The wind is at our backs now, with red states leading the way

In the current administration, where we all fear that fossil fuel output, dangerous and destructive oil pipelines, and coal mining will return to their heyday, at a devastating cost to our environment, my blogger-friend Keith has positive news on renewable energy sources and their continuity in spite of Trump and Pruitt! Please take a few moments to read Keith’s post and drop him a comment to let him know you appreciate a bit of positive news! Thank you Keith, both for the post and the unspoken permission to share!

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While our President is not a fan of wind energy (having unsuccessfully sued the Scottish government to stop an offshore development) and has made some climate change is a hoax comments, rather quietly, renewable energy continues to move up the charts. Solar energy is going like gangbusters with double-digit growth in production and jobs, but wind energy has surpassed hydro energy as the largest form of renewable energy in the US. What is interesting, most of the growth in wind energy is occurring rather quietly in mostly red states.

From an American Energy News article last week:

Texas has more than 20 MW of installed wind capacity, or nearly a quarter of the market. Iowa is the second-biggest wind state, and Oklahoma overtook California for third place at the end of 2016.

 The first offshore wind project in the United States also came online in the fourth quarter…

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A Sticky Wicket Of A Problem … BEES … Or Rather A Lack Of … Part II

In Part 1 of this post, I wrote about the declining honeybee population and its significance to the survival of mankind.  There can be little doubt that honeybees are an important factor in food production, not only for humans, but for wildlife as well.  So, what is being done to reverse the trend of the dying bee population, what more can be done, and what is the likely outcome?

What each of us can do

bees-1Obviously, major changes in pesticide use, mining and drilling, and climate change must be made by farmers, environmentalists, and government regulation. But that does not mean we, as individuals, are powerless … there are simple things we can do to help:

  • Plant flowers! Even if it’s only a couple of window boxes on your patio, or a small garden, every little bit helps.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided a quite handy guide to which plants and flowers are best.
  • Limit the use of pesticides and herbicides while plants are in bloom and bees are actively foraging. Herbicides (weed killer) reduce the bees sources of pollen and nectar, while pesticides ingested by bees can be lethal.
  • When possible, buy locally-grown fruits, vegetables and honey to help support not only local farmers, but also local beekeepers. When I found out that most honey sold in the U.S. is imported from China and Latin America, I began buying only honey from a local farm we visit several times during the warm months. We also get most of our green beans, corn, apples and other produce there, and somehow it always tastes better than what is found at Kroger.

What NGOs are doing to help

There are a number of private organizations doing good work in the field, and one of the best seems to be the Keystone Policy Center, in conjunction with the Honeybee Health Coalition. Together, these institutions are working on four main areas: forage and nutrition, hive management, crop pest management, and public outreach.

Several other organizations around the world are making contributions to help save the bees. Among them are:  Avaaz, BeesFree, Inc., Burt’s Bees, Pollinator Partnership Honey Bee Health Improvement Project,  Center for Honeybee Research, Environmental Justice Foundation, Navdanya’s Biodiversity Conservation Farm, Save Honey Bees, Save the Bees, and others. (Sorry for all the links, but I thought you might want to check out one or two of them)

What is the U.S. Government doing to help?

bees-3Here comes the tricky part.  The short answer is: not enough.  The more complex answer is … do you want to know what we are doing now, were doing a year ago, or will likely be doing a month from now?  The Obama administration made some movements to try to help slow or stop the decline in the honeybee population by imposing regulations on neonicotinoid pesticides, but most felt the restrictions were not nearly enough.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has funded studies on bee diseases, and in 2014 provided a $3 million grant to help reseed pastures in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas with bee-appropriate plants like alfalfa and clover.

In 2014, President Obama set up a task force spearheaded by the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with a proposed budget of $50 million annually, to research the causes and solutions to the declining bee population.  In 2015, the Obama administration set out a strategy that included managing the way in which forests burned by forest fires would be re-planted, the way offices are landscaped and the way roadside habitats where bees feed are preserved.

bees-2Environmental groups have been pressuring the federal government to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, which are already banned in Europe.  However, the best the EPA could come up with was a moratorium on approving any new use permits for these kinds of insecticides. They also imposed restrictions on what pesticides farmers can use when commercial honeybees are pollinating their crops. You can visit the EPA website  and see for yourself what they say, but keep in mind that the EPA site has been changed and curtailed under Trump’s orders, and I have no idea what may be missing that was included 2 months ago.

Last week, Scott Pruitt was sworn in as head of the EPA, an agency he has sued no less than 14 times.  There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that his mandate from Trump was to start hacking away at regulations that protect the environment. Companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer, all of whom are involved in the manufacture or wide-scale use of neonicotinoid pesticides, are likely to lobby to lift regulations limiting pesticides.  Pruitt is heavily involved with the oil and gas industries, so it is highly probable that in the coming months we will see work resume on the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, as well as an increase in mining, oil drilling, and other activities that damage the bee’s habitat, and also contribute to the ill effects of climate change, further damaging the bee’s habitats.

