Monday, June 27, 2016

Ken Starr’s Squalid Second Act

Mimi Swartz, NYT, JUNE 27, 2016

Houston — EDWIN EDWARDS, the colorful former governor of Louisiana, had a favorite quote often attributed to the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu: “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”

I thought of this again last week as Hillary Clinton absorbed a fresh attack on her record from Donald J. Trump. Amid that, I wondered whether she’d had a chance to savor the fall of the Clintons’ nemesis, Ken Starr, and appreciate its ironies. In a political campaign as relentlessly nasty as this one, it must be hard to steal a moment of peace, much less schadenfreude.

By the time of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the dependably Republican Mr. Starr had built a prestigious career as an attorney, appellate judge and solicitor general under President George H. W. Bush. Then, in 1994, a congressional committee made Mr. Starr a special prosecutor to investigate the Clintons’ involvement in the Whitewater real estate venture and, juicier, the death of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster, a Clinton confidant.

Mr. Starr aspired higher and wanted to go deeper. Soon, his brief had expanded to investigating the sex life of a young woman named Monica Lewinsky. Relying on covert recordings of her confessions, Mr. Starr’s report read at times like a steamy romance novel: “She unbuttoned her jacket; either she unhooked her bra or he lifted her bra up; and he touched her breasts with his hands and mouth …”

(More here.)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The State Department’s Dissent Memo on Syria: An Explanation

The Interpreter By MAX FISHER, NYT, JUNE 22, 2016

On Thursday, The New York Times obtained a draft version of a State Department memo that sharply criticizes the Obama administration’s Syria policy and calls for limited military strikes against that country’s government. The memo, signed by 51 diplomats, was sent through an agency “dissent channel” that was established during the Vietnam War to air internal criticism.

Because the memo is written by and for government officials, its language can be difficult to parse. What follows is an annotation of 10 key lines, many of which were marked SBU, for “sensitive but unclassified” (U is unclassified).

Discussion of the memo has focused on the dissenters’ indictment of their own leader’s policy. Many of their points have been debated inside the administration for years, and there are complicated arguments on both sides.

While their proposed solution excludes some significant points, there is a core truth in this document: Current policy has little answer for how to break out of a status quo that is disastrous and steadily getting worse.

(More here.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Clinton honesty ravaged by the right

By Tom Maertens

Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee, and the right-wing noise machine has already ramped up its long-running smear campaign against the Clintons, the most vilified and lied about politicians in U.S. history.

The campaign was intended to discredit Bill when he was governor of Arkansas and seen as a possible future president.

Among the charges fabricated by the so-called “Arkansas Project,” and amplified by the right wing echo chamber, were claims that Bill Clinton was guilty of murder, drug smuggling, arms trafficking, and of fathering a child by a black prostitute. *

Much of the campaign was bankrolled by Richard Mellon Scaife, a paranoid billionaire who told the now-defunct George magazine that at least 60 people associated with the Clintons had “mysteriously disappeared.”

After the ’94 elections, when the GOP took control of the House, Clinton became the target of the scorched-earth partisanship of Newt Gingrich, resulting, by some counts, in seventeen congressional investigations.

Then Kenneth Starr was appointed independent counsel and relentlessly pursued Clinton for six years through a chain of phony scandals labeled Whitewater, including Filegate, Chinagate, Travelgate, Troopergate, cattle futures, the Marc Rich pardon and others.

When he came up empty, Starr used the Whitewater mandate to conduct a rolling investigation into Bill Clinton’s sex life, employing dozens of FBI agents, which Starr described in salacious detail in his final report.

Clinton’s lies about his relationship with Monica Lewinski became the basis for impeachment. He was acquitted but cited for contempt of court and paid a $90,000 fine.

The six-year, $80 million dollar witch hunt backfired badly: Clinton's popularity reached 73 percent. He left office with a 66 percent approval rating, higher than Ronald Reagan’s and the highest since FDR.

In addition, the hypocrisy of Clinton’s leading inquisitors became public: Newt Gingrich had adulterous affairs during his first two marriages; his replacement as Speaker, Bob Livingstone, had multiple infidelities and resigned; Henry Hyde, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, admitted to a five-year affair; and Dan Burton, another hardliner, confessed to fathering a child out of wedlock. Subsequently, it turned out that Dennis Hastert was a serial child molester.

Hillary Clinton was not cited for anything. Those manufactured scandals have nonetheless been used to create an aura of corruption around Hillary, as are “Benghazi” (investigated by eight Congressional committees), and the death of Vince Foster, which Trump called “fishy” (five official investigations concluded it was a suicide, reported the Washington Post).

The latest Clinton “scandal” is about Hillary using a private server for official but unclassified e-mails. She has said it was a mistake and that she regrets having done it. Several law-enforcement officials told the Wall Street Journal this month that they don’t expect any criminal charges to be filed as a result of the investigation.

For the sake of comparison, there was virtually no reaction to the revelation that 88 Bush administration officials used a private e-mail server at the Republican National Committee for official government communications, according to TIME magazine — a violation of the Presidential Records Act. AP reported that as many as 22 million emails were deleted from the RNC server.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has acknowledged using a non-State system during his entire time in office. Nobody demanded an investigation of Powell.

After 30 years of Clinton “scandals,” critics cannot point to a single instance of purposeful wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton. As Kevin Drum wrote in Mother Jones, “there's almost literally nothing to any of these ‘scandals;’ we also know exactly how they were deliberately and cynically manufactured at every step along the way.”

