Monday, December 04, 2017

IT'S NOT JUST A TAX BILL; IT'S A VICTORY IN THE CULTURE WAR, AND WE LIBS/DEMS LOST

The GOP Tax Bill will certainly come out of reconciliation quickly and be signed into law by a grinning clown surrounded by a bevy of buttcheek smoochers. And the tax system in America will be changed.

But this bill is not really about taxes. Sure, it will benefit the wealthy and corporations by lowering their tax rates. It will benefit some percentage of the proverbial middle class, at least for a few years until those benefits expire. It will not, in the opinion of most honest economists, do a lot for wages and the economy; the high estimates of economic boost I've seen are in the tenths of a percent. The goal of this tax bill is to give a big gift to wealthy donors, including corporations, and break the social contract of the past few decades between government and citizens. 

What this bill really represents is a major victory in the decades-old culture war in the United States of America, the political and economic struggle between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, haves and have nots. We on the liberal/progressive side of the war have to understand that we have lost a major and prolonged struggle. And we have to understand that this pendulum won't swing back our way very soon.

There is a lot of reporting coming out about the new tax bill. I have read and listened to some, and have a few take-aways. 
  • The rich will get richer, and corporate profits will get larger. The corporate tax rate will drop from 35% to somewhere between 20 - 25%. Corporations will have an incentive to bring profits they've stashed offshore back to the US. This will not result in what the GOP claims will be more jobs and increased wages, with perhaps a few exceptions. Mostly this will result in big dividends to shareholders, and big buy-backs of stock from shareholders, both benefiting people who own corporate stocks. 
    • People like me will benefit, because our retirement investments includes shares of stock in various corporations. People like the Clintons, the Obamas, and all the other people of wealth in this country, no matter their political affiliations, will benefit from lower taxes and larger returns on their investments. This does not make us happy.
  • The corporate tax reductions have no expiration date; the tax rate reductions for people with lower incomes will expire in 2025. 
  • Numerous income tax deductions available now will be gone. I don't have a complete list yet, but many people will end up paying more.  
  • A very key change, in the category of lost deductions, will be the end of the deduction for local and state taxes. This is huge. Some states have been able to increase their tax rates because of the federal deduction for these payments. This is how those states have funded increased government services. Once that deduction is gone, people in those states will start to clamor for lower taxes, smaller government, fewer services - sound familiar? And by the way, these higher-tax states are mostly those that vote Democratic. The GOP goal of smaller government at all levels will be supported. 
There are many non-tax related items in the new tax bill, of course. Pork has flowed freely on Capitol Hill. 
  • The Affordable Care Act - of course! The mandate that everyone needs to buy insurance is eliminated. This will mean that millions of people, mostly younger ones, will choose not to have health insurance, leaving the older people in our society left holding the bag. Rates will go up, services covered will go down in order for insurance companies to remain profitable, and Medicare to remain viable. 
  • The Johnson Amendment is repealed. This has kept religious organizations from being political by threatening to eliminate their tax-exempt status if they are politically active. Once the amendment is gone, we can expect to see churches jumping into politics in a big way, especially on issues like abortion, birth control and others. 
  • New taxes will be levied on private college endowments, tax deductions for the interest on student loans will be eliminated, and tuition waivers for graduate students will be taxed (waivers will be considered income). This all will hurt students, and make college even less affordable for young people from middle- and working class families.
  • The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will be opened to oil and gas development. This very large piece of pork was the price for the vote of Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who has been working hard to reverse the Obama protections of the ANWR. 
There are many more items in the new massive tax bill that we will learn about in the weeks ahead. Some things might not survive intact through the reconciliation process (getting the House and Senate versions jammed together into one bill), and new things could be slipped in. But one thing is certain, the bill will be put on Trump's desk and he will gleefully sign it, before Christmas. (Hey, just say "Merry Christmas" everyone!)

