Friday, February 24, 2017

Yes, Global Warming Is Real and Man-Made: and the Earth doesn't care if you believe that

So, I posted this status update on my Facebook page Wednesday:

It's mid-February in Michigan and I drove to work with my sunroof open. We're expecting a high of 67 degrees. Global warming is the greatest man-made ecological disaster in history, but some of the individual days are quite pleasant if you live in the North but aren't a fan of winter.

Tom Schoenberg, another FB friend of mine expressed the same notion more elegantly, "The weather is absolutely delightful, assuming you don't think about it."

I wasn't really trolling for global-warming deniers on purpose, though it ended up that way. Mostly I was just trying to express the notion that although I've been enjoying the warm weather we've had in Michigan -- which is usually a hopeless, frozen, iceball of grey death this time of year -- my enjoyment is muted a bit by the knowledge that it comes as part of a weather pattern exacerbated by global warming, and that the same weather pattern that brought me a pleasant drive to work has also resulted in a lot of hardships elsewhere.

In retrospect, it shouldn't have been a surprise to me that some of my conservative amigos chose this post to dispute the notion that global warming is real, that it is man-made, and that it might just be related to unprecedented record high temperatures across the US.

But here's the thing. The reality of man-made global warming is not a "belief." It is a fact. And the Earth doesn't care if you believe that or not.

A belief that global warming is not real or caused by human activity has become a bedrock conservative belief, enshrined with "cut taxes" and "cut government." While I think we'd all agree that reduced taxes and smaller government are core beliefs of conservatism, I'd certainly argue that opposition to man-made global warming is no more intrinsic to conservative political philosophy than opposition to gravity, chemical combustion, or the "theory" that the Earth is round and orbits the Sun.**

As the oft-ballyhooed statistic goes, the fact of man-made global warming is supported by 97% of climatologists and nearly 100% of climatologists not funded by the fossil-fuel industry. However, since the fossil-fuel industry also provides a ton of funding for Republican politicians and media, an entire political party has now bought in to the cottage industry of pseudo-science devoted to disputing the reality of man-made global warming. This is part and parcel of the same industry-funded lobbying pattern that has disputed other proven facts to try to avoid or ease anti-pollution regulation: "Nobody knows whether smoking is bad for you." ... "There's no connection between lead in gasoline and lead blood levels in children" ... etc.

There's another factor at work, too. If you conclude that global warming is real and man-made, then lots of individual decisions that you make on a daily basis -- everything from choosing a car to turning on a light bulb -- are complicit in making the Earth a worse place for future generations. That sort of knowledge is really a drag. It's a lot easier on the conscience to just ignore it if you can find a good rationalization for doing so.

The opposition to the reality of man-made global-warming has transcended tactical lobbying. It has become a tribal marker for Republicans. If you say that global warming is real and man-made you are immediately marginalized with the RINO (Republican in name only) tag. Ask Jon Huntsman. The only parallel I can think of is evolution, the mention of which immediately conjures similar debates, though that controversy has its roots in religious beliefs, not a profit motive.

And herein lies the problem with almost everything in our political culture these days: selective bias abetted by paid shills with a profit motive. People choose to believe things based on their allegiance to one side or another in our partisan world, then cherry pick the pile of crapola that Information Age has become for support. Beliefs based on tribal loyalty override beliefs based on a preponderance of the evidence.

And in the middle of it all, truth and facts die.

I don't know how to fix that. I wish I did.

Making reliable information available to people is the very heart of what I do professionally.

For what it's worth, my own certain knowledge that global warming is true and man-made has roots that go much further back than the partisan wars or even my decision to eventually align with the Democratic Party. For me it's probably worked in the opposite direction: repeated denial of global warming by the Republicans is one of the factors that pushed me to become a Democratic voter, then an active Democrat.

I took an Earth science class back in 1987 at Cornell that included a substantial unit on the science of global warming, which was at the time a much less well proven theory. Aside from going through a lot of the basic science of how it works -- looking at absorption spectra, testing results in small-scale samples -- it also served as a good marker for me in terms of the forecasts that existed at the time.

There are lots of complications in climatology: feedback loops, complex air and ocean currents, natural variation, natural trends, the difference between climate and weather. There's lots of room for debate among the details. But as far as man-made global warming goes, from my perspective we've been running a big, giant experiment for the last 30 years. As far as I'm concerned, the results are in.

Theory (1987): Greenhouse gases warm the earth. If you add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the Earth will warm further.

