Friday, May 27, 2016

partment of Defense WSJ Faster Than a Speeding Bullet A First Look at America’s Supergun


The Navy’s experimental railgun fires a hardened projectile at staggering velocity—a battlefield meteorite with the power to blow holes in enemy ships and level terrorist camps



DAHLGREN, Va.—A warning siren bellowed through the concrete bunker of a top-secret Naval facility where U.S. military engineers prepared to demonstrate a weapon for which there is little defense.
Officials huddled at a video screen for a first look at a deadly new supergun that can fire a 25-pound projectile through seven steel plates and leave a 5-inch hole.
The weapon is called a railgun and requires neither gunpowder nor explosive. It is powered by electromagnetic rails that accelerate a hardened projectile to staggering velocity—a battlefield meteorite with the power to one day transform military strategy, say supporters, and keep the U.S. ahead of advancing Russian and Chinese weaponry.
In conventional guns, a bullet loses velocity from the moment the gunpowder ignites and sends it flying. The railgun projectile instead gains speed as it travels the length of a 32-foot barrel, exiting the muzzle at 4,500 miles an hour, or more than a mile a second.
“This is going to change the way we fight,” said U.S. Navy Adm. Mat Winter, the head of the Office of Naval Research.

(More here, including video)

The man who seduced the 7th Fleet

By Craig Whitlock, WashPost

For months, a small team of U.S. Navy investigators and federal prosecutors secretly devised options for a high-stakes international manhunt. Could the target be snatched from his home base in Asia and rendered to the United States? Or held captive aboard an American warship?
Making the challenge even tougher was the fact that the man was a master of espionage. His moles had burrowed deep into the Navy hierarchy to leak him a stream of military secrets, thwarting previous efforts to bring him to justice.
The target was not a terrorist, nor a spy for a foreign power, nor the kingpin of a drug cartel. But rather a 350-pound defense contractor nicknamed Fat Leonard, who had befriended a generation of Navy leaders with cigars and liquor whenever they made port calls in Asia.
Leonard Glenn Francis was legendary on the high seas for his charm and his appetite for excess. For years, the Singapore-based businessman had showered Navy officers with gifts, epicurean dinners, prostitutes and, if necessary, cash bribes so they would look the other way while he swindled the Navy to refuel and resupply its ships.

Going solar: a complex challenge for utilities, policymakers and regulators

Rooftop solar: Net metering is a net benefit

By: Mark Muro and Devashree Saha, Brookings Institute, May 23, 2016

Rooftop solar is booming in U.S. cities.

One of the most exciting infrastructure developments within metropolitan America, the installation of over a million solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in recent years, represents nothing less than a breakthrough for urban sustainability — and the climate.

Prices for solar panels have fallen dramatically. Residential solar installations surged by 66 percent between 2014 and 2015 helping to ensure that solar accounted for 30 percent of all new U.S. electric generating capacity. And for that matter, recent analyses conclude that the cost of residential solar is often comparable to the average price of power on the utility grid, a threshold known as grid parity.

So, what’s not to like? Rooftop solar is a total winner, right?

Well, not quite: The spread of rooftop solar has raised tricky issues for utilities and the public utilities commissions (PUCs) that regulate them.

(Continued here.)

Beware of entrenched energy interests fighting solar: They're not telling the truth

Some states may be making a big mistake about rooftop solar

By Chelsea Harvey May 26, Washington Post

Rooftop solar installations are a fast-growing part of the booming U.S. solar sector, which some experts say is poised to experience its biggest year yet. But while the industry’s rapid expansion is considered a clear win for the climate, it hasn’t come without backlash.

Utility companies across the country have begun to raise concerns that the rates and credits given to homeowners with rooftop solar installations — which commonly include payments for any excess power they generate and send back to the grid — may actually be transferring costs back to non-solar customers and the utilities that maintain the electric grid. And they’re pushing for the system to be changed.

But now, new research suggests this is an empty concern. A paper published Monday by researchers from the Brookings Institution reviews a number of studies conducted by state utility commissions, academic institutes and think tanks and suggests that rooftop solar actually benefits all consumers — whether they’re solar customers or not.

(More here.)

Going backwards, Trump-style

Says That America Should Be First on Fossil Fuels, Last on Climate Change

Pledges to dismantle the Paris climate agreement and erase Obama's climate action plan in his first major energy speech

BY JOHN H. CUSHMAN JR. and ZAHRA HIRJI, Inside Climate News

Donald Trump vowed Thursday that if elected president he would dismantle the landmark global treaty to tackle climate change endorsed by the whole world in Paris last year.

Instead, he promised the domestic fossil fuel industry a no-holds-barred, America-first development policy aimed at maximizing production of coal, oil and natural gas.

Speaking on the day he clinched the delegates to win the Republican presidential nomination, Trump delivered his first substantive speech on energy and climate policy before an enthusiastic audience of several thousand in North Dakota, the heart of the nation's fracking fields.

"We are going to turn everything around," he said at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, "and quickly, very quickly."

[…]

"Here is my 100-day action plan: Rescind all the job-destroying Obama executive actions, including the climate action plan," Trump said.

(The article is here.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Elizabeth Warren shreds Donald Trump

There’s a lot more like this to come

By Greg Sargent May 25 at 9:21 AM, WashPost

Early in the 2012 campaign, when top Democratic strategists were debating how to target Mitt Romney, they worked to hone their message about him down to a single, tight, pithy phrase. According to one senior Democrat in on the discussions, they finally settled on this:

“When people like him do well, people like you get screwed.” While this sentence never appeared in any Dem messaging, it functioned as a thematic guide, the senior Dem tells me.

Now Democrats are wrestling with how to deliver a similar message about Trump, while also dealing with a key strategic problem: In many ways, Trump is a very different kind of billionaire from Romney.

