Thursday, November 16, 2017

America's Fateful Choice

As we approach the climax of the USA's fourth turning, a national consensus is brewing on the nature of our crisis and the way to overcome it. It hardly appears that renewed warning cries from concerned scientists are what we are preparing to rally around. Americans are loath to allow global concerns to trump our privileged status. On the other hand, threats to our great nation could lead us to intervene globally, saying with Lucifer, 'Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Paradise.' Only one problem with that: Lucifer is immortal. Mankind is not.

Hell could overwhelm Earth regardless of who reigns if humanity does not rally in the next few years to reclaim what we can of this lost Paradise. Then, what will it matter whether Putin, Xi, or Trump wore the one ring to rule them all? It is not just a matter of quality of life, it is a matter of life and death - for everyone.

A war between great powers, while culling masses from our overpopulated planet, will only delay action and waste resources needed to resolve the ecological crisis. If the war goes nuclear, it would doom untold millions even more quickly by accelerating the collapse of earth systems.

By James Vaughn
As Old Blowhard acts out his China policy, we will soon have a better idea of the USA's propensity to ignite the nuclear fuse. A war between the U.S. and Russia is now doubtful, but, unless the Un-President's Asia trip marks a real change of tone toward our next near-peer competitor, doomsday could be in the offing.  Let's hope that Xi realizes that the Fatty Trumpling is just a blowhard and also, that said blowhard would find a Gameboy should he ever pop open the nuclear 'football.' If his future actions vis-a-vis China comport with the airs he displayed while visiting, then we should be relieved. The strategic situation calls for retreat, not saber rattling.

When the two possible alternatives are permanent human extinction or a temporary era of difficulty, eliminating the first choice should be a no brainer. Are we such misanthropes that we would risk the lives of billions of humans just for a chance at greater personal freedom? Better for a nation to endure, for a spell, even the indignity of subjugation, than to endanger the whole world with annihilation. In the culmination of our secular crisis, whatever beligerence Old Blowhard engenders with China, let our singular consensus be to reject fratricidal war and, instead, turn as a nation to the intergenerational project of saving the planet.

Thursday, November 9, 2017


Leading up to COP-23 being held this week in Bonn, Germany, a flurry of reports on climate progress and solutions have been released by NGOs and governments. Drawdown was one of the early arrivals, but in the past couple of weeks, we have seen the annual Countdown report by The Lancet, a National Academy of Sciences (U.S.) report called Natural Climate Solutions, the fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment (Vol. 1), and the eighth annual Emissions Gap Report by the UN Environmental Program.

Of these, I gravitate toward Natural Climate Solutions, which is an independent update of work included in IPCC Working Group III (WGIII) for the greenhouse gas inventory sector referred to as agriculture, forestry, and other land use (AFOLU).  +Albert Bates offers a good case for prioritizing NCS, predicated by the understanding that these ecosystem solutions are only a small part of human activity required to prevent climate chaos. In NCS, as opposed to other remedial efforts, nature cooperates in restoring climate equilibrium, though humans, in their proper domineering role, intervene to initiate and manage that renewal.

Biochar, my chosen interest, ranks pretty high among NCS solutions, despite use of much lower estimates than scientists have offered. The NCS authors took pains to ensure no overlap when they compiled these, but in doing so, probably missed some synergies, partly because biochar is not just good for thirty years, but for hundreds of years. For biochar, synergies are possible with fire management, improved forest plantations, reforestation, trees in croplands, improved feed, crop nutrient management, conservation agriculture, and rice cultivation.

Granted, the problem we face must be dealt with quickly, but a long view puts the carbon net present value of biochar much higher than such a crisis management evaluation would include. For example, suppose reforestation included soil-ready biochar in the initial planting and added to the periphery of each tree's root tips each year for thirty years. That tree will likely grow healthy and live a hundred years or more, with larger and more plentiful roots, sequestering much more carbon than trees absent biochar. Those synergies were not assumed in the reforestation category or the biochar category. Another example of synergy, regardless of biochar's longevity, is the use of beetle-killed trees in providing biochar feedstock. This make biochar production more economical and helps with fire management and natural forest management.

Though synergies aren't accounted for in the NCS estimates (but possibly inadvertently included in the uncertainty ranges), they are still acknowledged in the larger sustainability context. The Nature Conservancy's summation concludes:
Most nature climate solutions—if effectively implemented—also offer water filtration, flood buffering, improved soil health, protection of biodiversity habitat, and enhanced climate resilience.
“The approach is synergistic,” says Justin Adams, managing director for Global Lands at the Nature Conservancy. “We can hit multiple targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals if we get this right.”

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Death Spiral

This week, the British medical journal, The Lancet, put out their annual assessment on the impact of climate change on human health. The report examines a small number of human health indicators and a much larger slate of human climate intervention measures to arrive at the conclusion that:
Many of the trends show positive change with time, most notably in global investment in zero-carbon energy supply, energy efficiency, new coal-fired electricity capacity, employment in the renewable energy sector, and divestment in fossil fuels. However, the change is relatively slow and must accelerate rapidly to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
Just how slow the change has been and how rapidly it must be accelerated is the subject of a report, also issued this week, by financial gurus from Stanford and the Hoover Institute. Both of these reports are a bit too opaque for the general reader, but the Energy 202 clarifies one salient point from the latter, i.e. that 2/3 of all private investment capital would have to go to clean energy projects in order for the world to meet the 2 C upper limit set by the Paris agreement.  Right now, the proportion of investment in this sector is less than 1/5 out of the total $3.4 trillion invested by pension, mutual, and sovereign wealth funds, alongside billionaires. So much for The Lancet report's saving grace, huh?

As we would expect in a report about human health effects, mortality due to weather-related disasters and diseases is reported by The Lancet. The figures appear to be fairly steady over the past ten years - nothing to get excited about. For that, one needs to look at forecasts, rather than statistics.

From Albert Bates at The Great Change
One forecast that includes global death rates is The Limits to Growth. The notional curve portrayed in this World 3 result shows deaths beginning to climb within the next few years as food scarcity kicks in and industry output declines. Sometime before 2050, deaths begin to skyrocket. A forecast curve showing climate-related deaths only, by Sam Carana, shows a similar steep rise in the next few years after being lulled by such steady, predictable death rates over the past half century. 

