Showing posts with label Environment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Environment. Show all posts

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Unraveling of Democracy

It’s all so overwhelming, so disheartening, everything this country has stood for through so many presidencies, and now being sold to the highest bidder (I’m talking about principles).  A transactional President.  Let’s make a deal, Trump elbowing his way to the center of chaos, his ego knowing no bounds.  How could this have happened?  But more importantly, what can be done?


Let Congress and the appointee of the Justice Department do their job now investigating possible collusion with Russia in the election, presuming they are not thwarted.  I’ve argued in a previous entry that even without collusion, the gas-lighting, the poor timing of Comey coming out about more Clinton emails, and the exposure of the DNC communications by Wikileaks probably was just enough to tip the scales in four swing states.  Russia may have merely been the conductor of this dissonance, or, worse, perhaps the financial ties of the Trump empire to Russian oligarchy run deep.  Subpoenaing those tax returns that are under perpetual audit might do much to make that clearer. Hopefully that lies in the future.

Meanwhile, we are watching the dismantling of decades of foreign policy, trade, and environmental policy agreements, by a know-nothing administration under the cover story of creating jobs at all costs to our allies, and our environment.  Why? A show for his base. Corporatocracy.  Profit for those in power, sliding towards autocracy.

The withdrawal of the US from the Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions puts us in a select group with just two other countries, Syria and Nicaragua.  There are some 200 others still in the agreement.  Even Rex Tillerson, an ex CEO of Exxon, has advocated staying in the agreement.  So why does Trump want to withdraw?  Yes, we’ll hear about jobs (a canard, pure and simple, more the consequences of automation and that argument ignores the opportunities to create new jobs in technology and alternative energy) but it’s probably Trump’s ultimate f**k you to the world, something that obviously gives him pleasure.  He certainly doesn’t care about what people think, but that goes for psychopaths as well. 

“It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Mich., and Pittsburgh, Pa., along with many, many other locations within our great country before Paris, France,” he said. “It is time to make America great again.”  But this is not at the expense of Paris, Mr. President, it’s at the expense of the world including our own country.  When Mar-a-Lago is knee deep in sea water, perhaps you’ll rue removing this country from a position of leadership in climate change issues.

His first foreign trip was revealing.  In Saudi Arabia, he obviously felt right at home.  In fact, it sort of looked like Mar-a-Lago and his quarters in Trump Tower, the glittering gold, the grandiose chandeliers, the kind of digs and “respect” to which he feels entitled.  And he did “deals” -- $110 billion in arms. Ka-ching, ka-ching!.  But outside that comfort zone it was different. 

Trump left a “message” in the Book of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial for the Holocaust.” "It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends – so amazing & will never forget!"

“My friends.”  “Amazing.”  That’s it.  Just a few words, so vapid.

Here's what Barack Obama, then in the middle of his first presidential campaign, wrote when he visited in July 2008:  "I am grateful to Yad Vashem and all of those responsible for this remarkable institution. At a time of great peril and promise, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man's potential for great evil, but also our own capacity to rise up from tragedy and remake our world. Let our children come here, and know their history, so that they can add their voices to proclaim 'never again.' And may we remember those who perished, not only as victims, but also as individuals who hoped and loved and dreamed like us, and who have become symbols of the human spirit."

Is it no wonder he hates Barack Obama?  No matter how much wealth he amasses, he will never have an ounce of Obama’s humanity or intelligence or capacity for empathy.   

His G7 meeting with the Europeans was a disaster, they sizing him up for what he is: the ugly American.  Swaggering, braggadocio, nouveau riche, bullying his way past Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic for a photo-op, he assumed an alpha male pose and scowl.  It inspired the author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, to tweet “You tiny, tiny, tiny little man.”  I’m afraid that’s what most Europeans now think of us and our leader.  Shouldn’t that matter to all Americans? These are among (or were) our most steadfast allies.

