The Sad Irony of Trump’s Presidential Response to Hurricane Harvey

 The oblivious president

On Tuesday, August 29, as Hurricane Harvey lingered over Houston dumping an “unprecedented” four feet of rain, plus a few inches, the presidential entourage landed in Corpus Christi.

Three days earlier Hurricane Harvey came ashore north of Corpus, pounding the small community of Rockport as a Category 4 storm. South Texas took the brunt of what is becoming a new normal: other-worldly weather events. It’s hard to know how to respond to an unmitigated disaster. The president’s role as consoler-in-chief is critical in times of widespread tragedy, though awkward in the best of circumstances. The last thing local authorities need is the small army required to transport the president.

This is true of any president, a rare example of bipartisanship. What the president says, how he comports himself, is another matter. Much has already been written about President Trump’s narcissist-tinged, tone-deaf response while on the ground in Texas. But beyond his grating, bumptious manner, there is a much sadder irony in the president’s comments, revealing a stark disconnect between what he does and his understanding of what he is doing.

The best crisis ever

“Wow – Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500-year flood! We have an all out effort going, and going well!” – Presidential tweet, August 27, 2017

Wow indeed, as Harvey is third “500-year-flood” to hit the Houston area in as many years and by far the worst. Never fear, Donal Trump is on it. Acknowledging it was too soon to congratulate each other, President Trump boasted at a meeting in Austin on Tuesday that his administration would meet the “epic” 15 trillion gallons of water dropped on Houston “better than ever before.” Years from now people will say “this is how to do it.”

I hope so because with each passing year, meeting unprecedented natural disasters will demand the best of us. Aging infrastructure stretched beyond its design parameters, human displacement, resource constraints, economic, physical, and emotional devastation. We best be prepared.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Trump has no plan, and it’s the best

Mr. Trump rode to power on a populist message of remembering the forgotten Americans overrun by a world changing too fast. Promising to make us all “sick and tired of winning,” people ate it up. At least enough people to get him elected. The problem with winning the presidency is then you become president.

The job of selling is done, now it is time to execute. To execute you need a plan. President Trump’s lack of a coherent plan for his presidency is evident in his approach to climate change, though hardly exclusive to this one issue.

To be clear, there is nothing President Trump could have done to prevent Harvey’s devastation. Any poor decisions contributing to the storm’s impact were made long before he became president. But decisions he and his cabinet are now implementing ensures more devastation, more human and economic loss, and more “never before witnessed” catastrophic weather in the decades to come.

Trump’s plan? Undo whatever Obama did, including a policy mandate to improve infrastructure resilience in high-risk flood plains.

The Trump administration believes it best to rebuild infrastructure destroyed in Harvey-like storms just “as it was before.” Like it will never be again.

If not now, then when?

There is one thing Harvey makes crystal clear, at least to me. We are out of time. The energy, heat, and water vapor producing Harvey was baked into the system many years ago. The sprawling concrete urban planning of cities like Houston is considered adequate, even as the city drowns.

Yet, the narrative from the Trump administration is that discussing the risk of climate change during natural disasters is “opportunistic.” A chance for the left wing media to politicize the issue, thereby diabolically politicizing the issue.

The obvious fact is that Trump and his people will never find a good time to discuss climate change. Not now, not ever. Expunge the phrase from official documents, defund research, turn off satellites monitoring the biosphere. Make false promises to coal miners and blame it on “fake news” when it doesn’t work out. This is the world in which Donald Trump lives. A world very different from the one you and I will find ourselves all too soon. For many that world has already arrived on their doorstep with a vengeance.

The sad irony of Donald Trump

It’s safe to say that President Trump does not “believe” in climate change. Or maybe he does. He softened his rhetoric about the Paris Agreement when treated well in Paris and allowed to flirt with Macron’s wife.

From my distant (but all too close) perch, it seems Mr. Trump doesn’t believe in much beyond notoriety and monetary wealth. He says things like “they’re gonna take out the coal and clean it.” As if there’s a job for someone with a scrub brush and determination to make that coal sparkle.

He withdraws the United States from the hard-won Paris Agreement, claiming the rest of the world will no longer be laughing at us.

