Sunday, February 17, 2019

February links

Russia investigation update. Roger Stone is finally indicted. It appears he was the conduit between Wikileaks and the Trump campaign. It was suspected before, but there are some juicy emails providing strong evidence. Chris Christie suggests that Trump's campaign team were so green that they didn't realize they were being worked by the Russians. Well, that's the interpretation by a CNN pundit of Christie's view. Russians are also using pieces of discovery material to create fake information to spew onto the internet. Of course they'll be doing that.

Countdown to Brexit. Ireland has prepared, businesses are not generally ready. This would make Brexit even bumpier, with greater negative effect on the UK economy. Please, admit it's time for a revote.

Attraction of alt-right politics. If you're white man, this may be your best hope for securing a place in the in-group, particularly if you're lower middle class or working class. That's how gangs recruit too.

Hard choices. A teenage girl was being molested by her foster father in a small town. She didn't feel she can get anyone to help from within her town, but got help from a fellow online gamer. However, he asked for proof of the abuse in the form of video. It sounded sick to me, but then his reason made sense. If he was going to come from out of state to pick her up, they better have very strong evidence of the abuse, like a video. So the gamer took her from her abusive home, prompting a search, discovery, etc. The savior is facing 15-30 years in jail for requiring a video.

Economic overview. Lots of debt, and lots of money (liquidity) looking for a place to go. I've been well aware since 2008 that the world is awash in money. I've been trying to figure out what it means. One thing - I'm not afraid of world-wide collapse. (The libertarian nightmares aren't haunting me.)

Facing down blackmail. Jeff Bezos reported that a tabloid (which supports Trump) was trying to blackmail him using photos of an affair he had. The email threats have been released, and they are juicier than photos, which aren't all that rare these days.

Image: davidfeldmanshow.com

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The symbolism of the wall

Trump promised his loud rallies a wall on the border with Mexico, and that Mexico would pay for it. His fans ate it up, though it's hard to tell if they really believed it. The wall was supposed to close the 'open border.'

I'm not at all an expert on the border. I don't know if a wall will be effective, or just an expensive boondoggle. Very few in the US have the information to make an educated decision on that. Instead, they have grandstanding which has turned the wall into a symbol.

On one hand, the wall will close border to illegal crossings. Crime will drop. Drug smuggling will drop, Human trafficking will drop. Illegal immigration will drop. Deported criminals will stay safely away from the US. The US will finally have meaningful control of this problem area.

On the other hand, the wall is immoral (I'm not sure why, but maybe because it closes the US as a necessary refuge). The wall won't be effective because people will tunnel under, cut through, climb ladders and go over, fly in, and cross with illegal papers. It'll be harmful to migratory animals, cost way more than projected, ruin the landscape, and result in the loss of land to many landowners.

Wall proponents point to the wall on the West Bank of Israel, and how effective it's been. It's 440 miles long due to numerous jogs and fingers to enclose Jewish settlements on West Bank territory. Much of it is concrete slab, though some is stacked barbed wire thickets and some simple barbed wire fencing.

The US-Mexican border, in contrast, is nearly 2000 miles long. Jogs wouldn't be needed, but monitoring and maintaining that stretch is still a massive job. Some of the terrain is reportedly difficult to traverse and build on, so may be a natural barrier.

But the argument is not so much about the plausibility and efficacy of a wall. It's a back-and-forth, without hard data or expertise, of two factions that don't know much but adhere tightly to their positions. Is the wall necessary and effective for controlling negative outcomes associated with the border, or is it immoral, pandering symbol that we shouldn't spend $1 on (as Nancy Pelosi said). So what is an argument where there are no facts being used? A shouting match maybe? I'm not interested in shouting matches. Get me some experts, real experts, not fake ones. Thank you.

Israel building a border wall
Image: presstv.com

Extras. Trump's reelection slogan will be "Finish the Wall," which will continue the pattern of symbolism without substance.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A test for Congress

I've been neglecting my blog, and I'm sorry. One reason is that the political situation isn't changing much. The players are staying the same with the same faults and strengths (mostly faults). The Dems continue to want to tax and spend, the GOP continues to want to spend and cut taxes, and Trump continues to bloviate with no substance behind it. Same old same old.

