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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump Signs Bill Containing Warning on Climate Change

The Daily Escape:

The Fuego Volcano in Guatemala erupts under the Milky Way, Antigua, Guatemala – photo by Albert Dros

While we were all focused on the Alabama senate election, on Tuesday, Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bill that sets spending limits for the US military in the coming fiscal year.

Buried in the bill is a discussion of climate change. The NDAA contains a provision making clear that “the sense of Congress” is that:

Climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States.

The provision cites statements from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, former defense secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

This creates an interesting moment for Trump, who signed the bill knowing this was in its language. He did not add a signing statement disavowing the provision, so he’s placing the climate change provisions of the NDAA directly opposite his stance on climate change, and his disavowal of the Paris Agreement.

By signing the bill, Trump also ordered a report on “vulnerabilities to military installations” that climate change could cause in the next 20 years. More from the bill:

As global temperatures rise, droughts and famines can lead to more failed states, which are breeding grounds of extremist and terrorist organizations…In the Marshall Islands, an Air Force radar installation built on an atoll at a cost of $1 billion, is projected to be underwater within two decades. A three-foot rise in sea levels will threaten the operations of more than 128 United States military sites, and it is possible that many of these at-risk bases could be submerged in the coming years…

Lawfare reports that the bill’s climate change provision is as important for what it doesn’t require as for what it does. The bill doesn’t require that Gen. Mattis develop a policy to solve the problems that it acknowledges climate change poses. Instead, it merely requires that he provide an explanation of its “effects.”

This was Congress’s way of dealing with an earlier contentious debate about including the climate provision at all. The amendment to deny its inclusion failed by 185-234. Also, the military is not the agency responsible for regulating carbon emissions, so the impact of its requirements on policy may be small.

While the requirement that Mattis produce a report on the “mitigations” that will ensure “resiliency” could be construed as creating a policy response, the fact remains that there is no explicit direction that he implement any of the mitigations on which he’ll be reporting.

More from Lawfare: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

According to the Congressional Research Service, as of 2012, the Department of Defense was ‘the largest organizational user of petroleum in the world.’…And the thousands of [military] aircraft…accounted for 22% of all jet fuel used by the US as of 2008.

The bill includes money to buy 30 more planes than the military asked for (24 reliable old F/A-18s instead of 14, and 90 of the newer lemon, the F-35, instead of 70). The US Navy asked for one new Littoral Combat Ship. The NDAA budgets for three.

Translation: $Billions for the aerospace and ship-building government contractors. This year, the Defense expenditures tab will come to about $2,160 for every man, woman and child in the US.

Feel like you’re getting your money’s worth?

 

A quick note about Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Most haven’t heard of her, but she was an innovator on the electric guitar. She preferred to play a Gibson SG, and she was among the first to use heavy distortion. In 1947, Sister Rosetta put the then 14-year-old Little Richard on stage. Johnny Cash said that she was his favorite singer, and biggest inspiration. When she plays, you understand where Chuck Berry got his big guitar ideas. Here is Sister Rosetta Tharpe doing “That’s All” from 1964’s “Live in Paris “album:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 15, 2017

Weinstein. Why do Conservatives (and quite a few Democrats think) the D’s have a “Harvey Problem“?

Is it a surprise that Democrats took money from someone who turned out to be despicable? Yes. But isn’t the real question what the Democrats did with the money?

Conservatives want you to believe that Democratic political contributions are like holy water, where one unsanctified drop spoils the whole font. There is no excusing Weinstein, and if the D’s were doing helpful things for this scumbag, that’s inexcusable. But there is nothing inherently wrong with taking/using Weinstein’s money before they found out how deplorable he is:

Trump thinks the press writes disgusting things. His friends agree:

The GOP believes in a few things, more or less:

Iran, DACA, ACA, EPA. Trump’s plans are working just perfectly:

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Saturday Soother – September 23, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Sunndalsøra, Norway, best known for its aluminum factory, one of the largest in Europe – photo by Brotherside

WaPo reports that estimates say it will take about four months for electric power to be restored on Puerto Rico. You would hope that we could beat the estimate by quite a bit. What is the Congress’s plan to help out our Commonwealth?

Can you imagine living somewhere without power for several months? We had to do it once at the Mansion of Wrong, at the height of winter for 7 days. It got to 37°F one night inside the house. We now have a whole house generator.

