Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Stinking Up The Joint

Via the Washington Post:

President Trump will take the most significant step yet in obliterating his predecessor’s environmental record Tuesday, instructing federal regulators to rewrite key rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions.

The sweeping executive order also seeks to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing and remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.

The order sends an unmistakable signal that just as President Barack Obama sought to weave climate considerations into every aspect of the federal government, Trump is hoping to rip that approach out by its roots.

“This policy is in keeping with President Trump’s desire to make the United States energy independent,” said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the directive Monday evening and asked for anonymity to speak in advance of the announcement. “When it comes to climate change, we want to take our course and do it in our own form and fashion.”

For someone who ran slamming China for all of their trade practices and currency manipulation, he might want to take a lesson from them.

The only jobs that are created by reducing environmental regulations are, ironically, in the field of healthcare, namely pulmonary and respiratory care.

The saving grace is that reversing President Obama’s orders can’t happen overnight.

Some of the measures could take years to implement and are unlikely to alter broader economic trends that are shifting the nation’s electricity mix from coal-fired generation to natural gas and renewables. The order is silent on whether the United States should withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, under which it has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions between 26 and 28 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels, because the administration remains divided on that question.

Hopefully by the time they get around to doing any damage, we’ll have someone in office who can reverse the reversal.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Not Talking About It Doesn’t Make It Go Away

Via the Tampa Bay Times:

The Trump administration has instituted what it described as a temporary media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency and barred staff from awarding any new contracts or grants.

Emails sent to EPA staff since President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday and reviewed by The Associated Press detailed specific prohibitions banning press releases, blog updates or posts to the agency’s social media accounts.

The Trump administration has also ordered what it called a temporary suspension of all new business activities at the department, including issuing task orders or work assignments to EPA contractors. The orders were expected to have a significant and immediate impact on EPA activities nationwide.

Similar orders barring external communications have been issued by the Trump administration at other federal agencies in recent days, including the Agriculture and Interior departments.

Staffers in EPA’s public affairs office are instructed to forward all inquiries from reporters to the Office of Administration and Resources Management.

“Incoming media requests will be carefully screened,” one directive said. “Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press.”

A review of EPA websites and social media accounts, which typically include numerous new posts each day, showed no new activity since Friday.

This is how we now deal with climate change and global warming: don’t ever talk about about and it will go away… as if it ever existed in the first place.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Another Fox Guarding The Chicken Coop

Via the New York Times:

President-elect Donald J. Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general and a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, to run the Environmental Protection Agency, signaling Mr. Trump’s determination to dismantle President Obama’s efforts to counter climate change — and much of the E.P.A. itself.

Mr. Pruitt, a Republican, has been a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, actions that fit with the president-elect’s comments during the campaign. Mr. Trump has criticized the established science of human-caused global warming as a hoax, vowed to “cancel” the Paris accord committing nearly every nation to taking action to fight climate change, and attacked Mr. Obama’s signature global warming policy, the Clean Power Plan, as a “war on coal.”

Mr. Pruitt has been in lock step with those views.

“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote in National Review earlier this year. “That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.”

No, dissent is not a crime.  But poisoning our air, water, and soil is and there will be generational consequences when the Everglades turn into strip mines, the Great Lakes become a sewer, and the earth literally trembles in Oklahoma — his home state — from fracking.

So far Trump has nominated an attorney general who is against equal rights, a Secretary of Education who is opposed to public schools, a HUD secretary who is against fair housing, and now this.

Well, maybe this is part of his genius plan to fix immigration: make the country so uninhabitable that no one wants to come here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Short Takes

Hillary Clinton campaigned in Miami with Al Gore.

Kinky: Donald Trump says the “shackles are off.”

Federal prosecutors will file contempt-of-court charges against Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Native Americans dug in for the long haul to protest the pipeline in North Dakota.

The death toll from flooding in North Carolina reached 22.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 smartphone has flamed out.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Short Takes

Syria ceasefire takes effect.

Clinton campaign explains mishanded health scare.

President Obama will veto the bill that allows 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia.

Brazil ratifies Paris climate agreement.

The UN reports that Iran has kept to the nuclear arms agreement.