So Trump experimented with a shutdown, and that didn't work out so well for him or the GOP. He ended the shutdown by taking a deal to reopen government at status quo for three weeks. My sister (a federal worker) got to return to work and a paycheck.

During the three weeks, the less stubborn people in Congress would try to work out a deal, and Trump would perhaps throw bombs, but not have the power to nuke them as they worked.

I wasn't at all sure that the people chosen for the negotiation teams would be able to do it. Remember the epic failure of the sequester-alternative committee in 2011? That could certainly happen again, but it didn't. Cooler heads prevailed, and they made a deal.

Predictably, Trump wasn't happy with the results. Dems have a surprisingly strong hand because they can wait out the GOP, who are desperate to make a deal and not get blamed for another shutdown. The Dems were able to make a rock-bottom offer to the GOP, hold their breath, and the GOP negotiators blinked and accepted. (My guess, but the details of the deal will probably bear it out.)

That's how it's gone for the past 7 years. GOP is slow to negotiate, the clock ticks away, and the GOP have to take a crummier deal than they'd get if they'd laid out their positions at a reasonable point in the negotiation process.

If I ever see the GOP negotiating early, I'll let you know. Until then, the GOP can continue to expect unfavorable deals on everything that they can't pass via reconciliation. With the Dems controlling the House, that is everything for the next 1.9 years. My prediction: continued choking by the GOP. Same old same old.

Image: thedhakapost.com

Extras. An inside account of the negotiation, which worked because it was delegated to members of Congress who had respect for one another rather than adversarial relationships. The leaders kept out of the way, mostly. The deal almost fell apart on a poison pill (restricting the number of beds for deportees in process), but that was dropped.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

December links

Many developments in the Russia investigation. Confirmation of Trump's involvement in paying off women before the election, but no shockers. More too, but I'm not sure what's new. There was a reminder of what a scummy lawyer Michael Cohen was-- and he was Trump's lawyer. Trump lies so much that fact-checkers need a new rating, something like 'habitual conman cheater creep.'
Russian bots tried to smear Mueller--of course this happened. We could use a daily index on what disinformation the Russian bots are pushing. And, finally, is this an unrelated corruption scandal, or just typical of Russian (criminal) elite?

Working class protests in France. France, like the US, has a rural/urban divide. The rural people feel overlooked and dismissed by the traditional elites. This time the protest centers on hikes in gas prices, which hit those in rural parts more. It seems so familiar to me that I have remind myself that I don't know about the issues in this other country.

What's wrong with the GOP? Power is more important to them than the principle of democracy. Just another article about this. Similarly, they champion the idea of fake news, and not because they want accuracy in reporting. Maybe there's hope because some are acknowledging reality on the 'small government' fable and noticing what people actually want.

Don't trust InfoWars... or anyone who's been on InfoWars. Roger Stone, a slimy Trump adviser, loses a defamation suit.

Economic predictions. A round-up I might want to review in a few months.

Trump vacillates on the shutdown. Trump doesn't know what he wants or why. So he threatens a shutdown, backs away, and then demands the money to start the wall anyway. All in the space of a few days. I was expecting the reversal on Trump's part, but I didn't think the GOP in the House could put together and pass a bill to his specifications. They did, and now the Senate is in the hot seat. The Senate is still working on a compromise, a deadline has passed, so the US government is officially shutdown. Why wasn't this settled back in September, or during the summer? Because the GOP has no frigging idea how to negotiate and they wait until the last minute.

Image: cnet.com

Friday, December 21, 2018

Research into global warming and climate change

This isn't the first climate crisis I've researched. When I was in college, the threat to ozone was a hot topic. When the ozone hole was discovered, there was a consensus that the cause was a class of industrial chemical -- hydrocarbons containing chlorine and fluorine. I studied the scientific papers, and was surprised at how definitive the information was. The science was very clear and solid, so much so that an undergraduate could grasp it.

Luckily there wasn't a strong level of denial and stupidity about the findings. Many countries banded together to verify the science, and act responsibly by figuring out how to greatly decrease the use of the questionable chemicals. It was a case of rational response.