Experiment: Add "x" amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, a few others) for 30 years. Measure temperature before and after.

Prediction: Earth warms.

Results (2017): "x" amount of greenhouse gases have been added to the atmosphere. Earth has warmed.

Conclusion #1: Adding greenhouse gases to the Earth's atmosphere warms the Earth.
Conclusion #2: We have no idea what happened. It's inexplicable!

You literally would have to live that experiment then choose Conclusion #2 to believe that global warming is not man-made and caused by increases in greenhouse gases. That is not a rational choice.

But it is tribal. And very human.

**True story: about six months ago I was unable to convince one particular conservative Republican that the Earth is round and orbits the Sun. I don't suffer the delusion that this particular essay will change anybody's mind about global warming, either.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Trump at the Four-Week Mark: It's Getting Worse

As a lot of folks have said around the ol' Interwebs lately, it's even crazier and less competent than I expected, even given that I expected it to be completely crazy and incompetent. I'll list a few items from this week below, then talk a bit about where I think this is going.

Monday night National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned after it became public knowledge that he had been recorded in conversations with the Russian ambassador about easing sanctions imposed that day by President Obama for Russian hacking. During yesterday's press conference Trump said that Flynn had been right to do that. Just as a reminder, yes, is illegal for private citizens to conduct foreign policy discussions on behalf of the United States.

In response the Republicans in Congress mostly announced their intentions not to investigate anything in regard to Russian influence, penetration, or control of the Trump administration, except maybe to see if they can uncover where the leaks confirming that Flynn violated the law came from.

The Watergate-era phrase "What did the President know, and when did he know it," has become very popular this week.

Also on the Russian front this week Russia launched a cruise missile, had fighter planes buzz a US warship, and positioned a spy ship off our Naval shipyard in Connecticut -- all with no response from the Trump administration.

Reports also surfaced Wednesday that the intelligence community is now withholding information from Trump and his administration in the belief that Trump and/or several members of his administration are compromised, and that sensitive information released to the President of the United States and his top staff will leak to the Russian government.

Yesterday Trump offered the now-open job of National Security Adviser to Rear Admiral Robert Harward. He declined the job, apparently unwilling to take it if he could not install his own team and have control over national security policy. Normally that's the definition of the job of the National Security Advisor. It seems that national security really is being controlled by Trump political adviser Steve Bannon, instead.

As far as I know, nobody has ever turned down the offer to be National Security Adviser, which has until now been considered one of the most important roles in our nation.

Also yesterday, Trump held a truly loopy press conference. I could type all day about it, but let's just pick a few items:

Trump again lied about the size of his electoral victory, calling it "the Biggest Electoral College win since Reagan." (His 304 electoral votes were more than George W. Bush, but less than George H.W. Bush in 1988 or the totals amassed by Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.) When pressed by a reporter about the lie he replied, "Well, I don't know, I was given that information. I was given -- I actually, I've seen that information around."

He chastised a Jewish reporter for asking what his administration intended to do about a series of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and growing anti-Semitism, calling the question "not a fair question" and "very insulting." In asking the question the reporter very clearly stated that he was not accusing the President or his staff of anti-Semitism, he simply wanted to know what the Trump administration planned to do about the growing number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S.

During his opening remarks he said this about protesters opposing the repeal of Obamacare, "they fill up our alleys with people that you wonder how they get there, but they are not the Republican people that our representatives are representing." Yes, the President of the United States stated that Republican Congressional Representatives are in Congress to only represent Republicans.

In fairness to Trump, Congressional Republicans behave as if they only represent pro-Republican donors and lobbyists, so perhaps we'll just classify this statement under Freudian slip.

During the press conference Trump also made several odd statements about nuclear weapons and warfare during replies about Russian influence in his administration that made me truly rue the fact that he's the man with his finger on the nuclear trigger. I'll take solace, however, in this bit, "We're a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we're allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other."

At least somebody explained to him that a nuclear war would be a bad idea. I am glad he has that bit straight. I like to hope most of us will survive the next three years and eleven months.

Also this week, a Republican Congressman introduced a bill in the House to simply abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. That sounds crazy, but today the GOP Senate confirmed as the new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a man whose mission is to gut the EPA on behalf of the fossil fuels industry.

The Trump administration also continues to push for extreme actions against immigrants, both legal and illegal. They intend to issue a new version of their Muslim-based ban on entering the country in hopes that it will pass muster with the courts this time. This morning the Associated Press broke a story on an internal White House draft memo regarding plans to use up to 100,000 members of the National Guard to round up illegal immigrants for deportation. This would be a shocking advance towards imposing a police state in America. Although the White House refused comment despite repeated requests for comment before the story broke, White House Spokesman Sean Spicer immediately denied that it was true.