Is Hillary trustworthy? Jill Abramson, a former editor of the New York Times, followed Hillary — skeptically — for 30 years. She concluded in the Guardian that Hillary is basically honest. Kevin Drum, writing in Mother Jones, concluded the same.

Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, is repeating the Big Lie, claiming Hillary belongs in jail.

It is Trump who has the honesty problem, and who is being sued by 5,000 people for fraud. As the Washington Post editorialized this month, “Trump Lies and Lies and Lies Again.” Timothy Egan (New York Times) labeled him as “surely the most compulsive liar to seek high office.”

The non-partisan PolitiFact determined that 76 percent of Trump’s statements are lies, and awarded his campaign statements 2015’s Lie of the Year. The Washington Post Fact Checker found that 70 percent of Trump’s statements that it reviewed are blatant lies.

Hillary’s real “offenses” are being a Democrat and a woman who wants to be president.

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.

Sources:

*The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, by Gene Lyons and Joe Conason, 2001

The Clinton Wars, by Sydney Blumenthal, 2003

Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, by David Brock, 2002

A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President, by Jeffrey Toobin, 2012

Also published in the Mankato Free Press, Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Climate change: Beyond prevention and mitigation, it's time for solution

Why CO2 'Air Capture' Could Be Key to Slowing Global Warming

Physicist Klaus Lackner has long advocated deploying devices that extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to combat climate change. Now, as emissions keep soaring, Lackner says in a Yale Environment 360 interview that such “air capture” approaches may be our last best hope.

by Richard Schiffman, Yale Environment 360

For two decades, Klaus Lackner has pioneered efforts to combat climate change by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Now, after years of watching the global community fail to bring greenhouse gas emissions under control, Lackner — director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University — is delivering a blunt message: The best hope to avoid major disruptions from global warming is to launch a massive program of CO2 "air capture" that will begin to reverse the buildup of billions of tons of carbon in our atmosphere.

Trained as a theoretical physicist, Lackner developed a device while at Columbia University that was patterned after a tree, absorbing the carbon dioxide that passed through it as wind and releasing it in a stream of water.

Lackner says he is continuing to perfect this design, which he hopes will one day serve as a prototype for millions of such devices around the globe.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Lackner says that while the development of renewable energy is essential in slowing global warming, these alternative sources are being deployed far too slowly. He contends the best course of action — and one that will become more palatable as the costs of rising seas and other climate upheaval mounts — is for governments to require the petroleum industry, the coal sector, and other emitters of CO2 to remove the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere that they release as emissions.

"If you pump a ton of carbon out of the ground, you will need to take a ton out of the air," says Lackner. "We need to have the ability to walk this backwards. I’m saying this is a war, and we need to use all the weapons at our disposal. You don’t want to get into this fight with one hand tied behind your back."

(Continued here.)

For CO2 reduction, there's hope on the horizon

Putting CO2 away for good by turning it into stone

Martin Stute, Columbia University
Published Friday, June 10, 2016 SFGate

We seriously need to do something about CO2 emissions. Besides shifting to renewable energy sources and increasing energy efficiency, we need to start putting some of the CO2 away before it reaches the atmosphere. Perhaps the impacts of human-induced climate change will be so severe that we might even have to capture CO2 from the air and convert it into useful products such as plastic materials or put it someplace safe.

A group of scientists from several European countries and the United States including myself met in the middle, in Iceland, to figure out how CO2 could be put away safely – in the ground. In a recently published study, we demonstrated that two years after injecting CO2 underground at our pilot test site in Iceland, almost all of it has been converted into minerals.

Iceland is a very green country; almost all of its electricity comes from renewable sources including geothermal energy. Hot water from rocks beneath the surface is converted into steam which drives a turbine to generate electricity. However, geothermal power plants there do emit CO2 (much less than a comparable coal-fired power plant) because the hot steam from deep wells that runs the turbines also contains CO2 and sometimes hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Those gases usually just get released into the air.

Is there another place we could put these gases?

(More here.)

George Soros: Brexit risks 'black Friday'

The Brexit crash will make all of you poorer – be warned

George Soros, The Guardian

My 60 years of experience tells me the pound will plummet, along with your living standards. The only winners will be speculators.

International Monetary Fund and others have been attacked by the leave campaign for exaggerating the economic risks of Brexit. This criticism has been widely accepted by the British media and many financial analysts. As a result, British voters are now grossly underestimating the true costs of leaving.

Too many believe that a vote to leave the EU will have no effect on their personal financial position. This is wishful thinking. It would have at least one very clear and immediate effect that will touch every household: the value of the pound would decline precipitously. It would also have an immediate and dramatic impact on financial markets, investment, prices and jobs.

As opinion polls on the referendum result fluctuate, I want to offer a clear set of facts, based on my six decades of experience in financial markets, to help voters understand the very real consequences of a vote to leave the EU.

The Bank of England, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the IMF have assessed the long-term economic consequences of Brexit. They suggest an income loss of £3,000 to £5,000 annually per household – once the British economy settles down to its new steady-state five years or so after Brexit. But there are some more immediate financial consequences that have hardly been mentioned in the referendum debate.

(Continued here.)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Iraqi Forces Enter Falluja, Encountering Little Fight From ISIS

By TIM ARANGO, NYT
JUNE 17, 2016

Watch in Times Video »

BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces quickly entered central areas of Falluja on Friday after weeks of battling the Islamic State, fighting that had forced thousands of civilians to flee and overwhelmed the ability of aid agencies to care for them.

Reporting little resistance from Islamic State fighters, counterterrorism forces raised the Iraqi flag over the main government building in central Falluja, officers and state television reports said. They said that pro-government forces moved on to besiege the city’s main hospital, which was the first target of American forces when they invaded the city in 2004 and in recent months has served as a headquarters complex for the Islamic State.

