Category Archives: Science

GOP: I have some good news and some bad news…

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 6, 2018)

First, the good news for the Republicans…

If Donald Trump has taught us anything, it is that the past is not always prologue.

The assumption is that the President’s party will lose a significant number of seats in the 2018 midterm elections.

History supports this assumption.

Over the past 21 midterm elections, the President’s party has lost an average 30 seats in the House, and an average 4 seats in the Senate.

Don’t assume that will happen in 2018.

The most recent polling data, as summarized by RealClearPolitics.com, suggests the Democrats are losing the momentum they possessed only a few months ago.

Source: RealClearPolitics.com

The RealClearPolitics.com generic ballot for the 2018 midterms gives the Democrats roughly a 3-point advantage. And, based on past experience, generic ballot numbers are predictive of House election outcomes, as seen in this graphic produced by Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight.com:

Source: FiveThirtyEight.com

Donald Trump’s job approval numbers are also on the rise, and have been since December 2017. If the current trends continue, Trump could be looking at approval numbers around 48 percent around election time.

Nonetheless, even with gerrymandering and geographic clustering working to the Democrats’ disadvantage, the prediction market, PredictIt, is still giving the Democrats a roughly 60 percent chance of re-taking control of the U.S. House. But that is significantly lower than a month ago when PredictIt was giving the Democrats a 70 percent chance.

Source: PredictIt.com

The trends are in the GOP’s favor right now and have been since the beginning of the year.

Another bad sign for the Democrats is the number of “toss-up” races (based on polling) in the upcoming U.S. House elections.

If we assume the “leaning” Democratic and Republican House districts end up going to the party currently favored, that gives the Democrats 195 seats and the Republicans 206 seats. That leaves 34 House contests considered “toss-ups,” according to RealClearPolitics.com. It takes 218 seats to form a House majority. In other words, the GOP just needs to win 12 of the 34 “toss-up” districts. And if these 34 districts are truly as even as the polling suggests, then we would expect the GOP to win 17 of these races— enough to keep their House majority.

A year ago, it would have been hard to find a Republican that thought their party would be in this position six months out from the midterm elections.

But the GOP is in that position. And why?

Here are the major factors most likely behind the Republicans’ more optimistic outlook for the midterms:

  1. More and more of the American public is giving Trump credit for the strong economy. “Nearly 2 in 3 Americans think the nation’s economy is in good shape, and most of them believe President’s Trump’s policies are at least somewhat responsible for that,” according a recent CBS News poll.
  2. American’s are behind President Trump heading into the Trump-Kim Jong Un summit later this month in Singapore. Three-quarters of Americans support the idea of a Trump-Kim summit, according to a CNN poll, and 53 percent approve of how Trump has been handling the North Korean situation.
  3. There may be a growing Trump-Russia collusion fatigue among Americans. Even Democrats recognize the possibility: “I think the American public will be tired of it (the Trump-Russia probe) if this is not wound down in this calendar year,” Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) said in May at Recode’s Code Conference, a California gathering of senior tech executives.

If it were any other president, these positive factors would have the party in power talking about increasing their legislative majority in Congress.

Donald Trump is not any other president.

He employs a high-risk strategy of sowing division within the electorate (immigration, Spygate, NFL player protests, etc.) on the assumption this will motivate his base and enough independents to keep his governing coalition intact.

We will see if that strategy works.

But, now, here is the bad news for the Republicans…

These current polling numbers, whether it is the generic congressional ballot or for the individual House races, do not yet reflect the potentially higher quality of Democratic House challengers.

Candidate quality remains one of the most important predictors of electoral success (see research on this topic here and here).

“When national conditions are favorable for one party, quality candidates from that party will run, while those from the other party will wait for a more opportune time,” writes Xavier University political scientist Jonathan Simpson.

As we head deeper into the summer, the quality of the Democrats’ House challengers will become more apparent in the polling numbers.

We already know more women are running for a House seat than ever before. Women are competing in 278 out of 435 districts this year, more than double the total in 2000. And even though running more women for office does not guarantee electoral success, the current fundraising numbers for the Democrats, particularly for the House and Senatorial committees, are encouraging to Democrats:

Source: OpenSecrets.org

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has raised $151 million for the 2018 election cycle compared to $122 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

While there is reason to be skeptical about the impact of money on congressional election outcomes (Please check out G. Elliott Morris’ work on this topic here), I think most politicians would rather have more money than less money when compared to their opponent.

Furthermore, the decision to run for Congress was most likely made in late 2017, when Trump’s approval and the generic congressional ballot numbers were still in the Democrats’ favor. This generally means higher quality Democratic candidates were more likely to decide to run for Congress than in previous election cycles.

The improved approval numbers for Trump and the GOP since 2017 may not be helping the GOP’s prospects as much as they would have had they occurred earlier in 2017.

Yes, the Republicans are looking better heading into the midterms. But is it too late for them to save their House majority?

We are also seeing generally high turnout rates among Democrats for special elections and primaries, which bodes well for their prospects in November. Midterm election results are largely a function of partisan turnout differentials and 2018 is looking more and more like 2006 (when the Democrats gained 31 House seats).

Unpredictable events could still change the dynamics of the 2018 midterms…

Still, a lot will happen between now and November. If we assume prediction markets, such as PredictIt.com, are like other financial markets, only new information (i.e., ‘shocks’ to the system) will alter the probabilities of the Democrats winning control of the House.

Its not hard to think of potential ‘shocks’ to the electoral prospects of either party in November. Here is just a few possibilities:

  1. While the probability of a recession between now and November is very low, it is not zero. According to economist Ted Kavadas, as of June 4th, the “Yield Curve Model” shows a 11.1 percent probability of a recession in the U.S. in the next 12 months. An unexpected recession would be deadly to the GOP’s prospects in November. We might be looking at a GOP loss of 60 or more seats in such a scenario.
  2. And even if the country doesn’t dip into a recession, a trade war between the U.S. and its major trading partners (Canada, China, Mexico, Europe etc.) is a real possibility. Would a trade war help or hurt the GOP’s prospects? In Iowa, at least, where Trump won the presidential vote by nine percent over Hillary Clinton, pork tariffs by Mexico and China could cost Iowa pork producers over $560 million a year. If that is allowed to continue, Trump and the GOP will suffer significant electoral losses in Iowa in November 2018.
  3. The Robert Mueller III-led investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians will produce more indictments over the next six months. If those indictments directly concern an actual conspiracy (i.e., collusion) between the Trump campaign and the Russians, this will not help the GOP’s chances in November; particularly, if future indictments are issued against anyone in Trump’s inner circle: Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Roger Stone, or Trump himself.
  4. In the GOP’s favor, if Trump and Kim reach of tangible decision in Singapore regarding North Korea’s nuclear program, it is difficult to imagine this won’t help the GOP in the midterm elections. A failure to reach an agreement, on the other hand, may not work for or against the GOP. It is hard to know how a diplomatic failure would be perceived by the American voter, but I suspect it will depend on how the ‘failure’ is spun within the major media outlets.
  5. Also, in the GOP’s favor, is a strong economy that is looking more robust by the day. It is hard to imagine an American voting population that does not consider the strength of the U.S. economy when making their vote decisions for U.S. congressional candidates. The Democrats continue to talk down the U.S. economy, but the reality remains…the U.S. economy hasn’t been stronger since 2000.

The GOP should be encouraged by recent trends. Trump is not the drag on the Republicans as he once was only a few months ago. Assuming no major mistakes on his part over the next six months (and that is a tough assumption to make), the Republican Party is poised to minimize the damage from the 2018 midterms. Will they keep control of the U.S. House? Probably not, but it will be closer than many Democrats think. And though the U.S. Senate hasn’t been discussed in this essay, the prospects of the Democrats gaining control of the Senate are diminishing by the day.

Source: PredictIt.com

Short of Mueller revealing tangible evidence that Donald Trump himself colluded with the Russians in the 2016 election, the U.S. Senate is a lost cause for the Democrats.

All eyes therefore should be on the U.S. House where the Democrats, while not in as comfortable position as they were in late 2017, are still likely to take control of the House after the midterm elections.

  • K.R.K

The greatest U.S. post-WWII foreign policy achievements

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 31, 2018)

The U.S. may be on the brink of one of the greatest foreign policy achievements in its post-WWII history. As of today, I’d say the chances President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agree to any substantive plan to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula are slim, though not zero.

But hope is eternal and even Trump’s sometimes erratic behavior is now being viewed by some of his most ardent critics as an asset in dealing with North Korea.

“A volatile negotiating style is sometimes a sign of an inexperienced or uncertain bargainer,” opines Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. “But it’s Trump’s approach, and however bizarre the route, he’s nearing a diplomatic breakthrough.”

Its obviously too soon to put North Korea’s denuclearization on the list of major U.S. foreign policy achievements. But, if it should happen, what else would already be on the list since World War II?

I’ve compiled an informal list of the U.S.’s ten biggest foreign policy achievements since WWII. Why ten? I couldn’t come up with an 11th. So forget an honorable mention list.

The criteria for making the list was fairly straightforward. The accomplishment had to represent not just a significant improvement over the past, but a durable achievement. For this reason, Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear agreement did not qualify for this list.

The achievement had to make the U.S. and its allies safer and/or stronger vis-a-vis its adversaries. The strengthening could be economic, militarily or both.

In addition, the U.S. foreign policy achievement’s impact had to be international and not primarily domestic, which eliminated Bill Clinton’s greatest foreign policy achievement: the investment of the ‘peace dividend’ from the collapse of the Soviet Union into America’s technology and innovation economy.

With these informal qualifications, here is my top 10 for the U.S.’s greatest foreign policy achievements since World War II.

Coming in at number 10…

10. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Treaty of 1948

GATT was a series of multilateral trade agreements designed to reduce trade quotas and tariffs among the treaty’s signatory nations. The first GATT agreement, that included 23 countries, took effect in 1948 and formed the economic foundation for the liberal globalist ideology that dominates today’s world economy.

The agreement itself was not as powerful as many wanted. Yet, President Harry Truman understood the GATT agreement, as weak as it was, would preserve international trade co-operation and become an critical party of U.S. foreign economic and security policy going forward.

Moreover, the 1948 agreement was seen merely an interim measure as there was an expectation the newly-formed United Nations would create an agency to supersede GATT. That never happened. Instead, GATT became the primary tool by which world trade was liberalized and expanded immediately after World War II. It was not until the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 that was GATT finally replaced.

Up to 1995, GATT’s critical role in the world economy was significant as up to 90 percent of world trade was governed by GATT prior to the WTO.

9. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1949)

No post World War II agreement had broader implications than the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Following the end of the war, the fear of Communist expansion dominated discussions in the West European capitals and, in response to Soviet expansion, the U.S. and 11 Western European nations formed NATO.

The rival Warsaw Pact, created in 1955 by the Soviet Union and its Communist partners in Eastern Europe, formed the basis for what would be the Cold War, which would last until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

8. Creation of the United Nations (1945)

In June 1945, a year after D-Day which lead to the eventual defeat of Germany and the European Axis powers, the United Nations Charter was adopted. Its goals were as profound as the diverse collection of countries sanctioning its existence at the San Francisco Conference in April 1945.

Fifty nations, representing the 80 percent of the world’s population that had just defeated Germany to end the European portion of World War II, met in San Francisco to form an international union predicated on the principle that world wars were an unacceptable means through which to solve international problems.

San Francisco Conference (1945)

Even as it was agreed, with considerable dissent, that the “Big Five” (United States, Britain, France, China and Russia) could exercise “veto” powers on any action by the United Nations’ powerful Security Council, the General Assemblyof nations signed onto the United Nations charter knowing its imperfections were far outweighed by its potential.

“The Charter of the United Nations which you have just signed,” said President Truman in addressing the final San Francisco Conference session, “is a solid structure upon which we can build a better world. History will honor you for it. Between the victory in Europe and the final victory, in this most destructive of all wars, you have won a victory against war itself. With this Charter the world can begin to look forward to the time when all worthy human beings may be permitted to live decently as free people.”

On October 24, 1945, the UN officially came into existence. To date, despite its many critics, the UN stands as of the post World War II’s greatest international achievements.

7. SALT I and SALT II Treaties (1972, 1979)

It may seem odd to put SALT and START treaty regimes between the U.S. and Soviet Union ahead of the creation of the UN and NATO, but it is done with some thought. As important as the UN and NATO were in creating institutional frameworks for collectively organizing the common interests of nations, they were band-aids — deeply flawed at their conception and in their application to solve international problems.

Upon the learning in the late 1960s that the Soviet Union had developed a Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) defense system to defend Moscow in case of an all-out nuclear war with the U.S., President Lyndon Johnson met with Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin to start strategic arms limitations talks (SALT).

The elimination of nuclear weapons was (and is) a dream. The SALT discussions therefore focused on the more practical goal of limiting the development of advanced offensive and defensive strategic systems.

Soviet Leader Brezhnev and U.S. President Nixon in 1973

Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon, took over the SALT talks and on May 26, 1972, in Moscow, he and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signed an ABM Treaty and an interim SALT agreement.

Starting with Johnson’s initiative and Nixon’s follow through, the U.S. and Soviet Union for the first time decided to limit their nuclear arsenals.

The next round of SALT discussions began immediately after the signing of SALT I with its focus on Multiple Independently Targeted Re-Entry Vehicles (MIRVs) and on June 17, 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Brezhnev signed the SALT II Treaty in Vienna.

The key element of SALT II was the limitation of both nations’ nuclear forces to 2,250 delivery vehicles and restricting MIRVs, though the treaty itself was never ratified by the U.S. Senate due, in part, to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Nonetheless, both countries adhered to SALT II’s requirements, even as the next U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, pursued the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

6. START I Treaty (1991)

Despite opposition to President Carter’s SALT II agreement with the Soviets, President Ronald Reagan adhered to its restrictions, even as he authorized pursuit of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), otherwise known as “Star Wars.”

At the same time, Reagan began negotiations for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), a bilateral treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that would reduce (not just limit) the number of strategic offensive arms. The first START agreement was signed in July 1991 (taking effect in 1994). START I was the largest arms control treaty in world history and its implementation resulted in the removal of almost 80 percent of all strategic nuclear weapons in the world at the time.

START II was signed by U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin on January 3, 1993, and banned the use of MIRVs on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). START II, however, never came into effect, even though it was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996 and in Russia in 2000. In June 2002, Russia withdrew from the treaty in response to U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.

START I, however, remains a milestone in the effort to reduce the number of nuclear weapons on the planet.

5. The First Gulf War (1991)

This was the most difficult decision in the list of Top 10 foreign policy achievements. The First Gulf War is the only U.S. military action to make the list and, while successful in its primary goal of removing Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army from Kuwait, the blowback from this war was significant and could be argued that it continues to this day.

When Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, President George H. W. Bush faced the this country’s first post-Cold War international crisis. In response, Bush orchestrated a large international coalition to oppose Iraq’s aggression and, following an intensive air campaign in January 1991, launched a land war offensive that drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.

President Bush and his foreign policy team built a broad coalition ranging from the NATO allies to a number of Middle Eastern countries. Even Russia, an ally to the Hussein regime, while offering no direct military or material support, diplomatically called for Iraq to leave Kuwait.

The run-up to the war’s start was a model for how diplomatic efforts can work in tandem with military planning; and the effort, as executed by the Bush administration, put the coalition troops in the best possible position to successfully carry out their mission. However, the First Gulf War’s unintended consequences cannot be ignored as they led directly to the rise of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda and the subsequent attacks against the the U.S. (U.S.S. Cole, 9/11 attacks, etc.)

The U.S. has proven to be good at starting and executing wars — its the ending of wars where the U.S. has problems.

4. Camp David Accords (1979)

As we read the latest events out of the Middle East, it is easy to forget sometimes that a lasting and durable peace between the State of Israel and Egypt has existed, unbroken, since the 1979 Camp David Accords.