One last note

It looks and sounds like something from a sci-fi movie. Picture thousands of miniature drones working to pollinate a field … tiny electronic creatures going from plant to plant, collecting and depositing pollen.  Or think of stepping outside to water the flowers in your yard and seeing small electronic gadgets with whirring blades instead of wings attacking your hyacinths.  But this is not science fiction, these are bee-bots, and they are already functional, though not without bugs and not yet ready for commercial use.  In 2014, Harvard University researchers led by engineering professor Robert Wood introduced the first RoboBees, bee-size robots with the ability to lift off the ground and hover midair when tethered to a power supply. The details were published in the journal Science.

bees-4Pollination is complex task and should not be underrated. It involves finding flowers and deciding if they are suitable and haven’t already been visited. The pollinator then needs to successfully handle the flower, picking pollen up and putting it down in another plant, while co-ordinating with its team and optimising its route between flowers. In all of these tasks, our existing pollinators excel, their skills honed through millions of years of evolution.

Modern drones can already achieve this level of individual management. As they have the technology to track faces, they could track flowers as well. They could also plot routes via GPS and return to base for recharging on sensing a low battery. In the long run, they may even have a potential advantage over natural pollinators as pollination would be their sole function. Bees, on the other hand, are looking to feed themselves and their brood, and pollination happens as a by-product.

Although the technology is certainly fascinating, I hope that other solutions can be found to keep the living bee population from further decline.  I prefer nature’s creatures to electronic ones, which I find slightly disconcerting, to say the least, and I suspect the use of robobees would have a tremendous negative effect on the price of the food we eat.

I did quite a bit of research, much of it not necessarily reflected in this post, but it gave me a much better understanding of beekeeping, the role of bees, the causes of their decline, and what needs to be done.  I had no idea commercial beekeeping was so involved!  Nor did I realize how fascinating this topic is, which explains why I spent so much time researching … I became engrossed and devoured much more material than was necessary to write this post.  But alas, knowledge is never a waste of time.

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A Sticky Wicket Of A Problem … BEES … Or Rather A Lack Of … Part I

A few months back, when I mentioned the crisis of the declining bee population, one person commented that she could live without honey if she had to.  I sometimes get highly annoyed, to say the least, about such inane comments, but other times I see it as a teaching experience.  In this case, I tried to educate, but the person simply shrugged and actually said, “Oh well”.  Today, two articles, combined with the Trump administration’s lack of regard for protections of our environment, prompted me to write about the declining bee population once again, this time in more depth.

Bees-beekeeper.jpgThere is a plague that is being called ‘Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)’, that is decimating the bee population.  By the end of bee season last April, the commercial bee population had declined by 44%, as compared with 10%-15% in past years. While nobody claims that there is one singular cause for the loss of so many bees, most scientists and environmentalists believe it is a combination of:

  • Loss of habitat, due to a variety of factors including pesticide use, mining and drilling, changing temperatures and weather conditions due to climate change that have restricted the area where bees can survive, as well as eradicated some food sources necessary for survival. Additionally, use of herbicides (weed killer) has reduced the available pollen and nectar bees rely on for pollination.
  • A group of chemicals called neonicotinoid pesticides that are proven to harm not only bees, but other insects as well. They accumulate in individual bees and within entire colonies, including the honey that bees feed to infant larvae. Bees that do not die outright, experience sub-lethal systemic effects, development defects, weakness, and loss of orientation. The die-off leaves fewer bees and weaker bees, who must work harder to produce honey in depleted wild habitats. These conditions create the formula for bee colony collapse.

bee-on flower-2.jpgBefore we talk about what is or is not being done, what can be done to reverse these problems, it is important to understand why bees are critical to our lives, why we rely on them for much more than the honey we drizzle over our fruit or toast.  Bees have played a role either by directly pollinating the many vegetables and fruits we eat, or pollinating the food for the animals that we then consume. It is said that between 30% and 90% of the foods we need to stay alive are reliant on bee pollination, either directly or indirectly. I am not sure why such a large gap, but it seems to vary significantly depending on which study is being cited. My guess is it is somewhere midway, or perhaps varies by region, depending on which crops are grown, but it highlights the difficulties of the science. We already have a global food crisis, caused in part by climate change and overpopulation, and we can ill afford a reduction in available food in coming years, as the population of the world continues to increase.

