Pace and Scale

While the pace of change that would be required to limit warming to 1.5°C can be found in the past, there is no historical precedent for the scale of the necessary transitions, in particular in a socially and economically sustainable way.

— The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Global Warming of 1.5°C

This week’s featured post is “The Media is Failing Us on Climate Change“.

This week everybody was talking about the weather

Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle Wednesday as yet another “worst storm in 100 years“. These days, several places in the US each year have their worst storms in living memory. Michael was the fourth strongest storm to hit the US. You’d think people would start to notice.

Federal help seems slow to arrive.

Since the storm, there’s been no electricity and no water in Panama City. Emergency disaster relief was yet to be seen in strength as of Saturday morning and residents were growing more frustrated and desperate. Chantelle Goolspy sat in her car making phone calls to get help. Goolspy and many of her neighbors live in a public housing area in downtown Panama City that was badly devastated.

“We’re in need of food, water, anything, we’re not getting any help. The whole street needs help,” Goolspy told the Red Cross. “FEMA referred me to you. That person told me to call 211.”

One reason Michael did as much damage as it did was that it went through “rapid intensification” as it approached land, going from Category 1 to Category 4 (and nearly Category 5) in just 24 hours.

Climate scientists have begun to focus on hurricane rapid intensification as an increasingly prevalent feature in the world we’re entering. Simply put, with warmer seas, storms ought to be able to pull this off more often.

In a recent study in the Journal of Climate, researchers found more rapid intensifications in a simulation of a human-warmed world, and also that this would prove a key pathway toward more intense hurricanes in general.

As usual, it’s impossible to blame any particular storm on global warming, just as it’s impossible to blame any particular lung cancer on tobacco or any particular home run on steroids. It’s a systemic factor that increases risks.

and a missing journalist

Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist who had been living in Virginia and writing for The Washington Post, disappeared October 2. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. It’s widely believed that the Saudis murdered him inside the consulate.

This has become an international incident involving Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States. At first, President Trump expressed his usual disregard for non-citizen residents of the United States. An incident like this isn’t worth interrupting, say, arms sales:

This took place in Turkey and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen, he’s a permanent resident. We don’t like it, even a little bit. But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion dollars from being spent in this country, knowing they [Saudi Arabia] have four or five alternatives, two very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me.

His further responses have resembled his reactions Russian interference in the 2016 election: He spoke to King Salman, who denied murdering Khashoggi, and Trump seems inclined to take him at his word (as he takes Putin). He repeated the Saudis “rogue killers” theory, which is a little like Trump’s fantasy of the 400-pound guy who hacked the DNC.

and the midterm elections

The Georgia governor’s election is a coin flip at this point, but Republican candidate Brian Kemp has a special advantage: He’s Secretary of State, and his office maintains the voting rolls.

Marsha Appling-Nunez was showing the college students she teaches how to check online if they’re registered to vote when she made a troubling discovery. Despite being an active Georgia voter who had cast ballots in recent elections, she was no longer registered.

“I was kind of shocked,” said Appling-Nunez, who moved from one Atlanta suburb to another in May and believed she had successfully changed her address on the voter rolls. “I’ve always voted. I try to not miss any elections, including local ones,” Appling-Nunez said.

She tried re-registering, but with about one month left before a November election that will decide a governor’s race and some competitive U.S. House races, Appling-Nunez’s application is one of over 53,000 sitting on hold with Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office. And unlike Appling-Nunez, many people on that list — which is predominantly black, according to an analysis by The Associated Press — may not even know their voter registration has been held up.

The 53K would-be voters are about 70% black. Civil rights groups are suing.


Saturday, Senator David Perdue was campaigning for Kemp at Georgia Tech when a student tried to ask him about suppressing black votes. Perdue took his phone, then returned it and walked away.


The generic-ballot polls are going the way I expected: Republicans got a brief advantage by riling up their base over the Kavanaugh hearings. But that’s already fading while the Democratic anger is sustained.

but the ongoing sabotage of ObamaCare deserves your attention

In August, HHS issued a set of regulations to allow short-term health insurance policies that don’t meet the ACA minimum standards. The plans are as short as a year, and can be renewed for up to three years. But they have two big loopholes:

  • They don’t have to cover all the stuff ACA plans do.
  • If you do get sick, after three years, the insurance company can refuse to renew your policy, leaving you with a pre-existing condition and no insurance until the next ObamaCare open-enrollment date.

