The 2016 Election Endgame: Decisive or Dangerous?

The next president of the United States? Hillary Clinton is poised, adept, and on the verge of winning.
The next president of the United States? Hillary Clinton is on the verge of winning.

SOMERSET, KY — There aren’t too many redder places in this reddest of red southern states than Pulaski County. Mitt Romney beat President Obama in 2012 with 80 percent of the vote in this south central Kentucky county, and a nearly 16,000-vote margin — 20,714 to 4,976. Still, on my afternoon runs through the pleasant leafy neighborhoods of Somerset, the county seat, I haven’t seen one yard sign for Donald Trump. It’s as though in depriving Trump of public support people here are also displaying their private anguish.

Loathing Hillary Clinton is one thing. Trump’s desire to blow up American democracy is something else entirely. With their children dispatched to good public schools, and their late model vehicles parked in the tidy yards of right-sized homes, there is absolutely no sentiment expressed here that Somerset’s residents are prepared to scrap it all and start over.

It doesn’t look now as though they are going to have to. Clinton has a comfortable lead in most public polls by performing well during three presidential debates, and essentially saying little else over the last three weeks. That’s cleared the way for Trump to bluff and bully and shriek his way down a steep decline in support. Last night, signaling that’s he’s prepared to resume a career in reality television, Trump declared his resistance to accepting the results of the election. He is resolved to keep the country waiting for the next big provocation, the very same tactic that provided the $US billions in free media attention that made his improbable run to the Republican nomination possible.

There isn’t anything in the lives of any of us to compare to this ugly and unnerving election.

Hillary Clinton is reviled by critics on all sides for character traits, that if they were true, would have prevented her from accomplishing all that she has in her life. Few candidates for president have been as thoughtful, meticulous, intelligent, experienced and well prepared as she is.

The worst offenses her critics offer are:

1. The craven assessment that she is responsible for the death of a diplomat and several more Americans in an attack on US government facilities in Libya. She wasn’t. Republicans mounted a sham Congressional investigation anyway to elevate the attack into a political issue to harm Clinton this year. It’s important to note that Republicans had never before cared to lay the blame for any of the previous lethal terrorist attacks on US installations that occurred under Republican presidents.

2. The use of a private server that Clinton established to send and receive email while she was Secretary of State. The implication is she played fast and loose with state secrets, a charge that is not true.

3. Her decision to keep her family together after Bill Clinton’s sex romp with Monica Lewinsky in the late 1990s; assertions that she enabled Bill to build her own political prominence; and she was too tough in attacking the credibility of other women Bill may or may not have bedded.

Fortunately for the U.S. Hillary Clinton is durable, measured, and a grownup. She’s been pushed by Bernie Sanders to embrace progressive ideas she hadn’t grasped earlier — like free college tuition and stronger measures to cool the warming planet. She’s shown herself to be graceful and persistent under pressure. And she’s been tactically smart.

Knowing of Trump’s childish capacity to mindlessly strike back when criticized she baited a trap in the first debate on September 26. Hillary unearthed the cruel criticisms that Trump unleashed at a Miss Universe winner in the 1990s after she’d gained weight. Trump swallowed the chum whole, spent the pre-dawn hours afterwards tweeting more offensive comments, and kept up the assault for much of the following week. Continue reading “The 2016 Election Endgame: Decisive or Dangerous?”

Refuse To Give In To The Darkness

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

BENZONIA — Will Americans give in to the darkness and elect Donald Trump? The disturbing answer at this point, just as it was in the late spring, is that enough of his supporters say yes, and too many of his opponents are not sure.

There has never been a presidential election like this one in my lifetime, though ample numbers of similarly dangerous men elevated themselves to head of state in other countries. Mussolini’s rise to power as a dictator in Italy in the early 20th century comes to mind. Mussolini marketed a narrative of decay and dissolution, framed his own comic book cult hero persona, and lied and exaggerated, and evaded responsibility for mistakes and flaws for two decades.

Trump has shown himself to be masterful at none of the skills needed to manage a complex nation. He is intemperate, undisciplined, careless, not thoughtful, not truthful, not inquisitive, and desperately self-involved. Just the sort of guy you want with the nuclear codes, or in a trade dispute with China. How American crop producers support Trump is beyond me. China is our largest buyer of soybeans.

Trump has displayed, though, a near flawless expertise in sales. It’s the Procter & Gamble consumer market culture applied to politics. Procter & Gamble convinced Americans of the inherent decay and bacterial danger of their bodies, their clothes, and their homes. Then the company sold consumer antiseptics — soaps, detergents, cleaners.

Trump now presents a global narrative of ideological danger, decay, chaos and despair. He cites the episodic evidence of criminal outbreaks — police deaths in Dallas and Baton Rouge, ISIS-related massacres in California and Florida. He offers Hillary Clinton as the source of the vortex of violence. And he presents himself as the remedy.