Israel and Egypt had fought two (short) wars against each other in the previous 15 years and the prospects for peace seemed unlikely in the midst of a growing Palestinian armed resistance against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But, largely through President Jimmy Carter’s personal initiative in bringing two diametrically opposite leaders to the table, a peace agreement was hammered out. Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt for security guarantees (that have not since been broken). It was an achievement that still stands as a model for the future.

Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, gave us a template and path on how to bring peace to the Middle East (at least on a bilateral basis). The Camp David Accords were without question President Carter’s crowning foreign policy achievement and though peace has not been the rule in the Middle East since the Accords, Israel can rightfully point to a peace treaty with Jordan and a significant thawing of relations with Saudi Arabia as indirect products of the Camp David Accords. Of course, having a common enemy (Iran) is playing a big factor in the new Israel-Saudi detente.

Regardless, the important legacy of the Camp David Accords is unquestionable and is still being written.

3. Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)

On the heals of the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba and a disastrous meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, Austria, President John F. Kennedy had not earned high marks on foreign policy in his young presidency.

That changed over the course of 13 days in October 1962, and for good reason. His leadership, along with that of his Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy, Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, averted the very real potential of a nuclear conflict between the U.S. and Soviet Union. At the very least, a ‘hot war’ was possible, which would have been the first between two nuclear powers.

Source: U.S. Archives

Screwing up again was not an option for the Kennedy administration in October 1962.

As revealed by U.S. reconnaissance photos, the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles were discovered on Cuba, just 90 miles from the U.S. shoreline. A warhead launch from Cuba could have deposited a nuclear bomb on Washington, D.C. within 5 minutes.

Needless to say, the stakes were high.

In his October 22, 1962, national television address, Kennedy informed Americans about the presence of the missiles, announced a naval blockade surrounding Cuba, and let the world know the U.S. would use military force if the missiles were not removed.

What the American people didn’t know, getting to the naval blockade decision was not an easy one for Kennedy and there was tremendous pressure from the Pentagon and other ‘hawks’ in his administration to invade Cuba from the start.

With the dynamics behind how the crisis was resolved still being debated to this day by historians and academics, Khrushchev offered to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for the U.S. agreeing never to invade Cuba and to also remove U.S. missiles from Turkey.

Crisis averted.

The Cuban Missile Crisis remains one of the most discussed and analyzed foreign policy crises ever; and, what the U.S. and Soviet Union (now Russia) learned from the October 1962 events has, arguably, kept us from getting that close to a nuclear war ever again.

2. Nixon visits China (1973)

You know something is historically iconic when it can used as a referential device for other, unrelated events. ‘Only Nixon could go to China,’ is one of the common refrains, often used to explain why some major policy breakthroughs can only happen if previously strong opponents of the policy take up its cause. “Only Ronald Reagan could have pushed a national health care system through Congress,” was a frequent lament of a former colleague of mine. And, so on and so forth.

It is true, President Richard Nixon was a staunch anti-communist. It is also likely if a Democratic president had opened relations with Communist China, Nixon would have been its fiercest critic.

But politics has a funny way of turning preachers into sinners and soldiers into poets.

Nixon arrived in China on February 21, 1972, the Watergate break in four months later was still just a glint in his eye. At that time Nixon stepped off Air Force One into the cold air of Beijing, his administration was struggling with a war in Vietnam that looked increasingly like the South Vietnamese regime would not survive. Nixon knew the Vietnam War was no longer about containing communism’s expansion, but containing the damage to U.S. prestige around the world.

Yet, in February 1972, Nixon was never more confident in his ability to change the course of history. He was going to bring about an honorable peace in Vietnam, and further limit the Soviet’s ambitions by opening U.S. relations with the communist Chinese, Realpolitik‘s version of a Phil Niekro knuckleball.

It was diplomatic brilliance, and it worked, more in the long-term than in the short-term, however.

One of President Harry Truman’s most vocal critics at the time for losing China to the communists in 1949, Nixon thought he was ideal to fix Harry’s mistake. But, more strategically, Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, saw an opportunity to drive a small, but significant, wedge between the China and the Soviets, who were having minor border war skirmishes in the late 1960s. Nixon and Kissinger even thought a U.S.-China relations thaw would make the Soviets more amenable to U.S. interests.

China’s interests in the ‘thaw’ were even more complex, as the country was still in the middle of its brutal Cultural Revolution in which millions of Chinese intellectuals, leaders, and common citizens were persecuted for ‘bourgeois’ beliefs and activities. The Chinese economy was a mess and there was no better or quicker fix for a mess like that than American investment and trade.

In reality, Nixon’s trip to China was more symbolic than productive. But it did open the door to a symbiotic economic relationship that would eventually dominate the world economy forty years later.

The U.S.-China relationship is not as close as U.S.-European relations, and as we’ve seen with China’s growing military assertiveness in the South China Sea, disagreements are no longer restricted to economic issues. China is going to be a world superpower soon (if it isn’t already). Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, while not necessarily changing the inevitability or timing of China’s rise, it marks a significant point in history where the U.S., the leading economic and military power at the time, was preparing to welcome the Chinese back into a leadership role on the world stage.

Nixon will not be remembered as a great U.S. president, but by extending a hand of friendship to China, he showed a level of foresight quite rare among presidents.

1. Reagan and G. H. W. Bush manage the demise of the Soviet Union (1980s)

No single post-WWII conflict dominated American foreign policy as did theCold War with the Soviet Union. Our containment policy towards Soviet communism led directly to our involvement in Vietnam and underscored our country’s efforts to secure Middle East energy supplies for the West and our allies. In fact, many of the significant international crises involving the U.S. after World War II involved, directly or indirectly, the Cold War conflict: the Cuban Missile Crisis (1961), the Berlin Airlift (1948–49), and the Suez Crisis (1956–57). The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Suez Crisis, in particular, brought the two superpowers closer to a nuclear war than perhaps at any other time in the post-WWII world.

The arms race between the Soviet Union and the U.S. was the most costly military expansion in world history. The cost of the U.S. nuclear arsenal alone between 1940 and 1996 was estimated by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)to be around $5.8 trillion (in inflated-adjusted 1996 dollars), which was 31 percent of all defense expenditures during that period ($18.7).

The Cold War was expensive. So costly, in fact, some believed the break-up of the Soviet Union was inevitable. But many experts also dispute attributing the Soviet Union’s demise to the Ronald Reagan-era military buildup. As the graph below shows regarding U.S. and Soviet Union defense spending between 1964 and 1998, Soviet defense spending had been increasing on a consistent basis long before the first Reagan defense budgets.

Source: Arming America: Attention and Inertia in US National Security Spending by James L. True (1998)

In disputing the contention that Reagan’s defense build-up accelerated the Soviet Union’s decline, Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein wrote in The Atlantic in 1994:

“The Soviet Union’s defense spending did not rise or fall in response to American military expenditures. Revised estimates by the Central Intelligence Agency indicate that Soviet expenditures on defense remained more or less constant throughout the 1980s. Neither the military buildup under Jimmy Carter and Reagan nor SDI had any real impact on gross spending levels in the USSR. At most SDI shifted the marginal allocation of defense rubles as some funds were allotted for developing countermeasures to ballistic defense.

If American defense spending had bankrupted the Soviet economy, forcing an end to the Cold War, Soviet defense spending should have declined as East-West relations improved. CIA estimates show that it remained relatively constant as a proportion of the Soviet gross national product during the 1980s, including Gorbachev’s first four years in office. Soviet defense spending was not reduced until 1989 and did not decline nearly as rapidly as the overall economy.”

Instead, Lebow and Stein, like many experts in this area, considered the proximal cause of the Soviet Union’s demise to lie in the ill-conceived perestroika reforms initiated by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, coupled with the structural problems inherent in the Soviet economic system. If anything, the Reagan defense budgets delayed the Soviet Union’s demise.

Nonetheless, Reagan and his successor, George H. W. Bush, did something perhaps more important than bringing down the Soviet Union. They managed the Soviet decline, regardless of its many causes, and ensured that the new world order emerging from the end of the Cold War would be stable and prosperous.

So much could have gone wrong. From the time when the Berlin Wall came down on December 9, 1989 to December 26, 1991, the complex task of disentangling a Gordian knot of Soviet relationships around the world fell into the George H. W. Bush’s lap.

At the time of the Soviet collapse, the country had about 39,000 nuclear weapons and about 1.5 million kilograms of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, according to Stanford engineering professor Siegfried Hecker, who helped the former Soviet Union secure its nuclear arsenal at a time when many feared ‘loose nukes’ would get into the hands of the wrong people.

In his book, Doomed to Cooperate: How American and Russian scientists joined forces to avert some of the greatest post-Cold War nuclear dangers, Hecker argues that it was the intense cooperation between U.S. and Russian scientists, at the behest of their governments, that prevented what could have been a post-Cold War nuclear catastrophe.

And the cooperation between U.S. and former Soviet Union scientists and senior military personnel was, itself, built upon a positive relationship Ronald Reagan (and then George H. W. Bush) had built with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and other senior Soviet leaders.

It is not an exaggeration to suggest Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush made the world safer, faster than at any other time in U.S. history.

  • K.R.K.

What the Obama administration should have done…

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 30, 2018)

If there are any civil libertarians left in the Democratic Party who still believe the state’s propensity towards excessive intrusion into citizens’ lives must be constantly challenged, this essay is addressed to you:

Here is a thought exercise that may shed some light on what the Barack Obama administration should have done during the 2016 presidential election…

Rather than what we know (or think we know) about how the Russians interfered in the 2016 election, what if this had happened instead:

Imagine that in the early Spring of 2016, the FBI became aware of a Hillary Clinton campaign effort to discover compromising information about Donald Trump and his financial interactions with the Russians. In their pursuit of “dirt” on Trump, Clinton campaign operatives came into contact with known Russian intelligence agents. There is even anecdotal evidence that the Russians have kompromat on Hillary Clinton arising from their hacking of her homebrew e-mail server.

What would the FBI do in such a situation? What would Obama’s Department of Justice (DoJ) have done under such a scenario?

Most likely, they would have selectively shared their information with Clinton and perhaps her senior staff about what they knew regarding Russia’s contact with campaign operatives— as their primary concern would be protecting the interests of the U.S. and its electoral system.

Would they have run an FBI intelligence gathering operation using a paid informant against the Clinton campaign.

I seriously doubt it, but according Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, were the FBI to do that, he would hope they would first inform candidate Clinton and take their chances that she wouldn’t divulge the FBI operation to the targeted individuals.

But I disagree to this extent. An administration is treading into some dangerous territory when they conduct any surveillance or intelligence gathering on an opposition party candidate for president.

Had the Clinton campaign’s effort to find ‘dirt’ on Trump led them to some suspicious connections to Russian intelligence operatives, based on the investigation standards I saw applied while working in an intelligence community Office of the Inspector General, I believe the Obama administration would have notified the candidate and her senior staff and discussed future steps should the inappropriate contacts continue.

Why do I believe this?

First, they would have understood the effort to find “dirt” on Trump as defensible, even if potentially reckless. But an objective FBI and DoJ isn’t concerned about the partisan politics of the situation. They are concerned with the integrity of the nation’s electoral process.

As South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy and Florida Senate Marco Rubio, both Republicans, have both recently said about the FBI’s using an informant to collect intelligence from Trump campaign operatives, the FBI is doing its job when it investigates foreign power intrusions into our electoral process.

But not informing candidate Trump, particularly given rumors known to the FBI that the candidate might be subject to blackmail by the Russians, is highly questionable and fails to mitigate a potentially active threat against the U.S.

Second, had it been the Clinton campaign in contact with Russians, the Obama administration would trust the candidate Clinton enough to expect direct answers to questions about interactions with the Russians.

Third, a “secret” investigative operation would take time and the electoral calendar would have driven the investigation’s timeline. The Obama administration would want the investigation resolved before the Democratic Convention in late July, such that, if the candidate’s campaign was truly compromised by Russian intelligence agents, the Democrats would have an opportunity to nominate someone else.

That is a ‘political’ consideration, but not inherently a partisan one. You would hope the Obama administration would have used the same consideration with the Trump campaign.

That is the common sense reaction the Obama administration should have to Russian interference with a presidential campaign, regardless of the party involved.

But, we know from Chuck Ross’ reporting for The Daily Caller, that is not how the Obama administration reacted to suspicious activities by the Trump campaign.

The FBI, under Obama, initiated a secret intelligence gathering operation on selected Trump campaign advisers — presumably in an effort to understand the extent of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — weeks prior to an official counterintelligence investigation into Russia-Trump collusion.

Even if using an FBI-paid informant against the Trump campaign was justified on national security grounds, Gowdy and Rubio have suggested, it is not appropriate for the FBI to use partisan political factors in deciding how to execute such an intelligence operation.

The news media’s focus on Trump’s supposed ‘lying’ distracts from the real question: Were partisan motives involved?

The major news outlets have decided Trump was “lying” when he tweeted that the FBI was spying on his campaign in July 2016.

Such a charge is utterly dishonest. In fact, the charge is more of a lie than what Trump accused the FBI of doing against his campaign.

Please read the public laws, regulations and executive orders that established our intelligence agencies (The Office of the Director of National Intelligence provides them all in one document available here). You will never see the word “spy” or “spying” as it is simply not a term the U.S. government uses to describe what its intelligence agencies do for the country.

It is understandable why. “Spying” has obvious negative connotations. Subsequently, in writing the laws and regulations authorizing our intelligence agencies, the term ‘intelligence’ became the operative phrase.

The word ‘spy’ has no official, government-sanctioned definition.

Nonetheless, the word ‘spy’ is a colloquial term we’ve all used to describe a wide range of behaviors. For example, I spy on my son all the time to see what games he’s been playing or websites he’s visited on his cellphone.

Hence, Donald Trump’s use of the word “spying” to describe what the FBI did with respect to his campaign is with some merit, even if imprecise.

The news media’s accusations that Trump ‘lied’ about FBI ‘spying’ distracts from the far more important question of whether the FBI was politically motivated when it decided to use a ‘secret informant’ to casually interview Trump campaign advisers about their connections to the Russians.

An independent, inquisitive news media would demand an answer.

Not ours.

And why should they? It’s not like this hasn’t happened before.

Before Obama, another incumbent administration spied on an opposing party’s presidential campaign. In The Wall Street JournalLee Edwards shares his experience with how Lyndon Baines Johnson’s administration spied on the Barry Goldwater campaign.

As reported by RealClearPolitics.com, this is what supposedly happened:

“During the 1964 presidential campaign, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the FBI to spy on Barry Goldwater’s campaign, according to Lee Edwards, a Heritage Foundation fellow and director of information for the Goldwater campaign…

…Every poll pointed toward Johnson winning the election against the conservative senator of Arizona, but LBJ wanted to win by a landslide so he could implement his Great Society vision without restraint. He also wanted to go down in history as one of America’s greatest presidents, Edwards writes in The Wall Street Journal. So he created an “Anti-Campaign” to smear Goldwater’s candidacy, Edwards claims…

…According to Edwards, the operation was run out of the second floor of the West Wing by veteran Washington-based Democrats like Leonard Marks, who later became the director of the U.S. Information Agency, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant secretary at the Department of Labor and later a U.S. senator for New York. Marks and Moynihan would schedule Democratic speakers before and after Goldwater’s appearance in a city. They knew his travel plans and remarks in advance thanks to a spy the CIA planted at Goldwater headquarters, Edwards claims…

…The “Anti-Campaign” went as far as to enlist the FBI, even though the bureau is supposed to limit its investigations to people and institutions considered dangerous to national security, Edwards writes. The FBI arranged for widespread wiretapping of the Goldwater campaign, according to Edwards, and Johnson also illegally ordered the FBI to conduct security checks of Goldwater’s Senate staff.”