Elizabeth Warren delivered an extensive, blistering speech last night about Trump that will serve as a template for how Democrats will attack him — both in terms of how they’ll prosecute his business past and how they’ll try to undercut his central arguments about the economy.

(More here.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How the U.S. Tracked and Killed the Leader of the Taliban

Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed while driving through an area of Pakistan that is normally off limits to U.S. drones

By Adam Entous and Jessica Donati, WSJ
Updated May 24, 2016 4:45 p.m. ET

U.S. spy agencies zeroed in on Mullah Akhtar Mansour while he was visiting his family in Iran, then waited for the Taliban leader to move back across the border into Pakistan. That is where the Americans planned to ambush him.

Intercepted communications and other types of intelligence—amounting to Mullah Mansour’s electronic signature—allowed the spy agencies to track their target as he crossed the frontier on Saturday, got into a Toyota Corolla and made his way by road through Pakistan’s Balochistan province on his way to the Pakistani city of Quetta.

The intelligence operation then shifted over to the U.S. military, which waited for the right moment to send armed drones across the Afghan border to “fix” on the car, make sure no other vehicles were in the way and “finish” the target, in the argot of drone killing, all before Mullah Mansour could reach crowded Quetta, where a strike would have been far more complicated.

(More here.)

Energy innovation is not just for the well-to-do

How Low-Income Households Can Take Advantage of Renewable Energy and Efficiency

BY MARLENE CIMONS -- GUEST CONTRIBUTOR, ClimateProgress

Monya’ (pronounced “Monet,” like the French artist) Chapman, 53, lives with her 77-year-old mother in a house she rents in West Baltimore, a neighborhood she describes as moderate- to low-income. She earns about $30,000 a year as a pharmacy technician, which, along with her mother’s monthly social security benefits, covers rent, food, and basic necessities like soap and toilet paper.

What often breaks her budget, however, is her monthly electric bill, an amount that can be staggering, sometimes as high as $350. “We budget well, but there still is not much left over to pay a $350 bill,” she said. “I have every intention of paying it, but sometimes I can’t because we have to eat.”

Chapman is not alone. A recent review of 48 major U.S. metropolitan areas released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that low-income households spent three times as much for energy as other higher income households, and that these expenditures are especially hard on African Americans and Latinos. Another analysis, conducted by Groundswell, determined that the toll for low-income families is even higher, that they spend as much as ten percent of their income on electricity, more than four times higher than the average consumer.

(Continued here.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Sun, sun, sun, sun… We all live for the sun!

Google’s Project Sunroof Expands to 42 States and Millions More Rooftops

“First and foremost, this is about how Google can catalyze the rooftop solar market.”

by Julia Pyper, Greentech Media
May 20, 2016

With the recent expansion of Project Sunroof, tens of millions of potential solar customers from across the U.S. can now Google their own rooftops to find out if their home is suitable for solar panels.

Google launched Project Sunroof last August in three cities -- San Francisco, Fresno and Boston. In January, the program expanded to 20 U.S. metropolitan markets in the most active solar states in the U.S., including California, Massachusetts, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Connecticut, Colorado and North Carolina.

Last month, Project Sunroof hit a new milestone by expanding to 42 states, with the ability to analyze roughly 43 million rooftops. According to Google, “thousands” of customers are visiting the Project Sunroof website each month, and the company is continuously working to expand its reach.

(Continued here.)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Trump once revealed his income tax returns…

… They showed he didn’t pay a cent

By Drew Harwell May 20 at 1:00 PM, WashPost

The last time information from Donald Trump’s income-tax returns was made public, the bottom line was striking: He had paid the federal government $0 in income taxes.

The disclosure, in a 1981 report by New Jersey gambling regulators, revealed that the wealthy Manhattan investor had for at least two years in the late 1970s taken advantage of a tax-code provision popular with developers that allowed him to report negative income.

Today, as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Trump regularly denounces corporate executives for using loopholes and “false deductions to “get away with murder” when it comes to avoiding taxes.

“They make a fortune. They pay no tax,” Trump said last year on CBS. “It’s ridiculous, okay?”

(More here.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Doctors With Enemies: Did Afghan Forces Target the M.S.F. Hospital?

The U.S. government’s report has ruled the attack an accident. But mounting evidence suggests that Afghans’ mistrust for the nonprofit medical group might have set the tragedy in motion.

By MATTHIEU AIKINSMAY 17, 2016, NYT

For the last hour, the American gunship had been circling high above the city, carefully observing its target with night-­vision sensors and waiting for clearance to strike. It was 2 in the morning on Oct. 3, 2015, and Kunduz City was enveloped in total darkness. The city’s power had gone out five days before — soon after the Taliban took over the provincial capital, in a humiliating blow to the American and Afghan governments — and it stayed off through the bitter fighting that followed, as commandos from both nations counterattacked. The aircraft’s target, a distinctively T-­shaped building set on an expansive lawn, was lit by generators, a beacon in the blacked-­out city. As they prepared to fire, the gunship’s crew members radioed to the ground force commander, a United States Army Special Forces major, for more information.

“Looking for confirmation on which building to strike — Confirm it is the large, T-­shaped building ... in the center of the compound.

"Affirm.”

An AC-130 circles its target like a ball swung from a string, raining down gunfire along the radius. At 2:08 a.m., the gunship began its assault, starting on the eastern end of the T-­shaped building and working methodically west. For half an hour, the AC-130 fired its 105-­millimeter howitzer, the largest airborne gun in existence, and its 40-­millimeter Bofors cannon, which shoots exploding incendiary rounds and is ideal for hunting people who flee targeted buildings by foot, often referred to by pilots as “squirters.” There were about 50 squirters at the site, the crew noted, a surprisingly high number. Through the infrared scope, the building glowed as it burned, while ghostly shapes that flitted from inside were gunned down.

“We started a fire, good effects.”