Since Sean Spicer has already established that he will lie about anything it's anybody's guess how close the memo is to becoming policy.

A PPP poll released last Friday indicated that Americans were split 46% to 46% on whether Trump should be impeached, an increase of 6% over the results in the Gallup poll released the previous week. Trump's approval rating continues to decline since his inauguration, now hovering at or slightly below 40% in most polls, though the Rasmussen poll of voters, which often leans Republican, still has him above 50%.

Perhaps most importantly, all of the polls show a huge partisan divide. Nearly all Democrats disapprove of Trump's performance. An overwhelming majority of Republicans approve. This split matters because the vast majority of Republicans Congressmen live in safe districts drawn by Republicans or represent red- or red-leaning states in the Senate. They will continue to hold themselves accountable only to Republican voters and not to the majority of Americans as long as Trump's approval ratings continue to remain strong among Republicans. Whether that continues the case probably relies on his ability to keep Fox News and the rest of the right-wing mediasphere on board. So far, they're all on board the Trump train.

I took a survey of the late-night talk show monologues last night, to see if I could get a sense of how this is all playing outside of the immediate news media or my various lefty amigos. I'd say the mood varied from bemused wonderment to appalled concern. It could sour quickly. Or it could hold up. Trump is a never-ending source of fodder for comedy monologue writers.

What next?

My guess is that we'll continue along this chaotic path for a while -- weeks? months? -- muddling along with slowly sinking approval ratings for Trump until we have a genuine crisis, something other than the self-imposed political crises that have enveloped Washington for the last month.

What that crisis will be, I have no idea. Natural disaster? Military conflict? Terrorism attack? Iron-clad evidence of Russian collusion?

Who knows? Your guess is as good as mine.

If the Trump administration handles it well or at least reasonably competently, they will buy themselves a good deal of rope, probably enough to make it to the 2018 midterm elections. If it goes poorly, especially if it seems to have been botched by incompetence -- Bush with Hurricane Katrina, for example -- we may see public opinion shift much more strongly against Trump.

I know my Democratic amigos mostly believe that any crisis will be met with the demonstrated incompetence we've seen to date. But it's also entirely possible that Trump's administration handles a genuine emergency genuinely well, or at least well enough to get some of the news media back on board. These things always have a way of surprising you.

How this all plays out relies a great deal on the GOP Congress. It's already obvious that they don't want to investigate Trump because they're worried about what they will find. They don't want to do anything that will distract from their rush to push through a long list of law and policy changes. If Trump's approval ratings are high enough to carry them through the mid-term elections with continued control of Congress, they'll probably stay hitched to him. If not, they'll jettison him. Pence would be just as willing to sign their bills, but dumping Trump would cause them enormous difficulties with the Republican base. A split in the party is the only thing truly likely to endanger their control of Congress, given their gerrymandered majority and an unfavorable 2018 map for the Democrats in the Senate.

The problem they face is that the longer Trump stays in office the more strongly they will be co-branded with him. If they're forced to try to push him out of office in 2018, he'll probably take them down with him.

My best guess is that we'll have is a race to push as much GOP legislation through Congress as possible. That race will be run against the ticking clock of the 2018 elections and the potential for a complete Trump implosion. From the GOP Congressional perspective their current situation may look like they're trying to push all their hopes and dreams through a corridor that contains two ticking time bombs. We only know how much time remains for one of those bombs. The other could explode tomorrow or not at all.

The 22-1/2 months until the next session of Congress is sworn in is a long time. The Democrats will try to stop the worst of the changes, but they really have very little practical power to stop things right now. And among the changes that are certainly coming we can expect to see changes to voting and election law designed specifically to help Republicans at the polls next November.

Final notion for today: there's a lot of discussion about parallels between the current situation and Watergate, much of it justified. But there are a couple of important differences, too. The Democrats controlled the House of Representatives during Watergate and were willing to investigate to find the truth about what Nixon and his staff had done. The current GOP leadership in Congress seems genuinely afraid to discover what Trump and his staff have done.

More importantly, perhaps, forty-plus years ago we lived in a country that didn't exist in two separate media bubbles. Although there were substantial disagreements on policy solutions and governmental philosophy, there was general agreement on facts and reality. In the year 2017 that is no longer the case. Four weeks into this we're already on the edge of peak Watergate territory. But as a nation we're not there until the Republicans are there, too. That could happen slowly, quickly, or not at all.