Point being, that we can't expect to keep seeing a stable death rate, whether due to climate factors or in general. Life is going to become much more precarious. The Lancet understates the severity of our predicament, but deserves the last word for prompting this look at how close we might be to human extinction.
We found that the symptoms of climate change have been clear for a number of years, with the health impacts far worse than previously understood... Climate change has serious implications for our health, wellbeing, livelihoods, and the structure of organised society. Its direct effects result from rising temperatures and changes in the frequency and strength of storms, floods, droughts, and heatwaves—with physical and mental health consequences. The impacts of climate change will also be mediated through less direct pathways, including changes in crop yields, the burden and distribution of infectious disease, and in climate-induced population displacement and violent conflict.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Genocidal War Against Nature

You hear it a lot from this President. His favorite put down: "He (she) is low energy." It is a bit odd that energy seems to be a critical attribute that Old Blowhard applies to his assessments.

Trumpists can't abide low energy. Their leader, The Pretender to the Presidency, recently gifted them with the promise of, not merely high energy, but Energy Dominance - a big relief to them, because they were beginning to sense that energy was running low. Shale oil isn't living up to their dreams, so they are leaning more toward more remote sources like deep ocean beds. With shortages projected for 2018 and the price of oil moving up, it would not surprise me to see investment rise in this area.

In the spirit of Energy Dominance, the biggest lease auction ever of offshore oil and gas drilling rights has been announced by the Department of the Interior for everything left in the Gulf of Mexico. (Shouldn't the Department of the Exterior handle these?) While the auctions should result in more takers than under the previous administration (when oil prices were ridiculously low), the operating and insurance cost of deep-water rigs makes returns-per-barrel less lucrative. Then there's the push to drill on the Atlantic seaboard, which some, like Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, are resisting. The Arctic is also becoming more open to drilling, thanks to global warming. We sure can't be dominant unless we compete in that theater.

While a call for U.S. energy dominance may sound like a prelude to resource wars, I think these untapped domestic undersea regions will yield enough extra oil to endure the current power-obsessed regime with a modicum of energy. Oil may not incite the next war - not war in the usual sense, anyway.

The war that a policy of energy dominance perpetuates is one that has enveloped the whole world for decades - a genocidal war against nature. Together with the global effects on climate, compound effects from pollution and habitat loss impact ecosystems to various degrees. Climate change, itself, is not at a likely tipping point, but species diversity is in the red zone, at least in many locales.

Planetary Boundaries 2015 from Wikimedia Commons

Keep in mind that we are just one of millions of species on this planet. Extinction of other species could lead to that of our own. Even if God issues you a dominion mandate, the Creator doesn't want you to use it for genocide. Say a prayer for The Pretender. He knoweth not what he does.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Letting Off Steam over Leaky Pipes

Being skeptical of the natural gas boom and, in particular, Dominion-Cove Point's ability to operate for very long, if at all, due to a diminishing reserve of natural gas to export, working to prevent this from happening has not been high on my agenda. However, if tonight's Maryland Public Service Commission hearing in my town was of any help in slowing the runaway train of this plant's start-up, I will be pleased.

I addressed the commission tonight with regard to the changes sought by Dominion alleviating the limits on how much volatile organic compounds (VOCs) could be discharged from leaky pipes and valves. My major points pertained to the need for the commission to not make a rushed decision and to consider amending or rewriting the procedures for leak monitoring and repair.

It would surprise me if the Commission takes action on these recommendations, but I enjoyed having the opportunity to address the public with some cogent observations. If my recommendations were adopted, I could see the ultimate result being impacts to Dominion's bottom line, since it would require more attention to stopping large leaks promptly instead of at the convenience of the plant's shutdown schedule.

If the Commission accepts Dominion's proposed changes as is, then I could see the result being major health hazards occasionally realized, impacting vulnerable members of the community who live in the area where plumes drift outside the plant boundaries.

All-in-all, I think the liquefaction plant's over 2 Megatons of annual greenhouse gas emissions is the main problem, rather than the 20 tons or so of annual VOC's. Nevertheless, I managed to pull off my best public speech ever and hope there will be more opportunities to exercise a talent that has heretofore felt to be wanting.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Welcome to Disasterland

I was talking to Colin, my next-door neighbor, yesterday about the impact of Hurricane Irma on the Everglades. As a U.S. Park Service biologist, Colin has spent many hours in the Everglades. He  unequivocally stated that the wildlife in the Everglades was seriously harmed by Irma. Yet, the Everglades took the hit for much of the human habitation on Florida's west coast. In a few decades, that won't be the situation since the Everglades will be swamped by rising seas.

Irma was a big hurricane that could have caused a lot more damage, especially if it had tracked up the eastern side of the state. As it turns out, the cost is estimated at $60 billion, yet we haven't figured in the cost of ecosystem damage that, due to threshold effects like loss of the entire Everglades, will precipitate from this and subsequent storms and temperature rise.

Ecosystem services aside, the cost of natural disasters is increasing. Driven in large part by overpopulation and also by global warming, the cost trend has been swooping upward over the past several decades. The relevant graph in the preceding link is the one above the caption: "Overall losses and insured losses 1980-2016 (in USD bn)." It shows trend lines for uninsured and insured losses superimposed over the loss figures for each year. 2017 looks like it will be consistent with that trend.

A dramatic graphic that shows how 2017 is shaping up in the U.S. came out after Hurricane Harvey. Since then, we've had Irma, Maria, and wildfires in California. Note that the yellow semi-circles on this reticulated timeline, denoting wildfires, are the second biggest in terms of average cost per occurrence. My guess is that one yellow semi-circle this year will exceed any on this chart.

Figures that put Harvey and Irma together at $150 billion are enough to nearly exceed the global total of losses for 2016. Maria, the Mexico earthquake, California's fires, and who knows what else will send 2017 way over that mark. Markets may falter as the effects compound. My prediction made three years ago of a major financial seizure in 2017 could well turn out to be accurate.