The consequence of a dying bee population impacts man at the highest levels on our food chain, posing an enormously grave threat to human survival. Since no other single animal species plays a more significant role in producing the fruits and vegetables that we humans commonly take for granted yet require near daily to stay alive, the greatest modern scientist Albert Einstein once prophetically remarked, “Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.”Global Research, Centre for Research on Globalization 

In fairness, it should be noted that one group of studies reported by the Genetic Literacy Project (GLP), significantly downplays the importance of bees in food production, concluding that bees are only responsible for about 7.4% of the world’s agricultural value.  Not being a scientist, I cannot dispute their findings, but their conclusions are at odds with most other scientific studies worldwide.

bees-3Now that we know some of the reasons for the decline in the bee population, and why it matters, it is prudent to look at what is being done to attempt to solve the problem, which will be the focus of Part II of this post.  This topic is too important to take shortcuts, so I have decided to divide it into two parts, thus I can cover more of what the U.S., as well as other countries are (or aren’t) doing to assess and address the potentially devastating problem.  So stay tuned …

I rarely include a source listing with my posts, preferring instead to include a partial source listing through the use of hyperlinks, but some of these are definitely worth the read, and I decided to include one this time, especially in light of those who may question the legitimacy of my sources. This is only a partial listing, but includes the most important/interesting ones:

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Did You Hear The Alt-News About Sweden?

Did you hear about the terrorist attack on Sweden last Friday?  If we had waited for the mainstream media to tell us about it, we still wouldn’t know.  But, since according to Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, we should get all our news directly from Trump, we now know about the attack.  Thank you, Donnie T. for the enlightenment!  Only one problem … there was no terrorist attack on Sweden on Friday … or any other time, for that matter.

For some reason, unbeknownst to mankind, Trump continues doing campaign-style rallies wherever he goes.  I suspect to keep the masses fired up with enthusiasm and as a venue to toot his own horn, since not too many people are tooting it for him these days.  So, on the taxpayers dime, he goes around spewing and spouting to crowds of thousands who are still goo-goo-eyed over him (for a reason that is beyond my comprehension).

At one such rally on Saturday in Melbourne, Florida, he spoke in an airplane hangar to a crowd of some 9,000 people.  Wait … there are 9,000 people in Florida willing to waste time on a Saturday listening to Trump?  What the …. ????  Anyway, he was doing his usual rant about the press,

“Life is a campaign. Making our country great again is a campaign. For me, it’s a campaign. To make America great again is absolutely a campaign. It’s not easy, especially when we’re also fighting the press. When the media lies to people I will never ever let them get away with it. We are not going to let the fake news tell us what to do, how to live and what to believe. We are free, independent people and we will make our own choices.”

He then reiterated that the press is dishonest, that he inherited a “mess”, and that the White House is running “so smoothly”.  He continued to criticize the judges who refused to fall under his spell and reinstate his travel ban.  And then came the kicker …

“We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening in Brussels. You look at what’s happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice. Take a look at Paris.”

There was no attack in Sweden, and the only such incident I can find record of was in 2010 when a suicide bomber injured two people.  The bomber was a Swede.

Sweden, meanwhile, had some fun with Donald’s faux pas.

  • “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” Carl Bildt, a former prime minister and foreign minister.
  • “Due to harsh weather in northern parts of Sweden the road E10 was closed between Katterjakk and Riksgransen” and “a man died in hospital, after an accident in the workplace earlier that day” – Aftonbladet, a Swedish newspaper responded, were the biggest “crime” stories of the day.
  • “OK let’s not be fake news, this story took place in the autumn, but was reported Friday before lunchtime and we thought you would like it. A wooden moose got the attention of a lovesick moose bull.” – Aftonbladet
  • Another Twitter user posted a picture of famous Swedish export Abba, writing: “Four extremists responsible for #swedenincident are still at large, if you see these people phone @realDonaldTrump at once.”

Just for some perspective here, there were 112 reported cases of lethal violence in Sweden in 2015, an increase of 25 cases over the previous year.  Not terrorism, just your run o’ the mill rape, robbery, etc. Sweden has a long history of welcoming refugees — Jews, Iranians, Eritreans, Somalis, Kurds and people from the former Yugoslavia, among others.

In an essay in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, the journalist Martin Gelin speculated that “Trump might have gotten his news from the countless right-wing media in the United States that have long been reporting that Sweden is heading for total collapse. Among Trump supporters, there are common myths that Sweden is in a state of chaos after taking in refugees from the Middle East. These are incorrect, made up and gravely misleading news items like this have spread to right-wing sites like Breitbart, Human Events, Drudge Report and Fox News, as well as the popular conservative radio programs that reach millions of listeners every day.”

And so, Trump himself joins the ranks of his minions Kellyanne Conway (the non-existent Bowling Green Massacre) and Sean Spicer (the Atlanta terrorist attack, repeated 3 times, where he obviously meant to say Orlando).  And yet, he complains about the “dishonest media” and “fake news”. I don’t get it … I just don’t get it.

Another Damn Shame: Scott Pruitt

I just need to figure out what company I would like to run.  Here’s the plan:  I determine what company I would like to run … I’m thinking perhaps the New York Times or the Boston Globe … or perhaps something more high-tech, like Google or Apple.  Then I sue that company 14 times … might cost a bit up front, but in the long run it should pay off.  After the 14th lawsuit, I will be asked to run the company!  Hey … it worked for Scott Pruitt!  He sued the Environmental Protection Agency 14 times, and now he sits at its head!