It was unethical then, but why is it OK now?

The Washington Post created a detailed timeline of the relationship between known Trump campaign comments related to “hacked Clinton emails” and the release of the DNC and Podesta hacked emails (Their analysis can be accessed here).

One justification of the Robert Mueller investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians is the documented knowledge that the Trump campaign actively sought “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

There is no doubt the Trump campaign sought Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 plus deleted emails.

What The Washington Post and the other major media outlets don’t seem to understand is that it is not inherently illegal for a U.S. presidential campaign to seek the “hacked” emails of an opposing campaign, assuming they didn’t conspire, aid and abet, or hide the crime.

In Summer 2016,Trump and campaign adviser Roger Stone were publicly calling for Wikileaks to publish the Clinton-related e-mails hacked in all likelihood by the Russians. That is hardly ‘hiding’ the hacking crime.

Yet, the Obama administration decided the Trump campaign’s knowledge of the supposed whereabouts of Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails was sufficient to collect intelligence on the Trump campaign using a paid, secret informant.

Based on Gowdy, Rubio and Dershowitz’ opinions, perhaps it was sufficient evidence to use a secret informant, but would Obama have initiated a similar intelligence operation against the Clinton campaign?

That is the question that should animate the American news media today, instead of accusing the president of “lying” about spying against his campaign.

  • K.R.K

Just Gimme Some Truth

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 23, 2018)

A number of my readers have complained that I use images or words from The Beatles to drive home my points. Here is a representative example of that criticism:

“How dare you use an image of George Harrison as click-bait for your pro-Trump bulls**t! George and the other Beatles never would have associated themselves that orange-haired a**hole. SHAME ON YOU! YOUR ARE NOT A REAL BEATLE FAN!”

The essay she is referring to is here: How the Democrats could still lose the 2018 midterms

I appreciate the profanity-soaked feedback…but let me respond.

First, for those of you under 40 that don’t know the significance of The Beatles, think of them as the 1960s version of Donald Glover, only there were four of them.

As to those who criticize my use of Beatles imagery, don’t assume you know how any of The Beatles would react to Donald Trump. Only two Beatles are still alive, of course, and neither have been aggressively anti-Trump (though Paul McCartney has written a song about Trump, which I am told is not complimentary).

But Paul has always had a tendency to aim for popular culture’s sweet spot.

Paul has also criticized Trump with respect to policy, recently telling the BCC, “You’ve got someone like Trump who says climate change is just a hoax. A lot of people like myself think that’s just madness.”

I am all for opposing Donald Trump on policy. For example, it would be nice if these rabid anti-Trumpers would carve out some time to protest the growing likelihood that the U.S. is going to war against Iran. Sadly, I don’t think the Democratic Party establishment has any problem with such a reckless and doomed-to-fail military adventure.

But back to The Beatles

In contrast to Paul’s criticism of Trump, Richard Starkey (aka. Ringo Starr), who has unexpectedly become the good-looking Beatle in his reclining years, has come out in favor of the Brexit vote; and, offers some sage advice on Brexit that is equally applicable to the Resistance in the U.S.

“I think it’s a great move; I think, you know, to be in control of your country is a good move,” Starkey told the BBC. “The people voted and, you know, they have to get on with it. Suddenly, it’s like, ‘Oh, well, we don’t like that vote.’ What do you mean you don’t like that vote? You had the vote, this is what won, let’s get on with it.”

Damn! Ringo just hammered the European Union globalists like he did to his tom-toms on “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

As for the deceased Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison, it is not so clear to me that they would reflexively support the Resistance.

Lets start with my favorite Beatle, George, who wrote my favorite Beatle song, “While my guitar gently weeps.”

George also wrote the best anti-big government, anti-tax song in the history of popular music: Taxman

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet

Should five percent appear too small, be thankful I don’t take it all

George hated high taxes.

At the time he wrote Taxman, the top tax rate in Britain was 83 percent.

The Beatles, in general, had middle-class upbringings and were surprisingly bourgeois in their understanding of the world. When George visited San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in the 1967’s Summer of Love, his description of the place when he returned to London was, “It turned out to be just a lot of bums…dropping acid.” Pat Buchanan or Billy Graham could have just easily had that reaction.

Oh, but surely John would be an outspoken Trump critic…right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

One of his most famous songs, Revolution, was actually a song against left-wing revolutions.

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world…

But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out…

But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait

Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?

Revolution’s most poignant line is in its chorus: “Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?” If there is one message John was trying to impart in this song, it was that even when serious problems exist, they are not existential.

In other words, the U.S. and the world will survive Donald Trump. We might even be better for having him.

British journalist, Maurice Hindle, who first interviewed Lennon in 1968, said “Lennon much regretted his earlier associations with the radical left.” The song Revolution was Lennon’s sharp reply to these activists that he viewed as directionless and inherently prone to violence.

Like his fellow Beatles, John had a middle-class upbringing. He was raised by his aunt and uncle, Mimi and George Smith, the latter making his career in the bookmaking business, before gambling away the family’s meager savings. John internalized that experience as he gained his own substantial wealth. And, as John’s financial fortunes grew, political groups began asking him for financial support, to whom he basically replied, ‘F**K OFF.’

John was more than happy to donate a song (e.g., “Give Peace a Chance”), but give money? Don’t forget one of John’s favorite childhood songs was Berry Gordy’s Motown song, Money, which included the lyric: ‘Money don’t get everything, it’s true, but what it don’t get, I can’t use. I need money, that’s what I want.’

And it wasn’t just on the topic of money where John was unapologetic about his bourgeois-esque attitudes.

While appearing on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, Lennon was asked by a female audience member about whether he was concerned about overpopulation. Lennon’s answer surprised her and Cavett: “I don’t really believe it,” Lennon said. “I think whatever happens will balance itself out. It’s alright for us all living to say, ‘Well, there’s enough of us so we won’t have any more.’. I don’t believe in that.”

John would later dismiss the ‘over-population’ problem by noting that as he flew over the U.S. he noticed there was “a lot of room for more people.”

The issue of overpopulation was popular on the Left in 1971. Three years earlier, Stanford biologist Dr. Paul Ehrlich predicted in his book, “The Population Bomb,” that half of Americans would die by the late 1980s due to overpopulation and the resulting famine. (Where do you think Marvel’s idea for The Avengers’ main villain, Thanos, came from?)

Over 40 years removed from Lennon’s critique of Ehrlich’s overpopulation thesis, the intuition of an art school-educated rock star was far more accurate than that of the Stanford biologist.

If you want to draw an analogy to global warming and climate change, I won’t stop you. And I think the evidence supports the hypothesis that John, if he were alive today, would dismiss climate change alarmists as he did the overpopulation alarmists in the 1970s.

And in the end…

One last thought for those who are offended or bored by my frequent reference to The Beatles when writing about contemporary politics.

We all get to interpret their music and lyrics as we wish. I use Beatle music as a background choir to my daily diet of partisan, corporate-driven half-truths being promulgated by the mainstream news media (and I include Fox News in that wretched heap — though, I confess, I am a Bret Baier-fan).

For mewhen The Beatles introduce to us the Fool on the Hill who thought the critics were the actual fools, they are warning about the fine line between arrogance and self-confidence. When John sings about the apolitical Nowhere Man who ‘knows not where he’s going to’ because he’s just like you and me, he’s talking about the importance of humility.

And, most importantly, The Beatles were about challenging authority. “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” environmental activist Jack Weinberg once said. [I prefer Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify.”]

As I write this I am watching CNN’s Don Lemon lecture us about what a big liar Donald Trump is, and how anyone that believes the FBI spied on the Trump campaign is being duped.

Perhaps. Don, after all, has all of the Obama administration’s authorities on his side.

One of the risks in challenging authority is that, sometimes, the authorities are right.

This is not that time, however.

If you want to believe the FBI didn’t secretly investigate (i.e., ‘spy on’) the Trump campaign using informants and all of the intelligence collection tools available to them, go right ahead.

But listen to our nation’s former intelligence chief, James Clapper. When asked by The View’s Joy Behar whether the FBI spied on the Trump campaign, Clapper’s response was interesting.

“No, they were not,” Clapper answered. “They were spying on, a term I don’t particularly like, but on what the Russians were doing. Trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage or influence which is what they do.”

In layman’s terms, the FBI was spying on the Russians by hanging around the Trump campaign. That is what we call a distinction without a difference.

Clapper’s response shows how much the Obama administration crafted their public response for when the “spying” program was revealed (which they knew it would be eventually).

Even if you accept Clapper’s distinction, it doesn’t change the fact that at least one Trump campaign adviser was targeted by a FISC-approved surveillance operation and a FBI counterintelligence operation targeting Trump campaign advisers was opened in late July 2016.

Those facts alone justify this simple question: Did political motivations influence the approvals of these intelligence efforts? And the suggestion by that skeptics of the Obama administration’s story are peddling conspiracy theories, is simply a shaming technique. It doesn’t require a conspiracy to believe the U.S. government lies. Out of convenience or perceived necessity, our government lies…a lot. Such behavior by our government leaders has been ‘normalized.’

It is therefore fair to ask if politics influenced the FBI’s decision to run a counterintelligence operation against the Trump campaign. As yet, we have not received from the news media or the government a verifiable answer. A healthy skeptic is not going to just take their word for it. Show us the memos, the e-mails, and the meeting notes that started this operation. How was it funded? Who authorized? Who managed it? Was President Obama briefed? When? Etc. etc.

I don’t believe for a moment that the FBI’s decision to launch ‘Crossfire Hurricane’ (high marks to the FBI for their naming creativity, by the way) was sparked by a drunken George Papadopoulos spilling his guts to an Australian diplomat in a London bar in May of 2016.

NO F-ing WAY.

When the truth does comes out, we will likely discover our intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ were interested in Donald Trump long before that May 2016 meeting — probably around the time the Fusion GPS contract to collect intelligence on Donald Trump passed from the Washington Free Beaconto a Democratic Party-aligned law firm (with ties to the Clinton campaign). Just an educated guess.

At the same time, I am hardly shill for Trump. For example…

…I would not be surprised if Donald Trump is on a ‘pee pee tape’ and has allowed his business interests to get tied up with some very unsavory types (including, but not restricted to, Russians).

…I believe the Trump campaign made a significant effort to find dirt on Hillary Clinton, including her ‘deleted emails,’ even if that meant meeting with Russians. None of which is necessarily illegal.

…I believe Cambridge Analytica, at a minimum, knew their voter databases were ‘vulnerable’ to Russian hacking; or, worse, may have facilitated that transfer via servers located in Trump Tower and Russia’s Alfa and SVB Banks. [The New Republic’s Alex Shepard, however, provides compelling evidence that this probably did NOT happen.]

…I also believe Paul Manafort and Roger Stone are money-grubbing Beltway Bandit has-beens, proven by their known past to be devoid of integrity, and entirely capable of using their connections to Trump and Russian oligarchs for personal financial gain. They are pit vipers posing as human beings. The last two people a legitimate presidential campaign should bring aboard.

…and I swear, as it became clear on election night that Trump had won, I went onto my deck and could hear the Russians laughing at the stupidity and incompetence of the Obama administration and our two presidential candidates (Куча идиотов!).

Even if we take everything Clapper and other Obama administration officials have said as fact regarding spying on the Trump campaign, they need to account for they still allowed the Russians to not just meddle, but affect the final election outcome. [I have previously published evidence that the Trump campaign’s social media efforts, which had help from the Russians (knowingly or not), had a quantifiable impact on a significant percentage of voters. You can find my research here.]

That is my summary of the 2016 election. And everyone involved, from our two political parties to the partisan news media, is trying to cover their butts.

And, sadly, our journalists are not doing the job protected by our Founding Fathers when they wrote the Constitution. It is possible to believe the Russians meddled in the election, Donald Trump was unaware of this meddling, and the Obama administration spied on members of the Trump campaign. All three statement can be true. It would be nice if our journalist corps would press the current and former administrations for the truth.

Instead, today’s journalists are more likely to be telling us what their government handlers want us to hear instead of what we should hear.

Which is why I am always skeptical of corporate media. They’ve already misreported too many things in the Trump-Russia story for us to trust them now [Don’t believe me? You can find a list here].

Yes, the news media gets some things right. For example, I’m confident there is a volcano spewing lava in Hawaii right now.

There are still some good reporters out there, but many of them are trapped under the fetters of corporate media, motivated more by career advancement incentives than a healthy skepticism of ‘official sources.’

We would all be better served if we stopped accepting access journalism driven by anonymous government sources. For when we do, we are probably being played for fools.

We should demand independent, verifiable evidence. We should demand the truth.

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald calls these access journalists the ‘stenographers’ for our nation’s political and economic elites. You don’t have to like Greenwald to know he’s right.

But the truth will come out eventually about what really happened in the 2016 election…unless we stop demanding it and just accept Don Lemon’s advice.

  • K.R.K.

And for those of you that have made to the end of this essay, you are rewarded with the 2010 stereo remaster of John Lennon’s political rock masterpiece, “Gimme Some Truth.” Enjoy!

 

 

This is not going to end well for either side…

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; May 21, 2018)

When in American electoral history has the incumbent party’s administration launched a counterintelligence investigation against the opposition party’s presidential candidate?

Never. Until the 2016 election.

This past week’s revelation that the FBI used a secret informant to investigate whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had ties to the Russians is a defining moment in U.S. history. There is no precedent.

Presumably, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his investigative team will eventually present evidence to the U.S. Congress that will justify such an investigation. Former intelligence chief James Clapper is already priming the pump for the news media narrative that the Obama administration “spying” on the opposition party’s presidential campaign was the “right thing to do.”

Until the real story emerges (if ever), circumstantial evidence, baseless conjecture, and media-fueled hyperbole will be the news media’s primary currency while covering the Trump-Russia investigation.

Its worked for the media so far. Their ratings and profit margins have rarely been higher. So why stop now?

The following New York Times headline from May 19th regarding the FBI’s interference in the 2016 election says all you need to know about the elite bias of our nation’s most respected newspaper:

That headline is straight-up deceptive, frosted with layers of creamy dishonesty. The definitional nuance between “spying” and “using an informant to investigate” was likely dictated to the New York Times’ writers — Adam Goldman, Mark Mazzetti and Matthew Rosenberg— by their Department of Justice (DoJ) sources. And then there are the story’s opening paragraphs:

President Trump accused the F.B.I. on Friday, without evidence, of sending a spy to secretly infiltrate his 2016 campaign “for political purposes” even before the bureau had any inkling of the “phony Russia hoax.”

In fact, F.B.I. agents sent an informant to talk to two campaign advisers only after they received evidence that the pair had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign. The informant, an American academic who teaches in Britain, made contact late that summer with one campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, according to people familiar with the matter. He also met repeatedly in the ensuing months with the other aide, Carter Page, who was also under F.B.I. scrutiny for his ties to Russia

No independent, unbiased journalist writes opening paragraphs as convoluted as those without being told to.

“President Trump accused the F.B.I…without evidence, of sending a spy to secretly infiltrate his 2016 campaign…,” they write. And then in the next sentence(!) they provide the very evidence the president is referring to when he says his campaign was spied on.

If, after more than a year, we haven’t figured out President Trump doesn’t navigate complexity and nuance very well, then we haven’t been paying attention. The man has a working vocabulary of a fourth-grader. That is not an exaggeration. It has been measured…and he speaks at a fourth-grade level.

So, please, forgive President Trump if his interpretation of the F.B.I.’s admitted use of a secret informant to gather information from three campaign advisers comes out as: “They were spying on my campaign!”

The vast majority of Americans would come to the same conclusion if the FBI had done that to them.