The rapid and unexpected gains suggested a shift in tactics by the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, or perhaps a sign of their weakness, as they abandoned their dug-in positions and regrouped in western neighborhoods of Falluja. That allowed thousands of civilians, who aid groups had said were being held as human shields, to flee across two bridges over the Euphrates River beginning on Thursday.

Though the battle appeared far from over, Iraqi commanders on the ground were optimistic that the advance, which had slowed in the face of Islamic State snipers, roadside bombs and tunnel networks that allowed fighters to move around undetected, would continue.

(More here.)

A Saudi Imam, 2 Hijackers and Lingering 9/11 Mystery


Khalid al-Mihdhar at Dulles International Airport near Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Mihdhar is one of two 9/11 hijackers who American investigators say may have been aided by a Saudi official. Credit Associated Press

By MARK MAZZETTI and SCOTT SHANE, NYT, JUNE 17, 2016

WASHINGTON — Inside an opulent palace in Riyadh late one evening in February 2004, two American investigators interrogated a man they believed might hold answers to one of the lingering mysteries of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: What role, if any, did officials in Saudi Arabia’s government play in the plot?

The man under questioning, Fahad al-Thumairy, had been a Saudi consular official based in Los Angeles and the imam of a mosque visited by two of the hijackers. The investigators, staff members of the national 9/11 commission who had waited all day at the United States Embassy before being summoned to the late-night interview, believed that tying him to the plot could be a step toward proving Saudi government complicity in the attacks.

They were unsuccessful. In two interviews lasting four hours, Mr. Thumairy, a father of two then in his early 30s, denied any ties to the hijackers or their known associates. Presented with phone records that seemed to contradict his answers, he gave no ground, saying the records were wrong or people were trying to smear him. The investigators wrote a report to their bosses saying they believed Mr. Thumairy was probably lying, though no government investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks has ever found conclusive evidence that Mr. Thumairy — or any other Saudi official — assisted in the plot.

But nearly 15 years after the attacks on New York and Washington, the question of a Saudi connection has arisen again amid new calls for the release of a long-classified section of a 2002 congressional inquiry into the attacks that discusses a possible Saudi role in the terrorist plot — the so-called 28 pages, whose secrecy has made them almost mythical.

American officials who have read the 28 pages say that, of all the investigative leads in that section of the report, the unanswered questions about Mr. Thumairy and the two hijackers remain the most intriguing. If there was any Saudi government role whatsoever, some still believe, it most likely would have gone through Mr. Thumairy.

(More here.)

Friday, June 17, 2016

51 U.S. Diplomats Urge Strikes Against Assad in Syria

By MARK LANDLER, NYT
JUNE 16, 2016

WASHINGTON — More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war.

The memo, a draft of which was provided to The New York Times by a State Department official, says American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria. It calls for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”

Such a step would represent a radical shift in the administration’s approach to the civil war in Syria, and there is little evidence that President Obama has plans to change course. Mr. Obama has emphasized the military campaign against the Islamic State over efforts to dislodge Mr. Assad. Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, have all but collapsed.

But the memo, filed in the State Department’s “dissent channel,” underscores the deep rifts and lingering frustration within the administration over how to deal with a war that has killed more than 400,000 people.

(More here.)

Top officials charged with violating constitution with 9/11 detainee abuse

Under policy implemented by former attorney general John Ashcroft and other Justice Department officials, detainees were held and abused for months.

THE GUARDIAN

A US appeals court on Wednesday reinstated a claim against former attorney general John Ashcroft and other Justice Department officials, stemming from the abuse of Arab and Muslim men and others detained for months in New York and New Jersey after the September 11 attacks. The unusual decision cleared the way for once-anonymous plaintiffs to advance charges that the top officials in the Justice Department had violated their constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law. The suit seeks class-action status for all detainees similarly abused.

A lower court had found that Ashcroft and his co-defendants, former FBI director Robert Mueller and former INS commissioner James Ziglar, had not been sufficiently linked to the abuse of detainees to support the plaintiffs’ claims.

In its reversal of that decision, the US court of appeals for the second circuit asserted that the justice department officials had put policies into place that were conducive to the abuse, that they knew the abuse was happening and that they knew the detainees weren’t terrorism suspects.

“It might well be that national security concerns motivated the defendants to take action, but that is of little solace to those who felt the brunt of that decision,” the court wrote. “The suffering endured by those who were imprisoned merely because they were caught up in the hysteria of the days immediately following 9/11 is not without a remedy.”

(More here)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Farewell to 400 parts per million

World ‘beyond return’ of historic carbon dioxide milestone

Record surge in CO2 through 2015 and 2016 saw atmospheric concentrations rise faster than 2 parts per million average to well above 400 ppm

By Ed King
Published on 13/06/2016, 5:00pm, Climate Home

Farewell then, 400 parts per million.

The past 12 months have seen a record surge in carbon dioxide emissions say scientists, driven by the burning of fossil fuels and boosted by a rampant El Nino phenomenon.

Tropical forests and plants that once would have been expected to reduce global CO2 levels by September have suffered badly under this El Nino, reducing their ability to soak up carbon.

That means the iconic milestone of 400 parts of carbon dioxide in every million molecules of air has likely been passed for good, says a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The inexorable rise of CO2 emissions

1966 – 322.39 parts per million
1976 – 333.46 ppm
1986 – 348.05 ppm
1996 – 364.17 ppm
2006 – 382.66 ppm
2016 – 404.83 ppm 
(Source: NOAA)
Despite a new UN climate pact agreed by 195 countries, the findings raise serious questions about the pace of efforts to slow global warming in what is set to be the hottest year on record.