What happens to the Puerto Rican economy if there is no power for multiple months? Can average people make a living? How will they pay the rent, or the mortgage?

Our first concern should be providing them with supplementary power. Generators and the fuel to power them must be among the first things we deliver to the island. They are the cheapest, fastest way to deliver temporary power while the basic infrastructure of power lines and cell towers are rebuilt. Fuel (mostly diesel) will need to be brought in via ship. Health care facilities need power to operate, and the basic elements of government requires it as well. With power, they can begin to restore normalcy, communications and water for citizens.

People will need some form of temporary housing. Businesses will need to sell products and services, and help keep people employed. It’s also not clear how law and civil order will stand up to months without power, or to a situation where people can’t get their basic needs met.

Anyone with resources, or family connections on the US mainland is going to move away, many will come here. Will Puerto Rican immigrants be seen by the GOP base as simply more illegals coming to use our welfare system?

Will the GOP remind their base that Puerto Ricans are US citizens? It isn’t certain that Republicans all will say that. Think about what that says about the America we live in today.

The scale of this disaster would be unfathomable and unacceptable on the US mainland. Will we step up as a country and help our brothers back to their feet? Or, will we do something half-hearted because they are the “other“?

Before you answer, remember that Flint Michigan still doesn’t have safe drinking water. Maybe getting the help you need is mostly about whether you (and your town) are the correct color.

Time to get soothed after another really tough week. Try to find a bag of Beanstock’s Shucker’s Roast coffee (only available at retail during the Wellfleet Cape Cod Oysterfest) but otherwise available at great Cape Cod restaurants like C-Shore Wellfleet. Then, brew up a hot, strong cuppa. Settle back, put on the Bluetooth headphones, and listen to Tchaikovsky’s Trio in A minor, Op. 50. This will take about an hour, but you will be greatly rewarded.

Tchaikovsky wrote this between December 1881 and late January 1882. It is the only work Tchaikovsky ever wrote for piano, violin, and cello. Here it is performed live at the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in February 2013, with Livan on piano, Zenas Hsu on violin and Yina Tong on cello:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Tax Cuts Won’t Pay for Irma and Harvey

The Daily Escape:

Talking Heads Decision Wheel

It’s time to question how we pay for disasters. The estimated costs of Harvey and Irma are $290 billion. That might turn out to be high or low, it is still early days in assessing total costs. The insurance industry says that they expect to take a $70 billion combined hit for Irma and Harvey.

That leaves $220 billion to be funded by individuals, or taxpayers. Where will that money come from?

The president and his GOP buddies want to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy, but they call it tax reform. They’ll throw some chump change at the middle class, so that their base feels they got something for their vote last November, but at best, their tax plan will be revenue-neutral. That will provide nothing new for the rebuild of Texas and Florida.

We shouldn’t accept the usual “revenues can’t be increased” mantra when we know cities and people will not be able to afford rebuilding on their own. We have to raise revenues. It’s time for a specific and time-limited National Recovery Tax. And everybody has to chip in. This can be a unifying moment. Nobody wants to pay more, but the job must be done.

Think for a second about the Hand In Hand benefit. The idea was that celebrities would induce the average person to donate to disaster relief. The minimum donation that Hand In Hand asked for on their web site is $25. The average US Net worth for 45-54 year olds is around 84k. $25 is .0003% of the average US family’s net worth.

Celebrities should ask us to open our wallets, but that can’t be the way we raise the billions necessary to fund this recovery. And we can’t count on the corporations. Apple gave $5 million, that’s nice. Apple is worth about $850 billion; $5 million is .0000058% of Apple’s net worth. They gave less proportionately than the average American. Apple pays very little tax relative to their profits, most of which are kept overseas. Here is a link to how Apple’s income is sheltered.

Think about where Apple’s money comes from. You bought the iPhone, iPad and maybe a MAC computer. You were the source of their money. The same is true for Michael Dell’s $36 million donation to Harvey relief. He gave a heroic amount, but it’s a pittance when we need $220 billion.

Disasters happen. We need a fund to make people whole, and it has to come from increased revenues. Some could be from state-level taxation in the states impacted, but other states won’t do that voluntarily. That assessment has to come from a new federal tax assessment. Congress should work out the details.