AND...the new tax bill will paint a larger target on government programs, the ill-named "entitlements" social security, medicare/medicaid, and others. The tax bill will increase the federal deficit by more than one trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000) over the next ten years. In other words, the tax reductions are not paid for in the bill. To address this deficit, the GOP will step up the attacks on the programs that assist the poor, the elderly, children - you know, those who do not have any political power in America, in order to replace the money lost by lower taxes. 

Let me be clear here; this is not happening because Donald Trump is President. This has been the trajectory of the GOP for a few decades. What happened in 2016 was a grand coming together of a number of critical trends, including: widespread discontent with government; an incredible increase in the gap between the very wealthy and the rest of us; increasing power and control of government by corporations and their henchpeople; loss of jobs and stagnation of wages; permission to let prejudice out from the dark corners and into the light of day (particularly as a reaction to the first black President of the United States); a drastic widening of the gap between the perceived liberal urban elites and those good folks in the heartland; the "war on religion (Christianity)" exemplified by "happy holidays," same-sex marriage, abortion and birth control; seemingly uncontrolled "invasion" by immigrants who take jobs away from Americans (and rape and murder us!); and little green men hiding under every bed. OK, that last one is a joke. 

As I see the state of politics in America today, the conservative side, albeit a very different and radical type of conservatism, has won a series of political battles. This is the same as saying that the liberal side has lost these battles, and suffered very serious blows. Some data:
  • Republicans control 67 (68%) of the 98 partisan state legislative chambers, Democrats control 31 (the lowest number since the Civil War);
  • Republicans control both legislative chambers in 32 states, Democrats control 13;
  • 33 Governors are Republicans, the most since 1922. 
In other words, it is not just at the federal level that Democrats are in the minority. 

What went wrong for the Democrats? What went right for the Republicans? There are books on this topic, and I'll leave it for a future post, maybe, to get into these questions. I will say, however, that in hindsight I think the Democratic Party, and Democratic voters, have made a series of major blunders in strategy and choice of candidates. The Dems largely ignored the rising tide of populism, and at the last moments threw Bernie Sanders populism at the voters. Hillary Clinton was a bad choice to carry the standard of liberalism into battle, no matter how qualified she is, no matter how thick her resumé, no matter that she is a woman. Neither Clinton nor Sanders could have beaten the tide that lifted Trump to the White House. What Democrat would have had a chance? Maybe nobody. Maybe the battle had already been won. Think about it - Donald J. Trump - a foul-mouthed, buffoonish, ignorant, combative, bigoted man with zero political experience became President of the United States. And no, it wasn't Russia, it wasn't Comey, it wasn't Jill effing Stein - stop being delusional already - that lost Clinton the election, it was the people who voted for Trump, the better Electoral College algorithm, and a shit strategy by the Clinton campaign and the DNC

The pendulum of politics swings back and forth. It has swung very far from where I am, and I am not hopeful that it will get back to me before I'm just a memory. So in the meantime, I will continue to study, I will continue to comment, I will try to understand that Trump tweets and toots are mostly hot air and methane used as cover for the dirty work that is going on in every corner of the federal government. I will support liberal causes, but only those that I conclude are realistic. I will continue to support those people in my community that need a hand to keep them above water and safe. 

And I will hope that things turn out OK for my grandkids. 

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Friday, October 27, 2017

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS IS AMERICA

What Happens in Vegas is America

A month ago.

1 shooter. 23 guns.
58 dead. 546 wounded.

Old news,
So quickly forgotten.

“This is no time to talk about
gun control” the fake leaders said.
A month later, still not the time?
How quickly we move on.

1 shooter. 23 guns.
58 dead. 546 wounded.

“Maybe we could pass a bill;
outlaw bump stocks,” said the GOP.
“Regulate bump stocks,” said the NRA.
“Oh, right, let ATF regulate them,” says the obedient GOP.
“We have no authority over accessories,” says the ATF.

Bump stock.
Political junk schlock.

1 shooter. 23 guns.
58 dead. 546 wounded.