Reality has a way of catching up in the long run. But sometimes it's a long, long run.

Strap yourselves in, kids. This is an E-Ticket ride and it's likely to be a long one.

Monday, February 6, 2017

State of Wolverine Lake, 2017

My annual "State of the Village" column came out in our Wolverine Lake winter newsletter in this week's Spinal Column newspaper. 

Here it is for those of you who didn't catch it there:

State of the Village 2017
John Magee, Village President

Welcome to 2017, everybody! Hard though it is to believe, I am now entering my second decade as your Village President. It’s been quite a decade. When I was first elected as Village President we were beset with deep budget problems. A once-healthy fund balance had been nearly exhausted. We were on pace to run out of money altogether in another 18 months.

Turning our finances around despite the continued cuts in state revenue sharing and the real estate collapse didn’t come easily. We made painful staff cuts in the Police Department, the DPW, and our front office. We deferred many needed improvements in our village’s infrastructure. And we asked all of you to pay for your trash pickup because even with those cuts we could no longer cover the cost of trash pickup within the general budget.

I am happy to say that as we enter my 11th budget cycle as your President the village is in its strongest financial shape ever. We have a strong fund balance and an especially strong bond rating for a municipality of our small size. I would like to take a moment to thank our Village Treasurer Mike Kondek, who came on board during those dark times. His vision, guidance, and long-term planning keeps our financial course clear.

We’ve faced many other challenges, successes, and setbacks together over the last ten years. What I’ve found most amazing on that path has been the commitment of all of my fellow residents to make Wolverine Lake the best place it can be. When I first ran for Council my motto was, “This is a great place to live, and I aim to keep it that way.” The only thing I would change ten years later is to say, “This is a great place to live, and we all aim to make it even better.”

What now as we enter 2017? We expect to continue making Wolverine Lake a better place to live.

Congratulations are due to our new Village Administrator Nathan Burd on a very successful first year in office. Nathan has proven himself to be a strong leader and administrator. I want to thank him for choosing to join us.

Our Police Department is working to become one of the first departments in the area to be a fully certified department through the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. This certification will assure all of us who live here that our department meets the highest professional standards. This certification should also help us to reduce our insurance costs. Our DPW continues to work around the village to improve our streets, pathways, and parks. Our Water Management Board continues to improve its public outreach efforts and to improve our plans for lake maintenance this summer.

There’s much afoot for our parks this year. We expect to build out Amenia Park on the south side of the village this Spring, making it a true neighborhood asset. We are working on a new master plan for Clara Miller Park. As part of that plan we are working with local soccer and baseball organizations to improve our playing fields. We also expect to improve our playground equipment and to make improvements that will make our park more accessible for all of our village’s children. And we continue to look for ways to keep improving our pathway system. Safer pathways for walkers and bikers makes for a safer village.

I’ve used the words “we” and “our” a lot in this message. This is because it is our village and it takes all of us to make it work. If you’ve ever thought about getting involved – whether it’s through serving on a board or a commission or simply volunteering for a park event – this is the time. Please contact the village office to see how you can be a part of it.

And finally, thank you. I want to thank all of you – residents, employees, volunteers, consultants, and everybody who has attended even one Tiki Night celebration or Tuesday in the Park event – who have made serving as your president for the last ten years such a pleasure. Few people are lucky enough to get such an opportunity, and I’ve tried my best for the last ten years to live up to the standard that all of you set.

Thank you for that. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Trump at the Two-Week Mark

Two weeks into this debacle and I trust that I've heard the last of "give him a chance" from my right-wing amigos and "there's no difference between Trump and Clinton" from the left.

This is bad.

I expected it to be bad, so I'm not surprised that it's bad. But I did think that Trump might go a few weeks or a month or two before he inevitably reverted to form, that form being defined by how he has acted in public and private every damn day for the last forty years. I thought there was some chance that his inner circle would get him to rein himself in for long enough to get his cabinet and some deputy secretaries through the Senate quickly. I thought that he would at least put whatever awful executive orders he intended through some level of inter-agency vetting so that they might at least be enforceable or executable or ... well, purposeful and effective.

I expected lying, but even I didn't expect the lying to accelerate after he took office. They lie about everything. They lie about matters of substance (the Muslim ban, the Navy SEAL raid in Yemen, global warming) and about silly things (the size of the inauguration crowd.)