In both cases, the “informant” or “spy” does not reveal their purpose (i.e., collecting intelligence) or their client (i.e., the FBI) to their targeted sources. But the distinction the DoJ and its publicity arm, The New York Times, are trying to sell is that “spying” would be if the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign itself; whereas, using an informant to investigate Russian election meddling is entirely different. To quote the late-Richard Pryor, “Only white people can come up with sh*t like that.”

Did George Papadopoulos really get this started?

There is some good reporting and news analysis going on with respect to the Trump-Russia investigation. My top-of-mind list includes The Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross, the National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy, The Wall Street Journals’ Shane Harris, Carol E. Lee and Kimberley Strassel, Politico’s David Stern, The Federalist’s Sean Davis, and The New York Time’s Michael Schmidt, among others.

All of the reporting agrees that on May 10, 2016, a drunken Papadopoulos boasted to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer that the Russians possessed thousands of stolen Hillary Clinton emails. It was this meeting, supposedly, that prompted the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation (‘Crossfire Hurricane’) into the Trump campaign on July 31st, according toThe New York Times.

But the Times’ own reporting leaves open the question as to when the Australians notified their American counterparts about the Papadopoulos drunken confession? The Times presumes Wikileaks’ publishing of the DNC emails in mid-July prompted the Australians to contact the FBI, but there is no concrete evidence offered by the Australians, the FBI, or anyone else that confirms this. All we have is the formal start date of the FBI counterintelligence investigation (July 31st).

Thanks to The Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross, we know the FBI planted an informant, Stefan Halper, a Cambridge professor with connections to the CIA and its British counterpart, MI6, close to the Trump campaign to investigate Russian election meddling. From Ross’s reporting, we know one of Halper’s earliest contacts with a Trump campaign adviser occurred when Halper met with Carter Page at a London symposium around July 11th.

Was Halper already an FBI informant at that point? If so, the original Papadopoulos-Downer meeting on May 10th was still unknown to the FBI, so how could that meeting have been so pivotal in the FBI’s decision to launch ‘Crossfire Hurricane’? The easiest and most obvious conclusion is that the Papadopoulos-Downer meeting wasn’t pivotal.

Is it possible, however, that the FBI’s interest in the Trump campaign predated even the Papadopoulos-Downer meeting? Consider that the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication, had hired Fusion GPS to collect intelligence on Trump in late 2015, and that contract was taken over by a Democratic National Committee-connected law firm in the Spring 2016.

The U.S. intelligence community (USIC), which includes the FBI, and its web of private contractors is surprisingly small and insular, particularly at the highest management levels. It should not surprise us if, in the coming months, we learn that the FBI knew of Fusion GPS’ efforts from the beginning, or at least after the contract was handed off to the Democrats.

After more than a year, what do we really know?

When considering all of the reporting done so far, an open-minded but always skeptical citizen could reasonably come to these conclusions about the Trump-Russia connection:

(1) Russian intelligence operatives targeted the Trump campaign no later than Spring 2016. It was at that time Professor Joseph Mifsud, suspected to have connections to Russian intelligence, told Papadopoulos that the Russians had thousands of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.

As an aside, Mifsud also introduced Papadopoulos to the woman who would become Papadopoulos’ fiancee (see photo below).

George Papadopoulos and his fiancee, Simona Mangiante

Yeah, I know what you are thinking. Russian intelligence may operate the world’s greatest dating service (if you are a single guy, at least).

(2) More likely, Russian intelligence started an intelligence operation against Donald Trump around the time of the Miss Universe Pageant held in Moscow in November 2013. It would be consistent with known Russian intelligence conventions for them to target wealthy American with a known interest at the time in running for president. If they didn’t, I would ashamed of them.

(3) There is nothing in Donald Trump’s known personal code of conduct that rules out the possibility of a ‘pee-pee tape’ from his November 2013 trip to Moscow. I’d bet my left arm there is one. There is also no reason to believe Trump’s supporters (and potential supporters) would abandon him if such a tape were to surface.

(4) The Russians pursued an aggressive, multi-faceted campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And their efforts were focused on two outcomes: (a) creating division within the American electorate (like both U.S. political parties aren’t doing that already!) and (b) helping to get Trump elected.

(5) Trump campaign operatives, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Carter Page, and, of course, George Papadopoulos, had verifiable connections to wealthy and politically-connected Russians. The Trump campaign was also decidedly aggressive in trying to find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.

None of that behavior is necessarily illegal, but these behaviors obviously opened each of them up to intelligence collection and manipulation by Russian intelligence. Were any of these Trump campaign operatives working “for” Russian intelligence? Highly unlikely (though Carter Page still seems a little odd to me).

(6) And, finally, Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. And did the Russian meddling make a difference? I encourage to read my quantitative analysis on that question, where I do find evidence that the Trump campaign’s digital efforts (which included work by Cambridge Analytica) were an important factor in solidifying Trump’s voter base, particularly voters that would have otherwise considered voting for Hillary Clinton.

So, that is what we know. What will happen next?

It will soon be Roger Stone’s time in the barrel

Media reports are emerging that Roger Stone is now the focus of the Mueller probe, at least until a Trump interview is arranged.

Stone’s uncanny ability to predict the release of the Wikileaks-published Podesta emails and his tendency to promote his important political contacts (e.g., Guccifer 2.0, Julian Assange, etc.) makes him hard to ignore, if you are Robert Mueller.

The truth about Stone and his contact with Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0, however, is not quite as damning as Trump’s opponents would prefer; or, at least, that was my takeaway after reading The Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand’s comprehensive rundown of Stone’s Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0 communications. Stone is a blowhard and serial exaggerator and it is hard to believe anything he says.

As a political science graduate student in the late 1980s, one of my first research projects was documenting the rise of a new generation of political consultants, many of whom were associated with the Ronald Reagan presidential campaigns of 1980 and 1984. Perhaps the most infamous was the firm, BMSK & Associates, started in 1980 by Charles Black, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone (and later joined by Peter Kelly and a young pit viper from South Carolina named Lee Atwater).

[Side note: Reagan’s pollster, Richard Wirthlin, was the real strategic genius in the Reagan campaigns]

Black, Manafort and Stone were infamous to political consultant-wannabes like myself because they were so ruthless and unconnected to common rules of decency…and they didn’t hide it. They helped their political clients win through raw intimidation. Sound familiar?

The firm established their dark side reputation early in their history by representing notoriously brutal dictators such as Mohamed Siad Barre (Somalia), Ferdinand Marcos (Philippines), Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaire) and Jonas Savimbi (Angola).

British journalist Richard Dowden wrote of Mobutu Sese Seko’s reign in Zaire: “The CIA helped bring Mobutu Sese Seko to power to stop the pro-Moscow Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. Protected physically by Israeli security guards and financially by Washington, Mobutu turned the country into his personal fiefdom, treating the national treasury as his own bank account.”

But Angola’s Jonas Savimbi was even more cringe-worthy. During the Reagan administration, Savimbi’s UNITA movement was fighting to overthrow the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which was supported by the Soviet Union (with manpower assistance from Cuba). But even ardent Communism fighters in Reagan’s State Department, like the Secretary of State, George Schultz, found Savimbi’s methods for maintaining discipline in his ranks to be unacceptable. Along with executions, torture and the disappearance of any internal rivals, Savimbi also tolerated public witch burnings.

Just an example of the types of clients BMSK & Associates specialized in serving.

It is hardly a coincidence that Roger Stone and Paul Manafort joined the Trump campaign when they had a chance. These were two old war horses, no longer considered relevant by a political consulting community that generally likes to discard its elders when young mavericks touting the newest campaign methods are available. Political campaigns are a young person’s game and Stone and Manafort were no longer relevant in 2016…until Donald Trump, having won a series of early primaries for the Republican nomination, needed a credible campaign organization as fast as possible.

So entered two of the oiliest, money-hawking bastards to every run a major presidential campaign.

Documenting that period in the Trump campaign, filmmakers Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, and Morgan Pehme released their documentary about Roger Stone, Get Me Roger Stone, to rave reviews for their unfiltered portrait of how Stone’s brand of dirty tricks defined the Trump campaign’s attitude.

As critical as I have been about the mainstream media’s frequently dishonest reporting of the Trump-Russia collusion story, there is no doubt Roger Stone and Paul Manafort are capable of such chicanery. But when one of the Get Me Roger Stone co-directors was recently asked on CNN if he believed Stone could have engineered the Trump-Russian collusion effort, he said, “Roger doesn’t have those kind of contacts in Russia.”

It is much more likely Stone was grasping for relevance in the 2016 election, using any connection he could conjure up to make him look important (and raise some cash).

How will this all end?

Regardless of the Mueller investigation’s final outcome, serious damage has been done to the American political system. This country will not be the same and neither political party and its staunchest partisans will emerge unscathed, to say nothing of the damage the news media has done to itself.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to pass President Trump’s request for an investigation to the Department of Justice’s Inspector General is just a polite way of Rosenstein telling the president to stick his request up his ass.

Inspector General offices are the B-teams of criminal investigations within the federal government. Conservative radio’s Mark Levin is right when he calls for a special counsel to investigate the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign. Unless that happens, nothing significant will happen.

Who ultimately will lose when Mueller wraps up his final report?

(1) Donald Trump is the obvious loser. Independent of whether or not his campaign colluded with the Russians, his presidency is permanently handicapped by the constant drone of a hostile media and D.C. political class (the “swamp” if you prefer) that will never accept him as president. Mueller will have done his duty to Democratic partisans if he can extend his investigation through the 2018 midterms.

However, unless Mueller can offer up a video of Trump taking orders from his Russian handlers, there is nothing that is likely to come from the Mueller investigation that will force Trump to resign or be removed from office.

(2) The news media is the next big loser. When Trump fades away (and he will), the news media will have lost their money tree and will, instead, be left with a public image so tarnished by their collective dishonesty that even Manhattan’s corporate liberals won’t have any patience left for Rachel Maddow’s meandering monologues to nowhere.

If you still live under the fiction that the news media is doing a good job covering the Trump administration, just read journalist Glenn Greenwald’s incomplete list of instances when the U.S. press corps screwed up in their coverage of Donald Trump in 2017 (you can find his list here.)

When I think of the American press’ love for its war on Trump, I am reminded of Lt. Col. George Custer’s famous quote about war:

“You ask me if I will not be glad when the last battle is fought, so far as the country is concerned I, of course, must wish for peace, and will be glad when the war is ended, but if I answer for myself alone, I must say that I shall regret to see the war end.” —Lt. Col. George Custer

(3) The third big loser is the Republican Party’s establishment, led by Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and the Bush family, who will all be culpable for their arrogant exploitation of their electoral base, working-class and evangelical Americans. For forty years, the Republicans ginned up religious, nationalist and ethnic fears in order to keep their base loyal; while, at the same time, pursued social, economic and military policies that ignored their interests. If you want to explain Donald Trump’s appeal, you start there.

(4) Finally, Barack Obama, and the corporatist Democrats that created him, will not be treated kindly by historians. History doesn’t reward whiners.

Barack Obama’s presidential legacy is in ashes; and, even if the Democrats take back control of the government in the next two and a half years (and I think they will), corporatist Democrats offer nothing substantive to think we are on the brink of a new, permanent Democratic majority. if you think Republican obstructionism was bad during the Obama years, wait and see what they’ll be like during the Kamala Harris administration.

I tire of Obama apologists bemoaning how little the Republicans worked with him during his eight years in office. Obama’s inability to work across the aisle was his failing, not the Republicans. If the U.S. had a parliamentarian system like the British, Obama would have been justifiably removed from office right after the midterm elections in 2010.

Hopefully, future presidents will reject the hubris of Obama’s famous brush-off of congressional Republicans when he told them soon after his 2008 victory that “elections have consequences.”

Yes, they do Mr. Obama. And everyone of those Republicans you insulted were elected too.

Will there be any good outcomes?

Hopefully, at least good outcome will arise from the Trump presidency. After four consecutive failed presidencies (Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama and Trump), it is time for Congress take back power usurped by the ever-creeping executive branch.

The days are hopefully over when a president can send Americans to war without congressional approval, enter international treaties without Senate approval, or re-write immigration policy on the whim of a presidential executive order.

Moreover, whether we call it the ‘deep state,’ ‘the permanent government,’ or just the mundane ‘federal bureaucracy,’ the unelected members of our executive branch have become too powerful and unaccountable. Our Founders established a democratic republic, but our democracy has evolved into a bureaucracy in service of oligarchs.

If, as a result of Trump’s time in office, the U.S. presidency were to once again be rendered a co-equal branch of government, a little Russian election meddling in 2016 was a small price to pay.

Please send cards and letters to: kroeger98@yahoo.com or kkroeger@nuqum.com

Climate Realism Rising

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, April 28, 2018)

No serious person can deny that global temperatures are warming (see chart below) and mankind is a major cause of this geologically recent trend.

Nonetheless, a real scientific debate continues in the climate science community regarding exactly how fast the globe is warming and exactly what is humankind’s contribution to that warming relative to natural variation. And with respect to the higher order impacts of global warming, such as rising sea levels, heat waves and tropical storm intensities, there is even more uncertainty, though most climate scientists agree sea levels will rise, heat waves will be more frequent, and tropical storms will be more intense, on average.

Source: Dr Roy Spencer

On one side of the debate is the vast majority of climate scientists who argue we will see global temperatures increase by at least 3.0°C over pre-industrial levels by 2100 with catastrophic results to the environment. I refer to them as climate alarmists as the term conveys the urgency they feel about the importance of converting the world economy to renewable energy sources as soon as possible.

On the other side of the argument is a small group of scientists that believe the forecast models are wrong and over-estimate the rate at which the earth is warming and under-estimate the role natural variation plays in the current warming trend. The obvious term for them may be ‘climate non-alarmists’ but I call them climate realists. They don’t deny the science, even as they question the panic mode endorsed by the climate alarmists.

Climate realists refuse to go away to the consternation of many in the climate science community. The reason revolves around the term: equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS). And if a recent climate study published in the Journal of Climate is an indication, its actual value is still uncertain.

The ECS estimate is a summary of the eventual warming of the planet’s surface from a doubling of CO2 once the world’s climate system has adjusted to the higher levels of CO2. Estimates of the ECS are important because they drive conclusions on whether the globe will experience catastrophic temperature increases by the end of the 21st century. If the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is correct, global temperatures will be 3.1°C higher than pre-industrial levels by 2100.

But a new study in the Journal of Climate is now suggesting the IPCC’s ECS estimate might be too high by a factor of two.

Dr. Judith Curry, a climate scientist and former Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Nicholas Lewis, a retired financier with a background in mathematics and physics, report in their study an ECS estimate of 1.66°C (5–95% uncertainty range: 1.15–2.7°C).

Why does their model not run as hot as IPCC global temperature models? They say for two reasons: their model (1) takes into account historical atmospheric and ocean temperature trends since the mid-19th century, and (2) draws on new findings since 1990 of how atmospheric ozone and aerosols are likely to affect global temperature trends.

Their critics, of which there are many, cite other reasons for their ‘less warm’ temperature forecasts.

Climate scientist Steven Sherwood, commenting on an earlier study by Lewis using a similar methodology to the Lewis and Curry 2018 paper, claims Lewis cherry-picks evidence and methodologies that “point toward lower sensitivity while ignoring all the evidence pointing to higher sensitivity.”

Dr. Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at NASA, has found in his research that studies based on observed warming (such as the recent low climate sensitivity study Lewis and Curry) have underestimated the sensitivity because they did not account for the greater response to aerosol forcing.In other words, Lewis and Curry’s temperature model is too simplified to make reliable forecasts.

There is another reason to be cautious of Lewis and Curry’s 2018 research finding of lower climate sensitivity to CO2.

“It’s particularly important not to fall victim to single study syndrome for this type of study,” contends Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist at a private environmental consulting firm in the Sacramento, California area. “It can be tempting to treat a new study as the be-all and end-all last word on a subject, but that’s generally not how science works. Each paper is incorporated into the body of scientific literature and given due weight.”