Remember the big brouhaha last year about Hillary Clinton’s emails?  They called it, improperly, a ‘scandal’, but it turned out to be nothing of the sort.  Still, the Republicans tortured and tormented us all with the non-news of the non-scandal and it likely played some part in her loss on November 8th, thanks to the Trump-Putin team and the media.  Well, Scott Pruitt has his own email scandal, and this one may well turn out to be scandalous.  But, we will not know until it is too late, as he has already been confirmed by the senate in a 52-46 vote, and was sworn into office on Friday.  Interestingly, two Democrats voted ‘yea’ — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

The emails in question are ones Pruitt exchanged with oil and gas industry heads while he was serving as Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma.  He has been refusing for two years to hand over the emails, but on Thursday, an Oklahoma judge ordered him to release the emails no later than next Tuesday.  Senate Democrats sought to delay the confirmation vote until the emails had been reviewed, claiming that his relationship to the oil and gas industry is questionable, but the senate went ahead with the vote, and common sense lost yet another battle.

envir-3Back in December, when Trump first announced his choice of Pruitt to head the EPA, I wrote that it was nothing less than a disastrous choice.  I have heard nothing that has made me change my mind, and that which I have heard has merely confirmed what I already suspected:  Pruitt has every intention of hobbling the EPA as the Chinese once hobbled women’s feet.

Hundreds of former EPA staff members wrote an open letter against his appointment, some calling him an “unqualified extremist”.

Environmental campaigners see him as an oil and gas industry puppet who is “lukewarm” on the threat posed by climate change – they fear that hard-won environmental regulations will be overturned. As previously noted, freshman Republican Representative Matt Gaetz introduced a bill to end the EPA by the end of 2018, however that bill is not likely to pass even the House, though its simple verbage is chilling:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018.

By most accounts, Gaetz’ bill is not likely to be taken seriously by many.  No, the real threat to the EPA comes from its own newly-dubbed chief, Pruitt.

envir-4Pruitt’s lawsuits against the EPA have often been in conjunction with the fossil fuel industry, attempting to overturn EPA air and water regulations – regulations designed to protect the planet we live on from future destruction. It is expected that Trump and Pruitt together will ‘turn the clock back’ on both through a series of executive orders, cuts in staffing, and legislation. It has been reported that Pruitt has simply copied and pasted suggested language from an energy company onto state letterhead, and then sent it to the EPA.

Pruitt is expected to slow or reverse previous legislation tightening federal standards for vehicle emissions, water quality and pollution at power plants. He describes himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda”.  He is partially funded by the oil and gas industries, having received at least $270,000 in ‘donations’ over the years, probably more.

Pruitt’s right-wing ideology goes beyond just areas of environment.  He has been highly critical of the Supreme Court for refusing to support Oklahoma’s proposed definition of “marriage as only the union of one man and one woman”, and in 2014 he joined a lawsuit targeting California’s prohibition on the sale of eggs laid by caged hens.  Losing that, he later announced that he would investigate the Humane Society of the United States, one of the principal proponents of the California law. He lost in both cases, as the courts ruled the suit was acting in the interest of egg farmers, rather than the general public.  However, it proves a couple of things … like his new boss, he is a believer that the best way to solve differences and problems is via lawsuit, and that he supports business and industry over and above the public interest.

Pruitt has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Georgetown College in Kentucky, and a J.D. from the University of Tulsa.  Neither have any relation to science, yet he believes he knows more than all the climate scientists when he says about climate change and man’s involvement/responsibility: “the extent of that [human] impact is subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”

envir-2It is fully expected that Pruitt will quickly dismantle the Clean Power Plan, the linchpin of the United States’ plan to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement to lower carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by about 30 percent over the coming decades. The effects of such a move will be two-fold:  first, it will reverse progress made by the U.S. in the past decade to make a positive contribution toward a healthier, more sustainable environment.  Second, it will cause the U.S. to lose respect of the other 200 nations involved in the Paris Climate Accords who counted on the U.S. to uphold the agreement and do its part.

Trump and Pruitt have made clear their priorities, which are to open pathways for unscrupulous businesses to bypass current clean air and water regulations in order to maximize their profits, with complete disregard for the environment, for the earth and atmosphere, and for the people who inhabit the earth.  It is yet another shame in the cap of the 115th Congress and the man-who-would-be-king that Scott Pruitt is now the head of the EPA.  A damn shame.

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The Canadian Guy Has Class!

On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to visit and to discuss ongoing policies with Trump.  Trudeau had hoped for an audience with the President of the United States, but in lieu of that, he got Trump.  Of course, the U.S. was embroiled in the scandal of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and whether he did or didn’t give Russian ambassador Kislyak a heads up about impending sanctions by President Obama back on Christmas day, so it is understandable that the U.S. news outlets were too busy to cover more than the barest details of Trudeau’s visit.

trudeau-trump-shakeNonetheless, there were some pretty great moments, like when Trudeau got to have his picture taken standing to the left of Ivanka Trump, with a beaming proud Papa Trump on her right.  And speaking of Ivanka, let us not forget the iconic photos of Ivanka gazing with adoration at the handsome, young Trudeau!