The upside of the policies is that they cost less — because companies don’t have to issue them to people with pre-existing conditions.

The essence of the idea here is to rob Peter to pay Paul. Paul, in this case, is a healthy person who

  • makes just slightly too much money to qualify for the subsidies in ObamaCare, or
  • lives in one of the states that still refuses to expand Medicaid and falls into the “Medicaid coverage gap“, making him ineligible for either Medicaid or the ACA subsidies.

In either case, the ACA required Paul to spend a serious chunk of his own money on health insurance that he believed (sometimes correctly, sometimes not) he wouldn’t need.

One provision of the Trump Tax plan passed last year is that Paul can go uninsured without paying a penalty. But under the new regulations, Paul can buy a short-term plan that covers him against the things he might worry about (like a broken leg), but not pay as much as an ACA plan costs. If he develops MS or some other expensive long-term condition, he’ll be in trouble, but he’s willing to take that risk, if it means that he’ll have thousands of dollars each year to spend on something else.

Peter is everybody else, but especially people with pre-existing conditions. Promoters of the short-term plans say that they just provide consumers with more options: If you want ACA-compliant insurance, you can still buy it. But that’s deceptive, because ACA-compliant plans will become more expensive as more and more healthy people leave the risk pool.

HHS projects that 500,000 people will shift from individual market plans to short-term plans in 2019 as a result of the proposed rule. … And by 2028, they expect the total increase in the short-term insurance population to reach 1.4 million, while the individual insurance market population is expected to decline by 1.3 million over that time. … HHS acknowledged that the people who are likely to switch to short-term plans will primarily be young and healthy. As a result of the sicker, older risk pool that will remain in the individual market, premiums will rise

The way that ObamaCare can ultimately fail is if it gets into what is called a “death spiral”: As premiums rise, more healthy people decide to risk going without ACA-compliant insurance, making the risk pool sicker and forcing premiums to go higher yet.

Ever since ObamaCare passed in 2010, Republicans have been trying to push it into that death spiral. It began with the 5-4 Supreme Court decision (written by Chief Justice Roberts) that let states opt out of Medicaid expansion, creating the Medicaid coverage gap. A series of additional court cases created doubt about the program, discouraging people from signing up. The Koch brothers spent millions of dollars on ads that further discouraged sign-ups. They prevented states from setting up exchanges, forcing that duty onto the federal government. They eliminated provisions like risk corridors that kept premiums down.

Since Trump took office, the sabotage has gotten worse. HHS has refused to spend money to promote ObamaCare by, for example, telling people when the enrollment periods are. Cost-sharing reductions are gone, further increasing premiums. The tax bill eliminated the penalty for going uninsured, motivating the healthiest people to leave the risk pool. And now, healthy people will have even more incentive to leave.

and so does the return of Iran sanctions

Trump announced on May 8 that the US was pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. The serious effects of that decision will hit on November 4, when economic sanctions resume. NYT editorial board member Carol Giacomo writes a critical analysis.

The main difference between these sanctions and the ones that pushed Iran to negotiate with the Obama administration is that this time the US is going it alone.

Crucially, Mr. Trump has failed to enlist Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — the major powers that joined the United States in negotiating the nuclear deal — in his anti-Iran crusade. The Europeans say the deal is in their national security interest; they resent that Mr. Trump has unilaterally upended it.

And now the Europeans are trying to save it by developing a financial mechanism that would skirt American sanctions by enabling their companies to trade oil in local currencies or barter rather than in dollars. The aim is to create an alternative way to move money in and out of Iran when Western banks, handcuffed by Mr. Trump’s sanctions, won’t do it.

All the parties face a moment of truth after Nov. 4, when, Mr. Trump has decreed, any country or company trading with Iran will be barred from doing transactions with American financial institutions.

On one hand, you have to wonder how effective these US-only sanctions will be, and whether the Iranian public will respond by revolting against its current government or rallying around it.

But I worry about this move for reasons that go way beyond Iran.