Frankly, I'm ready to accept a President Pense if impeachment or resignation is the result of the investigation. Never thought I could type those words.

Read Tom Friedman’s breathtakingly brilliant op-ed piece in yesterday’s NYT,  Trump’s United American Emirate.  It is so succinct, prescient, a sadly true overview of what this country is becoming under Trump.

I’ve often praised Tom Friedman, even nine years ago writing a tongue in cheek piece advocating him for President.  In retrospect, I should have been serious.    

Read his entire essay.  Not a word should be missed.  But I am concluding by quoting some of his main bullet points:

Merkel is just the first major leader to say out loud what every American ally is now realizing: America is under new management. “Who is America today?” is the first question I’ve been asked on each stop through New Zealand, Australia and South Korea. My answer: We’re not the U.S.A. anymore. We’re the new U.A.E.: the United American Emirate…..

So any lingering Kennedyesque thoughts about us should be banished, I explained. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay no price, bear no burden, meet no hardship, support no friend, oppose no foe to assure the success of liberty — unless we’re paid in advance. And we take cash, checks, gold, Visa, American Express, Bitcoin and memberships in Mar-a-Lago.

The Trump doctrine is very simple: There are just four threats in the world: terrorists who will kill us, immigrants who will rape us or take our jobs, importers and exporters who will take our industries — and North Korea. Threats to democracy, free trade, the environment and human rights are no longer on our menu.
Climate Change: More violent storms; higher water levels

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Being There with The Donald

Donald Trump on climate change: "You have storms and you have rain and you have beautiful days." But his denial of the effects of global warming does not extend to his own properties.

Chance the Gardener: “In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.”

The latter is from Jerzy Kosinski's prophetic novel, Being There, written more than 40 years ago about a simple minded gardener, Chance, who is catapulted to political fame, becoming "Chauncey Gardiner" when the media mistakes his comment, "I like to watch my garden grow" as a metaphor for the economy.  In response to Chance’s statement, the President comments: “I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.” So, Donald for President and Chance for Vice President?

Duplicitous Donald also has embraced the NRA.  Perhaps climate change denial and ownership of assault weapons go hand in hand.  Guns for all (except for those on his own properties)! Oh, Donald et al., no one is trying to abolish the 2nd amendment.  We’re just trying to rid society of military style weaponry.

Finally, Google “Trump University,” a Donald-blessed bait and switch counterfeit “university” leading the gullible to believe they could become “rich” if they enrolled and paid up to $35,000 to learn his “secrets.”  Some 5,000 are now pursuing a lawsuit which Trump and his legion of lawyers have successfully buried until after the November election. These are the same disenfranchised middle class people he promises to help.  The only secret is his tax return.

And yet these contradictions and machinations only seem to vitalize his supporters.  Chauncey Gardiner is alive and well.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Inaugural Day Thoughts

Our friends, John and Lois, hosted a second Inaugural party, some thirty guests to witness the ceremonial swearing in of the President and his speech.  What a difference four years make.  Last time it was a euphoric party, imagine, a young black president, imbued with liberal ideals, but with an economy that had already shown signs of complete collapse the joy was somewhat restrained by worry.

Four years later, the intransigence of government compromise has given way to more temperate expectations.  However, none of this detracted from the day, a remarkable, very moving, and humbling exercise of the democratic process with the pageantry instilling a quiet pride and hopefulness in us and the sea of faces that swept across the National Mall.

Everything about it was just about perfect, even the weather cooperating.  President Obama's speech was aspirational and progressive, touching upon many of the themes of his presidency and introducing the sorely needed goal of combating climate change.  Perhaps he will make that the hallmark of his second term as universal healthcare was in his first.  In spite of the overwhelming need to face this issue realistically, action has been lacking.  Here is an interesting pro/con alignment of opinions on this subject (hat tip Barry Ritholtz's The Big Picture).

