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Poison once flowed in America’s waters. With Trump, it might again | Peter Gleick | Opinion | The Guardian

Poison once flowed in America’s waters. With Trump, it might again

'I remember not being able to swim at beaches polluted with raw sewage.'
trumpwater Illustration: Rob Dobi

As a scientist working for decades on national and global water and climate challenges, I must speak out against what I see as an assault on America’s water resources.

I grew up in New York in the 1960s hearing about massive Polychlorinated Biphenyl – a toxic chemical used as a coolant – contamination in the Hudson River and the threatened extinction of bald eagles and ospreys from eating contaminated fish.<!–more–>

I remember watching on television Ohio’s Cuyahoga River burning. I remember scientists warning about the death of the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay from uncontrolled industrial pollution. I remember not being able to swim at beaches polluted with raw sewage.

And I remember the public debate and bipartisan enthusiasm for federal action to clean up our waters – enthusiasm that led to passage of one of the nation’s foundational environmental laws, the Clean Water Act, signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1972.

This law and the related federal regulations reduced water pollution and protected some of the nation’s rivers and lakes, but they are incomplete, only partially implemented, and increasingly outdated in the face of new threats from unregulated contaminants, worsening climatic changes, failing water infrastructure and direct political assault.

Donald Trump claimed he’d work to promote clean water. This claim has proven to be hollow. Since taking office, the president, administration officials, and the Republican-led Congress have moved aggressively to roll back decades of water-quality protections put in place by previous Republican and Democratic administrations.

These moves benefit industrial polluters rather than local communities, hinder progress toward cleaning up contaminated water and deteriorating ecosystems and worsen public health risks.

To address these problems, the Obama administration developed new rules to remove mercury from municipal sewage; impose limits on the amount of toxic and bioaccumulative water pollutants such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium that can be released from power plants; control previously unregulated pesticides; stop the dumping of coal wastes into streams and clarified authority for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers to extend protections to around 60% of the water bodies in the United States – the so-called Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule, also known as the Clean Water Rule.

The Trump administration and Congress have moved to rescind every one of these environmental protections.

Immediately after Trump’s inauguration, the EPA announced the agency’s intention to cancel the new regulation to cut mercury pollution in urban wastewater.

Mercury is a persistent neurotoxin affecting the brain and nervous system and scientists estimate that more than 75,000 infants in the US each year have an increased risk of learning disabilities associated with prenatal exposure to methylmercury. The largest single source of mercury contamination in urban wastewater comes from dental offices and the new rule required dental offices to install inexpensive and effective equipment to capture rather than dump mercury.

In April, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt proposed to postpone the compliance dates for meeting the new limits on toxic water pollutants from power plants. This rule would have reduced pollutant releases by 1.4bn pounds a year – including chemicals that lead to cancer and other illnesses in humans, lowered IQ in children, and deformities and reproductive damage in fish and wildlife.

The Clean Water Rule was published in June 2015 after years of scientific study, more than 400 public hearings, and literally a million public comments. It provides a critical tool for tackling persistent pollution problems from pesticides, fertilizers and industrial chemicals in water that previously lacked regulations.

Eliminating the Waters of the United States rule was an explicit objective of the Republican platform, and Trump signed an executive order in February 2017 asking the EPA and US Army Corps of Engineers to review and either rescind or revise it. In late June, the EPA announced it would move to completely replace it, removing protections from vast areas of the country.

Finally, Trump’s proposed budget imposes massive cuts to federal water-quality protections. The EPA office that develops standards for pollution in drinking water, already years behind in setting limits for unregulated pollutants, would have its budget cut in half.

The Superfund program, responsible for cleaning up severely polluted industrial sites, including many contaminating or threatening groundwater, would be cut 25% and enforcement would be cut 40%.

Programs that support environmental cleanup in Long Island Sound, Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, San Francisco Bay, and other waterways would be cut to zero. The EPA’s office for scientific research and development would be cut in half.

Federal grants to states to identify and prevent leaks from underground storage tanks and programs to reduce lead exposure, like that seen recently in Flint, Michigan, would be eliminated. If we do nothing, undrinkable water could be one of Trump’s most poisonous legacies.

The good news is that the Americans cares enormously about clean water. The annual Gallup Poll on the environment ranks worries about water pollution above any other environmental issue, now higher than they’ve been since 2001. Scientists, public health officials, and environmental groups are also fighting back.

Lawsuits have been filed in federal court arguing that the Trump administration doesn’t have the legal authority to delay these protections, hasn’t given public notice or allowed public debate, is ignoring proven science and has acted to prioritize the interests of the coal and chemical industries over public health.

And there has been some success: in early June, in the face of a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the EPA agreed to let the mercury rule go forward. Some Republican members of Congress have publicly expressed concern over the severity of the proposed federal budget cuts to environmental protection.

We’ve come a long way from the era of unregulated dumping of chemicals in our streams, burning rivers, and dying ecosystems. I’m optimistic that the goal of clean, fishable, swimmable waters nationwide is achievable. But the Republican party is moving rapidly to become the party of dirty water. That’s not in their interest and it’s not in the interest of the nation. It’s time scientists and the public speak out.

Peter Gleick is a member of the US National Academy of Science and the president-emeritus of Pacific Institute

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Ten years on: Anatomy of the global financial meltdown

Ten years on: Anatomy of the global financial meltdown

Ten years on: Anatomy of the global financial meltdown

Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the crisis helps to distil its essentials

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© Reuters

For some, today marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the global financial crisis. August 9 2007 was the day when BNP Paribas, the French bank, froze three investment funds. Investors whose money was placed in suddenly toxic securities linked to US real estate, were no longer permitted to cash out their investments. The FT marks the anniversary with a chart-rich series on what the crisis did to the global economy, starting this week.