Richard Heinberg sees, in Puerto Rico, a teachable moment about how the limits to growth will eventually treat all places in much the same way as Maria did P.R., forcing us all to adjust our thinking about what is achievable and sustainable. We may not all be made homeless by wildfires, hurricanes, or earthquakes, but we will still suffer from collapse of financial and infrastructural systems we have come to rely upon. Take heed and prepare for a simpler way of living.

Photoshopped photo by Elliot Margolies

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Coming War We Must Strive to Prevent

Some anger smolders over generations. It depends on the offense. Whatever the eldest of the Paddock boys endured because of his father's criminal legacy could have been behind his one-man orgy of slaughter at an improvised Las Vegas shooting gallery.

Seething over the same time frame, the bitter anger of North Koreans against America for the devastation caused by bombardment in the Korean war could soon lead to a torrent of violence that makes Mr. Paddock's high mark all but forgotten. Violence could be unleashed by nuclear missile(s) hitting Guam or Japan. It wouldn't stop there, since not for nothing has the U.S. brooded over its thousands of nuclear eggs these many decades.

A second Korean war is not inevitable. There are some intricate diplomatic maneuvers that could resolve or de-escalate the conflict. Less certain is whether a war with China is likely nonetheless. Though Graham Allison's historical analysis of what he calls Thucydides's Trap allows him to claim that we aren't necessarily Destined for War, when you compound the Fourth Turning of our secular cycle with the historical probability that China will fight the U.S. for its place as King of the Hill, the chances of a war occurring look better than 75%. That a war with Korea could be the spark for this unimaginable war between great powers underlies a somewhat hopeful assessment by Oriana Skylar Mastro describing a possible Chinese takeover of the country.

If, instead of fighting over dwindling resources, China and the U.S. craft their economic strategies around sustainability, China's ascent may be reversed and the U.S. could relax and tend to its own transition. This would require recognition by the obtuse political class that global economic growth is ending. However, Richard Heinberg, author of The End of Growth (2011), is no more sanguine than other analysts noted here on preventing a war with China. An excerpt:
Unfortunately, rising costs and flagging returns from resource conflicts will not guarantee world peace. History suggests that as nations become more desperate to maintain their relative positions of strength and advantage, they may lash out in ways that serve no rational purpose.
Again, no crisis is imminent as long as cool heads prevail. But the world system is losing stability. Current economic and geopolitical conditions would appear to support a forecast not for increasing economic growth, democracy, and peace, but for more political volatility, and for greater government military mobilization justified under the banner of security.
Regina - Bitter Memories of Childhood - photo by Ted McGrath
War with China would very likely be big and radioactive. Old Blowhard's China hand, Peter Navarro, doesn't seem to see that as a reason not to rumble. The slim chance of avoiding a war with China in the next few years should occupy as much of our capability as necessary. Treading lightly with Korea should be part of that effort. Another part should be reshaping the political climate in the U.S. to one that is more civil and less fascist, whatever that takes.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Republican Civil War, Let's Get it On

As we shoe-gaze over the embarrassment of the pretender to the Presidency's twitterpations, America is teetering on the brink of calamity spawned by an ineffectual majority party. Congress has until December to pass a tax reform bill that will give Wall Street enough of a lift to overcome the downdraft of Fed tightening. A promise of relief in next year's tax provisions could provide the positive sentiment to keep us airborne long enough to provide a not-so-hard landing. The GOP, however, shows itself to be so aggrieved over its supposed leader that passing major legislation is unlikely, if only for their perverse pleasure in turning popular opinion further against the cheat executive. leading to his eventual impeachment.

Trumpeting a call to arms by his basest base, the disappointed dictator could then incite uprisings by Trumpists across the country, making articles of impeachment too parlous at this point (Rep. Al Green's (D - Tex.) righteous bid notwithstanding). Yet, as Old Blowhard's popularity shrivels with each legislative loss, continued Republican fecklessness could lower the potential of such civil war until they decide to lower the boom on the tyrant. To risk a recession by failing to pass a tax bill favoring the middle class, however, also raises the risk of civil war - a class war, rather than the race war that would come about by a premature move to Dump Trump.

War actually looks likely on several fronts (Korea, Iran, America) and Fourth Turning adherents are already expecting it. It is tempting to say that, based on the secular cycles of American history, war is inevitable in the next 5 years. To be ready, true Americans should try to identify public enemy #1 and be prepared to fight them (should it come to that) rather than expend too much blood and treasure on campaigns against #2 or #3. IMHO, our major problem isn't with fascists on the other side of the world, it is with fascism at home. We are too strong militarily to worry about nuclear attacks from anyone. The biggest near-term threat we face is fascist Trumpists who would make us more of an aggressor reich.

To avoid that calamity, the best scenario could be a bloodless civil war fought among members of the Republican party, which appears to be starting already. When the next national elections are held, a fractured Republican party could provide an opening for an upstart party like the Greens to turn this country on its head. All the better if a bloodless coup occurs in the meantime.
by Chris Goodwin

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Czar Gazing

Democracy, as a way to govern nation-states, is on the decline. With the help of Russia, politically four centuries behind the West, the U.S. could be headed for czarist rule. The Russian word czar comes from "caesar" and was the title first assumed by Ivan the Awesome (or the more popular pejorative, "the Terrible").

If our political regression stays in step with our fall back through the growth of civilization to agrarianism, we could see an autocrat in power in a decade or so. Czar Barron has a certain ring to it.
Czar Donald sounds cartoonish, but since we don't execute traitors anymore, Junior may be first in line to inherit the throne after the patriarch croaks. He might want to change that to "The Don" to give it more of a fear factor and to divert attention from the history of his ascent at the behest of Russian propagandists. Oh, wait... the Don is a Russian river.

Aww. Who cares what people think? Junior might be found guilty of conspiring with a foreign government to influence our elections, but Old Blowhard will surely pardon him as soon as Congress shows no capacity to invoke impeachment in spite of the so-called President's failure to faithfully execute the laws, receipt of emoluments, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power. Continuity is so key to establishment politicians that they would sell the country into totalitarianism. Continuity may then come in the form of dynastic periods.