This will become yet another clash in Congress.  To fully understand the severity of political polarization, one only has to read comments about Obama's reelection such as Texas Representative John Culberson's: I grieve for the country....We’re going to throw the emergency brake on as best we can and fight him every step of the way.  Welcome to your second term, Mr. President!

A key phrase from the Inaugural speech, we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it, was also Obama's central point when he was campaigning and will probably be the fulcrum of budgeting and tax reform.  But this is going to be a more complex problem as there are systemic reasons behind this widening gap that go far beyond the reach of mere tax reform legislation.  The New York Times magazine section this Sunday carried a relatively brief but pointed article on "skill-biased technical change:" The rise of networked laptops and smartphones and their countless iterations and spawn have helped highly educated professionals create more and more value just as they have created barriers to entry and rendered irrelevant millions of less-educated workers, in places like factory production lines and typing pools.

Thus, workers having technology skills, mostly those in information industry professions, law, finance, engineering, and medicine, have disproportionately benefited from those skills at the expense of blue collar workers who have been forced into the service economy at lower wages.  Having technology skills is tantamount to buying on margin, being able to leverage those skills for much greater compensation.

So when President Obama tries to put through legislation to reverse this course, it has to take into account not only tax reform, but massive educational reform and the effects of that will not be immediate, but rather long term, maybe measured in generations, like the progress made in civil rights.  Do we have the fortitude and patience?

And, then there is the deficit and reducing the National Debt.  We could embrace the best parts of the Simpson-Bowles plan (so eagerly commissioned by both parties as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and then the results so immediately distanced by both)  No one wants to face up to their recommendations.  Our massive National Debt in part was incurred to save our financial system from ruin, but it did not occur overnight.  Quick and easy fixes are impossible. But, if we get the direction right, and gradually phase in some of the Commission's recommendations, perhaps we can then move forward on that front.

But do our politicians have the right stuff?  This is where presidential leadership is so sorely needed. President Obama threw down the gauntlet in his speech about the need for action -- even "imperfect" action -- a veiled suggestion of compromise.  There were two beautifully crafted paragraphs about the dangers of taking intransigent positions based on ideology in his speech:

That is our generation’s task -- to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.  Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness.  Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.  

For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay.  We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.   We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

Finally, a bit of serendipity.  Does life imitate art? I had noted that Aaron Sorkin's 1995 classic The American President, directed by Rob Reiner, was on TV the same night as the inaugural.  We've seen it before but Ann and I, in a "presidential inauguration mood," said, what the heck, we'll watch it again (thanks Encore, no commercial interruptions).  Talk about a feel good movie and how incredibly relevant although made almost twenty years ago.   The focus of fictional President Andrew Shepherd's administration is to pass a crime bill (with assault weapon gun control) and an environmental bill that mandates the reduction of hydrocarbon emissions. Meanwhile, a right wing political demagogue, Senator Bob Rumson, is running against Shepherd's reelection, appealing to "family values" of Americans, by attacking Shepherd's relationship with Sydney Ellen Wade (Shepherd is a widower in the film).  Have things changed so little in the almost twenty years since the film's making?  Unresolved issues of gun control, environmental protection, and campaign character assault go on and on.

The film's President Andrew Shepherd initially takes the high road, concentrating on the issues rather than the personal attacks until he appears at an unscheduled and impromptu news conference and gives an impassioned, unrehearsed speech.  Perhaps all our politicians should see this movie once every four years (I realize that Sorkin writes with his own political agenda -- even I think that eliminating handguns cannot be on the lumped in with assault weapons --  but taking that into account, still there is much to be gleaned from this wonderful and eerily relevant script).  Here is what "President Shepherd" says:

