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In case you missed it...In Her Own Words

The following is an unedited excerpt from yesterday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing questioning Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump's Supreme Court nominee. The subject is whether Judge Barrett believes in climate change.

 

Kamala Harris: Do you accept that COVID-19 is infectious?

 

Amy Coney Barrett: Uhh, I think, yes, I do accept that COVID-19 is infectious, that is something of which I feel we could say we take judicial notice of, it's an obvious fact, yes.

 

Kamala Harris: Do you accept that smoking causes cancer?

 

Amy Coney Barrett: I'm not sure exactly where you're going with this, but you know, the notice…(garbled)

 

Kamala Harris: Just a question of whether you can answer if you believe…you know…

 

Amy Coney Barrett: Senator Harris, yes, every package of cigarettes warns that smoking causes cancer.

 

Kamala Harris: And do you believe that climate change is happening and it's threatening the air we breathe and the water we drink.

 

Amy Coney Barrett: Uhh, Senator, again I was wondering where you were going with that. You have asked me a series of questions like that are completely uncontroversial, like whether COVID-19 is infectious, whether smoking causes cancer, and then trying to analogize that, soliciting an opinion on me that is a very contentious matter, an opinion from me that is on a very contentious matter of public debate. And I will not do that, I will not express a view on a matter of public policy especially one that is politically controversial because that's inconsistent with the judicial role, as I have explained.

 

Kamala Harris: Thank you, Judge Barrett. You've made your point that you believe this is a debatable point.

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In case you missed it...In His Own Words - Part II

The following is Part II of an unedited excerpt from Wedesday night's vice-presidential debate between Sen. Kamala Harris and V.P. Mike Pence, with USA Today's Susan Page as moderator. It is forwarded as a public service to provide you with a clear understanding of the Trump administration's thinking (sic) about climate change. It is particularly enlightening because it provides a definitive answer to the question of whether the Trump administration believes climate change is an existential threat to our planet. It also is a further demonstration of Trump Lite's debate strategy of ignoring the rules and hogging the microphone to give the opponent less air-time.

 

Susan Page: 

 

Senator Harris just said that climate change is an existential threat. Vice President Pence, do you believe that climate change poses an existential threat?


Mike Pence: (02:09)
As I said, Susan, the climate is changing. We'll follow the science. But once again, Senator Harris is denying the fact that they're going to raise taxes on every American. Joe Biden said twice in the debate last week, that on day one, he was going to repeal the Trump tax cuts. Those tax cuts delivered $2,000 in tax relief to the average family of four across America. And with regard to banning fracking, I just recommend that people look at the record. You yourself said repeatedly that you would ban fracking. You were the first Senate co-sponsor of the Green New Deal. And while Joe Biden denied the green new deal, Susan, thank you for pointing out. The Green New Deal is on their campaign website.

 

Mike Pence: (02:54)
And as USA TODAY said, it's essentially the same plan as you co-sponsored with AOC when she submitted it in the Senate. And you just heard the Senator say that she's going to resubmit America to the Paris climate accord. Look, the American people have always cherished our environment and will continue to cherish it. We've made great progress reducing CO2 emissions through American innovation and the development of natural gas through fracking. We don't need a massive $2 trillion Green New Deal that would impose all new mandates on American businesses and American families.

 

Susan Page: (03:30)
Thank you.

 

Mike Pence: (03:30)
Joe Biden wants us to retrofit-

 

Susan Page: (03:32)
Thank you Vice President Pence.

 

Mike Pence: (03:32)
Four million business-

 

Susan Page: (03:34)
Thank you Vice President Pence.

 

Mike Pence: (03:35)
Buildings. It makes no sense. It will cost jobs. President Trump-

 

Susan Page: (03:39)
Thank you Vice President Pence.

 

Mike Pence: (03:40)
He's going to put America first. He's going to put jobs first and we're going to take care of our environment and follow the science.

 

Susan Page: (03:45)
Thank you Vice President-

 

Elapsed time: One minute, thirty-one seconds of more malarkey

 

The full transcript is available here.

 

 

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Three Things You Might Have Missed But Shouldn’t Have

As the nation lurches towards Election Day, Week, or Months, it's difficult to concentrate on anything other than recent developments that might affect the outcome, but won't—like the president's zero-tax returns—because for both sides, extreme antipathy is now baked in.  So here are three things about the fight to save our planet that you might have missed.

 

Last week was Climate Week in New York City. This annual event "brings together business and government leaders to showcase amazing climate action and find ways to do more." Both China and the EU increased their pledges to reduce greenhouse gasses, with China promising to be carbon neutral by 2060. The "climate arsonist" in the White House, as Joe Biden recently characterized our president, continues to insist, "I don't think science knows."