33,000 gun deaths per year in America;
no official action.
64,000 opioid drug deaths per year in America;
POTUS says “national public health emergency.”
Double the gun deaths to become a
national public health emergency?

1 shooter. 23 guns.
58 dead. 546 wounded.
Old news; so what’s new?


© pfishman
october 27, 2017

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

GUNS, GUNS AND MORE GUNS: IT IS WAY PAST TIME TO ACT

This December will be the 5-year anniversary of the massacre of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School; the toll was 20 6-to-7 year old children and 6 adults killed. During the 5 years since Sandy Hook, approximately 150,000 people in the United States died from gunshots - we average 30,000 per year. Since Sandy Hook, there have been 248 deaths in what have been labeled "mass shootings," a total of 29 such incidents, including the killings in Las Vegas last night.

Many of us, I would hope all rational Americans, were shocked beyond belief by the senseless murders of school children. Many of us, and again I would hope a majority of Americans, thought that certainly the Congress of the United States, or the Executive of our country would do something drastic to stop the carnage wrought by firearms. But nothing was done. Nothing was done after every mass shooting since. Nothing!

I sincerely believe that nothing will be done, again, following the largest mass murder in our modern history, the shootings in Las Vegas. The shooter had 20 rifles in his hotel room; many of them AR-15-type semi-automatic weapons with large capacity magazines. He had another 20 or so guns at his home. How can someone amass such a cache of lethal weapons? How can such a thing be legal? Is there no record of a single person purchasing so many weapons? These are, I know, naive questions in America.

In February, 2013 I posted on this blog about the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and my opinion that it needs to be repealed or amended in order to gain control of these lethal weapons.. Reading that post now, I can only shake my head in tremendous sorrow that I live in such a strange, dystopian world where lethal weapons are so widespread and easily obtained. I have absolutely no faith, again, that our elected representatives will do anything meaningful to control the sale and distribution of guns.

The Constitution of the United States is a remarkable document that has guided our country since its adoption. It is, however, an 18th century document that still contains ideas and sections based on 18th century knowledge, norms and aspirations. The Second Amendment is not usable today, in my opinion, because it uses language that is open to interpretation, and over the years the courts have made many interpretations. A basic fact today is that the current use of the Second Amendment, based on court rulings, is an outcome of the actions of the National Rifle Association. The NRA, over the course of decades, has lobbied Congress, paid scholars and lawyers to write legal studies and briefs, and without any doubt skewed the legal interpretation of the Second Amendment to what it is today. The result is hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries by guns over the past few decades; and it is getting worse.

In my post 4+ years ago, I argued that the only way to stop the carnage of gun deaths and injuries in America is to repeal or amend the Second Amendment. I still hold that opinion.

No politician today would dare support my proposal. Why? Are they so afraid of the NRA that they will allow the killings to go on and on and on? The answer to date has been yes.

I will send my proposal to my Senators and Congressman. I will send it to the other progressives in the Senate, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. I will challenge them to stand up to the NRA. I will ask them if they truly believe that the NRA, and only the NRA has the best public relations people money can buy. Changing the Second Amendment would be a political battle unlike any other; but it should be fought, and could be won. As I stated above, I think most Americans understand the pain and suffering wrought by guns under our present laws. I think most Americans, given the choice of business as usual or a rational system of regulation, will choose the rational path. We have to try; the current situation is not acceptable.

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THE SECOND AMENDMENT TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION: REPEAL OR AMEND IT
posted February 10, 2013 to readmyopinion.blogspot.com

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. 

And there it is, one of the most poorly constructed popular sentences in the English language. There are two major camps in the interpretation of this amendment: 1) those who think that it gives every person in the United States a constitutional right to own and keep firearms (usually without any limitations); and 2) those who think that the Amendment means that people have a right to own weapons if they are part of a "well regulated militia."