At roughly the same time, 150 miles south in Kabul, Guilhem Molinie, the head of the Afghan mission for Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials, M.S.F., was woken by a phone call: His hospital in Kunduz was burning. A few minutes later, he received a chilling update: It was being bombed from the air. That could mean only an American or Afghan attack. He began frantically calling the United States military, the United Nations, anyone who might be able to make it stop. At 2:19 a.m., he spoke to an officer at the Army Special Forces headquarters at Bagram Air Base, who said he would investigate. The airstrike would continue for an additional 18 minutes. The officer later texted Molinie: “I’ll do my best, praying for you all.”

(More here.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Know-Nothing Tide

Roger Cohen, NYT
MAY 16, 2016

On the evidence, ethnocentrism is a pretty basic human instinct. Band together with your own. Keep the outsider down or out. In the 1850s, at another moment of American unease, the Know-Nothings swept Massachusetts and won mayoral elections in Philadelphia and Washington on a nativist platform to “purify” national politics by stopping the influx of Irish and German Catholics.

Papist influence was then the perceived scourge through which the Know-Nothing movement, as the Native American Party (later the American Party) was commonly known, built its following. Today the supposed threat is Muslim and Mexican infiltration. Or so Donald Trump, the de facto Republican presidential candidate, would have us believe in his “America First” program.

A know-nothing tide is upon us. Tribal politics, anchored in tribal media, has made knowing nothing a badge of honor. Ignorance, loudly declaimed, is an attribute, especially if allied to celebrity. Facts are dispensable baggage. To display knowledge, the acquisition of which takes time, is tantamount to showing too much respect for the opposition tribe, who know nothing anyway.

Any slogan can be reworked, I guess. America First has a long, unhappy history, the America First Committee having pressed the view that the United States should stay out of the war to defeat Fascism in World War II. Its most famous advocate was Charles Lindbergh, the aviator, who undermined the movement when he revealed that he blamed Jews for prodding America toward war. That was in 1941, not a good year for Jews anywhere, particularly in Europe, where, while Lindbergh opined, the annihilation of Jewry had begun.

(More here.)

Global warming is death by corporation

by Tom Maertens

In March, scientists found that the average global concentration of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, had reached 400 parts per million (ppm). Some scientists are calling this a tipping point, from which there is no return. Indeed, 2015 was the warmest year on record, and 2016 is starting out much warmer.

Scientists are warning (in the journal Nature) that rising temperatures could lead to the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet much sooner than earlier predicted. The ice sheet, which is larger than Mexico, could raise sea levels as much as 12 feet if it collapsed completely; that would inundate places like Florida, which has an average elevation of six feet.

The U.S. National Security Strategy says that “The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of the land across the globe.”

The Bank of England and World Bank have warned of the risks to the global economy of climate change and a study by the London School of Economics judges that climate change could cut the value of the world’s financial assets by as much as $24 trillion, which would wreck the global economy.

Meanwhile, on the dark side, Sarah Palin testified before Congress last month that global warming is a hoax, a government conspiracy to control us.

Polls show that most GOP voters agree. She said she did not believe scientists about anything anymore and warned parents to be vigilant against attempts at mind control.

The fossil fuel industry actively promotes such global warming denial; it recently stepped up the campaign it began around 2003 to “mislead and manipulate the public about the threat posed by climate change,” according to Robert Brulle of Drexel University.

Brulle found that some 140 conservative foundations and non-profits, all repeating virtually the same talking points, spent over half a billion dollars in a corporate lobbying campaign using “social welfare” (so-called 501c) organizations, such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP), to conceal the donors while collecting tax deductions for what is supposed to be philanthropic activity.

The Koch brothers network of wealthy donors, mostly from Wall Street and the carbon industry, spent at least $407 million on the 2012 election — more than John McCain spent on his entire 2008 campaign — and have vowed to spend $890 million to influence the 2016 elections, enough to buy a lot of legislators.

The 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, decided that corporations have the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. It derives from an 1886 case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, where Supreme Court Justice Morrison Remick Waite announced at the start of the trial that the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause applied to corporations. Thus one justice’s pronouncement conferred personhood on corporations.

As Bill Moyers explained, quoting a friend, “I’ll believe that corporations are people when Texas executes one.”

Another tactic of the Kochs and other plutocrats is to create “think tanks,” like the Cato Institute, that put out a steady stream of “studies” denying global warming. The Kochs also fund pro-corporate programs at 283 four-year colleges and universities – with strings attached: they mandate textbooks that assert for example that safety programs hurt miners, climate change isn’t caused by humans, minimum wage laws and public assistance hurt poor people, and claims that the government rather than the financial industry caused the 2008 recession (Dark Money, Jane Mayer)

In their effort to discredit government’s environmental regulations, the fossil fuel industry attempts to discredit government itself. They were among the strongest proponents of shutting down government and defaulting on the debt during Obama’s time.

Their principal target is the EPA, which has labeled Koch Industries the largest producer of toxic waste in the country, and fined them repeatedly for violating the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. The company has a long string of civil and criminal convictions for its outlaw activities and paid hundreds of millions in fines, judgments and penalties.

Richard Fink, head of Koch Company’s Public Sector, confessed to The Wichita Eagle in 1994 that Koch could not compete if it actually had to pay for the damage it did to the environment.

Thomas Jefferson warned of such unconstrained corporate behavior: “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counter-terrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11. He lives in Mankato.

This article was also published in the Mankato Free Press.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ho hum … Another month, another record for rising temperatures

April Was The Hottest Month On Record, According To NASA Temperature Data

BY ALEX GAROFALO @JA9GAROFALOTV International Business Times, 05/14/16 AT 9:03 PM

Another month, another new record — for rising temperatures.

The latest NASA data reveals that April was the warmest month ever recorded on Earth. The new record marks the 12th consecutive month of record-high global temperatures, as the scientific consensus remains that human activity is contributing to detrimental climate change across the globe.