(Continued here.)

Vox Verax note: CO2 rose by 22 ppm in the decade 2006-2016. Assuming a simple arithmetic rise in emissions of a constant 22 ppm per decade, the atmosphere will reach 450 ppm by 2037 and 500 ppm by 2059. If the rise continues according the current rate of 5.5% per decade, this is what the next few decades will look like:
2026 - 427.10 ppm
2036 - 450.59 ppm
2046 - 475.37 ppm
2056 - 501.51 ppm
 Vox Verax will leave what this means to the many scientists more versed in this subject than we are.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Oh, what a difference a 4-4 Supreme Court makes

Supreme Court rejects case challenging key White House air pollution regulation

By Brady Dennis, June 13, Washington Post

The Supreme Court on Monday left intact a key Obama administration environmental regulation, refusing to take up an appeal from 20 states to block rules that limit the emissions of mercury and other harmful pollutants that are byproducts of burning coal.

The high court’s decision leaves in place a lower-court ruling that found that the regulations, put in place several years ago by the Environmental Protection Agency, could remain in effect while the agency revised the way it had calculated the potential industry compliance costs. The EPA finalized its updated cost analysis in April.

In a statement Monday, the EPA praised the court’s decision not to review the case, saying the mercury standards are an important part of a broader effort to ensure clean air for Americans.

(More here.)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Time to dump fossil fuel stocks (if you haven't done so already)

The World Nears Peak Fossil Fuels for Electricity

Coal and gas will begin their terminal decline in less than a decade, according to a new BNEF analysis.

Tom Randall tsrandall, Bloomberg
June 12, 2016

The way we get electricity is about to change dramatically, as the era of ever-expanding demand for fossil fuels comes to an end—in less than a decade. That's according to a new forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance that plots out global power markets for the next 25 years.

Call it peak fossil fuels, a turnabout that's happening not because we're running out of coal and gas, but because we're finding cheaper alternatives. Demand is peaking ahead of schedule because electric cars and affordable battery storage for renewable power are arriving faster than expected, as are changes in China's energy mix.

Here are eight massive shifts coming soon to power markets.

1. There Will Be No Golden Age of Gas

Since 2008, the single most important force in U.S. power markets has been the abundance of cheap natural gas brought about by fracking. Cheap gas has ravaged the U.S. coal industry and inspired talk of a "bridge fuel" that moves the world from coal to renewable energy. It doesn't look like that's going to happen.

(Continued here.)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Who is Gary Johnson anyway?

by Leigh Pomeroy

An old college friend emailed me this morning with this terse note:
I'm now supporting Gary Johnson. You should give him a look. CS
I thought, "Who the hell is Gary Johnson? And why is [my friend] emailing me this when I hadn't heard from her in months?"

But I had an inkling who Gary Johnson might be, because my friend converted from being a born-and-raised Democrat to Republicanism after meeting and marrying a solid, very intelligent Republican guy of the William F. Buckley mold — that is, a Republican with whom you could have a thoughtful and enjoyable conversation on any number of issues and, in fact, agree on a number of reasonable points.

This kind of Republican has become an increasingly rare commodity, though I feel I'm blessed with knowing quite a few of them. I guess, at least as far as the media are concerned, they must just be closeted.

Anyway, this drove me to look up "Gary Johnson" and indeed there he was in the news as the Libertarian candidate for president and polling over 10%. That means that 1 in 10 voters were planning to vote for someone I didn't even know was running.

This makes a lot of sense since I have come across quite a lot of folks within my sphere of acquaintances who are very much leaning toward the "none of the above" side. Most seem to have a long running dislike for Hillary (the most repeated comment is that she's "dishonest") and a newfound disgust with Trump.

So voilà! We now have a legitimate, non-of-the-above candidate in Mr. Johnson, who has:
Could this be a redo of the 1992 presidential campaign, when Ross Perot won nearly 19% of the popular vote, and probably would have gained more had he not been in and out and in again in the race?

Gosh, I certainly hope so, because our political system has become so stuck and, well, boring that we do need something beyond the idiocy of Mr. Trump to shake things up.

While I appreciate some of the views of Mr. Johnson, I will not be voting for him because, like The Donald, he refuses to recognize the overwhelming challenge of anthropogenic climate change. And there's one thing I can't stand is a candidate who refuses to recognize scientific reality.

Anyway, there's a growing amount of info out there on the web and now in the media about Mr. Johnson, so if you're tired of the current Donald and Hillary Show, I suggest you check some of it out. A few suggestions (beyond the links above):

Thursday, June 09, 2016

And you want this guy to be president?

USA TODAY exclusive: Hundreds allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills

Steve Reilly, USA TODAY

Donald Trump casts himself as a protector of workers and jobs, but a USA TODAY NETWORK investigation found hundreds of people – carpenters, dishwashers, painters, even his own lawyers – who say he didn’t pay them for their work.

During the Atlantic City casino boom in the 1980s, Philadelphia cabinet-builder Edward Friel Jr. landed a $400,000 contract to build the bases for slot machines, registration desks, bars and other cabinets at Harrah's at Trump Plaza.

The family cabinetry business, founded in the 1940s by Edward’s father, finished its work in 1984 and submitted its final bill to the general contractor for theTrump Organization, the resort’s builder.

