Sunday, August 18, 2019

Evangelicals forgive Donald Trump for 12,000 lies but not for saying 'goddamn'.

Actually they forgive him for a lot more. (Remember the Hollywood Access video?) Every day, in every way, there is another transgression, another violation of Christian mores, if not against the poor or infirm or infants, then it is is against all that in creation for which we are endowed with stewardship. Relative to all that, what’s a little cussin’ now and then?

In this Sunday’s Daily Star Michael Gerson exposes the disordered priorities of evangelicals: By siding with bigots, white evangelicals risk the reputation of the gospel. Here is some of it.

… After a recent speech by Donald Trump, [West Virginia state Senator Paul] Hardesty — who is a conservative, pro-Trump Democrat — received phone calls from Christians complaining of the president’s use of the term “goddamn.” In a letter to Trump, Hardesty pronounced himself “appalled by the fact that you chose to use the Lord’s name in vain on two separate occasions.” This is hardly a national groundswell for decorum. But I don’t want to be dismissive of people revolted by the steaming, stinking cesspool of Trump’s public rhetoric. The problem is one of proportion. Interviewed by Politico, Hardesty admitted that evangelicals had been willing to overlook many of the president’s character flaws, but he ventured that on the matter of blasphemy, Trump’s “evangelical base might be far less forgiving.”

Consider this statement in the light of some recent developments:

  • The Trump administration seems intent on sending to Congress a more than $4 billion package of budget cuts focused on diplomacy and foreign assistance spending. These proposed reductions would likely include efforts to fight the spread of Ebola, programs to encourage food security and nutrition across Africa, aid to countries taking the brunt of the refugee crisis, and democracy support in Venezuela, Ukraine and Tibet.

  • The president continues to vilify refugees as national security threats without the slightest bit of evidence. This year, the Trump administration capped the number of refugees that can resettle in the U.S. at 30,000 — the lowest ceiling since the refugee program was created in 1980. And now the administration is considering cutting that number to nearly zero next year.

  • At the southern border, the Trump administration has tightened the rules on asylum, making it harder for applicants to seek protection when family members face threats and barring migrants seeking asylum if they have passed through a third country on their trek. The administration’s policy of family separation, its abusive treatment of migrants, its policy confusion, and its general incompetence have contributed to a humanitarian crisis on both sides of the border.

Massive budget cuts to hunger-relief programs in Africa, refusing to take in desperate Syrian refugees and separating crying children from their parents at the border are tolerable, but using the Lord’s name in vain is a bridge too far? Pathological lying, spreading conspiracy theories, misogyny, making racist comments and dehumanizing others are permissible, but swearing somehow crosses the line?

How we order our outrage says much about us. Do we feel the violation of a religious rule more intensely than the violation of human dignity? Do we prioritize our religiosity above our anthropology — above our theory of human beings and their rights?

In a poll last year by the Pew Research Center, only 25% of white evangelicals said the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees, while 65% of the religious unaffiliated affirmed that duty. What could possibility explain this 40% gap in inclusion and compassion? For a certain kind of secularist, this reveals cruelty, corruption and hypocrisy at the heart of the Christian faith. But traditionally, many of the institutions that do refugee resettlement have been Christian.

The problem does not lie in Christianity but in the moral formation of Christians. Are they getting their view of refugees from Christian sources? Or are they taking their view from Fox News, talk radio and Donald Trump? I suspect the latter. And the worship of political idols is ultimately a spiritual problem — a different kind of blasphemy.

Many white evangelicals hold a faith that appeals to the comfortable rather than siding with the afflicted. They have allied themselves with bigots and nativists, risking the reputation of the gospel itself. And, in some very public ways, they are difficult to recognize as Christians at all.

(Thanks to our Roving Reporter Sherry for the tip.)

International Trophy Hunting, Part 1 - Killing a Leopard is a case study

Back in 2015 there was an international uproar over the trophy killing of Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion. Two years later the uproar renewed over the similar killing of his son, Xanda. You can find several posts at Scriber’s web site by a search for Cecil lion. I resume the story now with the late 2018 trophy killing of an African leopard and the 2019 report on trophy killings by the Congressional Research Service. The market for such trophies is, of course, whetted by the United States’ appetite for such gruesome art. We are by far the biggest importer of trophies.

Killing a leopard

snopes.com asks: Does This Photograph Show ‘Brittany L’ After Killing a Leopard? A photograph posted by Safari Club International went viral after being shared by outraged animal-lovers. (Published 17 September 2018)

The Claim: A photograph shows a woman named “Brittany L” on a hunting expedition, holding a recently-killed leopard.

Snopes’ Rating: True

In September 2018, a photograph went viral on social media along with a caption which claimed it showed a woman named “Brittany L.” holding a leopard she had just killed during a hunting expedition.

On 10 September, the wildlife artist Sue Dickinson posted the photograph to her Facebook page along with a message which read as follows:

This is Brittany L. She just killed this male leopard in his prime. According to SCI (Safari Club International) this leopard ranks as potentially the 9th largest leopard ever hunted. She’s a cretin. Please share if you agree. Let’s name and shame her.

Dickinson’s post was shared hundreds of thousands of times within a week and was re-published through multiple accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, including the supermodel Naomi Campbell.

The image is authentic and captures a woman posing with a real leopard that she herself killed.

The photograph was first posted on 7 September 2018 to the web site of Safari Club International, a hunting organization based in Tucson, Arizona, as part of a group of new entries into the organization’s online record book:

SCI members share their hunter pride

SCI Members hunt all over the globe, and are proud to share their successes. By entering their successful hunts in the SCI Record Book, they are not only documenting their hunting legacy for future generations, they are also adding to one of the largest and most comprehensive wildlife databases in the world.

The URL of the controversial photograph contains the words “Brittany L” and “leopard,” so it was reasonable for internet users to deduce that the woman shown with the leopard had the first name Brittany and a surname beginning with the letter “L.” Indeed, we can confirm that Brittany L. is the woman shown in the photograph (rather than the name of the person who submitted it to SCI’s record book).

On 7 September, SCI posted more details about “Brittany L.’s” leopard photograph on HuntForever.org, a website affiliated with the organization. That blog post has since been removed, but we obtained an SCI newsletter email dated 7 September with content identical to the blog post’s embedded in it (despite the post’s having been removed from HuntForever.org itself).

That blog post described the contentious photograph as follows: “Brittany L. is featured here with her African leopard that potentially ranks number 9 overall and scores 18 4/16.”

According to SCI, in defense of “Brittany L.” and the practice of hunting leopards: “Brittany Longoria is a philanthropist and develops ecotourism strategies for village communities in South and East Africa. Working in Africa since 2000, she unites governments, indigenous peoples and investors through local conservation projects. Sustainable hunting is part of their strategy. The goal: secure income for the local population and protection of native wildlife through their sustainable use. The best protection for the big cat and its prey: sustainable use.”

The bigger picture

This Photo Of A Woman Posing With A Leopard She Killed Sparks Mass Outrage. Big-game hunting enthusiasts say that their activities actually benefit wildlife conservation, and animal rights groups couldn’t disagree more.

A picture of a woman posing with a leopard that she apparently killed has made the rounds on the internet and ignited mass outrage from animal lovers and wildlife conservationists alike.

The image was originally posted by the hunter’s enthusiast group known as Safari Club International (SCI). The photo was posted on Sept. 7 to the site’s blog as a part of a collection titled, “SCI Members Share Their Hunter Pride.” The images are a part of the “SCI Record Book” — an international hunting record-keeping database for members of the group.

[Super model Doutzen] Kroes added her own caption to the image, in which she writes:

“How can you find pride and pleasure in killing a beautiful animal like this large male Leopard. The woman in the picture should be ashamed of herself! I find this disgusting and I’m so upset, sad and angry that this still happens!!”

Big-game hunting is a widely-debated topic among wildlife enthusiasts and big-game hunters. Hunters argue that their activities actually promote conservation. For example, after Corey Knowlton bid $350,000 to hunt and kill an endangered black rhino in Namibia in 2014, the money he paid went directly to government wildlife conservation anti-poaching efforts.

Indeed, SCI also states on their website that the organization “funds and directs worldwide programs dedicated to wildlife conservation and outdoor education.”

But animal rights groups argue otherwise and assert that governments which argue big-game hunting is a viable conservation strategy are completely outlandish.

According to The Humane Society, African leopards have suffered a population decline in sub-Saharan Africa of more than 30 percent in the past 25 years.

The even bigger picture

Here s the Humane Society’s 2016 report, African leopards a step closer to endangered species list, protection from trophy hunters.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that all leopards may qualify for “endangered” status under the Endangered Species Act. The decision comes in response to a legal petition submitted in July 2016 by the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Center for Biological Diversity and The Fund for Animals.

Leopards are at risk of extinction across their African and Asian range, having suffered a population decline in sub-Saharan Africa of more than 30 percent in the past 25 years, in part due to unsustainable trophy hunting by Americans. Yet due to a loophole in place since 1982, hundreds of leopard trophies per year have been imported into the United States without proper scrutiny by the federal government or scientific experts. In 2014, hunters imported 311 leopard trophies into the U.S.