We need to wave off any discussion of additional tax breaks for corporations or for the wealthy, until we rebuild Texas and Florida.

We are all beneficiaries of living in America, including those companies that keep their money offshore. We all should be in this together. If we don’t look out for each other, we’re screwed.

There are other questions, such as, should we be rebuilding in the “bathtub” parts of Houston or Florida? Should we continue allowing coastal homeowners access to federal flood insurance when they tap into it every few years? Maybe we shouldn’t build on waterfront. The NYT had a piece about St. Augustine, FL. They routinely have sunny day flooding caused by rising sea water. What do we need to do to protect historic sites like St. Augustine? Should we protect them?

Can we even ask these questions? Can we agree to do a study? Views differ. But the truth doesn’t travel far in America, because the truth hurts. So, we never ask the big questions, or seek answers to them. We just occasionally donate a little to the disaster of the moment in order to feel a little better.

How can we keep America great if we fail to fund the recovery from disasters? A temporary tax on everyone is the best answer to what just happened in the South.

Here are the Talking Heads with “Once in a Lifetime” from their 1980 album, “Remain In Light”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Takeaway lyric:

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say to yourself, “My God! What have I done?”

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Saturday Soother – September 2, 2017

(Wrongo is ceasing labor for Labor Day weekend. Blogging will resume on Tuesday, 9/5. Enjoy the fruits of your labor!)

The Daily Escape:

Harbin Opera House, Harbin, China – 2015 photo by Hufton Crow. Harbin is China’s eighth-most populous city. It is located in the extreme northeast of China.

Feeling anxious? Seeing too much of the devastation in Houston?

Amazing what it takes to push the Trumpet off the front pages for a couple of days. The clean-up and rebuild will take years, the scale of the losses are beyond imagining.

To top that, Lil’ Kim fired a missile across Japan, and onto the front pages. Appropriately, it wasn’t important enough to move Harvey out of our consciousness, but it showed we need to pay more attention to North Korea (NK). You probably think of NK as a backward place, but according to the Economist, its 25 million citizens are surprisingly well-wired:

Perhaps half of all urban households now own a Chinese-made “Notel”, a portable media player. Over 3m have mobile-phone subscriptions, with NK-branded smartphones like the Pyongyang and the Arirang. South Korean NGOs that smuggle foreign films and TV shows into the North on USBs receive text messages from their contacts there with requests for specific titles (South Korean soaps and Hollywood dramas are popular).

The NK government abetted the communications revolution. In 2008, it developed a 3G network. Today, there are more sanctioned NK mobile phones than illegal Chinese ones. Many use them to conduct business on the black market, by checking prices elsewhere in the country. Notels can be bought for around $50 on the black market, sold in state-run shops.

Since Kim Jong Un came to power, signal jammers for mobile phones have been set up along the border with China. These are powerful enough to ruin cell service for Chinese living on the other side. North Koreans are banned from calling abroad.

Most North Koreans do not have access to the internet, and the few who are allowed to go online are limited to a state-run intranet with 28 mediated websites. The Economist says that NK censorship tools have allowed the regime to automate surveillance. For example, they have the ability to make unsanctioned media files on phones and Notels unreadable. TraceViewer is installed by default on NK phones. It takes random screenshots of users’ devices, so big brother is always watching.

Kim Jong-Un’s calculation is that technology allows it to gain more control than it loses. It dictates what kinds of handsets North Koreans use; it can shut off the mobile network whenever necessary. The appeal to the regime is that it knows it can’t keep all information out, so it is better to monitor it.

Makes Kim seem like a rational actor. Let’s hope so.

And let’s try to forget about this past week for a few hours, as we start the Labor Day weekend. The thought of Labor Day always reminds Wrongo of the lyric from the Jackson Browne tune, “The Loadout”:

They’re the first to come and the last to leave,

Workin’ for that minimum wage

The Loadout” was recorded live in Maryland at a show in August, 1977. Browne had been working on the idea with his band, but they didn’t have an arrangement they liked. When Browne did three encores, they were out of material, but still wanted to play. Russ Kunkel (the drummer) suggested they play the new song and see what happened. The resulting performance was good enough to make the album, “Running on Empty”.

It was the first time the band played the song, and they created a medley with it, segueing into “Stay (Just a Little Bit Longer)”, with Rosemary Butler on vocals along with David Lindley doing the falsetto.