On the other hand, if Congress decides that 400 years of progress in democracy is worth preserving, they may cast off their inhibitions and send Blowhard to prison, or at very least replace him. That's a lot to ask of Congress. The disruption of continuity may cost them their jobs, because when the people who are supposed to run this country - the voters - are given their next chance, they could use the opportunity to bring in new leadership to start the transition to a more federated form of democratic government suited to the limitations of our situation.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Pulling Threads

Reading Joe Scarborough's opinion column today about Blowhard's base sticking through thick and thin, and then finding an analysis of personalist rule that well describes how this is becoming more commonplace in authoritarian states, I went back through the lead-in summaries on Amy Siskind's weekly authoritarianism tracker to tease out the threads that have emerged as themes under our dictator-in-the-making.
This consolidated chronology, in which themes are identified by color, is a value add to the presentation on Medium which doesn't tell you much until you click on a given week. If you start at the bottom of this post, you can track the train wreck from inauguration day to this month. Go to Amy's Medium page to drill down into the gory details, or Aaron Dietz' tableau tool, if you have the geek chops for it. I hope you find my exercise in curation to be enlightening.

November 18, 2017
This week the Russia probe entered Trump’s inner-circle, as more lines of direct and indirect communications surfaced, and efforts at cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia were revealed.

November 11, 2017
...more ties between the Trump campaign and Russia were exposed, and questions surfaced as to the knowledge and engagement of senior people on the campaign, including Trump.

November 5, 2017
Trump made his most aggressive statements against the DOJ, FBI, and court systems for not doing what he thinks they should do. Alarm bells of authoritarianism and not normal were ringing, as were warnings from even some Republicans not to interfere with the Mueller investigation.

October 28, 2017
The Trump regime continued their attacks on rights and protections, while the Republican Party split deepened after a historic anti-Trump/save our country speech by Senator Jeff Flake.
The week closed with the unexpected news that the Mueller probe has produced its first results: charges filed in federal court.  The humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico worsened amid news of an insider-deal and cover-ups, as Trump continued to turn a blind eye of indifference.

October 21, 2017
Investigations of Russian interference quietly progressed on several fronts, and alarmingly Trump and some prominent regime members continue to deny the existence of, and take steps to protect against Russian involvement.

October 14, 2017
The humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico worsened with the inadequate response by the federal government. Amid criticism, Trump threatened to pull out, but later backed off.
Trump remains silent on both California’s deadliest wildfires and the deadliest combat incident since he took office. He continues to focus on undoing Obama’s legacy, piece-by-piece.

October 7, 2017
Trump’s tin-ear and lack of empathy to [the unfolding humanitarian crises in Puerto Rico and USVI, and the deadliest mass shooting in modern history in Las Vegas]  were conspicuous in his ominous “calm before the storm” statement Thursday.
 As with every weekly list, this week rights and protections were taken away from women and marginalized communities.

September 30, 2017
The regime’s late and inadequate response to Hurricane Maria is the clearest fallout of Trump’s unstaffed federal agencies.
This week Trump’s regime came under increased scrutiny for blatant and irreverent kleptocracy. HHS Secretary Price was the first casualty from unfolding scandals of several regime members involving millions spent on chartered and military flights, and other wasted taxpayer money. 

September 23, 2017
As Mueller zeroes in on Manafort and Flynn, almost every Trump campaigner and WH staffer, past and present, is being drawn in to the expanding Russia probe. This week several regime members drew heat for unrepentant kleptocracy.
DHS informed 21 states they were targeted by Russia, strangely a year later and on a late afternoon on Friday. Trump, who benefitted from a slight approval rating reprieve courtesy of positive media coverage, continues to deny Russian involvement and to act erratically and unbefitting of the office on both foreign policy and domestic issues. Trump also continues to ignore what is shaping up to be a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.

September 16, 2017
Russia’s use of social media to influence the US election, possibly with help from the Trump regime. As well, a slew of reporting continued to build the evolving mosaic of connections and quid pro quo between members of the Trump regime and Putin allies.
Trump’s short-lived pivot ended abruptly late in the week when he again evoked “both sides” on Charlottesville, then started an embarrassing tweet storm about a tragic bombing in London.
September 9, 2017
This week the Mueller probe edged towards engulfing Trump’s entire inner-circle. Also of great import, Facebook finally admitted to the company’s role in allowing Russian bots to infiltrate our election. Speculation grew that a foreign entity influenced our election, and that the Trump campaign was complicit.
This week the Trump regime continued its assault on marginalized communities and women, rescinding DACA and taking away protections for victims of campus sexual assault. 
September 2, 2017
News reports indicate the Mueller probe in moving ahead on many fronts, and uncovering damaging evidence about the Trump regime.
Stories less covered continue to detail bigotry towards, and stripping away rights and protections of, marginalized communities and women. Another continuing theme is the dismantling of government programs and initiatives, alongside instituting authoritarian measures.
August 26, 2017
Mueller probe is closing in on Trump and his regime. News stories indicate that despite Trump’s public indifference and belittlement of the probe, he is privately consumed by it, and acting in ways which could well be construed as, and lead to charges for, obstruction of justice.
In the two weeks since Charlottesville, our country is consumed in flames of hate, and Trump is fanning those flames. As well, he continues his unimpeded march to authoritarian power, neutralizing the judicial branch with an unethical pardon, and attacking members of his own party in an effort to silence them. So far, the latter is largely working, and as this week comes to a close, remaining checks and balances to save our democracy are eroding, and Trump appears to feel fully in power.
August 19, 2017
Trump’s comments on Charlottesville legitimized the worst of us, and spawned a watershed moment for our country. His remarks were met with widespread condemnation and reactions, and precipitated a mass exodus of corporate CEOs, wiping away any lingering doubts that Trump’s goals were ever truly linked to job creation. 
This week in Trump’s shrinking, chaotic regime it became even clearer that Trump answers to no one but himself. He continues to attack and attempt to intimidate Republicans into submission, as part of his continuing efforts to consolidate power.
August 12, 2017
Without provocation, Trump made aggressive statements towards three countries, and escalated the possibility of nuclear war with N. Korea. The country continued to burn in hate as violence surrounding a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville led to a state of emergency in Virginia.
Other troubling trends continued this week including: an increase of media controlled by Trump and his allies, an unstaffed and unprepared executive branch, and steps taken to suppress the vote in future elections. Even with his new chief of staff, it is apparent Trump is consolidating power and answering to no one. He is also stepping up his attacks on the legislative branch.
August 5, 2017
Trump and his regime’s white nationalist push became more conspicuous and aggressive. Trump continues to irreverently lie — one such false statement on Donald Jr.’s June 9 meeting could directly implicate him in covering up the Russia scandal, which entered a new phase as Mueller impaneled a grand jury in Washington DC.
Trump seems prepared to fight Congress, along with battles he is already waging against the judicial branch and the media.
July 29, 2017
Trump distracted and played to his remaining base all week by targeting marginalized groups, and ramping up hateful rhetoric.
Republicans are turning on Trump — this week, not just in words this week, but in actions. And in response, by firing Priebus and replacing him with a general, Trump seems to be preparing for an aggressive approach towards the legislative branch.
July 22, 2017
Trump’s ties to Russia came increasingly front and center, as news of a second, clandestine meeting between Trump and Putin at the G20 surfaced, and Trump moved forward with actions that seemed oddly pro-Moscow. Trump also caused alarm on both sides by raising the specter of firing Mueller and the possibility of pardoning himself and members of his regime.
For the first time this week there was bi-partisan reaction: there were resignations, and pushback from national security officials who called out Russia for election meddling. Also of major importance, Congress agreed on an outline for a bi-partisan bill to impose sweeping sanctions on Russia — a direct repudiation of Trump.
July 15, 2017
Donald Jr.’s emails, the first direct evidence of possible collusion and intent between the Trump campaign and Russia, dominated media coverage and conversation. But as with each week, amidst the bedlam, there were a myriad of less-covered, important stories on how the fabric of our country is changing, and kleptocracy is omnipresent.
July 8, 2017
Trump alienated our allies while cozying up to authoritarians, followed by his embarrassing behavior at the NATO and G7 meetings, culminated this week at the G20 with US isolationism.