In Trump’s world, the subtle nuance of a truly empathetic response to Hurricane Harvey, perhaps to anything, is simply beyond his abilities. He can’t make the connection between a successive series of unprecedented extreme weather events and a changing climate.

President Trump is oblivious. The real tragedy is that he just doesn’t care.

We can still mitigate the impacts of climate change headed our way. We must. Be we focus on adaptation to a new world.

Hang on, we’re in for a tough ride.


Images credits: U.S. Department of Defense

Will the Push to Dismantle Obamacare Lead to States Passing Single Payer Bills?

The U.S. is the only one among modern, industrialized countries to not adopt some form of single payer healthcare. And Americans are paying dearly for it.

The U.S. is also the biggest spender on health care. An analysis by the Commonwealth Fund found that the U.S. spent 17.1 percent of its GDP on healthcare in 2013. That was much higher than what France spent at 11.6 percent of GDP and the U.K. at 8.8 percent.

High-priced healthcare

Private spending on healthcare is highest in the U.S. where the average spending per person in 2013 was $1,074 in out-of-pocket costs. France and the Netherlands spent less than one-fourth ($277 and $270, respectively).

The U.S. also spent much more than other countries in other private spending at $3,442 per capita, which was over five times more than Canadians spent at $654. Canada was the second highest spending country.

Riskier healthcare

A study comparing the U.S. and Canadian health care systems found that the Canadian system has “lower costs, more services, universal access to health care without financial barriers, and superior health status.” Researchers also found that Canadians have longer life expectancies and lower infant mortality rates than Americans.

The U.S. has the highest rate of deaths related to health care or the lack of it than among comparable countries, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The disease burden is also higher in the U.S. and hospital admissions for preventable diseases occur more frequently than in comparable countries.

Increasing cost

Health care costs in the U.S. are expected to increase. Health Affairs projected that they will grow at 5.8 percent from 2015 to 2025, comprising 20.1 percent of the GDP.

The business world is taking note of the high health costs. Back in April, the American Sustainable Business Council launched the Business Leaders Transforming Healthcare campaign.

There are 128 companies supporting the campaign, ranging from small, mid-sized and large businesses in 30 states in sectors that include consumer products, finance, energy and real estate. The purpose of the campaign is to engage the business community in the U.S. to push for a single payer health care system.

Three states introduce single payer bills

California, New York and the state of Washington have all introduced single payer bills this year into their legislatures.

California

The Healthy California Act or SB 562, introduced in February, passed by the state senate in June. It now sits languishing in the Assembly.

The bill would create a Healthy California program to provide universal single-payer health care coverage. It would also create a health care cost control system.

The program would provide a “wide-range of medical benefits and other services.” It would incorporate in the “benefits and standards of other existing federal and state provisions,” including California’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medi-Cal.

The Healthy California board would use all “waivers, approvals, and agreements” so existing federal health care payments would be paid to the program.

 

Washington

Washington state House Bill 1026 would create a single-payer health care system by using the Affordable Care Act’s state innovation waiver 1332, which became available this year to state legislators.

With the waivers, states can use 95 percent of the federal funds provided to state residents for cost assistance to use for Affordable Care Act (ACA) alternatives. It would create the Washington Health Security Trust and create guidelines to establish board and advisory committees that would manage the health care of state residents.

New York

The New York Health Act passed in the state assembly in May. It would create a single payer health care system for the state of New York.

It would be paid for with payroll taxes and non-employment income such as capital gains. Introduced in February, the bill would seek “waivers and other approvals” that relate to federal programs such as Medicaid, the ACA, and Medicare.

An economic analysis of the bill found that the bill would save more than $70 billion in 2019, which is 25 percent of that year’s projected health care spending, with savings increasing over time. During the bill’s first year, it would save $44.7 billion, or almost $2,200 per person. The analysis also found that it would also create over 200,000 jobs, which would more than replace the jobs lost in insurance and billing.

Single payer healthcare makes sense

What states like those three understand is that a single payer system is not socialized medicine. Delivery of care would remain private, doctors would regain autonomy. The way to achieve universal, single payer health care in the U.S. just might be through the states. And if Republicans keep trying to dismantle the ACA, the states just might become emboldened to achieve what every other developed country has in place.