NASA data uses the average global temperatures between 1951 and 1980 as a control. April 2016 was 1.11 degrees Celsius above that 1951-1980 average, the sixth straight month that the average global temperature has exceeded that average.

According to Slate, Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, concluded that scientists can already predict with near certainty that 2016 will be the hottest year on record — a claim that's hardly astonishing because 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001, according to AccuWeather.

(More here.)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Even supporters agree: Clinton has weaknesses as a candidate.

What can she do?

By Anne Gearan and Dan Balz
May 15 at 7:41 PM, WashPost

Hillary Clinton’s declining personal image, ongoing battle to break free of the challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders and struggle to adapt to an anti-establishment mood among voters this year have become caution signs for her campaign and the focus of new efforts to fortify her position as she prepares for a bruising general election.

More than a dozen Clinton ­allies identified weaknesses in her candidacy that may erode her prospects of defeating Donald Trump, including poor showings with young women, untrustworthiness, unlikability and a lackluster style on the stump. Supporters also worry that she is a conventional candidate in an unconventional election in which voters clearly favor renegades.

“I bring it down to one thing and one thing only, and that is likability,” said Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster who has conducted a series of focus groups for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

To counter these challenges, Clinton is relying primarily on the prospect that her likely Republican opponent’s weaknesses are even greater. But advisers also are working to soften her stiff public image by highlighting her compassion and to combat perceptions about trustworthiness and authenticity by playing up her problem-solving abilities.

(More here.)

Friday, May 13, 2016

How Elon Musk exposed billions in questionable Pentagon spending

Ten years after a joint operation of Boeing and Lockheed Martin was born, the FTC’s direst warnings have come true, along with outcomes even the skeptics did not predict.

By Matthew Nussbaum, Politico.com
05/13/16 11:31 AM EDT

Elon Musk’s SpaceX had to sue before it got access to the Pentagon — but now, as it promises to deliver cargo into space at less than half the cost of the military’s favored contractor, it has pulled back the curtain on tens of billions in potentially unnecessary military spending.

The entrenched contractor, a joint operation of Boeing and Lockheed Martin called the United Launch Alliance, has conducted 106 space launches all but flawlessly, but the cost for each is more than $350 million, according to the Government Accountability Office. SpaceX promises launches for less than $100 million.

Yet despite the potentially more cost-effective alternative, taxpayers will be paying the price for ULA’s contracts for years to come, POLITICO has found. Estimates show that, through 2030, the cost of the Pentagon’s launch program will hit $70 billion — one of the most expensive programs within the Defense Department. And even if ULA is never awarded another government contract, it will continue to collect billions of dollars — including an $800 million annual retainer — as it completes launches that were awarded before Musk’s company was allowed to compete. That includes a block buy of 36 launches awarded in 2013.

Meanwhile, ULA is under investigation by the Pentagon for possible corrupt bidding practices and is preparing to lay off 25 percent of its workforce. Its long-term viability is in doubt.

Even the Pentagon’s acquisition chief grants that the creation of ULA — a monopoly criticized by the Federal Trade Commission when it was formed at the government’s behest a decade ago — may have been a mistake.

(More here.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Putin and the Night Wolves vs. Poland

Masha Gessen, NYT
MAY 10, 2016

The Night Wolves isn’t just any motorcycle club; it’s the motorcycle club that’s shaping Russia’s foreign policy.

Late last month, after Poland banned the Night Wolves from riding across the country, Moscow summoned the Polish ambassador to inform her that the Kremlin was interpreting the denial of entry as a hostile act that will have consequences for which Poland will bear sole responsibility.

An official note from the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that Poland’s position was particularly egregious for two reasons: because it was an “insult to the memory of those who fell fighting against Nazism,” and because a couple of weeks earlier Russia had allowed Polish officials to enter the country to honor the site where Polish leaders had died in a 2010 plane crash.

Let me try to explain. The Night Wolves is a motorcycle club that has long had special ties to Vladimir V. Putin. The Russian president has repeatedly posed for photographs with club members and has given a medal to its leader — best known by his nickname, the Surgeon — who has campaigned for Mr. Putin. The Night Wolves is also widely known in Russia for its patriotic New Year’s parties for children. It is the semiofficial, macho, flamboyant, celebratory arm of the Russian government. The club has acknowledged receiving about a million dollars in federal funding over 18 months. The Surgeon has said that’s not enough.

(More here.)

James Clapper on America’s role in the Middle East

‘The U.S. can’t fix it’

By David Ignatius Opinion writer May 10 at 8:04 PM, WashPost

Early in his tenure as director of national intelligence, James Clapper could sometimes be heard complaining, “I’m too old for this [expletive]!” He has now served almost six years as America’s top intelligence official, and when I asked him this week how much longer he would be in harness, he consulted his calendar and answered with relief, “Two hundred sixty-five days!”

Clapper, 75, has worked in intelligence for 53 years, starting when he joined the Air Force in 1963. He’s a crusty, sometimes cranky veteran of the ingrown spy world, and he has a perspective that’s probably unmatched in Washington. He offered some surprisingly candid comments — starting with a frank endorsement of President Obama’s view that the United States can’t unilaterally fix the Middle East.

Given Clapper’s view that intelligence services must cooperate against terrorism, a small breakthrough seems to have taken place in mid-April when Clapper met with some European intelligence chiefs near Ramstein Air Base in Germany to discuss better sharing of intelligence. The meeting was requested by the White House, but it hasn’t been publicized.

“We are on the same page, and we should do everything we can to improve intelligence coordination and information sharing, within the limits of our legal framework,” said Peter Wittig, German ambassador to Washington, confirming the meeting.

(More here.)

