Night Owls, a themed open thread, appears at Daily Kos seven days a week
The liberal Economic Policy Institute has published 13 charts that it says show us where our economic priorities ought to be in 2020. The one above is No. 11. Here’s the text EPI wrote to go with it:
School teacher strikes made the news over and over again in 2019, highlighting the profound disinvestment in the nation’s public schools that has been taking place over recent decades. A growing teacher pay penalty is a critical component of that, as seen in this chart.
The teacher pay penalty has not been a fact of U.S. life forever—as recently as the mid-1990s, teacher pay was reasonably competitive. But in the past two decades or more, the relative pay of teachers has collapsed. By 2018, the teacher pay penalty had grown to more than 20%. While teachers do, on average, receive more valuable benefits than their professional peers, these better benefits do not make up for the huge gap in cash compensation. Given the vast reams of research showing the importance of teacher quality to student outcomes, this disinvestment in the pay of teachers is extraordinarily destructive to the quality of the nation’s public education system.
At Daily Kos on this date in 2012—Compare your income and tax rate to Mitt Romney’s:
Slate has produced a Romney income calculator that lets us find out how many hours or days it took Mitt Romney to match our incomes in 2010, and it is good fun to plug in different numbers to get multiple perspectives on just how ridiculously rich Romney is.
For instance, in 2010 it took Mitt Romney 10 hours and 40 minutes to earn the median individual income of $26,400. It took him 16 hours and nine minutes to earn the mean income of $39,959. It took him three days, eight hours, and 53 minutes to earn the $200,000 that by some measures puts you in the top 1 percent; or five days, 19 hours, and seven minutes to earn the $344,000 that puts you in the top 1 percent by another measure.
And don’t forget, however much more money Romney makes than you, he also quite likely pays a lower tax rate. So make your next stop the DNC’s Romney tax calculator, to compare your tax rate to Romney’s and find out how different your taxes would be if you paid at the rate he does. (Not included in the calculation is the cost of all the accountants and lawyers he pays to help him avoid paying taxes.)
So, how long does it take Mitt Romney to make your income, and how much would you save on taxes if like him you only paid 13.9 percent?
When I moved from Chicago to San Francisco in 1973, I was struck by how many of my new friends were also migrants from other states. A native-born Californian was a rarity in those days. Many years later, after spending a quarter century in a military town where most of the population was transient, moving to rural, mostly white Maine in 2016 was a bit of a culture shock.
Originally part of Massachusetts, Maine seceded in 1820, and is celebrating its bicentennial this year. It is the oldest state in terms of population, having a median age of 44.6 years. But it wasn’t just the number of grey-haired heads at the local supermarket that was striking, but rather that their families had lived here for generations. Few that I have met travel far from their New England home. A medical assistant, in her early 30s, upon hearing I was originally from Chicago, asked me if it was safe there.
In a way I can understand the attitude: Maine, like California, has both mountains and oceans, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor recreation, leaving little reason to travel far. But the state has no deserts. As a former desert dweller myself, I was surprised to find that so many had immigrated from the arid lands of Somalia to Lewiston, Maine, just a few miles down the road from my new home.
Lewiston made national news last November when it elected its first Somali-American to the City Council. At just 23 years old, Safiya Khalid also may have been the youngest-ever Council member. Khalid was born in Somalia, and spent the first few years of her life in a refugee camp before eventually settling in Lewiston when she was seven.
One of her high school acquaintances described her as “fun, funny and friendly with everyone, not just the cliques.” In a new book about her adopted hometown, Khalid is described as a hard worker who, when her team was short-handed, managed to cover two workstations at the L.L. Bean plant in town. But before she ran for the City Council seat, she was just another young Somali girl, trying to fit into America’s culture while still being bound by the culture of her first home.
Safiya Khalid, who works on a boot-making machine at L.L.Bean, was accepted to the University of Maine at Orono. She was excited about living on campus and studying psychology. Then her mother, who is disabled, asked, “Who will take care of us?” Safiya had a brother right behind her in school, but the assumption was she’d look after the rest of the family while he went off to college. So now Safiya commutes to nearby USM as a day student. “I work full-time, go to school, pay bills, that’s it,” she says. “I love my family, but that’s the double standard for men and women in my culture.”
Using the power of the Androscoggin River—which forms the boundary between Lewiston and its near neighbor, Auburn—the city was once home to thriving textile and shoe manufacturing. Those industries attracted an earlier wave of job seeking French-Canadian immigrants during the last half of the 19th century. Many of the current residents still bear the French names of their ancestors who arrived between 1840 and 1880, an era when the city’s population grew tenfold to19,083.
After World War I, the textile mills found labor, transportation, and power were all cheaper in the South, kickstarting the town’s slow decline. By the 1980s, the young people began following the jobs, moving out of town in search of employment, not unlike their ancestors. What was left? A town struggling to get by.
“Welfare set in: subsidized housing and unemployment benefits, food stamps—a sadder kind of commerce that swelled City Hall and social agencies,” according to Anderson. The shops and offices downtown began to vanish; chains like Sears moved to the outskirts of town, and others simply closed. Just like hundreds of towns across the nation’s Rust Belt, Lewiston was dying, despite a slight resurgence in the 1990s, which saw health care, banking and other service industries providing some employment.
Then, beginning in February of 2001, came the latest wave of newcomers: the Somalis fleeing the horrors and the terror of the civil war that was tearing their homeland apart. By the beginning of 2003, there were 1,400 new Somali residents in Lewiston, thanks to the available housing, low cost of living, and very low crime rate. Currently, an estimated 6,000 residents from African nations now call Lewiston home; It is their story that Anderson tells in Home Now.
Spanning from 2016 and 2019, the book follows the daily experiences of a handful of Lewiston residents: Fatuma Hussein, a 37-year-old mother of eight, is the founder of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, formerly the United Somali Women. Frequently called upon to give testimony about the immigrants by the legislature in Augusta, Hussein’s days are filled with advocacy and fundraising, as well as maintaining a home for her children, and her husband, whose work as a long-haul trucker often takes him far from home.
Abdikadir Negeye fled Somalia with his family after militants invaded their village in the Jubba Valley. Just five years old, he was often carried by family members as they walked for two weeks across two hundred miles of desert.
The hunger was terrible; the thirst, worse. At night they hid from animals and bandits while an adult went sleepless to keep watch. Night or day, roving militias made the journey even more dangerous. Conditions in the part of Dadaab where the family wound up were makeshift, with hunger and disease still constants.
Negeye is a Somali Bantu, a marginalized minority from the south of Somalia, who were often sold as slaves during the Indian Ocean slave trade. Although slavery has long been abolished in Somalia, the descendants of these tribes are looked down upon by ethnic Somalis. When he married an ethnic Somali, her family objected, but eventually relented. This was a marriage that never would have happened in Somalia.
