Friday, July 6, 2018

Heat waves and "worst-case" scenarios; Scott Pruitt resigns.

I am not a climate scientist, but as a mathematician I think I understand something about differential equations and "feedback" loops.

I have believed for several years now that actual climate scientists have been taking special care to avoid their real understanding to climate change -- deliberately softening their feelings of deep pessimism over its speed and intensity. Consider what climatologist Nick Humphrey says in his blog about the recent heat wave.

He concludes:

 In addition to the immediate impact on sea ice, there is also the impact on permafrost. Or perhaps, what was “permafrost”. More of these kind of intense heat events now hitting the Arctic at the height of summer will result in more rapid destruction of land permafrost as well as heating of the shallow waters just offshore where sub-sea permafrost is located, allowed for increasingly more carbon dioxide and methane to be released into the atmosphere, speeding up global warming and resulting climate change, including effects on storm patterns in the mid-latitudes.

In other words, we are entering the era of the "feedback loop": Heating creates melting which increases the rate of heating. This results in not just a simple increase in (global) warming, but exponential increase (and maybe worse) in warming, We are not talking about a disaster for our grandchildren anymore (bad enough, of course) but a disaster for our children and probably many of us.  A week of temperatures in the mid-nineties in the Northeast will be the norm for spring-summer-fall seasons here. It will be worse in other places: death-dealing heat waves lasting weeks; and, eventually (in years, not decades) these will be the norm just about everywhere in previously "temperate" regions.

This can not be blamed on the Trump administration.  This is on all of us, especially the major industrialized nations, especially the ones which industrialized first and most (England, Europe, US). Fossil-fuel consumption in China, India, Brazil etc will simply make things much worse. What we are seeing now will not go away: exponential heating and melting will continue for maybe a century, maybe more: surely more if we do nothing

Although it has not received anything like the attention it deserves, Bill McKibben's book Eaarth, I think, pulls few punches in giving a pretty fair account of the "new" planet we will have to face and live on as the effects of climate feedback become worse.

Politics will have 2 important roles to play:

1. Making industrial and economic changes that will diminish (radically) greenhouse gas pollution.

2. Making sure that we protect humans and food crops from the thermal (and social) devastation that will result from what has already happened and is happening.

Given the political "climate", I'm pretty certain that neither of these things will happen for decades. The wealthy will flee to their bastions of air-conditioning, private food supplies, armed force and protective walls. The Koch brothers and their friends will fight to the last to preserve coal and oil and their personal enclaves and wealth. Hundreds of thousands then millions then hundreds of millions (and more) will be "on their own" to face the new world of unrelenting heat and rising water levels (which will not be "lifting all boats" for sure).

We can all try, for the sake of our families, friends and relatives, to work to implement points 1 and 2 above, and hope for the best. I'm sorry to say that that's about all I can take away from this recent heat wave and the almost-pointless resignation of Scott Pruitt.


Monday, April 30, 2018

Three Cheers for Michelle Wolf

The comedian Michelle Wolf did the stand up routine at the end of the White House Correspondants Association dinner last night. Everything she said was true. A lot of it was funny. A lot of it was painful for a lot of the people listening, and rightfully so. In the context of the worst president and most corrupt administration in American history -- a group of selfish and rich individuals presided over by a dumb, sexist and racist bully -- there is little uncomplimentary that can be said that is not totally justified. That Wolf's remarks were largely not "polite" sort of goes without saying.

Anyway, the following opinion piece by comedian Adam Conover pretty much says it all:

Conover in the NYT.

And here's another:

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The cornered animal

In recent weeks I've been reluctant to write about Trump, since I imagine anyone reading this blog pretty much knows too much about the President. Attacking him and his administration is, as I've said more than a few times, like "shooting fish in a barrel."

However, at this time, we should all feel a special sense of unease. Trump's world has turned upside-down on him, with the latest -- and perhaps heaviest -- blow being the "raid" on his personal "consigliere" Michael Cohen. There is a good chance that Cohen was caught flat-footed by this (entirely) legal confiscation of records, before he was able to (illegally) destroy them. If this is the case, both he and Trump may very well be playing out the last of their game.

That being the case, what can we expect Trump to do? Many fear that he will find a way -- exactly how is not at this point clear -- to fire Mueller. This may, in fact happen, though I don't think that act will, even in the short-to-medium term, save him. My fear is that he will use the tried-and-true end run of starting a war -- somehow and somewhere. There are lots of possibilities. A massive Gotterdammerung, for someone like Trump, is a very real and terrifying possibility. Those of his followers of the evangelistic persuasion are, after all, looking toward the "End of Days" with some anticipation and would almost certainly egg him on (some are already doing so). 

Arlie Hochschild in her fascinating book "Strangers in Their Own Land" relates how some of the people she studied, when asked about the destruction of their homeland by environmental polluters, explained that ecological destruction is only a brief and contemporary problem, while the afterlife that stretches before them is infinite. While Trump himself no doubt has no such lofty feelings, his followers will certain make it easy for him to move in very bad directions.

Who will tackle him before he does something that may not be undoable?