Monday, May 09, 2016

On running the country like a failing casino

The Making of an Ignoramus

Paul Krugman, NYT, MAY 9, 2016

Truly, Donald Trump knows nothing. He is more ignorant about policy than you can possibly imagine, even when you take into account the fact that he is more ignorant than you can possibly imagine. But his ignorance isn’t as unique as it may seem: In many ways, he’s just doing a clumsy job of channeling nonsense widely popular in his party, and to some extent in the chattering classes more generally.

Last week the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — hard to believe, but there it is — finally revealed his plan to make America great again. Basically, it involves running the country like a failing casino: he could, he asserted, “make a deal” with creditors that would reduce the debt burden if his outlandish promises of economic growth don’t work out.

The reaction from everyone who knows anything about finance or economics was a mix of amazed horror and horrified amazement. One does not casually suggest throwing away America’s carefully cultivated reputation as the world’s most scrupulous debtor — a reputation that dates all the way back to Alexander Hamilton.

The Trump solution would, among other things, deprive the world economy of its most crucial safe asset, U.S. debt, at a time when safe assets are already in short supply.

Of course, we can be sure that Mr. Trump knows none of this, and nobody in his entourage is likely to tell him. But before we simply ridicule him — or, actually, at the same time that we’re ridiculing him — let’s ask where his bad ideas really come from.

(More here.)

No snow equals greater possibility of fire: Well, duh!

How climate change may be fueling Canada’s fire season

By Chelsea Harvey, May 6, Washington Post

A devastating wildfire continues to rage around Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, having grown to more than ten times its original size and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. Now, as firefighters struggle to contain the flames, some experts are saying that the blaze was likely helped along by factors related to climate change — which may also be contributing to a bigger trend in lengthier, more intense Northern fire seasons.

Around the same time the Fort McMurray fire sprang up (it arose Sunday from unknown causes), researchers from the Rutgers University Global Snow Lab released some alarming findings. According to satellite data, last month saw the lowest area of snow cover in the northern hemisphere of any April in the past 50 years, at just over 27.9 million square kilometers of coverage. The previous record-holder was April of 1968, with 28 million square kilometers.

While all the factors that played into the low snow extent remain to be explored, the findings generally suggest that this year’s mild winter caused snow to melt faster and earlier than in previous years, said David Robinson, the New Jersey state climatologist, who helps run the Rutgers Global Snow Lab. And some scientists, including Robinson, have suggested that the low snow extent could make for a dryer, more severe fire season in the north.

(Continued here.)

Devastating natural disaster in Fort McMurray “consistent” with climate change

Destructive Wildfire near Canada's Oil Sands May Have Been Fueled by Global Warming

By Brian Kahn, Climate Central on May 4, 2016

An unusually intense May wildfire roared into Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, forcing the largest wildfire evacuation in province history. The flames rode the back of hot, windy weather that will continue through Wednesday and could pick up again this weekend.

The wildfire is the latest in a lengthening lineage of early wildfires in the northern reaches of the globe that are indicative of a changing climate. As the planet continues to warm, these types of fires will likely only become more common and intense as spring snowpack disappears and temperatures warm.

“This (fire) is consistent with what we expect from human-caused climate change affecting our fire regime,” Mike Flannigan, a wildfire researcher at the University of Alberta, said.

(Continued here.)

The giant wildfire in Alberta, Canada, rages on

Wildfires like Alberta’s are fueled by climate change

By Carolyn Beeler
PRI's The World, May 06, 2016

This fire is an acute crisis for residents of Fort McMurray, but for the rest of the world, it’s a reminder of a larger, slower-moving phenenomen: climate change.

In the last 40 or 45 years, the area burned by wildfires in Canada has doubled, according to Mike Flannigan, a University of Alberta professor of wildland fire.

“This is the result of human-caused climate change,” Flannigan said. “We are seeing more fires on the landscape, and the fires are more intense than they used to be.”

Flannigan said warmer temperatures lead to more forest fires for three reasons:

A longer fire season

“The warmer we get, the longer our fire season is,” Flannigan said.

In Alberta, the fire season started this year on March 1, a month earlier than it used to start.

More lightning

The warmer it gets, the more lightning we have. That’s because a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, and moisture is needed to start a lightning bolt.

The more often lightning strikes, the more frequently it can start forest fires.

As temperatures warm, the atmosphere’s ability to hold moisture increases

That means evapotranspiration, or the evaporation of water from soil and plants into the atmosphere, increases.

“It’s like the atmosphere gets more efficient at sucking the moisture out of the fuel, the stuff that burns,” Flannigan said, “so it’s easier for the fuels to catch fire and spread fire.”

(Continued here.)

Hello? Sen. Inhofe? Are you home?

The fire in Canada looks a lot like climate change -- and that should scare you

By John D. Sutter, CNN
Updated Sat May 7, 2016

(CNN) The fire raging in Fort McMurray, Canada sounds like something from the apocalypse.
"It was like driving through hell," Michel Chamberland told CNN of his escape from the area. "Those flames, they were bright, they were big ... It's unreal. It's almost like a dream or something."

The fire, which has burned at least 325 square miles, forcing the evacuation of some 88,000 people, is so hot and so intense that's it's formed its own weather. The thundercloud produced by the blaze actually is creating its own lightning, and consequently spreading the fire's rage, setting more trees alight.

True, there have been fires in Canada's boreal forest for ages. But scientists and researchers say this fire looks a whole lot like climate change. And that should be alarming for all of us.

(More here.)

Observations on Mother Nature's revenge

Fort McMurray and the Fires of Climate Change

BY ELIZABETH KOLBERT, MAY 5, 2016, New Yorker

The town of Fort McMurray, some four hundred miles north of Calgary, in Canada, grew up very quickly on both sides of the Athabasca River. During the nineteen-seventies, the population of the town tripled, and since then it has nearly tripled again. All this growth has been fuelled by a single activity: extracting oil from a Florida-sized formation known as the tar sands. When the price of oil was high, there was so much currency coursing through Fort McMurray’s check-cashing joints that the town was dubbed “Fort McMoney.”

