That Carbon Dioxide Tipping Point

I file this under politics because it is politics that is blinding us.

The oil industry* and their paid shills (known as deniers)** made a few waves recently when, in a carefully-worded survey of climate scientists, fewer than half were willing to single out carbon dioxide as the single greatest contributor to global warming.

“Half of all Scientists disagree with climate change!” was the nonsensical conclusion. A slightly-less-nonsensical conclusion was “Humans create carbon dioxide; if that’s not the primary driver of global warming, then warming is not because of humans.”

But let’s look at that for a moment. There’s another conclusion, and while it’s much more reasonable, it’s also much more scary: Carbon Dioxide isn’t the the primary driver of global warming any more. We’ve crossed a tipping point.

Meet Methane, and the point of no return.

While CO2 was the problem, there was something we could do about it: produce less CO2. Let the algae and the rain forests (whoops!) absorb the surplus back, and let our planet return to its previous equilibrium. We dithered, and denied, and the tundra began to thaw. Now the tundra is burping up enormous amounts of methane.

As a greenhouse gas, methane makes CO2 look like a punk kid with missing teeth.

So if many scientists don’t think Carbon Dioxide is the biggest contributor any more, that doesn’t mean they don’t believe the surface of our planet is getting hotter, it means that the game has changed. It means things have moved to a stage that we cannot reverse just by suddenly not being so selfish and short-sighted. It means there is nothing we can do to stop the change, and the sooner we turn our efforts to dealing with it, the less it will hurt.

But man, it’s gonna hurt.

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* shorthand for all carbon-based energy companies
** almost all the publicized climate-change deniers are on the energy company payrolls. I say “almost” only because there are probably a few who are just stupid.

Moving On

Well, Donald Trump got almost as many votes as Hillary Clinton (some people’s votes don’t count as much as others), and now he’s going to be our next president. I’m going to have to take the same advice I would have given Trump’s supporters had the election gone the other way: “Suck it up, buttercup.”

In the interest of healing a fractured nation, and focussing my resolve, I will no longer (publicly) insult Trump. I will certainly criticize flaws in his policies (should he ever articulate any policies), and I will comment on all current and new criminal investigations brought against him. But no more (public) name-calling.

The same goes for his followers. Some of them will realize, as time passes, that their jobs are NOT coming back — in fact they’re vanishing faster than ever — and the community college system they could have used to move to a new career is withering and dying. They will realize that even more people are being grievously hurt by drinking their own tap water, and that pollution from fracking is killing their children. They will notice that terrorism didn’t just vanish.

Some of the people who voted for Trump yesterday will realize that they’ve been hoodwinked, and perhaps make another decision in four years. Others will continue to blame whatever scapegoat they are handed next and respond with the logic “If Trump’s not getting it done, what we need is more Trump.”

There’s not much I can do about that latter group, but name-calling won’t help. All I can do is be civil, provide a contrast to the shouting coming out of their noise-boxes, stand up for the truth, watch out for my neighbors, and hope that after four years the thieves leave with all they can carry but don’t actually light the house on fire.

Whoops. This is going to be really difficult.

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Voted! But dang…

I sat down with my ballot and reference materials today, and went through each choice. It took a couple of hours, and only went that fast because I had read some before. Choosing the candidates was relatively easy; but this is California, and that means a host of propositions and measures to vote on, some of them interdependent. A few impressions:

  • Some are obvious rich-people-buying-legislation ploys, while others are actual power-to-the-people moves. Others are rich-people-proposing-something-that-sounds-like-the-power-to-the-people-to-confuse-voters initiatives.
  • Less confusing, but annoying, are the legislators-dodging-doing-their-own-jobs propositions.
  • And let’s not forget the complete-waste-of-time “advisory” initiative.
  • It’s often hard to vote simply on principle. I couldn’t vote on improving public transportation and non-car infrastructure without also voting to dump billions more into roads. I was given a choice of helping the homeless in a way I’m skeptical of, or doing nothing to help them (at a government level) at all.
  • Schools in California are absolutely dependent on debt. If all the bonds are rejected, will our government finally be forced to put education in the actual budget?