What had seemed big differences in Somalia seemed less so in America. Longing supplanted so much else. People missed different things—a white stucco house, a camel herd, the rain-swollen Jubba—but everyone missed something. There was also the fact that as a group Somalis had suffered deeply—many were physically or sexually assaulted, or endured famine, or saw loved ones die. “Some people lose everything, everyone,” artist Jawab Aden told me in in 2006. “Only his or her life is left.” Because of the depth of loss, many Somalis fixed firmly on the present. “We don’t have a back. Only a front,” another man said.
Carrys Ngoy is an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where thousands of young men have been killed or forced to join a militia group. Ngoy wants very much to go to college, but is limited by the catch-22 facing asylum-seekers: They are not allowed to work in the States, or to get federal education funding.
As an asylum seeker, (Ngoy) can’t apply for federal loans, and though he filed for an interview with US Citizenship and Immigration Services soon after he arrived, a large backlog of cases means it could be years before he learns whether he can stay. Meanwhile, even if he can get a job permit and work full-time while in school, it will be hard to cover the costs.
Jamilo Maalim is a young single mother of two who was separated from her parents as a toddler after their village was attacked by warring factions during the Somali civil war. She wound up in a Kenyan refugee camp, where she spent eight years before coming to America. Many years later, discovering that her birth family had survived and was living in the same Kenyan refugee camp, she returned for a long visit.
She liked her time in Africa but wouldn’t leave Lewiston permanently; she’s a single, working mom who values health care, education, the conveniences of Wi-Fi and big-box stores. She arrived here with the malleability of youth, and in many ways the city has formed her. In Lewiston she’s worked as a customer service rep and now at a resource center as a youth specialist. She gets some assistance—a partial housing voucher and fuel credits—but pays the bulk of the cost of babysitters, utilities, groceries, and rent.[…]
Like many young immigrants in Lewiston, she seems less interested in conventional assimilation than an additive acculturation in which her American identity exists alongside her Somali one. Her computer fluency, close ties to Kenya, love of hip-hop, her hijab and full-length baati, her trilingualism and abstinence from alcohol—all of it is who she is. Or as she puts it, “Somali and Mainer and American are parts of me.” On Friday nights she gets pizza from Papa John’s and lets the kids watch cartoons on YouTube while she and a friend dig into their caches of makeup to try out different looks on each other. She’s devoutly Muslim—follows salah and when stressed turns first to Allah.
Seventeen-year-old Nasafari Nahumure is a high school student living with her conservative Christian parents in downtown Lewiston. Hoping to eventually become a lawyer, Nahumure’s story opens with her efforts to achieve an SAT score that will get her into St. John’s University in New York City. Like many children of African immigrants, Nahumure is kept close to home outside of school and the volunteer work she does at the youth center.
Anderson also profiles a retired middle school teacher and grandfather named Jared J. Bristol, who became radicalized after the events of 9/11 led him to some of the deepest, darkest corners of the right-wing Islamophobic blogosphere. He eventually found his way to the SPLC-designated hate group, ACT! for America. Bristol eventually became the local chapter head of the single-issue grassroots organization, which pushes hate for Islam into the mainstream political arena. He began recruiting new members in 2008.
Bristol also pushes anti-Muslim legislation, including a ridiculous bill to ban Sharia law in Maine. The bill never made it out of committee. Bristol got marginally better results with a bill to ban female genital mutilation (FGM) that ultimately failed to pass. Bills that criminalize FGM are more difficult to defeat, because who doesn’t want to outlaw this practice? The fact is, the horrific procedure is already prohibited by federal law. However, what the immigrant community needs is education, not criminalization. And most Somali women are happy to learn that in America, unlike in Somalia, FGM is not needed to insure a “good” marriage, and so are quite willing to allow their daughters to forgo the ordeal.
Following the lives of these individuals over a four-year period exposes what’s good and not so good about the sudden influx of a large foreign population into a fairly insular homogenous population. There were complaints about the amount of taxpayer dollars that went to the refugees to assist them in settling here. What the complainants failed to recognize is that most of those dollars stayed in the local community, as the recipients spent the money on food, clothing, medical care, and rent, all to the benefit of the city.
Fortunately, most of the town welcomed the new immigrants. After a 33-year-old man rolled the head of a pig into a mosque while several dozen men were at prayer, the community came to the defense of their new residents:
Even among those who didn’t embrace the newcomers, there were limits to what was acceptable. The comments sections of local papers filled with condemnations, and people rallied around mosque members.
The townspeople also turned out on behalf of the refugees when a white nationalist group decided to hold a demonstration in Lewiston. In January 2003, the Illinois-based group planned an anti-immigrant rally in the city. Two pro-immigrant demonstrations were held on the same day, including one at Bates College that drew over 4,000 people.
On the January day of the rally, more than four thousand people showed up at Bates. To enter the auditorium, they walked through metal detectors and past bomb-sniffing dogs and a line of police. Those who couldn’t fit inside chanted and sang outdoors for hours. The turnout included both of Maine’s US senators and its US representatives. The state Speaker of the House read from a resolution unanimously passed by the legislature that said in part, “Hate and bigotry have no place in the great state of Maine.”
Several hundred more met at the armory where the racists planned to hold their rally. In the end, just 40 members of the white nationalist group showed up.
That’s not to say that all’s well for our new neighbors here in Maine. It is not just their religion or their attire that sets the newcomers apart, but the color of their skin as well. They are black people, living in a nation that elected Donald Trump. Theirs is not an easy road, but it surely pales in comparison to the road they travelled to get here.
In Home Now, Cynthia Anderson presents the people of Lewiston and their stories in a way that allows the reader to feel like we know them. We sit in on the family conferences and cheer for their victories. We are there when a child is born and when the community celebrates the end of Ramadan, and we are reminded, again and again, that the Republican Party is missing the boat entirely when they demonize these immigrants. Many Somalis, especially the men, would likely be most comfortable in the older Republican Party, the party of fiscal restraint and “traditional” family values.
Of course, that party no longer exists, and Donald Trump has made it clear that Lewiston’s new residents are not welcome in the current party. They are, however, welcome in ours. Not just in Lewiston, where Khalid ran as a Democrat, but also in places like Minnesota’s 5th District, which is now represented in the U.S. Congress by another Somali immigrant, Ilhan Omar. In 2019, Rep. Omar and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib became the first women of the Muslim faith elected to Congress. They joined the House Democratic Caucus, which includes members of other communities traditionally underrepresented in our democracy.
Former President Bill Clinton, speaking Monday at an event honoring Martin Luther King Jr., talked about our common humanity, which Anderson so richly describes in Home Now:
“America, at its best, is a country of inclusive tribalism,” he told an audience of black leaders, public officials and activists. “Our churches, our synagogues, our mosques or temples, we like diversity but it only works if you think our common humanity matters more.”
Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer has produced a good read on the “End Times” evangelicals who support Donald Trump because they believe, truly and sincerely, that Donald Trump will bring about the end of the world and they are extremely looking forward to that. It’s worth the read.
To be fair, a great many of us are convinced at this point that Donald Trump will bring about the end of the world. Fewer of us are pleased about this, but there has always, and we can underline that always, been a contingent of Christianity not too interested in the peace-and-love nonsense but extremely invested in the idea that God himself is going to come down and murder their neighbors outright while they, the Chosen Ones, sit back in heavenly recliners and laugh as they watch it all unfold. But there’s a divide here, and one worth pointing out.
The “Left Behind” base may truly believe that the End of the World is Nigh. Preachers have been screaming that one since before there was a word for “preaching,” and the market for it has been high in every culture and on every continent. In the United States the “End Times” movement has been confidently predicting the end of the world was at hand for our entire lifetimes. For as long as post-WWII Israel has existed, a subset of American “evangelicals” (cough) has been giddy over the prospect of the Middle East finally once and for all getting absolutely leveled by war because that means, they believe, Jesus would be coming to kick some non-evangelical ass.
“They don’t necessarily want violence, but they’re eager for Christ to return and they think that this war with Iran and Israel has to happen for their larger hope to pass,” a religious historian tells Mencimer. That’s being very, very charitable: It doesn’t take long to find, on the internets, American religious zealots who absolutely want violence, and are looking forward to the violence, and are so excited over the bloody cleansing of the not-them that they are forever circulating photoshops of nuclear bombs and Jesus flying in on a heavenly hovercraft and the rest. They want it. They need it.
But that’s not quite the crowd that Trump is surrounding himself with, as he hoovers up far-far-right evangelical leaders and poses for laying-of-hands-on meetings with the class of God-lovers who own their own “church” jets. Trump does not give a flying damn about evangelicalism, or the End of the World, or be able to tell you the difference between Gog, Magog, and eggnog, but he does understand grifters, con artists, tax cheats, and transactionalism.
If the crookedest, most dishonest supposed “preachers” in America want to shake his hand and sing his praises to rooms of the, quite literally, most gullible people in America, by God he is up for as much of that as they can fling his way.
So there’s a disparity here. To be sure, other Republican leaders have given at least lip service to End Times “theology,” as practiced by people with books to sell and whose sermons come with 1-800 numbers to most efficiently separate out who is getting into heaven and who is a dirty filthy pagan. Some Republicans may genuine believe it, the far larger majority is playing to a crowd. But Trump neither knows the details of evangelical schisms nor gives a flying carob-coated damn; as a malignant narcissist, Trump requires only praise and attention, and is willing to dispense out only whatever best gets him that praise and attention.
He’s surrounded himself with End Times grifters because End Times grifters are the people who are most eager to sell themselves to him. He’ll listen to anyone about bombing anything if the requester has something to offer him.
It’s a good read, and a reminder that everything is terrible in every possible way and that the comparisons of conservatism and cult cut considerably closer to the bone than most of the press is willing to grapple with. At its heart, though, it remains a story of insincerity, organized fraud, and grifting. To that crowd, Trump must really look like their Chosen One.
About halfway through the video of a dinner in an extravagant blue room, Parnas, an indicted associate of Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, brings up Yovanovitch, framing her as a “problem.”
Joseph Bondy, an attorney for Lev Parnas, told NewsHour that Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, was at the dinner with the president and several others when Trump said he wanted Yovanovitch out.
About 42 minutes into the hour-long video, Parnas appears to say, “The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start, is we gotta get rid of the ambassador. She’s still left over from the Clinton administration.”
Trump then appears to say, “Where? The ambassador to Ukraine?”
Parnas replies, “Yes. She’s basically walking around telling everybody ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached, just wait.’”
A few seconds later, Trump appears to say, “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.”
Bondy said Parnas attended the dinner along with Igor Fruman, another of Giuliani’s business associates. Both Parnas and Fruman have been indicted on federal charges, including violating campaign finance laws.
Yovanovitch was fired about a year after the April 2018 dinner, and subjected to a vicious smear campaign.
Newshour’s Yamiche Alcindor notes that just minutes before the Yovanovitch conversation, attendees of the dinner Ukraine’s resources with Trump.
Minutes before discussing Yovanovitch, Trump discussed the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which is part of the reason Ukraine sought military aid from the United States.
In the video, someone is heard saying, “The resources in Ukraine are tremendous.” A voice also says Ukraine is part of pipelines in Europe. In response, Trump appears to ask, “Ukraine has oil?” Someone replies affirmatively. Trump then appears to ask, “Why aren’t companies going in? Too risky?” Someone says, “Exactly. They were supporting Clintons for all these years.”
Seconds later, Trump appears to ask, “How long will [Ukraine] last in a fight with Russia?” Someone replies, “Without us, not very long.” Trump appears to echo the voice saying, “Without us.”
Got 82 minutes? Watch the full video below, and get a fascinating, if terrifying, snapshot into the way Trump talks when he thinks only a couple dozen people are listening. The conversations span the world, from the Middle East to China to Germany to South Korea and so many places in between, both before and after the Ukraine was the current topic.
The share of U.S. workers represented by a union ticked down slightly from 2018 to 2019, dropping from 11.7% to 11.6%; the share of U.S. workers who are union members also dropped from 10.5% to 10.3%. The overall number of workers represented by a union stayed about the same, growing by 3,000. (Interestingly, unions grew by 47,000 members in Missouri, hitting a 15-year high.)
While the picture for unions remains dim, after decades of decline, it’s worth noting that the Supreme Court’s anti-union Janus decision hasn’t—so far, anyway—dealt public-sector unions the intended death blow. “The meaningful decline in the union membership rate among local government workers (from 40.3% to 39.4%) might suggest Janus is having its intended effect. However, there was not a similar decline among state government workers,” the Economic Policy Institute reports. But “The share of state government workers who are members of unions rose substantially between 2018 and 2019, from 28.6% to 29.4%.”
Ã°ÂŸÂšÂ¨BREAKINGÃ°ÂŸÂšÂ¨New Jersey is now the first state in the country with a Guaranteed Severance Pay Bill. This is a HUGE victory for working people. We can dream big and win in every state across the country if we put people over profit. #StopWallStreetLootingpic.twitter.com/aYCCrOu86p
Hey, Daily Kos Community! I don’t know about y’all, but it feels so good to not be watching the Impeachment Trial of Donald J. Trump this afternoon. I can’t be alone in that mood. I won’t waste any more of your time talking about that which has consumed us. Instead, I’ll go on ahead and send you into this week’s dreamy collection of great Community writing—a list that’s entirely free of impeachment content.