Dr. Malte Meinshausen, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and the University of Melbourne’s School of Earth Sciences, cautioned about over-interpreting lower estimates for climate sensitivity. If these lower ECS estimate are correct it “only results in a delay of less than a decade in the timing of when the 2°C threshold would be crossed,” according to Meinshausen.

Climate alarmists on a principled level believe the relationship between science and public policy demands greater weight be placed upon the research estimating higher levels of climate sensitivity.

“The policy should be about avoiding risk,” Meinshausen told The Guardian in 2014. “If we shift policies to a more relaxed approach and then find the higher estimates are more likely, then we have locked ourselves into a pathway of high fossil fuel use and eliminated our chance of staying below two degrees of global warming. We want a good chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change — not one that’s like guessing the toss of a coin.”

But Meinshausen’s viewpoint begs the larger question, why should scientists care about the risks of global warming to human beings? The earth doesn’t care if humans can live comfortably on it. The laws of nature didn’t require congressional approval or a social consensus before they took effect. So why do climate scientists need to consider “risks to humans” when talking about their models of the planet’s climate system? A scientist’s first task is to get the science right. To consider the human risks as they build the science is to introduce systematic bias into the process. Using science to justify dramatic public policy measures to counteract global warming brings it own set of risks:

  • Is it possible we could spend trillions, cause tremendous disruptions in the global economy, and still not impact the current global warming trend? (Curry says, “Yes.”)
  • Is it possible mankind’s current rapid conversion to renewable energy has already put us on a path to successfully mitigate and adjust to the higher order impacts of global warming? (That is an argument I summarize here)

The mainstream media’s oft-repeated exaggeration that the climate science is settled only hardens the partisan divide between the scientific community and defenders of the fossil fuel economy. And, besides, when is science ever settled? Einstein is still defending his theories of general relativity and special relativity.

Though a critic of Lewis and Curry’s research, one climate scientist acknowledges the climate science, particularly with respect to climate sensitivity measures, is not settled. “Climate sensitivity remains an uncertain quantity,” according to Professor Piers Forster of the University of Leeds, who published a study with Jonathan Gregory of the University of Reading in 2006 that gave an ECS estimate of 1.6°C for a doubling of CO2.

Morevoer, if Lewis and Curry’s ECS estimates were the lone outlier, their research would be easier to dismiss. But their estimates don’t stand alone. In the July 2017 issue of Nature Climate Changeclimatologists Thorsten Mauritsen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and Robert Pincus of the University of Colorado reported an ECS of 1.5°C (0.9–3.6°C, 5th–95th percentile).

And one of the original ‘climate realists,’ Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a colleague, Yong-Sang Choi of Ewha Womans University (Seoul, Korea) reported an ECS estimate around 1.5°C in their 2011 study.

As seen in the chart below, most recent model estimates of the ECS are around 3.0°C, twice that of Curry and Lewis (2018), Mauritsen and Pincus (2017), and Lindzen and Choi (2011). There is real variation in this chart that simply cannot be dismissed as the sole product of the global warming deniers.

Source: Australian Department of the Environment

At this juncture, the safer bet may be to assume the ECS estimates around 3.0°C are more accurate. However, scientific insurgencies must start somewhere and it is becoming increasingly untenable for climate change alarmists to ignore research suggesting the planet may not be warming as fast as once assumed.

In addition, the global warming hiatus between 1998 and 2015 remains at the center of the debate regarding the relative contribution of man-made sources of greenhouse gases and natural variation. If man is responsible for 100 percent of the global warming since 1950, as suggested by NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, how do we explain the pause without reference to natural variation? And can we assume natural variation cancels itself out over the long-run, as suggested by climate alarmists, leaving only anthropogenic factors as the cause of current global warming?

“Numerous recent research papers have highlighted the importance of natural variability associated with circulations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which is now believed to be the dominant cause of the (warming) hiatus,” Curry told the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology in 2015. “If the recent warming hiatus is caused by natural variability, then this raises the question as to what extent the warming between 1975 and 1998 can also be explained by natural climate variability.”

“Climate models do not simulate correctly the ocean heat transport and its variations,” said Curry.

In contrast to Meinshausen’s belief that government’s should err on the side of caution and promote dramatic measures to combat global warming, Curry takes a different approach:

“We should expand the frameworks for thinking about climate policy and provide policy makers with a wider choice of options in addressing the risks from climate change,” said Curry. “Pragmatic solutions based on efforts to accelerate energy innovation, build resilience to extreme weather, and pursue no regrets pollution reduction measures have justifications independent of their benefits for climate mitigation and adaptation.”

Lewis and Curry are not deniers of anthropogenic global warming. By including them in the three percent category of global warming deniers, the mainstream of the climate science community is doing their discipline a disservice.

While Lewis and Curry have undoubtedly accepted research monies from wealthy interests that do deny the realities of global warming, their climate research is credible enough to be published in peer-reviewed journals and wholly consistent with the consensus that humans have impacted the global climate through the production of greenhouse gases. Their heresy is that they believe the pace of this warming and the relative contribution of humans versus natural causes remain open questions.

They may be wrong. But criticism of their research should be solely driven by scientific considerations, and not by political agendas. Climatologist Michael Mann’s famously direct disrespect for a congressional committee’s inquiry into global warming in 2017 highlights the poisonous environment within which climate science now operates.

As Curry told a previous U.S House committee on climate science in 2015:

“ I am increasingly concerned that both the climate change problem and its solution have been vastly oversimplified. My research on understanding the dynamics of uncertainty at the climate science-policy interface has led me to question whether these dynamics are operating in a manner that is healthy for either the science or the policy process.”

Bill Ritter, Jr., a professor at Colorado State University and director of the Center for the New Energy Economy, recently suggested the controversies in the climate science are increasingly becoming irrelevant as market forces have moved decisively towards converting the U.S. to a clean energy economy.

“Today, renewable energy resources like wind and solar power are so affordable that they’re driving coal production and coal-fired generation out of business. Lower-cost natural gas is helping, too,” writes Ritter. “And, despite the Trump administration’s support of coal, a recent survey of industry leaders shows that utilities are not changing their plans significantly.”

Climate alarmists can be largely thanked for the positive trends in renewable energy.

Assuming utilities continue in their efforts to convert from fossil fuels to renewables, climate scientists should find it easier to free themselves from the partisan squabbles that presently loom over their research and, instead, return to what Thomas Kuhn called “normal science,” where the regular work of scientists is in theorizing, observing, and experimenting within a settled paradigm or explanatory framework.

The fact that research by climate realists such as Lewis and Curry is now regularly appearing in peer-reviewed scientific journals is evidence that “normal science” is returning to the climate science community.

The better news is, in twenty or thirty years, we will know who got the climate science right and who didn’t. That’s how science should work.

K.R.K.

{Send comments to: kkroeger@nuqum.com}

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

This is what the run-up to a regime change war feels like

By Kent Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, April 12, 2018)

 

As inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) prepare to go to Syria to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Syrian city of Douma, the U.S. and its allies are sending mixed messages on what should be the proper response to the chemical attack which left a reported 70 people dead and 500 more injured.

French President Emmanuel Macron says he has proof the Syrian government used chemical weapons in Douma, though nothing has yet been released to the public. At the same time, he insists any response to that attack on civilians must not escalate the Syrian conflict. British PM Theresa May has been similarly conflicted and non-committal on what the proper response should be.

As typical, German chancellor Angela Merkel has been more decisive, ruling out any German participation in any military action in Syria, and emphasizing instead the importance of unity among Western allies.

For his part, U.S. President Donald Trump remains characteristically vague and contradictory about any U.S. response, saying it “could be very soon or not so soon at all.”

As this is happening in the Western capitals, the OPCW announced on Tuesday its plan to investigate the Douma incident: “The OPCW Technical Secretariat has requested the Syrian Arab Republic to make the necessary arrangements for such a deployment. This has coincided with a request from the Syrian Arab Republic and the Russian Federation to investigate the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma. The team is preparing to deploy to Syria shortly.”

 

Where is this all heading?

The Russian Defense Ministry says Russia will target any U.S. missiles from their launch point, which is likely to be either the U.S.S. Donald Cook or U.S.S. Porter, two U.S. Navy destroyers already in the Mediterranean.

Andrei Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, a state-backed think-tank in Moscow, says a military strike against Syria will only escalate U.S. and Russian tensions while doing little to change the trajectory of the conflict. More ominously, he believes a wider Middle East war is possible if such a retaliatory attack occurs.

“I don’t want to sound apocalyptic — we are not there yet. But we are moving in that direction,” he said earlier in the week.

The U.S. is beyond just ‘moving’ in that direction. In January, the Trump administration decided to permanently separate northeast Syria from the rest of Syria with the intent of keeping Iranian influence out of Syria and keeping the U.S. relevant when a final Syrian settlement is negotiated.

The U.S. plan to train the Syrian Border Security Force (BSF), which will be primarily composed of Kurdish fighters along the Syrian-Turkey border, has already aggravated Turkey, which is engaged in its own internal conflict with Kurdish terrorist groups, such as the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Should the Trump administration decide to turn its occupation of northeast Syria into a regime change war, the U.S. will need far more than the 2,000 troops already in place in northeast Syria.

But, as we’ve seen from previous U.S. invasions in the Middle East, troop numbers can escalate rapidly once the president gives the order.

From late October 2002, when the U.S. Congress approved military action in Iraq (Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002), the U.S. and its allies had 125,000 in Kuwait by mid-March 2003 and would add 100,000 more by late April.

As with the Iraq War in 2003, when the George W. Bush administration accelerated its “marketing campaign” in September 2002 to sell the idea of an Iraq invasion to the American public, the first indication of the Trump administration’s intent to invade Syria may come from the U.S. news media.

Prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion, The New York Times’ Judith Miller penned the first of many disastrously inaccurate stories about Saddam Hussein’s alleged WMD program in December 2001, in what became a coordinated war dance by the national news media by the end of 2002.

We may be seeing this same dynamic starting again, evidenced by the U.S. news media’s coverage of the Douma attack which has been peppered with often blustery calls for the Trump administration to escalate the American military role in Syria.

MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell (April 8, 2018): “Trump has to take action. What he ought to do is a coordinated action. There has to be a comprehensive response (to the Douma attack).”

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (April 8, 2018): “As Trump leaves (Syria) to fight his imaginary border war, he’s leaving the real war where we could make a difference and he’s turning it over to Assad and Iran and ISIS. This is something Barack Obama wouldn’t even do if confronted with these set of facts.”

National Review editorial board (April 11, 2018): “We should get an authorization from Congress for using force in Syria rather than stretching Bush-era authorizations to justify red-line strikes and other operations in the country. One way or the other, the missiles are going to fly. What remains to be seen is if this the beginning of a more robust Syria strategy or a substitute for one.”

The New York Times editorial board (April 11, 2018): “What to do next in Syria is a crucial test for Mr. Trump, who has shirked America’s traditional leadership role. He has tried to seem like a macho leader who would aggressively use American power where President Barack Obama wouldn’t, while talking about pulling out of the Middle East and walking away from international commitments. With such inconstancy, he will not be able to stop the violence in Syria, and with no clear, unified plan with the Western allies, he will only empower Mr. Assad.

The New York Times is all but calling Trump a ‘chicken’ and doing the obligatory wing flap and cackle.

This kabuki dance the U.S. news media does prior to every new U.S.-led war is predictable. The media, for its part, is in the business of attracting audiences and wars do exactly that.

Hopefully, this isn’t the run-up to a much larger U.S. commitment in the Syrian conflict.

I fear, however, it is.

K.R.K.

Climate realists drive U.S. energy policy: Will they do enough?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, October 5, 2017)

{Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

The alarmists and deniers dominate the climate change debate on the cable news networks, but neither dominate U.S. energy policy.

Climate realists are driving American energy policy and there is little reason to think the Trump administration can reverse the climate change initiatives already in place.

Today’s federal court ruling upholding the Obama-era EPA methane rules punctuates this fact.

Who are the climate realists? They are the forces driving the rise of natural gas for electricity generation concurrently with the development of renewable sources such as wind and solar. They include industry executives in the oil and gas sector, Wall Street investors, environmentalists, government bureaucrats, the courts and the major congressional committees overseeing our nation’s energy policies.

Are the climate realists just another arm of the Deep State? Perhaps. Whoever they are, they are not hindered by our nation’s hyper-partisanship. Instead, a massive realignment of our nation’s energy production and consumption mix is well underway and not even President Trump and EPA Chief Scott Pruitt can stop it.

Since 2000, the U.S. has restructured the nation’s electricity generation mix away from coal and towards cleaner energy sources, such as natural gas and renewables.

Primary Electricity Net Generation in U.S. from 1949 to 2016 (Billion kilowatt hours)
Data source: U.S. Energy Information Agency (July 2017)

Coal peaked at 2 trillion kilowatt hours in 2008 and has been in decline ever since; whereas, natural gas has been rising as a source of electricity generation since the late 1980s. Today, coal and natural gas each account for 33 percent of total U.S. electricity generation.

As for renewable energy sources, no politician receives less credit than George W. Bush for pushing the advance of green energy. As the governor of Texas, Bush signed legislation that created a renewable electricity mandate so that today Texas leads the nation in wind generating capacity.

President George W. Bush more than once pushed Congress to extend the production tax credits for renewable energy sources, particularly wind power. Bush’s policies had the tangible result of increasing renewable energy’s share in U.S. electricity generation from 10 percent in the early 2000s to about 15 percent in 2016.

According to U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) forecasts, by 2050, renewable energy sources will account for about 30 percent of U.S. electricity generation, putting it behind only natural gas (40%) as the largest contributor. Coal will account for around 17 percent.

Data source: EIA (May 2017)

A number of assumptions underlie the EIA U.S. energy forecasts, one of them being the continued implementation of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which is already under threat from the Trump Administration’s executive order in March telling the EPA to kill it.

Easier said than done. Since the CPP has already gone through the full federal rulemaking process, ending it will require a similarly laborious process. As of today, the CPP still stands, if only barely, and the federal judge hearing the opposition to the CPP by 27 states — including EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma — has ruled that the Trump administration must offer its new course of action in lieu of the CPP by October 6th.

To CPP advocates, the endless mélange of arcane legal procedures and bureaucratic stodginess may appear impenetrable, but this is what happens when the federal executive and legislative branches stop working together and economic policy is implemented through executive fiat. Throw into this political mosh pit over half of the state attorney generals trying to kill the CPP and it is fair to ask, what chance does the country have at changing its national energy policies on a scale that can possibly address climate change?

It turns out,  the chances are looking pretty good — though three more years (at least) of the Trump administration is likely to sap some of that optimism.

THE U.S. IS RAPIDLY CONVERTING TO A CLEAN(ER) ENERGY ECONOMY

The major trends are undeniable. Coal is rapidly being replaced by natural gas and renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric) as the primary sources of U.S. electricity production. Recent increases in coal electricity production in 2017 are not likely to change these trends as many coal energy plants are scheduled to be shutdown over the next decade.

Along with the decline of coal, there are four other macro trends that will drive U.S. energy production and consumption over the next 30 years:

  1. Natural gas will continue as a stop gap energy source until renewables  become more cost effective and reliable.
  2. Cost decreases in renewable energy generation will continue and spur its future growth
  3. While renewable energy will continue to grow, it will not be fast enough to see the effective end of fossil fuels by 2050 (as required by the Paris Accords) unless major efficiency improvements occur in energy production and use.
  4. The U.S. will not see nuclear power playing a significant role in replacing fossil fuels (but that will not the case in China and India).

How did this all happen? Our elected leaders notwithstanding, the other players in the making U.S. energy policy (Big Oil and Gas companies, federal bureaucrats, regulators, the environmental lobby, and public opinion) have opted for a realist view of global warming.

