Like Arpaio, another dogwhistle to police and his base supporters.
He's letting them know that he'll back them if they take the gloves off:
David Clarke, the controversial outgoing sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, is expected to take a job in the Trump administration, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Clarke resigned as sheriff on Thursday. A regular presence on Fox News, Clarke has become a well-known figure in conservative circles in recent years. He is also an avowed supporter of President Donald Trump, and he spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last year.
But he has come under fierce criticism amid a series of deaths in the Milwaukee County prison, including that of Terrill Thomas, who died of dehydration last year after guards turned off the water in his cell.
Trump has been one of Clarke's most vocal cheerleaders, and even promoted his book on Twitter earlier this month.
It’s unclear what job Clarke will take in the administration, but one of the sources said he’s expected to join the White House. Clarke likely won’t be offered a Senate-confirmed role because his nomination would face opposition from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Joe Arpaio and David Clarke are the two most famous, sadistic law enforcement officers in the country. They re known for their brutality and defiance of the rule of law. Trump is rewarding both of them.
On July 18, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. strode onto the stage of the Republican National Convention. In a fiery speech, he called Black Lives Matter protests “anarchy,” praised Donald Trump’s “belief in our American system of justice,” and declared, “I would like to make something very clear: blue lives matter.”
Four days earlier, Shadé Swayzer was giving birth in the jail that Clarke runs. She went into labor in a solitary confinement cell, and when she cried for help, according to a recently filed lawsuit, a guard laughed at her and left her alone. By the time medical staff checked on her the next morning, the lawsuit reads, her newborn baby was dead.
Swayzer’s baby wasn’t the only person to die in the Milwaukee County Jail. Since April, as Clarke has campaigned around the country for Trump, three other inmates have died in his custody. One was a 38-year-old with mental health issues who died of “profound dehydration”—thirst—after guards apparently turned off the water in his cell.
I'm sure there are more like Arpaio and Clarke out there with much lower profiles. Trump is giving them a big thumbs up.
And, by the way, getting rid of Gorka and Bannon didn't rid the White House of fascists. There are others. And he's apparently hiring more every day.
According to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, President Donald Trump called him to discuss providing federal funds for ethanol biofuel — only one day after a CNN report that Trump’s son will appear before Grassley’s Senate Judiciary Committee.
Grassley broke this story with a pair of tweets on Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday, CNN reported that Donald Trump Jr. he had “agreed to sit down for a transcribed interview with the Senate judiciary committee, as investigators continue to dig into his attendance at a 2016 meeting where he was promised Russian dirt on the Clinton campaign.” That committee is chaired by Grassley.
It's ridiculous to be suspicious a out this. After all, Trump has never tried to obstruct the Russia investigation in any wy. He's certainly never tried to get Senators to intervene. Well, except for Corker, McConnell and Tillis. That we know of. But other than that ...
There is a lot of polling showing that Democrats and Independents are appalled by Donald Trump. But Republicans are ... less concerned.
Ronald Brownstein spoke with Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson about what's going on with her party:
[At] the same moment somebody like me is becoming very disheartened, there are voters who are thinking, ‘This is the Republican Party I have been waiting for.’ If I pack up my toys and go home, there are people in red MAGA hats who would be saying, ‘Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.’”
Anderson’s fear is that in a rapidly diversifying America, Trump is stamping the GOP as a party of white racial backlash—and that too much of the party’s base is comfortable with that. Trump’s morally stunted response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, this month unsettled her. But she was even more unnerved by polls showing that most Republican voters defended his remarks.
“What has really shaken me in recent weeks is the consistency in polling where I see Republican voters excusing really bad things because their leader has excused them,” she told me. “[Massachusetts Governor] Charlie Baker, [UN Ambassador] Nikki Haley, [Illinois Representative] Adam Kinzinger—I want to be in the party with them. But in the last few weeks it has become increasingly clear to me that most Republican voters are not in that camp. They are in the Trump camp.”
The portion of the party coalition willing to tolerate, if not actively embrace, white nationalism “is larger than most mainstream Republicans have ever been willing to grapple with,” she added.
Anderson’s gloom is understandable. Even before Trump’s emergence, the GOP relied mostly on the elements of American society most uneasy with cultural and demographic change—the primarily older, blue-collar, rural, and evangelical whites who make up what I’ve called the “coalition of restoration.” As a candidate and as president, Trump has yoked the party even more tightly to those voters’ priorities—a tilt evident in everything from his “very fine people” remarks about the white-supremacist protesters in Charlottesville to his recent pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The modern GOP has always known it had this problem. But in the past even the worst of them made an effort to keep it under control. (Think of Bush going to a mosque a week after 9/11, modeling decent behavior for his angry followers.) Trump is modeling the worst behavior, taking it mainstream, offering the presidency as an instrument of their hate.
Yes, there are a lot of them. I'm not surprised because I've been around a while and have seen all this lurking under the surface. But Anderson is young. She didn't know. Well, we all know now.
Donald Trump has a strong feral instinct for how to summon America’s anger and fear. But he’s totally lacking in intuition about how to show America heart and decency. It’s not the only part of the job for which he’s shown little natural talent, knowledge or ability, but it’s certainly one this country has desperately needed over the past month. In fact, according to a Fox News poll released on Tuesday, 56 percent of Americans believe that Trump is “tearing the country apart” compared to only 33 percent who say he’s “bringing the country together.” He’s a disaster in a disaster.
We all know that his behavior after Charlottesville was divisive and callous, not to mention racist. His response to Hurricane Harvey has simply been flat, as well as oddly uninterested in the human toll. He has tweeted about the historic nature of the storm as if it were a tribute to his own importance, in between pardoning the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, knocking the media for its coverage of him and exhorting people to buy a supporter’s book. He has complimented his cabinet and other political officials for their work and promised that the Trump administration’s response will be remembered as the best response for years to come. And of course he flew to Texas to stage some photo-ops, miles away from the damage:
But for all Trump’s tweets and photo ops, he has yet to say the name of a single victim of the storm, not even Sgt. Steve Perez, the 30-year police veteran who drowned in his police car trying to get to work on Sunday.
But for all Trump’s inability to deal with real human tragedy, I must admit that his decision to go ahead with his scheduled rally for tax reform in Missouri on Tuesday really surprised me. He and his political team aren’t the best, but they usually aren’t quite this tin-eared. On TVs all over America yesterday, we saw the president talking about tax cuts before a cheering crowd on one side of the screen, while footage of harrowing rescues and maps with swirling storm animations showed on the other. It appeared that Trump was in campaign mode while America’s fourth-largest city, and towns for hundred miles around it, were drowning before our eyes.