Kansas, Georgia, and Alabama must remove proof-of-citizenship from voter ID according to a federal court.

The Tigers beat the Twins 4-2.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Short Takes

Death toll from Louisiana flooding reaches 10.

Convicted Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane resigns.

Aetna Insurance drops out of Obamacare.

July was the hottest month on record.

North Carolina wants the Supreme Court to put a hold on voter I.D. ruling.

R.I.P. John McLaughlin, 89, right-wing ex-priest Nixon apologist turned TV pundit.  Bye-bye.

Tropical Update: There’s a wave coming off Africa that could develop into something.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Short Takes

House Democrats sit-in for a vote on gun control.

North Korea fires off two ballistic missiles.

Bernie Sanders: “It doesn’t appear I’ll be the nominee.”

Colombia and rebels agree to a cease-fire in 50-year conflict.

Michigan A.G. sues two companies over Flint water crisis.

The Tigers beat the Mariners 5-1.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Short Takes

President Obama commuted the sentences of 61 people convicted of non-violent drug offenses.

No charges filed in the Minneapolis shooting of an unarmed man by two police officers.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee banned non-essential state travel to North Carolina because of the recently-passed LGBT law.

Ice sheet forecast suggests disastrous sea level rise by 2100.

F.D.A. eases abortion pill access.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Dangerous Waters

Not only are the sea levels rising around Miami, the water itself is dangerous.  Via Eye on Miami and the Miami Herald:

…water sampling in December and January found tritium levels up to 215 times higher than normal in ocean water. The report doesn’t address risks to the public or marine life but tritium is typically monitored as a “tracer” of nuclear power plant leaks or spills. County staff concluded the findings are “the most compelling evidence” that canal water has spread into the bay.

That’s from the Turkey Point nuclear power generating plant that’s about twenty-five miles south of Miami on the coast of Biscayne Bay.  It’s supposed to be a closed system, which means the water that’s used to cool the reactor doesn’t get out into the bay, but apparently that’s not the case.

On the up side, at least we’ll be able to see when the sea levels rise… from the glowing water.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday Reading

Reasoning with Scalia — Bruce Hay clerked for Justice Scalia and lived to tell the tale.

In the two weeks since his death, many have spoken about Antonin Scalia’s undeniable impact on American law.  As attention shifts to filling the vacancy he has left on the Supreme Court, I would like instead to talk about his less appreciated impact on contemporary physics. But first, a bit of background.

Antonin Scalia generally detested science. It threatened everything he believed in. He refused to join a recent Supreme Court opinion about DNA testing because it presented the details of textbook molecular biology as fact. He could not join because he did not know such things to be true, he said. (On the other hand, he knew all about the eighteenth century. History books were trustworthy; science books were not.) Scientists should be listened to only if they supported conservative causes, for example dubious studies purporting to demonstrate that same-sex parenting is harmful to children. Scientists were also good if they helped create technologies he liked, such as oil drills and deadly weapons.

His own weapon was the poison-barbed word, and the battleground was what he once labeled the Kulturkampf, the culture war. The enemy took many forms. Women’s rights. Racial justice. Economic equality. Environmental protection. The “homosexual agenda,” as he called it. Intellectuals and universities. The questioning of authority and privilege. Ambiguity. Foreignness. Social change. Climate research. The modern world, in all its beauty and complexity and fragility.

Most of all, the enemy was to be found in judges who believe decency and compassion are central to their jobs, not weaknesses to be extinguished. Who refuse to dehumanize people and treat them as pawns in some Manichean struggle of good versus evil, us versus them. Who decline to make their intelligence and verbal gifts into instruments of cruelty and persecution and infinite scorn.

I worked for him early in his tenure on the Supreme Court. He had visited my law school when I was a student, and I was smitten by his warmth and humor and sheer intellectual vibrancy. When I applied for a clerkship at the Court, my hero Justice Brennan quickly filled all his positions, so Scalia became my first choice. He offered me a job and I thought I’d won the lottery. I knew we differed politically, but he prized reason and I would help him be reasonable. A more naive young fool never drew breath.