I personally think that the Second Amendment should be repealed; this would make our national discussion of guns a lot more objective and reasonable. But I don't really think the amendment will ever be repealed, so I offer the following rewrite, to be done as an amendment to the Amendment.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, shall be maintained by the federal government. The right of the people to keep and bear arms, under a well-regulated set of laws and rules to protect the health and welfare of the people, shall not be infringed.

Can anyone seriously argue with that? My amendment to the Amendment allows the federal government to establish and maintain our armed forces (armed). My amendment to the Amendment also gives people in the United States the right to keep and bear guns, but within a well-regulated system that is structured to protect people (including the gun owners).

Why is this so important? Simple answer: the staunch anti-regulation folks (the NRA, other gun organizations, self-proclaimed gun rights patriots, and etc.) use the Second Amendment as a crutch for their argument against gun regulation. Read any and every statement by the NRA and anti-regulation folks and you hear the words "second amendment," "constitutional rights," "free society" and similar. One example in the newspaper today is a statement by Kevin Starrett, executive director of the Oregon Firearms Association, commenting about a recent poll on gun regulation: "What isn't important to me is how many people have decided to give up their rights." In other words, he dismisses the results that show what percentage of people favor more strict regulation of guns, based on his "fact" that we all have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

If we pull the Second Amendment rug out from under these gun death deniers, they will be forced to talk about real issues, and will have a much more difficult time dodging the reality of gun murder and mayhem in this country.

My next task is to look at the best way to start a national petition drive in support of my amendment to the Amendment.
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Saturday, September 30, 2017

DONALD J. TRUMP: EXPLETIVES NOT DELETED

(Warning: possibly offensive language below.)

OK, I can't hold it back any longer. Sure, ranting about this guy is not productive, but at what point do we, the people of the United States of America, say "ENOUGH!"

Here is a screenshot of the Fake President's twitter feed from this morning - read from bottom to top:

Are you fucking kidding me?? This a-hole is supposed to be the President of the United States. His job is to "promote the general welfare" and be a leader in times of crisis. Instead, this Fake President blames the victims! And where is our Dear Leader this weekend? At one of his golf resorts, of course!

In the past month, the United States and our neighbors in the Caribbean have suffered devastating hurricanes, floods and wildfires. Our neighbor and close ally, Mexico, has had disastrous earthquakes. So what does the Fake President focus on in his speeches, press interactions and Twitter tweets? NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem! I'd like to see him take a knee - to the groin!

One of the mainstays of the Trump Administration seems to be a total lack of compassion. His tepid responses to huge natural disasters are evidence. His remarks about the size of the crowd that greeted him when he finally deigned to visit Houston show that his only interest is himself. His executive orders to keep refugees and immigrants, specifically Muslims, out of the country are criminal. The recent raids by his jack-booted ICE agents to snatch and deport people in sanctuary cities is one of the greatest evils imaginable. Everything he and his minions do show a complete lack of compassion. It would not surprise me to find out that there was an internal memo from the White House to all federal employees instructing them to remove the word "compassion" from their dictionaries and computers, and never use the word again.

There is no doubt that Donald J. Trump is unfit for the office of President of the United States. He needs to be removed immediately by the Congress. The man is an abomination, and presents one of the greatest dangers to U.S. security and well-being ever experienced.

Donald, you are a Fake President! You have no business being in that position. You are a self-centered, ignorant, puerile, mean, vindictive, obnoxious, greedy, unstable, compassionless, bigoted, misogynistic, bizarre shit-storm of a buffoon. You are also very likely a crook and a traitor, and should be locked up. Shame on you. Shame on us. Shame on your deplorable "base" that not only elected you, but still stands by you and defends you. Who the hell are these people??

Your fake presidency is a true test of the American system. I think we will survive; after all, we survived a Civil War, two World Wars, a Great Depression and countless other tests of our strength and resilience. We, the people, are better than you, and you will not prevail.

Get thee gone, Your Ass-holeyness! Crawl back under the rotting log from which you emerged! We do not like you!