Trump amped-up his assault on the media, including encouraging violence. With this, Trump has distracted the country and media, and taken back the narrative. In the atmosphere of chaos, this week also stands out for the number of important stories that received little or no media coverage.
July 1, 2017
This week the first evidence of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia surfaced. Several key members of the Trump regime could be ensnared.
Trump continued to use hate to keep his base engaged, while marginalizing and ignoring those not white, straight, Christian and male. Through deportation and immigration bans, and continually peeling away rights and protections from women, PoC, LGBTQ, and Muslim and Jewish Americans, Trump is changing the character of our country, and the world is noticing.
June 24, 2017
The unusual process undertaken by McConnell in attempting to pass AHCA without Senate input or public support. Alarming evidence that Russia may have tampered with 2016 Election Day results, and possibly with help from the Trump campaign. The Trump regime taking steps to shut down access for the media, while our country burns in bigotry and hate.
Trump-Russia is still the dominant theme, as investigations open on new fronts, and Trump regime members go quiet and lawyer up. Trump continues to deny Russian interference, which will undoubtedly lead to it continuing in upcoming elections — of course to his benefit.
June 17, 2017
Trump is under investigation for obstruction of justice — a fact he confirmed through a tweet. With his increasingly erratic behavior, Trump has become his own worst enemy. While investigations by the House, Senate, FBI, federal investigators and special counsel into Trump-Russia steam ahead, Trump’s continued efforts to interfere with investigations may prove to be his ultimate undoing.
This week the tentacles of the Trump-Russia probe reached new members of the Trump regime, and several chose to lawyer up. Congress is singularly focused on Trump-Russia, save for McConnell’s odd, clandestine AHCA efforts.
June 10, 2017
This week all eyes were on the Comey testimony, which opened the door for what could be obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense. Despite Republicans controlling the House, Senate and White House, legislative progress has largely come to a halt amid weekly and sometimes daily bombshells, as all eyes turn to the Trump-Russia scandal.
June 3, 2017
Even before Megyn Kelly’s prime-time interview of Putin, Russia has become a national obsession. Several bombshells on Trump-Russia broke this week, as the collusion puzzle continues to piece together. And seemingly at Putin’s behest, a new world order is shaping with Trump distancing himself from our democratic allies, and cozying up to brutal authoritarian states.
May 27, 2017
Trump-Russia scandal reached the inner circle of Trump’s WH, as bombshells revealed Kushner is a central focus of the FBI investigation. The Trump regime established a war room as the walls of Trump-Russia cave in on them, with breaking news daily.
Trump distancing our country from our traditional allies, and instead cozying up to brutal authoritarians. Human rights abroad are no longer a priority — the focus seems to have shifted to where the Trump organization has properties.
May 20, 2017
Trump’s ties to, and efforts to undermine the investigation into Russia.
Although the biggest headline of the week was the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump-Russia, of equal importance was the diurnal harbingers of our fading democracy. Trump’s WH invitation to yet another brutal authoritarian: Ergodan of Turkey, and the ensuing melee outside the Turkish embassy in DC, is a wake-up call for us all.
May 13, 2017
What stands out in Week 26 is our normalization of a leader who bold-faced lies to us, and the ease with which Trump continues to indulge in this behavior. Trump fired the FBI director in charge of investigating him and his regime’s ties to Russia, and admitted he did so because of the investigation.
May 6, 2017
The Trump regime of billionaires and sycophants - with most Republicans cowering along in lock-step — continue to act and take actions that are greedy and cruel. As we hit Week 25, every subgroup of Americans not white, straight and male has been a target.
This week the authoritarian themes of silencing dissent, and consolidating power and wealth were also front and center.
April 29, 2017
This week, Speaker Ryan acknowledged Russian interference. Trump’s involvement has evolved from a “Trump-Russia probe” to a “Trump-Russia scandal,” and this week, to a “Trump-Russia cover-up.” As this unfolds, concern grows that Trump will seek to distract attention by starting a war. The one constant throughout the weeks is Trump’s attempts to enrich himself and his regime through a growing list of conflicts of interest and corruption.
April 22, 2017
 What stands out in Week 23 is the kleptocracy — a pattern of conflicts of interest and pay-to-play — and the Trump regime’s utter irreverence towards ethics and past standards.