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The take on the visit depends entirely which side of the border you are on.  The U.S. press called the meeting boring, but the Canadians were thrilled.  Both reactions seem to be a result of the fact that Trump didn’t throw any of his bombastic temper tantrums during the Trudeau visit.  U.S. citizens seem to have come to a point where they look forward to these daily, sometimes hourly events, but Canadians, having a bit more sense of propriety, find them unamusing, to say the least.

trudeau-ivanka

Their major differences are in the areas of immigration, trade and climate change.  As we all know, Trump is determined to have his way in banning refugees from at least seven Middle-Eastern nations from entering the U.S. and is not above verbally abusing judges and others in order to see his ‘orders’ carried out.  Meanwhile, Trudeau welcomes refugees and the cultural diversity they bring.  Asked for his opinion on Trump’s refugee ban, PM Trudeau tactfully declined to opine, saying instead, “The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves.”

us-canadaCertainly the main point PM Trudeau came hoping to come to an agreement with Trump about was regarding trade, given that Trump has repeatedly said he would either ‘rip up’ the NAFTA agreement, or renegotiate it in terms more favourable to the U.S.  Canada counts on trade with the United States for about 25 percent of their country’s gross domestic product and 73% of their exports.  PM Trudeau and President Obama had forged a mutually beneficial working relationship, so it is no wonder that Trudeau was a bit unsure what to expect from the contentious Trump … heck, those of us who live in the U.S. do not know what to expect of him from one day to the next!

A little known episode from last month:  a group of six Canadian women and two French nationals tried to enter the U.S. in order to attend the Women’s March on 21 January, but after a two-hour ordeal at the border which included a search of the car, their mobile phones being examined, each person fingerprinted, and their photo taken, they were denied access and told that if they attempted to cross the border again during the weekend, they would be arrested.  Another Canadian and a British citizen were also turned away after informing border patrol agents the reason for their visit was the Women’s March. The same day, a resident of Montreal was turned away after being asked by border patrol agents whether he was ‘pro-Trump’ or ‘anti-Trump’.  He was then fingerprinted, photographed, and denied entry.

At least one Canadian school district has ceased their periodic field trips into the U.S., citing safety concerns in light of Trump’s immigration ban and the unpredictability of what might happen next. We certainly can no longer claim to be a nation of hospitality, can we?

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PM Justin Trudeau welcoming newly-arrived refugees to his country

Justin Trudeau is a class act, much the same as was President Obama.  Though we have the impression that he strongly disagrees with Trump’s stance on immigration and his ‘executive order’ to ban mostly Muslims from the U.S., Trudeau has never specifically criticized Trump.  He has merely stated the importance of welcoming more refugees, without mentioning Trump by name.  As I said, the man has class, something which is sorely lacking in Trump.

On a final note, the day after the meeting and press conference with PM Trudeau and Trump, Sean Spicer had this to say in the morning White House press briefing:

“Yesterday the president set — had an incredibly productive set of meetings and discussions with Prime Minister Joe Trudeau of Canada, focusing on our shared commitment to close cooperation in addressing both the challenges facing our two countries and the problems throughout the world.” Um, Sean?  It’s Justin … Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Not Joe.

I asked one of my Canadian friends if we could trade leaders … just for a year or so.  Her response, verbatim, was: “Over my dead body (and those of millions of Canucks!!) Sorry…”  Guess that means ‘no’, huh?  And I was even willing to throw in Bannon, Miller, Spicer, Conway, Sessions and DeVos as a bonus!  Well, can’t blame me for trying.  Sigh.

Uneasy Civilization

My blogger-friend Hugh is a philosopher, a deep thinker. Whereas I look at the political turmoil and upheaval of current times, both in the U.S. and on the other side of the globe, and wonder why some people are so determined to destroy our society, Hugh finds the answers to those questions in the works of the old philosophers. His post today is an excellent analysis of why people are so willing to follow and support leaders like Trump, LePen and Wilders in spite of, or perhaps because of, the chaos they create. Please take a few minutes to read Hugh’s post and think about what he says. Thank you Hugh for the implied permission to share this post!

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In 1929 Sigmund Freud wrote his famous and truly remarkable book Civilization and Its Discontents. The latter term, in German, is “Unbehagen,” which means, literally, “uneasiness.” In any event, Freud pointed out that civilization is bought at a price. He never suggested that the price was not worth paying, but those who followed him and had a much less penetrating insight into the trials and tribulations of civilized people decided that the price was not worth paying. Freud worried about repression and sublimation (which actually resulted in creative activity) whereas his acolytes preached that mental health consists in the absence of restraint in order to foster increased pleasure and “realizing one’s potential.”

What followed in this country within a decade or two was a plethora of pop-psychologists telling Americans that repression was a bad thing and the values that had created what we call “civilized society” were a sham. Following Nietzsche, they…

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Did Anybody Notice???