For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested that being president of this country was, to a certain extent, about character, and although I have not been willing to engage in his attacks on me, I've been here three years and three days, and I can tell you without hesitation: Being President of this country is entirely about character. For the record: yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. But the more important question is why aren't you, Bob? Now, this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question: Why would a senator, his party's most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the Constitution? If you can answer that question, folks, then you're smarter than I am, because I didn't understand it until a few hours ago. America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free". I've known Bob Rumson for years, and I've been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn't get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob's problem isn't that he doesn't get it. Bob's problem is that he can't sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. And wave an old photo of the President's girlfriend and you scream about patriotism and you tell them, she's to blame for their lot in life, and you go on television and you call her a whore. Sydney Ellen Wade has done nothing to you, Bob. She has done nothing but put herself through school, represent the interests of public school teachers, and lobby for the safety of our natural resources. You want a character debate, Bob? You better stick with me, 'cause Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league.

I've loved two women in my life. I lost one to cancer, and I lost the other 'cause I was so busy keeping my job I forgot to do my job. Well, that ends right now. Tomorrow morning, the White House is sending a bill to Congress for its consideration. It's White House Resolution 455, an energy bill requiring a 20 percent reduction of the emission of fossil fuels over the next ten years. It is by far the most aggressive stride ever taken in the fight to reverse the effects of global warming. The other piece of legislation is the crime bill. As of today, it no longer exists. I'm throwing it out. I'm throwing it out writing a law that makes sense. You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and handguns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I'm gonna convince Americans that I'm right, and I'm gonna get the guns. We've got serious problems, and we need serious people, and if you want to talk about character, Bob, you'd better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I'll show up. This is a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up. My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I am the President.

What a way to cap off Inauguration Day.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Engineering Failures and World-Wide Consequences

The similarities between the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the ongoing nuclear Fukushima Daiichi crisis in Japan are striking.

Both were unimaginable before they happened. Both the nuclear facility and the oil rig had what was thought to be containment and shut down protection, as well as redundancy features, in the event of a serious accident. In each case, these systems failed. The response to each event was similar, a series of improvisational Hail Mary attempts to mitigate the damage, resembling a disaster movie in slow motion. Each catastrophe has long term consequences to the earth's ecosystem and human health, way beyond the immediate geographic area of its origin. The lack of contingency planning in Gulf crisis is evident again in the Japan disaster.

Surely, given the facts of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island there are commonalities with Fukushima Daiichi. No doubt the first line of defense in the construction of a nuclear facility or a deep water drilling rig has to be containment and redundancy features and bulletproof regulatory oversight, first at the national level, but perhaps with international participation as well. Too bad the UN is not a more effective institution. It needs to be in this area.

Any country that constructs these engineering marvels, for drilling oil in the deepest of oceans, or generating nuclear power, facilities that have world-wide consequences when they fail, should be required by the world community to maintain a national task force with readily available and deployable equipment to deal with catastrophic failure (rather than totally relying on the company responsible such as Tokyo Electric Power or BP). How much time was lost in dealing with Fukushima Daiichi when the tsunami destroyed its redundant pumps and power generating equipment?

Perhaps this may be oversimplification, but if we have the technology to create these engineering leviathans, we should also have the resources for a nuclear (and deep water drilling rig) immediate response task force, a small army trained for this once in a generation disaster, with the necessary deployable equipment (such as generators that could have been airlifted immediately to the Fukushima Daiichi site allowing the resumption of core cooling systems). We only need the universal will. Meanwhile, we all helplessly watch this terrible disaster unfolding in Japan.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Spill, Baby, Kill

The first heartbreaking images of oil-soaked, dying wildlife are now reaching the media, a reminder of the Exxon Alaska disaster. When will we ever learn that technology is not a failsafe solution and we have no business drilling in 5,000 feet of water without ironclad contingency plans? And, now, this is in our own backyard. Indeed, we might as well have set off a nuclear bomb in the Gulf of Mexico, as the long-term effects will be similar. Barring a quick capping of the “spill” a wasteland waits, destroying the delicate ecosystem along our very borders, and inevitably to the promised economic recovery as well.