Find a cup of Joyride Coffee’s Cold-brew (sadly, only available in kegs at a barista near you) and listen to “The Loadout”:

Those who read the Wrongologist on the execrable Feedburner can view the video here.

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Houston’s Petrochemical Industry Fails to Protect City

The Daily Escape:

Ranwu Lake Campsite, Tibet photo by Arch-exist Photography. Ranwu Lake is a tourist attraction in SE Tibet, and is called the “Tibetan Switzerland”.

Life in the age of corporatism resembles life in the food chain. In a potentially disastrous outcome from the Harvey flooding, a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas belonging to French industrial giant Arkema, has had several explosions of peroxide and other volatile chemicals. From the NYT:

The company had already ordered all workers to leave the damaged plant, and Harris County ordered the evacuation of residents within a 1.5-mile radius.

These chemicals have to be refrigerated. When the plant’s warehouses lost power, they transferred the product to diesel-powered refrigerated containers. But later, the backup generators were swamped by flood waters, so cooling was lost, and the explosions began. On Tuesday, the company released a statement:

Refrigeration on some of our back-up product storage containers has been compromised due to extremely high water, which is unprecedented in the Crosby area. We are monitoring the temperature of each refrigeration container remotely….while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real.

The rains are over, but the chemical fires linger. Richard Rowe, the CEO of Arkema’s American operations said:

The company has no way of preventing chemicals from catching fire or exploding at its heavily flooded plant…the company has no way to prevent…this worst case outcome.

The CEO says, “No way to prevent explosion“. Back in the olden days, that would be known as a “major design flaw”. Most engineers would have recommended placing the generator sets above at least the 100-year high water mark, just to prevent this kind of fun event. They would also put the diesel tanks above that water line.

Maybe next time. The Houston Chronicle had this amazing map of chemical plants in the Houston area:

In case it is hard to read the map legend, the yellow markers are for petrochemical plants that have a “medium” potential for harm based on their location within the 100-year flood plain. The red markers have a ”high” risk for harm. Houston’s ship channel and the surrounding area along the Gulf coast represent about 40% of U.S. petrochemical manufacturing. At least 25 Houston-area plants have either shut down, or experienced production issues due to Hurricane Harvey’s flooding.

Any guesses that the concentration of plants in the Houston flood zone will cause our corporate overlords to think about relocation of a few of these sites? Or, how they best secure them from the next 500-year flood, which looks like it will happen in say, the next five years? From Forbes:

Harvey was a wake-up call, reminding us that it is time to take a more serious look to ensure the safety of the petrochemical industry and the public at large, just as the nuclear power industry has done in reaction to the Fukushima disaster.

But Arkema has worked hard to change EPA rules in their favor. David Sirota reports that the new rules, which were set to go into effect this year, were halted by the Trump administration after a lobbying campaign by Crosby plant owner Arkema and its affiliated trade association, the American Chemistry Council:

Those rules — which would have taken effect on March 14 — were blocked by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. The move was a big win for the chemical industry that has spent more than $100 million supporting federal lawmakers since 2008.

Apparently, sacrifices must be made in the name of making America great.

The closures are not just disrupting markets; they’re also causing the release of toxic pollutants that pose a threat to human health. The NYT reports that damaged refineries and oil facilities have already released more than two million pounds of hazardous substances into the air.

The sheer number of facilities around Houston that have to come back online at the same time creates another huge emissions problem. From City Lab:

The real problem is that the plants are allowed to operate so close to residential areas in the first place. Houston’s lack of zoning regulations have been front-and-center in discussions about why Harvey has been so terrible for the city, and that’s no different in the discussion about air pollution.

Not to worry, Houston, your petrochemical corporations will be fine. They have insurance. They will get to write off any damage against their profits. They will get tax incentives to rebuild, or if they choose to move, tax credits from the town down the road.

The people? Most will have no insurance to rebuild their homes or to purchase new furniture.

And the pollution impact? A cost of doing business for the petrochemical industry.

Unfortunately, for the people, pollution’s about their health. And there will be no help forthcoming for the most vulnerable Houstonians.