The way to achieve universal, single payer health care in the U.S. just might be through the states. And if Republicans keep trying to dismantle the ACA, the states just might become emboldened to achieve what every other developed country has in place.

And if Republicans keep trying to dismantle the ACA, the states just might become emboldened to achieve what every other developed country has in place.


Image credit: Michael Fleshman, courtesy Flickr

 

The Message of a Better Tomorrow Resonates Across the U.S. (and the globe)

Last month I spoke with Cyril Dion, a French filmmaker, writer, and activist. Dion co-produced the documentary Tomorrow with the actress, director, screenwriter, and musician Melanie Laurent.

Tomorrow won the 2016 French César for Best Documentary. After a successful release in more than 20 countries, the film made its U.S. debut in the Bay Area the weekend of April 14.  When we talked the following Monday, a tired yet determined-looking Dion said he was encouraged by the overwhelming enthusiasm for the film’s message of solutions and empowerment.

That enthusiasm continues. In a nation beleaguered by uncertainty and antagonism, Tomorrow has clearly struck a chord across the U.S.

As of this writing, Tomorrow is held over in  NY, LA, San Diego, San Francisco, among other cities.

The road to Tomorrow

Like any mother, Melanie Laurant wants a better future for her childrenShortly after Laurent gave birth to her first child, she learned of the  2012 Nature article, Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere.  Co-authored by Anthony Barnosky,  a paleobiologist, professor emeritus of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and currently executive director of the Stanford Jasper Ridge Biological Reserve, the paper’s stark warning of a rapidly approaching biological tipping point was an alarming awakening for a new mother in the 21st century.

We can avoid the severely – and suddenly  – altered world that potentially awaits Laurent’s child and the two billion other children expected on the planet by 2050. But the time to act, the article warned, is now. Waiting until after an ecological collapse to find viable solutions will be too late.

Fighting catastrophe fatigue

With that dire message, Laurent, Dion and a crew of four set out to tell a different story. We can imagine a better future for our children. If that sounds improbable, we need only look at what people all over the world are doing right now to shape the future of their families, communities, and the

The film acknowledges the urgent message from Barnosky’s work, and that of many others, but doesn’t dwell on the darkness. Instead, it focuses on active solutions.

Filmmaker Cyril Dion“People feel helpless… that they are too small to do anything about it,” Dion says.

“I really wanted to make a tool to empower people. To show them that we can start where we are and we can also build a movement.”

A better world, the film posits, can rest on four pillars, looking at each one in turn:

    • Agriculture:  For anyone living in the industrialized world and born after 1950, the idea of anything other than industrial farming is an esoteric “niche.” It’s hard to imagine that the exact opposite might be true.

    • Energy: A low carbon energy economy is the right side of history. A continued “business-as-usual” reliance on high-carbon, extractive energy sources is the wrong side of history. Everybody know that. Well, almost everybody.
    • Education: The chances of success for a single individual, and thus an entire society, rests on a good education.

    • Democracy: How we choose our leaders demands an informed and engaged citizenry (see above). Oligarchy is what happens when people don’t know or don’t care, allowing fear and emotion to dictate their decisions.

There are innovative solutions for each. Solutions not only “being tried,” but working and expanding.

People from all walks of life making a better Tomorrow, today

A world reimagined

In another interview yesterday, Barnosky told me he remains optimistic. Messages like the one in Tomorrow are important, he says. It demonstrates  the groundswell of community action globally, suggesting a different narrative for a “global economy.” One that starts with people and communities, connected through a shared belief in their own power to effect change. Not by “saving the world,” but by working in their own communities, their own little plot of land. Think globally, act locally.

But it’s also about being present, here and now, and imagining the kind of future we want.

“If we can imagine the world differently,” says Dion, “it’s going to have an impact on the economic and political structure.”

“We are human beings, so we imagine first. We first need to change the vision, the narrative of the world.”

Tomorrow shows a world reimagined, but real.

Tomorrow – Trailer from Under The Milky Way on Vimeo.