Ice on Fire

I encourage people to watch the excellent HBO documentary called “Ice on Fire” on concerns over climate change and remedial actions underway that should and can be leveraged. The documentary is produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, but the most impactful voices are the scientists, inventors and trendsetters who are seeing dividends from their actions and investments.

To sum up, we have two major problems facing us – too much carbon in the air along with a growing concern over methane as it is released from beneath melting ice caps and frozen tundra, on top of the venting from natural gas sites. The title comes from researchers lighting methane leaks on fire as it is released from melting ice covered waters. The scientists note with data that it is quite clear man is causing the hastened uptick in temperatures as we leave our carbon fingerprints in the atmosphere.

These are major concerns, but we are not sitting still. Significant efforts are underway. They can be categorized as putting less carbon in the air and capturing more carbon from the air. To avoid a novel, I will touch on some of the ideas, but please do deeper dives and watch the documentary airing now.

Stop putting carbon in the air

We must hasten the move to renewable energy. The costs are more on par and less, in some cases, than fossil fuel energy production. Wind and solar energy are growing at accelerated rates. One CEO noted, the technology is here to make this happen even more than it already is. Here in the US, California gets 25% of its electricity from solar and Texas gets 16% of its electricity from wind energy.

Yet, a very promising start-up off Scotland is tapping tidal energy. There is a company producing electricity today with an offshore platform with two turbines turned by the tides to generate electricity. I have written before about this group as they use existing technologies to harness the sea. Their success is gaining notoriety around the world, as it appears to be replicable.

Two other ideas also help with both recapture and restricting release. The first is reusing depleting biowaste (such as dying trees, plants and compost) in the soils to grow crops and future trees and foliage. The biowaste holds water better, maintains top soil and is straight out of nature’s guidebook.

The other is growing more kelp offshore as it captures carbon like sequoia trees and can also be used as a food source for livestock. Feeding cattle kelp is not a new approach. Feeding cattle is important as it greatly reduces the gases released by animals and preserves more carbon capturing grassland.

Capture more carbon from the air

The documentary spells out several natural ways to capture carbon and a few technological ways. On the former, here are a few ideas:

Maintain forests, especially those with large sequoias, which are huge carbon eaters. There are several places that are nurturing huge forests, but they note we need more of these efforts. We need to be mindful to replace what we cut, but keep some protected forests off limits to cutting.

Another example is to replenish mangroves that offer buffers to oceans. In addition to offering protection against storms, they also are natural born carbon eaters.

Another effort is to grow more urban farms. These farms are usually more organic, but in addition to absorbing carbon in urban areas, they perpetuate a farm to table concept that reduces transportation fumes. Reducing auto fumes is a huge concern of cities around the globe.

The next idea is more compex, but it requires the growing of more shells in the ocean. The dusts off the shells creates “ocean snow” that settles to the bottom and absorbs carbon. The idea is to spread a very small amount of iron in the ocean to cause more shells to grow.

The more technological solutions are designed to pull carbon out of the air. There are two approaches – one is to extract carbon and store it safely underground. The other is to pull it out and reuse it through artificial photosynthesis. Both of these options need more description than I am giving them. I prefer the more natural ways, but all of the above, is a necessary strategy at this late hour.

The scientists have concerns, but they do offer hope. The uncertainty of the ice-covered methane release gives them pause. They did note the methane release from accidental leaks from fossil fuel is visible from space and reduceable with some effort.

Another concern is the well-funded activity behind climate change deniers. A Wyoming rancher scientist standing in front of a visible, leaky methane cap said it plainly – they know this stuffs hurts kids more than adults. If someone came into my home to hurt my kids, it would be over my dead body. So, why is it OK too allow this?

Another scientist was less colorful, but equally plainspoken. He said fossil fuel executives perpetuating climate change denial should be tried in The Hague for crimes against humanity. Yet, as the costs have declined, the profit of creating carbon is becoming less palatable than the profit of reducing carbon in the air. People need to know these market forces exist today and not stand for future unhealthy energy creation.

Finally, if you cannot convince a climate change denier that we have a problem, ask them a simple question – if costs were not an issue, would you rather your children and grandchildren breathe methane from vented natural gas or drink coal ash polluted water or have carbon and methane neutral solar, wind or tidal energy? Guess what – costs are not much of an issue anymore and, in an increasing number of cases, less for renewables.

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Boom, boom, boom, boom – the US deficit and debt continue to explode

In honor of John Lee Hooker’s famous lyric, which is played at the beginning of “NCIS – New Orleans” and in the movie “Blues Brothers,” a good wake-up call for our US deficit and debt is “boom, boom, boom, boom.” Please note, this is not the trade deficit, which is overblown as a problem as we are more of a consumer nation. This is due to our government spending far more than they take in revenue.

