Thursday, January 23, 2020

Senate Trial Day Three

Hello Everyone:

This is The Blogger Candidate Forum with today in the Senate trial of Mr. Donald Trump. Picture the scene: 100 politicians are forced to sit quietly in their seats for 12-hours at time, listening to other politicians and lawyers talk for however long. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what opening arguments in the Senate trial is like. The senators have to sit there with just a notepad and pen. No phones or any devices  (not even an Apple Watch), no outside reading material, no coffee. The Candidate Forum wants to know if a ban on coffee a workplace violation?  This left senators feeling restless and bored. Some stepped out of the chamber, presumably to check their phones and mainline coffee. Others found ways to pass the time—fidget spinners anyone?  What did the House managers and the president’s lawyers say?

Lead House manager Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) followed the president’s suggestion to read the transcript of that “perfect” July 25th phone call. He read it, especially the part about the president getting in touch with Attorney General William Barr and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani about announcing investigations into the Democratic National Committee server hack, Burisma energy company, and Hunter Biden. Speaking of  VPOTIS Joe Biden’s son, the House managers repeatedly mentioned him today and his position on the Burisma board of directors. They also mentioned the senior Biden’s efforts to remove the former Ukrainian prosecutor for ignoring corruption. Once again, the Democratic managers argued for witnesses and the mention of Hunter Biden left the door open for the defense team to call him. One idea that has been floated is a Biden-for-Bolton trade: The Democrats will agree to Hunter Biden’s testimony in exchange for former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s testimony.  Talking for five hours about Hunter Biden left the door for defense attorneys to talk about him when they begin presentations on Saturday.

The House managers used the president’s allies against him.  During the House Impeachment inquiries, witnesses kept mentioning one name in connection to Ukraine, Rudy Giuliani. It seems that Mr. Giuliani deputized himself as the president’s personal envoy and was running a shadow foreign diplomatic mission to Ukraine. At one point, Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Val Demings (D-FLA) displayed emails demonstrating Mr. Giuliani’s role in shaping U.S. foreign policy. Then they turned on Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz, playing 20-year-old videos of them making statements about Impeachment.  The House managers brought up new allegations that former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was recalled as part of an exchange of payments from Burisma to Hunter Biden.

The subject of calling witness is still on the table. The Republicans are finding new reasons to oppose the idea, despite the president alternating between welcoming public testimony and using executive privilege to block witnesses. The Candidate Forum firmly believes that senators should be able to recall witnesses from the House inquiry as well as new witnesses to flesh out the presentations. It is important for them to hear the first hand accounts and lawyers should be able to cross examine witnesses.

Has any of House mangers’ presentations changed Senate Republicans’ minds?  Not really. Perhaps if they were allowed to hear public testimony and review documents, it might make a dent.

Until tomorrow

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Hidden Immigrants

Hello Everyone:

It is a lovely Wednesday afternoon and Your Truly has today's summary of the Senate trial of Mr. Donald Trump.  The big news is rule changes.  After a marathon 12-hour opening day, the Senate adopted the ground rules (; Jan. 21, 2020; date accessed Jan. 22, 2020), along party lines, with two major changes.  The first change was an additional day for opening statements.  Second change was the admission of the House evidence into the official record, if there were no objections.  The admission of the House evidence was a big concession to moderate Republicans and Senate Democrats, some of whom participated in the Clinton Senate trial, despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that his draft of the rules closely hewed to the Clinton trial rules in 1999.  Senator McConnell is a savvy enough politician to realize that his moderate colleagues and Democrats was a response to accusations that his rules skewed too favorably toward the White House and demands for a fair trial.  What comes next?  Stay tuned.  Onward

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You think you know?

 Who really are America's undocumented immigrants.  Do you think you know who they are and where they live?  Whatever your assumptions are,  think again.  We tend to think of undocumented immigrants come over the southern United States border from somewhere in Central America with no skills, no money, little or no English.  They are criminals, drug dealers, non-contributing drain on already limited resources.  Sound familiar?  The reality is completely different from what the president, his media and Congressional supporters would have you believe.  To illustrate Blogger's point, let us take a look at Eddie Oh and his family.

Eddie Oh was industrial engineer in South Korea.  In 1998, he lost his job during the financial crisis that gripped the Far East Asian nation.  With no prospects in sight, he used his savings to pay for his family's airfare to California.  On his visa application, he told the U.S. embassy that he and his wife and their children Eli and Sue were going on vacation.  They were granted a six month visa.