I heard a reporter on television say that the White House believes it can’t repeat the mistake it made on Obamacare repeal, so it’s important to get the president out in the country to sell tax reform. That’s a legitimate political decision, although it’s daft, since Trump only knows how to sell himself and his name. But to do it in the midst of an epic natural disaster while the death toll is rising daily — honestly, what were they thinking?
Judging from the wooden speech Trump gave in Missouri (in which he mentioned the “people” of Texas as if someone had held a gun to his head), the administration thinks it can sell tax cuts for rich people as tax cuts for the middle class and call it “worker friendly.” As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent pointed out even before the speech, this plan is “the death rattle of Trump’s economic populism.” And that’s assuming Trump’s populism was ever alive in the first place.
This does bring into focus once again just how much damage the Trump administration and the GOP wrecking ball is likely to do before it’s all done. We don’t know whether Congress can actually pass a tax cut bill. But we do know that the spending bill the Republicans will consider when they come back from recess next week contains nearly $1 billion in cuts to disaster relief funds. Why? They want to use the money to build Trump’s Folly, also known as that inane border wall.
Just two weeks ago, the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era regulations that made it easier for places like Houston to rebuild roads and bridges to withstand future disasters. Trump didn’t like that it allowed states and municipalities to take climate change into account, so that was that.
But all that is nothing compared to what Republicans are likely to do in the near future. Recall that after Hurricane Katrina, George W. Bush put his political strategist Karl Rove in charge of reconstruction efforts and he was quick to employ “Shock Doctrine” methods. As Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times:
The Heritage Foundation, which has surely been helping Karl Rove develop the administration’s recovery plan, has already published a manifesto on post-Katrina policy. It calls for waivers on environmental rules, the elimination of capital gains taxes and the private ownership of public school buildings in the disaster areas. And if any of the people killed by Katrina, most of them poor, had a net worth of more than $1.5 million, Heritage wants to exempt their heirs from the estate tax.”
The Republican Congress got in on the act as well, as The Wall Street Journal reported:
Congressional Republicans, backed by the White House, say they are using relief measures for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf coast to achieve a broad range of conservative economic and social policies, both in the storm zone and beyond. . . .
“The desire to bring conservative, free-market ideas to the Gulf Coast is white hot,” says Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who leads the Republican Study Group, an influential caucus of conservative House members. “We want to turn the Gulf Coast into a magnet for free enterprise. The last thing we want is a federal city where New Orleans once was.”
Many of the ideas under consideration have been pushed by the 40-member study group, which is circulating a list of “free-market solutions,” including proposals to eliminate regulatory barriers to awarding federal funds to religious groups housing hurricane victims, waiving the estate tax for deaths in the storm-affected states; and making the entire region a “flat-tax free-enterprise zone.”
Trump is already on his way to doing many of those things administratively. And he’s talking about tax cuts even before the flooding has crested. So it’s not hard to imagine that the boys and girls of the Heritage Foundation are already huddling with congressional leaders and the heads of various agencies to use this new disaster to dismantle even more government protections for average citizens.
The only difference is that this time everyone will call it populism, and they’ll pretend it’s all to benefit the forgotten American working class.
Crosby, Texas officials have evacuated the town. The flooded Arkema chemical plant still threatens to explode at any time. As waters recede in Houston, Tropical Storm Harvey has moved east, flooding Port Arthur and threatening Louisiana with 10 inches of rain.
Still further east, storm clouds of another kind are building. Special counsel Robert Mueller and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have teamed up in the investigation into Paul Manafort's financial transactions. MSNBC's "All In with Chris Hayes" discussed the development last night:
“What Schneiderman and Mueller are gaming out is how to apply pressure on Manafort in a way that would be essentially immune to the dangle of presidential pardon,” “All In” host Chris Hayes explained. “But watching this story, that has to be figuring in the thinking of everyone right now, as a former Watergate prosecutor, I imagine you thought of that as well.”
“I think it’s a brilliant idea, I think it absolutely could work because I believe that the abuse of the pardon power could actually amount to an obstruction of justice,” former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks explained.
“I think the promise of a future pardon for anyone who has been involved in any wrongdoing, and then the pardon of Joe Arpaio, which sends the message to them, ‘don’t worry…you don’t have to cooperate,” Wine-Banks explained.
“You can be in contempt of court and I’ll pardon that too,” she concluded. “So I think the only way to avoid the abuse of his pardon power is to bring state charges.
If the president expects to use his pardon power to defuse the ticking bomb he's sitting on, Mueller and Schneiderman just took away his wire cutters. Presidential pardon power does not extend to state crimes. By bringing Schneiderman into the mix, Mueller just burned the "get out of jail free" card that might keep Manafort from flipping on the president (presuming there is a crime being concealed). And speaking of flipping, Mueller and Schneiderman let Manafort, the president, and any others involved in Russiagate know it.
"One of the people familiar with progress on the case said both Mueller’s and Schneiderman’s teams have collected evidence on financial crimes, including potential money laundering," Josh Dawsey reports for Politico.
New York is not the only state jurisdiction where charges could be filed, NBC reports. Virginia and Illinois might also come into play, but not only them. Presidential pardons issued in an attempt to shut down federal investigations might open the flood gates on state cases:
Beyond the three main states, the legal arguments for potential criminal jurisdiction are even broader, extending to many of the 39 states that were subject to Russian hacking.
According to U.S. intelligence and public accounts, Russian efforts included criminal hacking into Democratic National Committee emails, a conspiracy to distribute that stolen material, and separate computer intrusions into state election systems. That activity could form the basis of felony cases in several states, and conspiracy charges if any Americans were found to be involved.
According to legal scholars and former prosecutors surveyed by MSNBC, the case for local Russia prosecutions would be stronger if the federal case is prematurely shut down.
Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather told Chris Hayes last night:
“Donald Trump is afraid,” he continued. “He’s trying to exude power and strength. He’s afraid of something that Mueller and the prosecutors are going to find out. What you’re seeing time after time is a president who is, within himself, seized with fear.”
“That’s going to be a political hurricane out there at sea for him — we’ll call it ‘Hurricane Vladimir,’ the whole Russian thing,” Rather said. “It’s still pretty far out at sea, but each day…it’s building in intensity.”
Breaking: The Arkema facility experienced two explosions about 2 a.m. local time:
Two explosions have taken place at a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, that lost power due to flooding caused by tropical storm Harvey.
A sheriff’s deputy was taken to hospital after inhaling chemical fumes, and nine others have driven themselves to hospital as a precaution. The plant makes organic peroxides used in the production of plastic resins, polystyrene, paints and other products.
* * * * * * * *
Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.
In September of 2005, Barack Obama was a young senator from the state of Illinois, which didn’t suffer a direct hit from Katrina. But that didn’t stop him from traveling to Houston with Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, to spend time with Katrina refugees there. See? There’s a picture!