I can attest to the many nice things people have said about the Justice. He was erudite and frighteningly smart. He said what he thought, not what was expedient. He was generous to friends and family. He loved his clerks and helped them get dream jobs. And we returned the favor by not thinking about what we were doing, then or afterward. What I took for the pursuit of reason in those chambers was in fact the manufacture of verbal munitions, to be deployed against civilian populations. From the comfort of our leather chairs, we never saw the victims.

Anyway, about his contribution to physics. I am close to one of the victims of his operation, a transgender woman named Mischa Haider, whom I got to know during the course of her work on a Ph.D. in physics at Harvard. She’s an extraordinary polymath — gifted violinist, writer and novelist; fluent speaker of a half-dozen languages; math genius. And physicist. Her intellect would have made our brilliant Justice want to hide his head in a bag, to borrow his charming words from last year’s marriage equality ruling. Those who have any doubt about trans mothers should meet Mischa’s children.

Since coming out as trans a few years ago, this remarkable woman has suffered a debilitating depression. Partly from the transphobia she encounters daily at the allegedly enlightened Harvard; from the constant stares in public; from the indignity of worrying about things the rest of us take for granted, like walking in the street or using a public bathroom without fear of taunts or violence, or taking her children to the park without fear of being humiliated in front of them.  And from the pain of rejection by family and former friends who, despite her prodigious achievements, are somehow ashamed to be associated with her.

Beyond all that, it’s her knowledge of what the “culture war” means for trans women across the country, women who are shunned by their families, who are often unable to get jobs and therefore live in poverty, who face shocking levels of assault and murder (2015 was a record year), who attempt suicide at a rate greater than 40 percent. Who are generally excluded from the protection of antidiscrimination laws. Who, on the contrary, are at this moment the subject of dozens of pending pieces of transphobic legislation around the country, such as bills to stigmatize trans children by forcing them to use separate locker rooms at school or to jail trans women for using public bathrooms that match their identity. The drumbeat of organized hatred, calling to mind yellow stars and separate drinking fountains and worse, makes my friend feel like a nonperson, unwelcome in her own country. All this, for the crime of not matching someone else’s idea of how women are supposed to look.

She’s decided to leave academic physics after finishing the doctorate. She has become too absorbed in the struggle for equality – for being accorded the most basic human dignity – to think of anything else. She could not live with herself, she tells me, if she did not devote her talents to helping the many trans women whose lives are decimated by the bigotry and ignorance of those around them. Bigotry and ignorance inflamed by demagogues like Antonin Scalia, whose toxic rhetoric has done so much to incite and legitimate fear of gender nonconformity and elevate it to the level of constitutional principle. She is resolved to become a trans rights activist.

So that is Antonin Scalia’s contribution to physics. To drive a woman with a luminous mind from the study of quantum theory and statistical mechanics and condensed matter, and into the urgent project of safeguarding vulnerable people from the inhumanity he dedicated his life to spreading. An inhumanity that survives as his true legacy, safeguarded by deluded acolytes and admirers.

Scalia passed away in his sleep at a luxurious hunting lodge. He died as he lived, gun at hand, dreaming of killing helpless prey from a position of safety and comfort. May his successor on the Court have a loftier vision of law, and of life.

Bernie’s Bumpy Road — Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker on what lies ahead for Sen. Sanders.

What Bernie Sanders is trying to accomplish is ludicrous. His age (seventy-four), political label (socialist), disposition (grumpy), and aesthetic (rumpled) make him the most improbable Presidential candidate of 2016 not named Trump. At the start of the race, the gap between Sanders and Hillary Clinton when it came to name recognition, élite Party support, polling, and fund-raising was nearly as wide as it could possibly be between two candidates vying for the nomination. Sanders has been maddeningly vague about how he would pass what would be the most ambitious and expensive Democratic agenda in modern history. When he’s forced to talk about foreign policy he seems hesitant and uncertain. Nearly every answer involves some reference to his opposition to the 2003 Iraq War.

And yet his campaign against Hillary Clinton has defied all expectations. Iowa was essentially a tie, and in New Hampshire he defeated her by twenty-two points. Saturday in Nevada, he kept the race close, losing by just five points in a state where he started behind by fifty-four points in the state’s first poll last year. While raw vote totals have not been reported for Iowa and Nevada, which hold caucuses, it’s certain that if the first three states were combined, Sanders has won many more votes than Clinton has so far in 2016.