 

The New York Times had a front page, above the fold, hellish picture of the wildfire in the Angeles National Forest in California. Every American should internalize the headline—A Climate Crossroads with 2 Paths: Merely Bad or Truly Horrific.

 

Finally, the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll reveals that climate change is the #1 issue for likely Democrat voters, followed by COVID and health care. For Republicans, the #1 issue is the economy, followed by abortion and crime. Climate change doesn't even make the top six.

 

Does that make you want to join me and throw a bucket of cold water on the climate arsonist?

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What Else Is He Deliberately Downplaying?

Courtesy nymag.com

You know who he is. He's the leader of a nation who believes the nation is better off not knowing the truth. He can tell Bob Woodward that COVID-19 is "more deadly than even your strenuous flus," while reassuring the nation that it will disappear "like a miracle." Many people believed what he knew to be true was a lie, a hoax. Many died for believing it. Many more will live with serious and lingering aftereffects, not only to their lungs and other organs, but neurological problems including a viral attack on the brain.

 

Jump to the fires ravaging California and Oregon and Washington. He falsely claimed that climate change was a hoax invented by China, and suggested that if only we "raked our forests" like Finland we wouldn't have this problem. Sound familiar?

Many people will die for believing him. Many more will die as our way of life becomes unrecognizable, on a planet where tragedy brought on by a changing climate—by fire, water, wind, and ice—will become an everyday occurrence.

 

Are his attempts to bolster his political fortunes by downplaying the truth worth this "American carnage?"

 

I put this blog on pause when the virus began to sweep the nation, believing that few of us had the mental bandwidth to deal with more than one overwhelming problem at a time. But it seems to me to be the right time now, to begin to speak out again. We are already in the midst of an election that will not only decide how we handle the ongoing pandemic and it's economic fallout, but also the long term prospects for our way of life, and perhaps even life itself on this planet.

 

Despite his stated concerns to Woodward about our emotional well-being, I for one believe it's time to panic.

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Something to Take Your Mind off COVID-19

As we watch the COVID-19 death curve continue its relentless climb every day, it's understandably difficult to have room in our brains to worry about anything else. Tuesday night's televised White House briefing offered the most chilling news yet, a stark prediction that 100,000 to 240,000 American deaths is our best-case scenario. Even the President finally seemed to be tuning in to the gravity of the situation. What one talking head had nicknamed the Six-o'clock Follies suddenly became a solemn Requiem for business-as-usual in our nation and our carefree way of life.

 

But worry we should. While the President was parading his newfound empathy and gravitas, as well as his recently discovered respect for science, his Environmental Protection Agency (sic) was announcing that it had rolled back the Obama-era Clean Car Standards that had successfully reduced greenhouse gas emissions and improved fuel efficiency for the last decade.

 

The replacement is the risibly named Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles Rule, or SAFE. The government's own models predict that SAFE will increase greenhouse gas emissions by about 1.5 billion metric tons through 2040, and cost consumers $244 billion more for gasoline. It's also likely to increase traffic deaths as it adds to the assault on our climate.

 

But if the threat of climate change, which is likely to be far more deadly than the current virus, seems too far removed to worry about, worry about this: the President's approval ratings have never been higher.

 

Sure, Gallup reports that it only stands at 49%, but the increase has been driven by Independent voters, who generally swing every election. With Trump's discovery that empathy sells, and with Biden gasping for airtime, and dialing for dimes to replenish his meager campaign fund, who's to say that the Orange Carnival Barking Clown—miss you, Mike Bloomberg—won't finally breach the 50% barrier and threaten to take the popular vote as well as the electoral college?

 

So stay healthy, hunker down, and don't lose sight of the fact that there'll be plenty more to worry about—and do something about—once we defeat this current scourge.

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Something Lighter for a Change!

"Flippy" at the fry station!

Every once in a while, I think I'm entitled to pat myself on the back. Way back in 2017 I published a novel that highlighted the danger to the jobs of low-wage workers posed by the coming Artificial Intelligence revolution—The Piketty Problem, or The Robots Are Coming, The Robots Are Coming. I chose fast food as the example of an industry that was poised to go robotic, and McDonald's as the company to lead it.

 

The novel got great (paid) professional and reader reviews but mediocre sales—no "discovery" is the downside of self-publishing. It also produced a few raised eyebrows. Who was going to believe that the beloved American hamburger was going to the robots?

 

Fast-forward to 2020, and Miso Robotics, the start-up that developed "Flippy" and inspired my thinking, is ready to emerge as a real competitor to low-wage workers. By selling its robots on a subscription basis, $2,000 a month, it can bring the "wage" down to about $3 an hour. Who's going to beat that? And considering that Flippy doesn't call in sick or complain about being splattered with hot oil, the choice should become a no-brainer.