I can’t imagine doing something this complicated just showing up at a voting station. California’s proposition system makes voting far too complex for traditional voting methods. Fixing it will likely require a complex proposition, which will be buried on a ballot with other rival propositions designed specifically to prevent anything from changing.

Things I Would Say as a Candidate…

… and why I would never get elected.

  1. Those jobs are gone, buckaroo. They’re not coming back. Worldwide, manufacturing jobs are declining. Don’t blame the Chinese and the Mexicans, blame the robots. (Side note, this is exactly the reason we were so excited about robots forty years ago.)
  2. The retirement age has to go up. The whole idea of Social Security was sort of an enforced savings account. Regular folk didn’t have the foresight to save for the future, so the government decided to do it for them. But rather than structure it as a regular savings account they did the math assuming you would die at a certain age. As people live longer, the math has to change. No biggie, right?
  3. Except they looted Social Security anyway. The system is living hand to mouth; all those savings gone. What should be a vault with trillions of dollars instead has a slip of paper in it with the letters “IOU”. The problem is, the people who borrowed the money don’t show it as a debt on their books. As if they had no intention of paying it back. People at Enron went to jail for exactly this. The workers at Enron never recovered.
  4. Miami is fucked. So is New Orleans, and other great coastal cities. If you live in one of those places, sell now before people catch on. Where I live… borderline, but I won’t get storm surges (even when the typhoon track turns north). It is simply too late to change our energy policies enough to save those places.
  5. Oil is too damn cheap. The low price of oil damages far more than you know. Just one example: While massive boats burn incredibly dirty fuel, out-polluting entire cities to bring us cheap foreign goods, local businesses wither. You want to bring the jobs back home? Stop buying things brought to our shores for practically free, only to pay the price later when Corpus Christie is evacuated.
  6. We are in conflict with radical Islam because of oil. If we weren’t propping up dictatorships in the Middle East, if we weren’t pumping great piles of cash to some pretty terrible people, if we we weren’t knocking over governments to keep the oil flowing, we could be part of the solution, rather than the bankroll for the problem.
  7. Fracking… At the risk of harping on oil too much, the environmental free pass frackers have been given makes me sick to my stomach.
  8. Military spending should be based on effectiveness for a relevant mission. Not jobs, not kickbacks to politicians. This isn’t welfare, it’s the security of our country.
  9. Give me your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. We’re going to need those guys as we get older and Social Security goes belly-up. And maybe we take “breathing free” for granted. Ask people fleeing oppression what our nation stands for. Sometimes we forget.

There are more. I could probably say one thing a week to keep the memes humming over the course of a hopeless campaign.

There are other things I would also say, positive things, about the really great things this country is and could be. About ways to Keep America Great. Because this is a great country. We have some tough choices to make in the coming decades, and we will be challenged to overcome the sins of past leaders who dodged those questions. But if we can find a way to work harmoniously with the majority of nations on this planet who act like adults, there’s every reason to believe we can come through the coming trials intact.

We just have to stop fooling ourselves first.

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Hillary Clinton’s Emails

There’s a lot of talk about Clinton’s handing of email while she was boss of the State Department, and for all the yakkin’ by both parties, there hasn’t been a lot of movement. A big problem with the whole discussion is this: it’s not a single issue. There are two accusations, (almost) completely unrelated, but the whole “Hillary Email” debate treats it like a single thing.

Clinton is accused of behaving irresponsibly by keeping her emails on a server that was not secured by the US government, and she is also accused of sending email with secret information to people who should not have seen those secrets. Important to remember through this whole thing: she could just as easily have forwarded those emails from an official State Department server.

So we can separate the two accusations and not get all mixed up when people refute arguments about one accusation with evidence concerning the other. Two separate debates, focussed on the two separate questions.

Here’s my take on each.