Edward’s son, Paul, who was the firm’s accountant, still remembers the amount of that bill more than 30 years later: $83,600. The reason: the money never came. “That began the demise of the Edward J. Friel Company… which has been around since my grandfather,” he said.

Donald Trump often portrays himself as a savior of the working class who will "protect your job." But a USA TODAY NETWORK analysis found he has been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades — and a large number of those involve ordinary Americans, like the Friels, who say Trump or his companies have refused to pay them.

(Continued here.)

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Trump support shrinking on Capitol Hill

Many elected Republicans were unimpressed with his attempt to walk back criticism of a judge because of his Mexican descent.

By Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim, Politico.com
06/08/16 05:38 PM EDT

As Donald Trump’s attacks on a federal judge settled over Capitol Hill like a dark cloud on Tuesday, Sen. Jeff Sessions dialed up Trump’s campaign to relay mounting alarm among elected Republicans about the presumptive nominee’s assaults on a jurist because of his Mexican roots.

Trump tried to calm the waters a few hours later, issuing a statement that blamed the media and delivering a speech that skirted the issue altogether. But the non-apology walkback failed to placate many elected Republicans, who said in interviews Wednesday that the GOP standard-bearer has a ways to go to show the restraint and discipline it will take to win the presidency and keep Republicans from a down-ballot disaster in November.

The anti-Trump movement is now growing rather than shrinking: At least eight GOP senators either won’t vote for Trump or have declined to back him publicly. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Rep. Bill Flores of Texas, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, both said Wednesday they weren’t ready to get on board, either.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H) wanted a retraction from Trump, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was looking for an apology. Instead, Trump continued to question whether District Judge Gonzalo Curiel could give him a fair hearing in a Trump University fraud lawsuit, then declared the matter settled and that he wouldn’t discuss it anymore.

That’s not how even his supporters on Capitol Hill view things.

(More here.)

Breaking the Pakistan-Taliban Alliance

This is the ‘golden hour’ when the U.S. can finally secure Islamabad’s help in stopping al-Qaeda-linked terrorists and the Taliban.

By Zalmay Khalilzad, WSJ
June 7, 2016 6:33 p.m. ET

In foreign policy, there are key moments—“golden hours”—when events create a finite window in which to achieve important things. Sometimes they are obvious, like in the aftermath of a successful military operation. More often golden hours are fleeting and apparent only in retrospect, when policy makers realize that they missed an opportunity.

Based on my discussions with President Ashraf Ghani and other senior Afghan officials in Kabul in recent days, I believe that the killing over the May 21 weekend of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a U.S. drone strike has created a golden hour in which to finally secure Pakistan’s cooperation in stopping support for the Haqqani network terrorists and for the extremist Taliban.

To have such a decisive effect on Pakistani policy, however, the U.S. and Afghanistan must follow up on Mansour’s death with additional steps that escalate pressure on Islamabad. Otherwise the opportunity will dissipate.

Opportunities have come and gone before. The last golden hour that could have secured a verifiable Pakistani break with the Taliban was after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. From the moment the U.S.-led coalition overthrew the Taliban in 2001, through 2004, when Afghans voted in a landslide for the election of President Hamid Karzai, U.S. credibility was sky high.

(More here.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Why Trump, the ‘King of Debt,’ Hates Dodd-Frank

Contrary to popular belief, the 2010 law actually did abolish ‘too big to fail.’

By Alan S. Blinder, WSJ
June 6, 2016 7:07 p.m. ET

Populism—standing up for the little guy against the powers that be—seems to be the theme of the 2016 presidential campaign. Yet Donald Trump, a faux populist if there ever was one, said in a May 17 interview that he wants to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank Act. In his words, “it will be close to a dismantling of Dodd-Frank.” But destroying Dodd-Frank certainly would not be good for the little guy.

Dodd-Frank was the landmark legislation enacted in 2010 to, among other things, ensure that we never have a repeat of the financial catastrophe of 2008—nor of the disgraceful practices that led up to it. Lest The Donald forget, those misdeeds led to the worst recession since the 1930s, to massive layoffs, to millions of foreclosures, and perhaps worst of all, to the political disaffection that gave rise to Trumpism.

So why would an alleged populist turn on Dodd-Frank? I can think of three reasons. One is the Republican article of faith that all regulation of business is bad, period. Maybe. But Mr. Trump has been repudiating Republican orthodoxy, not to mention Republicans, left and right.

A second explanation is that Mr. Trump is cozying up to the big bankers from whom he now needs campaign contributions—contrary to his repeated promises to fund his own campaign. Well, maybe. Many bankers would certainly like to get out from under Dodd-Frank. But many others, being rational, probably prefer the known Dodd-Frank to the unpredictable Donald Trump.

(More here.)

Monday, June 06, 2016

Panama Papers Show How Rich United States Clients Hid Millions Abroad

By ERIC LIPTON and JULIE CRESWELL, NYT
JUNE 5, 2016

Over the years, William R. Ponsoldt had earned tens of millions of dollars building a string of successful companies. He had renovated apartment buildings in the New York City area. Bred Arabian horses. Run a yacht club in the Bahamas, a rock quarry in Michigan, an auto-parts company in Canada, even a multibillion-dollar hedge fund.

Now, as he neared retirement, Mr. Ponsoldt, of Jensen Beach, Fla., had a special request for Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm well placed in the world of offshore finance: How could he confidentially shift his money into overseas bank accounts and use them to buy real estate and move funds to his children?

“He is the manager of one of the richest hedge funds in the world,” a lawyer at Mossack Fonseca wrote when the firm was introduced to Mr. Ponsoldt in 2004. “Primary objective is to maintain the utmost confidentiality and ideally to open bank accounts without disclosing his name as a private person.”