Per the following introduction in a Bloomberg News article, “U.S. Budget Gap Balloons to $739 Billion Despite Tariff Revenue,” we have an escalating problem.

“The U.S. budget deficit widened to $738.6 billion in the first eight months of the fiscal year, a $206 billion increase from a year earlier, despite a revenue boost from President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported merchandise.

The shortfall was 38.8% more than the same period a year ago, the Treasury Department said in its monthly budget review released on Wednesday. So far in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, a revenue increase of 2.3% hasn’t kept pace with a 9.3% rise in spending.”

Right now, our US debt tallies more than $22 trillion and was expected to increase by $10 trillion over the next ten years, before the tax cuts in December, 2017. Our fiscal year runs October through September, so this is the first fiscal year with full benefit of the tax cuts. The Congressional Budget Office forewarned the tax cuts would increase the debt by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years over the already projected $10 trillion. That will put us closer to $34 trillion at that time.

Yet, Americans were told by the president and favorable politicians that the CBO was wrong and growth would accelerate enough to pay for the debt using the assertion “the tax cuts will pay for themselves.” Per the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, tax cuts do not pay for themselves, with the best historical result being in the neighborhood of 30%, but usually much less. That leaves 70% of the revenue reduction adding to the deficit in the best of times.

The reasons for the increase in deficit are increases in military, healthcare and interest cost spending, which have overshadowed the revenue increases due to the longest running economic growth period in the US. Even the worst budgeter amongst us knows, we should be paying down debt when times are good, not increasing it. Sadly, the economy has begun to slow some, so the tax cutter’s rosy projections of 4% and above growth have not materialized (except in an isloated quarter) and economists are expected  lower growth rates than the current 3% per annum the rest of the year.

Per The Concord Coalition, the above Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan from December, 2010, we must solve our deficit and debt problem through spending cuts and revenue increases (tax increases) both. The math will not otherwise work. If any politician, no matter how smugly, tells you otherwise, they are not be honest with you or are misinformed themselves.

To be brutally frank, I said so then, but the tax cuts passed in December, 2017 were malfeasance in my mind. We borrowed from our future to make a pretty good economy a little better. It was also hypocritical. Former Freedom Caucus members got elected saying the previous $5 trillion, then $8 trillion, then $13 trillion debts were abhorrent. Now, when it is just below $22 trillion, they pass a bill that increases it even more.

When I raised this with a Freedom Caucus staff member, he curtly told me the CBO is often wrong and they are wrong on this. My push back was simple. These folks do their homework to try and get it right. And, what I have found in my 40 years of adult life, is politicians hail the CBO when their number agree with their decision and call them on the carpet, when they don’t. Yes, it is a projection, but these folks try to be apolitical.

Folks, we have a problem that is not getting talked about enough. We must cut spending and raise revenue. My GOP friends have ceded their fiscal stewardship mantra – that is highly unfortunate. My Democrat friends need to question every candidate on how they plan to pay for their ideas and what they plan to do about the debt. We cannot have Medicare for all if we cannot pay for it.

So, let’s get real and ask politicians some pointed questions. If we don’t, John Lee Hooker will sing even more loudly. “Boom, boom, boom, boom.”

 

A little bit of this, a little bit of that this Wednesday

Happy hump day. Let’s cruise into the downside half of the work week. With multiple themes percolating in my mind, here are few little bits of this and that to bite into.

Former host of “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart has been fiercely active in helping gain funding to pay for the medical costs of the 9/11 first responders in NYC. He gave an “out of the pool” criticism to a Congressional Committee in person as the funding has run out. He said in essence the first responders did their jobs, now you do yours. Forceful is an understatement. Let’s hope it sinks in. Congress and this president need to be shamed like that when they fail to do the obvious. In essence, he said I don’t give a crap about your politics, do the right thing. Amen brother.

The greatest talent of the current US president is marketing schtick. He can make a pair of twos look like a full house better than anyone. Like this analogy, most of what he does is untrue or blown way out of proportion. He knows fear sells, so he sells it daily, if not hourly. One of his greatest triumphs is to convince his followers that everyone is against him and that only he speaks the truth. He has his followers parroting his remarks saying “you just don’t like him” or have “Trump derangement syndrome.” In other words, it is your fault he lies far more than he does not.

The best line I read recently in a letter to the editor was an attempt to combat this. The letter writer said it is not the media and not the Democrats who are causing all of this chaos. He noted that the US president does not need any help in causing chaos and defaming his own character. He does a very good job on his own. I have said it differently – the greatest enemy of Donald J. Trump is the person who looks back from the mirror when he shaves. One of the reason why the volume of criticism is so high toward him is to combat the significant number of mistruths and the fact he has so many followers who see his lies on their phones.