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Please donate to relief organizations helping people in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean islands, Texas, Florida and Mexico.

Monday, September 25, 2017

TAKE A KNEE, BUT KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE BALL

The big story this past weekend was that most professional athletes and many of the wealthy owners of their teams seem to understand the First Amendment, while the POTUS seems not to. Important stuff; and is anyone actually surprised?

In the meantime, lots of other very important things are happening in the USA and the world. Here at home, the wrecking ball agency Directors appointed by Trump are methodically removing the nuts and bolts that make the American system work, deregulating everything they can, for the benefit of corporate interests. These actions can set us back decades, to a time when corporations could basically do whatever their bottom line dictated, including polluting the environment, endangering the health and well-being of Americans, pulling government support for education, public health, food assistance and many other programs. Trump repeatedly calls the Affordable Care Act a "disaster;" however, the actions of his appointed hatchetmen and women are the true disaster in government.

Meanwhile, there is the rest of the world. North Korea's boyish dictator threatens the world with nuclear weapons, and Trump responds by threatening to obliterate North Korea. We should not mistakenly believe that the Generals appointed to positions of power in the Trump administration, and other high-level appointees are the "adults in the room" who will moderate Trump; they are not. Trump's nationalistic and war-mongering U.N. speech was vetted by these "adults on the room," and we have to assume received their nods of approval. This does not bode well for global stability.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who I consider to be the new "Leader of the Free World," won re-election. Her party is center-right, and her style and methods of governance promote stability and moderation. The bad news is that, for the first time since World War II, a far-right, anti-Muslim, anti-European Union party — the Alternative for Germany - won 13 percent of the vote, catapulting them into the German Parliament. Ms. Merkel will need to find a way to build a governing coalition with a new, populist and nationalist player in the mix. This election result is another indication that more people in the Western democracies are turning to the extreme right, like the voters who put Donald Trump in office.

So by all means, take a knee. But keep your eyes on the ball - the news and politics at home and abroad. Demonstrations of resistance are symbolically important, but the nitty-gritty happens within the institutions of government, and we the people have handed many of those institutions over to anti-government, pro-corporate interests (see note).
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Note: not all corporations are evil; in fact, a number of them have stated, for example, that they will continue to work to reduce their impacts on global climate change, no matter what Donald Trump has to say. But Trump and his assault troops listen to a different drum beat.

Monday, September 18, 2017

MAKE AMERICA GREAT (WHITE) AGAIN

 MAKE AMERICA GREAT WHITE AGAIN! We should not be fooled by the slogan on the Trump campaign posters, ads, and ugly trucker hats. The subtext was always there, but it has become crystal clear over the past 9 months of the Trump presidency. America used to be Great, when it was a nation of white men, and their wives and children, and thousands of African slaves. America was Great once the white immigrants killed off most of the non-white native people, and moved those who survived into de-facto detention camps, or "reservations" on the least valuable lands. America was Great in the glory days before the Civil War when white men owned humans as a commodity, to labor for free and be bought and sold. But America isn't Great any more.

America started to lose it's Greatness when the Confederacy lost the Civil War and slavery became illegal. But White Supremacy did not die in the Civil War, it survived in many forms, such as Jim Crow laws, segregation within public institutions and spaces, a justice system that was not just when it comes to non-white people. White Supremacy survived in the form of restrictive and nativist immigration laws and policies that primarily let non-white immigrants in if there was a need for cheap labor (Chinese, Japanese, Latin Americans, etc.), and then turned against them once their labor was no longer needed. White Supremacy survived in the form of bigotry against Americans with ancestries like Jewish, Irish, Italian and other not-the-right-kind-of-White people.  

The Great America 150 years after the Civil War is experiencing a blossoming as a result of the fertilizer applied by Trump and his ilk. Trump has given White Supremacy a green light to crawl out from under the rocks where they have been surviving and into the light of day. 

