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Snow Day Thoughts

As I watch the snow pile up this morning—the biggest storm in three years, more than a foot here in the exurbs of NYC and three feet in the Catskills—I'm waiting for some science-denying Trumpkopf to say that we could use a little global warming right now. Of course, they would be missing the point that it's not higher temperatures alone that are going to be our problem as the climate changes. Rooftop-high snowmageddons are as much a sign of the disruptive weather patterns we can expect as sweltering heat waves or monster hurricanes.


I am becoming increasingly optimistic that the incoming Biden administration will make combatting climate change a top priority. Appointing John Kerry as a special presidential envoy for the climate, and making it a cabinet level position, is both a statement about the importance of the issue to Biden and a thumb in the eye to his predecessor. I fully expect the new president will keep his promise to rejoin the Paris climate accord on day one of his administration.


Another hopeful sign is Biden's apparent intention to make climate policy an economic issue, not just an environmental problem. It's been two years since the 2018 National Climate Assessment, produced by thirteen federal agencies, predicted that climate change would reduce the size of the American economy by ten percent by century's end. Considering the record-breaking shrinking ice pack in the Arctic, it's a safe bet that the economic damage will be bigger and come sooner.


The appointments of Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary and Brian Deese as National Economic Council director reinforce the strategy of making climate change an economic issue.  If Yellen can take a break from pumping more "stimulus" into the stock market bubble, she has promised to promote "investments that will create jobs and address the tremendous challenge of climate change." And even if he has done time on Wall Street, Deese headed up President Obama's rescue of the auto industry back in 2009, and played a key role in negotiating the Paris climate accord.


But I think the most exciting appointment is that of Pete Buttigieg to be Secretary of Transportation. A big contributor to keeping our promise to reduce emissions will be making electric (and maybe even hydrogen-powered) vehicles mass market, not just Tesla toys for the rich. Someone as intelligent and articulate as Buttigieg has the ability to get that initiative moving.


And imagine Mayor Pete in cabinet meetings, keeping everyone awake with his smart insights and stream of new ideas. Please call him Secretary Pete now, and maybe even someday Mr. President!


So Merry Xmas to all, and here's to a better year in 2021, and an even better four years ahead. Skål!

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To the Planet: You're Fired!

Is there any doubt that the president is intent on imposing maximum damage on the country while he's still clinging to office? Aside from undermining the faith of the citizenry in free and fair elections, he's channeling his Apprentice persona and unleashing his inner-Nixon on his "enemies list."


If you've been following the news, you know that the president fired four top D.O.D. officials this week, including Mark Esper, the Defense Secretary, terminated by tweet. Four loyal and seemingly underqualified replacements now are in control of important offices in the Pentagon. At the same time, Trump named another loyalist as general counsel at the National Security Agency.


There are numerous rumbles about what the president is up to, and why anyone would accept a position in an administration that has a shelf life of only two months. Most of the speculation has centered on an end game of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan or initiating hostilities against Iran, wag-the-dog style.


Personally, I think there is a better chance—a long-shot but definitely non-trivial— that the president wants to have the option to request intervention by the military to some end that will help delay or overturn the election results. Esper was the man who pushed back the last time Trump wanted to call in the troops, using the Insurrection Act to justify action against "Antifa" rioters.


As reprehensible and un-American as any of those possible motives are, they would at least be the rational actions of an irrational man, desperate not to be a "loser." Less so, and less noticed, is the firing of other administration officials who have been charged with shaping the country's climate change policies.


Dr. Michael Kuperberg was removed as the chief scientist responsible for the National Climate Assessment, a report produced every four years based on input from thirteen federal agencies as well as outside scientists. In 2018, the report concluded that climate changed posed an "imminent and dire threat" to the United States and its economy. His likely replacement is a professor of geography at the University of Delaware who believes carbon dioxide "is plant food and not a pollutant."


Another casualty is Neil Chatterjee, the man in charge of the agency that regulates the nation's utilities. He was not terminated but only demoted. His offense was less offensive: publicly supporting the use of renewable power.


Presumably, President Biden will be able to reverse or rectify the climate change purges. And he'll put in his own team at the D.O.D. But if there was any doubt that Trump is a petty and vengeful man, without the temperament to occupy the highest office in the land, it's been erased in this weird, lame duck, interregnum period. And it begs the question, who is next?

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Truth or Consequences

The moment in last week's presidential debate when Joe Biden vowed to transition to renewable energy over time "because the oil industry pollutes significantly," Trump's face lit up with surprise and delight.


"Oh," Trump said mockingly, "there's a big statement."


"It is a big statement," Biden shot back.


As Democrats held their heads in their hands, Trump and his fellow traveler Republicans pounced on another Biden "gaffe." This was even better ammo than the outright lie they'd been peddling that Biden would end fracking.


"Basically, what he's saying is that he is going to destroy the oil industry," Trump said. "Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania? Will you remember that, Oklahoma?"


Biden's handlers lost no time hustling him into the spin room so that he could explain that he was talking about ending federal subsidies to the oil industry and that fossil fuels would not be eliminated until 2050.


But were Biden's word a gaffe or a hard truth that needed telling? Despite the politically prudent need to walk back his statements, and unlike about-to-be Supremo Amy Coney Barrett, Joe Biden was willing to declare in another follow-up interview that climate change is "the number one issue facing humanity" and that "unchecked, it is actually going to bake this planet."


My fingers are crossed that this incident will allow Biden to pick up more votes from the younger, climate-concerned generations than he'll lose from shortsighted voters in oil-producing states. But even if Trump hammers him for the rest of the week before the election, I hope Biden will stand up and defend his statements. Because if we don't hear this hard truth louder and more often, and from more politicians, we're going to have to face the consequences.


If that were to happen, the not-quite-saving grace is our divisiveness will have come to a natural end. We'll all be in the same place—in the oven.

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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?


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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