 

McDonald's hasn't yet bought in, but they're actively engaged in bringing AI into their outlets, initially through ordering terminals. Nor has any other major chain—yet. Fast food is an industry that sells friendly service, so there's a real PR problem with putting robots in the kitchen, even if they don't interface with customers. And there's a real human problem, with putting a lot of underappreciated and underpaid workers out of work. (I explored both issues in The Piketty Problem.) But it's going to happen sooner rather than later, because it's not only friendly service that sells, but low-cost burgers.

 

Only Andrew Yang raised the issue of AI in any meaningful way during the Democratic primary campaign, and it got overshadowed in the media by his proposal to give every American a Universal Basic Income of $1,000 a month. What the media forgot to add is the reason for his proposal—to offset the inevitable job losses from automation. The solution may be radical, but the problem is getting more real every year, so who's looking to the future—you, Bernie and Joe?

 

Oops, sorry, I promised to keep this light!

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"Get off my lawn!"

I try my best in these posts to focus on the existential threat to our planet and our way of life—climate change. I want to write about how 2020 is shaping up to be one of the ten hottest years ever. Or on a lighter, but equally telling note, how French ski resorts are using helicopters to import snow for the slopes.

 

But during these past few weeks I haven't been able to escape the feeling that the presidential race is the real story about climate change, especially in light of the results of the Nevada Democratic primary, and the sad unmasking of the fallibility of the wizard-behind-the-curtain in the Las Vegas debate.

 

Four more years of Trump and his know-nothing climate policies will put the planet in a hole that we may never be able to dig ourselves out of. And the Democrats, who to a person claim to be the planet's guardians, seem hell-bent on enabling Trump to get those four more years with their overweening vanity, their purity tests, and their antiquated attitude that they can overcome the power of Trump's mythmaking expertise with issues.

 

Full disclosure: I support virtually every policy and program that Bernie Sanders is advocating. Sanders is right on almost every issue except the most important one—he fails to see that the only priority in 2020 is to defeat Trump.

 

Sanders is blinded by his own self-righteousness, his messianic perception that he's about to fulfill his life-long destiny, and his total misreading of the American public as revolutionaries-in-waiting. Instead of being flexible and putting together a realistic program and timetable to achieve his goals, all he wants to do is wave his arms in the air and shout, metaphorically speaking, "Get off my lawn!"

 

Forget the polls that show Sanders beating Trump head-to-head. So did Hillary. Trump will make mincemeat of Bernie's proud socialism, and turn him into the second coming of McGovern. Irony of ironies, the would-be eviscerator of Obamacare will position himself as the guardian of American healthcare—"I won't let Crazy Bernie take away your health insurance." The surge of young voters to the polls in November is likely to prove to be a fable—there's been no sign of it in the caucuses to date. And for every Bernie Bro who shows up with a pitchfork and a torch, a stout burgher will be there to meet him and defeat him at the ballot box. As for coattails, it's more like a shirttail, and a frayed one at best. Democrats will be lucky to hold the House and not lose more Senate seats. And you can kiss off Florida. Bernie lost it last night defending Fidel Castro on a CNN town hall.

 

Moreover, in addition to losing the Presidency, the Senate, and maybe the House, a Sanders candidacy could set back the progressive cause for years. Nobody wants to be associated with a loser. Think of the conservative backlash in the wake of McGovern. The anti-war liberals were never a factor again in politics, even when they had Nixon to beat up. Reagan was the predictable outcome.

 

I'll be watching the debate tonight and the South Carolina primary on Saturday, hoping that the candidates and the electorate return to sanity, whatever and/or whoever that might be. But honestly, barring divine intervention or a Sanders electoral collapse or a cordinated effort by his opponents to narrow the field and speak with one voice, I think it's time to write off the presidency for the next four years and concentrate on holding the House and perhaps even taking the Senate. Perhaps a Democratic congress could put a check on Trump's worst instincts and energize the citizenry to defend the planet.

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What's Wrong With This Picture?

Climate change is the usual subject for my posts. I try not to focus on politics, although I often can't resist landing a glancing blow on the Republicans, most often for their denial of climate change. But this latest political news is so horrendous and dispiriting that I must make an exception.

 

President Trump's job approval rating has reached an all-time high—49%. That's up 10 percentage points since last October.

 

These figures come from the reputable Gallup organization, not the in-the-tank Rasmussen bunch. The poll was conducted between January 16-29, in the midst of the Senate impeachment trial (sic).

 

Trump's 94% job approval rating among Republicans has risen 6 percentage points while the impeachment hearings were underway.  His approval rating among Independents is up from 37% to 42% during the same time. Among Democrats, it fell from 10% to 7%.

