Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Choose Your Battles Wisely

If you look at this pipeline map, you might think the Dakota and Keystone pipeline projects are major additions to America's pipeline grid.

However, this map, showing all the gas and oil pipelines in America, showed that these two pipelines are a minor addition to a huge grid blanketing the country.

Protesters are livid.   Trump promised to push through the Keystone and Dakota pipeline projects and he is living up to that promise.   We are told these pipelines will be environmental disasters and should be abandoned.   But is this really the case, and moreover, it is this a battle worth fighting, or a losing cause that will merely make those protesting look not only silly but irrelevant?

The problem with protests like this, is that it is creating the impression among many Americans that the environmental movement is gone off the rails and just against everything for the sake of being against everything.   And when it comes to more important issues, if your credibility is shot, no one will listen to you.

People have largely stopped listening to protests as it is, because so many of them are ineffective and stupid.   Protesting a conservative appointment to the Supreme Court before you even know what his name is, is idiotic.   Protesting because you don't like his opinions is not a valid grounds for protest.   Confirmation by the Senate is not based on popularity and political views.

Similarly, filibustering a cabinet nomination when you know you are going to lose is not "fighting the noble fight" but just being stupid.   Betsy DeVos isn't going to implement school vouchers, as the Federal Government supplies only about 10% of educational funding.  It is a State-law question which will be implemented by State legislatures.   And saying she doesn't understand some educational double-speak terminology is kind of idiotic as well.

Sen. Al Franken asked DeVos to explain her thinking on whether test scores should be used to measure students’ proficiency or their growth. That’s an important, and basic, difference because it affects how schools are labeled as succeeding or failing.
But DeVos had no idea what Franken was talking about.
“I think if I am understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would correlate it to competency and mastery, so each student according to the advancements they are making in each subject area,” she said to Franken.
“That’s growth,” Franken retorted, correctly. “That’s not proficiency.” By the time DeVos understood Franken’s question, she had no time left to answer. 

Well, duh you dumb bitch!  Everyone knows THAT, right?   Uh, maybe not.  How many of you would understand the question?  Because it is an idiotic question, using terminology that only a Union teacher would understand, and was designed as a "gotcha" question.   Proficiency is related to growth, as the terms are ordinarily used outside of the secondary education industry.  It is akin to asking someone whether they believe in the "Bush Doctrine" when the "Bush Doctrine" is not a term ordinarily used even by people in the Bush Administration.

The goal is to get the respondent to ask for clarification of the question, and to make them look stupid.

He then goes on to bash DeVos for her anti-gay stance.

And this from the guy who laughed about a gay man being beaten to death, and made his living doing gay jokes on Saturday Night Live.

I just don't trust the guy.  But that's another story.

The point is, the Democrats are going to bluster and filibuster and end up accomplishing nothing except to squander what little political capital they have left.  They are losing elections at all levels of government, and they fail to realize the reason why, is this protest mentality - that everything is "unfair" to them and they would have won but for unfairness.  And if you can't win in the court of public opinion, then you should go to court to have your way.

In their mind, the only problem with Hillary was she was too far to the right and not left enough.   And this does not bode well for the next Congressional elections.  If the Democrats put up a bunch of leftist candidates, they will lose and lose big.  

And quite frankly, it scares me that they might actually win and then push through Trump's protectionist policies that the Republicans rightfully point out will result in economic meltdown for America.
The pipeline thing is an interesting one, and you have to understand the history of pipelines, including the recent history.   Rockefeller used the railroads to transport oil in tank cars.   This worked out for him for a while, and he would play one railroad off another, using "rebates" to get the best prices for transporting oil.  But they got tired of his games and he came up with pipelines as a way of moving oil around.  It was an end-run on the railroads and a way of avoiding their monopoly on transportation - forcing them back to the table to accept more rebates.

Are pipelines safe?  Well, first ask are railroads safe?  While pipelines can break and spill oil or even start fires (particularly gas pipelines) trains can derail and immolate an entire town as was the case recently in Quebec, when a train load of oil was negligently parked without the brakes on, and the Engineer just walked away.   The train went down hill, derailed, and caught fire, baking a bunch of Quebecois like cookies in an oven.