Greater complexity with CO2

In contrast, the questions about global warming have prompted huge levels of disagreement. People who barely know any science are passionate about it, sometimes for and sometimes against. Unlike the earlier climate crisis, the data doesn't seem so clearcut.

There have been fluctuations in climate throughout the history of the planet. The evidence of my lifetime is that my region is warming, and many other regions report the same trend. What is the cause? The growth of cities, change in the atmosphere, pollution - all of those seemed plausible, but that doesn't make them the actual cause.

It wasn't until earlier this year that I made a more determined study of the information. By this time I knew of other possible factors, including complex changes in weather patterns (so complex that I never grasped the mechanics of it). There is fairly solid evidence for a warmer period in the medieval period from about 900 - 1300 AD. It's also known (with good scientific data) that the sun can produce greater or lesser amounts of radiation, and that will affect temperatures on Earth. The amount of solar has been running lower than average, which is lucky for us. Had it been average levels, it probably would have added to the warming trend.

Three important FACTS

The warming trends I've seen in my life show on graphs of worldwide average temps:

Image: nasa.gov

There are questions as to how this data is gathered and massaged. I can't answer anything about that except to say that I'm not wrong about the trends I've seen, so I don't believe the earlier springs are a figment of my imagination or the result of shenanigans by scientists.

A second important data point in the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. This is definitely true, since it would be easy to disprove if it wasn't. No atmospheric sampling has contradicted this finding, so let's accept it as undisputed.

Image: yale.edu

The mechanism of warming is complicated. CO2, water vapor, methane, and other gases are known to trap in heat. We experience this with water vapor (a humid place doesn't cool down at night as readily as a dry locale). Is it also true, as claimed, for CO2 and methane? I think it wouldn't be hard to verify this using standard techniques like mass spectometry. I'm not a chemist, but this isn't difficult stuff to understand. Different chemical bond absorb and reradiate different wavelengths of light, blah, blah, blah. It's basic, and it's solid.

So, there are three solid points in the argument about global warming.
  1. the demonstrated increase in global temps
  2. the demonstrated increase in CO2
  3. the likely mechanism of CO2 and methane with their known radiation profiles
How to ignore the FACTS

Climate change deniers tend to use these tricks:
  1. They ignore that world wide temps are rising. This is a data-based fact.
  2. They ignore that CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is rising. This is also a fact.
  3. They pretend that climate/CO2 models must be very accurate or all of climate change is nonsense.
However, climate change isn't nonsense because of the facts stated in #1 and #2.
Climate deniers are con men ignoring definite scientific data. However, #1 and #2 don't go away because they are liars.

They refuse to consider how harmful even higher levels of CO2 might be, or the bad effects of higher temperatures. Many won't even touch the biggest risk, which is a surge in CO2 when the permafrost melts. They won't face the very real risks. They won't face that it's not going to be possible to turn off the CO2 like you turn off a faucet. As a scientist, I can't pretend that these risks aren't real. Scientists are used to facing facts, whether we like them or not.

And really, are people unhappy with cleaner energy? Why would we be? I don't get why carbon-free energy wouldn't be a goal and something we do as much as feasible. It makes for a better quality of life.

This is the kind of gobbledegock from climate deniers:
And we're about half way to CO2 doubling since pre-industrial times now and what do we have? -- about .9C of warming, suggesting 1.8C for 2X Co2. But the science also states that CO2 constituters 9-26% of the GH-Effect, so it's only 9-26% of 1.8C in this case. The experts are full of beans. They are hoist on their own claims.
Risks, models, and uncertainty

One issue is now very clear to me based on my research. The carbon cycles on the Earth's surface, its oceans and its atmosphere are extremely complex. They are not thoroughly understood and quantified. We don't know how much CO2 a given body of water will absord, or a given forest. We don't know how much CO2 will be released from boggy lands in the northern latitudes as they warm up. These movements of CO2 are very large, and perhaps seem to dwarf the man-made CO2 pollution.