It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment. Ansel Adams

Yet, despite our many advances, our environment is still threatened by a range of problems, including global climate change, energy dependence on unsustainable fossil fuels, and loss of biodiversity. Dan Lipinski

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead


Did anybody notice the news last week? In California … about the Oroville Dam, north of Sacramento?  More than 190,000 people were forced to leave their homes under an evacuation order.  The fear was that a largely earthen emergency spillway could collapse and cause catastrophic floods on the Feather River.

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And what of the bushfires and bats in Australia, in the midst of one of the most ferocious heatwaves on record?  Parts of South Australia and Victoria reached 46 °C (115° F), while New South Wales and Queensland recorded temperatures above 47 °C (117° F). At least five towns in New South Wales and four in Queensland had their hottest day ever recorded over the weekend. As Ed McMahon used to say to Johnny Carson, “how hot WAS it?”  Well, it was so hot that thousands of bats dropped dead from the heat in eastern Australia, falling from the trees. The latest heatwave has led to people being admitted to hospitals as well as blackouts due to excessive use of air-conditioning. It has also sparked dozens of bush fires in New South Wales that firefighters are still trying to contain.

 

Why am I writing about this now?  What is the connection between a potential dam failure/flood in California and a heat wave in Australia?  Climate change. Pure and simple … climate change brought about, at least in part, by the habits of mankind and his obdurate burning of fossil fuels, as well as other things that produce excess carbon emissions, thus causing a greenhouse effect and destroying the ozone layer of the earth’s atmosphere. As to why I am writing about this now … first, the two above-mentioned incidents were widely reported, but little noted here in the U.S., where the masses were consumed by Trumpy Tweets and scandals involving national security advisor Michael Flynn, spokesperson Kellyanne Conway, and the contentious confirmation hearings of Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions.  The stories of a heatwave in Australia and a narrowly-averted disaster in California, along with that of six tornadoes in and around New Orleans were apparently not all that interesting.

In recent news, on Monday, 23 January, just after Trump’s inauguration, employees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received the following memo:

I just returned from a briefing for Communication Directors where the following information was provided. These restrictions are effective immediately and will remain in place until further direction is received from the new Administration’s Beach Team. Please review this material and share with all appropriate individuals in your organization. If anyone on your staff receives a press inquiry of any kind, it must be referred to me so I can coordinate with the appropriate individuals in OPA.

  • No press releases will be going out to external audiences.
  • No social media will be going out. A Digital Strategist will be coming on board to oversee social media. Existing, individually controlled, social media accounts may become more centrally controlled.
  • No blog messages.
  • The Beach Team will review the list of upcoming webinars and decide which ones will go forward.
  • Please send me a list of any external speaking engagements that are currently scheduled among any of your staff from today through February.
  • Incoming media requests will be carefully screened.
  • No new content can be placed on any website. Only do clean up where essential.
  • List servers will be reviewed. Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press.

I will provide updates to this information as soon as I receive it.

Meanwhile, on 03 February, Florida representative Matt Gaetz introduced a bill that would terminate the EPA by the end of 2018. Terminate.  No more research, no more directives, no more scientific studies.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  The bill is co-sponsored by representatives Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Steven Palazzo of Mississippi.

climate-change-meme-kyle-hGaetz, a freshman in Congress, said the EPA’s rules and regulations designed to protect the environment actually hurt people and that the agency has “violated the sovereignty of the states.” Democrats in Congress are not overly concerned that the EPA will be abolished, as Gaetz’ freshman status likely means that he will not have the political clout to push his bill through.  Additionally, to completely abolish the EPA would require repealing a number of laws entrusting the agency with a number of specific environmental responsibilities.

However, Trump still appears to be set to chop the EPA’s budget drastically, and then there are the braying duo, Ebell and Pruitt …  .  Pruitt has spent the better part of his career as attorney general of Oklahoma suing the EPA … in fact he has filed a total of 14 lawsuits against the EPA.  And now he will, in all likelihood, run the agency.

The full senate is set to vote this week on the confirmation of Trump’s choice to lead the EPA, climate-change denier and supporter of the fossil fuel industry, Scott Pruitt. Trump already placed another climate change denier, Myron Ebell, in the position of director of the Center for Energy and Environment. I have written about both Ebell and Pruitt in the past few months.

Recently Pruitt acknowledged the existence of climate change, though he argued that the role of human activity is subject to debate. Just last year he referred to climate change as a ‘religious belief’.  During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt was asked by Senator Bernie Sanders about his personal opinion on the link between climate change and human activity, Pruitt demurred, claiming his opinion would be immaterial to his job as EPA administrator.  I love Sanders response:

“Really? You are going to be the head of the agency to protect the environment, and your personal feelings about whether climate change is caused by human activity and carbon emissions is immaterial?”