The Ohs ended up in the upscale Silicon Valley community of Sunnyvale, near San Jose, California.  They moved into a tiny apartment, rented by a relative, nine people crammed together.  Mr. Oh got a job as house painter, his wife found employment as a server, and the children went to a local school.  Eli Oh, now a critical car response nurse at Stanford University told The New York Times,

We were constantly in debt.  We struggled to pay the rent,... Nobody ever thought we were illegally here because we didn't fit the stereotype. (; Dec. 1, 2019; date accessed Jan 22, 2020)

The Ohs are not an isolated case.

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Sample U.S. tourist visa

 Although the president has staked much of his tenure on ending the flow of undocumented immigrants across the southern border, the Ohs perfectly legal, roundabout path to the United States is one of the many unknown and least documented (no pun intended) immigration stories.

Miriam Jordan reports, "Some 350,000 travelers arrive by air in the United States each day.  From Asia, South America and Africa, they come mostly with visas allow them to tour, study, do business or attend a conference for an authorized period of time" (Ibid).  However, when they stay beyond their visa's expiration, some fall into the same illegal status associated with migrants passing over the southern border.

Ms. Jordan writes, "Nearly half of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country did not trek through the desert or wade across the Rio Grande to enter the country; they flew in with a visa, passed inspection at the airport--and stayed" (Ibid).

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The non-partisan think tank Center for Migration Studies estimated that "Of the roughly 3.5 million undocumented immigrants who entered the country between 2010 and 2017, 65 percent arrived with full permission stamped into their passports,..." (Ibid).  During the study period, arrivals from India counted for the majority of the overstays.  Robert Warren, the demographer who tallied the overstays using the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey, told The Times.

A big overlooked immigration story is that twice as many people came in with a visa than came across the border illegally in recent years (Ibid)

This something to consider as the White House continues to call for hiring more border patrol agents and tries to find money to build that wall.  The Department of Homeland Security (; Apr. 23, 2019; date accessed Jan. 22, 2020)  said it has some success in reducing the number of overstays in the past two years but enforcement is hard because federal authorities are only just gaining access to better information on who has not left the country.  Jessica Vaughan, a former federal visa officer now a policy director with Center for Immigration Studies, said,

Once they are in the country, they home free because there is so little interior enforcement (Ibid)

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According to CIS, overstays account for about 46 percent of the 10.7 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.  This due to the massive decline in border crossing since 2000, not necessarily because of a huge jump in people overstaying their visas.  The largest number of overstaysers--"about 1 million" (Ibid)--come from Mexico, which immediately borders the U.S. and has a long history of family and commercial ties, however, this picture is changing.  Miriam Jordan writes, "Between 2010 and 2017, 330,000 Indians overstayed their visas, more than from any other country.  Large numbers of people from China, Venezuela, the Philippines, Brazil and Colombia also overstayed" (Ibid)

The majority of undocumented Asians--mostly from India--have taken up residence in Silicon Valley, about 50 miles southeast of San Francisco, according to Center for Migration Studies analysis (Ibid).  Tech companies like Apple and Google, with headquarters in the area, have sponsored their South Asian employees for legal work visas or permanent residency.  Some stay on as independent contractors after their visas expire or after leaving the company.

However, skilled workers are part of the story.  The majority of undocumented South Asians in the Silicon Valley work in low-skilled service jobs, such as supermarkets, clothing stores, and restaurants that cater to their more affluent fellow South Asians.

People like S. Singh, who works in a diner, said he arrived in the U.S. in 2017 or the Indian grocery store workers who arrange the shelf with tasty treats from home.  They hesitated to answer The New York Times' questions, only saying they arrived with tourist and student visas, then stayed after they expired.  Ankit, an Indian engineer with a work visa, summarized the situation,

There are no legal pathways for people working in restaurants and grocery stores,.... These workers are coming for a better life (Ibid).

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Facial recognition tracker
 The federal government reported that "nearly 670,000 travelers who arrived by air or sea and were supposed to depart in the 2018 fiscal year had not left by Sept. 30, 2018" (Ibid).  That number decreased to almost 415,700 by March of 2019 (Ibid), because people overstayed their visas by a few months.  Be that as it may, creating and implementing policies to curb overstay requires accurate date and DHS officials still lack an accurate system to track them.