Admittedly, such dating is always a little arbitrary. Some swear by June 22 2007, which was when Bear Stearns had to bail out two hedge funds it had marketed, which were making big losses on mortgage-backed securities. As my colleagues John Authers and Alan Smith point out in their contribution to the FT series, the summer months of 2007 saw a rapid deterioration of the market values of many financial products — a sign that the Bear Stearns episode raised broader fears in the market leading up to the BNP event.

But we should keep both dates in mind, because jointly they outline a useful basic anatomy of the financial crisis. They do so even better when coupled with one more date: April 2006, when US house prices peaked, and an unprecedented — and unexpected — nationwide decline began.

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The effect of the falling value of houses on the quality of the loans that had paid for them is what pre-determined the June 22 event. Bear Stearns’ move was the first clear admission that the assets its funds had invested in were worth much less than almost everyone had thought. It was the first clear sign of unrealised losses in the US and, by extension, the global financial system. In short, it was the first clear exposure of a solvency problem.

The August 9 event marked the next phase, where doubts about solvency turned into a liquidity problem. As Stephen Cecchetti and Kermit Schoenholtz nicely show, BNP’s halting of redemptions was followed by an immediate tightening of lending between financial institutions. Below is their graph of the Libor-OIS spread, which measures the difference between the rate at which big banks reported to be lending to one another over a measure of the safest market interest rate. From almost zero this spread suddenly shot up 10 years ago today. The European Central Bank reacted with an immediate liquidity injection into the banking system.

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This three-point timeline — summer 2006, June 2007 and August 2007 — and the chain of events it represents forms a schema of debt crises generally. First, the value appreciation fuelled by a credit boom fizzles out and goes into reverse. Second, the absence of the value investors had expected to find becomes exposed (the solvency problem). And third, the presence of solvency problems, whose exact magnitude and location are uncertain, leads to a liquidity crisis, as each nervous investor tries to be the first to reach safety before the money runs out.

The June 22 solvency event can thus be seen as the forerunner of Bear Stearns’ total collapse in March 2008. The August 9 liquidity event can be seen as the forerunner of the bank run on Northern Rock in the UK a month later. And together they presage the demise of Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual in September 2008, with the chain reaction that followed for financial institutions of all stripes around the world.

So there is use in reflecting on anniversaries. Not just because of the storytelling thrill of going through the fast-paced events of 10 years ago, for which Cecchetti and Schoenholtz’s timeline is very useful, as is the retrospective live-tweeting on the Real Time Crisis account. But also because it helps to distil the essentials of a crisis.

These essentials are twofold. First is the readjustment of expectations about how much economic value there is to go around, and in particular the realisation by market participants that it is insufficient to honour all the claims racked up in the boom. Second is the proliferation of uncertainty through the web of short-term liquid funds that financial institutions provide one another with, a story that is well told by Adam Tooze in a recent essay.

There is also an inkling here of what it takes to handle a crisis well. The dawning certainty that losses will have to happen, combined with rising uncertainty about where the losses will fall, are what can paralyse the system. The lesson is that the sooner losses can be crystallised in full, the better. That requires difficult political decisions — but as the past 10 years have surely shown, indecision ultimately imposes a much greater cost.

Numbers news

  • The eurozone recovery continues apace: unemployment in Portugal tumbled in the second quarter and is now lower than the average for monetary union countries.

    www.ft.com/__origami/service/image/v2/images/raw/http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Ffastft%2Ffiles%2F2017%2F08%2FPortugals_jobs_recovery_pushes_unemployment_to_2011-low-line_chart-ft-web-themelarge-600×4351… 315w” sizes=”(min-width: 46.25em) 400px, calc(100vw – 20px)” class=”” src=”cid:” style=”max-width: 100%; margin: 0.5em auto; display: block; height: auto;”>

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Americans once carpet-bombed North Korea. It’s time to remember that past | Bruce Cumings | Opinion | The Guardian

Americans once carpet-bombed North Korea. It’s time to remember that past | Bruce Cumings | Opinion | The Guardian

Americans once carpet-bombed North Korea. It’s time to remember that past | Bruce Cumings

donald Trump

‘Pyongyang had been razed to the ground.’ Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

As they always do on the anniversary of the armistice, North Koreans celebrated their “victory” in the Korean War on July 27. A few days later President Donald J Trump remarked that if the North Koreans make any more threats, they “will be met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which the world has never seen.”

No American president has uttered words like this since Harry Truman warned the Japanese, between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, either to surrender or face “a rain of ruin from the air, the likes of which has never been seen on this earth.” Trump’s nuclear bluster, made off-the-cuff between golf rounds, was widely condemned, but a few days later he doubled down on it.

Trump threatens North Korea with ‘fire and fury’

As a White House staffer told the New York Times, the president “believes he has a better feel for Mr Kim [Jong Un] than his advisors do. He thinks of Mr Kim as someone pushing people around, and Mr Trump thinks he needs to show that he cannot be pushed.”

Trump is surrounded by people who echo his fantasies of ultimate power. Sebastian Gorka, a strange figure advising Trump (said to be a Trump “favorite” and a dead ringer for a Bela Lugosi flunky in a Dracula movie), told Fox News that Trump’s “fire and fury” line meant “don’t test America and don’t test Donald J Trump.”

We are not just a superpower, Gorka went on, “we are now a hyper-power. Nobody in the world, especially not North Korea, comes close to challenging our military capabilities.” This has been a truism since the Soviet Union collapsed, but it doesn’t explain how the US has failed to win four of the five major wars it has fought since 1945. One of those wars was Korea, where rough peasant armies, North Korean and Chinese, fought the US to a standstill.