In making its decision, the agency found that the group’s petition presented substantial scientific evidence that endangered protections may be warranted. The decision kicks off a comprehensive review of the status of the species.

Teresa M. Telecky, Ph.D, director of the wildlife department at HSI, said: “African leopard numbers are plummeting and as the largest leopard trophy importer in the world, the United States has taken a critical step toward ensuring that our consumption does not threaten the survival of this species.”

Jeff Flocken, IFAW’s North America regional director, said: “This is a crucial step forward in saving these imperiled animals. We thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for recognizing that enhanced protections under U.S. law may be warranted.”

Anna Frostic, senior wildlife attorney for the HSUS, said: “Initiating a status review of the species is long overdue and it is imperative that FWS expeditiously conclude this process and take action to increase oversight of African leopard trophy imports, as required by law.”

Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “Leopards in Asia and northern Africa have long been recognized as endangered, and the United States must extend this same level of protection to all leopards to reverse their disturbing decline.”

Background

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, the leopard population has declined by more than 30 percent in the past 25 years, and the species has lost 48–67 percent of its historic range in Africa.
  • Between 2005–2014, at least 10,191 individual leopards were traded internationally as hunting trophies, with the U.S. as the top importer (accounting for 45 percent of this trade).
  • The number of leopard trophy imports has remained over 300 per year since 1999, despite commitments from FWS in 1982 to only allow “very few” leopard trophies into the country.
  • Panthera pardus is listed on CITES Appendix I, which prohibits international trade for commercial purposes, but this international agreement does not prohibit trade in hunting trophies.
  • Competition for records and prizes, such as Safari Club International’s “Grand Slam Cats of the World” and others, drive wealthy trophy hunters to seek out the world’s rarest animals and encourage trophy hunting at a time when the long-held belief that such killing aided conservation efforts is crumbling under increasing evidence that ecotourism boosts economies more than hunting expeditions (PDF).
  • Trophy hunting is under increased scrutiny following the 2015 killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.

For the biggest picture, see the accompanying post, “International Trophy Hunting, part 2 - Congressional Research Service reports”

International Trophy Hunting, part 2 - Congressional Research Service reports

Scriber’s note: This is an executive summary; a link to the full document is provided below. Block quotes (indents) are suppressed to save screen space. Otherwise the text is a verbatim copy with emphases added.

International Trophy Hunting

March 20, 2019 R45615

International trophy hunting is a multinational, multimillion-dollar industry practiced throughout the world. Trophy hunting is broadly defined as the killing of animals for recreation with the purpose of collecting trophies such as horns, antlers, skulls, skins, tusks, or teeth for display. The United States imports the most trophies of any country in the world. Congressional interest in trophy hunting is related to the recreational and ethical considerations of hunting and the potential consequences of hunting for conservation. For some, interest in trophy hunting centers on particular charismatic species, such as African lions, elephants, and rhinoceroses. Congress’s role in addressing international trophy hunting is limited, because hunting is regulated by laws of the range country (i.e., the country where the hunted species resides). However, Congress could address trophy hunting through actions such as regulating trophy imports into the United States or providing funding and technical expertise to conserve hunted species in range countries.

International trophy hunting generates controversy because of its potential costs and benefits to conservation, ethical considerations, and its contribution to local economies in range states. Proponents of trophy hunting contend that the practice provides an estimated millions of dollars for the conservation of species in exchange for the hunting of a proportionally small number of individuals. Further, they argue that trophy hunting can create incentives for conserving habitat and ecosystems where hunted animals roam and, in some impoverished areas in range countries, can provide a means of income, employment, and community development. Critics of trophy hunting contend that the practice can lead to the decline of rare and endangered species and that the pathway of moving funds from hunting to conservation can be fraught with corruption and mismanagement. Further, some contend it is unethical to kill animals for sport, or at all, and that animals should not be valued according to how much a hunter would pay to hunt them.

The international community, including the United States, has laws and regulations related to international trophy hunting. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement that creates a series of incrementally more stringent restrictions on imports and exports of wildlife, depending on the sustainability of such trade. The European Union (EU) also addresses trophy hunting through regulating trade of trophies, issuing permits for trade of trophies, and suspending certain species from trade with the EU if the species is in peril. In the United States, international trophy hunting is addressed by several laws, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA; 16 U.S.C. §§1531–1543), which implements CITES. ESA does not regulate trophy-hunting activities within range countries directly; rather, the law governs what can be imported into the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regulates trophy hunting, in part, by issuing permits to import trophies of species that are listed as threatened or endangered under ESA.

Congress could address international sport hunting by regulating trophy imports and funding conservation and research activities overseas, among other options. Some activities that Congress could consider, according to observers, include

  • directing the U.S. government to work with foreign governments and partners to monitor hunting practices and game species to help ensure a positive impact from trophy hunting in range states;
  • creating uniform standards for evaluating trophy import permits, specifically whether trophy hunting could enhance the survival of a population as addressed under ESA or be nondetrimental to a population as defined by CITES;
  • mandating that permit applications and decisions be made publicly available; and
  • creating an independent third-party certification system to evaluate trophy hunting operations.

Congress also might evaluate alternatives to trophy hunting in the wild. In Africa, for example, some countries have banned trophy hunting altogether and support wildlife viewing and tourism in its place. Some countries, such as South Africa, have large, fenced game ranches where animals can be hunted in a practice called captive hunting. Some contend these operations do not allow for fair chase hunting (i.e., hunting wild animals without boundaries) or contribute to conservation, whereas others argue that they facilitate wildlife management and reduce poaching.

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Donald Trump is not pro-Israel. He's just pro-Trump.

The bottom line is you got two politicians seeking re-election. In Israel you got Bibi. In the U. S., you got Mimi.

Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources report on intercepts of phone conversations.

Mimi: Hey, Bibi. You gotta keep those Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib out of Israel. They’ll talk to Palestinians and burn your country down.

Bibi: [Gasp!] We’ll keep them out.

[After negative press and lots of it …]

Bibi: Oh, well. Tlaib can visit her 90-year old grandmother but she has to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement.

Mimi: That will work. I know all about NDAs.

In refusing to visit Israel under these conditions, Tlaib basically gave a single finger salute to both these dudes.

Quote of the [Yester]day: “… Trump — with the knowing help of Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — is doing something no American president and Israeli prime minister have done before: They’re making support for Israel a wedge issue in American politics.” -Thomas L. Friedman.

If You Think Trump Is Helping Israel, You’re a Fool charges Thomas L. Friedman in the NY Times. By barring Representatives Omar and Tlaib, Netanyahu made the president happy. But he has poisoned relations with America.

Here is some of Friedman’s column (with thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry).

I am going to say this as simply and clearly as I can: If you’re an American Jew and you’re planning on voting for Donald Trump because you think he is pro-Israel, you’re a damn fool.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. Trump has said and done many things that are in the interests of the current Israeli government — and have been widely appreciated by the Israeli public. To deny that would be to deny the obvious. But here’s what’s also obvious. Trump’s way of — and motivation for — expressing his affection for Israel is guided by his political desire to improve his re-election chances by depicting the entire Republican Party as pro-Israel and the entire Democratic Party as anti-Israel.

As a result, Trump — with the knowing help of Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — is doing something no American president and Israeli prime minister have done before: They’re making support for Israel a wedge issue in American politics.

Few things are more dangerous to Israel’s long-term interests than its becoming a partisan matter in America, which is Israel’s vital political, military and economic backer in the world.

As Dore Gold, the right-wing former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and once a very close adviser to Netanyahu, warned in a dialogue at the Hudson Institute on Nov. 27, 2018: “You reach out to Democrats, and you reach out to Republicans. And you don’t get caught playing partisan politics in the United States.’’

Trump’s campaign to tar the entire Democratic Party with some of the hostile views toward Israel of a few of its newly elected congresswomen — and Netanyahu’s careless willingness to concede to Trump’s demand and bar two of them, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, from visiting Israel and the West Bank — is part of a process that will do huge, long-term damage to Israel’s interests and support in America.

Excuse me, but when did powerful Israel — a noisy, boisterous democracy where Israeli Arabs in its parliament say all kinds of wild and crazy things — get so frightened by what a couple of visiting freshman American congresswomen might see or say? When did Israel get so afraid of saying to them: “Come, visit, go anywhere you want! We’ve got our warts and we’ve got our good stuff. We’d just like you to visit both. But if you don’t, we’ll live with that too. We’re pretty tough.’’

It’s too late for that now. The damage of what Trump and Bibi have been up to — formally making Israel a wedge issue in American politics — is already done. …

Friday, August 16, 2019

Denmark's counter offer on Greenland

New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz reports thatDenmark Offers to Buy U.S.

COPENHAGEN (The Borowitz Report)—After rebuffing Donald J. Trump’s hypothetical proposal to purchase Greenland, the government of Denmark has announced that it would be interested in buying the United States instead.