Typically travelers are photographed and fingerprinted at American consulates when they receive their visas and again when they enter the United States.  However, Customs and Border Protection still, by-and-large, depends on information from airlines manifest to count who did not leave on time or at all.  In 2016, federal agents began collaborating with airlines and airports to install bio-metric facial comparison systems at departure gates.  A digital picture is taken of the passenger as they board the plane and compared with the one taken upon arrival.  Ugh, had Yours Truly known this, she would have used lipstick and combed her hair, at the least.

To date, the program covers about 4 to 5 percent of those departing by air each, according to John F. Wagner, deputy assistant executive commissioner for CBP (Ibid).  Mr. Wagner hopes that within three years to cover 90 percent of the airports.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement's priority is identifying those individuals who pose a national security or public-safety threat.  In fiscal 2018, its Homeland Security unit arrested 1,808 individuals in connection with visa overstays (Ibid).

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Asian undocumented immigrants

Many who overstay their visa, do not purposely do so.  They enter with a specific purpose--e.g. work or school--then fall out of status for a variety of reason and there is no simple way to correct the violation.  Sometimes the violation is missing a deadline or committing an error on an immigration form that makes them eligible for deportation.  Sometimes their employer transfers their employee to a new work site and forget to update their forms, as required, which cancels legal status.

Some stay because they have established ties to their community.  Among Asians, being undocumented is a source of shame for the family.  However, in place like Sunnyvale. California, it is not that difficult for people to hide their immigration status, especially if they are not from Mexico, Central or South America.  They tell their families to keep their heads down and not speak up.  They get low-wage service jobs and avoid any attention.  If everyone who shouted "send all those illegals back" only knew. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Blogger Candidate Forum: The Rules

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Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Elizabeth Warrent (D-MA)

Hello Everyone: 

It is Tuesday, Blogger and The Candidate Forum are back from the long weekend.  Before we get started on today's subject, the impeachment and trial of President Bill Clinton, Blogger and The Forum want to acknowledge The New York Times' (; Jan. 19, 2020; date accessed Jan. 21, 2020) endorsement of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.  For the first time in its history of endorsing candidates for the presidential nomination, the editorial board has selected two candidates, two female candidates.  This is significant because the Ladies from Massachusetts and Minnesota represent the competing halves of the Democratic party: the progressive (Ms. Warren) and moderate (Ms. Klobuchar)  Their selection is a good one because they ideologically balance each other out and could offer a way to unite the fractious party.  Could they be the ticket in fall campaign?  Stay tuned.  Onward.

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The United States Senate

Today the Candidate Forum wants to step into the blogosphere to talk about the Senate trial of Mr. Donald Trump.  Mr. Trump was impeached on the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.  If convicted, Mr. Trump would be forced to resign from office.  This is only the third time the upper chamber of Congress has undertaken this solemn procedure. The first president impeached and tried in the Senate was the seventeenth President of the United States Andrew Johnson, who was eventually acquitted by a micro-thin one vote.  President Bill Clinton was the second president tried in the Senate for  two charges of perjury, abuse of power and obstruction of justice.  Like President Johnson, he was acquitted along party lines.  The reason The Forum decided to bring President Clinton's trial is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has decided to base the trial on a modified version of the rules used to guide the process.  Let us begin with the rules laid out for the Clinton trial.

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A draft of the rules for the Senate trial of Mr. Trump

 Senate trials are guided by minimal constitutional rules.  The basic requirements are the standing Senate rules (; date accessed Jan. 21, 2020), most of which were adopted in the wake of President Andrew Johnson's trial in 1868 "with ad hoc details worked out at the beginning of each trial" (; Jan. 8, 2020; date accessed Jan. 21, 2020).  Certain constitutional requirements are set in stone such as the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court acts as the presiding judge and it requires two-thirds majority to convict--67 votes.  It also requires the same number of votes to change the standing rules, "which stipulate a quick beginning for the trials after articles of impeachment are received and which require a six-days-a-week trial schedule until the final vote; they structure the trial around arguments presented by House impeachment managers and the president's counsel, with senators mostly silent (though they can send written questions up to the presenters)" (Ibid).