It was 64 years ago that North Koreans emerged from this war into a living nightmare, after three years of “rain and ruin” by the US Air Force. Pyongyang had been razed to the ground, with the Air Force stating in official documents that the North’s cities suffered greater damage than German and Japanese cities firebombed during World War II.

Just as Japan scholar Richard Minear termed Truman’s atomic attacks “exterminationist,” the great French writer and filmmaker Chris Marker wrote after a visit to the North in 1957, “Extermination crossed this land.” It was an indelible experience still drilled into the heads of every North Korean.

On my first visit to Pyongyang in 1981, a guide quickly brought up the bombing and said it had killed several of his family members. Wall posters depicted a wizened old woman in the midst of the bombing, declaring “American imperialists – wolves.”

The day after Trump’s bluster, the DPRK government stated: “The US once waged a tragic war that plunged this land into a sea of blood and fire, and has been leaving no stone unturned to obliterate the DPRK’s ideology and system century after century.”

There are 25 million human beings living in North Korea. They bleed like we do, they live and die like we do, they love their kin like we do. Trump’s callous and cavalier threat was perhaps the most irresponsible thing he has said since becoming president (which is really saying something), but most Americans will not know this because they know nothing about the carpet-bombing of North Korea.

What about the 50 million South Koreans, whose elders also suffered through this war? “Trump doesn’t seem to understand what an alliance is, and doesn’t seem to consider his ally when he says those things,” Lee Byong-chul, a senior fellow at an institute in Seoul told the New York Times.

“No American president has mentioned a military option so easily, so offhandedly as he has.” But here Trump has a precedent: Bill Clinton also didn’t bother to consult South Korean president Kim Young Sam when drawing up plans for a preemptive strike in June 1994.

The next few weeks are critical to this deepening crisis, with annual “Ulchi-Freedom Guardian” war games set to start up on August 21, involving tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops.

North Korean generals have been preparing for moments like this for decades, gaming out war scenarios during several crises going back to January 1968 when they seized the US spy ship Pueblo and held the crew for 11 months.

Thus the North’s statements in the current crisis (unlike Trump’s) have a concrete, predictable nature: lots of bluster and bombast combined with quite specific plans, namely four medium-range missiles to be launched into waters near Guam on August 15th, if Kim Jong Un gives the go ahead.

Pyongyang always pursues tit-for-tat strategies: the US lifts B1-B nuclear-capable bombers from Guam for flyovers of South Korea – a constant not just under Trump but also during Obama’s tenure – and the North chooses a scenario that will call attention to the nuclear blackmail that the US has pursued going back to the Korean War, and particularly during the decades from 1958 to 1990, when the US stationed hundreds of nukes in South Korea with standard plans to use them in the early stages of a North Korean invasion. Pyongyang also likes to choose dates that have historical resonance: August 15 is the anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonialism in 1945.

Upon the news of his wife’s death, Shakespeare’s Macbeth said, “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.” He famously added, “Signifying nothing.” Trump signified this: yet another American venture in extermination.

Bruce Cumings teaches at the University of Chicago and is the author of The Korean War: A History

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North Korea Keeps Testing Nuclear Weapons. See Pictures of Past Tests | Fortune.com

North Korea Keeps Testing Nuclear Weapons. See Pictures of Past Tests | Fortune.com

Here’s What It Looks Like When the World Tests Nuclear Weapons

As tensions mount between the United States and North Korea, with President Donald Trump promising “fire and fury” if threats from Pyongyang continue, the prospect of nuclear weapons actually being used looms larger than it has in years.

Like North Korea, the U.S. has a history of conducting its own nuclear tests. The first successful atom bomb test happened in Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. It was code named “Trinity.” That detonation was a part of the Manhattan Project, a government research project during World War II that gave us the first nuclear weapons. Near the end of World War II, on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and three days later another bomb over Nagasaki. Those were the first and last times nuclear weapons have been used in combat.

But since then more than 2,000 nuclear tests have been conducted in more than half-a-dozen countries. There have been a few treaties against testing put in place. A Partial Test Ban Treaty was signed in 1963 to prevent test detonations in the atmosphere, in space, and underwater. And in 1996 the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty was adopted to ban all nuclear explosions — but it has not been enforced. In 2009 the United Nations General Assembly declared Aug. 29 to be an International Day Against Nuclear Tests.

Of the eight countries that have tested nuclear weapons, only one has done so after 1998: North Korea. The country’s most recent test, a hydrogen bomb, occurred in September 2016. The U.S. currently relies on experimental data from computer models instead of testing live bombs.

The gallery above shows a selection of nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and present day.

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Total Solar Eclipse Could Prove Natural Gas Has a Bright Future | Fortune.com

Total Solar Eclipse Could Prove Natural Gas Has a Bright Future | Fortune.com

The Coming Solar Eclipse Is a Big Moment for Natural Gas

Natural gas is about to get a glimpse of its future role in the U.S. power mix as solar energy’s backup.

During the upcoming Aug. 21 eclipse, operators of giant solar fields from California to the Carolinas will rely on power from fast-start natural gas generators as well as hydroelectric plants and other sources to fill the gaps as the sky darkens. The celestial event, the first total solar eclipse visible in the lower 48 states since 1979, will provide owners of gas turbines a chance to shine even as the fossil-fuel is expected to be displaced over time by solar and wind energy.

The eclipse comes as the U.S. power grid undergoes a transformation that will bring increasing amounts of flexible resources needed to complement growing supplies of solar and wind energy. Solar installations have grown ninefold since 2012 and renewable sources are forecast to supply just as much of America’s electricity demand as gas by 2040, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The “electric grid of tomorrow” will increasingly have to deal with fluctuating power supplies from the wind and sun while incorporating quick-start gas turbines during events like the upcoming eclipse, said Stephen Berberich, president of California ISO, the state’s grid operator. Operators will also use new technologies to control demand when the moon will completely block the sun along a 70-mile-wide (113-kilometer) corridor stretching from Oregon to South Carolina.