In summary, the firm explained: “He needs asset protection schemes, which we are trying to sell him.”

Thus began a relationship that would last at least through 2015 as Mossack Fonseca managed eight shell companies and a foundation on the family’s behalf, moving at least $134 million through seven banks in six countries — little of which could be traced directly to Mr. Ponsoldt or his children.

(More here.)

Vox Verax isn't always serious

Here on Vox Verax we post on a lot of weighty, mostly current issues. The majority of our posts are just stuff Tom has gleaned from the internet on issues that appeal to him, like foreign policy and domestic politics. Plus, he writes some very cogent articles on his own.

On the other hand, because I am most concerned with the state of a planet that we are leaving to future generations, I post more on climate change and other environmental issues.

However, believe it or not, we both have a sense of humor. I mean, how can you not have a sense of humor given the ongoing and interminable presidential campaign? Observing the almost daily Trump nonsense is like hitting your funny bone: You don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Recently I came across the word "cromulent" in an article written by my son, Ross Pomeroy, for RealClearScience. Okay, so I had to look it up: No kid of mine is going to have a larger vocabulary than his dad, at least till some form of dementia settles into my brain. (Of course, he would argue that it already has.)

Anyway, it appears that "cromulent" has already received major play on the internet for quite some time, ever since being introduced in an episode of "The Simpsons" in 1996 ("Words We're Watching: Cromulent", Merriam-Webster).

This might lead one to ask where I've been for the last 20 years. Well, certainly not watching reruns of "The Simpsons".

Anyway, thanks to Merriam-Webster for enlightening me on all this stuff! And thanks also to Ross, who has induced me to spend a few minutes on a bright, sunny June morning looking it up.

— LP

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Weekend in Chicago: Where Gunfire Is a Terrifying Norm

JUNE 4, 2016, NYT

Three days, 64 people shot, six of them dead: Memorial Day on the streets, and the violence that has engulfed families and neighborhoods.

“The Newlywed Game” is on the television. Julia Rhoden, 53, is sitting on her bed, exhausted from another long day at the health care center where she works as a nurse’s aide. There is a loud boom and then another and another. She feels a sting as a bullet enters her back. “I been shot! I been shot!” she cries out to her children in the next room, as blood soaks through the summer dress she wears as a nightgown.

That same night, 15-year-old Veronica Lopez is hit as she rides in a Jeep that is speeding along a waterfront drive. “Babe, they shot me in the stomach,” the girl tells a friend, who later says he covered her body with his own as the gunfire continued.

“Help, I’ve been shot!” another teenager screams as he limps down a darkened street, a bullet having torn through his leg.

It is Friday night in Chicago, and the Memorial Day weekend is just getting started. The Police Department plans to deploy more than a thousand extra officers to deal with the violence they fear will intensify with the unofficial start of summer.

There is no stopping the gunfire, which comes in bursts and waves, interrupting holiday barbecues, igniting gang rivalries, engulfing neighborhoods, blocks, families.

From Friday evening to the end of Monday, 64 people will have been shot in this city of 2.7 million, six of them fatally. In a population made up of nearly equal numbers of whites, blacks and Hispanics, 52 of the shooting victims are black, 11 Hispanic and one white. Eight are women, the rest men. Some 12 people are shot in cars, 11 along city sidewalks, and at least four on home porches.

(More here.)

In the Age of Trump there is some sanity

New York Assembly Approves Climate Bill That Would Cut Emissions to Zero

BY ZAHRA HIRJI, Inside Climate News

The New York State Assembly approved the nation's most ambitious climate change bill Wednesday. The vote came hours after a broad coalition of environmental justice, climate activist, conservation and labor groups took to the State Capitol in Albany urging lawmakers to swiftly pass the bill before the legislative session ends on June 16.

The legislation requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from major sources to zero by 2050. That would demand a near total decarbonization of its economy, and it would put New York among the world's leaders on forceful climate action. To achieve it, the bill gives the state until 2030 to get at least 50 percent of its electricity from clean energy.

By next year New York would have to generate 27 percent from renewable sources. In February, New York got about 28 percent of its electricity from renewables, mainly from hydroelectric power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The legislation, called the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act, is also notable for its emphasis on environmental and economic justice, according to the bill's advocates. It aims to "prioritize the safety and health of disadvantaged communities" and "it creates good jobs and protects workers and communities," a memo by lawmakers said.

(Continued here.)

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Syrian Troops Advance on Raqqa, as Islamic State Militants Pressed on Four Fronts

Government forces close in on extremists’ de facto capital as Iraqi forces, rebels and al Qaeda Affiliate Nusra Front attack ISIS in other areas

Associated Press
June 4, 2016 3:07 p.m. ET

BEIRUT—Syrian troops on Saturday reached the edge of the northern province of Raqqa, home to the de facto capital of Islamic State militant group’s self-styled caliphate, in a push that leaves the extremists fighting fierce battles on four fronts in Syria and neighboring Iraq.

Islamic State, which is also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, controls large swaths of territory in both countries and is fighting Syrian troops, U.S.-backed fighters and opposition militants in northern Syria. It also is battling an offensive by Iraqi government forces on its stronghold of Fallujah.

The Syrian government hasn’t had a presence in Raqqa since August 2014, when Islamic State fighters captured the Tabqa air base and killed scores of government soldiers. The provincial capital, Raqqa, became the first city under the militants’ control.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian troops reached the “administrative border” of Raqqa province under the cover of Russian airstrikes. It said that during three days of fighting 26 Islamic State fighters and nine Syian troops and pro-government gunmen were killed.