“As we have stated, Greenland is not for sale,” a spokesperson for the Danish government said on Friday. “We have noted, however, that during the Trump regime, pretty much everything in the United States, including its government, has most definitely been for sale.”

“Denmark would be interested in purchasing the United States in its entirety, with the exception of its government,” the spokesperson added.

A key provision of the purchase offer, the spokesperson said, would be the relocation of Donald Trump to another country “to be determined,” with Russia and North Korea cited as possible destinations.

If Denmark’s bid for the United States is accepted, the Scandinavian nation has ambitious plans for its new acquisition. “We believe that by giving the U.S. an educational system and national health care, it could be transformed from a vast land mass into a great nation,” the spokesperson said.

OMG#1 - Trump wants to buy Greenland. OMG#2 - Greenland is melting.

Greenland melting

Greenland is in the news for a couple of reasons.

The first is that Trump is threatening to buy it. Trump Is Said to Ask: Can We Buy Greenland? President Trump has repeatedly asked aides if they can pursue a purchase of Greenland. (h/t Roving Reporter Sherry_)

Maggie Haberman and Michael D. Shear of the NY Times report.

President Trump has been urging aides to explore a way to buy Greenland from Denmark, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

His interest in Greenland began last year. At a meeting that spring in the Oval Office, he joked about buying Greenland for its resources, according to a person who was in attendance.

In the year since, the president has repeatedly returned to the topic, asking aides if they can pursue a purchase of Greenland, a semiautonomous territory that Mr. Trump has been taken with in part because of its natural resources, like coal and uranium.

Privately, Mr. Trump’s advisers are highly skeptical that such a move could ever happen. But instead of telling him they do not think it is possible, the advisers have agreed to investigate the matter, according to the people briefed on the discussions.

OK. You can stop laughing. This could be serious sh!t. Trump does not want, and does not get, expert advice on such matters. So he goes off half-cocked triggered by a momentary, fleeting thought that morphs into a full blown obsession. Think about what he has done to our foreign affairs.

Another reason to take it seriously is that we’ve tried to buy Greenland before. The [Wall Street Journal reports:][wsj

Though Greenland is technically part of North America, it is culturally and politically linked to Europe. Following World War II, the U.S. under President Harry Truman developed a geopolitical interest in Greenland and in 1946 offered to buy it from Denmark for $100 million. Denmark refused to sell. And that was the second failed attempt—the State Department had also launched an inquiry into buying Greenland and Iceland in 1867.

I can appreciate wanting Greenland for its natural resources and strategic location. But here is the clinker.

Greenland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday morning that the island wasn’t on the market.

We’re open for business, not for sale,” the ministry said on Twitter while emphasizing Greenland’s natural resources and tourism potential.

Moreover, putting a golf course on Greenland is sort of like putting a golf course on an active volcano. Sooner or later you will lose your investment.

Climate change, you see, is another reason to be wary of buying Greenland. Several sources report this one - my arbitrary pick was the report at marketwatch.com, NASA scientists track Greenland’s melting ice, and the findings are not good ’It’s a little scary’ as climate change eats away at massive glaciers.

Look back at the photo at the start of this post. There are BIG chunks of ice floating away.

ABOARD A NASA RESEARCH PLANE OVER GREENLAND — The fields of rippling ice 500 feet below the NASA plane give way to the blue-green of water dotted with irregular chunks of bleached-white ice, some the size of battleships, some as tall as 15-story buildings.

Like nearly every other glacier on Greenland, the massive Kangerlussuaq is melting. In fact, the giant frozen island has seen one of its biggest melts on record this year. NASA scientist Josh Willis is now closely studying the phenomenon in hopes of figuring out precisely how global warming is eating away at Greenland’s ice.

Specifically, he wants to know whether the melting is being caused more by warm air or warm seawater. The answer could be crucial to Earth’s future.

Water brings more heat to something frozen faster than air does, as anyone who has ever defrosted a steak under the faucet knows.

If Willis’ theory that much of the damage is from the water turns out to be correct, he said, “there’s a lot higher potential for Greenland to melt more quickly than we thought.” And that means seas rising faster and coastal communities being inundated more.

Greenland contains enough ice to make world sea levels rise by 20 feet if it were all to melt. In a single day this month, it lost a record 13.7 billion tons by one estimate.

“It’s a little scary,” Willis said as looked down on an area filled with more water than ice. “We’re definitely watching the ice sheet disappear in front of us.”

Climate change is eating away at Greenland’s glaciers in two ways. The most obvious way is from the warm air above, which has been brutal this summer, with a European heat wave in July working like a hair dryer on the ice. The other way is from warm, salty water, some of it from North America’s Gulf Stream, nibbling at coastal glaciers from below.

When University of Georgia ice scientist Tom Mote, who isn’t part of this project, started studying Greenland’s glaciers in the early 1990s, researchers really didn’t think the water was a big factor.

Willis’ project — called Oceans Melting Greenland, or OMG — is showing that it is. Now the question is how much and how fast.

What Willis is measuring is the water 660 feet or more below the surface, which is warmer and saltier than the stuff that touches the air. It’s this deep water that does the major damage.

To measure this, NASA is spending five years crisscrossing the island in a tricked-out 77-year-old DC–3 built for World War II. Willis, project manager Ian McCubbin and mechanic Rich Gill drop long, cylindrical probes through a special tube in the floor of the plane, watching as the sensors parachute down and then dive into the chilly water.

McCubbin then waits for a tone on his computer that tells him the probe is underwater and measuring temperature and salinity. When all of the flight’s five probes start signaling — with a sound McCubbin likens to “a fax machine or an AOL modem” — he and Willis high-five.

Meanwhile, pilots Andy Ferguson and Don Watrous bank the plane toward the blue-green spots, looking for the next target and pointing out stunning giant icebergs and signs of glacial retreat over the radio.

As the data is radioed back from one $2,000 probe now deep in the water near Kangerlussuaq in eastern Greenland, it initially looks like the temperature hasn’t changed much over the last year or two, which could be good news. But that’s just one data point. Each year for the past four years, NASA has been looking at all of Greenland, and the numbers overall haven’t been quite as comforting.

If the water is playing a much bigger role than scientists thought, it could mean seas will be rising faster and higher than expected. That’s because 90% of the heat energy from climate change goes into the oceans, Willis said. Warm water provides “a bigger bang for the buck” than air when it comes to melting ice, Willis said.

In general, oceans warm up much more slowly than the air, yet they stay warmer longer. The water weakens glaciers and causes icebergs to break loose. Those icebergs eventually melt, adding to the seas.

“Some of them are as big as a city,” Willis said.

A 2017 study concluded that coastal glaciers and icecaps — what Willis is studying — reached a “tipping point” for ice loss in 1997 and since then have been rapidly deteriorating. A NASA satellite found that Greenland’s ice sheet lost about 255 billion metric tons a year between 2003 and 2016, with the loss rate generally getting worse.

It will take centuries for all of Greenland’s massive ice sheet to melt, but how fast is the key question. If warm water plays a bigger role than scientists suspect, by the year 2100, Greenland alone could cause 3 or 4 feet (more than 1 meter) of sea level rise, Willis said.

Other scientists, such as the University of Colorado’s Ted Scambos, say Greenland’s contribution to sea level rise by 2100 would probably be closer to 1 foot (30 centimeters).

"I tend toward the higher number, but I’m hoping for a lower number,” said University of Maryland Baltimore County glaciologist Christopher Shuman, whose family owns property along the coast.

Either way, that is, as a former VP put it in another context, a BFD.

(h/t to the Daily Star which ran another version of this report by the AP.)

A world edging toward the brink

Yes, it appears so. But ya gotta wonder: which brink?

With Trump as President, the World Is Spiraling Into Chaos writes Michelle Goldberg in the NY Times. Trump torched America’s foreign policy infrastructure. The results are becoming clear.

Here are her conclusions.

… India and Pakistan still have every interest in avoiding a nuclear holocaust. China may show restraint on Hong Kong. Wary of starting a war before the 2020 election, Trump might make a deal with Iran, though probably a worse one than the Obama agreement that he jettisoned. The global economy could slow down but not seize up. We could get through the next 17 months with a world that still looks basically recognizable.

Even then, America will emerge with a desiccated diplomatic corps, strained alliances, and a tattered reputation. It will never again play the same leadership role internationally that it did before Trump.

And that’s the best-case scenario. The most powerful country in the world is being run by a sundowning demagogue whose oceanic ignorance is matched only by his gargantuan ego. The United States has been lucky that things have hung together as much as they have, save the odd government shutdown or white nationalist terrorist attack. But now, in foreign affairs as in the economy, the consequences of not having a functioning American administration are coming into focus. “No U.S. leadership is leaving a vacuum,” said Susan Thornton [(who until last year was the acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, America’s top diplomat for Asia)].

We’ll see what gets sucked into it.

(With thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry)

A constitutional amendment protecting rights of automobile owners

America is the nation of guns. We are now experiencing at least one mass shooting each day. The populace cries out for action: “do something.”

Here’s a something.