Here’s another one, where SENATOR Obama is holding a youngster, unlike Donald Trump, who did not hold youngsters or visit with refugees in Corpus Christi on Tuesday, but instead modeled his fucking “USA” hat and yammered about about how “WATER IS THE BIGGEST” and bragged about how many hurricane survivors came to see him speak.
After his trip, Obama spoke about the devastation. Here is a wee excerpt:
I just got back from a trip to Houston with former Presidents Clinton and Bush. And as we wandered through the crowd, we heard in very intimate terms the heart-wrenching stories that all of us have witnessed from a distance over the past several days: mothers separated from babies, adults mourning the loss of elderly parents, descriptions of the heat and filth and fear of the Superdome and the Convention Center. There was an overriding sense of relief, for the officials in Houston have done an outstanding job of creating a clean and stable place for these families in the short-term. But a conversation I had with one woman captured the realities that are settling into these families as they face the future.
She told me “We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing.”
We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing.
In the coming weeks, as the images of the immediate crisis fade and this chamber becomes consumed with other matters, we will be hearing a lot about lessons learned and steps to be taken. I will be among those voices calling for action.
The rest of the speech was about what we must do NOW to fix FEMA’s shitty response to Katrina, and to make sure people are never again left behind like they were after that storm.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Wednesday morning that some White House aides who support protectionist trade policies "turned out to be racist," after President Donald Trump held a news conference blaming both sides for the unrest at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
"You had two factions in the White House," Trumka told reporters at a breakfast roundtable in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "You had one faction that actually had some of the policies that we would have supported on trade and infrastructure, but turned out to be racist."
"And on the other hand, you had people who weren't racist, but they were Wall Street."
I'm pretty sure that describes right wing populism and mainstream conservatism. Did he not know that before?
And, by the way, if you take the racism out of right wing "populism" it turns out they don't care at all about the trade and infrastructure on their own merits. Economic "populism" is just a cover story for them.
Trump selling tax cuts he previously said were a disaster
In his jarringly inappropriate, ill-timed, speech today announcing his vague "tax reform" policy while people continue to drown in Houston, Trump praised the 1986 Reagan tax cuts, saying they "went beautifully."
Someone should ask Fox and Friends to do a segment asking why Trump apparently changed his mind about that:
what we will actually hear at this speech is the death rattle of whatever pretensions to genuine economic populism Trump has ever harbored, if any. Trump will make it official that this rhetoric is merely a disguise for the same old trickle-down economics we have heard for decades — confirming that his economic agenda is in sync with the very same GOP economic orthodoxy that he so effectively used as a foil to get elected.
Trump will not release details of his plan today. But we already know that the most recent version of his plan would shower most of their benefits on the wealthy and corporations. And the Wall Street Journal reports that this is what his plan is expected to do, quoting officials who say he will sell this as pro-worker, by claiming it will end the “rigged” economy he railed against during the campaign:
One of the officials said Mr. Trump would make a “very bipartisan speech” that would reflect Americans’ frustration that a well-connected few are reaping economic gains.
“We’re going to end the rigged system,” said the official, echoing language used by groups backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch and contending that Americans understand how they would benefit if businesses prosper. “We’re going to build a tax code that really allows all Americans to have access to the American dream.”
Trump’s plan, then, will be sold as targeting the well-connected few. But Axios reports on a remarkable quote about this from another White House official, who was pressed on how exactly Trump’s plan will target the well-connected few, given that it is expected to slash the top rate and corporate rate and repeal the estate tax.
“How I would look at this, from an American worker’s perspective, it’s basically a ‘made in America tax,'” the official said of the business tax rate, adding that it would benefit workers to bring it down to “level the playing field” with the “rest of the world.” Officials added that Trump’s plan would “un-rig” the economy by ending “special interest loopholes that have only benefited the wealthy and powerful few.”
But the broad strokes of that formulation, despite its packaging in the rhetoric of economic nationalism, actually constitute trickle-down economics.
“That’s trickle down,” Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told me today. “This whole notion that cutting taxes on rich guys and corporations is going to stimulate capital investment — that’s trickle down warmed over once again. We’ve seen this movie before. It always turns out badly.”
Trump used to know that. Right now, however, he's just trying to get through each day, obsessed with his poll ratings and whatever the media is saying about him and worrying about whether he's going to end up in jail or impeached or both. None of this matters. It's all about him.
“We know he’s a nut. Everyone knew he was a nut. But there comes a point in time when you have to become professional. He’s not professional, forget about presidential.”
Apparently, they thought the presidential campaign was a TV show and they found him entertaining. For some reason they assumed their mean, nasty clown was going to turn into a president. That's a very foolish and irresponsible assumption.
President Donald Trump is promising billions to help Texas rebuild from Hurricane Harvey, but his Republican allies in the House are looking at cutting almost $1 billion from disaster accounts to help finance the president’s border wall.
The pending reduction to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief account is part of a spending bill that the House is scheduled to consider next week when Congress returns from its August recess. The $876 million cut, part of the 1,305-page measure’s homeland security section, pays for roughly half the cost of Trump’s down payment on a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
There's only 2.3 billion left in the disaster fund anyway, so they'll probably leave it alone.
But Trump is going out on the stump to hold a rally for tax cuts as we speak. Today. While southeastern Texas is still drowning.
He's running the country like one of his failed casinos. And we know how that turned out.
A couple of days ago, Salon's Bob Cesca made the point that the tie that binds Trump to his followers is his eagerness to provoke liberals. He used this tweet from a Fox News analyst and Townhall.com writer to illustrate the case:
The main reason for President Trump to pardon Sheriff Joe was fuck you, leftists.
The new rules, bitches.😎
Despite the fact that these are obviously mature individuals, like Donald Trump they seem to revel in juvenile taunts against people they don't like. And they don't seem to like a lot of people.
So far, that base of Trump champions is holding fast in the opinion polls. The latest Pew Poll was released on Tuesday and it has him at a 36 percent approval rating, which tracks with most of the other polling, including Gallup, which has had him between 35 percent and 40 percent for most of his term. It's when you dig into the details of the Pew Poll that it becomes more interesting.
This particular poll surveyed how people describe the Trump presidency. The poll asked Republicans whether they agreed with Trump on the issues and it breaks down fairly predictably on partisan lines. 69 percent of Republicans agree with his positions which isn't a great number for a president in his first year but it's still a majority. Unsurprisingly, 94 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners disagree. All in all 15 percent agree with Trump on all or nearly all issues, 18 percent agree with him on many issues 21 percent agree on a few issues and 45 percent don't agree with him on issues at all.
But Pew also asked respondents what they think of Trump's conduct in office. Again, most Democrats and Democratic leaners are appalled, as one might expect. On this, Republicans are more divided. 19 percent don't like his conduct while 46 percent say they have mixed feelings. But 34 percent like the way he conducts himself as president.