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Former Senate Leaders Tom Deschale (D-SD) and Trent Lott (R-MS)
In an extremely (emphasis on extremely) moment of bipartisan agreement, former Senate Leaders Trent Lott (R-MS) and Tom Daschle (D-SD) agreed to a set of rules on how to proceed with the Clinton Trial (; Jan. 9, 1999; date accessed Jan. 21, 2020) ; that the Senate, in a once-in-a-lifetime vote, unanimously adopted.  Here is an excerpt from the 1999 rules;

Resolved, that summons be issued in the usual form provided, that the President may have until 12 noon on Monday, Jan. 11, to file his answer with the secretary of the Senate and the House have until 12 noon on Jan. 13 to file its replication with the secretary of the Senate, together with the record, which will consist of those publicly available materials that have been submitted to or produced by the House Judiciary Committee, including transcripts of public hearing or markups, and any materials printed by the House of Representatives or House Judiciary Committee, pursuant to House Resolutions 525 and 581.  Such record will be admitted into evidence, printed and made available to senators... (; Jan. 8, 2020).

The overarching desire at the time was the upcoming 2000 election cycle.  The polls showed that the majority of Americans did not want the president removed from office and some of the senators were facing re-election.  The senate failed to come to the required two-thirds majority to convict the president on all counts.  What does current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) want to do?

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Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Senate Majority Leader McConnell has not exactly been coy about skewing the trial in the direction of the president.  Yet, in an effort to deflect (blatantly obvious) charges of bias, Senator McConnell announced,

What was good enough for President Clinton in an impeachment trial should have been good enough for President Trump,... And all we are doing here is saying we are going to get started in exactly the same way that 100 senators agreed to 20 years ago... (; Jan. 20, 2020; date accessed Jan. 21, 2020).

Well, not exactly.

Although Senator McConnell proposes that the trial spool out in a similar manner as the 1999 trial: "...opening statements, then questions from senators, then an up-or-down vote on whether to consider calling witnesses or new evidence--his plan would speed up the proceedings" (Ibid).  This means the House managers and the president's legal team would have up to 24 hours to present their cases for or against the convictions on the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.  However, in 1999 the Senate imposed no additional restrictions on how the time was use.  Senator McConnell's proposals states, "that each side must complete its work within two days, beginning as early as Wednesday" (Ibid).  This means that opening arguments could be completed by tomorrow--at the earliest--allowing senators 16 hours for questioning and subsequent debate beginning next week (Ibid), leading to a verdict by the end of the month.

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Senate Minority Leader Charles Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Needless to say, the Senate Democrats are not happy about the "speedy" trial.  Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) accused Senator McConnell of attempting to "push the proceedings into 'the wee hours of the night' to hide a damaging case against Mr. Trump" (Ibid).  Senator Schumer planned to introduce a series of amendments that would address the flaws in the proposal.  The White House, which worked closely with Senator McConnell, indicated that it was pleased with the trial guidelines.  Here are some of the changes:

The House's evidence from the its impeachment inquiry would still be printed and shared with senators, it would only be formally entered into the official record after a majority of the senator vote in the affirmative.  This vote could only take place after the Senate decided whether to call witnesses and request additional documents, as the trial moves toward its conclusion.

 Second, the McConnell proposal does not include Democratic requests for guarantee witness testimony or requests for documents.  This was also true in the Clinton trial but this time, there is a change.  "It says that after senators conclude their questioning, they will not immediately entertain motions to call individual witnesses or documents.... they will decide first whether to consider new evidence at all.... if a majority of senators agree to do so will the managers and prosecutors be allowed to propose and argue for specific witnesses or documents, each of which would then be subject to an additional vote" (Ibid).  Thus, if the majority of the Senate voted to hear witness testimony, said witness would first be be interviewed behind closed doors, then the Senate shall decide after deposition which witnesses shall testify, pursuant to the impeachment rules,...(Ibid)  Essentially like the Clinton trial, even if witnesses are called, they might never testify publicly.  Senator McConnell's intentions, according to the Democrats, are quite clear.

In a statement to the press, Senator Schumer said,

Under this resolution, Senator McConnell is saying he doesn't want to hear any of the existing evidence, and he doesn't want to hear any new evidence,... It's a cover-up (Ibid)

As of right, now Senator McConnell has the votes to get his modified version of the Clinton trial rules approved, mainly along party lines.

Could there still be a motion to dismiss the case?  No guarantees that the Senate will vote on a motion to dismiss the case.  The president's defense team could make a motion but Republican Senate leaders believe that it would not be the most prudent move.  Moderate Republicans are committed to seeing the trial through to a conclusion, risking party division on a key vote.  They argue that an acquittal would benefit the president in the long run.  Maybe.