When the Trump administration decided unilaterally to relax the regulatory requirements for limiting the escape of methane gas during the natural gas extraction process, the environmental lobby weighed in, but did so without undercutting the importance of natural gas in addressing climate change.

“(The Trump administration) listened to a few industry players eager to cut costs and to maximize profits in the short-term, while shirking their responsibility to help America’s booming natural gas industry stay competitive for decades to come,” said Ben Ratner, Director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Corporate Partnership’s Program.”States such as Colorado show that methane leaks, can, in fact, be managed cost-effectively and without harming production.’

So who are the Big Oil and Gas industry players like Exxon-Mobil siding with on this issue? The EDF and the climate change lobby, of course.

What?

“The major multinational oil and gas producers like ExxonMobil and Shell have said they are already following methane pollution rules finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year (2016),” says Jon Goldstein, Director for Regulatory and Legislative Affairs at EDF. ‘Better to anticipate future compliance issues today and bake them into your forward planning, than to be caught flatfooted tomorrow.”

That is climate realism as practiced by Big Oil and Gas.

Popular culture views oil executives as derivative forms of Dallas‘ J.R. Ewing. In reality, they are often Ivy League educated business managers with the education and experience  to know that risk must always be managed, not ignored. The geologic and political realities underlying fossil fuels leave just one outcome. Fossil fuels will not be the dominant energy source by the end of this century.

As regressive as the Trump administration has been on climate change policy, there is little they can do to change the global trends. Recent increases in coal electricity generation is illusory. Coal is dead. Instead, the central question facing U.S. policymakers is the extent to which natural gas extraction — including the use of fracking — is going to continue. When does natural gas stop being a stop-gap measure?

Even the most alarmist environmental lobby groups recognize that natural gas has driven the recent reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. But what divides them from climate realists is their long-term view of natural gas. The alarmists will not accept an energy source (natural gas) that is only 50 percent cleaner in its greenhouse gas emissions than coal.

Climate realists, in contrast, consider the economic risks and disruption associated with a crash program to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. And economists are quick to point out that recent public and private investments in clean energy have been full of fits and starts. Forbes reported in June that “new investment in clean energy fell to $287.5 billion in 2016, 18 percent lower than the record investment of $348.5 billion in 2015 and 9 percent lower than the $315 billion invested in 2014.”

Climate realists want the trends to be in the right direction, while the alarmists want a worldwide “Man on the Moon”-like resolve to see the practical elimination of fossil fuels by 2050.

This is what divides climate alarmists from realists and it represents a mighty big chasm. The good news is that both groups agree (for the most part) on the basic science behind global warming.

ALARMISTS AND REALISTS AGREE: THE EARTH IS WARMING AND HUMANS ARE TO BLAME

Let’s immediately dispense with the scientific nonsense promulgated by those who claim the science is still unsettled. Yes, of course, some aspects of the science is unsettled. But here is what the climatologists are telling us:

The planet’s recent warming is due largely to human activities. This additional warming is not due to natural variation. It is due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases (particularly CO2) in the atmosphere.

Here is a fun little graphic from SkepticalScience.com contrasting the two contradictory views on global warming:

Even many hardcore climate change skeptics (like myself) are moved by the growing empirical evidence.

Climate skeptics are not swayed by peer pressure, which invites bias and herd mentalities. And don’t bother them with the ’97 percent of climatologists’ agree argument. That figure was basically pulled out of Harvard researcher Naomi Oreskes’ ass 17 years ago. Only recently has a meta-analysis of published research found some credence in that ’97 percent’ figure — but only after researchers ignored the majority of climate change research papers that did not take any stand regarding global warming.

Science isn’t a democracy and facts are determined by vote counts. I’m sure at some point 97 percent of physicists ascribed to the Steady State Theory of the Universe. Scientists can get things really wrong sometimes.

Instead, only evidence matters and it has been unequivocal on global warming.

Even under the new administration, NASA’s offers a convincing summary of the data evidence behind the conclusion that recent global warming is anthropogenic (human-caused):

Figure 1:  GLOBAL LAND-OCEAN TEMPERATURE INDEX
Data source: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). Credit: NASA/GISS

However, the most compelling evidence was offered in 1990, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its first forecast for global temperatures. It was impossible to know at the time, but the report’s forecast for global temperatures was relatively accurate, despite being based on a simple statistical model driven primarily by the increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The 1990 IPCC report forecast an increase global temperatures between 0.10 to 0.35°C per decade. In actuality, global temperatures have risen 0.15°C per decade since the 1st IPCC forecast.

“The IPCC models do an impressive job accurately representing and projecting changes in the global climate, contrary to contrarian claims,” says science writer Dana Nuccitelli. “In fact, the IPCC global surface warming projections have performed much better than predictions made by climate contrarians.”

Figure 2:  SUMMARY OF IPCC REPORT FORECASTS
Source: IPCC AR5. Solid lines and squares represent measured average global surface temperature changes by NASA (blue), NOAA (yellow), and the UK Hadley Centre (green). The colored shading shows the projected range of surface warming in the IPCC First Assessment Report (FAR; yellow), Second (SAR; green), Third (TAR; blue), and Fourth (AR4; red).

‘Impressive’ may be an over-statement as the 1st IPCC Assessment Report (yellow shaded region in the above graph) over-estimated global warming; however, the 3rd and 4th IPCC projections were better. That is to be expected. Over time, the models should be better.

Global temperatures are rising. And by using ice core data to model climate dynamics over long periods of geologic time, the evidence also supports the connection between rising global temperatures and the increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

What is the exact sensitivity of global temperatures to greenhouse gas concentrations?That’s a complicated question well beyond my background, so I will let the climate scientists debate over the answer. For the hopelessly curious, the Skeptical Scientist website offers a layman-friendly discussion of this complex issue: HERE. [My personal fear is that climate scientists exaggerate humankind’s ability to modulate global temperatures through the manipulation of greenhouse gas emissions alone.]

HOW CAN WE MAKE PUBLIC POLICY AROUND GLOBAL WARMING WHEN THERE IS SO MUCH SCIENTIFIC UNCERTAINTY?

One reason we see variations in the global temperature forecast models is that the scientific groups making the forecasts use different specifications and parameterizations of this temperature/greenhouse gases relationship.

Here is the good news: Eventually, climate scientists will determine which models best predict global temperatures…but it will take time…measured in years. But the best models will reveal themselves, that is certain.

In the meantime, does the world have the luxury to wait for the perfect answer. Sometimes (maybe always?) policymakers are forced to work with the 80 percent solution.

We all know the phrase — ‘better being the enemy of the good’ — popularized by Voltaire. But I like John Lennon’s version. When asked by a journalist when he knew if a song he was writing was finished, Lennon replied, “I stop writing when the song is good enough.”

The climate models are far from perfect, but they are good enough to make substantive policy decisions. The problem for climate alarmists however is that those policy decisions may not go far enough for them.

Policy making in a pluralist democracy like ours is driven by a multiplicity of relatively small and autonomous groups. Despite what Bernie Sanders says, no single group of elites dominate our policy process.

Thus, scientists are not empowered to dictate public policy on climate change but must instead fight it out with other political factions and organized interests. Madison, Jay and Hamilton envisioned our system to work that way for good reason.

The structure of our political system has profound implications on policy making. It encourages small changes over large, dramatic changes in policy.

Political scientist Charles Lindblom described the incrementalist predisposition of American policy making in his famous 1959 essay, “The Science of Muddling Through.” Since incrementalism failed to explain large policy shifts, however, Lindblom’s original model was supplanted by the punctuated equilibrium model of policy making which says major policy changes will occur over brief periods of time, followed by longer periods of incremental policy changes.

How the world addresses climate change is the ultimate policy model case study.

THE CHOICE: INCREMENTALIST ACTION VERSUS DRAMATIC POLICY SHIFTS

Collectively, the world has three possible policy approaches to climate change. They are: (1) Do nothing or the ‘wait and see’ approach (Deniers), (2) Incremental decisions as events demand (Realists), or (3) Dramatic policy shifts now in anticipation of the future (Alarmists).

All three approaches have strengths and weaknesses:

Policy ModelStrengthsWeaknesses
Wait and SeeShort-term costs are minimal; policy flexibility (in the short-term, at least)If worst-case scenarios occur, policy flexibility reduced; overall costs extremely high
IncrementalismModest costs in short-term; hedges fiscal bets in case worst-case scenarios don't materialize; maximum policy flexibilityInadequate policy responses in short-term may exacerbate problems in the long-term; high long-term costs under worst-case scenarios
Dramatic Policy ShiftsLower overall costs if worst-case scenarios prove correctHigh costs in short-term; if initial policies inappropriate to the problem, long-term costs at fiscal bankruptcy levels.

As to which policy is adopted will be partially driven by political leaders’ level of confidence in the empirical data. Alarmists accept the scientific evidence as irrefutable and deterministic. There is no need for political debate. Deniers reject the evidence as flawed and driven more by partisan agendas. And realists see the empirical data as credible but probabilistic.

Scientists do not make the policy decisions. That is not their domain of expertise. Policy making is the domain of the political class.

Unfortunately, that’s where the climate change debate becomes contentious. Throw in a healthy serving of Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt (with a dash of Rick Perry), and the debate is dysfunctional.

We can ignore the deniers as their policy goal is the simplest of all — do nothing. However, as already shown, the world’s energy production and consumption has already changed in significant ways and the deniers long ago lost control of policy making process. They are nearly irrelevant (even though control the U.S. executive branch right now).

The other two climate groups are relevant.

Climate alarmists see climate change in binary terms — it is “zero net emissions” soon after 2050 or global calamity. There is no middle solution or outcome. This deterministic view of the world — as in, “I know for fact this is going to happen” — places little value on negotiation and compromise. Climate realists, in contrast, are all about negotiation and compromise.

CLIMATE REALISTS ARE RISK AVERSE BY TRAINING AND EXPERIENCE

Climate realists are creatures of the existing policy making system. They see the world through a lens of probabilistic events where there is always a chance that even the most likely events fail to materialize. Furthermore, in the context of large structural budget deficits within the public sector, climate realists incorporate risk assessments into the policy mix which further discourages dramatic policy shifts.

Climate realists bring a healthy skepticism of the science yet are sensitive to its implications. This more sophisticated understanding of the intersection of science and policy place the realists in a better position to dominate U.S. energy and environmental policy.

CLIMATE ALARMISTS WANT TO IMPLEMENT AN ECONOMIC SHIFT AT A SPEED UNPARALLELED IN HUMAN HISTORY

Climate alarmists desire to end the fossil fuel industry within the next 30 years. In other words, divert $33 trillion of capital and assets from one industry to another.

Good luck.

This plan typically includes a carbon tax system (or some equivalent) that would divert around $3 trillion annually from the fossil fuel economy to government entities. These revenues would be diverted into investments in materials and energy efficiency, renewable energy capacity, and the infrastructure necessary to accommodate a 100 percent renewable energy economy.

Alarmists will quickly note that the $3 trillion annual tax levy would ultimately save more money than it raises. Ecofys estimated the savings around $6 trillion per year by 2050.

It’s a big bet. Nothing like it has ever been attempted in human history.

What if global warming comes in at the low-end of the forecasts? The models by design suggest the real possibility.

What if the higher order effects — such as tropical storm intensities, coastal and river flooding, drought frequency, etc. — do not reach levels predicted by the climate models?

What if relatively small investments in improved building materials, better building codes, and smarter zoning and development laws are fiscally more effective than a $3 trillion annual transfer of wealth to the public sector and the nascent clean energy industry.

For the alarmists to achieve a 100 percent renewable energy economy around 2050, a punctuated equilibrium policy change may not be enough. It may require something more revolutionary and disruptive.

Luckily, the climate realists will be pumping brakes on any attempt by the alarmists to change public policy on such a scale.

CLIMATE ALARMISTS GAVE US THE PARIS ACCORDS, BUT THE REALISTS WILL IMPLEMENT IT

The Paris Accords set an aggressive global goal to have net zero carbon emissions early in the second half of this century. The difference in global temperatures between ‘low carbon emissions’ (blue shaded region) and the status quo (red shaded region) is significant:

If the world keeps energy policies at the status quo, by 2100, global temperatures will rise by 4 °C over 2005 temperatures. If we reach near zero net carbon emissions by 2050 (or soon after), global temperatures will rise only 1 °C over 2005 temperatures.

Of course, these predictions assume the global warming models are accurate. Alarmists assume humans can turn down the global thermostat and the globe will dutifully respond. The comedian George Carlin has a nice bit about this noxious type of hubris: It is just another arrogant attempt by humans to control mother nature.

But let’s play along with the idea that we can control global temperatures like the thermostats we use to control our homes’ temperatures. The only chance it happens is if we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero in a relatively short period of time. [Some scientists fear it may already be too late to prevent the globe’s temperatures from exceeding 2 °C over pre-industrial temperatures.]

From a policy perspective, getting to Paris Accords’ zero net carbon emissions target is problematic given current global reliance on coal and natural gas energy production and existing plans to build new coal and natural power plant.

Forecasts on the mix of energy sources in 2050, not surprisingly, vary significantly depending on what group is making the forecasts.

The following forecasts illustrate this variance.

A PLAN TO GET TO ZERO EMISSIONS BY 2050 (or soon after)

Energy consulting firm Ecofys produced a report in 2011 demonstrating the plausibility of ‘net zero emissions’ by 2050. In their forecast model, half of the ‘net zero emissions’ goal is met by reducing energy demand through increased energy efficiency, and the remaining part of the goal is met by the substitution of traditional energy sources with renewable sources (see chart below).

Ecofys’s forecast is aggressive and predicated on a number of strong assumptions and stretch goals, including:

  • Global energy demand in 2050 will be 15 percent lower than in 2005, despite a growing population and continued economic development in countries like India and China.
  • Create buildings that require almost no conventional energy for heating or cooling and have all new buildings meet this standard by 2030.
  • High growth rates in solar energy production will continue or decline only slightly
  • Growth rates in wind power will also continue so that it will provide one-quarter of the world’s electricity needs by 2050.
  • Scientific and technology breakthroughs will continue to lower the cost and raise the efficiency of renewable energy sources, energy conservation technologies, and energy (battery) storage capabilities.
  • And, finally, the world will collectively accept a carbon tax and levy system that will help raise the money necessary to invest in the other energy goals and milestones.

Not one of these assumptions are likely to hold, much less all of them.

Fueled by economic and population growth, total global energy demand will rise about 33 percent between now and 2050, according to the EIA, and most of this increase will come from outside the U.S. and Europe. To predicate a zero emissions plan on the expectation that American and European policy makers are going to influence domestic energy policies in China and India enough to lower their overall energy demand in 2050 from today’s levels (or 2005!) is laughable.

The safest assumption from the Ecofys plan is that renewables will continue to grow rapidly. British Petroluem’s 2017 Statistical Review of World Energy found that renewable power (excluding hydro power) grew by 14.1 percent in 2016 — which is below the 10-year average, but still robust.

The most promising Ecofys assumption is in solar energy, which recently has seen exponential growth rates. In 2016, there was a 50 percent increase in the amount of new solar power worldwide, bringing its contribution to total worldwide electricity generation to around 1.3 percent.

But Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance Outlook for 2017 is predicting this fast growth in solar power will soon slow down. Luckily for the solar energy industry, the pessimistic predictions on solar’s growth by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and business forecasters like Bloomberg have been notoriously wrong in the past. Of all of the Ecofys zero emissions plan assumptions, continued solar energy growth may be the most likely to materialize.

Where some pieces of the Ecofys zero emissions plan have merit, on the whole, it too dependent on optimism and good intentions. Using the Ecofys plan to represent the ‘zero emissions by 2050’ goal may seem like a straw man argument, but to Ecofys’ credit, the core elements of their forecast includes all of the factors that will need to align in order for the zero emissions goal to be met.