Sanders has also already fared better than two recent Democratic insurgencies: Bill Bradley’s 2000 campaign against Al Gore and Howard Dean’s campaign against half a dozen Washington insiders, in 2004. But there’s been only one successful Democratic insurgency in recent decades—Barack Obama’s, in 2008—and Sanders is not on the same trajectory. There were two major components to Obama’s success. First, Obama expanded the Democratic electorate. This started in Iowa, where turnout hit a record in 2008 when Obama attracted young voters, independents, and even Republicans to caucus for him. If the traditional Iowa electorate of a small number of older Democratic partisans had shown up, Clinton would have defeated Obama. After Obama won Iowa, he opened a crucial second front against Clinton when he began to win over non-white voters. Even after building that strong coalition, he barely defeated Clinton; depending on how you count, she ended up winning more over-all votes than Obama.

Sanders has been expanding the electorate, but not by enough, and the over-all turnout numbers in 2016 are not meeting or exceeding the Obama milestones. Sanders is dominant with young people and political independents—according to the latest figures, he won voters between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine by eighty-two to fourteen in Nevada—but it’s not enough to make up for his deficits among other groups. The Nevada results show Sanders is having trouble breaking into traditional Democratic constituencies, like African-Americans and older voters, especially among women. Clinton won African-Americans by seventy-six per cent to twenty-two per cent in Nevada. Voters over forty-five years old made up sixty-three per cent of the Nevada electorate, and Clinton won that group by more than two to one.

There was one bright spot for Sanders in the Nevada results. He appears to have cut into Clinton’s support among Hispanics. As with other groups, it was younger Hispanics who came out for him. The more well known Sanders is among younger voters of all races and backgrounds, the better Sanders performs. His problem is that, as the total number of primaries held accelerates over the next few weeks, he might not have enough time for voters to get to know him, and, even given his impressive fund-raising, he might not have the resources to truly compete in dozens of states.

Nevada is a quirky state—it has a transient, overwhelmingly urban population—and the outcome there shouldn’t be over-interpreted. Sanders could still pose a challenge to Clinton for many weeks to come. Insurgencies usually fail, but they often tell us something about the shape of politics in the near future. Clinton may defeat Sanders’s millennial army in the primaries, but to succeed she and other Democrats will need its support for years to come.

Florida Flush — Lake Okeechobee’s dirty water hits the beaches.  By Sarah Rathod in Mother Jones.

Just in time for tourist season, both of Florida’s coasts are being flooded by dark, polluted water that’s killing ocean creatures and turning away would-be swimmers, fishermen, and other visitors.

Last month was South Florida’s wettest January since 1932. Because of the heavy rain, the water levels in Lake Okeechobee in central Florida rose to about a foot above what’s normal for this season. On top of that, water managers began to pump dirty water from flooded farms into the lake, adding more pollution to a body of water that already contains fertilizers and other chemicals from the state’s cattle and sugar industries. At the same time, officials began to worry that the rising lake waters would put stress on its aging dike, so they decided to drain the lake toward the east and west coasts. Some 70,000 gallons per second flowed into the St. Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee River all the way through to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. And as the toxic runoff spreads, it’s threatening sea grasses and oyster beds and adding to harmful algae growth.

Now the tourism industry and small businesses on the coasts are worried they’re going to see their business slump as a result of the pollution. Local politicians are calling on Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency, and mayors are traveling to Washington, DC, to demand action from Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers. And Floridians are snapping pictures of the polluted water and dead sea creatures and sharing them on social media.

According to David Guest, managing attorney of the Florida branch of the environmental law group Earthjustice, the pollution is not going to end anytime soon. He blames lax regulations, not the unseasonable rain, for the current crisis. “The lake is basically a toilet,” Guest says. Florida’s powerful sugar industry has stood in the way of the state purchasing land south of the lake that could be used to build a waterway to direct dirty water to the Everglades, cleansing it along the way.