Tomorrow, we will have an update on the day's proceedings and a fresh post.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Blogger Candidate Forum: Just Not Her Or Her Or Her

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Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren at yesterday's debate

Hello Everyone:

It is Wednesday time for Blogger Candidate Forum.  Today we get attempt to answer the question posed to the candidates at yesterday evening's Democratic candidate debate: Can a woman beat the president?  Before we head down that road, an impeachment update.  Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced that she has finally transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate and the appointment of managers who will argue the case, present evidence (if allowed), and cross examine witnesses (if allowed).  Meanwhile, a small group of moderate Republican senators are asking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow witnesses and evidence, something he has been hesitant to do.  Leader McConnell announced that he has the votes to start the trial, scheduled for next Wednesday.  The Candidate Forum will keep you posted on developments.  Onward.

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Can a woman candidate beat the incumbent Mr. Donald Trump?  This was the big question at yesterday evening's candidate debate in Des Moines, Iowa.  This question was first asked in 2016, when it became obvious that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic standard bearer in the general election.  Now, that question is being asked again in context to Senator Elizabeth Warren's front runner status.  What spurred the topic is a couple of disturbing reports affecting fellow front runner Senator Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) campaign.  First, the report that volunteers are being trained to belittle the Lady from Massachusetts and second, a statement from the Warren campaign that referred to a meeting the candidates had a year ago.  During the meeting, one of the subjects discussed was whether a female candidate could beat Mr. Trump?  According to the Warren campaign, the Gentleman from Vermont disagreed.  For the record, the Gentleman from Vermont has denied, adding that he always supported the idea of a female candidate taking on the president.  So, can a woman beat the president?  Shall we discuss.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren
The question of whether a woman can beat the incumbent president re-opened the long simmering question of gender and sexism.  Both senators did acknowledge that they privately discussed the topic in December 2018 but presented competing interpretations of event at yesterday's debate, the last one before the February 3 Iowa Caucus.  The Lady from Massachusetts urged voters to address the obstacle female candidates face.  She told the audience in Des Moines and watching on CNN "'s one she can clear and make history" (; Jan. 14, 2020; date accessed Jan. 15, 2020).  Senator Warren responded,

Look, don't deny that the question is there,... Back in the 1960s people asked, 'Could a Catholic win?'  Back in 2008, people asked if an African American could win.  In both times, the Democratic Party stepped up and said yes. (Ibid)

The timing of the question comes at a time, less than three before the Iowa caucus, two men are leading the poll: former Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE) and the Gentleman from Vermont top the polls; in some polls former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Peter Buttigieg (Boot/edge/edge) is among the leaders.  The Lady from Massachusetts has since faded, the once promising campaigns of Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) have folded; author Marianne Williamson's campaign was always a non-starter and Hawai'i Representative Tulsi Gabbard is still, for reasons unknown to anyone, running for president.  The only other viable female candidate, Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar (Clo/ba/shar).  Although Secretary Clinton's loss was a complete shock to the electoral sense, it did inspire more women to enter politics, resulting in a record number of Democratic female freshman members of Congress.  Perhaps the time is right to seriously consider the fact that a woman can beat Mr. Trump.

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Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobucher (D-MN)

 Consider this, technically a woman did beat the president.  Secretary Clinton did win the popular vote but the only vote that really counted was the Electoral College vote.  However, every time a woman's name is mentioned as potential Democratic candidate for the November 3, 2020 general election, we go right back to the question: Can a woman beat Mr. Trump?  Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily's List, a group focused on getting Democratic women who support abortion rights elected, spoke to The Washington Post,

We keep getting stuck in the 'Yeah, but, can a woman beat Trump?'... We've been, for 12 month, looking at electability in a really narrow way, and it's caused a huge amount of problems in this primary (Ibid)

Candidate Forum pro tip:  get over yourselves.  You will never ever find a woman that ticks off all the electability.  Focus on what they have to say.

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July 2019

While voters are open to the idea of a female candidate taking on the incumbent in the general elections--November 3, 2020--actually supporting a female candidate is a fraught decision.  We know the president is a racist, sexist, bully with a very bad Twitter habit, but many wonder if the best choice to take him on is a man.  For women voters, supporting a female candidate is not an automatic thing.  Marilyn Kean, an elderly Sanders supporter from Wilton, Iowa, told The Post,

Because I'm a woman, I suppose I should be wanting [Warren], but I'm not voting for her because she's a woman...Too many men that don't want women there (Ibid)

There in lies part of the problem, men in positions of power not wanting a woman or a person of color sitting in the big chair, making the decisions.  Call it what it is, institutional racism and sexism.  Regardless, this is a pivotal moment for both the Warren and Sanders campaigns.