In fairness, Ecofys has removed their 2011 plan for zero emissions from their website, but the assumptions and milestones in the plan are still indicative of the massive challenge the world faces in achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions soon after 2050.

THE FUTURE IS 100% RENEWABLE ENERGY, BUT YOU WON’T BE AROUND TO SEE IT (AND MAYBE NOT YOUR KIDS, EITHER).

The following global energy forecast was published on the website PeakOil.com and is more indicative of the climate realist perspective and shows us why zero emissions is a challenging goal unlikely to occur anywhere near 2050.

Fossil fuel geeks should be familiar with the Hubbert Linearization method for estimating the level of recoverable natural resources under existing technology, economics, and geopolitical trends. Historically, the Hubbert method has typically underestimated the amount of recoverable oil, gas and coal left in the ground. To mitigate this bias, the PeakOil.com forecast is adjusted using EIA’s official projections on world oil and natural gas production from 2016 to 2040.

Their resulting forecast on world carbon dioxide emissions through 2100 makes the idea of a zero carbon emissions planet seem unattainable, in this century at least.

The good news: these forecasts are products of smart people doing a lot of guesswork. On one level, the idea that carbon emissions will peak around 2030 seems plausible given that we are already deep into 2017 and carbon emissions continue to rise with the growth of the world economy.

Where the PeakOil.com forecast may go wrong is on the downside of the fossil fuel life cycle. If renewables become significantly more cost effective than fossil fuels, the move away from fossil fuels will be much more dramatic than what the above graph shows.

That is the optimist in me speaking.

Significant issues remain ahead for renewables however. The biggest is the cost of solar and wind intermittency.

As University of Houston Lecturer and Energy Fellow Earl J. Ritchie warns, “The continuing decrease in wind and solar costs is a very positive development. However, this trend may reverse as the percentage of variable renewable energy (VRE)  energy that isn’t available on-demand but only at specific times, such as when the wind is blowing – reaches high levels.”

At that point, integration costs become more of a factor in the overall cost of renewable energy.

“When variable sources are a small fraction of electricity supply, the cost of integration is low,” says Ritchie. But when these variable sources become a significant fraction, renewable energy costs can increase. Evidence of this can already be seen in Germany, where wind and solar are heavily integrated into the national power grid.

At what fraction do these costs become significant? It depends.

One study using data from Germany and Indiana found integration costs began to become significant when renewables reached 20 percent of total energy generation. As of 2015, only four countries had variable renewable energy over 20 percent. But that number will rise rapidly in the next 10 years.

THE ABSENCE OF NUCLEAR POWER IN THEIR FUTURE ENERGY MIX SUGGESTS ENVIRONMENTALISTS ARE NOT AS SERIOUS ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE AS THEY PRETEND

There is one more aspect of the climate change movement that is puzzling. Where is nuclear energy in all of the scenarios where the planet reaches zero carbon emissions?

The task is daunting enough, why make it harder?

Ideological environmentalists need to take off their ideological blinders and accept that the quickest, most direct path to zero carbon emissions is with significant growth in nuclear energy. If safety or nuclear proliferation concerns keep them from signing on to new nuclear power plants, they need to update their information because molten salt (thorium) nuclear reactors may address both of those concerns while maintaining the low carbon emissions aspect of nuclear energy.

Why weren’t molten salt reactors developed sooner? Because countries with the resources to develop peaceful nuclear power also wanted the ability to retool quickly and develop a nuclear weapons program, which the uranium reactors made easier.

Nuclear power is not intermittent like solar and wind. That is a significant advantage. Furthermore, China, India, Brazil, Argentina, and many other large, growing countries are embracing nuclear power on a level to match what the French have already achieved.

Nuclear power plants generate 75 percent of France’s electricity, though that level may fall to 50 percent by 2025 as other renewable energy sources come online. As of today, France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity due to the very low cost of nuclear power.

Without nuclear power out of the mix, the ideological environmental lobby is making the goal of zero carbon emissions even more unreachable.

NOW WHAT? ADAPT OR DIE.

The major energy sources that work 24 hours-a-day, 365 days-a-year are coal, natural gas, geothermal, hydroelectric (droughts not withstanding), and nuclear.

Renewable energy is still a supplemental source of power. Without fundamental advancements in energy storage technologies, countries will still need continuous power sources on cloudy and windless days.

And this essay hasn’t even touched transportation.

Throw in combustion engine automobiles likely to be in use in 2050 and the belief that this world can be anywhere close to ‘zero net carbon emissions’ anywhere near 2050 is fantasy.

This means global temperatures are going to come in somewhere in between the ‘status quo’ and ‘zero net emissions’ scenarios. In other words, by 2100, global temperatures may be close to 3 °C above pre-industrial temperature levels. At that level of global warming arrives increases in ice sheet melting and the impact of the slow climate feedback mechanisms which may push the warming to 6 °C above pre-industrial levels, regardless of any carbon emissions reductions that occur after we hit the 3 °C milestone.

At 6 °C above pre-industrial levels, our descendants will be seriously pissed at us for failing to do more to slow global warming.

We may already be witnessing the impact of global warming on tropical storms and flooding in the U.S. Again, that is a question difficult for science to answer definitively. There is not enough data yet. The empirical evidence says we have not seen a perceivable increase in the number or intensity of tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean — even with Harvey, Irma and Maria included in the dataset.

However, that finding could change in a short period of time. Another year or two like 2017 in the Atlantic and the ‘no impact on tropical storms’ argument gets sent to the scientific dustbin.

On the positive side, if Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are a precursor of the new normal, we have gained some insight on the financial risk global warming poses to the U.S. and other countries exposed to coastal flooding and hurricanes in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

Puerto Rico will rebuild. The goal should be to ensure that all new construction on the island will pass rigorous building standards designed to survive Category 5 hurricanes. Puerto Rico can be the leading edge of a new urban planning philosophy for coastlines that addresses the realities of the global warming age.

The damages to residences of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico are tragic. But they are also manageable, particularly if our governments start developing concrete plans to help people migrate from at-risk areas and to improve building and zoning codes to minimize future weather-related risks.

What we don’t need to do is crush the world economy with a crash program of getting to ‘zero net emissions’ by 2050. At this point, such a goal is a castle in the sky built by climate change alarmists that have little to risk and much to gain by scaring policy makers into potentially counter-productive government interventions in the private economy.

Don’t compound the original mistake of recklessly burning fossil fuels in serving economic growth by embarking on an equally reckless path.

The Paris Accord targets were never going to be met. Any time you get that many countries to agree on something, you know it has to be more illusion than substance. Countries were willing to sign on to the Accords because it asked of its signers very little additional sacrifice beyond what they were already doing or planning on doing.

Global warming is real. Humans caused it. And there is a warming threshold (~ 3 °C) that we must avoid. And now we must pursue a series of policies that will adapt to this reality and hopefully mitigate most of global warming’s worst consequences.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

Global warming is real and we are preparing for it (mostly)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, September 12,2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

Along with death and taxes, we should add this: Houston floods and Florida gets hit by hurricanes.

Journalist Daphne Thomspson understands what frequently happens when you build a large metropolitan area on a Texas bayou:  “Founded in 1836, where the Buffalo Bayou met White Oak Bayou, Houston has faced many floods,” she writes.

As Thompson further notes, “In 1929, the Buffalo and White Oak Bayous both left their banks after a foot of rain fell. Downtown (Houston) suffered massive damage. Property damage was estimated at $1.4 million.”

This is a historical reality for Houstonites; but, in covering Hurricane Harvey, the national media has created an impression that the flooding caused by Harvey is without precedent.

Yes, Hurricane Harvey dumped more rain on the Houston area than any other storm in the city’s modern history. But here is just the short list of major Houston floods from the past century.

  • December 6–9, 1935 – A massive flood kills 8 people.
  • September 11, 1961 – Hurricane Carla.
  • August 18, 1983 – Hurricane Alicia.
  • October 15-19, 1994 – Hurricane Rose brings with it The Great Flood of ’94 as it stalled over north Houston for a week and killing 22 people; it dumped over 30 inches of rain in north Houston and still holds the record for the highest flood levels for the San Jacinto basin.
  • June 5 – June 9, 2001 – Tropical Storm Allison floods Houston’s Central Business District and was called a ‘500-year event.’
  • June 19, 2006 – Major flooding in Southeast Houston.
  • September 13, 2008 – Hurricane Ike.
  • May 25 – May 26, 2015 – Flooding from storms is called “historic” and impacts most of the city.
  • April 18, 2016 – This flood affects nine counties in the Houston area.
  • August 2017 – Hurricane Harvey dumps more rain over a week than any storm in Houston’s history.

Houston is built in a low-land area subject to hurricanes, slow-moving storm systems and frequent flooding. Is global warming the cause of Houston’s extreme flooding from Hurricane Harvey? Probably yes but not necessarily.

Yes, the amount of rain deposited by Hurricane Harvey is historic and I wouldn’t want to be on the side arguing against climate change’s role — but Houston is always flooding!

To think we can distinguish the source of Houston’s flooding between its inherent geographic vulnerability and the effects of global warming is analytic dreamweaving.

Houston is not a good place to put a major metropolitan area — but that is what the Texans have done.

Hurricane Irma, likewise, while impressive in size and intensity, was not the most powerful hurricane to ever hit the U.S. or even Florida.

That doesn’t diminish the tragedy or disprove the role that climate change may have had in the scope of Irma’s damage. Anyone that’s lived in Miami for the past few decades will tell you that high-tide flooding around downtown Miami is the new normal.

“The water is here. It’s not that I’m talking about some sci-fi movie here. No. I live it. I see it, it’s tangible,” long-time Miami resident Valerie Navarrete recently told a Yale researcher who studies rising sea levels.

According to Navarrete, her garage now floods about once every other month.

That is what rising sea levels will do. Did global warming cause it? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates sea levels will continue to rise at a rate of about one-eighth of an inch per year. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, its because it is not. Yet, Miami residents will tell you that aggregating those small annual sea level changes over decades and you can start to see and feel it, particularly during high tides.

CLIMATE REALISM SUGGESTS ADAPTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE IS OUR MOST EFFECTIVE POLICY TOOL

The recent experiences in Florida and Texas bring to the fore our nation’s need to reconcile the realities of global warming (which includes rising sea levels and increased storm intensities) with the urban planning decisions made many decades before today.

Following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, I offer this conclusion:  We are well down the road in making the necessary adjustments for global warming. Through our forecasting advancements, improved early warning systems, and better coordinated relief efforts, we are seeing a tangible decrease in the human tolls from weather events when compared to the past (see chart below).

Furthermore, the estimated property damage from Harvey and Irma, while historic, was predictable given the economic growth we’ve seen in the past 30 years along our hurricane-vulnerable coastlines.

This does not mean we can ignore climate change as many (but not all) Republicans want to do. More property and people are exposed to the threat of hurricanes and coastal flooding than at any time in our history, according to AIR Worldwide, an insurance analytics firm. The number of Americans living in coastal counties grew by 84% between 1960 and 2008, compared to 64% in non-coastal counties, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sadly, as evidenced in the tragic death of eight nursing home residents in Hollywood, Florida, our most vulnerable populations — the elderly and the poor — bear a disproportionate share of the risks associated with severe weather events.

Much more needs to be done to secure our coastlines: updating zoning laws, improving building codes, disaster management training, protecting our power grids, insurance reform (including improved fraud detection), and population relocation subsidies.

“The rising level of the oceans, the growing coastal population, the additional development associated with it, and the possible increasing severity of storms mean that people and property are increasingly at risk,” says Dr Tim Doggett, an environmental economist for AIR Worldwide. “Coastal communities have three options when it comes to dealing with this enhanced risk of flooding. Defend the shoreline with man-made or natural barriers, adapt by raising structures and infrastructure above projected flood levels, (or) retreat.”

But, if Texas’ and Florida’s preparations and responses to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are any indication, the U.S. is starting to meet the challenges of climate change and, particularly with respect to protecting human life, appears capable of withstanding its future challenges.

How do we know this?  Lets go to the data.

When looking at the number of fatalities across a wide variety of weather-related events (lightning, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes), the trend has been downward since the 1970s. The years 2005 and 2012 (Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy) are the obvious deviations from this trend. By comparison, if we annualize the weather-related deaths so far in 2017, even with the fatalities related to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the estimated number of weather-related deaths are consistent with the long-term downward trend.

Americans are better able to withstand the impacts of extreme weather events today than at anytime since 1940. That finding should be no surprise to anyone working at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), NOAA or any other weather and public safety organization in the U.S. We have the tools and technology to predict and prepare for almost any major weather event.

Yet, fatalities are just one simple measure of our ability to confront unpredictable weather events. Weather’s economic costs are also important and, in that regard, the story is more complicated.

NOAA data on weather-related economic costs shows a relatively predictable year-to-year financial impact in the U.S. Since the late 1980s, the U.S. has not seen any substantive increase in damages due to weather events…….until this year (see graph below):

Two Category 4 hurricanes hitting our shores will do that. Damages from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey combined are expected to exceed $115 billion, according to Goldman Sachs. Even controlling for monetary inflation, the economic costs of weather events have increased in the U.S. since 1990, from around $15 billion-a-year to around $30 billion-a-year (see chart below).

But why?

With good reason man-made climate change (anthropogenic global warming) is high on that suspect list and the empirical evidence is growing that global warming is causally linked to the increased probabilities of extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts and flooding.

There will be no effort here to challenge that conclusion as the scientific evidence grows, literally, by the day. However, implicating climate change in the unparalleled economic costs of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is not necessary.

Indeed, such attribution may distract from this country’s most cost-effective tools for addressing the effects of climate change: improved building standards and materials, strict zoning laws limiting new commercial and residential development in flood prone areas, and subsidies to low-income and elderly Americans to aid in their relocation out of areas prone to extreme weather events.

Our country must also move quickly to balance our national, state and local budgets so that we can start building up “rainy day” funds to address the unpredictable costs of climate change.  If Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have a positive side it is for sounding the alarm that climate change could get very expensive very soon. In fact, it already is expensive.

[Side note: Democrats, thimight not be the time to push universal health care. I’m just suggesting for consideration: if you are going to continue two military occupations in the Middle East AND fund universal health care AND prepare for climate change, our country may have to start making hard choices

…Oh, and this administration is considering a military intervention in North Korea. Just one more potential stressor on a national government debt that is already around 88 percent of annual GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund. That level of debt puts us in the company of the UK, France, Ireland, and Italy. While not an unsustainable level of debt for an economy like ours, it still brings major constraints on any new, big budget items.]

Back to the more immediate issue at hand…

Extreme weather, economic growth, and government spending are closely linked.

The yearly weather-related damage totals in the previous graphic reveal significant variation from year-to-year — which is one reason it is useful to combine annual totals into higher-order aggregates.

If we aggregate weather-related economic costs to the decade-level and compare this to economic growth in Texas and Florida (serving here as proxies for the economic growth of hurricane-vulnerable coastal areas in the U.S.), we see a strong relationship:

Over the past three decades, the increase in total damages from weather events tracks closely to economic growth in the coastal states of Texas and Florida, where wealth and property development increasingly pepper the coastlines.

Going forward, the U.S. can expect around $30 billion in weather-related damages from one year to the next. Without a lot more data, however, we must assume for now the weather-related damages from Irma and Harvey are outliers, not the new normal.

Courtesy of Inside Climate News, we get this fantastic graphic showing new building developments in downtown Ft Lauderdale, FL that are likely to face storm-caused flooding problems in the future. Readers should note, however, that near-term global-warming-caused sea level rises aren’t going to be anywhere the +1, +2…,  or +6 feet shown in the graphic. However, storm surges from hurricanes are more than capable of reaching +6 feet.

