Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sally Yates is an Atlanta native and a graduate of the University of Georgia.  Considering this is also the home of Jimmy Carter, Sam Nunn, John Lewis, Kasim Reed, and Andrew Young, not to mention Emory University and Spelman and Morehouse Colleges, people really ought to think twice before writing us off as just another Red State. 

Georgia - at least we're not Mississippi (with apologies to our neighbor in Dixie).

Monday, January 30, 2017

If you're not outraged, you haven't been paying attention.

Where to even start?  The Muslim ban?  The pipelines? The climate change denial and associated gag order and hiring freeze on the EPA? The wall and the stupid 20% tax on American consumers?

Or just the narcissism, the megalomania, and the plutocracy?

As Americans, we deserve better than this. As Earthlings, the planet deserves better.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

As we learn more about just exactly what Trump's executive orders from Tuesday actually did or did not do, we now know that he did not in fact approve Keystone XL or Dakota Access as stated here yesterday, he only succeeded in confusing a lot of us on this matter.

According to some clarifying remarks by Duncan Meisel of 350.org:

  • On Dakota Access, he told the Army Corps of Engineers that the pipeline is in our "national interest" and told them to "consider" revoking the environmental review placed on it by the Obama Administration.
  • On Keystone XL, he invited TransCanada to re-apply and if they do, mandated a final decision on the pipeline within 60 days and waived input from environmental agencies.  However, according to Meisel, if and when they do re-apply, they no longer have valid permits in Nebraska and their permits in South Dakota are being challenged.
  • Trump also placed conditions on approval of both pipelines, like limiting oil exports and determining where the steel comes from, that the oil companies might not choose to accept.
While not exactly reassuring, it's better than an "approval," which he may or may not even have the final authority to do.  But as we're learning, even without approval authority, Trump will still devise ways to wreck the planet and destroy the economy, like with today's proposed 20% tax on all Mexican imports, and possibly all imports

In slightly related news, the photo above is from NASA's new weather satellite, showing what a little science can actually produce when given the chance.  It's been announced that all new scientific research by EPA will have to be reviewed and cleared by political appointees before it can be released to the public, which is ironic given that Trump ran a campaign that routinely blasted "political correctness" but is now mandating that science be politically correct before it can shared with the public.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Improper disposal of chemical wastes in rural Pennsylvania
I spent most of the day yesterday (Tuesday) at a trade conference for environmental restoration technologies, sponsored by the various vendors who provide the tools to clean up pollution and contamination of our planet's soil and groundwater.

It was basically a pretty nerdy affair, full of Power-point presentations on the effectiveness of each individual technology, but the opening speaker was a career (over 30 year) EPA employee, who tried to reassure us that Trump's recent freezing of the agency's grants and contracts, which effectively halts most of his agency's work, was just routine business-as-usual for a new administration.  We've been through this before, he said, adding that each new administration going all the way back to Bill Clinton's first term always halts the agency's work until their newly appointed leadership team is in place, and that soon the situation will revert back to normal and the work will go on as before.

I don't have the data to accept or reject that premise, but I don't feel that the current freeze is as un-menacing as prior stoppages.  First, Trump's nominee for the new EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, has previously sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma's Attorney General.  Pruitt has not only used litigation to fight environmental regulations, a 2014 investigation by the NY Times found that energy lobbyists had drafted letters outlining the economic hardship of various environmental rules that Pruitt sent, on state stationery, to the EPA, the Interior Department, the OMB, and even President Obama.  Indeed, the CEO of Continental Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas company, was a co-chairman of Mr. Pruitt’s 2013 re-election campaign.

Yesterday, perhaps even while our EPA speaker was at the podium, Trump was signing an Executive Order expediting approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, both of which had previously been shut down by the Obama Administration.  And according to Bill McKibbon at The New Yorker, a leaked memo which surfaced on Monday indicates that the new Administration's top priorities at EPA would be to stop Obama's Clean Power Plan, which would regulated power plants under the Clean Air Act, to revise the rules that discourage development on wetlands, and to slow down efforts to halt pollution of Chesapeake Bay. So, no, I don't think that once the new leadership team is in place, it will be business-as-usual at the EPA, if by "usual" you mean protecting the environment.  The new "usual" will apparently be protecting the interests of the oil-and-gas lobby, something new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil, will undoubtedly help facilitate.