The Trump Omnibus has grown so large, it’s becoming overwhelming to the average reader. The heroes who collect the Popular Vote Loser’s bad deeds created this accessible summary of 2019. Take a look just for the scandals you may have already forgotten thanks to the most recent scandals (or the ones before that).
“When Anderson Cooper is late to your local disaster, you know something is wrong.” The media mostly ignored a horrific flood in Nashville back 2010, which impacted the resources the community received. As such natural events of devastation become ever more common, can society keep up?
This is the 628th edition of the Spotlight on Green News & Views (previously known as the Green Diary Rescue). Here is the January 18 edition. Inclusion of a story in the Spotlight does not necessarily indicate agreement with or endorsement of it.
OUTSTANDING GREEN STORIES
geo3 writes—Climate Change: Sustainability Framework for Carbon Reduction: “This last summer of 2018, the cascading effects of climate change were very visible in the Pacific Northwest. The summer fires were on a mass scale, in a faraway place, impacting a local community. This was one of those outlier climate events, lasting for an unspecified time, that may just become part of the norm. Fires from British Columbia, Eastern Washington, and California brought a very visible smoke to the Puget Sound Region. The air quality was designated as unhealthy, solar panel electric production was reduced during this time. Yet, we in the Puget Sound Region had a fraction of the effects of some locations in British Columbia, where daylight was reduced to dusk and air quality was at the extreme levels Like many citizens I am concerned about climate change, this incident was an indicator that brought climate change very front and center. I have kids and am concerned about their future as well as future generations. I wonder whether our civilization has the wherewithal to do something about climate change while strategically building in resilience to our communities. In my lifetime (I am 54) what was originally “environmentalism” is now a cause of reducing carbon emissions, with the magnitude of the challenge, environmentalism seems like a quaint subset.”
CRITTERS AND THE GREAT OUTDOORS
PHScott writes—The Daily Bucket: This is Not a Beaver: “Posted from the eastern Florida Panhandle where the temps got to 29º around 7 AM and will not make it to 50 today. Tonight is expected to be a bit colder. No complaints since a freeze is a good thing to knock back some bugs that persist into winter and weedy plants that do not belong here. Also a freeze helps in spotting the cold-hardy invasives as the more tender native plants like woodland ferns die back and prepare for spring – which is maybe 2 weeks away. […]Some of you may recall that I’ve had a beaver problem for a few years now. They have slowly expanded their way up a trickle of a stream from the man-made pond by building a series of dams. Some of the dams are near a foot high; the biggest right to my south across the fence at the bottom of my hill is over 2′ high. From there they built another in the middle of a woody pasture in an awesome U-shape that must have been 100 feet long.”
OceanDiver writes—The Daily Bucket – in the waves: “A lot of birds make their living by the seashore, but some are more comfortable where waves are breaking on the beach than others. Glaucous-winged gulls prefer either the beach itself or the surface of deeper water further out. Mew gulls thrive in big waves and surf, where they snatch up food that’s gotten stirred up there. Mews are small, light and very maneuverable, in comparison to the larger bulkier GWs.We only get breaking waves on these shores of the inland sea in winter, when the wind frequently kicks up. This beach, where all these pictures were taken, is usually flat calm. Great Blue Herons are stealth hunters, stalking the edge of the water waiting for a fish or crab to come by.”
OceanDiver writes—The Daily Bucket – winter changing skies: “Typically in winter we have what the weather folks call “unsettled weather”, which along with intermittent rain means lots of convection and cool clouds. These days I’m catching skies in mid afternoon on my daily walkies. […] Sometimes it’s the water I notice varying, as from tide to tide. Lately we’ve been getting very high tides, the last of the King Tides for this winter, the only times big driftwood can be floated from where it’s been resting high up on the beaches.”
geo3 writes—The Carbon Victory Garden In The Anthropocene: “In December 2018, I posted on LinkedIN Climate Change: Sustainability Framework for Carbon Reduction (Now a link to Daily Kos Post). This simplified, five-part framework for carbon reduction can be applied to any organization from a family residence to a larger organization, even a corporation. Within the framework, the concept of mass civic engagement in a manner reminiscent of the Victory Garden movement of WWI and WWII was explored as a method to create an impact of CO2 reduction through engaging a large percentage of the US population (or any country). What if we applied the framework to agriculture? Agriculture is a sector of society that involves backyard gardeners, small market farm producers, and large multinationals, with all of humanity as the consumers.”
Pakalolo writes—Adani gets it’s filthy hands on QLD’s Galilee Basin; Insurers feast on climate refugee misery: “Adani is a global company based in Ahmedabad, India. Adani and its CEO, Jeyakumar Janakaraj, have their fingerprints over some of the worst environmental extraction sites on the planet. The company builds power plants and operates them with coal and gas. They dabble in green energy technologies but, their claim to infamy is their bottom line of exploitation of fossil fuels that has massive impacts on the world’s climate. The burning of coal and oil are the fuels generating dangerous levels of CO2 so high that it has raised temperatures to levels that humans have experienced before. Adani exploits the finite resources of Indonesia, India, and Australia. Controversial, to say the least, is a proposed mine in the Australian state of Queensland known as the Galilee Basin. The unspoiled basin has Australian politicians and fossil fuel corporations salivating over the riches ripe for exploitation. They have promoted cattle grazing in National Parks, repealed the Wild Rivers Act, played God with the extinction of the Southern Black-throated Finch. The mine will cause abrupt fragmentation of local wildlife habitat, renowned forests, and marshland destroyed in the currently unspoiled basin.”
Pakalolo writes—The platypus, one of the world’s Gondwana ‘dinosaur’ lineages, face extirpation from climate change: “The raging bushfires and intense drought that has plagued the Australian continent for several months have taken a heavy toll on wildlife, particularly in the state of New South Wales. The images of burned koalas and kangaroos are chilling, but they are not the only species that are suffering. In the streams of the permanently wet Gondwana rainforests, along with other stream catchments in platypus habitat of New South Wales, climate change enhanced drought and bushfire has decimated aquatic habitat to the point where many now fear the local extinction of the species. According to Aussie Ark, the ‘platypus’ distribution range is throughout the entire fire ground on the east coast of Australia, including the Manning catchment, and the species is suffering from the effects of fire, and catastrophic effects of drought, climate change as well as the unregulated pumping of water from rivers’.Staggering numbers of deaths to this species are now estimated to be in the ‘thousands if not tens of thousands’.”