The White Supremacy march in Charlottesville, Virginia will be a landmark moment in U.S. history. Yes, there have been other marches of this sort over the years, but few have galvanized the country the way this one did. Perhaps the new technologies of social media made this event so much more than it otherwise might have been. Perhaps it was the timing, in an era of identity politics and heightened awareness of systemic bigotry. Whatever the reason, the images and videos of white men, mostly young (and some women?), carrying burning torches and Nazi flags, chanting "Jews will not replace Us!" and "White Lives Matter" have been burned into our consciousness and made most of us cringe. "Can this really be happening in America?" we say. Yes, it can, because these folks, including their president, want to Make America Great (White) Again!

Let's not mince words here; the history of America is infused with white supremacy. Many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners (some of whom envisioned a post-slavery future), and the founding documents did not consider non-whites (mostly slaves) to be part of "all men are created equal" (women were also excluded). The Confederacy fought the Civil War not to protect the philosophy of slavery, but to protect an economy based on people as commodity; cotton and tobacco were profitable only because the laborers were unpaid. And the laborers were also a profitable commodity that could be bred to meet market demand. 

The post-Reconstruction Jim Crow South carried white supremacy forward into the twentieth century, and despite the patina of tolerance, the North also embedded bigotry into every institution and aspect of government. Every chapter of American history has, in addition to truly good aspects, a subtext of white supremacy: expulsions, exclusions, detentions, internments and relocations of Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Native-Americans (and genocide); the refusal to allow Jews fleeing European fascism into the United States, and in some cases sending them back to their deaths in Nazi-controlled Europe; the treatment of African-American veterans after World War II; detention and deportation of undocumented workers who do the jobs white Americans won't do. American foreign policy is also rife with adventures (misadventures) overseas that had white supremacy undertones, actions taken against non-white populations that would never be acceptable if taken against white populations (consider U.S. actions in Vietnam, Latin America, Afghanistan, Iraq). And yes, America fought the white German Nazis and their fascist allies in Europe, but only after being attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. 

Don't misconstrue my thoughts; the United States is a light of hope in myriad ways, and I am a true patriot; however, as a society we need to understand our own history, with all its flaws and warts, in order to understand our present. The neo-Nazis and their fascist allies on parade in Charlottesville, in the White House, in the Congress, and throughout America are part of us, America. We cannot ignore them. We cannot simply write them off as nut jobs or deplorables, even if they are. We need to see them and understand who they are and what they represent; they are the embodiment of our white-supremacist history. Yes, they are us. 

We have come a long way, in many ways, as a society, as a democracy; however, we are not yet "there." We have a lot of work to do - a tremendous amount of work to do - if we are ever to achieve anything close to the idea and ideal of America. We need to grapple with and understand the Trump Era in order to repudiate and replace it. It is not enough to hate Trump; it is not enough to shout "resist" and march in the streets. It is not enough to write blog posts like this one. We need to organize. We need to work together within our communities. We need to encourage and support progressive candidates for every level of government (and run for office ourselves if we have what it takes). We need to be vocal, but not just to shout our disapproval; we need to be proactive and vocal about what we want and need and support. We need to fight back with words, with truth, with facts, and leave the street brawling to the fringe elements. Let's be smart, and then let's be smarter. 

And finally, even when we all understand the history of America, and the ugly thread of bigotry woven into its fabric, we need to stand together. We need to put identity politics into the correct frame, stop any blame and shame games, and find the common ground that we all stand upon. If we cannot work together, we cannot prevail, and the Make America Great (White) Again crowd will continue their campaigns. 

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Correction (18SEP2017, 12:52PM). In the original version of this post, I mistakenly used the term "pogrom" to describe actions taken against non-whites in America. This term has been replaced.   

Friday, September 01, 2017

HARVEY, HOUSTON, HUMAN HUBRIS AND ECOLOGY


from "Raw Sewage" by Ron Cobb. 1970. used with permission

"Houston, we have a problem!" Yes, we do. The extent of the destruction from Hurricane Harvey, and the toll of human death and injury are not yet fully known. What we do know is that this is one of the largest natural disasters in recent U.S. history, and the areas affected will have a long and arduous recovery.