The Server
Using her own server was clearly against the rules. No one is disputing this. Clinton’s defense is entirely about the circumstances, which she claims justifies the choice. Looking at the circumstances, she has some pretty strong points. Basically, the State Department’s own email servers sucked so bad that Colin Powell advised her to use her own server. We know this because Clinton released her personal emails, including her conversation with Powell on the subject.

And don’t forget, the State Department servers were hacked. If Clinton hired me, I guarantee I can secure emails better than the United States Department of State does. And I’m by no means a security expert.

Conclusion: “Everyone’s doing it” is not really a defense, but I’d listen to her accusers more if they also put the heat on “everyone”.

The Secrets
The question here is “did Clinton knowingly share information that was secret?” Knowingly is of course a trap word, but we can change the question to “did Clinton share information that was marked as secret with the wrong people?” While investigators have made fairly broad accusations in public, when grilled under oath they have not come up with much. Things that are secret now were shared, that’s pretty certain. Much less clear: were they secret when they were shared, and were they marked as secret when Clinton got that information?

By the way, does it seem faintly absurd to classify information after the fact?

This issue is made more complex by the whole network of security classifications and clearances. People who can juggle plutonium can’t read ships’ manifests.

At this point, with only a small sample of emails reviewed, and millions of taxpayer dollars to go to review the rest, no smoking gun has been found. The whole “(c) is for Classified” argument is apparently false, or at best misleading. The people who talk big clam up when under oath.

Still, I’m sure if we dig hard enough we’ll find a Leaked Secret or ten. None as bad as Dick Cheney blowing the cover of a CIA agent for petty political reasons, but Cheney’s not the criminal under investigation here. I’d go so far as to say that it’s not possible for the Secretary of State to do her job, moving information all around the world, without tripping over information restrictions occasionally.

Still, “honest mistake” isn’t the best defense. People in a position like that aren’t supposed to make mistakes, as unrealistic as that expectation is. I’d listen to her accusers more if they also investigated other, more flagrantly dishonest officials as well.

In summary, my take on these two issues can be expressed thus: Clinton did some things wrong, and I look forward to the day when everyone in Washington is held to the same standards she is. That will be a very good day.

Republican Conservatives Find their Voices (at last)

For years, the Republicans have been making promises to the so-called “religious conservatives”, even though they had no intention of keeping those promises once elected. “Overturn Roe v Wade!” is trotted out, the Evangelical Christians punch the ‘R’ button in the voting booth, then the slogan is packed away until the next election.

But Republicans have found themselves more and more dependent on the Religious Right and other factions even farther out there that John McCain calls “the crazies”.

The crazies have taken their revenge. The conservatives of the Republican party swallowed their tongues as suddenly all the leading candidates in the primary rush were crazy-fueled WWE candidates. The conservatives remained silent, fearful of pissing off the crazies, hoping that out of this mess somehow rational minds would prevail. They bit their tongues as the crazies took over the engine room and pushed the Enterprise to warp 9 and pointed it directly at the sun.

I did not plan to use a Star Trek metaphor, but by Skippy I’m running with it.

McCain and Kaisch and a host of others now see that the ship is gong to blow up if they don’t do something. McCain blasted Trump. A gaggle of 50 influential Republicans just gave him the finger. Money that would have backed a rational Republican is landing in Democratic pockets. Money follows winners.

Senators in close races are distancing themselves from the national stink-bomb that is Trump. The conservative press (not to be confused with infotainment like Fox) has turned on the man. Trump is running out of supporters to alienate.

Leaks come out that party bosses are drawing up contingency plans should Trump quit. Other leaks say the top Republicans are “phoning in” their campaign support for their presidential nominee. Those leaks aren’t about the presidential election, they’re about the senate and the house.

The conservatives are speaking, at last. I don’t agree with some of the things they say, but at least they’re talking about policy, in actual sentences. If all these wise conservatives had found the backbone to speak six months ago, we might be looking at a very different election. Now, they are just trying to emerge from this election with some semblance of a party. They’re putting all power to the shields and hoping they still have a ship on the other side of the sun.