ClimateDenierRoundup writes—Trump And GOP Ignore Climate Forest For a Trillion Trees: “Responding to the same polling and young conservative pressure that’s pushing Trump to pay lip service to climate, House Republicans told Axios that their plan wouldn’t have an emissions reduction target, but would instead focus on capturing CO2 (with a focus on trees), funding clean-energy innovations, and cleaning up plastic pollution in the rivers of foreign countries. Now, putting aside the fact that cleaning up plastic pollution doesn’t have anything to do with climate change, as opposed to addressing plastic production, this is hardly worth the inevitable ‘GOP is coming around on climate’ coverage that accompanies every one of these fake-outs. Particularly considering Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) said ‘it’s a mistake to set arbitrary targets like some folks are doing,’ which is presumably a reference to temperature targets. It’s hard to imagine anything less arbitrary than figures backed up by literally thousands of pages of science, but perhaps by ‘arbitrary’ he means ‘not approved by my fossil fuel industry donors’.”
ClimateDenierRoundup writes—Deniers Double Down On Debunked-For-Decades Myth that ‘CO2 is Plant Food That’s Good For The Planet’: “While elected Republicans struggle to find a way to make it look as though they’re doing something about climate change without actually doing anything to upset their fossil fuel funders, for die-hard deniers it’s more of the same: repeating the decades-old myth that really CO2 is good for the planet because it’s plant food. There have even been whispers that deniers will use this approach to argue that the social cost of carbon should be negative—meaning we should actually subsidize fossil fuel use because higher CO2 levels are good for crops. In fact, fossil-fuel-funded Pat Michaels and Heritage Foundation’s Kevin Dayaratna just published a study with Ross McKitrick claiming exactly that. But given Michaels and McKitrick’s track record (they’re the geniuses whose 2004 study confused radians and degrees) and Michaels and Dayaratna’s positions in Koch–funded front groups (despite their acknowledgements section claiming that ‘no funding was received for this work’) odds are slim this study will fare well when real scientists get ahold of it.”
Besame writes—Desaparecido in Mexico – monarch sanctuary manager: “Homero Gómez González, who manages El Rosario Sanctuary in the mountains of Michoacàn, Mexico, hasn’t been seen since January 13. His family reported him missing the next day and have received calls demanding money for his safe return. Relatives of Mr Gómez told local media that the conservationist had received threats from an organised crime gang. Rights groups had earlier said they feared that Mr Gómez may have been targeted because of his fight against illegal logging, one of the activities that criminal gangs in the area are involved in. Mr Gómez is a tireless campaigner for the conservation of the monarch butterfly and the pine and fir forests where it hibernates.”
Dan Bacher writes—Indigenous Youth Occupy Office of B.C. Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources: “Lekwungen Territories/Victoria, British Columbia, Canada – Indigenous Youth in Solidarity with Wet’suwet’en today delivered a letter to NDP MLA Michelle Mungall and are now occupying Mungall’s Office. […] ‘As Indigenous youth we stand with Wet’suwet’en assertion of sovereignty because we understand that Indigenous Peoples will cease to exist without our land; our languages, cultures, and future generations cannot survive without our it. Indigenous youth are not only inheriting a climate crisis driven by fossil fuel projects like CGL, but Canada’s legacy of colonization, genocide, and gendered violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people. In protecting the lands from industrial development, we are protecting our bodies from violence. Indigenous people defending their lands from destruction are not criminal or disposable. As Indigenous youth, we urge you to uphold Indigenous rights and Wet’suwet’en law by advocating for the removal of CGL and RCMP from Wet’suwet’en territories,’ the letter from Indigenous Youth in Solidarity with Wet’suwet’en continues.’”
CANDIDATES, STATE AND DC ECO-RELATED POLITICS
Meteor Blades writes—Trump pitches fossil fuels in Davos, as report puts climate crisis as world’s No. 1 risk: “The World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, Switzerland, opened this week with the 15th edition of its Global Risks Report. The top 2 risks on the list are the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, two matters inextricably bound up with each other. And in struts Donald Trump playing pitchman for fossil fuels and taking swipes at climate activism. […] Trump’s Davos speech came on the heels of the White House’s move last month to hack the extension of tax credits for solar and electric vehicles out of the $1.37-trillion spending deal. Congressional leaders had come to agreement on keeping the credits, but reportedly, killing them was key to getting Trump’s signature. Only the production tax credit for wind got a temporary extension. Which is kind of amazing, considering Trump’s bald-faced hatred of and lying about wind turbines.”
Aldous J Pennyfarthing writes—Rand Paul worries about making planet habitable — but not our planet, of course: “Rand Paul isn’t too concerned about climate change on Planet Earth, but to his credit he does think we need to start creating livable ecosystems elsewhere. I guess he thinks humanity is on a cosmic pub crawl, and since we’re about to wear out our welcome here, we need to find new and better floating orbs to trash: Sen. Paul: With so many billionaires about, why not a private prize of $10 million for the scientist who genetically creates an O2 producing organism that will thrive in the frigid, methane lakes of Titan? “First of all, ‘hundreds of millions of years’? Modern humans have existed for maybe 300,000 years. If we manage to survive the Ocher Apocalypse, we can talk about adding another 2,000 or so, but it feels way premature to talk in terms of millions, much less hundreds of millions.”
Fossil Fuels & Emissions Controls
ClimateDenierRoundup writes—Taking A Peek At Upcoming Fossil Fuel Propaganda and Policy on Methane, Gas Bans, Coal and Protests: “We hit the ground running this year, so today we’re going to do a bit of stock-taking about what 2020 is going to bring us from the fossil fuel industry. Right now, the industry is not exactly in a happy place. Public polling from Yale shows that the “alarmed” portion of Americans is now the largest of the six segments at 31% of the population (compared to just 10% who are doubtful or dismissive of climate concerns). Last week, TIME’s Justin Worland published a piece based on an interview with Shell’s CEO, who’s feeling the pressure from climate activists and the realities of climate science. (Makes sense, given that last week Extinction Rebellion blockaded Shell offices.) The industry certainly has a problem with public perception, particularly but not solely among the youth, as protests from Harvard Law and Oxford, among others, show. Step one, then, for the fossil fuel industry is to make it harder for those pesky protestors to shine a spotlight on companies.”
Renewables, Efficiency, Energy Storage & Conservation
Mokurai writes—Renewable Monday: Oil Rigs to Reefs and Bases for Wind Turbines: “Several countries have turned oil drilling platforms into highly productive and diverse reefs. Now the idea is going around of replacing the above-water structures with wind turbines on 5,000 such rigs. California is hosting a conference on it. Many environmentalists want oil drilling platforms in the ocean totally removed, but it is much cheaper and more productive to leave the steel pillars. They become reefs supporting a vast diversity of ocean life, including fish and sea lions. Repurposing oil platforms Wonkette: In Long Beach, California, this weekend, the Aquarium of the Pacific hosted a conference to explore how California’s 27 offshore oil platforms might be used for good, not evil and oil slicks. A dozen of the things are likely to be retired in the coming decade, and since their underwater pilings have already created artificial reefs, there might be opportunities to repurpose the platforms for wind power, or as hotels for divers.”