In fact, more Republicans either accept or embrace his aberrant presidential conduct than approve of his positions on policy. And the kicker is that when asked what people liked most about Trump's presidency, the ones who approve of his performance actually cite his personality and conduct four times more often than his policies. In other words, those who like him, like him because of his unseemly, unpresidential behavior not in spite of it.
This group represents about a third of the Republican party, the same third that flocked to him in the primaries and enabled his win in the crowed field that split the other two thirds almost to the very end. These are older, conservative, white people for the most partwho believe he should not listen to other Republicans and should follow his own instincts.
These are the people who some might refer to as "a basket of deplorables." They like his coarse personality which means they approve of the fact that he treats women like his personal playthings. They enjoy it when he expresses sympathy for Nazis and Neo-confederate white supremacists. They laugh when he declares his love for torturing terrorist suspects and letting the police rough up suspects and mandating the death penalty. His odious birtherism was one of his greatest selling points.
This cohort of the Republican party didn't vote for Trump because of his policy on trade or his promise to withdraw from NATO if the other countries didn't pay up. They voted for him because he said out loud what they are thinking. Being a petty, sophomoric, crude bully is what they like in a leader.
Still, according to the Pew Poll, while these people are endlessly fascinating to the press they only comprise 16 percent of the population. That's tens of millions of people, which is somewhat disturbing, but it doesn't add up to a majority, not by a long shot. So surely the other 65 percent of the party that finds Trump's personality and conduct to be unseemly would not want to vote for congressional and Senate candidates who align themselves with him, right?
Unfortunately, according to this Vanity Fair article by David M. Drucker the GOP consultant class doesn't think so. They are among the 65 percent who think the president is a ghastly embarrassment to their party but that won't stop them from pushing their candidates to embrace him and his style of politics:
[I]n meeting after meeting, Republican consultants have had one consistent message for clients and prospective clients running for office in 2018. It’s a message they tell me will not change, even after the avalanche of criticism directed at Trump by fellow Republicans for his failure to immediately condemn the racists who gathered in Charlottesville and his decision to conflate them with counter-protesters. “Your heart tells you that he’s bad for the country. Your head looks at polling data among Republican primary voters and sees how popular he is,” said one Republican strategist who, like most of the nearly two dozen I interviewed for this story, requested anonymity in order to speak candidly and protect their clients. “It would be malpractice not to advise clients to attach themselves to that popularity.”
Those over 50, white, non-college educated voters are the GOP primary voters who come out in mid-term elections. They're the people who stormed the castle in 2010 and 2014 to stack the congress with far right officials. And they scare the hell out of the GOP establishment which, despite years of flag waving and accusing liberals of lack of patriotism, they are apparently willing to do whatever it takes to perpetuate the toxic politics of the man they all know is "a bad guy."
That means that the 16 percent of people whose reason for political participation is to tell others "Fuck your feelings" are basically in charge of one of America's two parties.
As the water rises in Houston and human casualties mount, just what is happening at the many chemical plants and refineries in the Houston area? Not much good, you can bet.
Amidst the rolling disaster, the Houston Chronicle is still managing to glug out some news:
Flood waters from Hurricane Harvey created an emergency situation that could trigger explosions at the Arkema chemical plant northeast of Houston in Crosby.
Late Monday night, the facility lost power from both its primary supply and its backup generators due to flooding. Employees moved highly volatile organic peroxides into back-up containers to keep them cool. If this class of chemical gets too hot, it can cause fires or explosions.
"At this time, while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion withing[sic] the site confines is real," Arkema spokeswoman Janet Smith said on Tuesday.
“Unbearable” petrochemical smells are reportedly drifting into Houston. As historic rainfall and flooding continue to pound America’s fourth-most populated city, residents of Houston’s industrial fence-line communities are reporting strong gas- and chemical-like smells coming from the many refineries and chemical plants nearby. “I’ve been smelling them all night and off and on this morning,” said Bryan Parras, an activist at the grassroots environmental justice group TEJAS. Parras, who lives and works in Houston’s East End, on Sunday said some residents are experiencing “headaches, sore throat, scratchy throat and itchy eyes.”
The online magazine ChemInfo has a brief report on the wider impact:
According to a report in ICIS, the plants that decided to take precautionary measures and close included ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery and chemicals plant, Celanese’s methanol operations in Pasadena, American Acryl Bayport’s acrylic acid plant along with refineries owned by Phillips 66, Shell, Petrobras and others.
Chevron has also shut down its petrochemical complex in Cedar Bayou, which is one of the country’s biggest chemical production sites. According to the Houston Chronicle, Chevron plans to keep the complex, which is in the midst of a $6 billion expansion, closed until Sept. 6.
According to Bloomberg Intelligence, the plant closures have impacted 37 percent of the country's production capacity for chlorine and caustic soda. Analysts also estimate that about 40 percent of the U.S.'s ethylne [sic] production has also been disrupted by Harvey.
Gas prices here spiked 16 cents overnight yesterday, so you'd better run out and stock up on chlorine and ethylene before those prices go through the roof too. If plants like Arkema don't shut down properly, they could have no roofs to go through.
Acrylonitrile (ACN), hydrogen cyanide (HCN), ethylene oxide (EtO)? All made in the Houston area. Most are chemical processing intermediates, although hospitals use ethylene oxide gas to sterilize surgical instruments that cannot take the heat from an autoclave — because EtO kills pretty much everything. And it's rather explosive.
Reuters reports that in Port Arthur, Texas, the largest refinery in the country is shutting down:
The refinery’s owner, Motiva Enterprises [MOTIV.UL], said the refinery was operating at 40 percent capacity on Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day, the refinery was operating at 60 percent of its capacity, the company said.
Energy industry intelligence service Genscape said the refinery was using its safety flare system on Tuesday night. Flares can be a signal of the shutdown of a unit or units at a refinery.
The flaring triggered messages on social media of a fire at the refinery.
Motiva reports no fires on Tuesday.
I've always said if work dried up here (no pun intended), I could always find some in Houston and environs. But I've managed to stay away, thank you. A colleague tells a tale of doing field work at a plant near Houston when a pressure safety device blew on a vessel nearby. A cloud of orange gas shot into the air and drifted into an adjacent open structure. Men working inside rushed to the handrails and puked their guts out.
Too much information?
* * * * * * * *
Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.
Normally, language in pool reports is brisk, factual, and dispassionate. For this one the pool reporter happened to be from a Texas paper, the Dallas Morning News, and what he heard was apparently enough to prompt a remarkable breach with pool protocol.
After the briefing, Trump did an impromptu rally type speech in front of a few hundred Trump supporters who somehow managed to know exactly where the president was doing the briefing.