The argument goes like this: “we license the operators of automobiles and trucks to help ensure public safety” therefore because “guns clearly put that safety at risk as well” we should “impose firearm insurance on all gun owners and anyone purchasing pistols and rifles.” (Quotes are from this morning’s post Make gun owners buy insurance in the Daily Star.

Scriber endorses any such action that would stop mass shootings - especially in our schools. I’ve written before about my repugnance at America’s acquiescence to the NRA and gun lobby and, especially its acceptance of the tradeoff between the slaughter of our children and the rights claimed under the second amendment.

But before we go further along these lines, let me propose a logically equivalent argument. Instead of imposing more restrictions on gun owners let us lift all restrictions on motor vehicle owners.

We can start with a new constitutional amendment:

A well regulated transportation system, being necessary to the mobility of a free State, the right of the people to keep and drive motor vehicles, shall not be infringed.

National Drivers Association (NDA) would be the new political arm of the AAA. No drivers licenses. No mandatory insurance. MADD would raise holy hell but the rights under the new amendment are absolute so no DUI penalties. The rate of vehicular homicide would sky-rocket, but America would soon learn to tolerate the deaths of school children in cross walks and school bus crashes. Automobiles would become the weapon of choice for suicides and political statements would be made by crashing SUVs into crowds of people - all protected under the amendment.

And, the new amendment would be hailed by our political leaders as consistent with our freedoms by reducing regulations.

What (else) could go wrong?

Making gun owners buy insurance could reduce firearm carnage

Make gun owners buy insurance appeared in this morning’s Arizona Daily Star titled “Making gun owners buy insurance would curb firearm carnage in US.”

America has just surpassed a grim milestone, with more than 250 mass shootings blasting the nation in only 216 days, at a rate of more than one act of gun carnage per day in 2019.

In recent days, mass shootings in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn; Gilroy, California; Southhaven, Mississippi, El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio have killed more than three dozen people across the country, with others wounded. As of Aug. 14, this epidemic of firearm violence has, according to the Gun Violence Archive, caused 9,166 fatalities and 18,226 injuries; of these victims, 412 were children under age 12. In comparison, 12 U.S. servicemen have been killed so far this year in Afghanistan.

America has all types of insurance, some mandatory. There’s unemployment insurance, homeowners insurance, fire insurance, flood insurance, earthquake insurance, travel insurance, health insurance, life insurance, et cetera. Auto insurance is compulsory in all but two states, and driver’s licenses are required nationwide.

The time has come to legally impose firearm insurance on all gun owners and anyone purchasing pistols and rifles. If drivers and owners of vehicles in most states are legally mandated to buy insurance, the same must be true for anyone buying, owning, and using firearms. After all, we license the operators of automobiles and trucks to help ensure public safety, and guns clearly put that safety at risk as well.

Firearm insurance should be compulsory and retroactive in all 50 states. Proof of insurance should be strictly required before purchasing pistols and rifles, as well as ammunition.

As with auto insurance, rates will vary according to the type of weapon being purchased — AK–47s would involve higher rates. And the more firearms one owns, the more one will pay to amass them. If the law is strictly enforced, this could reduce the number of handguns and rifles, and those who stockpile guns will find maintaining an arms depot to be expensive.

One can immediately hear the National Rifle Association howl about alleged infringement of Second Amendment rights. But the constitutional “right to bear arms” very specifically stipulates this should be “well regulated” — and what could make guns be more well regulated than insurance?

We could do some good things with money raised from firearm insurance. We could compensate victims of gun violence and help fund mental-health care, as well as trauma and grief counseling.

As always happens after these tragedies, we are being told by the gun industry and its mouthpieces that we must not publicly discuss and politicize what has just happened, out of respect for the dead. Of course, this is a delaying tactic, employed in the hope that the public will take its eyes off the prize of common sense gun safety — at least until the next armed outrage. In contrast to those endless and ineffectual thoughts and prayers, demands for national discussion of this plague is paying the victims, survivors and their loved ones the very highest respect.

If by some chance Congress is called back into session this summer, gun insurance must be on the agenda. Of course, in an America awash in violence, hateful rhetoric and division, firearm insurance is no panacea for ending the tragic pandemic of mass shootings. But it can curb this horrific trend and, along with other sensible measures, help heal our wounded nation.

This opinion piece was authored by Ed Rampell of the Tribune News Service.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

U.S. recession, Part 2 - We're not alone!.

The Washington Post reports that 9 key countries are on the verge of recession, driving fears the U.S. could follow.

“Nine major economies around the world are in recession or on the verge of one, raising fears that a global economic slowdown could help tip the United States into an economic contraction as well.” They are:

Germany: The German economy shrank 0.1 percent in the second quarter after anemic 0.4 percent growth at the start of the year. Two consecutive quarters of negative growth is the technical definition of a recession, and Germany is nearly there, sparking fears of an official recession by the end of the year. Germany is heavily reliant on manufacturing cars and other industrial goods to power its economy. Most of the world — including the United States — is currently experiencing a manufacturing recession. So far, the famously austere German government has been reluctant to spend to stimulate growth.

United Kingdom: The U.K. story is similar to Germany’s: Growth contracted 0.2 percent in the second quarter after a weak 0.5 percent performance in the first quarter. On top of manufacturing woes, the United Kingdom has seen an investment slump, largely because of uncertainty over Brexit. If Britain leaves the European Union in October without a deal — a “hard Brexit” — the nation is widely expected to enter a recession.

Italy: The eurozone’s third-largest economy has struggled for years and entered a recession last year. And 2019 hasn’t been much better. Growth in the second quarter was just 0.2 percent, and there’s concern that will turn negative as Italy sells some goods to Germany, which is in worse shape. Italy also struggles from continuing political crises that make additional economic aid from the government difficult. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is facing a no-confidence vote in his country’s Senate later this month and may have to resign, and Italy’s debt is one of the highest in the world.

Mexico: The southern U.S. neighbor has also been a target of Trump’s trade and immigration battles, which appear to be taking a greater toll than many expected. Mexico’s economy contracted 0.2 percent at the start of the year and barely escaped an official recession in the second quarter by growing just 0.1 percent. Mexico has also suffered decline in business investment and confidence as companies fear leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will nationalize industries.

Brazil: The largest economy in South America shrank 0.2 percent in the first quarter and is widely expected to show negative growth again in the second quarter when the official data comes out at the end of August, marking a recession. Brazil has struggled to sell goods overseas and also has seen sluggish demand at home. Some thought Brazil would benefit as China sought to buy soybeans and other products somewhere other than the United States, but slumping commodity prices have hurt. Brazil’s central bank cut interest rates, and President Jair Bolsonaro’s government is giving out cash payments to workers in an effort to stimulate growth.

Argentina: Argentina is in crisis. It’s already in a recession, and it appears to be getting worse. On Monday, Argentina’s stock market dropped nearly 50 percent, the second largest one-day crash any nation has experienced since 1950. The country is experiencing rapid inflation, when prices spikes, and President Mauricio Macri was defeated in the nation’s primary elections. Investors fear Argentina won’t be able to repay its debts, and middle-class Argentines are fearful they won’t be able to afford everyday products as the value of the Argentine peso keeps dropping, especially against the U.S. dollar.

Singapore: The Asian nation reported Tuesday that its economy contracted 3.3 percent in the second quarter, a sharp reversal from over 3 percent growth in the first quarter. Singapore blamed the U.S.-China trade war for its problems, as its economy is heavily reliant on exports. Many economists watch Singapore and South Korea as strong indicators for what’s ahead for the global economy because these nations trade with so many others, especially China and the United States.

South Korea: South Korea managed to avoid a recession in the first half of the year — barely. The South Korean economy shrank 0.4 percent in the first quarter but rose 1.1 percent in the second quarter, a better-than-expected performance that many experts don’t think will last. Japan and South Korea are in the midst of a trade war of their own that is expected to drag down growth and make it harder for South Korea to sell electronics and cars abroad. The South Korean central bank lowered interest rates, but it’s unclear if that will be enough. Electronics exports are down about 20 percent in recent months, and semiconductor exports are down more than 30 percent, according to ING.

Russia: A Russian economic institute warned last week that Russia could be in a recession by the end of the year after growing a modest 0.7 percent in the first half of 2019. Russia has struggled since 2014 as oil prices plummeted and other nations put sanctions on Russia because of its military actions in Ukraine. Russia has worked to shield its economy as much as possible from U.S. government sanctions by limiting deals with the United States and in U.S. dollars, but that has meant greater reliance on China, which is now slowing. Russia has also tried to build up its government cash reserves, which has left little money for stimulus.

The United States economy is primarily a service economy that feeds off domestic demand, which provides some insulation to problems overseas. But there are limits to that buffer. As other countries falter, global investors are buying up U.S. Treasury bonds, causing the yield curve to invert in the United States, a recession warning sign and reminder that there are ways that panic abroad spills over.

“There is potential for a U.S. recession, not because of the yield curve itself, but because of the lunacy of trade policy and the damage it’s doing,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

John Cassidy adds in the New Yorker: Trump’s Trade War Could Make the Trump Recession a Reality.