Without a national campaign staff, a real campaign plan, or any modesty in temperament or behavior, he nevertheless keeps attention riveted on himself through one unexpected, often outlandish statement, after another. Yesterday, for instance, after assuring the nation of the “love” and “unity” gained at a Cleveland Republican convention that achieved neither, Trump criticized Ted Cruz, who refused to endorse him, calling the Texas Senator “dishonorable,” and suggesting as he did in the spring that Cruz’s father was an intimate of Lee Harvey Oswald. His source: The National Enquirer, which Trump called “a magazine that, in many respects, is respected.”

The madness that is Donald Trump, whose outsize ego and ruthless business strategy was well-known to New Yorkers for two generations, almost perfectly reflects what happens following 30 years of dogma that have unhinged the values and principles of an ideologically fixated Republican Party. Republican orthodoxy has come to represent lingering racism, dangerous suspicion of science, obstructionism, heed to the rich over the middle class, allegiance to dirty fuel, mindless “no new taxes” austerity, and rejection of public investments for public purposes.

Trump’s convention promoted much of that and especially of hate – of immigrants, of ISIS, of Hillary Clinton, of the idea that stable government is an asset. Trump’s execution of the convention showed sloppiness, poor planning, lack of energy, weak discipline. He portrayed himself as bellicose and flawless. He stoked fear among his supporters and his opponents.

His case, no matter from which side it’s viewed, is disturbing. Could he really win?

— Keith Schneider

Cities Are Stronghold of Performance in Maelstrom of American Disarray

Ohio's capital city adopted a reconstruction plan for encouraging development 14 years ago that emphasized three unexpected ingredients: more grass, less water and targeted taxpayer spending. Photo/Keith Schneider
Ohio’s capital city adopted a reconstruction plan for encouraging development 14 years ago that emphasized three unexpected ingredients: more grass, less water and targeted taxpayer spending. Photo/Keith Schneider

COLUMBUS, OH — In the year of Trump it’s plain that the United States is entering a new and reckless age. Our federal lawmakers neglect their constitutional duties to legislate in the public interest. Ideology and inflexibility, the gravest threats to a democracy, are elevated as virtues on the political right and political left. Random massacres occur with weekly frequency. Fear and distrust and racism and hate have been unleashed as mainstream attitudes.

Where are the places that inspire order? Where are the places that effectively manage their affairs with a goal of adding to civility and the common good?

Perhaps it is surprising, but a good number of American cities answer those questions. As readers of ModeShift know, some of my time each year is taken up with reporting real estate articles for The New York Times. Generally the narrative that emerges from details about construction costs and square feet amounts to a profile of the cities that I visit.

What I find, from New York to Boston to San Francisco, Grand Rapids to Louisville, Buffalo to Cleveland to Toledo to Cincinnati, is that many of America’s big cities, and a good number of its mid-size cities, are thriving. Largely without the help of the federal government and state Legislatures, elected leaders are collaborating with business executives and civic organizations to invest in ways that respond intelligently to the market conditions of this century.

In each city the formula for progress differs in the specifics. Buffalo reorganized itself around a university medical center and a transit line. Toledo turned to Chinese investors. Cleveland spent $800 million on entertainment and transit infrastructure – two stadiums, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a bus rapid transit route, and moving a commuter rail station — to invite $5 billion in mostly private downtown redevelopment. Sacramento tore down a moribund downtown shopping mall and built a new arena for the NBA Sacramento Kings.

Taken collectively, though, the various development strategies pursued by American cities have some common traits. Excellent elected leadership and pragmatic business collaboration are essential to developing and executing redevelopment ideas that take at least a decade, and often a generation, to complete. Redevelopment plans incorporate one or more of the following ingredients — competent municipal agencies, park construction, improved transit, strengthened schools, public safety, adequate amounts of reasonably priced housing, recruiting innovators and entrepreneurial businesses.

Over the next month or so I’ll be reporting on cities in the South and Midwest – Columbus, Cleveland, and Chattanooga –all of which are doing well. They are following effective redevelopment strategies that are much bolder, and more effective, than anything pursued by most states and certainly by America’s imprudent Congress. The latest report from a city making strong progress in adding value to the lives of its citizens is from Columbus, which I visited early in May. Continue reading “Cities Are Stronghold of Performance in Maelstrom of American Disarray”

Earth Pushes Back and Paris Climate Conference Responds

On the road to the achievements of the Paris Climate Accord clocks ticked down the accumulating seconds to planetary peril at a UN climate meeting in Barcelona in 2009. Photo/Keith Schneider
On the road to  the Paris Climate Accord clocks ticked down the seconds to planetary peril at a UN climate meeting in Barcelona in 2009. Photo/Keith Schneider

Like divers surfacing above a sea of noise and ambivalence, negotiators in Paris on Saturday reached an agreement that commits nations to develop new energy strategies that hold “the increase in the average global temperature to well below 2 degrees C” and to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C.”