The Ron Cobb cartoon above was published almost 50 years ago, the same year as the first Earth Day. Today, 50 years later, it has the same urgent message as it did then. Have we learned what ecology is in the course of 50 years, or are we still wondering?

This post is neither intended to point fingers nor to minimize the real suffering caused by this monster storm, Harvey. It is intended to continue discussion about ecology, natural disasters, and yes, human-caused climate change.

It is not correct to assume or conclude that Hurricane Harvey was caused by climate change; climate scientists are very clear about that. It can, and should be said that some of the characteristics of this storm are directly related to human-induced climate change. Warmer ocean temperatures result in an increased amount of moisture in the air and a greater storm intrensity and more rapid change in intensity, and higher ocean levels from melting polar ice influence the extent of coastal flooding.

For Houston, rain was the major factors that caused such extensive destruction. The Houston area received 50 inches of rain during the storm, and once on the ground, that water had nowhere to go. There has been a lot of reporting in the past few days about urban planning in Houston, and the fact that Houston is the only major U.S. City that does not have a zoning code. The result is mostly unregulated development and growth - urban sprawl - with one result being more impervious surface (buildings and paved surfaces). The city also has an inadequate stormwater drainage system.

A study of tree canopy and percent impervious surface in 20 U.S. Cities, using satellite imagery from the period 2001 - 2006, found that Houston had the second greatest area of annual tree loss (2,199 acres/yr). Houston also had the second highest, behind Los Angeles, increase in impervious surface, at 988.4 acres/year (by comparison, my city of Portland, Oregon lost 124 acres/yr of tree cover, and added 130 acres/yr of impervious surface).

So, back to the question "what's ecology?" Well, as with the Ron Cobb cartoon, I reach back to another of my ecology touchstones, the book The Closing Circle, by the ecologist Dr. Barry Commoner, first published in 1971. Dr. Commoner posed four basic Laws of Ecology: 1) everything is connected to everything else, 2) everything must go somewhere, 3) Nature knows best, and 4) there is no such thing as a free lunch. I don't believe that over the past almost 50 years there has been a better, simpler explanation of a very complex topic.

Think about the Harvey impacts in Houston (and other parts of Texas and Louisiana) in relationship to each of the Four Laws. The irony is not lost on the fact that Port Arthur, another Texas city greatly impacted by Harvey, is home to a number of oil refineries, including Motiva, the largest refinery in the U.S., and the terminus of the Keystone pipeline. Our collective use of fossil fuels has been a major factor in the changing climate, and everything is connected to everything else. The interaction between Hurricane Harvey and the lack of good urban planning resulted in more flooding than otherwise might have occured - no free lunch.

The myriad explanations, or excuses, about why Houston and other Gulf cities are so ill-prepared for a major storm boils down to one thing, the hubris of humans. Voter apathy, unwillingness to pay increased taxes, the relationship between individual and corporate profits and government, and a resistance to base policy decisions on science are factors in the extent of the Harvey disaster. Let me be clear here, Harvey was a monster storm, and even the very best urban planning and preparedness would not have resulted in zero impacts to people and property. What is true is that we are experiencing rapid and radical changes in Earth's climate, and we need to be more prepared for large, destructive climate events than we are now.

The President of the United States claims that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China. Other prominent leaders in our government, included elected representatives and newly-appointed heads of federal agencies, support this wrong thinking. I will assign blame here to these people, and others like them in positions of power or decision making. Climate change induced by human activity is a fact, and the leading experts and institutions involved in the science of climate change have strongly recommended that all levels of government focus on adapting to the changes. Cities like Houston need to be better prepared for major storm events, even if it means disregarding the words and actions coming down from the nation's capitol.

"What's ecology?" Just take a look around.
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