Kudos should again go out to Republican Congressman Justin Amash from Michigan and Senator Richard Burr from North Carolina. Amash is an attorney and has read the Mueller report. He is a very lone and lonely voice in saying in writing that there exists grounds for impeachment of the president. It should be noted over 1,000 former federal prosecutors agree with him. Yesterday, he resigned from the Freedom Caucus and the vindictive president said he would “squash” Amash. To me, I see Nikita Khrushev pounding on the table at the UN with his shoe saying “we will bury you.” Fear sells.

Burr is also a lonely man, but he at least got a little air cover from Mitch McConnell. Burr subpoenaed the Junior Trump in to testify to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Burr got backlash, but Junior was a “no-show” twice, so Burr asked a judge to get Junior’s fanny in to talk. The issue is Junior may have lied to the Committee about his awareness of the Moscow Trump tower that attorney Michael Cohen briefed him on. Junior said he was only a little aware of the Moscow development issues, but Cohen said he briefed him 10 or 12 times. Like father, like son.

Finally, I have been conversing with our astute British blogger Roger. We are of a like mind (note he is astute even when I don’t agree with him) that the Brits are looking to a very Trump-like prime minister in Boris Johnson. That is not meant to be a compliment. The only poetic justice is if the he wins and the Brits do a hard-Brexit, Johnson will be front and center in the mess he helped create by being untruthful. I understand the rationale, but am not a fan of Brexit – it will dampen the British economy and global clout and that saddens me.  But, if the UK follows through, please, please work out a deal. A hard Brexit, so says business leaders, would be as unwise a decision as the country leaders could make (or fail to make in this case). It should speak volumes that Trump, Johnson and Nigel Farage want a hard Brexit.

That is all for now. Have a great rest of the week.

 

Stating obvious truths

I feel like I am walking around in a constant state of disbelief. How can people rationalize certain behaviors as acceptable when they are obviously abhorrent, petty, childish, unethical, illicit, etc.? So, let me state some obvious truths.

It is not OK to shrug off as “well-intentioned” the fact staff members tried to protect the President’s fragile ego and hide the name of an air craft carrer honoring three American heroes named John McCain. This is petty and childish.

It is not OK that a Republican operative known for his gerrymandering skills left a smoking gun reference to adding the citizenship question on the 2020 census to enable more gerrymandering to help the GOP. Folks, this is cheating. Both sides have done it, but the GOP through ALEC is cheating in an organized manner.

In the UK, Boris Johnson may be on trial for actively lying about the financial impact of Brexit. He also is a candidate to be the next Prime Minister. In Texas, they would define someone who was long on talk and short on substance as “All hat and no cattle.” That would define Boris’ modus operandi quite well.

Now that Robert Mueller reiterated what is in his report, he directly and subtlely contradicted the President and his Attorney General. It could simply be said that “there is something there there.” The President’s staff and sycophants are doing there best to say “don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain,” but do pay attention to him. And, ask your Senators some why quesfions.

Between going against his staff to belittle Japan’s legitimate fears over North Korea to making yet another surprise announcement to impose tariffs on Mexico if they do not do even more to halt migrants entering the US, here are two more painful examples that the President is a loose cannon. The military has a term for short-sighted and poorly planned (and communicated) decision-making that puts people in harm’s way – they calk it a clusterf**k. That aptly defines the President’s modus operandi.

People can rationalize away, but the above is pretty obvious to me. And, these examples are not anomalies, The horribly conceived, unplanned and poorly conceived travel ban that was pulled in two days is similar to the Mexico tariff announcement. It reveals the President still has not learned from his mistakes.

Rachel Carson, a silent, but forceful hero

It is hard to go against the grain. It is especially hard when you are a 5’4″ woman in a man’s scientific world that boldly said we can tame nature. Yet, when Rachel Carson wrote her provocative book “Silent Spring” in 1962, she rocked the world of the chemical industry. PBS’ “American Experience” has an excellent episode on Carson.

While her book was fiercely discredited by various “throw something against the wall” attacks by the chemical industry, it helped define how we need to proceed with more precaution. It laid bare the hubris of those who felt they could control nature.

It also started a grassroots environmental movement. Within ten years, the toxic chemical DDT would be banned and the Environmental Protection Agency would be created. Her testimony to Congress abetted these efforts. The Cuyahoga river in Cleveland catching fire also was a clarion call. Yet, she would not live to see them. She had cancer when she was being interviewed and testifying to Congress dying in 1964.

“Silent Spring” was her fourth best seller. The first was her “The Sea Around Us” published ten years earlier. Her first topic called upon her marine biology degree and work at the National Wildlife and Fisheries Department. Her first published book in 1941 called “Under the Sea Wind” was re-released after the second one’s success and sold well. Her “The Edge of the Sea” published in 1955 also was a best seller.