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Just not her or her or her

For Senator Warren this is the opportunity to tackle head-on the cloud that has hovered over the primary--"the misplaced fer among some voters that after Clinton's 2016 loss, the party would be taking a risk if it nominated a woman again" ( date accessed Jan. 15, 2020).  At a town hall in April 2019, the Lady from Massachusetts was asked about the prospect of getting "Hillary'd" (; May 9, 2019; date accesed Jan. 15, 2020).  In July, the New York Times reported

Privately, Democratic strategists, candidates and officials say they've been alarmed by how deeply doubts about female electability have taken hold (; July 3, 2019; date accessed Jan. 15, 2020).

Voters still doubt that a female candidate can beat Mr. Donald Trump but at some point, they will have to decide for themselves if they want to take another chance on a female candidate.  Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar are certainly making good cases for themselves.  The Lady from Massachusetts made a good point yesterday evening when she said that the majority of voters in 2008 were willing to take a chance on an African American.  What she failed to mention is that President Barack Obama ran an excellent ground campaign and knew how to connect with the audience.  What 
hurt Secretary Hillary Clinton was her inability to connect with the crowd and not spending any time in battleground states like: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio.  The question for you, dear informed voters, is are you willing to stop insisting on the absolute perfect candidate?


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Lesson Of The Fire

Hello Everyone:

It is a lovely Tuesday afternoon and there is more fall out from the Sanders-Warren scandal.  It should be fascinating to see what happens in tonight's candidate debate, the last one before the Iowa Caucus, when CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer poses the question to candidates Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).  Right now, Blogger has other things on her mind, like the mega-fires in Australia and its parallels for California.

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Image from Australia

The apocalyptic images coming out of the sub-continent of Australia are horrific, to the say very least.  Wildlife experts estimate that about 1 million species of animals, unique to Australia, are on the verge of extinction.  Homes have been reduced to ashes, forest blackened, and it is hard not think about the wild fires that have plagued California, especially the ones in Northern California in 2017, the Paradise Fires in 2018, and the recent Kincade fire.  There is this shared feeling helplessness and a dizzying lack of control over one's environment.  Even more disorienting is the lack of recognition of the mighty fires and their power to turn cars into rivers of melted aluminum and consume over 15 million acres in Australia (; Jan. 9, 2020; date access Jan 14, 2020).  The parallel in terms of destruction are evident and it is important to first take a look at the causes, then look at what are the lessons for California.

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A view of the Australian fires from outer space

Over the past summer, Australian state and territory has been effected by fire.  However, the largest fires are burning along the stretches of the populated eastern and southern coast (; Jan. 13, 2020; date accessed Jan. 14, 2020).  The affected areas include Sydney and Adelaide.  To give you an idea how big the 15 million acre fire is, check out the image on the left-hand side.  The area in red is where the fires are.  That is how engulfing the fires are.  The American space agency NASA believes that the haze will encircle the earth.  How did the fires.

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The fire is the size of Manhattan, New York

 Australia is no stranger to bush fires--it has a "fire season" (Ibid).  However, this year fire season is more intense.  The fires are typically caused by lightening strikes or accidentally by a spark--some are also deliberately set (; Nov. 14, 2019; date accessed Jan. 20, 2020).  Some have pointed to climate change are exacerbating the fires.

Australia's fire season usually peaks in late January (; Jan. 9, 2020; date accessed  Jan. 14, 2020) but as of right now, the wildfires have raged through the country, in particular the eastern side, for the past four months.  The wildfires are being fueled by a mix of record high temperatures, long-term drought, dangerously low air and soil moisture entering the normal fire season, and human negligence (Ibid).  Scientists also point to climate change as a cause of "extreme, deadly blazes three times as common by the end of the century" (Ibid).

Identifying climate change's footprints in the mega-fires is difficult.  For years, Australian fire managers have kept an eye on the one culprit behind the unusually hot dry years in the east and may be impacted by global warming: " oscillating El Nino-like ocean-atmosphere weather pattern that begins in the Indian Ocean" (Ibid).