Mokurai writes—Renewable Tuesday: Decarbonizing the Yale Campus: “West Campus solar array to generate 1.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity yearly. Yale University has begun to augment its renewable energy sources with electricity generated by a one-megawatt AC output photovoltaic solar array on roof space at the university’s West Campus. Yale is purchasing the solar power from SolarCity, America’s largest solar power provider, at a discount to current utility rates. SolarCity designed and installed the system of more than 4,400 solar panels spread over 350,000 square feet of a warehouse roof. Multiple members of SolarCity’s team that worked on Yale’s solar project are also Yale alumni. The solar project is part of Yale’s effort to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and is one of a number of sustainability initiatives announced by President Peter Salovey in August 2014.”
Mokurai writes—Renewable Wednesday: Arbitrage in the US Electrical Grid: “Renewable electricity needs the widest possible interconnections. There are two major US interconnections, and one smaller one for Texas. The Tres Amigas SuperStation proposed to intertie all three, but Texas pulled out, and the intertie between the Eastern and Western Interconnects was greatly reduced in size. Solar power is available at sunrise on the East Coast three hours before it reaches the West Coast, and continues on the West Coast three hours after sunset in the East. Wind power peaks at night, but with similar delays from region to region. Thus power is cheaper in one area than in another, a market failure. Whoever can connect them can balance prices across a much larger market, taking a bit of the difference as profit for itself. This issue is in the purview of NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corporation).”
Mokurai writes—Renewable Friday: California Leads the Nation, as Usual: “California breakdown of electricity imports upholds states’s clean reputation. Data released by the California Energy Commission shows wind as the largest source of electricity imported in 2017, and that even with imports the state’s mix is getting cleaner. California has been the national leader in the energy transition, and in many ways has even led the world — even if outpaced by smaller nations such as Denmark and Uruguay. However, critics have long pointed to the large amount of electricity imported by the state – nearly 1/3 of all power consumed – to allege that the state’s power is not as clean as claimed. Last week the California Energy Commission largely debunked those concerns with new data that shows that the state’s electricity mix remains largely clean, even with imports. According to Total System Electric Generation, in 2017 wind was the largest source of imports at 14.6 terawatt-hours (TWh), as part of 23.5 TWh of imported renewable energy.”
REGULATIONS & PROTECTION
cmax writes—Trump’s EPA is now the Environmental Pollution Agency: “The Trump family must be invested in bottled water our something. They have just made it harder to find clean water in the environment therefore putting a premium on clean water. They have rolled back every effort for the past century to keep our rivers and streams cleaner. Your neighbor can now dump human and animal waste plus whatever toxic chemicals he wants upstream from you and suffer no consequences. He has singlehandedly eliminated reporting for Environmental impact statements for new real estate developments. Since taking over, he has reduced or eliminated more than 90 environmental regulations about water pollution. He probably lays awake at night until he figure out another way to stomp on people. In other words, it will only get worse.”
Meteor Blades writes—Trump regime finalizes move allowing pollution and destruction of wetlands protected by Obama rule: “The retreat on wetlands protections has been in the works since Trump arrived in the Oval Office three years ago. Less than two months after taking the oath, he issued an executive order commanding the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to rework the 2015 Obama administration rule extending Clean Water Act protections to 2 million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands. Last September, the rule was repealed. These moves were one more element in Trump’s and the Republicans’ extremist agenda to roll back environmental and energy rules, actions tracked by the Harvard Law School and Columbia Law School. Ninety such rules have been rolled back or are in the process, according to The New York Times’s analysis of the tracking. Many of those rollbacks are being fought in the courts.”
TRANSPORTATION & INFRASTRUCTURE
B12love writes—Recognizing the Tesla pickup ‘trusk’ as harbinger of the EV revolution and clean disruption: “The Tesla CyberTruck symbolizes the arrival of an economic disruption that is killing the market for gasoline-powered-anything. The competitive basis of both the transportation and energy industries will forever change this decade as a result of technology cost curves crossing critical thresholds. The cost-curve stuff is explained in a video at the end of the diary, but is based on the long-term rate of improvement of key technologies such as silicon chips and battery cells. The Trusk is a declaration of superiority by EV powertrains over ICE power, in it’s most demanding passenger vehicle use-case. Tesla is ‘going Daenerys’ on the work-hard/play hard macho image vehicle which is the heart of the GM and Ford brands. It clouds the emotional math of the purchase decision from on of Price/Features to one of Future/Past. Tesla is the only manufacturer ready for customers to sit in their products and have that conversation.”
OCEANS, WATER, DROUGHT
Dan Bacher writes—Delta Counties: Single Delta Tunnel Project is No Better than Twin Tunnels Water Grab: “On January 15, in response to the Notice of Preparation by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) for review of a single tunnel through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Don Nottoli, chair of the Delta Counties Coalition (DCC), made the following statement on behalf of the five jurisdictions that would be most negatively impacted including Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano and Yolo Counties: It’s been 11 years since the introduction of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan Twin Tunnels proposal, and nearly a year since Governor Newsom’s withdrawal of California WaterFix Twin Tunnels project. It appears DWR is pursuing another inadequate and scientifically flawed project with one tunnel. For several years, the Delta Counties have participated in good faith with the Natural Resources Agency and DWR, sharing why they don’t support an economically and environmentally costly Delta tunnel project, and suggesting ways to meet state water supply needs without harming the Delta. Today’s announcement does not reflect an understanding of the Delta’s core values or concerns. Clearly, a few meetings and a constrained stakeholder committee run by the tunnel construction joint powers authority are no substitute for real collaboration.”
Dan Bacher writes—Update: Bureau of Reclamation slashes flows on American River at critical time for salmon: “The Bureau of Reclamation issued an order on January 10 to reduce water releases on the American River below Nimbus Dam, the crown jewel of the Sacramento Region, from 2,500 cfs to 2,000 pubic feet per second (cfs) on January 15. Yet after issuing that order, the Bureau dropped the flows even lower, down to 1800 cfs, on January 16. The slashing of flows was made at a time when fall Chinook salmon eggs are incubating in the redds (nests), a critical period in the life cycle of the species. Over the past 18 years, salmon runs on the American River, the crown jewel of the Sacramento are, have declined dramatically from a record run of over 150,000 fish in 2003 to relatively small numbers in the past few years, as the above chart reveals. In only one year since 2005 – 2013 – did the run exceed 50,000 fish.”
AGRICULTURE, FOOD & GARDENING
DownHeah Mississippi writes—Saturday Morning Garden Blogging, Vol. 16.04: How To Use IT – Hot Peppers! “Good morning, Gardeners. It’s been cold downheah this week, with several mornings in the low 20s, but Spring is right around the corner. I started pepper seeds last weekend, so my 2020 garden is officially underway! I’ve been thinking about this diary for a couple of weeks, and, since I don’t have much going on as far as actual “gardening” at the moment, I thought I’d do one about how I make hot sauce. Many inspirational thanks to estreya for her ‘How To Use It-Lemons!’ diary last December about making limoncello! Y’all can revisit it here. I love hot sauce…as a current TV commercial says, ‘I put that sh#t on everything!’’”