Her voice came at a time when “more chemicals” was the answer to any question. She was troubled that our arrogance was getting ahead of our wisdom. Her voice gained footing when it became apparent some fishermen had radiation poisoning from drifted winds from a hydrogen bomb test. But, she had been concerned about the unbridled use of pestiides for years.

A few chapters of “Silent Spring” were printed in The New Yorker and caused such an uproar that a Science Commission was set-up even before the book was released. President Kennedy made reference to Carson in a Q/A with reporters. She understood the use of pesticides is necessary – her main thrust is we need more testing before they are used. The chemical industry went after her and said she was undermining progress. She was called a communist and her data was more anecdotal. And, the fact she was a woman unnerved industry scientists, who felt she was infringing on their turf.

The book was a runaway best seller. It was highlighted in 70 newspapers. When she answered her critics, only then did they realize the power of her calm and informed voice. They were unable to silence her, though they gamely tried to stop a CBS Special Report featuring an interview with Carson. While two sponsors were pressured to drop out, CBS held their ground. For every question answered, there were 100 more raised.

The CBS Special Report was seen by as many as 15 million people. Carson was quite believable.  It was so impactful, a Congressional Committee was set-up the next day. A few months later, the earlier established Kennedy commission verified her findings as vindication.

As she told Congress we must measure the hidden costs against the potential gains. Shouldn’t we do that with every issue? And, for that she was vilified. However, her most telling testimony is our children have been born into this chemical age and we don’t know the full impact on their lives. As one historian noted in the “American Experience” documentary, she caused a “paradigm shift.” Thank you Ms. Carson.

Vox on Fox

Vox on Fox. No, this is not a Dr. Seuss book title or quote. It is more akin to a quote from Mark Twain, “It is easier to fool someone than convince him he has been fooled.” Why? Vox has put together two You Tube videos which should heighten your concern over Fox News (see below), which my oldest son shared with me.

One video notes the power and reach of Fox. It traces its origins to a memo of Roger Ailes when he worked for President Richard Nixon. It shows how Fox influences the news covered, even if you don’t watch Fox News. Like a dog chewing on a bone, Fox will overinflate small issues to discredit the Democrat Party. This is why Fox watchers know who AOC is moreso than non-Fox watchers. This is why Benghazi became a bigger issue than it was as determlned early on by a nonpartisan review.

The other video shows their influence on one viewer who occupies the White House. This person has access to some of the best intelligence information in the world, but chooses to be more influenced by Fox and Friends. This must cause great consternation to people who do their darnedest to get it right as they get upstaged by entertainers who can sell a better story to a key listener.

The narrator of the Vox video notes the causal relationship between items said on Fox and Friends and this viewer’s tweets. The narrator notes he counted fifty tweets from this person within three minutes of the story being said on Fox and Friends. And, often the words are verbatim.

Even when I was a Republican, I did not watch Fox News. The opinion folks are simply over-the-top story tellers, who should not be taken serioiusly – Beck, Riley, Hannity, Riviera and so on are caricatures. The ones who found their conscious like Lt. Col. Ralph Peters or Judge Napolitano get vilified for speaking the truth. Peters left offering a condemning resignation letter.

If you do persist in watching Fox, pay more attention to Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith. The are news people. if you get your news from Hannity or Carlson or that viewer’s tweets – do yourself and country a favor and stop. You are being “Twained,”


Stable genius

A few quotes to ponder:

“I am a stable genius,” said Donald J. Trump on several occasions, most recently after he threw a tantrum to abruptly end a meeting to discuss infrastructure.

“You have been telling me you are a genius since you were seventeen. In all the time I have known you, I still don’t know what you mean,” sang Steely Dan in “Reeling in the Years.”

“We were out-prepared,” testified former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson under oath to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as he described a meeting between Putin and Trump.

More colorfully, Tillerson commented while Secretary of State after the President changed his mind again, “He is a f**king moron.”

Testifying under oath to a House Committee, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer said “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-man and a he is a cheat.”

“You will have to do a deal with the European Union,” said German Chancelor Angela Merkel eleven times in one sitting to Trump until it finally sank in he could not do a trade deal just with Germany.

“Donald Trump lies every day even about things of no consequence,” said former Trump attorney Thomas Wells.

Finally, former National Economic Advisor Gary Cohn said after witnessing the President lie about what he said to the Australian Prime Minister, “He is a prodigious liar.”

Lastly, at 60 years-old, I am hard pressed to recall a very smart person bragging on how smart he or she is. These folks need not brag.

I could go on, but that will give you a sense. The title of this post depict two words that are not top of mind to me to define the US President – stable or genius.