New supercomputer studies suggest it is "very likely" ocean currents will carry oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico around the tip of Florida and thousands of miles up the U.S. East Coast this summer. Perhaps Washington will finally get the message when the Gulf Stream delivers some of this oil to the Potomac River.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Perfect Storm

It is Memorial Day weekend, one of profound sadness, for the service men and women who gave their lives for our country, and now what seems like a deathwatch for the fragile ecology of the Gulf of Mexico.

The latest failure on the part of BP to stop the oil leak in the Gulf via a “top kill,” one that was said to have a 60-70% probability of succeeding, now seems like just another attempt to string along an anxious nation until the “permanent fix” of drilling an intercept relief well is supposed to be concluded in August.

Now there is a new stop gap “plan,” which involves cutting off the damaged riser and capping it with a containment valve. Per BP: "We're confident the job will work but obviously we can't guarantee success," pretty much what was said of the top kill method. So we can all hope that this is not just more media hype and cutting the damaged riser does not just release more oil. One cynically gets the sense, watching all of these improvised attempts, that we’ve seen this movie before, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland (the Government and BP) saying “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!”

Here’s the “perfect storm” scenario: NOAA’s forecast that the impending hurricane season being nearly as active as the one in 2005 and the possible impact on the rescue and cleanup activity by the armada of ships and platforms and miles and miles of containment booms in the Gulf.

It is speculation as to how a Katrina might further spread oil inland or even suck up and deposit surface oil in its torrential rain-making machine, but one thing is clear: clean up efforts and relief well drilling would be profoundly effected. The combination of the spill and an active hurricane season is an environmental catastrophe of even more untold proportions. And it bears noting that early season named storms are more likely to form nearby, particularly in the Gulf and the Caribbean.

The only potential “good” to come from this might be our country’s willingness to make the sacrifices we made in fighting wars, pulling together as a nation and declaring energy independence via alternative energy. I am not some Pollyanna thinking that we can suddenly drive our energy needs via alternative means. We need better technology, an improved infrastructure, and be willing to pay a steep tax on fossil fuels to support such efforts.

But that is what it is all about: the national willpower to achieve this objective and to save our environment as well. President Kennedy declared that we would put a man on the moon in ten years at the beginning of the 1960’s; we can do the same for alternative energy today. Since we seemed doomed to forever plan using a rear view mirror, this might be the only good that can come from this disaster.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

(Lack of) Contingency Planning

It is sickening to watch the unfolding environmental and economic tragedy in the Gulf. I know nothing about the business of drilling for oil, but even in the modest publishing business I ran for decades, contingency planning had to be formalized and a high priority on an ongoing basis. One needs to be prepared for the unthinkable. In our business, we built safeguards and redundancies in case our business data was wiped out or there was a natural disaster such as a flood. Of course, if such a disaster did occur and if all our planning failed, it would have affected little more than our business and our authors and customers. One would think that disaster planning for companies in the business of drilling for oil along our fragile coast would be of a magnitude and comprehensiveness befitting the potential consequences, to not only their own business, but to the environment as well.

BP’s (and presumably the oil industry’s) singular reliance on a device known as a blowout preventer to circumvent such a disaster seems to be a plan without any backup plan. Isn’t this where the federal government should have had an active role – overseeing any drilling of this nature, requiring not only a first line of safeguards, but a disaster plan that can be immediately implemented in the event the first line fails? Much more, so much more, is at stake here.

Now we are told that BP has contracted to have three huge rectangular concrete and steel chambers built that can be lowered onto each of the three leaks. Apparently, this, too, is not without risk, but it may be the best chance at stemming the flow. These will be ready in about a week! Meanwhile, oil continues to gush. Why, why, are not such chambers ready for immediate deployment around the Gulf? It seems that, like with Hurricane Katrina, we are doomed to “plan” using a rear view mirror, drilling, baby, drilling our planet into oblivion.