Now Fort McMurray is burning. A forest fire that began to the southwest of the town on Sunday has forced the entire population—almost ninety thousand people—to evacuate. On Wednesday, Alberta’s provincial government declared a state of emergency. By yesterday, more than fifteen hundred buildings had been destroyed and the blaze had spread through an area covering more than three hundred square miles. It was burning so hot that that it was easily able to jump major rivers. One Canadian official described the fire as “catastrophic.” Another called it a “multi-headed monster.”

No one knows exactly how the fire began—whether it was started by a lightning strike or by a spark provided by a person—but it’s clear why the blaze, once under way, raged out of control so quickly. Alberta experienced an unusually dry and warm winter. Precipitation was low, about half of the norm, and what snow there was melted early. April was exceptionally mild, with temperatures regularly in the seventies; two days ago, the thermometer hit ninety, which is about thirty degrees higher than the region’s normal May maximum. “You hate to use the ​cliché, but it really was kind of a perfect storm,” Mike Wotton, a research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service, told the CBC.

(Continued here.)

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Five numbers that mattered this week

By Steven Shepard, Politico.com
05/07/16 07:48 AM EDT

Continuing our POLITICO feature, where we dig into the latest polls and loop in other data streams to tell the story of the 2016 campaign. Here are five numbers that mattered this week.

The polls were right all along.

Even as pundits and journalists – including this reporter – questioned the durability of Trump’s lead among Republican voters, Trump remained on top of the GOP field from the time he seized the mantle in early July 2015. And after defying the conventional wisdom and becoming the apparent Republican presidential nominee, some are suggesting there’s peril in underestimating Trump again.

While it’s true that the likely general-election match-up between Trump and Hillary Clinton will narrow from Clinton’s 7-point lead in the HuffPost Pollster average as of Friday afternoon, there’s little doubt that Trump is a decided underdog to win that race. The most recent live-caller poll, from CNN/ORC, gives Clinton a 13-point lead.

How robust is Clinton’s lead? Of the 64 national polls since July 2015 collected by RealClearPolitics, Trump led Clinton in only 6 of them, or about 9 percent of the time. Adding in the three polls that showed them tied, Clinton has led Trump in 81 percent of the public polls.

(More here.)

The GOP's 24-hour meltdown

Trump's promise to unify the Republican Party is in tatters, as an all-out civil war grips the GOP.

By Nolan D. McCaskill, Politico.com
05/06/16 07:07 PM EDT

Donald Trump on Tuesday night assumed the mantle of presumptive nominee and declared: “We want to bring unity to the Republican Party. We have to bring unity.”

Three days later, the GOP is tearing itself apart.

Friday brought another day of incredible division and revolt with Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham falling in line not behind Trump, but behind House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said a day earlier that he cannot yet support the brash real estate mogul as his party’s standard-bearer.

Trump, instead of trying to make peace, lashed out.

He fired off a vicious statement, calling Graham an “embarrassment” with “zero credibility.”

Then he laced into both of his former rivals during his rally in Omaha, Nebraska, where he is continuing to campaign ahead of Tuesday’s primary, despite having vanquished the rest of the GOP field.

“But I won’t talk about Jeb Bush. I will not say — I will not say he’s low energy. I will not say it,” Trump told a boisterous crowd who booed at the mention of his critics. “I will not say it. And I won’t talk about Lindsey Graham, who had like 1 point, you ever see this guy on television? He is nasty. … He leaves a disgrace, he can’t represent the people of South Carolina well.”

(More here.)

Friday, May 06, 2016

Truth and Trumpism

Paul Krugman, NYT, MAY 6, 2016

How will the news media handle the battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? I suspect I know the answer — and it’s going to be deeply frustrating. But maybe, just maybe, flagging some common journalistic sins in advance can limit the damage. So let’s talk about what can and probably will go wrong in coverage — but doesn’t have to.

First, and least harmful, will be the urge to make the election seem closer than it is, if only because a close race makes a better story. You can already see this tendency in suggestions that the startling outcome of the fight for the Republican nomination somehow means that polls and other conventional indicators of electoral strength are meaningless.

The truth, however, is that polls have been pretty good indicators all along. Pundits who dismissed the chances of a Trump nomination did so despite, not because of, the polls, which have been showing a large Trump lead for more than eight months.

Oh, and let’s not make too much of any one poll. When many polls are taken, there are bound to be a few outliers, both because of random sampling error and the biases that can creep into survey design. If the average of recent polls shows a strong lead for one candidate — as it does right now for Mrs. Clinton — any individual poll that disagrees with that average should be taken with large helpings of salt.

A more important vice in political coverage, which we’ve seen all too often in previous elections — but will be far more damaging if it happens this time — is false equivalence.

(More here.)

Thursday, May 05, 2016

U.S. tightens checks on anonymous companies following Panama Papers release

By Ana Swanson, WashPost

The Obama administration announced several rules Thursday evening meant to combat tax evasion, money laundering and financial crime amid renewed scrutiny over the use of offshore accounts and anonymous companies to conceal money.

The rules, which include requiring financial institutions to find out and keep records on the real owners behind the companies that use their services, aim to help U.S. law enforcement pierce the layers of anonymous shell companies that people can use to disguise their financial dealings around the world.

The announcement follows a month of intense scrutiny after the release to media organizations of more than 11 million leaked documents detailing the global offshore industry.

The Panama Papers, which are the corporate records of one global law firm, Panama City-based Mossack Fonseca, show how wealthy individuals have masked their identity and secretly stashed money across the globe. There’s nothing illegal about the use of offshore companies; in practice, however, criminals take advantage of the anonymity that these companies provide.