At its root, banking is about trust. The US dominates the international banking system largely because other countries and their citizens trust the soundness of the dollar and the rule of law that protects their dollar-denominated transactions. But nothing forces other countries into our system, and if we push that advantage too far, they’ll eventually create an alternative. In particular, we should be wary of any issue, like this one, that gives Europe and China a common cause against us.

Remember the larger picture: The Chinese economy is still far behind the US economy in a per capita sense, but in sheer size it is rapidly catching up and most likely will pass us in just a few years. In the long run, power follows money. So our long-term challenge is to use our waning power to construct a global system that is capable of constraining China when it eventually becomes the world’s most powerful country.

The worst thing that we can do in this situation is to wield our power in an arbitrary and self-centered way, making our former allies yearn for the day when we get pushed off our perch.

and you also might be interested in …

The US trade deficit with China set a record in September.


CNN’s way-too-early poll shows Joe Biden as the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. I’m skeptical. Nate Silver, though, seems skeptical of my skepticism:

Hard to take these early polls seriously after they predicted that Hillary Clinton (!) and Donald Trump (!!) would be the party nominees in 2016.


Meanwhile Elizabeth Warren is taking on the “Pocahontas” issue.


Lynzy Lab has the perfect answer to those guys worried about false accusations.


Explanations of how Republican policies benefit the 1% are always more convincing when they come from members of the 1%, like Abigail Disney, Walt’s granddaughter. Illustrating the recent tax cut with footage from Scrooge McDuck was maybe just a little bit over the top, but I enjoyed it. Or, you could illustrate it with this graph from the Center for American Progress:


Sears Holding Company, which owns both Sears and K-Mart, is declaring bankruptcy. Once the dominant retailer in the country, Sears has lost $11.7 billion since its last profitable year in 2010. The New York Times has a lengthy obituary.


The NYT expose of how Trump got rich — by inheritance and evasion of taxes — raised a question: Some of what the Trump family did was legal and some illegal; which is the most scandalous?

It’s personally scandalous to do something illegal, but to the extent that the manipulations the Trumps pulled off are actually legal, or at the very least broadly accepted, that’s scandalous in a different way. Matt Taibbi explores that angle:

The parts I found most interesting were less about the rapaciousness of the Trump family per se than the myriad opportunities for gaming the system one presumes is available to everyone of this income level. The ordinary person cannot hire an outside appraiser to tell the IRS what it thinks he or she is worth, but the Trumps could systematically undervalue their properties for tax purposes (and then go back and overvalue them when it served their public relations needs).

The timidity that enforcement officials show toward the very wealthy is also a running theme in the story. When the Trump family claimed a $17.9 million building had fallen to $2.9 million, supposedly losing 83 percent of its value in just 18 days, the IRS auditor who caught it made them push the value back up by just $100,000.

The infamous $3.35 million casino chip scheme — an illegal multi-million-dollar loan under New Jersey law — inspired just a $65,000 fine.

And now the NYT finds that Jared Kushner also paid little-to-no tax over an 8-year period when his net worth was skyrocketing. Here the main avenue was a common (and legal) real-estate scam involving depreciation.

In theory, the depreciation provision is supposed to shield real estate developers from having their investments whittled away by wear and tear on their buildings. In practice, though, the allowance often represents a lucrative giveaway to developers like Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner. The law assumes that buildings’ values decline every year when, in reality, they often gain value. Its enormous flexibility allows real estate investors to determine their own tax bills.

Ending the shennigans of the very rich was a big chunk of what Trump ran on in 2016. The system was rigged against ordinary people, he claimed, and he was just the guy to fix it.

The Trump tax cuts are fully paid for by: 1. Reducing or eliminating most deductions and loopholes available to the very rich.

He bragged that his business experience made him the perfect person to un-rig the tax system, because “I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest CPA.” As late as November of last year, he made this 4-Pinocchio claim at a rally in St. Charles, Missouri:

This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me. This is not good for me. . . . I think my accountants are going crazy right now.

But of course, that’s not what happened.

“The Trump administration was in a position to clean up the tax code and promised to get rid of some of the complexity that certain taxpayers use to their advantage,” said Victor Fleischer, a tax law professor at the University of California, Irvine. “Instead, they doubled down on those provisions, particularly the ones they have familiarity with to benefit themselves.”

and let’s close with something out of this world

Here’s what a category 4 hurricane looks like from space.

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