But since it was in "another country" and they didn't speak English, most Americans quickly forgot about this gruesome and horrific event.   Pipelines have safety issues, but by and large, they are safer than railroads and trucking, as they don't rely on mobile equipment which is under control of a large number of individual humans who can make mistakes.

As I have noted before, energy is dangerous, period.  And it doesn't matter what kind.  Nuclear, oil, gas, electricity - all have dangers associated with them, because they are energy, and energy by its nature is dangerous.   Even things like electric cars can be dangerous.  In an accident, firemen have to know how to disconnect the battery packs, lest people get electrocuted.  Lithium Ion batteries catch fire if they overheat - and the amount of energy in these amazing batteries is pretty impressive.   That's a good thing - high energy density is needed if battery power is to succeed in the marketplace.  But it does mean that concentrated energy is dangerous - always will be and always has been.

A lot of the opposition to these pipelines has more to do with energy policy than the actual pipelines involved.   By not building or completing these pipelines, we make oil a more expensive energy option, which in turn, makes other energy options more attractive.   Canning the Keystone pipeline had less to do with its actual environmental impact that the desire to make oil from Canadian tar sands less attractive in the marketplace.   Using an environmental excuse for an economic issue undermines the validity of environmental studies.  

But again, it is clear that these two pipelines will be built and completed, as a Republican Congress and President will make it happen.   And the courts won't have a legal grounds to stop construction, at least not permanently.  Protesting this is just, well, an exercise in futility.  Trump isn't going to wake up one day and say, "Oh, I get it!  When Chief Omawamapata explained about the spirituality of the land, I understood!  Can the pipeline!"

Choose your battles wisely.   Picking a fight you know you are going to lose isn't a smart move.  It just squanders energy.   Moreover, it makes you look ineffectual and ridiculous.   A lot of Americans - even Democrats - thought this blocking of the Keystone and Dakota pipelines was kind of stupid.   Again, a few Indians going on television and blathering on about their spiritual connection with the land - a reservation we put them on, miles from their real ancestral home - didn't make a lot of sense to most Americans.    The idea that some minority groups have special spiritual insights or moral rights is against what America stands for.

Democrats are going down a well-worn path here.  A path that derailed the government of Germany in the 1930's.   When the opposition is divided, ineffectual and weak, people will flock to the alternative that "gets things done".   And that is a scary thought.   Democrats have to become the party of getting things accomplished, not the party of blocking things.

So what would be a better approach?   Well, rather than be the obstructionalist assholes that the Republicans have been over the last eight years, the Democrats have an opportunity to get things done in the next few years.   There are some populist causes that Trump supports that align more with Democratic values than Republican, such as his infrastructure proposals.   And these will likely be shot down by the GOP, if Trump tries to enact them.  Here's a chance for the Democrats to be heroes.

The Democrats could make themselves look effective and popular with the voters again if they choose some issues that will resonate with the voters and form a coalition with Republicans to get these things passed.   Merely saying "NO" to everything will just make them look stupid - and un-electable.

Similarly, it may be worthwhile to explore the art of compromise.   Republicans want to cut immigration numbers in half, from about a million a year to 500,000.  You could fight this - and lose.   Or you could be the hero by negotiating a compromise to 750,000 immigrants.   You may not like this and the GOP might not like it.   But usually if both sides go away unhappy, that is a sign that a good law has been made.

The Democrats need to realize that a lot of people actually like Trump and even though his behavior is bizarre and troubling, he does occasionally make a good point now and then.  The Australian thing has been so overblown that no one is bothering to ask why Australia has an enormous Gitmo off its coast with 3,000 refugees kept there in squalid conditions.   Why does Australia get a free ride on this and its own indigenous racism?   They don't want "those people" to settle in their country, but for some reason, they expect us to take half of them.

Does this not strike anyone as ironic?   And we're the bad guys here?   If a county like Australia can't absorb 3,000 refugees, something isn't right.   And what isn't right is that Trump was impolite on a phone call.   But that's what we're protesting.

Choose your battles wisely!