Trump seems focused on enriching himself, his regime, and his business contacts. The pace and boldness of corruption whiff of a man who is aware his days in this gig are numbered.
April 15, 2017
This week, the word “probe” progressed to “scandal,” signaling an acceptance that some sort of collusion occurred.
April 1, 2017
Russia’s interference in our election is now an accepted notion, and words like “collusion” and “cover up” entered the fray this week as all eyes turned to examining the Trump regime’s role.
March 18, 2017
Trump isn’t all that interested in typical legislative stuff like passing healthcare or his budget — his passion and focus are on enriching himself, and making America white.
March 11, 2017
Trump and his regime’s ties to Russia, conflicts of interest, and the dysfunctional and largely unstaffed executive branch.
Under the auspices of Trump’s #2 Bannon, our democracy as we know it is transitioning under a term used widely this week: the Deep State. Know this term! A Deep State is a paranoid, authoritarian vision of a regime under siege and being infiltrated — in this case by Obama and his loyalists. This authoritarian vision has been used by the Trump regime as justification by for their ever-increasing need to consolidate power into the hands of a trusted few — transforming our democracy into an authoritarian state, and making it harder to get to the truth on the many troubling matters.
March 4, 2017
This week’s theme was undoubtedly the continued taint of the Trump regime for their ties to Russia.
February 25, 2017
The first was Trump’s lack of empathy — the cruelty and heartlessness towards Americans not white, straight, Christian and male. Trump and his regime continued to target the defenseless, including transgender individuals, Native Americans and people of color. The second theme was Russia: ties between the Trump regime and Russia are continuing to pour out — meanwhile, the regime is actively seeking to suppress information.
February 18, 2017
An overarching theme to watch is the consolidation of power: positions in the executive branch are going unfilled and layoffs continue. Meanwhile, Trump, his children, and his small circle of insiders are making all major decisions domestically and abroad.
February 4, 2017

Ukraine, and the many abuses of power to silence dissent and stomp on ethics. Conflicts of interest abound, unfettered.
January 28,2017

This week, there were numerous articles about Trump transforming America into an authoritarian state (examples hereherehereherehere).
January 21, 2017
Russian interference in our election, including possible Trump team complicity.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

America's Approaching Storm

Most people think that fascism is a political concept that emerged in 20th century Europe, but the first use of that label in a political context appeared five centuries ago when Gustavus Eriksson (popularly known as Vasa, from the Latin fascis, meaning "bundle") unified Swedish rebel mobs to overthrow their Danish colonial overlords.  The image evoked is that of a bundle of straight sticks held tightly together, thereby forming an unbreakable pole.

"Hurricane" by jaci XIII
Today's use of the word "fascist" carries the same meaning, modernized by recent historical occurrence under Mussolini and his ilk. Fascism places unity above everything else, including individual liberty. It demands a mindset of ruthless efficiency, leading to acts of inhumane expediency. It is extremely undemocratic, i.e. tending to totalitarianism, relying on conformity at all levels of society. The most obvious example of a fascist government today is North Korea.

North Korea's fascism can be understood by the desperation that arose from that country's circumstances following the Korean war. Sometimes fascism is necessary for a nation's survival when beset by overwhelming odds. Continual fascism could result in national collapse, or, at best, widespread disenchantment among the citizenry. External opposition, meanwhile, fuels a fascist regime's resolve.

The trajectory of last century's experiments in fascism was boiled down to the following per Columbia University professor emeritus Robert Paxton:
  1. Ideological formation and the creation of a party with quasi-military cadres. Talk of national humiliation, lost vigor, and the failures of liberalism and democracy.
  2. Entry of the party into national politics. Intimidation of rivals, and planned acts of “redemptive violence” against suspect minorities and radical rivals.
  3. Arrival in government, often in alliance with conservatives.
  4. Exercise of power, in concert with institutions and business. The regime expands its control at home: restricting the press and democratic processes, corporatizing business, and collectivizing the people. Abroad, it asserts itself militarily.
  5. Radicalization or entropy: Some fascists go down in a Götterdämmerung, but most die of boredom.
It is not North Korea that has sparked fascist stirrings in the American polity. For that, we need only look one state away, at China which is emerging from their fascist past that originated with Mao Tse-Tung. Surprised by China's emergence as an economic superpower, the U.S. is feeling threatened to the point that a significant percentage of Americans are veering toward fascism as protection of all that they have ever hoped for in life.

This growing sector of the populace is not commonly associated with white supremacist groups, but their racism is manifested in xenophobic ideas and behaviors for which "Make America Great Again" is their catchphrase. Fascism is fashionable in America today. We can see the five-step trajectory above being followed by Old Blowhard's populist revolt, now at step 4. Tom Toles' keen eye has detected a trajectory that breaks the first item in that step down into more detail. His forecast storm track puts governing norms, rule of law, peace, and voting rights in Hurricane Donald's destructive path. When the storm makes landfall and democracy is devastated, fascism will be seen as the path to recovery. After that, prepare for business to be more corporatized, i.e. oligopolized, society to be collectivized, and militarism pervasive. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Long War Ahead

Old Blowhard may say he doesn't subscribe to theories of climate change, but he sure is prepping like a true believer. Following the widespread disaster caused by Hurricane Harvey, his most substantive response was to re-establish the 1033 Program that allows local law enforcement access to excess military equipment. Four million internally displaced, dripping, and dispossessed persons must look pretty scary to a man who only loves a crowd when they are cheering for him. Unfortunately for him, the extra military gear probably won't be on hand in time for other states to guard the elites in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

by Alexander Muse

How unwittingly we drift into totalitarianism. Instead of taking a more humane counterinsurgency approach, our military-industrial complex overproduced lethal weapons and profuse national security apparati in a panicked reaction against Islamic terrorism. We are left with so many military "goods" that we can't help but put them to some use - even if it is right here at home. Here we see the "gross" in our domestic product.