Laura Clawson writes—Marriott’s ‘green choice’ isn’t so green, and it’s hurting workers: “Why would environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and 350.org have signed a pledge that they wouldn’t use a hotel chain’s environmental program? Because Marriott’s ‘Make a Green Choice’ program, in which hotel guests are asked to opt out of having their rooms cleaned during a stay, is a classic case of greenwashing, and one that hurts workers. According to Sierra magazine, Marriott won’t disclose the environmental benefits of not having rooms cleaned as often, while UNITE HERE Local 2 President Anand Singh told the magazine that ‘when housekeepers do get into a room that hasn’t been serviced in days, they report needing to use more water and chemicals, and they experience pain and injury from having to push their bodies to the limit to get the job done.’ At the same time, they’re losing work hours, and income, to people doing what they think is the right thing.”
This Carbon Based Life writes—Angry Earth: “Godzilla stomped across our movie screens in the 1950s breathing fire while destroying Tokyo and its mass transit system. Godzilla was spawned of nuclear radiation released by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Making him, not monster but metaphor and the irony is, over dozens of pictures as the monster grew the metaphor shrank. In the 1950s & 60s nuclear annihilation was the great societal fear in Japan, it was a wound. Through cinematic mastery a guy in a rubber suit stomping on cardboard buildings in technicolor has become the oracle of our times. If we don’t take care of the things we do to our world, we might unleash monsters from hell upon ourselves. Our tanks and planes and missiles and bombs are useless against Godzilla. Godzilla laughs then breaths fire. Don’t say you weren’t warned, Godzilla warned you!”
The Marti writes—New Day Cafe: It’s Easy Being Green! “Being brought up by older parents gave me more than a few advantages over some of my friends. We were taught the mantra: Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, or do without. Like most people, I got a bit frisky when I started earning decent money, but I never forgot the lessons, and they are so very helpful now that I’m on a ‘fixed’ income. One of the things I read that helps is One Good Thing which is full of great ideas and how to’s. I especially liked the aritcle about green things our parents/grandparents used to do, that were green when green was just a colour.”
m2c4 writes—Systemic Failures—Climate And Democracy: “Certainly, there has been an ongoing discussion about whether democracy or autocracy is better suited to deal with climate change. In one camp there are those who think that ‘a crisis as severe (if man-made) as rising temperatures can be mitigated only by the firm smack of authoritarian rule.’ The autocrats believe that the short-term pressures of elections and the multiple veto points for powerful economic and special interests make democracy uniquely ill-suited to dealing with climate change. Only an autocrat can make the drastic and structural changes climate change requires while being able to withstand the pressures from their own citizens who may see those changes actually reduce their quality of life.”
mettle fatigue writes—Street Prophets: People Around the World Repurposing Plastics-As-Is For Necessity: “WORLD COAST WATER LEVELS ARE RISING, and at the same time, plastic waste across the globe is set to triple in this decade, shoving up to 12 million metric tonnes into the oceans and across the landscape, because the world’s material economy is mostly linear: we take a substance out of the ground, make something out of it, and then most of it gets thrown away. Closed-loop recycling that requires reprocessing isn’t enough to rely on — it’s necessary, but that’s a whole industry requiring fuel/energy, it’s still in its infancy, and even before used materials can reach it, those materials (e.g., plastic bottles) are still very expensive & footprint-heavy to collect and move from individual to industry, with maaaany kinks and glitches still to be worked out.And for most people in the world, its products may be unaffordable.Meanwhile, most people in the world also have urgent life needs that smaller closed-loop innovation can meet, by repurposing common plastic products at high speed, low cost, and zero carbon footprint.”
On December 20, an Atlas V rocket carried Boeing’s new Starliner capsule into the Florida sky on its way to the International Space Station. But Starliner never arrived. A timing error left the capsule in the wrong orbit, and the necessary adjustments meant that it could couldn’t safely make a rendezvous with the station. Two days later, after an abbreviated flight, Starliner touched down at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. It was a safe end to the flight, and had any astronauts been on board, they would have made the trip without issue. But it was far from the perfect flight that Boeing, and NASA, wanted.
Sometime this spring, astronauts will ascend to the top of a rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and make the trip into orbit. On the surface, that may not be extraordinary. After all, Americans have been making the flight to orbit since John Glenn did so in 1962. But for more than eight years, since the landing of the final Space Shuttle, every single American has made it to space in the same way—on board a Russian rocket. If the American space program has a future, that has to change, but the road to restoring the human spaceflight program has been anything but smooth.
To return America to space, there are actually two programs—and three spacecraft—in the works. One program is designed to provide NASA with a craft that’s designed to take Americans back to the Moon, and possibly even to more distant destinations. That system is the Space Launch System (SLS) carrying the Orion space craft. SLS is a huge rocket, with configurations that bracket the size of Apollo’s Saturn V and the capability to take large payloads beyond Earth orbit. It pairs four of the engines from the Space Shuttle (literally refurbished engines taken from four shuttles) with solid boosters and tops them with a second stage that is itself a large rocket. The Orion capsule is a considerable upgrade over the Apollo era, with both modernized systems, more space, and more duration.
But not every spaceflight is a major exploration mission to the Moon or beyond. Since the last Apollo mission, no human has gone below low Earth orbit, and boring as it sounds, the majority of flights will continue to be in that well-plowed zone for years, if not decades. To that end, NASA launched the Commercial Crew Program in cooperation with private companies who will essentially run a space taxi service for delivering astronauts to orbit. Right now, there are two companies in that program: Boeing with its Starliner and SpaceX with it’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Other companies may be added to this list, but for now these are solid choices. Both SpaceX and Boeing (as part of United Launch Alliance) have been providing supplies to the ISS for years. The two rockets beneath their capsules—Falcon 9 and Atlas V—have terrific records of performance and safety. SpaceX may still seem like a newcomer, but they and Boeing are now some of the most experienced teams when it comes to putting things in orbit, and in working with NASA.
On paper, it all makes sense—Crew Dragon and Starliner to ferry astronauts around Earth orbit. SLS with Orion to make longer voyages into deep space, including visits to the Moon and possibly Mars. But in practice, rocket science has continued to be rocket science. Nothing has gone as smoothly as anyone wanted. And the whole plan is the result of two decades of political wrangling that seemed design to leave Americans thumbing for rides with Russia.
SLS may be said to have started off in a hole, because in a way it’s a system that was never meant to exist. As the Space Shuttle was being phased out, NASA already had it’s replacement system in the works. That system was the Ares launch vehicle, which was in turn part of a series of systems under the broader Constellation program.