Based on a Bloomberg calculation of grid forecasts, more than 9,000 megawatts of solar power may go down. That’s the equivalent of about nine nuclear reactors.

To help keep the lights on, the California Independent System Operator will tap the state’s network of gas generators and hydroelectric dams to make up for the loss of about 6 gigawatts of solar output over three hours. Duke Energy Corp. said it will utilize gas generators in North Carolina, the biggest solar state after California, to make up for output that is expected to sink 92 percent to about 200 megawatts in 90 minutes.

See Also: A Solar Eclipse Could Wipe Out 9,000 Megawatts of Power Supplies

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation doesn’t foresee any reliability issues as grid operators have been planning for the eclipse for months.

“Given that the timing and path of the eclipse are well understood and well reflected in solar generation forecasts by CAISO and other grid operators, generation dispatch or curtailment would be managed as a part of routine operations,” said Steve Krum, a spokesman for First Solar Inc., the largest operator of solar plants in the U.S.

AutoGrid Systems Inc. says some utilities will be using its software systems to shut off unnecessary appliances during the height of the eclipse, and bring them on slowly as solar power returns, said Adam Todorski, a director of product technology for the Palo Alto, California-based company.

“It’s a lot like a planned outage; you know it’s coming,” Todorski said. “You can get hundreds of megawatts by shedding things like water heaters and pool pumps, and heat pumps.”

Demand for gas is forecast to stop growing in the U.S. by 2040 as new technologies such as battery storage ramp up to provide backup for wind and solar, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

During a March, 2015 eclipse that crossed Europe, German grid operator TenneT TSO GmbH brought on 8 gigawatts of generating capacity to compensate for the loss of solar power as the sun disappeared, double the usual amount. It also kept hydropower plants that can store energy on standby and coordinated its flows with neighboring grid operators.

Power prices in Germany’s wholesale market surged then dipped for a short time as the first eclipse of the emerging solar age passed, briefly switching off thousands of panels that on the brightest days provide 40 percent of Germany’s power.

In the U.S., which will have another full eclipse in 2024, gas will continue to provide a backstop to solar until battery storage becomes cheaper and more widespread. Until then, regulators are urging consumers to pledge to cut consumption during the hours of the eclipse.

“We have plenty of wind, geothermal, hydro, and natural gas to make sure the grid runs smoothly during the solar eclipse, but we also have a lot of Californians who want to do their California thing and step in to help replace the sun when it takes a break,” said California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker.

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Trump considering privatizing Afghanistan military ops, massive contract to Blackwater founder


Trump considering privatizing Afghanistan military ops, massive contract to Blackwater founder

Prince of the Swamp

Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos, is one of the largest donors to Donald Trump and the Republican party as a whole. He’s also the founder of Blackwater, the private “security” company that was one of several private companies the George W. Bush administration used in Iraq. It was an extremely lucrative time for Blackwater. In 2001, Blackwater had contracts with the U.S. government valued at $736,906. By 2006, those contracts skyrocketed to $593 million, with a combined total of more than $1 billion in those five years. 

Erik Prince was also a “shadow” adviser for the Trump campaign. He even worked to create a secret backchannel between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin. 

The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.

The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.

We know Trump values loyalty above all else (even though he shows no loyalty to anyone who does not have the last name Trump) and Erik Prince is about to be rewarded with more massive government contracts, this time in Afghanistan. In an interview with USA Today, Prince revealed the new plan to privatize military operations in Afghanistan:

The White House is actively considering a bold plan to turn over a big chunk of the U.S. war in Afghanistan to private contractors in an effort to turn the tide in a stalemated war, according to the former head of a security firm pushing the project.

Under the proposal, 5,500 private contractors, primarily former Special Operations troops, would advise Afghan combat forces. The plan also includes a 90-plane private air force that would provide air support in the nearly 16-year-old war against Taliban insurgents, Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater security firm, told USA TODAY.

The unprecedented proposal comes as the U.S.-backed Afghan military faces a stalemate in the war and growing frustration by President Trump about the lack of progress in the war.

As Trump Blows Hard, Wind-Power Job Sector Surges – Juan Cole – Truthdig


As Trump Blows Hard, Wind-Power Job Sector Surges

CBS News reports that jobs in the wind energy field will grow 108 percent in the next 7 years. Working on wind turbines, in short, is the fastest-growing job sector in the United States now and in the foreseeable future.

One of the characteristics of wind turbines is that they can be refurbished and software can be installed in them to improve their integration into the grid. Alete is putting $80 million into refurbishing 350 turbines in Minnesota and Iowa. That project translates into jobs.

Wind produces 37% of Iowa’s electricity, contributing to a steep decline in the state’s dependence on coal (though it still uses too much coal).

About 17% of Minnesota’s electricity comes from wind.

Most of this wind generation capacity was added in just the last decade.

The two biggest private energy players in this industry are Xcel (6,686 megs of wind power capacity) and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway energy (6,405 megawatts of wind capacity).

Xcel is busy adding 11 new major wind farms, totaling 3,400 megawatts of capacity, and wind will account for 34 percent of its electricity generation mix by 2021, up from 19 percent now.

All this is one reason that coal jobs are not coming back, no matter what that blowhard Trump says.  On the other hand, a lot of coal workers will be retrained to work on wind turbines.  China has a program to help Wyoming coal works make this transition.