(More here.)

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Citing 'bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies,' Hillary goes after The Donald

Hillary Clinton Warns That Donald Trump’s ‘Thin Skin’ Would Set off War or Economic Crisis

By AMY CHOZICK and MARK LANDLER, NYT
JUNE 2, 2016

Hillary Clinton delivered a lacerating rebuke on Thursday of her likely Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump, declaring that he was hopelessly unprepared and temperamentally unfit to be commander in chief. Electing him, she said, would be a “historic mistake.”

Speaking in a steady, modulated tone but lobbing some of the most fiery lines of her presidential campaign, Mrs. Clinton painted Mr. Trump as a reckless, childish and uninformed amateur who was playing at the game of global statecraft.

“This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes,” she said, “because it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.”

Mrs. Clinton, whose campaign had grappled for weeks over how to handle Mr. Trump, seemed to find her footing as she addressed an audience in San Diego that laughed and cheered as she deconstructed Mr. Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements. They were, she said, “not even really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.”

The speech, which mixed biting sarcasm and somber assessments of the foreign crises of the Obama years, unfurled what is likely to be the core argument that Mrs. Clinton will carry into the general election.

(More here.)

Reviled by Many Russians, Mikhail Gorbachev Still Has Lots to Say

By NEIL MacFARQUHAR, NYT, JUNE 1, 2016

MOSCOW — In recent months, various prominent public figures, including at least one close associate of President Vladimir V. Putin, have insisted that Russia officially proclaim Mikhail S. Gorbachev a criminal for abetting the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Some regularly demand that Mr. Gorbachev be put on trial for the events, not least, as one member of Parliament put it, to expose the operations of a “fifth column” within Russia.

Yet when the organizers of Mr. Gorbachev’s 85th birthday extravaganza in March approached the landmark Hotel Ukraine about a banquet, its owners refused payment after they learned that it was the former leader being honored.

“They said that without Gorbachev they would have ended up as small merchants in the market, criminals dealing in contraband,” said Alexei Venediktov, a close friend and the editor in chief of the radio station Echo of Moscow, the main news outlet for liberal Russians. “They said: ‘Now we are the owners of all this thanks to Gorbachev! Not a kopeck!’”

In an interview, Mr. Gorbachev shrugged off the fact that 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he remains among the most reviled men in Russia. “It is freedom of expression,” he said.

Yet the official line denigrating traditional democracy, combined with the very idea that he should face trial, obviously irks him, so he churns out articles, essays and books about the need to enhance freedom in Russia. His latest effort, called “The New Russia” in English, was released in the United States in late May.

(More here.)

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Former Trump University Workers Call the School a ‘Lie’ and a ‘Scheme’ in Testimony

By MICHAEL BARBARO and STEVE EDER, NYT
MAY 31, 2016

In blunt testimony revealed on Tuesday, former managers of Trump University, the for-profit school started by Donald J. Trump, portray it as an unscrupulous business that relied on high-pressure sales tactics, employed unqualified instructors, made deceptive claims and exploited vulnerable students willing to pay tens of thousands for Mr. Trump’s insights.

One sales manager for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recounted how he was reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class, despite his conclusion that it would endanger their economic future. He watched with disgust, he said, as a fellow Trump University salesman persuaded the couple to purchase the class anyway.

“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” Mr. Schnackenberg wrote in his testimony, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

For Mr. Trump, whose presidential campaign hinges on his reputation as a businessman, the newly unsealed documents offer an unflattering snapshot of his career since branching out, over the past decade, from building skyscrapers into endeavors that cashed in on his name to sell everything from water and steaks to ties and education.

(More here,)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tired of all Trump, all the time? Enlighten yourself with these books

by Leigh Pomeroy

The problem with our news media — whether it's print, TV, radio, internet, whatever — is that it is nearly always focused on the "now". There is very little perspective given to the past, and even less on the future.

I confess that I am an anti-news junkie. I do read the Mankato Free Press everyday because I happen to live in Mankato, Minnesota, and I like to keep up with what's going on locally. And I do listen to Minnesota Public Radio when I'm driving and when I'm cooking dinner. And since I contribute to this blog I stay attuned to certain internet-sourced news, particularly on environment and climate issues.

But I don't watch TV news. Don't have the patience for it.

For information I rely on something very antiquated in our society: They're called books. I love reading books, preferably if they're recently released and have to do with environment, science, economic and political issues. With that said, I am going to give you my three favorite books so far this year.

But first, let me qualify "favorite". For some people, "favorite" implies enjoyable. For me it means "packed with stuff I didn't know before AND well written." Anyway, here they are:

Dark Money by Jane Mayer

There have been numerous reviews on this book, ranging from the "love it!" to the "hate it!", depending upon the reviewer's political point of view. But what I like about the book is this: While I had been aware of the Koch influence on politics, I had never been acquainted with the exact details, only bits and pieces, and those too often came from sources that were avowedly anti-Koch.

What Mayer lays out in the book is a detailed history of the Kochs' dealings so that the reader might draw his or her own conclusion. Further, she doesn't paint the Kochs as bad, per se, but rather details what their companies and various so-called nonprofits do to put forward their libertarian vision, the vast majority of which is quite legal. Her indictment is as much one of our political system than of the Kochs themselves. She doesn't pound the reader with anti-Koch rhetoric, but rather lays out the details and lets the reader decide.