Those of dark complexion are already under threat from forces paid to protect all. One more major hurricane ought to be enough to mobilize thousands of federal law enforcement branches to "protect" potential victims from the chaos that we fear would ensue. This is how the Washington establishment fights the war on climate change - putting deadly weapons in the hands of those whose job it is to make sure all is well.
It's a war, and climate change will not make us change!  Some will have to die, but they must be orderly about it! It is their civic duty to sacrifice for the elite. Those who do not accept their fate will be put in their place. 
Politicians content themselves through such hard decisions. Approaches that involve more equitable sacrifice to save the planet from climate disasters are possible. Hard decisions involving self-sacrifice, however, are the kind that the power elites are loath to entertain.


Monday, August 28, 2017

How Budgets Get Balanced in a Crisis

Civil asset forfeiture is nothing new (we've had it in some form since the colonial days), but it is now more likely with Jeff Sessions in charge of Justice. The colonials had the practice handed down to them from the royals of England, with the starkest example being the replenishment of Henry VIII's coffers from church assets by Thomas Cromwell beginning in 1536. After collecting a litany of accusations through "visitors" sent to look into the foibles of England's 600 monasteries and 130 nunneries, Cromwell brought his "Black Book" before a kangaroo Parliament, which agreed to shut down these politically wayward establishments and turn their assets over to the crown. The precedent made it easier for the guilds to be similarly plundered less than a decade later.

"Civil asset forfeiture" is the euphemistic description of the government seizing personal property, often before guilt can be determined by trial. There have been cases where police and federal agents have been overly eager to apply the practice, but in an era of bankrupt government and endless military expeditions (as also with Henry VIII), overreach is more likely to become endemic.

The Green Party's solution to civil asset forfeiture is simply to end the practice. This would necessitate more emphasis on justice, i.e. court activity, rather than enforcement (police prerogative). The majority of citizens across the political spectrum also appear to want the practice curtailed.

Old Blowhard, on the other hand, is a gung-ho law-and-order guy, as shown by his egregious pardoning of "America's toughest sheriff," Joe Arpaio, for his crimes against individual rights. Sessions is apparently no different. He may think the drug problem, including marijuana, can be tamped down by causing pain in other areas of people's lives, but I doubt if he minds the power and material benefits CAF gives his department.

by William Cho
The creeping police state brought on by the war on terror could bring about the ruthlessness of a totalitarian government much like that of Henry VIII. Then, it was the Catholics who were out of favor. Now, we have Muslims whose community properties are probably being eyed by some DOJ task force. Latino communities are also in the crosshairs. National emergencies wrought by unnatural natural disasters only lend more urgency to the swing toward martial law. The miseries wrought by Henry VIII and his henchmen devastated Englanders for decades thereafter. Can we afford to allow his emulator to continue in the same vein?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Five Centuries Ago: Henry VIII. Today: Donald the Deplorable.

The Maryland Renaissance Festival begins this month and, if you think a 500 year reset is too far from present reality, then you haven't kept up on your English history. While reading through Will Durant's agonizing rendition of how the West was spun, The Story of Civilization: The Reformation, the reign of Henry VIII of England takes the pathos prize, so far. The calamitous king had so much in common with America's current head of state that the parallels kept popping into my consciousness while mourning over every page. The Renaissance Festival may have had no intention of shining a light on our current political fiasco when it selected a storyline that brings the old ogre and his court back in the flesh, but let's hope the audience doesn't miss the irony.
Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons, by Hans Holbein the Younger. Wikimedia Commons

Historians recognized the pattern much earlier than I, and published those observations in Newsweek, Foreign Policy, and The Economist, as well as this e-zine and another, Pajiba. In case you missed those, let me add my own, with inevitable repetition of some of the previous commentary.

The upshot of my historical observations is that USAnians (as Amy Siskind keeps warning us) may find themselves ruled by an autocratic regime before they know it. Here we go:
  • H.VIII's administration suffered from the upheaval of sudden dismissal (or worse) of numerous high-level officials, as it pleased the king.
  • H.VIII was enabled to appropriate unprecedented power to himself by a complicit Parliament
  • The self-absorbed church paid deference to the tyrant, even as he despoiled their holdings.
  • H.VIII married multiple times.
  • H.VIII's focus was on prolonging the Tudor dynasty through a male heir.
  • H.VIII denigrated faiths other than his own.
  • H.VIII brought autocracy to England by audacious and unprincipled domestic power grabs.
  • Thomas Cromwell, his chief assistant (a role formerly claimed by Stephen Bannon), made it his main aim "to make the King supreme over every phase of English life."
  • H.VIII engaged in futile wars.
  • By personally participating in these wars, H.VIII showed that he was a militarist.
  • H.VIII lived extravagantly and his greed waxed larger, even as his people suffered lack.
  • H.VIII rewarded his political supporters with ill-gotten wealth.
In the bitter end, the King plundered monasteries and guilds through appropriation and taxation. A modern U.S. version might entail levies on non-profits and unions, but might include any sector with a surplus. We should be wary of any tax bill that doesn't detail sources of revenue or budgets that underestimate costs. Rationalization of extreme fiscal measures by a policy of uncompromising victory over military enemies (even if the money doesn't make it to the front lines) looks like the newest stratagem the White House might employ.

I needn't detail further the parallels with Donald J. 'Blowhard." If history is a guide to forecasting, then the fact that freedom and prosperity became ever more rare as Henry pomped on gives us reason to act quickly in saving our country by squelching this upstart tyrant before he can inflict further damage on America's psyche and treasures.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Biochar Breakout Opportunity

Relatively speaking, Scott Pruitt supports efforts to clean up toxic waste in our land. He only wants to cut the superfund budget by $330 million, which is a 30% cut, as opposed to the 34% cut for the EPA overall. To show even more support, he wants to be briefed regularly on the 10 worst superfund sites. The other 1,300 sites are not going to receive as much attention. At the same time, under Pruitt's budget proposal, the states will have 45% less federal grant money to rely on for some of their clean-up efforts.

Since money is tight for these projects, the EPA and PRP's (Potentially Responsible Parties, but let's just call them "perps") should be happy to know that there is a lower cost method available to remediate heavy metal contamination in soils. Heavy metals are elements of high density (> 5 g/cc) and include Cd, Cu, Hg, Ni, Pb, and Zn. These metals are often left in the soil after manufacturing, mining, and disposal operations have moved on and can also be spread far and wide on the wind, especially from stack gases. They make it into the food chain via plants, and easily transform wholesome food into poison or ruin crops altogether. In some projects, activated carbon is used to sorb the heavy metals, but research has found that some less costly biochars do a better job.