It's not just the dishonesty and corruption that's breathtaking. It's the incompetence.

They are going to get people killed. That may have already happened in the case of the Yemen raid. The cloud of dishonesty coming off the White House right now is so thick that it's hard to tell. The problem is that it really *is* a dangerous world out there. And right now Donald J. Trump is making it a much, much more dangerous world.

Something truly awful is going to happen before this is over.

I could go on and on about the specifics. But instead I'll point you to these weekly lists of authoritarian changes compiled by Amy Siskind. It's pretty amazing when you see an entire week's lunacy all in one concise place. (Alas for you non-Facebookers, they're on FB.)

Here's the list for Sunday, Jan. 22, through Saturday, Jan. 29: Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember. Here's week 11

A Gallup poll released yesterday showed that 40% of Americans want Trump impeached. We're entering peak Watergate territory and WE'RE ONLY TWO FREAKING WEEKS INTO THIS!

(Nixon reached 38% favoring impeachment in Novemeber 1973 after the "Saturday Night Massacre" and 44% favoring impeachment in June 1974 after the indictment of several top aides. He ultimately reached 57% favoring impeachment just before he left office on Aug. 8, 1974. Source: Pew Research.)

The same poll that showed support for impeaching Trump already reaching 40% also showed that 95% of Republicans still approve of Trump's performance. We have become a nation divided by two different views of reality:

1) Fox "News" and the right-wing media bubble.
2) Reality.

News organizations that make some objective attempt to report reality -- CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters -- are now being called "the opposition party" by this White House.

Reality has a way of catching up in the end, but usually not until after awful things happen.

At this point I would genuinely welcome President Mike Pence. He'll be more effective at enacting things that I hate, but at least we'll have a mentally competent Commander in Chief.

I never in my life contemplated writing a sentence like "I would genuinely welcome President Mike Pence."

In the middle of the madness I am heartened by the sight of so many Americans showing up and speaking out against this. From the Women's March, the largest protest in American history; to the spontaneous demonstrations against the Muslim ban at airports across the country; to the record-setting number of phone calls and letters to Congress it has been an astonishing sight. A lot of Americans love this country and we're willing to fight to make it a better country.

For all of you who are equally dismayed, take heart. You are not alone.

So what's going to happen?

I genuinely don't know.

My best case scenario is that although the erratic behavior continues, some close call scares the Republicans in Congress straight. Trump is impeached or resigns before something truly awful happens, and Mike Pence goes on to be a loathsome but reasonably normal right-wing President. The result is a lot of damage to things that I care about -- civil rights, the environment, education, workers and retirees -- but no permanent, irreversible harm is done to our democracy or our world.

Yeah, that's my best case scenario.

I don't have any scenarios in which Donald Trump changes his behavior. It was always a fool's mission to think that he could discipline himself for at least a few months. But it's obvious now that he will never change, never improve, never learn.

The scenarios get worse if I think about it too long. Before the last two weeks I didn't think there was a significant chance that Trump would blunder us into a major war if he stayed in office for a full term. I am no longer so optimistic. This is going very, very badly.

What can we all do?

No one of us can do everything that needs doing. But all of us can do at least one thing. Find your thing and do it. Go to a protest. Call a Congressman. Write a letter to the editor. Find a 2018 candidate and hop on board. Pray.

Especially pray. We all need some prayers to get us through this.

What am I doing?

Well, I'm doing what I can and trying to sort out how I can be most effective. Right now I feel as if I range from things that are on-point but extremely ineffective (rage-tweeting about the madness on a daily basis @Patioboater) to something that is extremely effective but pretty much to the side of all this (continuing to lead our village with dull, fact-based, compassionate nonpartisan governance.) I guess that wouldn't be to the side of all of this if I could convince the world to join me on that course. But that ain't happening anytime soon that I can see.

I am grateful to have an opportunity to put my own ideals into practice as a local elected official. Since my ideals pretty much center around dull, fact-based, compassionate governance they don't draw much attention in the Age of Trump. But it makes me feel better to know that I'm doing what I can in a way that does have a genuine positive impact on my neighbors and my community.

And I'm trying to take better care of myself, too. I stretched myself way too thin in 2016 and it finally started to genuinely catch up with my health. As I trundle through middle age I'm coming to appreciate that I can't do any of the things I want to do unless I take care of my health first. I'm working on that.

So, I guess I leave all of you with that notion. Do what you can, but also be sure to take care of yourselves and each other along the way.

This isn't going well, but we will get through this.

Pax and love.