Also, for the record, a State Department report released last month on the Keystone XL pipeline found the project would create only 35 permanent jobs after the one or two years of construction jobs dried up.  “Pipelines do not require much labor to operate in the long term,” as CNBC put it.  So approval of the pipeline isn't for American workers and jobs, it's for the profit margins of oil and gas companies and their CEOs.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Image may contain: crowd, sky and outdoor
Facebook picture by South Downtown (@southdowntown)
Police estimate 60,000 people marched here in Atlanta for social justice and in protest of the Trainwreck Presidency.  My Congressman, John Lewis, was a keynote speaker and is emerging as a leader of the emerging Democratic resistance to the hateful Administration now in Washington. According to U.K's The Guardian:
The protest, in one of America’s largest and most diverse cities took on additional importance after comments Trump directed at one of its most popular lawmakers and public figures last week. After Congressman John Lewis, who represents about 75% of the predominantly black city, questioned Trump’s electoral legitimacy in an interview, Trump fired back, blasting Lewis’ district as “crime-infested” and calling the civil rights legend, whose skull was fractured by Alabama state troopers in Selma in 1965 “all talk ... no action.”
The crowd in Washington, DC was estimated to be in the "hundreds of thousands."  In New York, The Times called Fifth Avenue "a river of pink hats."  In L.A.  the crowd was a quarter mile deep on some streets, even before it started to stretch out and march, and in Chicago, the size of the crowd so quickly outgrew even the most ambitious estimates that subsequent rallies and speeches had to be cancelled.

In nearly every city in the U.S., and in fact in cities all over the world, women, men, people of all colors and orientations, the whole diverse patchwork quilt of humanity, took to the streets in protest and said "This will not stand."  As Bernie Sanders put it today, "President Trump, you have made a big mistake. By trying to divide us up by race, religion, gender and nationality you have actually brought us closer together. Black, white, Latino, Native American and Asian American, gay or straight, male or female, native born or immigrant we will fight bigotry and create a government based on love and compassion, not hatred and divisiveness."

It's been estimated that in total more than 2.5 million people participated in more than 600 marches worldwide. There was even a protest on a research vessel in Antarctica.

I did not attend this time.  Cowed a little by the rainy weather here in Atlanta and unsure if my gender and race would send the appropriate message, I gave in and instead participated in a business conference call that was scheduled for a Saturday afternoon (one of my cases goes to court Monday morning).

But today was truly historic.  The Trainwreck Presidency is not going to last. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

The date 1-20-2021, our next inauguration, is a palindrome (if you ignore the hyphens).  I don't know what that signifies, maybe it means it will be a turning point, but it's got to to auspicious as hell.

Don't know if I can hold my nose for four years but the stink is going to be unbearable.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

It Was Hot Out

To the surprise of almost no one, both NASA and NOAA confirmed today that 2016 was the hottest year on record globally, and the second-hottest year in the U.S.  This is the third consecutive year that a new global record has been set, and 16 of the hottest 17 years on record have all occurred since 2001. 

Here in Atlanta, the average annual temperature was 3.28 degrees above average.

Natural phenomena such as El NiƱo contributed to the global average temperature over the first third of 2016, and January through September (with the exception of June) set the record for those months, but the bulk of the global temperature rise was due to man-made increases in carbon dioxide levels.

The President-elect has called global warming a hoax and a Chinese plot, has vowed to roll back Obama's efforts to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, and is filling his administration with climate-change deniers, from proposed EPA chief Scott Pruitt to  former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. 

In a May 2016 op-ed in the National Review, Pruitt wrote. "Healthy debate is the lifeblood of American democracy, and global warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time. That debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind."  While there may be an on-going policy debate over what to do about climate change, there is no virtually no scientific debate about its existence or cause, with the vast majority of climate scientists demonstrating time and time again that global warming is real and human-induced.

Tillerson recently admitted that climate change does exist (duh, have you been outside for the past 15 years?), but claims that the ability to predict the effects of greenhouse gas emissions is “very limited." Climate scientists would take exception at that qualification.

The house is on fire, almost literally, and Trainwreck is denying the existence of flames, saying claims of arson are unfounded, and refuses to call the Fire Department.  This isn't going to end well for anyone.