Have a slice of Texas-themed music: Here is Robert Earl Keen, doing “Corpus Christi Bay” from his 1993 album “A Bigger Piece of Sky”:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 4, 2017

Re: The Trump severed head “joke”: Kathy Griffin isn’t funny, and this wasn’t a joke. Here’s the problem with what Griffin did: A joke has to be funny, and this simply wasn’t. The only message you can take from her severed Trump head photo is: “look at me, I’m Kathy Griffin!” Griffin is getting what she deserves for putting her desire for attention ahead of everything else.

Yes, she has the right to produce the image, but that doesn’t mean it has to be accepted by the rest of us. If you mimic what ISIS does to their victims, you deserve to lose your job on CNN. She needs to grow up; CNN did the right thing.

On to cartoons. Quite the week for climate change drama. Trump’s action on Paris could have been inspired by the Saudi sword dance, but it is it different than Griffin’s?

Trump said he was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris. Trump lost Pittsburgh to Clinton, and Pittsburg’s mayor says the city will follow the Paris Accords. But, in Trump speak:

Trump seems intent on completely eradicating the Obama legacy:

The news about back-channel communications with Russia leads to Jared Kushner:

The medicine in Trumpcare II is no better than in Trumpcare I:

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Saturday Soother – June 3, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Trolltunga (Troll’s Tongue) Norway – photo by B. Krustev

What is left to say about Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement? The world is looking at a post-agreement future as if we were standing on the edge of Troll’s Tongue. The Paris deal wasn’t a binding agreement, it was aspirational, with voluntary targets and no mechanism for enforcement. But, this quote from Abu Ivanka tells all:

At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country? We want fair treatment. We don’t want other countries and other leaders to laugh at us anymore.

This is the core problem with Trump’s view of the world: He and the members of his Party see the world agenda as a zero-sum game, in which only one nation can win. Therefore, we gotta win, or else we lose, and God forbid, we can’t lose. At anything.

Zero-sum thinking is what causes voluntary agreements to fail; they require non-zero sum thinking to succeed.

But, in a zero-sum world, there will always be someone in some country who thinks, rightly or wrongly, that they’re being screwed over, that other countries are using the climate issue to pursue an economic advantage.

In this case, Trump gets into power. He then abandons the agreement, or attempts to renegotiate it.

The new terms on offer will be unacceptable, possibly even designed to fail. So it will be with Trump, who is looking to force both China and India into binding targets in order to continue with the agreement. That’s what Republicans consider “fair treatment”.

In other climate news, the Tampa Bay Times points out that the hurricane season started with nobody in charge at FEMA or NOAA.

What could go wrong?

And farther south, a massive crack in the Antarctica ice shelf grew 11 miles in only 6 days.

But America’s coal miners gotta work. Trump is in thrall with an industry that is among those dying out in America. In March, the WaPo reported that:

The coal industry employed 76,572 people in 2014, the latest year for which data is available. That number includes not just miners but also office workers, sales staff and all of the other individuals who work at coal-mining companies.

That’s fewer people employed than at other shrinking industries, like travel agencies (99,888), used-car dealerships (138,000), or carwash employment (150,000).

Maybe Trump will gin up a reason why climate change is killing jobs in those industries as well.

You need to relax, you need to think about something other than Trump, Ivanka and Jared, or Putin and Megyn Kelly. In other words, you need to turn off your devices, sit quietly and take a long look out the window at the natural world. It helps if you can have a strong cuppa something while you kick back.

Wrongo recommends brewing some Sumatran Mandheling coffee (only $11.44 for 16 oz.) and some beautiful music. This morning, we are listening to a Russian and a Latvian singing beautifully together. Here are Anna Netrebko & Elina Garanca performing the Flower Duet by Léo Delibes at the Baden-Baden Opera Gala in 2007:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 23, 2017

Sorry for the lack of columns; Wrongo has an acute case of Trump Fatigue. It is difficult to: a) think of anyone or anything else, and b) when writing a column, everything seems linked to every other thing, and none of you want to read a thousand-word rant. On to the rich harvest of cartoons.

Le Pen’s ballots in today’s election in France may be enough to force the big box to open:

The March for Science, unsurprisingly, has opposition:

 

It isn’t enough to just think about the planet on Earth Day:

Fox replaces O’Reilly with another loser:

Why do we still call it the Presidency when the differences are so stark?

Why would millions of people willingly watch a real-time murder?

 

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