In California’s poverty-stricken ‘Inland Empire’ region alone, green energy since 2010 has generated 36,000 jobs and $9.6 billion in business investment. Riverside and San Bernardino counties are among the smoggiest in the state, so moving to renewables will not only benefit the economy but will also combat respiratory and heart disease produced by breathing air polluted by coal and gas emmissions.  Not to mention that those emissions are producing global heating that could threaten California’s prosperity.

Nationwide, the electric power industry directly employs 2.66 million workers, and indirectly supports 7 million US jobs.  It adds $880 billion to our gross domestic product annually, which amounts to 5% of the whole.  Much of the system needs to be redone, which is a labor-intensive project.

Fossil fuel subsidies are a staggering $5 tn per year | John Abraham | Environment | The Guardian


Fossil fuel subsidies are a staggering $5 tn per year

In this photo taken on November 19, 2015, smoke belches from a coal-fired power station near Datong, in China’s northern Shanxi province.

In this photo taken on November 19, 2015, smoke belches from a coal-fired power station near Datong, in China’s northern Shanxi province. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

Fossil fuels have two major problems that paint a dim picture for their future energy dominance. These problems are inter-related but still should be discussed separately. First, they cause climate change. We know that, we’ve known it for decades, and we know that continued use of fossil fuels will cause enormous worldwide economic and social consequences.

Second, fossil fuels are expensive. Much of their costs are hidden, however, as subsidies. If people knew how large their subsidies were, there would be a backlash against them from so-called financial conservatives.

A study was just published in the journal World Development that quantifies the amount of subsidies directed toward fossil fuels globally, and the results are shocking. The authors work at the IMF and are well-skilled to quantify the subsidies discussed in the paper.

Let’s give the final numbers and then back up to dig into the details. The subsidies were $4.9 tn in 2013 and they rose to $5.3 tn just two years later. According to the authors, these subsidies are important because first, they promote fossil fuel use which damages the environment. Second, these are fiscally costly. Third, the subsidies discourage investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy that compete with the subsidized fossil fuels. Finally, subsidies are very inefficient means to support low-income households.

With these truths made plain, why haven’t subsidies been eliminated? The answer to that is a bit complicated. Part of the answer to this question is that people do not fully appreciate the costs of fossil fuels to the rest of us. Often we think of them as all gain with no pain.

So what is a subsidy anyway? Well, that too isn’t black and white. Typically, people on the street think of a subsidy as a direct financial cost that result in consumers paying a price that is below the opportunity cost of the product (fossil fuel in this case). However, as pointed out by the authors, a more correct view of the costs would encompass:

not only supply costs but also (most importantly) environmental costs like global warming and deaths from air pollution and taxes applied to consumer goods in general.

The authors argue, persuasively, that this broader view of subsidies is the correct view because they “reflect the gap between consumer prices and economically efficient prices.”

Without getting too deep into the weeds, the authors discuss both consumer subsidies (when the price paid by a consumer is below a benchmark price) and producer subsidies (when producers receive direct or indirect support which increases their profitability). The authors then quantify what benefits would be achieved if the fossil fuel subsidies were reformed.

Interested readers are directed to the paper for further details, but the results are what surprised me. Pre-tax (the narrow view of subsidies) subsidies amount to 0.7% of global GDP in 2011 and 2013. But the more appropriate definition of subsidies is much larger (8 times larger than the pre-tax subsidies). We are talking enormous values of 5.8% of global GDP in 2011, rising to 6.5% in 2013.

The authors also broke the results down by fossil fuel type and usage (coal, petroleum, natural gas, electricity). It is not clear to me how the authors separated the various fuel sources out of electrical generation; however, the results show that petroleum and coal receive much larger subsidies compared to their counterpart fuels. The authors organized results by geographical region and found that the top three subsidizers of fossil fuels are China, USA, and Russia, respectively. The European Union is a bit less than half of the entire US subsidy. Other notable countries and regions are discussed.

There are two key takeaway messages. First, fossil fuel subsidies are enormous and they are costs that we all pay, in one form or another. Second, the subsidies persist in part because we don’t fully appreciate their size. These two facts, taken together, further strengthen the case to be made for clean and renewable energy. Clean energy sources do not suffer from the environmental costs that plague fossil fuels.

I asked one of the authors, Dr. Coady, why their work is important. He told me:

A key motivation for the paper was to increase awareness among policy makers and the public of the large subsidies that arise from pricing fossil fuels below their true social costs—this broader definition of subsidies accounts for the many negative side effects associated with the consumption of these fuels. By estimating these costs on a global scale, we hope to stimulate an informed policy debate and provide renewed impetus for policy reforms to reap the large potential benefits from more efficient pricing of fossil fuels in terms of improved public finances, improved population health and lower carbon emissions.

As a climate scientist, I focus almost exclusively on the scientific questions related to climate change. But equally important are the economic issues that, when dealt with, will usher in a new era of energy.

The Congressional Map Has A Record-Setting Bias Against Democrats | FiveThirtyEight

The Congressional Map Has A Record-Setting Bias Against Democrats

And it’s not just 2018.

Aug. 7, 2017 at 5:54 AM

When Democrats think about their party’s problems on the political map, they tend to think of President Trump’s ability to win the White House despite losing the popular vote and Republicans’ potent efforts to gerrymander congressional districts. But their problems extend beyond the Electoral College and the House: The Senate hasn’t had such a strong pro-GOP bias since the ratification of direct Senate elections in 1913.

Even if Democrats were to win every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats representing places that Hillary Clinton won or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points — a pretty good midterm by historical standards — they could still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats.

Continue reading The Congressional Map Has A Record-Setting Bias Against Democrats | FiveThirtyEight

U.S. Nuclear Comeback Stalls as Two Reactors Are Abandoned – The New York Times

U.S. Nuclear Comeback Stalls as Two Reactors Are Abandoned

The V.C. Summer nuclear project near Jenkinsville, S.C. The owners, Santee Cooper and South Carolina Gas & Electric, announced Monday that they were abandoning two unfinished nuclear reactors rather than than saddle customers with additional costs.