(More here.)

How Ryan decided to ditch Trump

The speaker did not expect Trump to clinch the nomination so soon and huddled quickly with advisers to plot his break.

By Jake Sherman, Politico.com

On Wednesday morning, not even 24 hours after Donald Trump effectively clinched the Republican nomination, Paul Ryan convened his top advisers for a call. With Congress out of session, Ryan was bouncing between multiple states, raising the piles of money needed to keep House Republicans in the majority.

But Donald Trump was on his mind. The speaker could not — at least at this point — support him. And he wanted to talk through how to proceed.

Ryan never expected Trump to lock up the nomination so quickly. He didn't think Texas Sen. Ted Cruz would drop out of the race in May. In fact, Ryan's orbit was preparing for a contested convention in Cleveland, where he is slated to serve as chairman, effectively the emcee of the Trump coronation.

The decision was made quickly. The next day he would go on CNN and make it official, in no uncertain terms.

(More here.)

Canada's tar sands center a victim of Mother Earth's climate change vengeance

Without rain, massive Fort McMurray wildfire expected to keep growing

'Let me be clear, air tankers are not going to stop this fire,' official says

By Rick McConnell, CBC News
Last Updated: May 05, 2016 6:41 PM MT

Fire officials in Alberta do not yet know what started a massive wildfire that chased the entire population out of Fort McMurray, but they now know the only force that can stop it will be a significant change in the weather.

Supercharged by winds of up to 70 km/h, the wildfire ballooned to 85,000 hectares overnight and is now raging on several fronts near the oilsands city.

The main fire, now south of the city, is expected to come.

More than 100 firefighters, and 10 helicopters and 16 air tankers are fighting the wildfire, with more resources on the way.

In addition to the firefighters battling the blaze in the boreal forest, more than 200 firefighters and 25 fire trucks are in the city itself, protecting homes and buildings.

But in tinder-dry conditions and with winds constantly shifting, all of that manpower alone cannot stop the inferno, said senior wildfire manager Chad Morrison.

"Let me be clear, air tankers are not going to stop this fire," Morrison said.

(Continued here.)

Energy responsibility is good for our kids

Installers from Zinniel Electric, Sleepy Eye, Minnesota
by Leigh Pomeroy
Editor, Vox Verax

As I write this, pale pink blossoms — so pale they are almost white — are erupting all over our two apricot trees in the front of the house, while a crew of four guys are installing 18 solar panels on our roof in the back.

It’s spring.

Eight years ago I attended the 43rd annual Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College. The topic was “Heating Up: The Energy Debate.” The focus was climate change and energy, and what we can do about both. For me, it was like a slap upside the head.

I had been aware of climate change and knew that our profligate energy ways and the pollution they were creating were eventually going to turn around and bite us. But this conference was a wake-up call for me as well as I’m sure the hundreds more who attended.

The list of guest speakers read like an all-star cast: Steven Chu, Nobel laureate in physics, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, within two years to become Energy Secretary for President Obama; James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and perhaps the original whistle blower on climate change; and Will Steger, polar explorer and conservationist.

Because of these conferences and my further study, I have made the avocation of the latter part of my life educating others on human-caused climate change, energy efficiency and renewable energy resources.

As I segue into retirement people ask: “Does being retired mean you’re playing more golf?”

I reply, “I advocate for clean energy. That’s my golf.”

In my own life I still have a long way to go: We need new energy-efficient windows and doors, for example, and we probably need to rebalance the heating and cooling system in the house, both somewhat costly.

On the other hand, my wife and I have come a long way since 2007, the year of the Nobel Conference that stands up so significantly in my life.

We drive a Prius, and although it’s not a plug-in we will have a 220 volt electrical outlet installed in the garage when the solar panels are hooked up for when we do get a plug-in hybrid or an electric car. And while we don’t have a solar thermal water heater on the roof, we do have an on-demand, tankless gas water heater that saves us $20 per month in natural gas costs.

Long ago we swapped out our incandescent light bulbs for fluorescents (CFLs) and are gradually switching to LEDs when the CFLs burn out.

At this point LED lights are the only way to go. They are now priced competitively with incandescents and CFLs, and use anywhere from 50 percent (vs. CFLs) to 90 percent (vs. incandescents) less energy. This means, of course, that much less of our hard-earned money is going to our electric utility and more into our pockets. And with LEDs the choices of design and color temperature —whether the light is a warm yellow or a cold blue — are plentiful.

Now that the solar panels are going up on our roof, we’ll be producing around 90 percent of our own energy. In some months we’ll be producing more than what we use, and Xcel Energy will be sending checks to us rather than vice versa.

Granted, not everyone can afford the up-front costs of all the steps my wife and I have taken to lower our energy use and minimize our carbon footprint. But most steps hardly require any upfront costs or they quickly pay for themselves: LED lights are the most obvious case in point. And while my tankless water heater costs more than an equivalent tank heater, we did get a $300 rebate from our gas supplier and have limitless hot water for those times when the washing machine, dishwasher and shower are all going at the same time.

Today, many hybrid cars are priced competitively with all-gas cars. Plus — and this is one thing I really like about my Prius — the gas engine shuts off when you’re waiting at a traffic light, at the drive-up teller or in a traffic jam. No gas used, no gas wasted, and no pollution emitted.

The apricot blossoms come and go within a week. Soon there will be tiny apricots, so many we will have to beg friends and neighbors to come take them. Our solar panels won’t be wired up and approved by our electric utility for several months. But after that our electric bills will drop to near-zero for years to come.

I usually think about big decisions for days, weeks, maybe longer. Yet every time I am faced with such decisions I ultimately ask myself: What would be best for my kids and future grandkids?

It is surprising how easy a decision comes after that.

