Often when we talk about historical figures and their influence on our modern day politics we think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower or Lyndon Baines Johnson. Who is often overlooked is Thomas Paine whose views on early American democracy and how to make it accessible to everybody were considered radical. I recently spoke with Seth Cotlar a history professor at Willamette University whose research and work about Thomas Paine's early influence & views; and just how that shaped our modern politics.
Unions have a long history of fighting an ongoing battle to be recognized and to be allowed. Erik Loomis is a labor and environmental historian who teaches at the University of Rhode Island. His recent book A History of America In Ten Strikes documents these battles through ten different labor strikes. I reached out to him to talk about his book and the importance of forming a union.
An interview on tech monopolies with investigative reporter Sally Hubbard
By: Austin C. Yenne
Sally Hubbard is one of the leading experts on antitrust issues involving tech monopolies. She’s written extensively about how Google and Facebook use their platform dominance to squash their competition. She’s also warned the public about how these tech giants are dangerous to our democracy and need to be broken up. I recently reached out to Sally to talk about her work covering these platforms and how they first caught her attention.
Alexander Kaufman currently works for HuffPost as one of the top reporters covering climate, the environment and business where they intersect. Coming into this discussion from a business perspective roughly 4 years ago, Alexander became intrigued with the environmental implications that were being discussed in the boardrooms of American corporations. He became disenchanted with the notion that they might regulate themselves and shifted his focus to governmental regulatory policy.
I picked up on his enthusiasm for the potential in the energy sector for innovative solutions and pitfalls in the current administration’s trajectory. I was fortunate to be able to speak with him recently about his reporting, as he characterizes it, centering on “climate change, environmental policy and the politics of life on a warming planet.”
The evolution of Alexander’s interest in environmental issues has clarified his perspective of humanity’s fallible energy choices of the past through to the fortuitously critical options that will impact our immediate and long term collective future. Our interview took place mere hours before the recent release of the UN’s staggering climate report, the conclusion of which has come to be understood as implicating dire consequences for all living things on this planet if immediate measures which the committee implored are not heeded.
With the Trump administration’s recent interest in reviving the archaic cold war era Defense Production Act to nationalize coal plants thus preventing the shuttering of otherwise obsolete coal plants, Alexander sees this absurd proposition as a potential catalyst calling it “a gift for climate hawks.” He accurately points out that the coal industry is “employing very few people and is such a huge source of climate pollution.”
Despite the urgent tone of the conclusions in the UN’s recent climate report, Mr. Kaufman chastises policy makers within the Democratic Party that herald themselves as believers of climate change and its imminent danger yet offer inadequate solutions. Alexander states right now they are offering…[solutions…] “that are very conservative approaches, nowhere near close enough to what needs to happen in order to reduce emissions at the rate scientists say we need to in order to avert the very worst catastrophes to potentially avoid losing cities like Miami to sea level rise.”
In a recent article for HuffPost, Alexander wrote about the lost opportunity after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico for the territory to become a “Solar Pioneer” by implementing 21st century solutions. Instead, congressional Republicans were more interested in showcasing Puerto Rico as a “fossil fuel theme park” rather than the innovative approach towards replacement with clean, alternative, renewable energy sources which would prove more resilient in future natural disasters. Puerto Rico could have served as a living laboratory model for the future of climate friendly energy solutions. Alexander pointed out the implied practicality in that Puerto Rico is not capable of producing any of the fossil fuels which currently are burned in order to supply more than 97% of the island’s power needs. Additionally, he commented that “Puerto Rico is a place where the sun is always shining and where you have communities in the mountains where they would do wonderfully if they would just produce their own electricity from decentralized little solar farms and stored in batteries”. This would make much more practical sense than “having a rickety power distribution system that was designed in the 1950s”.