Much can and should be argued in favour of continuing research into climate science, additional regulations to reduce carbon emissions, and a number of other initiatives for which the EPA has been responsible, but I and others have said it all before.  The question before us today is what will happen to the EPA and how will it affect the earth’s future?  Fortunately, other nations are taking climate change seriously and will continue to do so even if the U.S. backs out of the Paris Climate Accord.  However, every nation needs to do its part, lest heat waves, droughts, floods, and melting polar ice caps become the norm.  It is interesting that the representative who wants to do away with the EPA is from Florida, a state where they are already fighting against rising sea levels.

We can hope that the senate, seeing the chaos the Trump administration has been this past week, has begun to shed its collective rose-tinted glasses and will vote with their minds and consciences when the Pruitt confirmation comes to the floor for a vote, but I am not counting on it.  Perhaps somebody should take them, in their stuffy suits and ties, to Australia and leave them for a week … then perhaps they would understand.  Probably not, but it is fun to think about, yes?

New Weekly Feature … Good People Doing Good Things!

I am trying out a new feature here on Filosofa’s Word.  My Monday morning ‘no-politics’ column has become quite popular since I started it last year, and I have come to realize that, while the things I write and opine about are important and cannot be ignored, we all need a bit of a break from the serious stuff every now and again.  So, I want to try a new Wednesday afternoon, mid-week post that will feature ‘good people doing good things’ around the world.  Unlike the Monday morning post, I cannot promise Wednesday’s will be completely free of political issues, because often politics and global affairs are the reason people need to become philanthropists. But politics will not be the central focus. Hopefully I won’t run out of material after week #3! Please let me know your thoughts, and PLEASE … if you are aware of a person, family or NGO that is doing good things to make the world a better place … send me a suggestion!

I am kicking this experiment off today with a post about Bill and Melinda Gates, and their foundation called … Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)!  Launched in 2000 BMGF is said to be the largest transparently operated private foundation in the world. Their primary goals are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. Warren Buffett is the third trustee of the organization and has contributed generously from his own wealth.  Bill Gates, as of 2013, had contributed $28 billion of his own money to the foundation!  Buffett’s contributions, made in annual installments, have totaled $18.76 billion as of July 2015.  The three trustees are fully invested in this venture, unlike other foundations that serve primarily as a pass-thru for donations taken from others and distributed to a cause.

gatesA bit about Bill and Melinda.  In 1975, along with Paul Allen, Bill Gates founded Microsoft Corporation, that today is the largest PC software company in the world. Since 1987, Gates has been included in the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people and was the wealthiest from 1995 to 2007, again in 2009, and has been since 2014. (Eat your heart out, Donald Trump!)  His current wealth is estimated at $84.2 billion.  In 2006, Gates stepped down from his day-to-day role at Microsoft in order to devote more of his time to the good works of his foundation.  In addition to financial contributions to his own foundation, Gates has made significant contributions to other philanthropic organizations in the fields of science, medical research and education. Time magazine named Gates one of the 100 people who most influenced the 20th century, as well as one of the 100 most influential people of 2004, 2005, and 2006.

gates-mBill and Melinda met when she was employed at Microsoft in the 1990s, and the couple married in 1994.  In addition to her work with the Gates Foundation, she has been involved with a number of other charitable works, including serving as chairperson for a campaign to raise money for Seattle Children’s Hospital and personally contributing $10 million to her former high school.

The foundation’s programs, grants and investments are far too numerous to list in this post, but in general, they are broken down into the following areas:

  • Global Development Division – to combat extreme poverty through grants. Works include financial services for the poor, agricultural development, water/sanitation/hygiene, sanitation technology innovations, and other more specific causes, such as helping out after the 2004 earthquake in India.
  • Global Health Division – major contributor to the Global Fund to Fight Aids. Other projects in this area include polio eradication, a children’s vaccine program, HIV research, working with World Health Organization (WHO) on tropical disease research, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
  • United States Division – supports two primary initiatives: libraries and education.  The foundation has given grants, installed computers and software, and provided training and technical support in partnership with public libraries nationwide in an effort to increase access and knowledge. The foundation has provided scholarships far too numerous to list, but also works with teachers’ unions, United Negro College Fund, and many other education-based organizations.
  • Global Policy & Advocacy Division – is best defined by a statement from the foundation’s website: “Because our resources alone are not enough to advance the causes we care about, we engage in advocacy efforts to promote public policies that advance our work, build strategic alliances with governments and the public and private sectors, and foster greater public awareness of urgent global issues.”

The foundation has won numerous awards, and in 2016, President Barack Obama honored Bill and Melinda Gates with The Presidential Medal of Freedom for their philanthropic efforts.

Two things put the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation far and above many other philanthropic organizations:

  1. They do not merely solicit and collect donations, then distribute them to causes, but they have invested heavily of their own wealth. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have pledged to give away half their wealth over the course of their lifetime.
  2. The trustees of the foundation have invested more than just money. They give of themselves, their time, their energy.  This is what many such organizations fail to do.  If you are wealthy, it is not a huge sacrifice to give away money, but no matter who you are, or how wealthy, your time is your most valuable commodity, and Bill and Melinda Gates also give their time to overseeing their projects.