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

In a major blow to the future of nuclear power in the United States, two South Carolina utilities said on Monday that they would abandon two unfinished nuclear reactors in the state, putting an end to a project that was once expected to showcase advanced nuclear technology but has since been plagued by delays and cost overruns.

The two reactors, which have cost the utilities roughly $9 billion, remain less than 40 percent built.

Continue reading U.S. Nuclear Comeback Stalls as Two Reactors Are Abandoned – The New York Times

The Myth of America’s Golden Age – POLITICO Magazine

The Myth of America’s Golden Age

What growing up in Gary, Indiana, taught me about inequality.

Picketers playing ball outside closed mill during steel srike. (Photo by Francis Miller//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

I hadn’t realized when I was growing up in Gary, Indiana, an industrial town on the southern shore of Lake Michigan plagued by discrimination, poverty and bouts of high unemployment, that I was living in the golden era of capitalism. It was a company town, named after the chairman of the board of U.S. Steel. It had the world’s largest integrated steel mill and a progressive school system designed to turn Gary into a melting pot fed by migrants from all over Europe. But by the time I was born in 1943,

Continue reading The Myth of America’s Golden Age – POLITICO Magazine

Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart – The New York Times

Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Fucked-up Chart

Income Growth

Over previous 34 years

But now, the very affluent (the 99.999th percentile)

see the largest income growth.

The poor and middle class used to see the largest income growth.

99.99th percentile

Note: Inflation-adjusted annual average growth using income after taxes, transfers and non-cash benefits.

Many Americans can’t remember anything other than an economy with skyrocketing inequality, in which living standards for most Americans are stagnating and the rich are pulling away. It feels inevitable.

But it’s not.

5 Debunked Gender Myths In That Google Anti-Diversity Rant

5 Debunked Gender Myths In That Google Anti-Diversity Rant


Related: Everything You Believe Is Wrong: There Is No Such Thing As A Male Or Female Brain


He claims that men and women are inherently different, and it’s not just because gender is socialized:

  1. They’re universal across human cultures.
  2. They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone.
  3. Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males.
  4. The underlying traits are highly heritable.
  5. They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Every single one of those claims is false.  

Continue reading 5 Debunked Gender Myths In That Google Anti-Diversity Rant

Hullabaloo


Hullabaloo

Saturday, August 05, 2017

 
Saturday Night at the Movies



Happy end of the world: Top 15 Nuke Films

By Dennis Hartley



















“The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country.”

-J. Robert Oppenheimer

Sunday marks the 72nd anniversary of mankind’s entry into that “different country”. So what have we learned since 8:15am, August 6, 1945-if anything? Well, we’ve tried to harness the power of the atom for “good”, however, as has been demonstrated repeatedly, that’s not working out so well (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, et al) Also, there are enough stockpiled weapons of mass destruction to knock Planet Earth off its axis, and we have no guarantees that some nut job, whether enabled by the powers vested in him by the state, or the voices in his head (doesn’t really matter-end result’s the same) won’t be in a position at some point in the future to let one or two or a hundred rip. Hopefully, cool heads and diplomacy will continue to keep us above ground and rad-free.

Yes, one can always hope. Yet…this happened earlier this week:

There will be war between the United States and North Korea over the rogue nation’s missile program if it continues to aim intercontinental ballistic missiles at America, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said President Donald Trump has told him.

“He has told me that. I believe him,” the lawmaker said Tuesday on TODAY. “If I were China, I would believe him, too, and do something about it.”

Graham said that Trump won’t allow the regime of Kim Jong Un to have an ICBM with a nuclear weapon capability to “hit America.”

“If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here. And He has told me that to my face,” Graham said. […]

Graham said military experts are “wrong” that no good options exist.

“There is a military option to destroy North Korea’s program and North Korea itself,” he added.


The senator’s not saying we won’t get our hair mussed, but hey…I feel safe. You?

Every January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists gives the human race its annual physical, to determine the official time on the Doomsday Clock (with midnight representing Armageddon). This past January, they moved the hands 30 seconds closer:

This already-threatening world situation was the backdrop for a rise in strident nationalism worldwide in 2016, including in a US presidential campaign during which the eventual victor, Donald Trump, made disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons. […]

It is [now] two and a half minutes to midnight. The board’s decision to move the clock less than a full minute—something it has never before done—reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days.

I needn’t remind you that 6 months on, Donald J. Trump continues to be President of the United States. Like the scientists said: The clock ticks. Global danger looms. And the Master of 3am Tweets has those nuclear codes. With that happy thought in mind, here are my picks for the top 15 cautionary films to watch before we all go together (when we go).



The Atomic Café- Whoopee, we’re all gonna die! But along the way, we might as well have a few laughs. That seems to be the impetus behind this 1982 collection of cleverly reassembled footage culled from U.S. government propaganda shorts from the Cold War era (Mk 1), originally designed to educate the public about how to “survive” a nuclear attack (all you need to do is get under a desk…everyone knows that!). In addition to the Civil Defense campaigns (which include the classic “duck and cover” tutorials) the filmmakers have also drawn from a rich vein of military training films, which reduce the possible effects of a nuclear strike to something akin to a barrage from, oh I don’t know- a really big field howitzer. Harrowing, yet perversely entertaining. Written and directed by Jayne Loader, Pierce Rafferty and Kevin Rafferty (Kevin went on to co-direct the similarly constructed 1999 doc, The Last Cigarette, a takedown of the tobacco industry).