The Paris accord is momentous for innumerable reasons, not the least of which is because it recognizes, at last, that three powerful and unyielding economic and ecological trends have merged to relentlessly push governments to act. All are prompted by the collision between the resource-abundant development approach of the 20th century, and the increasingly dire environmental conditions of the 21st.

Since 2008, as a correspondent reporting on the global confrontation between rising demand for energy and food in the era of diminishing freshwater reserves, I’ve been a frontline eyewitness on five continents to our rapidly evolving circumstances.

By far, the most important change in our circumstances is that Mother Earth is fuming. The planet is pushing back hard, very hard, against mankind’s industrial depradations. Hurricanes drowned two American cities.  Mammoth wildfires race across the West, burning hottest in the fuel-stoked forests where fire was deliberately suppressed. Toxic algae contaminates drinking water drawn from warmer and more polluted rivers and lakes all over the world.

A Rein of Global Disorder
An earthquake this year damaged 14 hydropower dams in Nepal. In June 2013, a vicious flood that scientists linked to climate change killed thousands of people in Uttarakhand, India and wrecked that Himalayan state’s hydropower sector. A tsunami in the Pacific Ocean in 2011 killed 16,000 people and shut down Japan’s seawater-cooled nuclear sector.

Bill McKibben, author and climate activist, led much of the global civic opposition that helped produce the Paris climate accord. Photo/Keith Schneider
Bill McKibben, author and climate activist, led much of the global civic opposition that helped produce the Paris climate accord. Photo/Keith Schneider

Deep droughts have been especially dangerous. Brazil’s largest city, America’s largest state, and nearly all of South Africa contend now with serious water scarcity. A 12-year dry spell in Australia’s food-producing Murray-Darling basin ended in 2010, but not before it caused the largest rice industry in the southern hemisphere to collapse. More than 1 million metric tons of rice vanished from world markets. Australia’s wheat growers, typically the world’s sixth largest exporters, managed to harvest just over half of the 20 million metric tons of grain they normally produced. Both harvest failures contributed to rising grain prices. Recall that the Arab Spring in 2010 was touched off by rising food prices. Continue reading “Earth Pushes Back and Paris Climate Conference Responds”

This Is India — “Maybe Tomorrow”

Much of the world's tea is raised in northeast India. Workers pick tea leaves in a tea garden in Assam. Photo/Keith Schneider
Much of the world’s tea is raised in northeast India. Workers pick tea leaves in a tea garden in Assam. Photo/Keith Schneider

GUWAHATI, India — Beggars prowl the sidewalks of every city I’ve visited — American, Scandinavian, Arabian, Australian, Asian.

Still, there may be no more organized, encompassing, creative, and pathetic beggar culture in the world today than the one that operates in New Delhi, India’s capital.

With 25 million residents, New Delhi is the world’s second largest city behind Tokyo, according to the United Nations. Seven years ago Delhi’s Social Welfare Department reported that nearly 59,000 beggars roamed the city’s streets. More recent unofficial estimates puts the number at four times that figure or more.

By day, beggars work the city’s traffic-swarmed intersections in teams delineated by age, sex, physical infirmity, dress, and territory. At one corner beautiful little girls sweep through the traffic lanes, their eyes sad pools of practiced lamentation, beseeching drivers and passengers for coins. At another it’s little boys squirting through stopped traffic. Young mothers holding infants and wearing street-soiled saris of orange chiffon are common.

So are hijras, India’s transgender third sex. They are castrated men that dress and adorn themselves like women in makeup and jewelry. They shimmy and shake, bat their eyes, and extend large thick-veined hands, the grip of theatrical desperation.

When night descends, a different choreography unfolds. Beggar groups and families recede to their camps in parks, on the medians of busy boulevards, and underneath highway bridges. Mobile shelters made of tree limbs and plastic are erected. Cooking stoves are lit. Children are bathed and fed. Then Delhi’s dark places flicker on, one after another like a ground level constellation. The stars are the blue and white hues of tablet screens. Adults and children, sitting on blankets, gather in sizable circles to watch the digitized flames of their video campfires. TII. This Is India.

Orange producers in Arunachal Pradesh. Photo/Keith Schneider
Orange producers in Arunachal Pradesh. Photo/Keith Schneider

During 17 days spent in India — my fourth trip in two years — I noted other intriguing colors and distinctive textures that describe this great banquet of bedlam and paradox. I call it TII — This Is India. Enjoy.

Much of India's highway network is constructed by hand. Workers in Meghalaya use steel bars to break up the pavement, pounding the black top like warriors with pointed lances. Photo/Keith Schneider
Much of India’s highway network is constructed by hand. Workers in Meghalaya use steel bars to break up the pavement, pounding the black top like warriors with pointed lances. Photo/Keith Schneider

Continue reading “This Is India — “Maybe Tomorrow””