Economic forecasting is a bit of a mug’s game. Mature capitalist economies tend to plod along, growing at modest rates, until they don’t. Despite extensive efforts, nobody has discovered a reliable way to predict when that moment will arrive and, subsequently, a recession will begin. …

What we do know for sure is that, the longer Donald Trump persists in his trade war, the greater the chances are of an outright slump developing. …

“Trump has now revealed his pain point,” Yahoo Finance’s Rick Newman noted on Wednesday. “He’s unwilling to tax American consumers beyond a nominal level, or stomach the stock-market turmoil steep tariffs cause. This is the fundamental problem with tariffs as a tool to gain leverage in trade negotiations: To inflict pain on a trade partner, you have to hurt your own economy first, through higher taxes.”

Not just your own economy… [Scriber: See the list of nine countries above.]

[There are] fears of a global downward spiral of the sort that some trade experts warned about back when Trump embarked on his campaign to upend the global trading system. “It’s a dangerous game,” Dan Ivascyn, the chief investment officer at the big fund manager Pimco, told the Financial Times on Wednesday. “We think some economic damage is dealt every day that this uncertainty lingers.”

The bright spot

If there is one, it is this: If we tip into a recession any time soon it will be on Trump’s watch. He’ll be running on no follow-through on his election promises and a recession as well.

It can't happen here. Well, it is.

Trump rally

It’s been a mere 80 years since the February 20, 1939 rally in Madison Square Garden. Little has changed. The similarities between the pro-Nazi rally then and the Trump rallies now.

Dartagnan at Daily Kos reports how the Chilling footage of a 1939 pro-Nazi rally in New York City foreshadows Trump’s rallies today. (Thanks to Mrs. Scriber.)

No, this photo is not the pro-Nazi rally but you are forgiven if you made that mistake.

All of Donald Trump’s major rallies incorporate certain common elements: attacks on the press, the ritualistic demonization of immigrants and other minorities, exhortation of “real Americans” to “take back their country,” and overt, exclusionary appeals to patriotism (along with a gaudy emphasis on patriotic symbols and imagery). At several of his rallies, there has been a palpable undercurrent of incipient violence, as dissenters or protesters were subjected to assaults and physical and verbal threats by Trump supporters, with Trump himself nodding approval or encouragement.

Before Trump came along, most of us, thankfully, had never witnessed anything remotely like these spectacles in our lifetimes. Historical examples, such as the inflammatory political rallies of segregationist Governor George Wallace in the 1960s, were generally presented to us in textbooks as aberrations to be universally reviled as they faded into the dustbins of our history; we recognized that there was something deeply unsettling and anti-American about them.

Some events were revolting and embarrassing enough to be simply erased from the public memory, never to appear in anyone’s textbooks. One of those was the so-called “pro-American” rally held at Madison Square Garden in New York City, in February of 1939, and attended by 22,000 pro-Nazi Americans.

Marshall Curry’s 2017 film, “A Night at the Garden,” assembled rare archival footage of this rally, and in 2018 it earned an Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Documentary, Short Subject. It was produced by Laura Poitras and Charlotte Cook, with Field of Vision.

Approximately six minutes in length, the complete film, “A Night at the Garden” can be viewed below.

Director Marshall Curry, when interviewed by Field of Vision, describes what initially struck him as he worked to assemble the fragments of the rally’s meager existing footage, which had been dispersed around the country.

It really illustrated that the tactics of demagogues have been the same throughout the ages. They attack the press, using sarcasm and humor. They tell their followers that they are the true Americans (or Germans or Spartans or …). And they encourage their followers to “take their country back” from whatever minority group has ruined it.

Curry was also asked what he would like audiences to take away from the film.

To me, the most striking and upsetting part of the film is not the anti-Semitism of the main speaker or even the violence of his storm-troopers. What bothers me more is the reaction of the crowd. Twenty-thousand New Yorkers who loved their kids and were probably nice to their neighbors, came home from work that day, dressed up in suits and skirts, and went out to cheer and laugh and sing as a speaker dehumanized people who would be murdered by the millions in the next few years.

I’m aligned with Curry on this. Scroll back up and look again at those folks in the crowd. In other footage of Trump rallies, they’re smiling, laughing, bumping each other, thumbs up, and generally having a hoo-hah good time. That Trump has not kept a single promise to them (remember “good” health care?) and has enacted policies inimical to the interests of workers, flies right over their heads. It’s a personality cult (as in Hitler) so Trump’s rhetoric and rants do not have to make sense or contain even the smallest kernel of truth.

This point is less an indictment of bad things that Americans have done in the past, than it is a cautionary tale about the bad things that we might do in the future.

[…]

We’d like to believe that there are sharp lines between good people and bad people. But I think most humans have dark passions inside us, waiting to be stirred up by a demagogue who is funny and mean, who can convince us that decency is for the weak, that democracy is naïve, and that kindness and respect for others are just ridiculous political correctness.

For anyone who still harbors the illusion that “it can’t happen here,” Curry’s film is essential, if disturbing, viewing. For those of us who no longer harbor that illusion, it simply serves as confirmation of our worst fears.

Check out the Kos post for more about that evening and the Bund.

250,000 is this morning's significant digit

This morning’s significant digit was inspired by our Roving Reporter Sherry.

250,000

More than 250,000 people sign a petition to rename Fifth Ave. in front of Trump Tower ‘Obama Avenue’.

"We request the stretch of Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets be renamed ‘President Barack H. Obama Avenue,’ ” read [petition organizer Elizabeth Rowin’s] request, addressed to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and the City Council. “Any addresses on that stretch of Fifth Avenue should be changed accordingly.”

That stretch includes Trump Tower, which would make President Trump’s address there 725 President Barack H. Obama Ave.

But not everyone agrees.

Keith Powers (D), the city councilman who represents the district encompassing Trump Tower, said in a statement: “I recognize and understand the great deal of support behind the petition to rename 5th Avenue in honor of President Obama. President Obama embodies the best of our political system and leaves a remarkable legacy. The classiest President of our time deserves better than being honored next to the home of Donald Trump. He has and will always deserve more than that.”

Trump may be running for re-election in the midst of a recession

Aaron Blake (Washington Post) thinks that Trump is clearly scared about the economy, and he’s setting up Jerome Powell as his fall guy (with thanks to our Roving Reporter Sherry). If something goes wrong in Trump’s life, it’s always someone else’s fault. So it was with Jeff Sessions and his recusal from the Russia investigation. So it will be, Blake predicts, if the economy veers into recession, Trump and his right wing media abettors will hang it on Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome H. Powell. Of course, a recession couldn’t be due to Trump’s ineffective tax cut and the ballooning national debt. Of course, it could not be due to Trump’s single man trade war with China that is eroding our foreign markets.

It’s possible the bigger [than the Russia investigation] threat to Trump’s presidency is now the economy, which is showing increasing signs of instability. And just as before, Trump appears genuinely worried and has found one man on which to focus his blame: Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome H. Powell.

Powell could be in for a world of pain ahead of the 2020 election — especially if things do go south.

With the stock market tanking following Trump’s announcement of new China tariffs — amid other warning signs — the Trump administration on Tuesday gave itself a mulligan and delayed some of the more high-profile tariffs until late this year. That was the first sign there was real concern; Trump after all, had announced the tariffs less than two weeks earlier, and pulling back on them could easily be seen as a sign of weakness in his standoff with the Chinese.

That precipitated a rally in the stock market Tuesday. But then Wednesday, the inverted yield curve — which is generally acknowledged as one of the most prescient indicators of a recession — delivered more bad news. The markets fell again. [The Dow dropped about 800 points by the close of yesterday’s exchange.]

So, the Post’s Recession watch asks What is an ‘inverted yield curve’ and why does it matter?

The short answer is: “The yield curve has inverted before every U.S. recession since 1955, suggesting to some investors that an economic downturn is coming.”

Investors are spooked by a scenario known as the “inverted yield curve,” which occurs when the interest rates on short-term bonds are higher than the interest rates paid by long-term bonds. What it means is that people are so worried about the near-term future that they are piling into safer long-term investments.

In a healthy economy, bondholders typically demand to be paid more — or receive a higher “yield” — on longer-term bonds than they do for short-term bonds. That’s because longer term bonds require people to lock their money up for a greater period of time — and investors want to be compensated for that risk. In contrast, bonds that require investors to make shorter time commitments, say for three months, don’t require as much sacrifice and usually pay less.

Just think about the deposits in your bank account, which are in many ways a loan to the bank. You can withdraw that money at any time, so the bank doesn’t pay you a high interest rate. By comparison, if you lock up your money in the bank for a year or longer, you’ll get higher rates. The bond market works similarly: The longer you lend your money, the higher return you’ll get.

Inverted yield curve

That would be true “in a healthy economy.”

For U.S. government securities — known as Treasury bonds — that relationship has now turned upside down. On Wednesday morning, the yield on the 10-year Treasury temporarily fell below the yield on the two-year Treasury for the first time since 2007. (It later recovered slightly.)