He stood on a raised platform of some type. Couldn’t tell if it was a step ladder or not. But he was not on a truck. Spoke into a microphone.
“I love you, you are special, we’re here to take care of you. It’s going well.”
“What a crowd, what a turnout.”
Reporters heard no mention of the dead, dying or displaced Texans and no expression of sympathy for them.
"We've got a lot of rebuilding to do ... The good news is — and it's hard for some to see it now — that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house — he's lost his entire house — there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."
"I believe the town where I used to come – from Houston, Texas, to enjoy myself, occasionally too much – will be that very same town, that it will be a better place to come to."
And they have the gall to call themselves patriots
Jesus H. Christ:
Of all the aggrieved elites disoriented by Trump, none face a trickier calculation than the dark artists of the right, whose conspiratorial powers have always been oversold. Trump wouldn’t be president today if political operatives had a scintilla of the pull imagined by the commander-in-chief. It is true, however, that they don’t like the president all that much. They’re worried about his tweeting; his tone; his behavior; his character (or lack thereof)—ill will reinforced by his widely condemned response to an uprising of white supremacists and anti-Semites in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one counter-demonstrator dead. They fret about Trump’s long-term impact on the Republican Party, on the country, and what his rise means for America’s international standing as the leader of the free world. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them lower.
Yet in meeting after meeting, Republican consultants have had one consistent message for clients and prospective clients running for office in 2018. It’s a message they tell me will not change, even after the avalanche of criticism directed at Trump by fellow Republicans for his failure to immediately condemn the racists who gathered in Charlottesville and his decision to conflate them with counter-protesters.
“Your heart tells you that he’s bad for the country. Your head looks at polling data among Republican primary voters and sees how popular he is,” said one Republican strategist who, like most of the nearly two dozen I interviewed for this story, requested anonymity in order to speak candidly and protect their clients. “It would be malpractice not to advise clients to attach themselves to that popularity.
They're talking about his popularity with the deplorable racist id of America. And they are whores who are happy to make money off of exploiting it.
These are people who have screamed for decades that liberals are unpatriotic and don't care about their country. Now they are showing to everyone that they were projecting. They are the traitors, every last one of them.
Take a break from the steady diet of hopelessness and read this.
On CNN's New Day, Alysin Camerota interviews Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale, owner of Houston's Gallery Furniture, who took in Katrina victims five years ago and is now welcoming Harvey flood victims.
She asked how many people he had in his stores today.
"We have two stores, one of them has about 360 people, the other one has 400," he said. "So we've got lots of people displaced from the horrible flooding and we're thrilled to have them."
(I'm sorry, I'm trying really hard not to compare this with Joel Osteen's response.)
"Some of them will stay two or three days, some will stay as long as a week until they get back on their feet but you know, these are great people," he said. "They're not hard on the inventory, they're fine. We've got nothing but good things to say about all these people that have gone through these incredible tragedies.
"The other morning a young boy came up to me, he was about 7 years old, and he's carrying, stumbled in here and he was crying and he said his parents, who obviously couldn't speak English. he said, 'can we stay here?' Just breaks your heart.
"We're thrilled to have these people here and life dealt them a bad hand, trying to help relieve some of the stress and anxiety on them right now and hope to get back to a life of normalcy in the future."
He said each store has a large restaurant, and they're feeding the guests.
"We feed all the folks breakfast, lunch and dinner and try to take care of them like they'd be taken care of at a hotel. If we can make life easier as they try to get something back, we've done something right in our life."
What he's done right is be a good, decent, generous person. We're seeing a lot of it in these early days of the Harvey disaster. Lets hope it keeps up once the water recedes and the rebuilding begins. This guy will be on the right side.
It’s interesting that DeSantis, of all people, would push this bill.
After all, he’s one of a small list of members of Congress who directly benefitted from Guccifer 2.0’s leaking. Florida political journalist Aaron Nevins obtained a huge chunk of documents from Guccifer 2.0.
Last year, a Republican political operative and part-time blogger from Florida asked for and received an extensive list of stolen data from Guccifer 2.0, the infamous hacker known for leaking documents from the DNC computer network.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Aaron Nevins, a former aide to Republican state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, had reached out to Guccifer through Twitter, asking to “feel free to send any Florida-based information.”
About 10 days later, Nevins received about 2.5 gigabytes of polling information, election strategy and other data, which he then posted on his political gossip blog HelloFLA.com.
After setting up a Dropbox account for Guccifer 2.0 to share the data, Nevins was able to sift through the data as someone who “actually knows what some of these documents mean.”
Among the documents stolen from the DCCC that Nevins published are five documents on the DCCC’s recruitment of DeSantis’ opponent, George Pappas. So effectively, DeSantis is trying to cut short the investigation into a crime from which he directly benefitted.
Call me crazy, but this seems like an ethical violation, and possibly a good reason to submit a bar complaint against DeSantis. And his constituents might want to ask why he’s trying to help Russia and its domestic enablers undermine democracy
President Trump is a compulsive liar; we know that. He lies about things that are world-shattering and things that are trivial in equal measure. One of the more obvious lies he told during the campaign and since he’s been in office is his oft-repeated claim that he knows nothing about Russia and that the whole Russia scandal is a hoax made up by the Democrats to deny him his glorious electoral victory.
As CNN summarized in this article, Trump used to brag about his knowledge of Russia and claimed that he had a personal relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin — until February of 2016 when he suddenly began to claim that he had never met the man and had never done any business in Russia other than the now-legendary Miss Universe pageant in 2013. He slipped up at least once in the ensuing months, telling Bret Baier of Fox News he might know Putin but couldn’t talk about it, but for the most part his line was this one, told to a Miami TV station in July of 2016: “I have nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do. I never met Putin, I have nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.”
As I said, Trump lies. A lot. So for a long time it was impossible to know whether he was lying when he said he was involved with Russia and knew the country well or when he said he had nothing to do with it whatsoever. That’s been cleared up.
Last spring Forbes reported that Trump had been in the process of putting together a deal with the Agalarov family, oligarchs who had helped bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow, to build a Trump Tower in the Russian capital. Emin Agalarov, the pop-singer son of billionaire developer Aras Agalarov, told Forbes that they let it go when Trump decided to run for president but that they considered it to be on hold. (And yes, these Agalarovs are the same folks whose publicist arranged the infamous “Clinton dirt” meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer.)
On Sunday night, The Washington Post reported on yet another plan to build a Moscow Trump Tower in 2015 and beyond, while Trump was running for president. And on Monday, the paper, along with The New York Times, released emails about the project written by Trump’s longtime business partner Felix Sater and his personal friend and Trump organization executive, Michael Cohen. According to the Times:
Sater’s emails were sent to Cohen and boasted of connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin that would allow the project to get completed and help “get Donald elected.”