In the presence of rising sea levels, Ft. Lauderdale’s urban planning strategy does beg the question: What the hell are they thinking? Building high-density residential buildings on low-elevation tracts of land is just dumb — dumb even for Florida.

SINCE WE ARE ALREADY DOING A GREAT JOB, CAN WE JUST IGNORE GLOBAL WARMING?

I am not a climate change alarmist (as the title of this essay should make obvious), but we cannot ignore global warming either. It is happening. That is not a fiction created by the mainstream media, Al Gore or the Chinese. The first place we can start preparing is in where we place new building developments.

Unlike Ft. Lauderdale, many forward-leaning coastal cities in the U.S. are preparing for rising sea levels. New York City has invested significantly into its flood prevention plan and a coalition of Miami-Dade County, FL leaders are laying out five-year city plans that account for increasing sea levels. Why only five-year plans?

“Nobody knows what things are going to look like in 50 to 100 years,” Nicole Hefty, the head of Miami-Dade County’s Office of Sustainability, told The Atlantic‘s Amy Lieberman. “We can speak for smaller years and adapt in that way.”

Not a bad strategy. Being too ambitious too soon can do more harm than good given finite local, state and national budgets.

Any decisions looking beyond five years can be “rendered irrelevant by the rising seas,” writes Lieberman.

Furthermore, the economic impact of global warming, as measured by dollar damages and deaths, has so far been manageable. Even with the historic nature of Irma and Harvey , the U.S. economy will likely lose only about 0.8 percentage points in 2017 third quarter growth, according to Goldman Sachs. That still leaves the American economy chugging along at a 2-percent growth rate. Not exactly booming, but not recessionary either.

What climate change scientists and media forget to tell us is that global warming is not a planet killer or a human-level extinction event (though New Zealand’s tuatara, a lizard-like reptile whose eggs produce females only when nests are cool, are not so lucky).

Nonetheless, we face an uncertain future as we continue to put more development and economic wealth in the path of future weather events.

AIR Worldwide estimates that the total value of insurable property in ZIP Codes potentially impacted by storm surge is $17 trillion (USD).  If, as a society, we spend the majority of our time and money trying to phase out the oil and automobile industries, we will fail to directly address the real challenges posed by climate change.

Our coastlines will always be a point of destination for Americans for settlement and entertainment, so we need to better control coastal property development. Trying to slow or even reverse global warming may be too expensive or ineffective, and diverts resources away from more effective climate change mitigation tools over which we have more predictable control.

The planet will continue to get warmer — nobody should doubt that. How warm will depend on the extent and quickness with which we convert to renewable energy sources. But politicians and activists need to keep their expectations realistic on that front.

Forecasts on the U.S.’s conversion to renewable energy sources offer little optimism for those expecting all of our country’s energy needs will in their lifetime come from renewables. That is not likely to happen.

By 2050, Energy Innovation, an energy and environmental industry consulting firm, estimates 35 percent of U.S. electricity capacity will come from the combination of solar and wind power, up from about 15 percent today.

While some optimistic forecasts see much more than 50 percent coming from solar and wind power by 2050, they assume capacity growth for solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind will continue at current high rates. Unfortunately, solar and wind’s high growth rates are due in part to the small percentage from which they start (see the yellow and blue shaded areas in the chart below).

U.S. cannot afford building castles in the sky with respect to renewable energy when it has more immediate policy tools at its disposal to combat the effects of climate change.

As the planet warms, and it will, Americans need to make better decisions about where they live and play and how they prepare for future extreme weather events. Though generally ridiculed in the media as just another form of climate denialism, climate realism strikes a balance between the realities of global warming and our economic and social capacities to address it in a substantive way.

Climate realists don’t see the term ‘adaptation’ as a dirty word as does the climate change lobby. Whether we use public policy to adapt to climate change is a political question. If our political leaders don’t see the necessity of adapting that job will be left to us as individuals.

Despite little attention from the media, our cities and states are making significant adaptations along their shorelines and internal waterways necessary to weather climate change (pardon the pun). This will continue with or without our national politicians, who seem incapable of doing anything these days.

Local economics are dictating these adaptations — any maybe that is the best way to do it anyway. Our national politicians are too busy failing us in other areas.

 

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

 

 

 

 

 

Much of what we believe will someday be shown to be deeply flawed (…so why are we today yelling at each other over politics?)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, August 28, 2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

Medical schools often tell their first-year students that, within a few years, half of what they learn in medical school will be wrong – they just don’t know which half. Harvard mathematician Samuel Arbesman named this phenomenon ‘the half-life of facts.’

Reading about Arbesman’s research prompted me to wonder why people on social media are so strident in their political beliefs and so hostile to others that disagree with them, even though much of what we believe today will someday be proven wrong (or at least seriously flawed).

I thought of this question again while analyzing a list of former NuQum.cm Twitter followers. I noticed that when someone unfollowed @nuqum4real it correlated with the ideological content of the newest NuQum.com essay.

Generally, we lose a few followers and gain a few. But sometimes, especially essays with strong ideological content (ex. He may be The Worst President Ever and I’d Vote for Him Again), our Twitter followers start fleeing, and it always correlates with ideological orientation. Twitter accounts with #ImWithHer or #TheResistance hashtags run from the conservative-friendly content and accounts with #MAGA or #LockHerUp run from the liberal-leaning content.

Its may be easy to understand why this happens…but…why does it happen? Really. Is there no enjoyment derived from reading alternative viewpoints? Is there no benefit from understanding why others might think differently from yourself? Not in a condescending way, but in a genuinely inquisitive, “walk-in-someone-else’s-moccasins”-way. Shouldn’t we always be seeking new perspectives on old issues?

Apparently not.

This lament was only deepened after reading an essay in Politico by political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster titled: “Negative Partisanship’ Explains Everything.” From their original research article — The rise of negative partisanship and the nationalization of U.S. elections in the 21st century (in Electoral Studies, Vol. 41, March 2016, pp. 12-22) — they summarize their thesis:

“Since the 1980s, there has been a large negative shift in affect toward the opposing party among supporters of both major parties in the U.S. …The rise of negative affect toward the opposing party has contributed to dramatic increases in party loyalty and straight-ticket voting among strong, weak and independent-leaning partisans….Growing party loyalty and straight-ticket voting have led to the nationalization of elections in the United States: there is a much closer connection between the results of presidential elections and the results of House, Senate and even state legislative elections today than in the past.”

Most depressing about their research is their prediction for the future:

“In today’s environment, rather than seeking to inspire voters around a cohesive and forward-looking vision, politicians need only incite fear and anger toward the opposing party to win and maintain power. Until that fundamental incentive goes away, expect politics to get even uglier.”

Somehow our self-esteem has now become dependent on the validity of our political beliefs. Forget that over a lifetime a lot of things we once believed have proven to be false. Penguins, for example, don’t mate for life. And where were you when you first learned the earth doesn’t revolve around the sun? What? You didn’t know that? Yes, it is true. I learned it while helping my 11-year-old son on a science project. The earth revolves around our solar system’s’ center of mass (which is called the barycenter and is usually contained within the mass of the sun…but not always.)

People don’t want to hear anything that contradicts their core beliefs. There is no market for objectivity anymore. There once was when there were only three national news networks and one or two local newspapers. Today, it takes little effort to shelter yourself from media content you find offensive or useless. The content filters on Facebook and Twitter make for happier but less informed and more intolerant people.

The research is still sketchy on this question, but some of the more thoughtful attempts can be found here, here, and here.

One Huffington Post blogger warned readers: “When it comes to the Internet, it’s best not to trust the first source you see. Even if (or maybe especially) it’s coming from a friend.”

I mostly agree with that statement but would modify it slightly:  When it comes to the Internet, it’s best NEVER to trust ANY source you see…especially if it’s coming from your idiot friends and family.

[Yes, that includes anything you read on NuQum.com]

One of the great contradictions of our time is that Americans are more comfortable than ever with ethnic, racial and religious differences (or, at least, we think we are), but when it comes to opinion diversity, we’ve lost our appetite.

Opinion leaders (academia, politicians,journalists, writers) lecture us on the theoretical virtues of multiculturalism, but render it meaningless when they try to give it practical application.

Multiculturalism was always a loaded term, poorly defined by academia and subsequently misused, often as a convenient cudgel by both the left and the right to justify their own disdain for the other side.

Social constructs and their supporting institutions today all seem to serve partisan ends — even comedy has been commandeered by the political class. Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock won’t do concerts on college campuses anymore. Bill Maher cries more about ‘liberal snowflakes’ than Sean Hannity. Steve Martin has to delete a tweet mourning his friend Carrie Fischer because he noted her good looks before he mentioned her great sense of humor and intelligence.

A former colleague of  mine once observed: “David Letterman was funnier when he seemed to disdain Democrats and Republicans.” As funny and insightful as Steven Colbert can be today, we lose something when his nightly monologues are almost exclusively politics and Trump-focused.

Yes, I do miss the good ol’ days when everybody was a reflexive cynic and largely disinterested in politics. That seems now like a healthier society.

Neuro-scientist Sam Harris and Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams had an interesting podcast on this topic (found here). At one point, Harris makes an insightful comment that captures the social and political dysfunction we see today.

“The fact that politics is so much a part of our lives now is toxic,” says Harris. “It is a sign that something is wrong with our society; if things were good we would not be talking about politics.”

Somehow, we’ve all been driven into political corners that don’t necessarily represent our best interests or our most deeply held beliefs. Social pressure has put us in these boxes and only social pressure will get us out.

Let’s start now. Send a friend request on Facebook to someone whose politics you can’t stand. Baby steps, as they say.

 

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

If Bret Stephens’ Opinion on Climate Change is Unacceptable, What is Acceptable?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 1, 2017)

One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, Contact, has the U.S. government, led by James Woods’ character, head of the National Security Council, taking over a SETI project (led by Jodi Foster’s character) that presumably made contact with an alien intelligence.

You can view the classic scene here.

The scene, originally written by physicist Carl Sagan in his book that inspired the movie, was intended to give the audience the sense of a paranoid, security-obsessed federal government taking over what should have been left to the scientists.

At my first viewing of the movie, I shared that sense of the government’s over-bearing presence. Typical government overreach, I’m sure I thought. Just like what happened in E.T.

Twenty-years later, however, after spending ten of those years in our government’s national security bureaucracy, my take is quite different.

What would  you want your government to do instead? Let the scientists control our society’s contact with this alien society? Yes? Really?

One reason we have a representative democracy is that we don’t want any segment of society to have monopoly control on the information that may be critical to our national security or general welfare. Even if, individually, we don’t have the clearances to see all  of this information, we elect representatives with access and who, we presume, will use this information to the benefit of our collective interests.

Scientists may be good at their craft, but that doesn’t make them an elected representative of the people.

I was reminded of Contact while scanning Twitter on the controversy surrounding the New York Times’ new opinion columnist, Bret Stephens, who questioned the absolute certainty of  the climate change community.

His article, Climate of Complete Certainty, won my admiration when it referenced the analytic arrogance of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. So certain of Clinton’s victory were the ‘big data’ mavens dominating the Clinton analytic team that the campaign all but ignored the ‘old guard’ polling analysts (that would be people like me) that said Clinton’s working-class support was eroding in the Rust Belt.

We know how that turned out.

Stephens’ apparent apostasy  was relating the hubris of Clinton’s data scientists to the current state of climate change research. Regardless of whether that is a fair comparison, he does make two excellent observations in his op-ed piece.

First, two-thirds of the general public, according to the Pew Research Center, is not concerned about global warming – even though many accept that is happening and is caused by human activities.

The reason for the public’s skepticism is simple.  The climate change lobby is incompetent. My evidence, you ask? I am my own evidence.

I believe the globe is warming because of human activities and this will cause many known and unknown tragedies if we don’t convert to clean energy as soon as possible. That said, I am skeptical of anyone that suggests they have the set of policies that will solve this problem and, most importantly, can get China, India and otherss to commit to these policies.

And for those that don’t include a robust nuclear energy component in their policy solution, I’m not just skeptical of their ideas, I think they are just full of sh*t.

As I said, I believe the earth is warming because of human activities. It is hard (though not impossible) for anyone that respects data not to conclude that the earth is significantly warmer than its was at the start of the industrial revolution. More importantly, the rate of this warming is faster than anytime in relatively recent earth history. This is the fact climatologists throw in your face when you begin the conversation about what public policies are appropriate to address global warming in a meaningful and cost-effective way.

Despite the protestations of the climate lobby, the costs associated with trying to reverse global warming is a legitimate issue. Maybe it would be more cost-effective and less growth-dampening if humans just adjusted to global warming instead of trying to engineer a return to our old climate? By the time China, India and most of the world’s other fast-developing countries burn all the remaining oil to fuel their economic growth, it is very possible any treaty signed in Paris or elsewhere to reverse global warming will become null-and-void.

But, at least we tried?  Right?

No, not right. When some in the scientific community tells us we need to spend $44 trillion to convert the world to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 , they are now dabbling in economics.  And even if climatologists are good at predicting the economic costs associated with global warming  (they aren’t), the issue enters the political domain. And rightfully so.

The tragedy is that the environmental movement has from that start chosen to turn its core issue into a partisan battle. When they did that, they did more harm to their cause than a congressional hearing full of climate change ‘deniers’ could ever accomplish.

Stephens’ second point is the one that really rankled the self-appointed thought police that (formerly) subscribed to the New York Times. He writes that anytime science claims total certainty it “traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong.”

I would have re-worded his sentence to say instead, “…whenever new evidence fails to support a climate claim.” It is a subtle difference but an important one. Gains in scientific knowledge are iterative and often non-linear.  Sometimes sample sizes are too small. Sometimes selection bias works against the research aim. Sometimes new evidence, for a multitude of reasons, clouds the situation instead of giving clarity. The practical reality in science is this: not every data point supports your hypotheses or their theoretical construct. Scientists understand that problem.

But this is what met Mr. Stephens on Twitter after his column was published. And lets start with our nation’s future ‘Chief  of Sanctioned Thoughts,’ Nate Silver:

The Daily Wire’s, Ben Shapiro, knocks Mr. Silver down a notch with this excellent critique of Silver’s criticism of Stephens (here). Suffice it to say, talented data analysts (like Mr. Silver) can have ideological blind spots too — making even more ominous Mr. Silver’s soul-chilling support for a data analytic Star Chamber to review and approve all op-ed data references before the opinion pieces can be published. If that isn’t a dog whistle that will send most Republicans into a rage about leftist fascism, nothing will.

However, it is with the scientific community that I find the reaction to Mr. Stephens most disturbing. Climatologist Michael Mann’s tweet pretty much represents the bulk opinion in that community:

While in another tweet accusing Mr. Stephens of setting up a ‘straw man’ argument to challenge climate change orthodoxy, Dr. Mann returns the favor with his own ‘straw man’ argument suggesting Stephens is a ‘denier” (the new scarlet letter). He must not have read Stephens’ piece which emphatically says about his article, “None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences.”

What does the man have to say to convince you he believes in global warming?

If the climate change ideologues wanted to prove Mr. Stephens correct, they couldn’t have done a better job.

I invite everyone to read Mr. Stephens’ piece on climate change. He is asking what every politician and citizen should ask before they commit trillions of dollars to an effort that may ultimately fail to reverse global warming.

Dr. Mann, as a scientist, tell us the probability that the planet, if we commit to all of your policy prescriptions, will be successful in reversing, or at least stopping, global warming? If you respond with anything over 50 percent, to quote someone you know, you are either (a) naive, (b) mendacious, or (c) both.

“But at least we tried,” won’t be a sufficient response to compensate the hundreds of millions of people kept or sent into poverty because the world failed in its costly experiment to proactively engineer the earth’s climate.

I haven’t cleared that last sentence with Nate Silver, yet.

The author can be reached at: kentkroeger3@gmail.com

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.