The [accompanying] chart shows the difference in yield between the two-year Treasury bond and Treasury bonds of other duration. Bonds of longer duration should have higher yield, but as you can see, it has dipped below for several longer-term bonds.

Other parts of the yield curve have been inverted for a few months. For instance, three-month Treasurys have been yielding more than 10-year Treasurys since late May. The gap became more dramatic Wednesday, with three-month Treasurys paying nearly 0.4 percentage points more than 10-year Treasurys as of midafternoon, greater than the 0.1 percent difference seen in late May.

The more pronounced inversion is a sign that people are more concerned about the fallout of the trade war between the U.S. and China and worried by signs that economic growth may be slowing around the globe.

All these jitters are on top of, or perhaps at the root of, economic unrest across the globe: Stocks losses deepen as a key recession warning surfaces.

Recession signals intensified Wednesday in the United States and in some of the world’s leading economies, as the damage from acrimonious trade wars is becoming increasingly apparent on multiple continents.

Two of the world’s largest economies, Germany and the United Kingdom, appear to be contracting even as the latter forges ahead with plans to leave the European Union. Growth also has slowed in China, which is in a bitter trade feud with the United States. Meanwhile, Argentina’s stock market fell nearly 50 percent earlier this week after its incumbent president was defeated by a left-wing opponent.

This [inverted yield curve], which suggests investor faith in the economy is faltering, has preceded every recession in the past 50 years.

“The stars are aligned across the curve that the economy is headed for a big fall,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank. “The yield curves are all crying timber that a recession is almost a reality, and investors are tripping over themselves to get out of the way.”

Whether the events presage an economic calamity or just an alarming spasm are unclear. But unlike during the Great Recession, global leaders are not working in unison to confront mounting problems and arrest the slowdown. Instead, they are increasingly at one another’s throats.

And here at home, so it goes.

… President Trump has responded by both claiming the economy is still thriving while dramatically ramping up his attacks on Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome H. Powell, seeking to deflect blame.

It’s the latest in a string of worrisome news about the U.S. economy. The government is expected to spend roughly $1 trillion more than it brings in through revenue this year, adding to a ballooning deficit. Business investment has begun to contract — largely because of the uncertainty surrounding Trump’s trade war — and manufacturing hiring has receded. The big hiring and investment announcements that piled up at the beginning of the Trump administration have ceased, as have the announcements of bonuses and pay increases that came after a tax cut law was passed in 2017.

Speaking of getting out of the way …

Several White House officials have become concerned that the economy is weakening faster than expected, but they are not working on proactive plans to change its course. The Treasury Department has had an exodus of senior advisers in recent months, and the White House just announced a replacement for its chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Republicans arise! Your constituents are fired up

They are because of fires and floods and more and bigger storms - it’s called climate change and the GOPlins in Congress need to get their sh!t together and stop with the denials.

So, hey, kids. It’s panic button time. This morning 538, in its significant digits email, reported on two signs of global warming.

2 degrees Celsius
The average temperature of New Jersey has climbed nearly 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) since 1895, double the average rise of the rest of the continental United States. That number — 2 degrees — “has emerged as a critical threshold for global warming” and indeed the signatories to the 2015 Paris accord agreed that urgent action was needed to keep warming “well below” that level. But along with New Jersey, an analysis of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration temperature data reveals that 71 counties have already crossed the 2-degree mark. [The Washington Post]

300 miles away
Following wildfires there last month, rare lightning has also recently struck the Arctic. Thunderstorms require air that’s, like, warm. Yet multiple lightning strikes were detected “within 300 miles of the North Pole,” according to the National Weather Service. “This is one of the furthest north lightning strikes in Alaska forecaster memory,” the NWS said. [USA Today]

The warming of America

In 2°C: BEYOND THE LIMIT the Post shows that Extreme climate change has arrived in America.

LAKE HOPATCONG, N.J. — Before climate change thawed the winters of New Jersey, this lake hosted boisterous wintertime carnivals. As many as 15,000 skaters took part, and automobile owners would drive onto the thick ice. Thousands watched as local hockey clubs battled one another and the Skate Sailing Association of America held competitions, including one in 1926 that featured 21 iceboats on blades that sailed over a three-mile course.

In those days before widespread refrigeration, workers flocked here to harvest ice. They would carve blocks as much as two feet thick, float them to giant ice houses, sprinkle them with sawdust and load them onto rail cars bound for ice boxes in New York City and beyond.

That’s because a century of climbing temperatures has changed the character of the Garden State. The massive ice industry and skate sailing association are but black-and-white photographs at the local museum. And even the hardy souls who still try to take part in ice fishing contests here have had to cancel 11 of the past dozen competitions for fear of straying onto perilously thin ice and tumbling into the frigid water.

Over the past two decades, the 2 degrees Celsius number has emerged as a critical threshold for global warming. In the 2015 Paris accord, international leaders agreed that the world should act urgently to keep the Earth’s average temperature increases “well below” 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 to avoid a host of catastrophic changes.

The potential consequences are daunting. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that if Earth heats up by an average of 2 degrees Celsius, virtually all the world’s coral reefs will die; retreating ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica could unleash massive sea level rise; and summertime Arctic sea ice, a shield against further warming, would begin to disappear.

But global warming does not heat the world evenly.

A Washington Post analysis of more than a century of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration temperature data across the Lower 48 states and 3,107 counties has found that major areas are nearing or have already crossed the 2-degree Celsius mark.

So given that climate change is coming soon to a county near you, why are Republicans so silent? They have the power in the Senate to do something.

In The Republican Climate Closet Justin Gillis asks “When will believers in global warming come out?” (with thanks to our Roving Reporter Sherry)

For a political party stocked with people who deny the seriousness of the climate crisis, the Republican Party does some curious things.

Did you know, for instance, that a Republican Congress put an explicit price on emissions of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide? That was in early 2018. Companies can now get a tax credit from the United States government as high as $50 a ton for pumping carbon dioxide into the ground, instead of emitting it into the air.

For years, Congress has also subsidized the installation of low-emission sources of electricity like solar panels and wind turbines, a policy that has helped scale the market and drive their cost down drastically. More recently, it has offered tax incentives for the purchase of electric cars, and their costs are falling, too. Some of these policies were originally adopted when Congress was controlled by the Democrats, but the Republicans declined to kill them in the years when they held both houses.

A huge extension of the wind and solar tax breaks passed Congress in late 2015. Like most of these policies, it sailed through with votes from both parties and little public fighting.

… with Republicans in full control of Congress, you can bet those measures would not have gotten through unless senior people in the party had wanted it to happen.

Because so much else was wrapped up in these bills, you didn’t read or hear much about the buried climate policy. That, you might have already guessed, was one of the goals.

What exactly is going on here?

I got my first clue a decade ago, over lunch in Washington. I had just sat down with an eminent figure in the Republican Party to discuss global warming. As a condition of the chat, he made me pledge I would never print his name in association with the remarks he made.

We ordered our iced teas, and he looked me in the eye.

“We know this problem is real,” he said, or words to that effect. “We know we are going to have to do a deal with the Democrats. We are waiting for the fever to cool.”

He meant the fever in the Republican base, then in full foaming-at-the-mouth, Tea Party mode. Denial of climate change was an article of faith in the Tea Party, and lots of Republican officeholders who had been willing to discuss the problem and possible solutions just a few years earlier had gone into hiding.

… Lots of Republicans know in their hearts that this problem is real. I hereby posit the existence of something you might call the Republican climate closet.

Over the past decade, as denial of climate change became a central feature of Republican political identity, lots of smart people in that party felt obliged to shut their mouths. Yet in that same decade, it became more and more obvious to the public at large that we really do have a crisis on our hands.

… Lurking below the surface of our ugly politics is, I believe, a near consensus to do something big on climate change.

Yet we can never get there as long as a large majority of Republicans hide in that closet. Even if Democrats take Congress and the White House in 2020 and push forward an ambitious climate bill in 2021, they are likely to need at least a handful of Republican votes in the Senate. We ought to hope for more than that. The policy will be more durable if it passes Congress with substantial bipartisan majorities, as all of our landmark environmental laws did.

The other key element here is that for this to work we gotta Dump tRump.

… Republicans — some of them, at least — are starting to sense political risk in continued climate denial. Their constituents, battered by the fires and torrential rains and the incessant rise of tidal flooding, are knocking on the closet door.

For those Republicans still cowering in the closet, I have a question: If we really decided to commit the nation in all its might to solving this problem, do you not believe that American ingenuity and American industry could get the job done?

Former Republican Congressman repents and calls for a primary challenge to Trump

“Joe Walsh [is] a former Illinois congressman [and] a nationally syndicated conservative talk radio host.” In saying that Trump Needs a Primary Challenge, he makes The case for a contender from the right.

Here is part of his op-ed (with thanks to our Roving Reporter Sherry).

There’s a strong case for President Trump to face a Republican primary challenger. I know a thing or two about insurgencies. I entered Congress in 2011 as an insurgent Tea Party Republican. My goals were conservative and clear: restrain executive power and reduce the debt. Barack Obama was president then, and it was easy for us to rail against runaway spending and executive overreach.