Cohen emailed Putin’s personal spokesman to ask for help in getting the stalled project started again.
Later in the day, ABC News reported that Trump had signed off on the letter of intent in the fall of 2015, during the presidential primary campaign, confirming that he knew about the deal and proving once and for all that he’d been full of it when he insisted he’d never had any dealings with Russia.
The Sater emails included this startling claim:
I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this, I will manage this process
Why building this tower was supposed to lead to Trump’s election is a mystery. Oddly, none of the emails the Times excerpted directly mention the tower project, raising plenty of questions about exactly what they might have been talking about.
Journalist Marcy Wheeler, among others, wondered why Cohen would have reached out to Putin’s communications chief about a real estate licensing deal. That communications chief, according to the “Steele dossier,” was “the ‘main protagonist’ of the kompromat campaign against Hillary.” Wheeler speculated that this alleged Trump Tower deal, never before revealed, might be cover for another kind of “deal” altogether.
Whether or not this turns out to be some kind of collusion or conspiracy with the Russian government to defeat Hillary Clinton and get Trump elected, we’ve never seen anything like this: Associates of a presidential candidate directly asking the leader of a foreign adversary to help them arrange for what amounts to a multimillion-dollar payoff. It’s shocking on its face, especially since Trump lied about it repeatedly.
There has long been keen interest in both Cohen and Sater as part of this Russia investigation. The two men were boyhood acquaintances growing up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, around a lot of Russian émigrés. Sater is Russian-American, and Cohen is married to a Ukrainian national; both have years of experience working in the gray shadows of the Russian financial and business world. They also have years of experience working with Donald Trump on many projects, including Trump Soho, which was sued for fraud. In recent years, Trump’s real estate projects have sold nearly $100 million in condos to wealthy Russians.
Sater did time in prison for assault and was later convicted for fraud, after which he apparently went to work as an FBI informant. He has also claimed to have been involved with the CIA, tracing illegal arms deals in the Russian black market. He is, to say the least, an interesting character, and one that special counsel Robert Mueller presumably has his eyes on.
About two weeks ago, this rumor from Paul Wood at The Spectator floated around the internet and no one knew what to make of it:
For several weeks there have been rumors that Sater is ready to rat again, agreeing to help Mueller. “He has told family and friends he knows he and POTUS are going to prison,” someone talking to Mueller’s investigators informed me.'
Sater hinted in an interview earlier this month that he may be cooperating with both Mueller’s investigation and congressional probes of Trump.
“In about the next 30 to 35 days, I will be the most colourful character you have ever talked about,” Sater told New York Magazine. “Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it now, before it happens. And believe me, it ain’t anything as small as whether or not they’re gonna call me to the Senate committee.”
Maybe he’s as much of a BS artist as his friend in the White House. He certainly seems like the type. But if this is true it might mean we finally learn whether Trump was merely making corrupt deals with Russian oligarchs to line his own pockets or was actively colluding with the Russian government to become president of the United States. What a choice.
There is not much sunshine to be found in Houston this morning. And maybe two more feet of rain to come. "Harvey is now the benchmark disaster of record in the United States," writes Eric Holthaus at Politico. It is possible 40 to 60 inches of rain may fall on parts of Houston before tropical storm Harvey is done flooding the region:
Climate change is making rainstorms everywhere worse, but particularly on the Gulf Coast. Since the 1950s, Houston has seen a 167 percent increase in the frequency of the most intense downpours. Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth thinks that as much as 30 percent of the rainfall from Harvey is attributable to human-caused global warming. That means Harvey is a storm decades in the making.
This is Houston's third “500-year” flood in three years. That is not once in every 500 years, but a storm with a 1-in-500 chance of happening in any given year, Dara Lind explains at Vox. It is based on probability, not history. With climate change adding to the factors behind massive storms and rain events, it is hard to make predictions based on past events. Sort of like your 401k performance, if you think about it:
The US appears to be getting hit with major storms with unusual frequency. From August 2015 to August 2016, there were eight 500-year flood events recorded by the National Weather Service. There were six “1,000-year” floods in the US over the five years from 2010 to 2014; in 2015 and 2016, though, there were at least three each year.
Theoretically, the odds of a 1-in-500 event occurring three straight times are one in 125 million. Because Houston is a big city and the same spots aren’t necessarily reaching 500-year levels each time, those odds don’t quite apply — but we’re still, as the Memorial City example shows, talking about events that FEMA estimates to be vanishingly unlikely.
Either Houston is incredibly unlucky or the risk of severe flooding is a lot more serious than the FEMA modeling has predicted — and the odds of a flood as bad as the ones Houston has seen for the past few years are actually much higher than 1 in 500.
The president who called climate change a hoax is expected to visit Texas today (but not Houston) to observe the effects of the hoax for himself.
"Many Texas reps and notoriously, @SenTedCruz fought against Sandy aid, so crucial to CT," said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.). "Going with my better angels to fight FOR Texas aid."
The rare public rebuke by two fellow Republicans — and less surprising Democratic criticism — underscores the frustration felt by many lawmakers whose districts were similarly hammered by Sandy. New York and New Jersey ultimately received aid amounting to nearly $60 billion, but not until conservative lawmakers attempted to pay for the package with spending cuts to other domestic programs.
“No!” Cruz insisted. “Of course not. As I said at the time, hurricane funding is a very important federal responsibility. And I would have eagerly supported funding for that, but I didn’t think it was appropriate to engage in pork barrel spending, where two-thirds of that bill was unrelated to spending, that had nothing to do with Sandy and was simply politicians wasting money.”
“In Sandy, there were people in crisis and with Harvey, here, there are people in crisis,” the Texas Republican noted. “We need to focus on solving the problem and meeting people’s needs, not engaging in political games.”
Climate may change, but Ted Cruz? Never. Expect politicians to waste a lot of money in Texas post-Harvey with nary a complaint from Sens. Cruz and Cornyn.
Donald Trump was in a bad mood before he emerged for a confrontational speech in Arizona last week.
TV and social media coverage showed that the site of his campaign rally, the Phoenix Convention Center, was less than full. Backstage, waiting in a room with a television monitor, Trump was displeased, one person familiar with the incident said: TV optics and crowd sizes are extremely important to the president.
As his surrogates warmed up the audience, the expanse of shiny concrete eventually filled in with cheering Trump fans. But it was too late for a longtime Trump aide, George Gigicos, the former White House director of advance who had organized the event as a contractor to the Republican National Committee. Trump later had his top security aide, Keith Schiller, inform Gigicos that he’d never manage a Trump rally again, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Gigicos, one of the four longest-serving political aides to the president, declined to comment.