Two things made me decide to write about this particular foundation this week.  First, after the confirmation of Betsy DeVos last week, I was looking at her family’s philanthropic works, and they cannot even hold a candle to the humanitarian causes supported by the Gates Foundation.  DeVos family mainly donate, it seems, to politicians … politicians who seem compelled to take away from global humanitarian causes.  My other reason was an article in the Guardian this morning:

“Trump’s ‘global gag rule’ could endanger millions of women and children, Bill and Melinda Gates warn”

The “global gag rule” imposed by Donald Trump, blocking US funds to any organisation involved in abortion advice and care overseas, could impact millions of women and girls, endangering their lives and those of their babies, Bill and Melinda Gates have warned.

The changes are expected to result in funding from the world’s biggest donor to family planning and women’s health programmes in the developing world being slashed. It could, Bill Gates told the Guardian, “create a void that even a foundation like ours can’t fill”.

I rest my case.  In addition to the billions of dollars spent on humanitarian causes, and donations to other good works around the world, the BMGF has inspired others, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to follow in their footsteps.  Doing the small bit of research I did for this post was uplifting and gave me hope that we can still yet learn to help one another, that while we talk of the greed of big corporations, and that infamous ‘one percent’, there are people out there who want to be a part of solving the world’s problems, or at least do a small part to make the world a better place for humanity.  Two thumbs up to Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett for their courage, hard work and generosity!

Note:  I just realized, after working for 3 hours on this post, that today is, in fact, not Wednesday but Tuesday!  Sheesh.  Well, from this point forward, this will be a Wednesday afternoon feature.  If I can remember what day it is.

two-thumbs

The Plot Thickens …

flynnOne of Trump’s cabinet picks that I have not written about yet is National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.  I did not intentionally neglect him, but there are only so many hours in a day, and I simply had not gotten around to him.  Turns out, I should have. Flynn, a retired United States Army lieutenant general, served 33 years in the U.S. Army.  Trump named him to be National Security Advisor, a position which does not require the advice and consent of the Senate. Concerns about Flynn began almost immediately, for his purported close relations with Russia, and for his role in the smear campaign against Hillary Clinton, using fake news and conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit Ms. Clinton.

Having already proven that he is not above playing dirty pool, it should come as no surprise that he may have significantly breeched a code of conduct and broken the law on Christmas Day, 2016, during a conversation with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.  That a conversation between Flynn and Kislyak took place on December 25th is verifiable fact.  The content of the conversation is what seems to be in dispute, and much is yet unknown.  However, I am a firm believer that when there is a lot of smoke in the house, you ought to call the fire department.  First, Flynn claimed that he only called Kislyak to wish him a “Merry Christmas”.  Then, it was said by the Trump transition team that the two discussed arrangements for a phone call between Trump and Putin.

Note that this was at a point during the final days of President Obama’s administration when he had a tough decision to make.  It had been confirmed that Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC and releasing confidential information that may have affected the election.  As of December 25th, President Obama had made the decision to impose sanctions on Russia, but had not yet done so.

Now comes the part that is not, as yet, verified, but that may well be a smoking gun.  According to nine “unnamed current and former national security sources”, Flynn allegedly gave Kislyak a ‘heads up’ that President Obama planned to impose sanctions, but not to worry, as Trump would remove them once he took office.

In January, Mike Pence stated that the two “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.” Then as recently as Wednesday, Flynn was asked twice whether he had discussed the sanctions with Kislyak, to which he responded both times that he had not. Then the very next day, Thursday, Flynn’s spokesperson said that Flynn, “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”  He cannot remember if he discussed the forthcoming sanctions or not. This is where the trouble starts.

putinFour days after the conversation between Flynn and Kislyak, President Obama announced the sanctioning of Russian intelligence officials, expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats suspected of being spies and shutting down two Russian facilities in the United States. Many expected Putin to respond angrily and with retaliation, but instead he simply said, “It is regrettable that the Obama administration is ending its term in this manner. Nevertheless, I offer my New Year greetings to President Obama and his family.” It was puzzling, at the time, almost sinister, but if he already knew of the sanctions and knew they would soon be lifted, that would explain a lot. Trump, of course, condemned the president and praised Putin.

The FBI continues to investigate, and even if it can be proven that Flynn did, in fact, discuss the sanctions with Kislyak, the outcome is still uncertain. I cannot speculate. Flynn served under President Obama as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency until his firing (or resignation, depending on which version you read) in 2014, amid controversy about his chaotic management style (a good fit with his current boss, yes?).  Under another president, Flynn would likely be ousted if the accusations prove true, but under Trump, even the political analysts are not predicting what will happen.  Trump will almost certainly attempt to put some positive spin on the whole thing, but first you can bet that he will call it all ‘fake news’ by a ‘biased media’.  Meanwhile … stay tuned …