Post Script: Democrats, learn the lesson here. You make empty promises to labor every cycle, using them the same way Republicans use Christians. Bernie gave you fair warning that you’re not getting away with shit any longer.

Trump and Idiots

I have, on several occasions, said that people who vote for Trump are idiots. Having read the excellent article Why Trump Voters are not Complete Idiots I have been forced to question my stance.

The article, if I may be so bold as to recast, turns the US into a two-story house. The folks on the ground floor get by, the folks upstairs do well. By any measure, I’m living upstairs.

It’s important to note that while money is a big factor in where you think you live, it is not the only factor. Income is only one way one’s value in society is defined. Respect from those around you is another. Upstairs people feel more valued.

There’s no guaranteed pass to the upper floor, but a college education is pretty damn close to one. Go to college, move upstairs. And here’s where the core resentment toward immigrants comes in. It’s not the illegal immigrants coming in on the ground floor that rankle, it’s the legal immigrants, the educated ones, who step right onto the upstairs that piss people off.

It’s not how well you’re doing, it’s how well you’re doing compared to the other guy.

So Liberals and Democrats (not at all the same groups) make two basic promises: 1) we will make living on the ground floor suck less, and 2) we will make it easier for your kids to go upstairs.

But for a man just getting by, with his kids already past “college age”, there’s not a lot of upside there. He remembers when just being a hard-working man doing his job and not bitching too much was enough to feel secure in this country. Maybe he couldn’t get upstairs, but hard work meant something, and he could be confident that his family would be taken care of. For that guy, that was when America was great.

Trump, while not offering anything specific at all, implies that he will restore America to those good old days. But he isn’t offering to make living on the ground floor better, he wants you to believe that he’s changing the rules for who gets to live upstairs. For people who feel stuck downstairs and degraded by assholes like me calling them idiots, maybe it’s time to change the rules.

It gets a little ugly, though, when you consider that during this mythical period when America was great, the upstairs was occupied almost exclusively by white men. So when he talks about going back to the good ol’ days, he’s talking to the working white men whose fortunes have flatlined while all the other demographics in this country have caught up. But he’s making it a white-men-vs-the-world proposition. Sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much.

These folks have heard all the political double-speak before, but there they sit, downstairs, even while brown and yellow college-educated kids skip up to the luxury suites without breaking a sweat. Time to shake things up! Time to value the people who work with their hands, who actually make stuff. So people in the making-stuff group who want to shake things up are not inherently idiots. They are following an agenda that, at least superficially, gives them the better chance to get upstairs. The Democrats are telling them their grandchildren will have a more fair shot at the stairs, but that’s far away.

Blow up the system. When the debris stops falling, who knows who will be on top?

So far, that makes sense. But there’s still the question: Is Trump the guy to do that?

Let’s take another look at those good ol’ days. When a working man could provide for his family and maybe even send his kids to college. Or at least technical school, or a skilled apprenticeship. Those days actually existed, not long ago.

Was it the Republicans, or the white men upstairs that created those conditions? Well, no. Not even remotely. It was the labor unions. The Great America Trump wants us to remember is the America when workers had power. When there was dignity in labor and a comfortable life even while the fat cats upstairs got rich.

So, white men who remember a better past, is Trump really going to return us to those days? Will he restore the power of the unions?

Hell, no.

He couldn’t if he tried, and he’s not going to try. Among the many lawsuits Trump has settled, there are the union-busting ones. He is famous for shitting on the working-class people. Gleeful, even. He is the worst thing that could possibly happen to the working-class joe in this country. He is a spoiled rich man with a long history of disregard for the people he is now asking to put him in the White House.

So, back to my premise: are people idiots for voting for a fundamental change to the system? No. Not if they don’t believe that we are on a path that makes things better for their grandchildren.

But are they idiots for voting for Trump? Yes, absolutely. Trump is one of the people who put them where they are, and he has no intention of changing that. Just ask that man of the people over in Russia.

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