Even by his standards, Trump was remarkably strident in Phoenix. After introductory speakers, including Vice President Mike Pence, lauded him for his commitment to racial harmony, the president came on stage and lambasted the media for what he called inaccurate reporting on his remarks about violence between hate groups and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Anger and Threats
He threatened to shut down the federal government unless Congress funds construction of the Mexican border wall he promised in his campaign. He telegraphed that he’d pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of defying a court order to stop racial profiling by his deputies. And in their home state, he assailed Arizona Senator John McCain for the failure of Obamacare repeal and Senator Jeff Flake for being "weak" on illegal immigration, without mentioning their names. Both are fellow Republicans.
Gigicos had staged the event in a large multipurpose room. The main floor space was bisected by a dividing wall, leaving part of the space empty. There were some bleachers off to the side, but otherwise the audience was standing -- and the scene appeared flat, lacking the energy and enthusiasm of other rallies.
Although the crowd looked thin when Trump arrived at about 6:30 p.m., rallygoers filled in the space while Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Alveda King, Franklin Graham and Pence delivered introductory speeches. A city of Phoenix spokeswoman told the Arizona Republic newspaper that about 10,000 people were inside the room when Trump took the stage.
Trump’s first words when he stepped to the microphone: "Wow, what a crowd, what a crowd."
A week later, Trump was still reminiscing about the event.
“You saw the massive crowd we had,” he said at a White House news conference on Monday with Finland President Sauli Niinisto. “The people went crazy when I said, ‘What do you think of sheriff Joe?’ Or something to that effect.”
This explainer by David Roberts at Vox about Harvey and climate change is very helpful:
1) Harvey is not centrally about climate change
Talking about climate change during a disaster always runs the risk of insensitivity. The story that most matters about Harvey right now is the effect it’s having on lives and land in Texas and the efforts underway to prevent more suffering.
More broadly, climate is never going to be central to a story like this. There have always been hurricanes and floods in Texas. The things making the state’s coastal developments vulnerable to severe weather — heedless development, sandy subsoil, insufficient drainage — would be problems even in the absence of climate change.
Climate is not central, but by the same token it is grossly irresponsible to leave climate out of the story, for the simple reasons that climate change is, as the US military puts it, a threat multiplier. The storms, the challenges of emergency response, the consequences of poor adaptation — they all predate climate change. But climate change is steadily making them worse.
2) “Did climate change cause Harvey?” is a malformed question
Climate change does not cause things, because climate change is not a causal agent. “Climate change” is a descriptive term — it describes the fact that the climate is changing. What’s causing the changes is an increase in heat energy trapped in the atmosphere, due to greenhouse gases.
But saying that heat energy caused Harvey is also somewhat problematic. Let’s explain by way of an analogy.
Say I turned up Earth’s gravity by 1 percent. More people around the world would trip and fall. Does it make sense to say, of a particular person tripping and falling, that the increase in gravity (“gravity change”) caused it to happen? No. Does it make sense to say that gravity cause it to happen? No.
For any particular instance of tripping and falling, there will be proximate causes — a slippery patch on the sidewalk, a moment’s inattention, whatever. Gravity is a background condition of anyone tripping, but no one would say gravity caused them to trip. If it’s true, it’s trivially true.
What we might say is that the increase in gravity raised the probability of tripping and falling, or raised the average severity of tripping and falling. Those are measurable facts that can be entirely true without increased gravity causing any particular fall.
Increased gravity is a causal condition in every fall, but it is not the primary causal agent in any one fall. Similarly, increased heat energy is a causal condition in every storm (not just the bad ones) — every storm forms and travels in the same global climate — but it is not the primary causal agent in any storm.
<img src="https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/9115467/harvey_goes_82517.jpg" alt="">
Caused by moisture and warm air and high pressure, like normal hurricanes.
NASA/NOAA GOES Project
There is, to be sure, increasing sophistication in the science of attribution — that is, in distinguishing the climate signal from the “normal weather” noise. We’re learning to say things like, “There’s only a 5 percent chance the storm would have been this severe in the absence of climate change.”
But still, saying a storm “probably wouldn’t have happened this way in the absence of climate change” is not the same as saying climate change caused the storm. What caused the storm is warm air, atmospheric moisture, and weird high/low pressure systems, just like all storms. Climate change just gave it its winning personality.
3) Yes, climate change made Harvey worse
Thanks to the recent profusion of great climate journalists and communicators, this story has been well told already. Probably the best source is this Facebook post from climate scientist Michael Mann, but also see Chris Mooney, Robinson Meyer, John Schwartz, and Emily Atkin.
It’s a complex story, especially in its particulars, but in broad strokes, climate change made Harvey worse in three ways.
First, it raised sea levels more than half a foot in recent decades. Higher seas mean more storm surges.
Second, it raised the temperature of the water in the region, which means more evaporation and more water in the air. Mann:
Sea surface temperatures in the area where Harvey intensified were 0.5-1C warmer than current-day average temperatures, which translates to 1-1.5C warmer than the 'average' temperatures a few decades ago. That means 3-5% more moisture in the atmosphere.
More moisture in the atmosphere means more rain.
Finally (and most speculatively), one of the most damaging aspects of Harvey is how it’s hanging around in one place, thanks to weak prevailing winds. Mann recently published a paper suggesting that such near-stationary summer weather patterns are made more common by climate change.
All these factors contributed to the size and severity of the storm. Exactly how much they contributed will have to await peer-reviewed attribution science, but logic, experience, and measurements all make clear that Harvey’s damage was worse than it would have been absent recent changes in the climate. “The storm is a bit more intense, bigger and longer lasting than it otherwise would be,” climate scientist Kevin Trenberth told Mooney.
<img src="https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/9129309/840160568.jpg" alt="Epic Flooding Inundates Houston After Hurricane Harvey">
Worse than it woulda been.
Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images
4) We don’t know if climate change is making hurricanes more likely
The scientific battles over hurricanes and climate change go way, way back, and run hot. They are also, for a nonpartisan outsider, quite technical and boring.
So I’ll skip to the end: The evidence is mixed, and the jury is still out. We’re still not sure if climate change increases hurricane frequency.
5) We know climate change is making severe downpours more likely
Severe downpours in the Houston area have become 167 percent more frequent in the past decade, which is commensurate with one of the best-understood and most confident predictions of climate science: Climate change is going to bring lots more heavy rains (and thus flooding). See Andrea Thompson’s great rundown at Climate Central on this.
In fact, due to sea level rise and more moisture in the air, I expect flooding to be the most frequent public face of climate change over the next decade or so.
6) Climate change is nowhere near the biggest determinant of Harvey’s damages, but it’s in there
Another hotly contested area of climate research has to do with climate change’s role in rising natural disaster damages.
Financial damages from natural disasters are definitely rising worldwide, but that’s not just being driven by climate change. Most of it has to do with increasing populations building unsafe buildings on land vulnerable to disasters.
