of Medicine and the New College Board of Trustees with ideological fellow travelers to bend institutions to their will. The Board of Medicine now includes campaign donors, Catholics who substitute the Vatican’s positions for that of professional medical organizations, and proponents of conversion therapy, while the surgeon general of Florida is an anti-vaxxer. 

The strategy is to move the decision-making process out of the public spotlight by giving important decision-making authority to people who can’t be held accountable at the ballot box. (Diane Ravich recently noted that DeSantis had gutted Florida’s open records law–another ploy to keep that “capture of the referees” hidden from public view.)

And that “strategic ambiguity”?

DeSantis has made persistent war on “woke” education–from public schools to state universities.

The DeSantis administration swore up and down that the “Florida Parental Rights in Education Act” (the “Don’t Say Gay” law) was simply there to protect vulnerable young children from being exposed to dangerous or obscene ideas, images, or writing. In reality, it was deliberately vague and overly broad. When schoolteachers and librarians reached out for guidance on what is allowed, they were met with silence by the DeSantis administration. This left them with the choice: Do we remove everything from school libraries, or do we risk the potential legal consequences of annoying his administration?

Back when we had a legitimate Supreme Court, employment of this tactic was repeatedly struck down for creating a “chilling effect,” that violated the First Amendment.

The article lists a truly terrifying number of ways a DeSantis administration could use these strategies in support of a radically Rightwing  culture war agenda. I would encourage you to click through and read it all if I thought this little martinet had a realistic chance to be President, or even the Republican nominee. But since February, when this essay was published, Americans have learned a lot about Mr. DeSantis.

Current polling reflects the public’s response to DeSantis’ repetitive attacks on  “wokeness” and the strategic stupidity of picking a stubborn, petty fight with Disney (Florida’s largest employer and largest tourism draw), among other unforced errors.

And really, no one wants to have a beer with this guy.


A Primal Scream

Notice: I was interviewed for a podcast (“What the Gerrymander”) that will drop at midnight tonight. You can find it here, if interested:


Wanda Sykes has the ability to be both funny and a dead-on critic of social insanity. A recent quip making the rounds on social media will illustrate: “Until a drag queen walks into a school and beats eight kids to death with a copy of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ I think you’re focusing on the wrong shit.”

The quote perfectly encapsulates what frustrates and angers the vast majority of Americans– people posturing as “pro life” and insisting that their censorship and homophobia are intended to “protect children,” while adamantly opposing rational gun regulation.

The priorities of the Right don’t just seem incompatible to most of us, they increasingly seem incomprehensible. But a book I recently read, suggested by a commenter to this blog, gave me a better understanding of the context of today’s culture wars and those who fight them. It was Stephen Prothero’s Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections).

Prothero filled in some details of U.S. history that I’d previously missed. For example, I knew that Thomas Jefferson was criticized for his departures from orthodox Christianity, but I had not previously understood how incredibly widespread and vicious that criticism was. As a member of a marginalized minority, I was aware that American Catholics had also been subjected to significant discrimination–but I had no idea of the extent and duration of America’s anti-Catholicism. A colleague who studied Mormon history had clued me in about anti-Mormonism, but–again–I had been unaware of the extent of the cultural animus focused on Mormons.

These and other revelations really did provide a context–and predicted outcome– for our current cultural battles.

As Prothero points out, it is almost fore-ordained that the “liberal” side (the forces militating for inclusion and acceptance–i.e., the “woke” side) will win such conflicts. That’s because these “wars” only begin when the people waging them realize they are already close to losing–that the social environment is already significantly changed from the certainties with which they are comfortable, and within which they are privileged.

For some number of Americans, that loss is terrifying and unsupportable.

In analyzing partisan jockeying for the upcoming election, Jennifer Rubin identified  positions being taken by the GOP–on abortion, guns, and LGBTQ+– issues that clearly repel a majority of Americans, and explained that “Voters enthralled with turning politics into primal scream therapy don’t much care about a viable agenda or electability.”


Together, Rubin and Prothero explained what I previously found incomprehensible. For those of us who expect rational behavior by partisans engaged in an electoral contest, the recent trajectory of the Republican party has been mystifying. After all, it isn’t that Republican strategists don’t know that abortion bans, for instance, are costing them elections; as a recent Roll Call article reported.

The generic ballot has shifted toward Democrats, with Republicans losing ground among independents on the abortion issue, according to a new polling memo from a GOP firm that fell into Democratic hands.

“There has been a 6 point swing in the last year on the Generic Senate ballot from R+3 to D+3. This movement is [led] overwhelmingly by Independent and NEW voters that identify abortion as one of their top issues,” according to a “National Issue Study” by co/efficient, which was in the news recently as one of the pollsters for Kentucky Republican gubernatorial nominee Daniel Cameron.

The poll, conducted April 20-24, had similar findings on the House side. “There has been a 10 point swing in the last year on the Generic House Ballot from R+6 to D+4. This movement is [led] overwhelmingly by Independent and NEW voters that identify abortion as one of their top issues,” it said on slide seven. “Reproductive Freedom is the #1 issue among those that DID NOT vote in 2020.”

Other polling has confirmed the negative response of voters to efforts to demonize drag queens, attack trans youth, censor books and turn librarians into felons. These are not rational policy positions for a political party aiming to win elections. Given sufficiently large turnout by opposition voters, not even extreme gerrymandering and the Electoral College can save GOP control.

Prothero’s book, Sykes’ quip, and Rubin’s observation all point to the same conclusion. As Prothero put it, America’s intermittent culture wars only begin when the warriors realize they are on the cusp of losing.

What we are experiencing right now is their “primal scream.”

“Woke” folks will win the culture. The danger, however, is the considerable harm that will be done in the meantime in places like Indiana where Republicans pandering to the screamers remain in power.

Absent massive turnout by Democrats, independents and new voters, rational Americans can still lose the vote.