 

Where is the outrage? How can an electorate countenance a president who attempted to use taxpayer money to bribe a foreign leader into digging up dirt on a likely political opponent, who lies as easily as he breathes, and who brings down the level of national discourse to the level of a schoolyard bully?

 

And don't tell me about the roaring economy. Go ask the seventy percent of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, who couldn't afford a sudden $400 hit to their budget, how roaring the economy is. Or go ask a friend you trust on Wall Street what's really happening in a stock market that is more overvalued than any previous time in history, including the crash of 1929? Is it really different this time?

 

What's different is that we have a president who can't identify the location of the home town of the Super Bowl winner, a major city in the country he likes to think he rules ("Congratulations to the great state of Kansas…"), and who pretends to conduct the band while the national anthem is being sung (Colin Kaepernick spent Super Bowl Sunday serving meals to the needy.)

 

What's different is we've lost our collective mind.

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Do Americans Believe in Climate Change?

How about a little good news for a change? True, 2019 marked the end of the hottest decade in recorded history, and the second-hottest year. But as a nation, we seem to be noticing. Americans do believe in climate change and every year we believe in it more.

 

Americans think climate change is a bigger problem than economic inequality, racism, illegal immigration, or terrorism. Think about that for a second. As a nation, we believe climate change is more of a problem than Mexican caravans, the late Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, and the sixty percent of struggling adults in our country who live paycheck to paycheck.

 

Let me take the risk of boring you with some statistics. Forty-eight percent of us believe climate change is "a very big problem." That's up from forty percent in 2016. Another twenty-four percent think climate change is "a moderately big problem," while only twenty-seven percent think it's "a small problem" or "not a problem at all."

 

What's more, Americans believe that climate is manmade. Fifty-two percent agree that Earth is "getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels." That's up from 45 percent three years ago.

Those responses come from the Pew Research Center, a highly respected "nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world." The survey was conducted in September 2019, with a national probability sample of 2,004 adults 18+.

 

What makes the growing belief in climate change more heartening is that in 2019, the United States experienced less of an increase in temperature than the rest of the planet. Look at the heat map and notice how the color code of the US compares to Central Europe or Antarctica. The Great Plains states were one of the few parts of the world that were actually cooler in 2019.

 

Of course, there's bad news, as well. We're as divided about climate change as we are about all the other major issues the nation is facing. Seventy-three percent of Democrats and Independents who "lean Democrat" believe climate change is "a very big problem." Only 17 percent of Republicans and Independent "leaners" agree.

 

It's sad, but we didn't need the Pew study to tell us that science is being sacrificed on the altar of politics. And that it will take politics to bring science back to the forefront. I'm looking forward to a very noisy election year.

 

Next post, I'll dig deeper into the underlying reasons for the increasing belief in climate change. But here's a hint: "It's the weather, stupid."

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The Limits of Optimism

As we usher in 2020, this eponymous year for perfect vision, I find it very difficult to see a rosy future for the planet. Flaming neon orange seems to be winning out.

 

An entire continent is burning in the southern hemisphere, while the prime minister vacations in Hawaii and panders to the coal industry for more donations. The "police are now working on the premise arson is to blame," while the deputy prime minister floats the idea that the real culprit is "horse manure, self-combusting." The only explanation for this mad climate-change denial is that when the temperature regularly soars to 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, it tends to fry the brain.

 

In Washington the Trump administration continues its war on science, ignoring, distorting, or marginalizing any and all scientific data, first and foremost but not exclusively, any data that relates to climate change. As the evisceration of the Environmental Protection Agency and other watchdog organizations continues unabated, and rules and regulations meant to protect the health and well-being of ordinary citizens are consigned to the trash bin, the White House trumpets "Businesses are finally being freed of Washington's overreach and the American economy is flourishing as a result."

 

Meanwhile, the Greenland ice sheet continues to melt seven times faster than in the 1990s, the UN climate change conference in Madrid ends in disarray, and half a billion animals are likely to perish in the living Hell down under. The Green New Deal remains a third-rail issue, and according to a Vegas sports book, reflecting how people are betting in real time, Trumps' odds of winning reelection after ordering the assassination of an Iranian general are at an all time high.

 

David Brooks, the New York Times' cuddly conservative columnist, thinks the prediction of a Trump victory is wishful thinking. In his own version of same, a column entitled, "A Ridiculously Optimistic History of the Next Decade," he foresees a landslide for the Dems, including winning both houses of Congress. As he segued from politics into his prognosis for cultural and social issues, I was relishing his wisdom and prescience until I reached the last line and realized that not once in this "ridiculously optimistic" assessment, had he made his forecast known about the fight against climate change. In fact, climate change is never mentioned. What does that say about the limits of optimism?

 

Happy 20/20.

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