My Talk with Michael Fallon

Is the political system broken?

Michael Fallon, M.D., is a Republican running for the First Congressional District in Colorado. Yesterday he was at our neighborhood picnic (Cherry Hills Vista), along with local, state, and national candidates and non-candidates of both parties whom the neighborhood had invited to show up and create a little interest in what might otherwise be a pretty dull picnic.

Fallon is running for the seat currently occupied by Diana DeGette. He doesn’t have a chance, of course; this is a heavily Democratic district (it broke about 70% for Obama), so he doesn’t pose a serious threat. But since he was there, I talked with him, and here is how it went.

The Pitch

His pitch was that he is concerned about the massive amounts of debt we were accumulating. He points to the housing bubble which produced the most recent recession. The banks ought to play by the rules of our capitalist system, and if they don’t, they should be punished. There is too much contention in Congress and reasonable people from both sides need to reach a compromise. We all need to make sacrifices to get out of the current crisis.

So far, so good! He’s meeting with me, something I’ve never had a chance to do with Diana DeGette; and I have to agree that debt is an extremely serious issue. (Our high levels of debt imply future expansion to pay it off; but future expansion means more use of fossil fuels.  Also, the overwhelming preponderance of our debt isn’t governmental debt, but private debt — credit cards, mortgages, business loans, and personal loans). I also agree that banks should play by the rules, and we all need to make sacrifices. What’s not to like?

So I asked him if he was going to get us out of Afghanistan to help the reduce the deficit and he said (drum roll please) “Yes.” Another point for Fallon! At this point, I’m idly considering voting for him just to protest the war in Afghanistan. I make a mental note to check his web site and make sure that his plan for Afghanistan isn’t “get out, right after nuking the Taliban.”

I couldn’t let his view of the recession being caused by the housing bubble pass, so I said something like this. “The recession was worldwide, and was already underway before the housing bubble burst in the United States. And there’s no way a housing problem in the U. S. could cause a worldwide recession. It was because energy prices spiked, and that’s because we are approaching or at peak oil.” I warmly recommended his fellow Republican Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican representative from Maryland, who knows more about peak oil than anyone else in Congress.

Fallon didn’t seem prepared for this; he said that he disagrees, but couldn’t cite a good reason, just that he doesn’t think I’m right.  That’s too bad, but no one else in Congress (including Diana DeGette) pays attention to peak oil either.

Global Warming

So then I ask him what he thinks about global warming. And my jaw drops.

It turns out he is a global warming denier. He said that global warming peaked in 1998, and has declined ever since — well, except possibly for this year.  He says we ought to be open to different points of view.  If you look at all the web sites on “how to respond to a climate change skeptic,” one of the first things they tell you is how to respond to the point that the global temperature has been declining since 1998.  (1998 was a doozy, but 2005 was hotter, and the trend line of increase is clear.  You can’t look at the charts and miss this.)

After both my wife and I contradict him on this point, I urge him to learn more about global warming, but he insists he has studied the problem for 10 years and that he is quite well informed.  He may want us to have an open mind on the subject, but his mind, evidently, is made up.  As he walks away from our table, he mentions to someone else, “I don’t think I’ll be getting their vote.”

Part of me is just flabbergasted. So this is 2010 and Russia is burning, Pakistan is flooding, the Greenland ice sheet is disintegrating, and the BP oil spill is polluting the beaches? And there are people, intelligent people, willing to stand up in public and deny climate change? Sure, it’s a free country, but these people are creating the illusion of uncertainty when global warming is fact, and thereby stopping us from actually taking decisive action. He’s just taking the Republican climate change deniers’ playbook from about three or four years ago and reading from it; I doubt he’s even googled the subject recently, or he’d quickly find the refutations of the views he’s espousing.

Or maybe the climate change deniers aren’t the real problem: all those Democrats in Congress, and we still can’t even get a vote on a tepid, do-nothing climate bill that was — if the truth be told — so innocuous that it is not even worth supporting in the first place.

Do You Still Believe in “Free Elections”?

I don’t believe that we have “free elections.” Perhaps it would be more politic to say: “free elections” are a good idea, we ought to try them! But as currently practiced, all that happens is that rich people can finance candidates that can go around the country denying something that is obviously true so that their financial interests can continue boiling the planet. They then make it appear that there is a “debate” over something which, in scientific terms, has been settled science for at least a decade.

Here’s my solution: liquidate the rich entirely, by imposing a maximum income — it could be reasonably generous, like $200,000 a year or so in current dollars. If you don’t like this and want to convince me otherwise, show me that rich people, as a class, are going to move decisively to end the problem of climate change.

Then enact a real climate change bill, and move towards a steady state economy, not our perpetual motion economy — oops, I mean “constantly growing” economy. Deal seriously with natural resource shortages, by imposing caps on the use of all fossil fuels, and indeed all endangered natural resources (water, soil, forests, you name it) via a “cap, auction, trade” system and generating revenue through taxes on fossil fuel use.

Political Action

I know that Mike Fallon thought he had wasted his time talking to people that would never come close to voting for him, but the scary part is that he is actually closer than he thinks.  If Roscoe Bartlett moved to Colorado and was the Republican nominee for Congress, I’d vote for him.  Better a conservative who at least knows we have a problem than a liberal who is just playing defense on the environment.

In the meantime, I am almost as disgusted with the Democrats as with the Republicans. Any Democrat who talks about what’s happening with the environment is either a revolutionary or an idiot, and I don’t see many revolutionaries around these days, certainly not in Congress. They’re just sitting around, saying “look at how stupid the Republicans are!” Which is true, but doesn’t help us getting anything done.

What can I do politically?  For the next election (it’s a little late for this one), faced with the same dismal choices, I propose putting up three election signs in my yard, reading respectively:

Don’t Fear Them

Don’t Believe Them

Don’t Rely on Them

This time, if I can get a mail-in ballot, I’m either voting for the Greens, writing myself in, or maybe just scrawling in my concise and frank opinion of this so-called political system on the ballot and mailing that back in.

We need change, we need radical change, and we need it now. The time for gradual change was like 1980 — you should have re-elected Carter while you had the chance, who was the last President to actually have a clue about the environment, and I didn’t think Carter went nearly far enough even at the time. We need a revolution, and if you are talking about anything else, you will have to talk quickly and convincingly to persuade me to give you the time of day.

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