CONTAMINATION by luc borell

With the loss to date of 1 billion acres of degraded, abandoned farmland, recovering that land is important for both the climate and public health. Estimates show the global activated carbon market to be growing exponentially due to environmental needs. Biochar made from animal manure, and then steam-activated, could satisfy 35% of worldwide granulated activated carbon (GAC) demand. It is cheaper than regular GAC and recycles another overloaded waste stream to useful ends. Other processes have used different biochar feedstocks and additives and proven helpful, as well, but manure's high phosphorus fraction seems to give it better heavy metal adsorption ability, according to Dr. Isabel Lima. Lead and mercury are adsorbed particularly well by phosphorus functional groups.

With energy companies like Shell dipping their toe into biochar production, there may be a better chance that their man Pruitt and the EPA will look into this solution.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Mid-Atlantic's Coming Green Revolution

In establishing the Healthy Soils Program, Maryland has begun to officially view soil in terms of biological populations, organic content, structure and water-holding capacity, and carbon sequestration. Everybody wants healthy soil, but for the past 70 years, conventional agriculturalists have been satisfied merely with healthy crops. Food for those crops has been supplied by chemicals known to help them grow. The soil fell into neglect, and in the process, we lost a lot of carbon from the soil and released a lot of nitrous oxide through chemical production. The Healthy Soils Program, then, is a way to recover from this unforeseen consequence of the Green Revolution by reducing the severity of our recent interventions in soil fertility.

In promoting healthy soils, Dr. Sara Via brings out a few principles farmers and gardeners should follow. I have annotated them here with my comments for gardeners:

  • Rotate crops - some crops, e.g. tomatoes, should be rotated over 3 or more years
  • Limit soil disturbance - soil structure is preserved thereby; use a broadfork to input OM
  • Limit chemical inputs - e.g. phosphorus, since an excess will subdue mycorrhizae
  • Increase biological diversity - compost increases soil biodiversity; biochar multiplies that
  • Keep the soil covered - keep your garden dressed (like the one in Eden)
  • Maintain live roots - when the roots die, mycorrhizae die back, too (90% of plants use MR)
    Photo by Tamera Clark

These may turn out to be Maryland's fundamental principles for healthy soil agriculture, as they support the four objectives in the new legislation.

Another way to increase soil microbial and faunal biomass, porous soil structure, and carbon sequestration is to add biochar, which Dr. Via also acknowledges in her talks. Among organic growers, biochar is still somewhat arcane; less so with the permaculture crowd. It is going to take a while, however, before most Maryland farmers adopt it unless the Healthy Soils Program adds incentives to do so.

Neighboring West Virginia, on the other hand, has become a potential beehive of biochar activity, stemming from the Appalachian Biochar Innovation Conference held this month that brought together makers and users of many stripes, as well as government and academic leaders. One of the largest potential applications there is in mining remediation. Strip mines and missing mountaintops could be restored to vegetative growth (ironically) with real clean coal, i.e. biochar made from dried manure. Joseph Knapp, Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College's Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and organizer of the conference, is ready to form a working group for the state to move ahead with biochar in its many applications. It was electrifying to be in the room when the upwelling of consensus was voiced by attendees that this is now a big part of their vision in a state long sullied by dirty coal and other chemical industries.

Like Maryland with their Healthy Soil advocates, West Virginia is starting with a small group of perceptive and determined people. Between us and climate conscious states like New York, a New Green Revolution may soon grow in the Mid-Atlantic region; all the more so if the U.S. Biochar Initiative (USBI) symposium takes place in Pennsylvania next year as rumored.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

First Things First

Last night, I was fortunate to hear Dr. Sara Via, a University of Maryland biologist, give her talk on "Ecology of the Soil" to my county's Master Gardeners. She recommended a 2016 paper from Nature entitled Climate-Smart Soils. One of the gems in this paper is the decision tree it offers for the coolest things to do with agricultural land, depending on its nature and condition. It says that marginal lands should be planted in perennials, and histosols (soils containing high organic matter, i.e. former bogs) should be restored to wetlands. Aside from those cases, the paper proffers a hierarchy of various measures that can be taken to improve soil health, such as cover cropping and no-till. The final measure in the hierarchy - adding soil amendments, such as biochar - is not based on the soil condition, but on the availability of the amendment - the more, the merrier (though 2" of compost per year may be a good upper bound).

This decision tree clarifies matters greatly for those who want to practice climate-smart horticulture at any level; from garden to farm-scale. Once I learned about biochar and began making it, my interest in gardening bloomed (along with many more flowers). Along the way, I have learned the importance of many of the other conditional steps in the decision tree that also help to sequester carbon and other greenhouse gases.

Early in my gardening avocation, I was taught that the first thing a landscaper needs to deal with is stormwater. That dictum makes good sense - all the more after getting trained as a Master Watershed Steward. The epiphany for me was that by learning and practicing key disciplines, e.g. stormwater management, composting, and biochar, I would be able to maximize my success in gardening. Similarly, if one wishes to maximize their contribution to improving the climate, there are key practices to follow, depending on the situation. The result, invariably, will be healthier soil - so the payoff and gauges of success are close at hand, though yield increases may not necessarily be as immediate as might be obtained by following ecologically harmful regimens. Dr. Via pointed out that monitoring your soil's health with a do-it-yourself tool called a soil health card is a good way to track progress.

When you take an approach, such as biochar, as the cornerstone of your efforts, it might lead you to wonder how it fits into the grander scheme of climate change mitigations. Project Drawdown's website makes schematics available to assist in that conception. The schematic in the area of Food solutions contains (among other land-use topics) high level categories that encapsulate the decision tree measures just discussed. The Conservation Agriculture / Regenerative Agriculture (CA - Reg Ag) category is particularly germane to croplands. With the guidance of the decision tree above, the soil health card, and the bigger picture of food solutions, my efforts at carbon sequestration through gardening should become even more efficacious.

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