Black Rain– For obvious reasons, there have been a fair amount of postwar Japanese films dealing with the subject of nuclear destruction and its aftermath. Some take an oblique approach, like Gojira or Kurosawa’s I Live in Fear. Others deal directly with survivors (known in Japan as hibakusha films). One of the top hibakusha films is this overlooked 1989 drama from Shomei Imamura, a relatively simple tale of three Hiroshima survivors: an elderly couple and their niece, whose scars run much deeper than physical. The narrative is sparse, yet contains more layers than an onion (especially when one takes the deep complexities of Japanese society under consideration). Interestingly, Imamura injects a polemic which points an accusatory finger in an unexpected direction.





The Day after Trinity– This absorbing film about the Manhattan Project and its subsequent fallout (historical, political and existential) is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. At its center, it is a profile of project leader J. Robert Oppenheimer, whose moment of professional triumph (the successful test of the world’s first atomic bomb, three weeks before Hiroshima) also brought him an unnerving precognition about the horror that he and his fellow physicists had enabled the military machine to unleash.

Oppenheimer’s journey from “father of the atomic bomb” to anti-nuke activist (and having his life destroyed by the post-war Red hysteria) is a tragic tale of Shakespearean proportion. Two recommended companion pieces: Roland Joffe’s 1989 drama Fat Man and Little Boy, about the working relationship between Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz) and military director of the Manhattan Project, General Leslie Groves (Paul Newman); and an outstanding 1980 BBC miniseries called Oppenheimer (starring Sam Waterston).


Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb– “Mein fuehrer! I can walk!” Although we have yet to experience the global thermonuclear annihilation that ensues following the wheelchair-bound Dr. Strangelove’s joyous (if short-lived) epiphany, so many other depictions in Stanley Kubrick’s seriocomic masterpiece about the tendency for those in power to eventually rise to their own level of incompetence have since come to pass, that you wonder why the filmmakers even bothered to make it all up. It’s the one about an American military base commander who goes a little funny in the head (you know…”funny”) and sort of launches a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Hilarity and oblivion ensues. And what a cast: Peter Sellers (as three characters), George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, Keenan Wynn, James Earl Jones and Peter Bull. There are so many great quotes, that you might as well bracket the entire screenplay (by Kubrick, Terry Southern and Peter George) with quotation marks.


Fail-Safe– Dr. Strangelove…without the laughs. This no-nonsense 1964 thriller from the late great director Sidney Lumet takes a more clinical look at how a wild card scenario (in this case, a simple hardware malfunction) could ultimately trigger a nuclear showdown between the Americans and the Russians. Talky and a bit stagey; but riveting nonetheless thanks to Lumet’s skillful pacing (and trademark knack for bringing out the best in his actors), Walter Bernstein’s intelligent screenplay (with uncredited assistance from Peter George, who also co-scripted Dr. Strangelove) and a superb cast that includes Henry Fonda (a commanding performance, literally and figuratively), Walter Matthau, Fritz Weaver, and Larry Hagman. There’s no fighting in this war room (aside from one minor scuffle), but lots of suspense. The film’s final scene is chilling and unforgettable.


I Live in Fear-This 1955 Akira Kurosawa film is one of the great director’s most overlooked efforts. It’s a melodrama concerning an aging foundry owner (Toshiro Mifune, unrecognizable in Coke-bottle glasses and silver-frosted pomade) who literally “lives in fear” of the H-bomb. Convinced that South America would be the “safest” place on Earth from radioactive fallout, he tries to sway his wife and grown children to pull up stakes and resettle on a farm in Brazil. His children, who have families of their own and rely on their father’s factory for income, are not so hot on that idea. In fact, they take him to family court and have him declared incompetent. This sends Mifune’s character spiraling into madness. Or are his fears really so “crazy”? It is one of Mifune’s most powerful and moving performances. Kurosawa instills shades of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” into the narrative (a well he drew from again 30 years later, in his 1985 film Ran).


Ladybug, Ladybug– I only recently caught this 1963 sleeper for the first time, when Turner Classic Movies presented their premiere airing several weeks ago (to my knowledge, it has never been available in a home video format), and it really knocked my socks off. The film marked the second collaboration between husband-and-wife creative team of writer Eleanor Perry and director Frank Perry (The Swimmer, Last Summer, Diary of a Mad Housewife). Based on an incident that occurred during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the story centers on how students and staff of a rural school react to a Civil Defense alert indicating an imminent nuclear strike. While there are indications that it could be a false alarm, the principal sends the children home early. As teachers and students stroll through the relatively peaceful countryside, fears and anxieties come to the fore. Naturalistic performances bring the film’s cautionary message all too close to home.


Miracle Mile– Depending on your worldview, this is either an “end of the world” film for romantics, or the perfect date movie for fatalists. Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham give winning performances as a musician and a waitress who Meet Cute at L.A.’s La Brea Tar Pits museum. But before they can hook up for their first date, Edwards stumbles onto a fairly reliable tip that L.A. is about to get hosed…in a major way. The resulting “countdown” scenario is a genuine, edge-of-your seat nail-biter. In fact, this modestly budgeted, 90-minute sleeper offers more heart-pounding excitement (and much more believable characters) than any bloated Hollywood disaster epic from the likes of a Michael Bay or a Roland Emmerich. Writer-director Steve De Jarnatt stopped doing feature films after this 1988 gem (his only other feature was Cherry 2000).

























One Night Stand – An early effort from eclectic filmmaker John Duigan (Winter of Our Dreams, The Year My Voice Broke, Flirting, Sirens, etc.). This 1984 sleeper is a worthwhile entry amidst the flurry of nuclear paranoia-themed movies that proliferated throughout the Reagan era. Through circumstance, four young people (three Australians and an American sailor who has jumped ship) get holed up in an otherwise empty Sydney Opera House on the eve of escalating nuclear tension between the superpowers in Eastern Europe. In a concerted effort to deflect their collective anxiety over increasingly ominous news bulletins droning on from the radio, they find creative ways to keep their spirits up.