According to John H. Campbell, a spokesman for the US Army Corps of Engineers, state and federal officials are unable to divert the polluted water south to the Everglades at the moment. The marshes between the lake and the Everglades are too flooded, and it could be a matter of weeks or even months before the water levels come down. In the meantime, the polluted water will keep being diverted to the coasts, where Florida’s tourism industry lies. “We really don’t have any other options,” Campbell says. “That’s all we can do.”

Doonesbury — Seemingly Happy.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016

Poisoned Water

It is not news that the water in Flint, Michigan, has been poisoning the citizens for almost two years since the city was forced to stop buying water from Detroit and had to take it from the cesspool that is the Flint River.  The city has since switched back to getting its water from Detroit until the pipeline to Lake Huron is completed, but the damage is done:  lead is in the water from corrosion to the pipes and people are getting sick.

That’s not the worst part.  The state knew about the hazard to the people almost as soon as they started pumping water out of the river, but the unelected “emergency manager” of Flint — appointed by the governor to run the city during its financial crisis — did nothing about it.  Governor Rick Snyder (R) knew about it as well, but it wasn’t until last month that he took it seriously.  Jordan Sargent at Gawker:

Among the most crucial questions of all are: Who should have known that the water in the Flint River was unsafe, who did know, and when did they know? That includes Synder, the governor, who is now apologizing for the crisis while also attempting to distance himself from it at the same time. At a press conference on Thursday, Snyder essentially plead the fifth on what he or his office might have known and when, but incriminating documents regarding his administration’s knowledge of the crisis have already been uncovered.

On Wednesday, NBC News reported that researchers at Virginia Tech who have been studying lead levels in Flint’s water received, via a Freedom of Information Act request, an email sent by Snyder’s ex-chief of staff Dennis Muchmore in July of 2015 expressing his concern about Flint to a “top health official.” In the email, Muchmore wrote:

“I’m frustrated by the water issue in Flint. I really don’t think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving. These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we’re just not sympathizing with their plight).”

It would be hard to conjure a more damning piece of evidence than this. Snyder didn’t declare a state of emergency regarding the water crisis until this week, but at least five months ago his top deputy was complaining about the administration having “blown off” the residents of Flint who were “scared and worried about the health impacts” of the water they were being asked to drink.

What needle does the governor conceivably thread here? At best, Snyder can plead complete ignorance—of the decision to temporarily pull water from the Flint River, of the water’s toxicity, of its effect on its consumers, of what his administration may have known. Though that might be the first step to protecting himself legally, it would paint him as a deeply negligent governor, one whose special “emergency manager” program directly led to an environmental disaster and who had no connection with a chief of staff who was trying to stop that disaster from becoming even worse.

The other reality would be that Snyder knew that Flint’s drinking water was perilously toxic but just decided not to do anything about it. Flint ended up pulling from the Flint River for 18 months, starting April 2014 and ending in October 2015, when it once again began buying water from Detroit. In that period of time, the city and state, as directed by Snyder, could have taken any number of opportunities to disconnect Flint’s water supply from its poisoned river, but did not.

Estimates to replace the damaged pipes and water system in Flint are running into the billions of dollars, and the healthcare issues will be with the city and the citizens for years.  So who will pay for it?

Whey To Go

According to this piece in ThinkProgress, a byproduct of cheese production can be used to generate electricity.

Technically, the power station — located in Albertville in the southeastern part of France — uses whey, a byproduct leftover from the production of the town’s famous Beaufort cheese. Whey is the liquid that is released from the curds during the cheese-making process, and it’s the same liquid that often rises to the top of yogurt products. It is mostly water, but is also contains things like proteins and milk sugars. It’s incidental to most cheese-making processes — the curds are what eventually becomes the finished cheese product — and is often considered a waste product by cheese makers. Unfortunately for cheese producers, the process of making cheese results in a lot of residual whey — for every pound of cheese, a producer is normally left with about a gallon of whey.

When bacteria is added to whey, however, they begin to digest the sugars. That, in turn, produces methane, a biogas that can be captured and used as fuel. In Albertville, that methane is then fed through a machine that heats water to 194 degrees Fahrenheit, which in turn generates electricity. According to the Independent, the Albertville plant is able to produce an estimated 3,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. That electricity, according to the Telegraph, is eventually sold to French energy giant EDF.

Knowing the French, they probably have a great wine to go with it.