This article was also published in the Mankato Free Press.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

And now for the good news…

The crisis in the Republican Party is even worse than it looks

Josh Barro, Business Insider

Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for president, and this alarms ideological conservatives for several reasons:

1. They think he will lose badly to Hillary Clinton, perhaps so badly that Republicans lose control of both houses of Congress.

2. They are afraid that he will damage the brand of the Republican Party, making it harder to win future elections.

3. They believe that he lacks the temperament and character to serve as president.

These are all good reasons to be alarmed, but there is also a fourth reason for alarm that is perhaps the most alarming of all for conservatives: His nomination could signal the death of orthodox conservatism as one of the two main forces in American public policy, since he is running away with the nomination despite being exposed as a nonconservative.

Trump is the candidate who finally figured out how to exploit the fact that much of the Republican voter base does not share the policy preferences of the Republican donor class, and that it is therefore possible to win the nomination without being saddled with their unpopular policy preferences.

He will not be the last candidate to understand this.

(Continued here.)

So long, been good to know you

Ted Cruz’s Bitter End

Frank Bruni, NYT, MAY 3, 2016

If you listened much to Ted Cruz over these last furious months, you heard him talk frequently about “the abyss,” as in what this country was teetering on the edge of. If you listened to him over these last furious hours, you heard him mention the “yawning cavern of insecurity” that motivates Donald Trump and other bullies.

Cruz should take up spelunking. He’s obviously fascinated by unfathomable depths, and with his loss in Indiana on Tuesday, his candidacy for the presidency is finished, giving him a whole lot of extra time. A new hobby is definitely in order.

As we bid Cruz adieu, we should give him his due: He took a mien and manner spectacularly ill suited to the art of seducing voters about as far as they could go. He outlasted the likes of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. He outperformed Rick Santorum in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2008.

Like him, Santorum and Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses and built from there, courting the religious right with particular fervor. But they lacked the intensity of Cruz’s professed disdain for Washington, which was his other big sales pitch, made at its moment of maximum potency. He peddled extravagant piety and extreme contempt in equal measure.

If that sounds paradoxical, it is, and the tension between contradictory Cruzes is what ultimately did him in.

(More here.)

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Now, Dennis Hastert Seems an Architect of Dysfunction as Speaker

On Washington

By CARL HULSE, NYT
MAY 2, 2016

WASHINGTON — The book jacket for J. Dennis Hastert’s 2004 memoir, “Speaker,” proudly notes how little known he was by the public despite being one of the most powerful people in America.

“Not because he has anything to hide,” it says, “but because he doesn’t care who gets the credit.”

It turns out that John Dennis Hastert did have something to hide, something quite reprehensible. Now his admission in federal court that he sexually molested wrestlers on the Illinois high school team he coached years before setting foot on Capitol Hill is provoking a re-evaluation of his tenure as the longest-serving Republican speaker. And Mr. Hastert fares poorly in this new light.

The bill of particulars is lengthy. Consider the Mark Foley page scandal. An explosion in questionable “earmarking” for pet legislative projects. The neutering of an already weak ethics process. Hardball tactics on the House floor. A weakening of committee chairmen accompanied by heightened pressure on them to leverage legislative clout to raise campaign money. Undue deference to the executive branch. Personal enrichment.

Take those together with the shocking revelations of sexual abuse of youths placed in the trust of Mr. Hastert, a popular and successful coach, and he emerges as a deeply flawed figure who contributed significantly to the dysfunction that defines Congress today. Even his namesake Hastert rule — the informal standard that no legislation should be brought to a vote without the support of a majority of the majority — has come to be seen as a structural barrier to compromise.

(More here.)

President Obama Weighs His Economic Legacy

Eight years after the financial crisis, unemployment is at 5 percent, deficits are down and G.D.P. is growing. Why do so many voters feel left behind? The president has a theory.

By ANDREW ROSS SORKIN, NYT Magazine
APRIL 28, 2016

Two months ago, across an assembly-room table in a factory in Jacksonville, Fla., President Barack Obama was talking to me about the problem of political capital. His efforts to rebuild the U.S. economy from the 2008 financial crisis were being hit from left, right and center. And yet, by his own assessment, those efforts were vastly underappreciated. “I actually compare our economic performance to how, historically, countries that have wrenching financial crises perform,” he said. “By that measure, we probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history.”

It was a notably grand claim, especially given the tenor in which presidential candidates of both parties had taken to criticizing the state of the American economy — “Many are still barely getting by,” Hillary Clinton said, while Donald Trump said that “we’re a third-world nation.” Asked if he was frustrated by all the criticism, Obama insisted that he wasn’t, at least not personally. “It has frustrated me only insofar as it has shaped the political debate,” he said. “We were moving so fast early on that we couldn’t take victory laps. We couldn’t explain everything we were doing. I mean, one day we’re saving the banks; the next day we’re saving the auto industry; the next day we’re trying to see whether we can have some impact on the housing market.”

The result, he said, was that he lacked the political capital to do more. As his presidency nears its end, this has become an increasingly common refrain from Obama, who, despite his prodigious skills as an orator, has come to seem more confident about his achievements than about his ability to promote them. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

(More here.)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Israel, Hamas and Egypt form unlikely alliance against Islamic State affiliate

By Sudarsan Raghavan and William Booth, WashPost
April 30 at 12:02 PM

CAIRO — The Islamic State’s affiliate in Egypt is staging increasingly sophisticated and daring attacks, officials and analysts say, prompting Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian militant group Hamas to form an unlikely alliance against the terrorist group.

Hamas deployed several hundred fighters last week to Gaza’s border with Egypt’s lawless northern Sinai as part of a deal with Egypt to keep militants of the Islamic State — also known as ISIS or ISIL — from entering the coastal enclave.

That came days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised his country’s decision to build a new barrier along the Israel-Egypt border, warning that “we would have been overflowed by thousands of ISIS fighters from Sinai.”

(More here.)