The film is uneven at times, but for the most part Duigan capably juggles the busy mashup of romantic comedy, apocalyptic thriller and anti-war statement. There are several striking set pieces; particularly an eerily affecting scene where the quartet watch Fritz Langs’s Metropolis as the Easybeats hit “Friday on My Mind” is juxtaposed over its orchestral score. Midnight Oil performs in a scene where the two women attend a concert. The bittersweet denouement (in an underground tube station) is quite powerful.


Special Bulletin- This outstanding 1983 made-for-TV movie has been overshadowed by the nuclear nightmare-themed TV movie The Day After, which aired the same year (I’m sure I will be lambasted by some readers for not including the former on this list, but I find it overly melodramatic and vastly overrated). Directed by Edward Zwick and written by Marshall Herskovitz (the same creative team behind thirtysomething), the drama is framed like an actual “live” television broadcast, with local news anchors and reporters interrupting regular programming to cover a breaking story. A domestic terrorist group has seized a docked tugboat in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. A reporter relays their demand: If every nuclear triggering device stored at the nearby U.S. Naval base isn’t delivered to them by a specified time, they will detonate their own homemade nuclear device (equal in power to the bomb dropped on Nagasaki). The original airing apparently created a panic for some viewers in Charleston (a la Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938). Riveting and chilling. Nominated for 6 Emmys, it took home 4.


Testament– Originally an American Playhouse presentation, this film was released to theatres and garnered a well-deserved Best Actress nomination for Jane Alexander. Director Lynne Littman takes a low key, deliberate approach, but pulls no punches. Alexander, her husband (William DeVane) and three kids live in sleepy Hamlin, California, where afternoon cartoons are interrupted by a news flash that nuclear explosions have occurred in New York. Then there is a flash of a different kind when nearby San Francisco (where DeVane has gone on a business trip) receives a direct strike.

There is no exposition on the political climate that precipitates the attacks; this is a wise decision, as it puts the focus on the humanistic message of the film. All of the post-nuke horrors ensue, but they are presented sans the histrionics and melodrama that informs many entries in the genre. The fact that the nightmarish scenario unfolds so deliberately, and amidst such everyday suburban banality, is what makes it very difficult to shake off.

As the children (and adults) of Hamlin succumb to the inevitable scourge of radiation sickness and steadily “disappear”, like the children of the ‘fairy tale’ Hamlin, you are left haunted by the final line of the school production of “The Pied Piper” glimpsed earlier in the film… “Your children are not dead. They will return when the world deserves them.”


Thirteen Days– I confess that I had a block against seeing this 2000 release about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis for years, for several reasons. For one, director Roger Donaldson’s uneven output (for every Smash Palace or No Way Out, he’s got a Species or a Cocktail). I also couldn’t get past “Kevin Costner? In another movie about JFK?” Also, I felt the outstanding 1974 made-for-TV film, The Missiles of October would be hard to top. But I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be one of Donaldson’s better films.

Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp make a very credible JFK and RFK, respectively. The film works as a political thriller, yet it is also intimate and moving at times (especially in the Oval Office scenes between the brothers). Costner provides the “fly on the wall” perspective as Kennedy insider Kenny O’Donnell. Costner gives a compassionate performance; on the downside he demonstrates a tin ear for dialects (that Hahvad Yahd brogue comes and goes of its own free will). According to a tidbit posted on the Internet Movie Database, this was the first film screened at the White House by George and Laura Bush in 2001. Knowing this now…I don’t know whether to laugh or cry myself to sleep.



The War Game / Threads– Out of all of the selections on this list, these two British TV productions are the grimmest and most sobering “nuclear nightmare” films of them all.

Writer-director Peter Watkins’ 1965 docudrama, The War Game was initially produced for television, but was deemed too shocking and disconcerting for the small screen by the BBC. It was mothballed until picked up for theatrical distribution, which snagged it an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1967. Watkins envisions the aftermath of a nuke attack on London, and pulls no punches. Very ahead of its time, and it still packs quite a wallop.

The similar Threads debuted on the BBC in 1984, later airing in the U.S. on TBS. Mick Jackson directs with an uncompromising realism that makes The Day After (the U.S. TV film from the previous year that tackled the same scenario) look like a Teletubbies episode. The story takes a medium sized city (Sheffield) and depicts what would happen to its populace during and after a nuclear strike, in graphic detail. It’s stark and affecting.

Both of these productions make it very clear that, while they are dramatizations, the intent is not to “entertain” you in any sense of the word. The message is simple and direct-nothing good comes out of a nuclear conflict. It’s a living, breathing Hell for all concerned-and anyone “lucky” enough to survive will soon wish they were fucking dead.



When the Wind Blows– This animated 1986 U.K. film was adapted by director Jimmy Murakami from Raymond Brigg’s eponymous graphic novel. It is a simple yet affecting story about an aging couple (wonderfully voiced by venerable British thespians Sir John Mills and Dame Peggy Ashcroft) who live in a cozy cottage nestled in the bucolic English countryside. Unfortunately, an escalating conflict in another part of the world is about to go global and shatter their quiet lives. Very similar in tone to Testament (another film on this list), in its sense of intimacy amidst slowly unfolding mass horror. Haunting, moving, and beautifully animated, with a combination of tradition cell and stop-motion techniques. The soundtrack features music by David Bowie, Roger Waters, and Squeeze.

Previous posts with related themes:

Don’t know where, don’t know when
Criterion reissues Dr. Strangelove

More reviews at Den of Cinema
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–Dennis Hartley
digby 8/05/2017 05:30:00 PM