Monday, January 16, 2017

I have to get this one off my chest, and here's part of my reason for avoiding the so-called consensus reality.  As everyone's heard by now, over the weekend President-elect Trainwreck tweeted that "Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!"

Okay, he just made it personal.  I live in John Lewis' 5th Congressional District and it's not in horrible shape, falling apart, or crime infested.  Like all major cities, there are some challenged areas, but the 5th District includes Midtown and it's glitzy high-rise Miracle Mile, affluent Buckhead, Emory University and Georgia Tech, Hartsfield Airport (or whatever they're calling it nowadays), and much, much more.  Atlanta's biggest problem, to be honest, is people, attracted by the opportunities the city offers, are moving here faster than the housing and transportation infrastructure can accommodate. 

I think it says a lot about the Trainwreck that he sees a black congressman representing an urban district and just assumes that the district must be a ghetto, blighted and impoverished.  That, my friends, is racism, pure and simple.  Donald Trump is a racist, damning himself with his own tweeted words. 

For whatever it's worth, back in 2007, when Trump was looking to add a Trump Tower to the Atlanta skyline, he said "Atlanta is one of those cities that won’t be suffering the real estate foibles.  Atlanta is like New York," which was not only a direct contradiction of his recent characterization of Atlanta, but also hugely incorrect (wrong!), as Atlanta suffered greatly in the real estate crash of the very next year. Also, back in 2007, Atlanta's violent crime rate was about 45 percent higher than it was in 2015 (the most recent year for which statistics are available).

What's more, it's incredibly poor politics to attack a respected civil rights figure like John Lewis on the weekend before ML King Day.  Looking ahead at the calendar, I would advise Trump not to attack a noted Irish politician on St. Patrick's Day or any Italian-Americans on Columbus Day.  Just some free advice there for the Trainwreck.  Take it or leave it, I'm just putting it out there.

I've been proud to vote for John Lewis as my Congressman multiple times since moving into the 5th District in 2004, even going out to vote for him in years when he's run unopposed and there were no other races on the ballot, just to show him my support.  In addition to being an icon, a living legend, and the hero of a non-fiction (and since the tweets, best-selling) series of graphic novels, the man is still an agitator and provocateur. and exactly the kind of voice we need in DC right now to stand up to the power. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Not Yet Dead

Sorry about the radio silence. No, strike that.  Why do people in the 2010's even say "radio silence" anymore? Isn't that term, well, quaint by now?  I should just say, "sorry about the silence" and leave it at that.

Anyway, sorry for the recent silence, and for those of you keeping score at home, I'm not dead yet and haven't had any recent setbacks leading me closer to that outcome, other than impermanence and the unrelenting march of time and all that.  I've just been on break from this site, first live blogging the entire 2016 college football bowl season on Tumblr, mostly for the amusement of my family, and then after that to regroup, gather my thoughts, and try to find the voice and message appropriate for the strange new times in which we find ourselves here in the Age of Trump.

I've been severely disappointed and outright appalled by the sorry state of our nation's politics, and to a large degree, I've been unplugged, off-line, and reinvigorating my meditation practice.  Part of my response to the appalling results of last year's election was to not entirely eliminate, but certainly drastically reduce, my time and involvement on social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Blogger (except for the aforementioned live football blog over on Tumblr).  I'm staying informed, perhaps more informed than ever, with paid subscriptions to real journalism at The Guardian and the NY Times, but I've been trying to escape the on-line echo chamber of partisan chatter and fake news proliferating on the interwebs.  When this reality's turned to shit, why not just create your own, and I've been escaping into the fantasy world of video games and what better game is there for designing and habituating your own reality than Minecraft?

Minecraft's been around for a long while now, but for those of you new and unfamiliar with the game (hi, Mom!), it's a first-person perspective survival game that has no real rules or mission or imposed narrative - you don't have to complete certain achievements to move on to a next level.  Instead, Minecraft simply drops you into a random, computer-generated world and lets you do whatever you want.  To survive in this fantasy environment, you use trees and rocks and other assorted materials to craft your own tools, build your own home, hunt and grow your food, and try to not only just survive, but actually thrive.  And oh yeah, at night, zombies and monsters come out and try to kill you, so you have to plan for that.  But at least there's nothing really scary like a President Trump.