Constellation was a program designed to address a set of ambitious goals laid out in the early days of the George W. Bush administration. It would have included the Aries I rocket for low Earth orbit, the Aries V for deep space exploration, and the Altair lander for taking astronauts down to planetary bodies. It also included the Orion capsule—which turned out to be the only part of the system ever to make it from paper to hardware. Constellation was designed as a multi-purpose system not only capable of taking astronauts to the Moon, but of carrying out a mission that would have seen astronauts visiting an asteroid and travelling on to Mars.
But when President Obama was elected, the new team at NASA dismissed Constellation as over-budget and behind schedule—which it was. The Obama administration was also dismissive of the “Return to the Moon” strategy that had been championed by the Bush team, and instead wanted NASA to focus on looking at systems that would directly support a journey to Mars without the years of building out and developing bases that were included in Constellation/Orion. As a result, and with the economy still suffering from the recession, Obama’s budget cut NASA’s support for the program sharply, then completely left Constellation out of the 2011 budget. In October 2010, Constellation was officially cancelled.
Instead, Obama called for the design of a new Super Heavy Lift rocket that would support a proposal known as the “flexible path to Mars.” That plan called for continuing support on Orion, but putting it atop a new booster. But it set the deadline for the design of that booster all the way out in 2015, leaving half a decade where NASA essentially wasn’t even trying to build a new rocket.
Out of that prolonged process came the Space Launch System. It not only borrows components left behind from the Space Shuttle program, but leans heavily on designs from Constellation. It also borrows the Orion capsule. All this design and redesign left SLS starting from square one, at a time when frustration with the failure to come up with a new system was rapidly growing. Furthermore, some configurations of SLS had to be reconfigured, or dropped altogether, before the system even left testing grounds.
With Donald Trump moving into office, the focus of NASA returned to the Moon. In fact, Trump seems so Moon-focused that NASA has been under tremendous pressure to put Moon-boots on the ground by 2024. To make that date, NASA has scrapped other planned flights. There is even some consideration that the very first flight of SLS may have astronauts on board, without ever conducting an unmanned test flight. It’s a jaw-dropping proposal, but it appears to be getting some serious attention from an agency that’s being punched from all sides.
If that doesn’t seem bad enough, NASA may now be told to drop the Moon focus. Drop the very far-along-in-development Lunar Gateway space station, drop the planned variety of landers, drop plans for lunar bases and prolonged stay on the lunar surface. That’s because the latest bill introduced in the House strips back the lunar program in favor of a faster transition from the Moon to Mars. How Mars-focused is the new plan? The legislation instructs NASA to conduct the “minimum set of human and robotic lunar surface activities that must be completed to enable a human mission to Mars.”
This is, of course, legislation in development. So it will almost certainly be altered before anyone signature ends up on the bottom line. Still, it shows again how NASA’s inability to meet the achievements and timetables that Americans saw during Apollo is directly connected to political whims, erratic budgets, and lack of any long term goals.
Still, SLS is making progress. At this moment, the first complete version of the first stage is on its way to a testing facility in Mississippi, and it very well could be back at Kennedy to be stacked up with the rest of the system—including Orion capsule—around the end of the year.
In the meantime, both Crew Dragon and Starliner are likely to begin flights this year. SpaceX, which had an issue (in the sense that the whole thing blew up) while testing emergency systems on the Crew Dragon over a year ago, completed a spectacular in-flight abort test last week that appears to have gone off without a hitch. Barring something extraordinary, they could be sending two astronauts on a manned test flight in February (but more like March or April).
Starliner’s recent less-than-perfect test flight may call on Boeing to make do-over before they actually put humans on board. However, that’s not a sure thing. Their next flight could very well send three astronauts to the ISS, though it’s unlikely to launch before summer. (Both Crew Dragon and Starliner can carry seven, but will routinely take four astronauts on regular missions.)
Meanwhile, there are other American astronauts almost certain to fly this year. Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin appear months, if not weeks, from putting humans on their sub-orbital test craft. It’s not “real space” in the minds of many purists, but both systems represent interesting ways to collect $250,000 tickets—and Blue Origin is set to unveil a second rocket that’s right in there at Saturn V scale.
Unless things go wrong on every front, Americans will return to space this year from America. Those flights may seem like a throwback to the 1960s. Unfortunately, they’re a very real reflection of where we are in 2020.
While I’m in here touching up, I thought i would mention something else that’s back in 2020. That would be me writing about space and science on Saturdays.
I dropped the space topic and cut back on science coverage during 2019 since those posts appeared to be gathering few comments and shares. However, I’ve continued to get questions and requests indicating that for many people those “science Saturday” posts were something they missed. So expect more science of all sorts, and a renewed afternoon bit on space, in the coming weeks.
If you want it to go away, all you have to do is make an arrangement to fly me off planet.
Writer and activist Ijeoma Oluo reasonably panicked when she got a call from a 911 dispatcher in Washington reporting a double murder at her home, she told NBC News. Her 17-year-old son was home alone. “I was terrified they were going to come in guns blazing,” Oluo told NBC. “I was bawling.” The call, both fortunately and unfortunately, turned out to be based on a false report in what is becoming a trend of weaponizing SWAT teams to target activists, writers, technology executives, and social media stars, multiple news outlets reported. See, it’s hardly a secret that many law enforcement workers have a long and time-honored tradition of unfairly targeting people of color with police brutality, made-up charges, deadly shootings, and the like.
It seems there is a special kind of internet troll who is actually betting on police responding violently in any incident involving a person of color. Placing that bet or calling 911 to inflict harm is known as swatting, and it is life-threatening, Oluo told NBC News. “To send cops to the home of a black person—expecting dead bodies and guns—is really risking someone’s life,” she said back in December. Her case, however, is hardly the only one to make headlines.
Police in San Francisco and New York responded to multiple swatting calls about alleged hostages being forcibly held in November at properties owned by senior Facebook executive, Adam Mosseri, according to The New York Times. How-to forums on the dark web have attracted thousands of people, with some asking “who should we do next,” the newspaper reported. And in one incident of the deadly practice with roots in web-based gaming, a farce of an emergency call led to the shooting death of Kansas resident Andrew Finch last year.
Seattle police chief Carmen Best told The New York Times swatting is so well-known, particularly in tech communities, that Seattle police established a registry of people who know they are at risk for the fake emergency calls. “The registry is a voluntary thing we created, and it is a small but effective step for people who know they are at risk of being targeted,” Best told the newspaper.
Seattle police officials are working with other law enforcement agencies to pass on best practices and challenging legislators to deem the practice of swatting a federal crime. “Swatting is not a new thing. It’s been around for a long time, and it weaponizes our 911 system,” Best told the Times. “It’s a lot more than a hoax or a prank.”