In Mr. Trump, I see the worst and ugliest iteration of views I expressed for the better part of a decade. To be sure, I’ve had my share of controversy. On more than one occasion, I questioned Mr. Obama’s truthfulness about his religion. At times, I expressed hate for my political opponents. We now see where this can lead. There’s no place in our politics for personal attacks like that, and I regret making them.

I didn’t vote for Mr. Trump in 2016 because I liked him. I voted for him because he wasn’t Hillary Clinton. Once he was elected, I gave him a fair hearing, and tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I soon realized that I couldn’t support him because of the danger he poses to the country, especially the division he sows at every chance, culminating a few weeks ago in his ugly, racist attack on four minority congresswomen.

… despite what his enablers claim, Mr. Trump isn’t a conservative. He’s reckless on fiscal issues; he’s incompetent on the border; he’s clueless on trade; he misunderstands executive power; and he subverts the rule of law. It’s his poor record that makes him most worthy of a primary challenge.

Yes, William Weld, the former Massachusetts governor, is challenging Mr. Trump from the center. But the president is more vulnerable to a challenge from the right. I’m on the right, and I’m hugely disappointed that challenge hasn’t yet materialized.

Mr. Trump’s most vulnerable against a challenger who’d make the case for strong borders — instead of warning of “invaders,” dragging us down, turning neighbor against neighbor. A majority of Americans want fixes to our most basic problems.

We need someone who could stand up, look the president in the eye and say: “Enough, sir. We’ve had enough of your indecency. We’ve had enough of your lies, your bullying, your cruelty, enough of your insults, your daily drama, your incitement, enough of the danger you place this country in every single day. We don’t want any of this anymore, and the country certainly can’t stand four more years of it.”

Yes, all true. But given the nearly total silence from Republicans in Congress, you gotta wonder if there is anyone on the right who has the guts and moral motivation to primary Trump.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

This endangered Polar Bear can't bear it any longer

New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz reports that an Endangered Polar Bear Demands Face-to-Face Meeting with Trump.

Polar Bear to meet with Trump
This Bear can't bear it

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—One day after the White House took steps to weaken the Endangered Species Act, an irate polar bear has demanded a face-to-face meeting with Donald J. Trump.

The bear, who was described as “livid” by his spokesperson, has already begun his journey from the Arctic to Washington to express his deep dissatisfaction with Trump.

“He has been ravenously hungry because of the destruction of his habitat,” the bear’s spokesperson said. “The latest news about the Endangered Species Act has not improved his mood.”

Although it is unclear whether a one-on-one meeting between Trump and the aggrieved bear will occur, a new poll indicates that a broad majority of Americans would strongly favor such a meeting.

The White House has, so far, issued no response to the bear’s request, but the Vice-President, Mike Pence, has already refused a one-on-one meeting with a female polar bear.

American economic inequality by the numbers - 'not the America we want to live in'

538’s significant digits email yesterday morning has this tidbit about one family’s wealth.

$70,000 per minute
That’s how much money the Walmart-owning Walton family has made in the year since Bloomberg’s previous list of the world’s richest families. The Waltons top that list this year, with wealth of $190.5 billion. The Mars, Koch, Al Saud and Wertheimer (of the Chanel fashion house) families round out a top five. The 25 richest families in the world control $1.4 trillion, a figure which is up nearly a quarter from last year. [Bloomberg]

It’s not so bad if you compute it per second: $1,167.

It looks a lot worse if you compute it per hour, $4,200,000.

Try daily: $100,800,000

Yearly? $36,792,000,000

Here is more reporting on the Walton mega-fortune in The World’s Wealthiest Family Gets $4 Million Richer Every Hour.

Stunner: ’The 25 wealthiest dynasties on the planet control $1.4 trillion"

The numbers are mind-boggling: $70,000 per minute, $4 million per hour, $100 million per day.

That’s how quickly the fortune of the Waltons, the clan behind Walmart Inc., has been growing since last year’s Bloomberg ranking of the world’s richest families.

At that rate, their wealth would’ve expanded about $23,000 since you began reading this. A new Walmart associate in the U.S. would’ve made about 6 cents in that time, on the way to an $11 hourly minimum.

Even in this era of extreme wealth and brutal inequality, the contrast is jarring. The heirs of Sam Walton, Walmart’s notoriously frugal founder, are amassing wealth on a near-unprecedented scale — and they’re hardly alone.

So it goes around the globe. America’s richest 0.1% today control more wealth than at any time since 1929, but their counterparts in Asia and Europe are gaining too. Worldwide, the 25 richest families now control almost $1.4 trillion in wealth, up 24% from last year.

To some critics, such figures are evidence that capitalism needs fixing. Inequality has become an explosive political issue, from Paris to Seattle to Hong Kong. But how to shrink the growing gap between the rich and the poor?

As the tension increases, even some billionaire heirs are backing steps such as wealth taxes.

“If we don’t do something like this, what are we doing, just hoarding this wealth in a country that’s falling apart at the seams?” Liesel Pritzker Simmons, whose family ranks 17th on the Bloomberg list, said in June. “That’s not the America we want to live in.”

FYI:

The Walton fortune has swelled by $39 billion, to $191 billion, since topping the June 2018 ranking of the world’s richest families.

Bloomberg has the skinny on the top 25 dynasties.

Number 1 – 190.5 billion

Walmart is the world’s largest retailer by revenue, with sales of $514 billion from more than 11,000 stores worldwide. Family holding company Walton Enterprises owns half the retailer, a stake that’s the foundation of the world’s biggest fortune.

Number 25 – 29.8 billion

Michele Ferrero built a global chocolate confectionery company from a start in the small Italian town of Alba. His son Giovanni took sole helm of the family business after his brother Pietro died in a cycling accident in 2011. Ferrero acquired Nestle’s U.S. candy business for $2.8 billion in 2018.

Gun control in New Zealand

538’s significant digits email has this notice of New Zealand’s response to its mass shooting.

10,000 firearms
Since the mass shootings at Christchurch mosques that killed 51 people, New Zealand’s government has purchased more than 10,000 firearms as part of a buyback program. The government there, by a vote of 119–1, outlawed most automatic and semiautomatic weapons and set aside NZ$150 million to buy the guns that were newly illegal. [The Guardian]

You can read the full report at New Zealand gun buyback: 10,000 firearms returned after Christchurch attack. Police praise response after thousands of now-banned guns taken out of circulation in less than a month.

Unlike the US where the right to self-protection if often quoted, the majority of New Zealand gun owners say they own weapons for sport, recreation and hunting.

For more on hunting (especially for control of introduced species), see this Wiki entry.

Former GOP congressman responds to Republican silence on mass shootings with a powerful message

A week ago “Deadline: White House” anchor Nicolle Wallace interviewed former Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) following a weekend in which 31 people were killed in El Paso Texas and Dayton Ohio. His message was very simple.

… if this is the issue that informs your ideology as a voter, the strength to draw in this moment is to beat Republicans, beat them. Beat every single one of them,” Jolly urged. “Even the safe ones in the House, beat them. Beat them in the Senate. Take back the Senate.”

If the embedded video does not play for you, you can find some of the transcript at ’Beat every single one of them’: Ex-GOP congressman’s message to Republicans is ‘your time is coming’.

The AZ Blue Meanie has lots more to say in Republican obstruction of sane gun regulations piles up the body count in America.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Mournday Mourning Madness - aka the news

Quote of the day: “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.” -Toni Morrison, 1931–2019. Indeed. We have a president who affirms that view 24 x 7.

To borrow a word from the movie The American President, Trump should stop being a dork. Or maybe he should just watch the movie a couple of dozen times.

American exceptionalism
The rest of the world knows, Moscow Mitch

Here are some of the themes, schemes, memes, and falemes in this edition of the Illustrated Gnus (inspired by cartoons from AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona).

  • The echo effect is what concerns Marion Chubon, a local progressive activist who participated in counterprotests when Patriot Movement AZ held demonstrations in Reid Park last year. “I don’t think Jennifer Harrison is going to show up someplace with a gun and start shooting,” she said. “It’s the thousands of followers she has that concern me.” From Tim Steller’s column Border extremists laughable but pose incitement danger. (h/t Roving Reporter Sherry)
  • The seven steps of mass shootings: (1) Hate speech, (2) Easy access, (3) Mad man, (4) Mass shooting, (5) Public outrage, (6) Thoughts and Prayers, (7) Lax gun laws – Go to (1)
  • The Senate supports background checks: Pay to the order of the Senate Republicans, signed NRA.
  • I thought you’d like to know: Marketwatch.com reports These lawmakers receive the most campaign money from gun-rights backers like the NRA. In the Senate, Ted Cruz tops the list ($309,021). In the House, Martha McSally got the honor ($227,928). The numbers are for the 2017–2018 election cycle reported by opensecrets.org.

I thought I’d check out the news flashes before going to publication. Bad mistake. Here’s what I found.