The video above is a tour through my current Minecraft world, the alternate reality I've been inhabiting since the New Year.  There was supposed to be my voice-over narration, but my computer mic is stuck on a very low volume right now for some reason (I'll get that fixed eventually), so instead I'll just have to describe it to you.  As you can see, I "live" in a grassy valley over a wide, gentle stream,  with beechwood and oak forests, and populated, in addition to myself, by horses and sheep and other farm animals (and at night, those zombies and monsters).  But the video opens in the early morning (note the low sun) and everything's safe, and I attempt my best Hollywood-style, 360-degree pan to show you around.

That barn-like structure over on the edge of the valley is my house, and after crossing paths with a couple of non-plussed sheep, I show you around inside.  It's rather small, but contains my bed, a foot locker, a crafting table, an oven for baking and cooking food, a bookcase, and a treasure chest.   As you can see, inside the foot locker are various things I've collected over time, like some left-over building materials, my stocks of wood ("woodstocks"), and some things I've gathered from the Netherworld (more on that later).  Inside the treasure chest are some diamonds and diamond accessories, including a diamond pickaxe (because how can you say you're thriving if you don't have a diamond pickaxe?), emeralds, gold, redstone, lapis lazuli and obsidian.  As you can tell, the mining has been pretty profitable for me.

Outside of the house, I've built a separate, low, stone-walled blacksmith shop between two oak trees where I forge the tools and weapons used for mining and defense.  The blacksmith shop has two furnaces for smelting ores, a chest with lots and lots of coal, iron ore, and other minerals, and a black anvil over in the corner.  That growling sound you hear in the shop is from some zombies trapped in a cave beneath the shop, but that's a story for another time and another day.

After the blacksmith shop, we take a short little jog (like most video games, your character seems to always run wherever it goes - gamers apparently have no patience for a leisurely walk) over the ridge to the vegetable garden on some fertile soil I found near a little pond.  It's hard to survive the game on a vegetarian diet, but I try my best, supplementing my crops with some fish from the river (sharp-eyed readers may have spotted the fishing rod in the foot locker back at the house).  I'll slaughter a pig or a goat when I have to in order to survive, but like in real life, I try to keep my meat consumption to a minimum.  Anyway, while at the garden, just to show you how it's done, I harvest some beets, potatoes, carrots, and wheat - there's lots of wheat because in addition to being able to bake bread with it, I can use wheat to feed and breed the horses and sheep.

But anyway, on with the tour.  After the garden, we go on to the Sun Temple that I built on top of the hill. On the way over, we appear to pick up a new chicken friend who's probably more interested in the seeds that we just harvested than in us, but those kind of little events are part of the charm of the game.  So we go up the hill to the granite-and-sandstone Sun Temple and remember to close the door before the chicken follows us in (no chickens allowed in Temple).  The Temple has a skylight that lets a beam of light come straight down at high noon, and the windows are oriented to catch the sunrise and sunset. Inside the Temple, you can see the Enchanting Table and sacred book, which takes its knowledge, literally, from the texts on the adjacent bookshelves. The Enchanting Table is used to craft spells on the tools and weapons manufactured in the blacksmith shop, and to create more arcane things than mere tools and weapons.

Speaking of the arcane, for the final stop, we leave the Sun Temple and head back down the hill, remembering to first put away the seeds so the chicken doesn't continue to follow us, because we definitely don't want a chicken crossing over to where we're going next.  Very sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed a shimmering purple light behind the house - that's an interdimensional portal I built there that allows entry to the Netherworld. The Netherworld is basically Hell, as you'll see as we step through the Portal, the game takes a moment to adjust itself, and we're delivered to the dark and mysterious Netherworld, full of strange sounds, fire, vertiginous heights, lava flows, and zombie pigmen.  It's very dangerous and not at all pleasant and we don't want to stay there for long (as I said, it's basically Hell), so we go back through the Portal again to the infinitely more pleasant Overworld and back to where the tour started.

Looking at the sun, we can see that it's now mid-afternoon (days pass very quickly in the Minecraft world) and time to wrap up the tour, but that world has been where I've been abiding/retreating, spending my days and nights exploring, crafting, mining, farming, fishing, and generally adventuring. I'll snap back to consensus reality soon, I'm sure, but in the meantime, fighting zombie pigmen with enchanted weapons is a lot more rewarding than on-line reading about the awful, disappointing state of current events.