Alexander impressed upon me the importance of continuing to explore future technologies that are currently at our doorstep. One of the more tantalizing avenues of research is found within facilities like Oak Ridge National Lab where they study the physics of particles colliding at nearly speed of light. One might naturally what this has to do with solving our energy problems. “This type of testing is really critical to finding ways of making lithium batteries more effective. Lithium batteries are really important to renewable energy being more widely used.” In addition many spin offs will contribute to higher efficiencies from cancer research to aerodynamic design. Unfortunately, the Trump administration seems blind and deaf to the invaluable benefits to mankind this facility contributes. Instead, the President is more interested in shrinking the size of the federal government and consequently driving away top research scientists with his ambivalence. Alexander laments “When you have that kind of uncertainty you risk down the road driving away more scientists to leave and to go work at another lab in another country as some of these experiments take five or more years to plan and so if you don’t know if your funding is going to be maintained from year to year, it makes it a lot harder to plan.”
America, long the leader in these technologies will rapidly fall behind as other countries are more than eager to attract the limited number of researchers integral to the success of these projects.
Speaking with Alexander helped me get to a higher understanding of the imminent perils we’re facing and demanding an immediate response. The hand wringing and half measures proposed by our elected officials from both parties currently are woefully deficient and will result in further degradation at an ever increasing pace toward a irreversible future which is life threatening on a global scale. Continued procrastination will surely result in massive financial burden and unimaginable consequences for all living things on this planet.
There’s one thing all of us are certain to hear during every election cycle: it’s the most important of our lifetime. In fact, we hear it so often that many of us have become immune to what it’s implying – except for the fact that this year, it might actually be true. Of course, while every prior election has been significant in its own way, the results of the 2016 election have redefined “importance” in ways none of us ever imagined. On a national level, our democracy is functional but fragile, as the current administration continues to threaten the American institutions that keep us stable; on a state level, our challenges demand solutions that can no longer be postponed by ineffective, status quo governing.
While the choices we need to make seem obvious, they remain dependent on our collective motivation to make them. This starts with my generation: millennial s
Political complacency has been a stigma that has continually plagued millennial s, even as we have surpassed the baby boomers in becoming the largest voting demographic in the nation. Our lack of interest is used as a tool for blame on election outcomes, and when we finally do show the motivation to take action, it’s usually seen as nothing more than an incoherent and poorly executed excuse to complain.
To some degree, the numbers reflect this reality: in 2012, 49% of 18-35 year old’s turned out to vote; in 2016, that number increased to 50 - a whopping 1%. The numbers for midterm elections, as you can imagine, are far less.
However, this generation now has the opportunity to change this conversation more decidedly – and the proof of this change seems to be occurring throughout the nation. Millennial s are beginning to age – finishing their education, starting careers, settling in locations, and starting families – making the importance of the issues, and how those issues affect the future – more firmly in reach. Much of this, in turn, has motivated more millennial s to run for office than ever before – in fact, I was one of them during this year’s primary here in Palm Beach County.
At the same time, the excuses often used to ignore political conversation are dwindling, too. Because this generation is more proficient and adaptable with technology, social media, and the rapid evolution of both, conversation about the issues that surround our politics is more available, more effortless, and less avoidable than at any point prior.
Yet, for as much as these indicators show that the level of engagement might be changing, they will only have a minimal impact as long as people stay home on Election Day.
In years past, not showing up to vote may have seemed like a more acceptable option, since the choices available to us often felt like simple ideological differences that were conventional, ordinary, and safe. Today, the possibility of a president left unchecked, or a state that continues to find little urgency in correcting the vastness of our environmental crises, addressing our educational priorities, and establishing more acceptable standards of living are nothing short of a series of reckless scenarios that can be easily avoided.
For millennials, the results of inaction are perhaps the most consequential. This is the generation that will be around to witness rising seas, to work toward vanishing social security, to send their kids to schools that lack proper funding – and protection.
Those are risks that none of us can possibly accept.
With that, I leave my fellow millennial s with the following message: jeopardizing our entire future would be a tragic price to pay for our failure to spend less than 15 minutes filling out a ballot. In just over a month, let’s finally put this stigma behind us by taking action, showing up to vote, and making the difference. Your happy hour that Tuesday will be a real reason to celebrate.