However, don't forget that CO2 in the atmosphere is clearly rising. If there are other huge point sources of CO2 creation on Earth, we would have found them by now and we could work on plugging them. But there aren't. The man-made pollution seems to be the source. To ignore this would be like ignoring a flat tire as the source of that strange noise when you're driving. Some may choose to ignore a clear source, but I don't because I don't ignore evidence that's right in front of me.

Because of the complexity of CO2 cycles on Earth and the interactions related to temperature, I don't trust that the various models of warming are accurate. However, their level of accuracy is not the biggest concern here. It's really only an excuse to ignore what is important, which is the risk of major changes in climate that can have devastating effects on almost all life on the Earth. The amount of possible damage shouldn't be ignored. It is unwise to do so. It definitely behooves real conservatives to be careful, and consider these risks. Real conservatives...

Extras. More on the medieval warming period with a bias against current concerns about warming. Models aren't accurate, but I've noted why that isn't the most important consideration. Trump buries and denies the report from US scientists... because facts don't matter.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Voter fraud in California?

While there was clear and definite absentee ballot fraud in North Carolina, Republicans were doing this accusation thing about California. In California, voting by mail is so common that 43% of votes are tendered that way. So 43% of the vote isn't counted on election night, but counted afterward.

Republicans were hinting that elections were stolen even though they knew how and when ballots would be counted. Well, no surprise there. The Republicans are inveterate liars when it comes to elections. They spread so many falsehoods that anyone else would be embarrassed.

California has allowed some questionable practices, though. It might be extremely easy to illegally register to vote in California, or was a few years ago. I went the website, gave an out-of-state address, and the process didn't grind to a halt. I might have become a California voter except that I bailed before committing a fraudulent act. If there was any checking, it wasn't evident.

Now California is allowing people without a close connection to pick up absentee ballots from voters at their homes, and turn in or mail in those ballots.This is called 'ballot harvesting.' I don't know what safeguards they have to prevent fraud. Do the ballots even have to be sealed before being picked up? It's not clear.

Considering how frequently California is accused of high levels of non-citizens registered, one would think that California would be conducting transparent checks of its voter rolls, and announcing the findings. But that's not what they've done. Instead, there is very little about verification that their systems work. In the absence of data, Democrats tend to shrug, and GOPers continue to go apeshit. Instead of assumptions, let's have some actual hard information, ok?

Image: sandiegouniontribune.com

Extras. Conservative media reporting on California absentee ballots regularly neglected to mention that ballots must be postmarked by election day to be valid. Other media outlets seemed to have no trouble mentioning this. I wonder why the discrepancy? Alas, my examples have disappeared.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Finally there is a real voter fraud scandal

Conservatives have been lying about voter fraud for nearly two decades. Or let me clarify. They have vehemently been making unsubstantiated claims repeatedly. Their goal seems to be to cast unwarranted doubt on any Democratic victories, and has nothing to do with telling the truth about election processes. So calling them liars is completely deserved.

Finally there is a big, undeniable voting fraud scandal. It has nothing to do with false impersonation or non-citizens voting. Instead, it involves the area that is most rife with fraud, which is absentee ballot voting. Why haven't the GOPers focused on this before? Because they're liars and were hoping to institute measures that nominally hurt Dem voters.

In this scandal, consultants for a GOP candidate running for a house seat hired a known local operative to round up absentee ballots. He paid relatives, neighbors, and friends to help with the work, which involved knocking on doors, getting people to sign the ballots, walking away with unsealed ballots, and filling them in later. Maybe I need to add 'allegedly.' However, there are numerous affadavits about the activities, including how the operative would get a $40K bonus if his candidate won. It looks very likely that a new election will be called. This is rare, but the level of fraud is substantial and the candidate thoroughly tainted. It would be travesty to certify the election, and it appears that will not happen, so a repeat election will be necessary.

This happened in North Carolina, but it could easily have happened elsewhere. The fraudsters are on the GOP side, but it could have been otherwise. However, make no mistake, the GOP chased other non-frauds and ignored this sort.

Will GOPers change their talking points about voter fraud? One would hope, but that wouldn't be typical of the GOP. They cling to their lies.

Image: ajc.com