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The failure(s) of the Republican economic vision

On the federal level there is no evidence that "tax cuts pay for themselves" -- even Republicans like Bush Sr. know that it is "voodoo" economics. The "Reagan tax-cuts" were a result of some compromise and came when tax rates were considerably higher. There is, conversely, no evidence that higher tax rates dampen the economy; in fact, Clinton presided over a modest budget surplus in spite of somewhat higher tax rates.

There are, however, two notable examples where taxes have been drastically cut  at the state level. In both cases the result has been a disaster for the state's economy. 

I have discussed the case of Gov. Sam Brownback in a previous blog about Kansas:

The situation in Kansas was so bad that the conservative Republican legislature passed tax increases over Brownback's veto in order to keep the state from bankruptcy and preserve its basic transportation and education services.

Just recently, the New York Times featured an article on a similar disaster in Louisiana: 

 This has not been resolved yet. The disaster of voodoo economics has been compounded by the usual Republican contempt for the environment, which has lead to terrible contamination throughout the state, especially chemicals along its bayous and oil along its Gulf coast.

The national Republican party tries to pretend that the tax cuts which it advocates are important to keep the federal government "under control". But even that is a phony since the same Republican party, at the state and local level, is constantly attacking any and all taxes. It would seem that their goal is to privatize everything: the schools, with the best ones for the rich; the roads on which the wealthy will pay for the best lanes; the water supplies and beaches and parks (the RMP -- the Rich Man's Party -- wants to use our national parklands for mining). They probably think that they can have private clean air and a private climate: if Scott Pruitt has his way.

The Republicans (not just their President), if left to their own devices, will make this country unlivable for all but their rich masters (the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson e.g.). We have the evidence in Kansas and Louisiana (above) and (Flint) Michigan and lots of other places. 

It is up to us to do the necessary job of alerting people to these "devices" and their failures. So far, the national Democrats have failed to publicize these well-documented results -- all they seem to do is attack Trump and his administration and ask for more money. That's why I don't contribute to their national "committees" but to individual candidates and groups such as Swing Left, ActionNetwork or MoveOn (there are other good ones -- especially on the local level).

Friday, March 2, 2018

What's good for Ohio Democrats is good for Democrats nationally

John Russo, writing in The American Prospect, points out that Ohio Democrats have failed to offer economic reasons for getting white working class votes. Instead of a solid platform, they offer attacks on Trump and fund-raising appeals. This important article can be found HERE.

This lesson is one that the Democrats on the national level could well learn. Each day I receive in my mail letters from the Democrats (usually the DSCC) with scary titles about how bad Donald Trump is (and he is very bad of course), coupled with pleas for money. I have yet to see a Democratic "platform" about how to raise working-class wages (other than vague approval of "minimum wage" laws), help unions, start infrastucture programs, or extol the very real benefits that government provides for all of us (for example: safety laws, food and drug testing, local and national environmental protection, research on disease prevention and cure etc. etc.) Democrats have also been reluctant to laud the many successes of the ACA ("Obama-care") and push for its extension.

In short, the Democratic Party U.S.A. has given us very few positive reasons why we should vote for them -- only reasons why we should vote against Trump et. al. It's almost as if they either have no program, or are afraid of or distrust real ideas. That is a formula for another disaster like 2016.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Robert Kuttner (American Prospect) on Al Franken

Kuttner, as usual, is right on target here. The Dems have been out-flanked again. Here's what he says:

As I wrote yesterday, Democrats made a huge mistake of both principle and tactics by throwing former Senator Al Franken under the bus. They hoped that ousting Franken would create a dramatic contrast with the Republicans’ indulgence of Roy Moore.

But Moore continues to deny that he did anything wrong. Who thinks the ouster of Franken will change one vote in the actual Alabama Senate race?

It would have been much fairer, as well as smarter politics, to allow the ethics investigation to play out, and insist that similar scrutiny be applied to both Moore and to the sexual predator-in-chief who sits in the Oval Office. As David Axelrod recently noted in a tweet, “Strange principle is emerging. If you admit misconduct, you resign. But if you deny it, however compelling or voluminous the testimony against you, you continue in office—or onto office—with impunity.”

The move to force Franken to resign is also hailed as an embrace of zero-tolerance. “I think when we start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping you are having the wrong conversation,” Gillibrand said Wednesday at a conference. “You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK. None of it is acceptable.”

This strikes me as dangerous nonsense. Just as there is a difference between armed robbery and shoplifting, there is a difference between rape and an unwanted pat on the butt. All are illegal or improper, but Roy Moore’s alleged child abuse and Franken’s bouts of misdemeanor misconduct are not in the same moral universe. Plus—whatever happened to due process?

This season marks the beginning of a long overdue reckoning of male sexual harassment and abuse of women. It doesn’t mark the end of shades of gray, or innocent until proven guilty. Right now, Republican stonewallers and sexual predators are having a good laugh at the Democrats’ expense. ~ ROBERT KUTTNER

(See: The American Prospect.)

Monday, December 4, 2017

3 Riddles

Question: What does a politician have to do to lose the white evangelical vote?

Answer: Act like Jesus. 

Question: Is there any level of hypocrisy and lack of sympathy for their fellows that Republicans won't sink to?

Answer: No.

Question: Do Republicans serve any function other than to transfer wealth from the non-rich to the rich?

Answer: None that anyone these days can effectively detect.