I have a friend, an emeritus professor of physics, who said that after reading each chapter he had to take a three-day break before reading the next one, the book made him so angry. Enough said.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

I first read about Hope Jahren while leafing thru TIME magazine's Most Influential People in 2016. This immediately led me to her book, Lab Girl, which was not only packed with information pursuant to my interests but entertaining and exceedingly well-written as well. On top of that, Jahren was born and raised in Austin, Minnesota, about an hour south of Mankato. (In the book, she describes the town but does not mention it by name. Interesting.) I have since recommended this book to all my scientist friends, both young and old, and particularly stressed it to young women either studying or working in the sciences.

In the media Jahren has been portrayed as a campaigner for women scientists and against the old-boy network in the sciences. But the book is more of a treatise on her love of science, of friendship and commitment, and of her own personal challenges apart from gender bias in the academic world. The chapter on her pregnancy and giving birth will tear your heart out, but other chapters will have you laughing out loud. How many books, fiction or nonfiction, can do those things?

Tipping Point for Planet Earth by Anthony D. Barnosky & Elizabeth A. Hadly

Also titled End Game: Tipping Point for Planet Earth?, depending whether one has the U.S. or U.K. edition, this is an overall compendium of all the reasons we should be afraid … very afraid … of the havoc humankind is wreaking on the planet. Other books have covered biological tipping points (e.g., The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert) and climate tipping points (e.g., Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen), but Tipping Point puts these together — plus population, food, water, pollution, disease, war and hyper-consumerism) — all in one volume updated to 2015. And what they cover is all scary shit indeed.

The lessons of the book are twofold: First, tipping points are not new to Planet Earth. There have been many throughout time, which the authors, as researchers in paleoecology, put forward in the book.

The second lesson is that since humanity has brought on the threat of the tipping points facing us today, it is up to humankind to hopefully eliminate the possibility of those tipping points. In other words, while we probably can't do anything about the eventuality of an asteroid crashing into the earth, as one did 66 million years ago leading to the extinction of three-quarters of all species, we can do something about overpopulation and climate change.

In sum

None of these books are what one might call light reading. But it's important for those of us who are baby boomers to understand the legacy of how we are leaving earth. It may not be our fault that the homo sapiens population has nearly tripled in our lifetimes, nor is it perhaps our fault that we have pursued the highly material-focused lifestyles that most of us have led. Quite simply, until now, most of us didn't know any better.

But now many of us have come to realize that our comfortable lifestyles have come with costs, and that most of those costs are going to be put off on our children and their children. Is this fair? Or even logical?

Reading books is not yet acting, but at least it's educating and not focusing on "all Trump, all the time." That's at least a good first step.

Democracies end when they are too democratic

And right now, America is a breeding ground for tyranny

Andrew Sullivan, New York magazine

As this dystopian election campaign has unfolded, my mind keeps being tugged by a passage in Plato’s Republic. It has unsettled — even surprised — me from the moment I first read it in graduate school. The passage is from the part of the dialogue where Socrates and his friends are talking about the nature of different political systems, how they change over time, and how one can slowly evolve into another. And Socrates seemed pretty clear on one sobering point: that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.” What did Plato mean by that? Democracy, for him, I discovered, was a political system of maximal freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.”

This rainbow-flag polity, Plato argues, is, for many people, the fairest of regimes. The freedom in that democracy has to be experienced to be believed — with shame and privilege in particular emerging over time as anathema. But it is inherently unstable. As the authority of elites fades, as Establishment values cede to popular ones, views and identities can become so magnificently diverse as to be mutually uncomprehending. And when all the barriers to equality, formal and informal, have been removed; when everyone is equal; when elites are despised and full license is established to do “whatever one wants,” you arrive at what might be called late-stage democracy. There is no kowtowing to authority here, let alone to political experience or expertise.

(More here.)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Russia’s Long Road to the Middle East

Vladimir Putin’s intervention in Syria caught many by surprise, but it is a return to Russian geopolitical aspirations that stretch back to the czars

By Yaroslav Trofimov, WSJ
May 27, 2016 10:57 a.m. ET

Every Russian schoolchild is taught about the violent death of Aleksandr Griboyedov in 1829. A poet and playwright whose work is enshrined in the country’s literary canon, Griboyedov had the misfortune to be Czar Nicholas I’s ambassador to Tehran in the wake of Persia’s humiliating loss of territory to Moscow’s spreading empire. A Tehran mob, furious at the czar and his infidel representatives, stormed the embassy, slaughtering the unlucky ambassador and 36 other Russian diplomatic staff.

A century and a half later, in 1979, those events were almost replayed in Iran (as Persia is now known). When five leaders of the Iranian revolutionary students gathered in Tehran to decide which foreign embassy to target, two of them advocated seizing the Soviet legation. They were persuaded instead to overrun the U.S. embassy, creating a no less historic trauma for another world power entangled in the politics of the Middle East.

Russia’s long history of involvement—and warfare—in the region is largely unknown to Westerners, but it helps to explain President Vladimir Putin’s decision last fall to intervene in Syria’s civil war. Mr. Putin’s gambit on behalf of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad caught many in the West by surprise. Critics have assailed it as a miscalculated bid to replace the U.S. as the dominant outside power in the region.

But when viewed from Moscow, Mr. Putin’s Middle Eastern adventure looks like something very different: an overdue return to geopolitical aspirations that stretch back not only to the Soviet era but to centuries of czarist rule. “The Middle East is a way to showcase that the period of Russia’s absence from the international scene as a first-rate state has ended,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, the head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow, which advises the Kremlin and other government institutions.

(More here.)

Friday, May 27, 2016

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

By Julian E. Barnes, WSJ

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.

(More here.)

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.)