These big demographic and economic trends are putting more people and property in harm’s way, so naturally there’s more harm, financial and otherwise. (Andy Revkin is good on this connection; see here and here.) To truly pick out the climate signal from that noise, you’d have to run a model with all the same trends and no climate change. For understandable reasons, that is extremely difficult.
Some researchers believe there is no climate signal discernible at all yet. (Spare a thought for Roger Pielke Jr.’s long, lonely crusade on this question.) Others disagree, and the battle wages on, but that battle has always struck me as less important than its participants take it to be.
Humanity is growing more financially vulnerable to natural disasters for lots of reasons, so there are, correspondingly, lots of ways to reduce vulnerability. Most of them are far more direct than climate mitigation — changing the location and nature of settlements, mainly, along with reforms in building codes, insurance, and government emergency planning. If your main goal is to reduce vulnerability as much and as quickly as possible, reducing greenhouse gases would be a silly way to do it.
But again, at the same time, it’s grossly irresponsible to leave climate out of the picture. We know it’s going to get worse. We know it’s going to make every other challenge more challenging, every damage more damaging, every expense more expensive.
Whether the climate signal is discernible now, it surely will be by the end of the century. By then, our opportunity to prevent some of it will be long past.
7) Adapting to climate change is very, very different than mitigating it
Obama presidential adviser John Holdren is credited with what has become a familiar way of formulating the challenge of climate change: We will end up with some mix of prevention, adaptation, and suffering; it is for us to determine the ratio.
This is a powerful way to approach the subject. It emphasizes the consequences of inaction. We prevent what we can, we adjust to what we can’t prevent, and we suffer what we can’t adjust to. The status quo is not an option.
But in another way, it is misleading, making it seem as though mitigation (that is, preventing greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (adjusting to a changed climate) are two sides of the same coin, fungible even. A dollar spent on one is as good as a dollar spent on the other.
Indeed, many conservatives — at least among those who accept the reality of climate change — argue that humans have adapted to all sorts of climates and it’s better to just adapt again than to upend the global energy system. And it’s not just conservatives. Economists generally have great faith in the power of human beings to adapt.
But adaptation is not fungible with mitigation. They are different beasts entirely, not only practically but on a profound moral level. I wrote a big post about this once, but to make a long story short: Mitigation has local costs and egalitarian global benefits; adaptation has local costs and inequitable local benefits.
Because every ton of greenhouse gases mixes into the atmosphere and affects the entire global climate, preventing the emission of a ton of GHGs offers a global benefit. Climate mitigation generates benefits that are unavoidably egalitarian (distributed across the globe, to everyone who lives in the atmosphere) and progressive (the poor are most vulnerable, so they benefit first and most from harm prevention).
There’s plenty of self-interest in climate mitigation, but there’s also an ineradicable element of altruism.
Adaptation is different. The benefits of adaptation — higher sea walls, better drainage systems, more effective emergency response — are unavoidably both local (only those who happen to live behind the sea wall benefit) and regressive (wealthy people and places will adapt first, best, and most).
So adaptation is not some easier alternative route to the same goal. It is every bit as politically difficult as mitigation (mitigation has multiple co-benefits, e.g., cleaner air, while adaptation rarely does), much, much more expensive, and less morally admirable. (Joe Romm had a magnificent post on this back in 2012.)
8) Without mitigation, adaptation is a cruel joke, and Harvey shows why
Houston’s situation is unique in many ways, well captured in this tweetstorm:
There are several reasons why flooding is so bad in Houston (among them ever-growing amounts of impermeable surfacing and a not-very-absorptive soil substrate). And there are several reasons why evacuating people beforehand was a complicated and fraught decision.
Every story about a natural disaster — preparation, response, adaptation — is idiosyncratic, as is Houston’s. Lessons about how to prepare and respond will inevitably have a local flavor.
Still, while there are undoubtedly ways Houston could do better (see Natasha Geiling for much more on that), take a step back and ponder: What is good or adequate adaptation to 40 to 50 inches of rain falling on your head in 72 hours?
There’s just no way to prepare for that and no painless way to respond to it. There’s no adapting. There’s destruction and suffering, followed by slow rebuilding.
In the absence of some pretty radical mitigation, such massive rainfall events will just get more frequent and worse on the Gulf Coast, every year, year on year, more or less forever. What would adaptation in those circumstances even look like? What kind of long-lasting infrastructure do you build when the climate is changing that fast? How many cycles of destruction and rebuilding can a city cope with?
The fact is, we already know that sea level rise and frequent flooding are going to make lots of coastal cities uninhabitable over coming decades (though exactly how many, and when, remains maddeningly uncertain). Think, for a moment, about Miami slowly becoming unlivable. “Adaptation” will mean figuring out who has to leave, who has to pay for resettlement, and who bears the cost of the abandoned city’s infrastructure as it rots, crumbles, and pollutes.
That’s a lot of fateful decisions to be made about people’s lives, homes, land, families, and legacies. It is politically explosive stuff. Raise your hand if you think it will be done in an egalitarian or equitable way.
(Recall, in the wake of Katrina, House Speaker Dennis Hastert saying that New Orleans might as well just be bulldozed. Recall that 20 members of the Texas congressional delegation, who are now desperately requesting help, voted against federal aid to New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. If adaptation decisions are made so callously within the US, imagine how they’ll be made internationally.)
Rebuilding after Harvey will be a test case — adaptation in action. Let’s watch to see if it’s done in a wise and equitable way. My hopes are not high.
Without mitigation, if we just let climate change get worse and worse, adaptation is only going to look uglier and uglier, more and more of a euphemism for abandoning poor people to their suffering.
9) Climate change is part of every story now, including Harvey
Everything human beings do, we do in a climate (except hang out on the space station, I guess).
Our climate has been in a rough temperature equilibrium for about 10,000 years, while we developed agriculture and advanced civilization and Netflix.
Now our climate is about to rocket out of that equilibrium, in what is, geologically speaking, the blink of an eye. We’re not sure exactly what’s going to happen, but we have a decent idea, and we know it’s going to be weird. With more heat energy in the system, everything’s going to get crazier — more heat waves, more giant rainstorms, more droughts, more floods.
That means climate change is part of every story now. The climate we live in shapes agriculture, it shapes cities and economies and trade, it shapes culture and learning, it shapes human conflict. It is a background condition of all these stories, and its changes are reflected in them.
So we’ve got to get past this “did climate change cause it?” argument. A story like Harvey is primarily a set of local narratives, about the lives immediately affected. But it is also part of a larger narrative, one developing over decades and centuries, with potentially existential stakes.
We’ve got to find a way to weave together those narratives while respecting and doing justice to both.
As Trump would say, "nobody ever knew climate change was so complicated."