To curb immigration, the Trump administration will target legal migrants who use public programs, such as food stamps and housing subsidies.. “The move will have the greatest impact on poor immigrants who are living in the country legally and are receiving public benefits from the government, forcing them to make a choice between accepting financial help and living and working in the country legally.”

For the longer version, see Trump Rule Targets Legal Immigrants Who Rely on Food Stamps and Other Aid - where you will find this gem.

The rule has been the top priority of Stephen Miller, the architect of President Trump’s immigration agenda, who views it as the most significant change to regulations that had encouraged migrants to come to the United States.

Mr. Miller has repeatedly pushed administration officials to finish the rule, at one point telling colleagues that he wanted them to work on nothing other than the public charge rule until it was completed.

And then, after having successfully suppressed my urge to vomit, I ran into this:

The Trump administration announced plans to significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act, the nation’s bedrock conservation law.

The Trump administration on Monday announced that it would change the way the Endangered Species Act is applied, significantly weakening the nation’s bedrock conservation law credited with rescuing the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and the American alligator from extinction.

The changes could clear the way for new mining, oil and gas drilling, and development in areas where protected species live. The new rules will make it harder to consider the effects of climate change on wildlife when deciding whether a given species warrants protection. They would most likely shrink critical habitats and, for the first time, allow economic factors to be taken into account when making determinations.

“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal — recovery of our rarest species,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement Monday. “The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation.”

Now heading to the retch room.

Parting thoughts:

America on the eve
America on the eve of self destruction
Trump gives farmers the boot
Here's an example.

Trump wages war on workers with Labor Secretary pick

Roving Reporter Sherry alerts us to another instance of our X/AntiX formula. In the latest instance reported in the NY Times by Nicholas Kristof, Trump Finds a Brawler for His War on Workers. America’s working class is in desperate shape, and its longtime protectors — unions — have lost much of their power.

Snippets follow.

President Trump talks a good game about helping American workers but has pursued arguably the most anti-labor agenda of any modern president. Now he has doubled down by choosing for secretary of labor a corporate lawyer who has spent his career battling workers.

This is a bit like nominating Typhoid Mary to be health secretary.

The official mission of the Labor Department emphasizes the promotion of “the welfare of the wage earners,” but Trump’s mission has been to promote the exploitation of wage earners.

So Eugene Scalia is a perfect fit. Scalia, a son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who has fought unions on behalf of Walmart and other companies, is a talented and experienced litigator who upon assuming office will be in a position to disembowel labor.

… it’s now clear that the collapse of unions — the share of employees belonging to unions has plunged to 10 percent in 2018 from 35 percent in the mid–1950s — has been accompanied by a rise of unchecked corporate power, a surge in income inequality and a decline in the well-being of working Americans.

For all their shortcomings, unions midwifed the birth of the middle class in the United States. The period of greatest union strength from the late 1940s through the 1950s was the time when economic growth was particularly robust and broadly shared. Most studies find that at least one-fifth of the rise in income inequality in the United States is attributable to the decline of labor unions.

Labor unions, and their ability to create a powerful collective voice for workers, played a huge role in building the world’s largest, richest middle class,” notes Steven Greenhouse in his superb, important and eminently readable new book about the labor movement, “Beaten Down, Worked Up.”

“Unions also played a crucial role,” Greenhouse adds, “in achieving many things that most Americans now take for granted: the eight-hour workday, employer-backed health coverage, paid vacations, paid sick days, safe workplaces. Indeed, unions were the major force in ending sweatshops, making coal mines safer, and eliminating many of the worst, most dangerous working conditions in the United States.”

[Consider this example:] … manufacturing workers in Germany are unionized and earn $10 more an hour than their American counterparts. Mercedes-Benz autoworkers earn $67 an hour in wages and benefits, and German workers are guaranteed a presence on corporate boards. Unions don’t detract from Germany’s economic system and competitiveness but are a pillar of it.

In contrast, the American worker’s wages are now disconnected from their productivity.

Productivity vs. wages
https://www.epi.org/productivity-pay-gap/

The bigger picture is that America’s working class is in desperate shape. Average hourly wages are actually lower today, after inflation, than they were in 1973, and the bottom 90 percent of Americans have seen incomes grow more slowly than the overall economy over the last four decades. The reasons are complex, but one is the decline of unions — for unions benefit not only their own members but also raise wage levels for workers generally.

So I’ve come to believe that we need stronger private-sector unions — yet the Trump administration continues to fight them. Greenhouse notes that nearly 20 percent of rank-and-file union activists are fired during organizing drives, because the penalties for doing so are so weak: A corporation may eventually be fined $5,000 or $10,000 for such a wrongful dismissal, but that is a negligible cost of doing business if it averts unionization.

That’s why we need a secretary of labor who cares about laborers. Trump campaigned in 2016 as a voice for forgotten workers, but he consistently sides with large corporations against workers, and his nomination of Scalia would amplify the sad and damaging war on unions.

As I’ve said before, if you would destroy agency X, select a leader who is fiercely AntiX. Then sit back and revel in your carnage. That’s Trump’s gift to the American worker, many of whom belong to the base that elected and sustains Trump. There’s room for learning here, but will the American worker take the opportunity?

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Donald Trump, MD, Trauma Surgeon

This is one episode from the imaginary reality TV show …

Surgeons Labored to Save the Wounded in El Paso Mass Shooting. The bullets ripped through one woman, shredding her intestines and leaving holes the size of a man’s fist in her side. But surgeons had to work fast, clearing the operating room to make way for other victims.

The woman, grievously wounded in the mass shooting at a Walmart, lay on an operating table at the University Medical Center of El Paso as the chief of surgery, Dr. Donald Trump, turned her to clean the exit wounds. He knew what to expect, but it was still a horrific sight. She had two gaping holes the size of a man’s fist in her side and a third the size of a silver dollar where bullets had burst from her body.

Those bullets had also shredded her intestine. Dr. Trump hooked her up to a colostomy bag and a feeding tube. And he reached into another wound to pull out a bullet lodged in her shinbone. It had been flattened by its violent impact into a disc the size of a quarter.

Some of the patients rushed to the hospital needed more than one operation, like the woman treated by Dr. Trump. On Saturday, surgeons had quickly opened her abdomen, cleaned out feces and blood, and sent her, with a temporary patch over her open abdomen, to intensive care, heavily sedated and on a ventilator. They had to work fast, clearing the operating room to make way for other victims. Then on Sunday, Dr. Trump spent three hours operating on her, repairing the damage as best he could.

Dr. Trump had seen wounds from military-style weapons before, but he had never seen anything like the number of victims that showed up at his hospital on Saturday — 14 in all, most shot more than once.

Dr. Trump managed to maintain his composure until, driving home, he saw a familiar billboard: El Paso Strong. His emotions welled.

"In Texas, it seems like everyone and his brother owns a gun,” said Dr. Nancy Weber, an emergency department physician at the El Paso hospital. She said she could think of no reason to own an assault rifle unless it is for a military or policing purpose. “Look at the tragedy. We should have a nationwide, nonpartisan discussion.”

Some of her colleagues may struggle with post-traumatic stress, Dr. Weber fears. “Doctors and nurses are not immune,” she said. “We see trauma and very traumatic deaths every day. But we don’t see 14 people in an hour, thank God.”

“What has to change?” she asked. “We have to do something. Why aren’t we?”

Those are excerpts from the NY Times report. Only the name of the surgeon was changed (to Donald Trump instead of University Medical Center of El Paso chief of surgery, Dr. Alan Tyroch).

We might have a different discussion, asked for by Dr. Weber, if Trump the President traded places with a trauma surgeon for just a few hours following a mass shooting done with military-style weapons. Perhaps his world view would change after exposure to the “horrific sight. She had two gaping holes the size of a man’s fist in her side and a third the size of a silver dollar where bullets had burst from her body.”

All about Trump

Then again, maybe not.

Jen Hayden at Daily Kos reports that Donald and Melania gleefully pose with the baby whose parents were murdered in El Paso shooting. (h/t Mrs. Scriber)

[Eight survivors] all refused to meet with Trump at the hospital. Instead, Donald and Melania walked around the hospital, where Trump cracked jokes, acting more like the stand-up comedian in chief than a president offering comfort in a time of national crisis.

In fact, the White House refused to let reporters tour the Dayton and El Paso hospitals with Trump. Officials told the White House press pool that they didn’t want the day to be about photo ops, that this was serious business, after all.

Except it was about photo ops for Donald Trump, and doesn’t appear to have been about much else. Hospital officials in El Paso told CNN’s Jim Acosta that the president had a “lack of empathy” and made staff feel uncomfortable when he kept disparaging Beto O’Rourke and bringing up the size of his crowd at an El Paso rally a few months ago. The White House team apparently also arranged for two survivors, who’d already been checked out of the hospital, to come back for that photo op. Incredibly, ghoulishly, one of those survivors was the infant son of Andre and Jordan Anchondo. Look at this man in the photo above, posing like this with a baby whose parents were murdered only days before.

Be best, Melania. This is not normal. This is indecent, grotesque, narcissistic. In a nutshell, it is classic Trump.

Try not to puke.