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El Nino southern oscillation

 Similar to El Nino, the "Indian Ocean dipole" (Ibid) pattern has three phases: positive, negative, and neutral (Ibid), depending on whether the eastern or western Indian Ocean waters are warmer.  The more extreme difference between the regions, the stronger the phases. 

Melbourne-based scientist Wenju Cai of CSIRO explained, "When the Indian Ocean dipole is in a particularly strong positive phase--as it was in 2019--it correlates to some of Australia's worst fire seasons,...Global warming is likely to make such extreme positive phases much more common [; date accessed Jan. 14, 2020]"(Ibid).  Mr. Cai and his colleagues conducted a 2014 study in Nature, in which they simulated future sea-surface temperature fluctuations in the Indian Ocean in a world where greenhouse gas emissions continued as usual (; Jan. 7, 2020; date accessed  Jan. 14, 2020).  The scientists found that if GHE continued business-as-usual, "the frequency of extreme positive-phase event could increase from about once every 17 years to about once every six years" (Ibid; Jan. 9, 2020).  For California, an El Nino event can mean a lot of rain, especially in the southern part of the state.  Great, you think, but not for fire affected areas like Paradise and Kincade because all the vegetation has been burned away causing landslides.

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The ironically named Camp Fire (2018)
Paradise, California

Both Australian and California have similar terrain.  The sub-continent is in the midst of a prolonged drought that resembles the five-year drought that California experienced until 2017, still dictating land and water use (; Jan. 10, 2020; date accessed Jan. 14, 2020).  Not only do they experience dry summers but the dry periods are lasting longer than they used to, exposing expanses of parched bushes, chaparral, and woodlands.  A contingent of 159 U.S. Forest, including 39 from California, Service are part of the army of Australian firefighters and army reservists detailed to the fire.  LeRoy Westerling, a climate and fire scientist at UC Merced told the San Francisco Chronicle,

What we're watching is how accelerating climate change is transforming the the landscape around us and is, in turn, driving the death of millions of animals and shifting the ecosystems,... And it is not a none-off.  This is just one more exclamation point.  We keep thinking, 'Well, it can't worse than this,' but it just keeps getting worse'  (Ibid).

As tempting as it is to compare it to California, you have to keep in mind that Australia is much larger, nearly the size of the continental U.S,. and the fires there consume a huge area.  Here is a fascinating statistic for your: the devastating 2018 fires, the largest fire in the state's history, burned 2 million acres.  The Amazon Rain Forest fires devoured 2.2 million acres; the out-of-control wildfires in Siberia in 2019 destroyed 6.7 million acres (Ibid).  Can anything be done?

There are preventative measures that fire-prone places like California can take to catastrophic fires.  The most popular measure is controlled burns.  This is the most basic forest management practice.  A controlled burn is a deliberately set fire that gets rid of excess vegetation that could fuel a fire.  Once routinely used by farmers, now comes with a fine.  Opposition to controlled burns has largely undercut Australia's ability to prevent wildfires and the United States, the issue is mainly a lack of forest management (; date accessed Jan. 14, 2020).  This has been a serious challenge for California and the federal government, which are embracing private solutions.

One private solution is the Forest Resilience Bond (; date accessed Jan. 14, 2020) developed by the Blue Forest Conservation and the World Resource Institute.  An FRB is a financial tool that raises private capitol from investors to fund desperately needed forest restoration work (; date accessed Jan. 14, 2020).  Currently it is conducting a pilot program in California's Tahoe National Forest, with private investors covering the immediate costs.  The investors will recoup their cost over time by stakeholders who will benefit from avoiding catastrophic fires.

Controlled burns are one way to prevent the kind of apocalyptic fires Australia is experiencing right now.  Dealing with climate change is largely a matter of changing human behavior.  Regardless, the environmental clock is ticking and we must take action now.


Monday, January 13, 2020

Saving Historic Sites From Climate Change

Hello Everyone:

It is is lovely winter day to start a fresh week on the blog.  First a little news.  Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is ready to transmit the Articles of Impeachment and chose managers for the trial in the Senate, that may start as soon as Wednesday.  Meanwhile, we have some primary news: Register to vote, if you have not already.  New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker is the latest candidate to end his campaign.  Pity, the Gentleman from New Jersey is quite a dynamic speaker.  Troubling news from the Sanders campaign.  According news reports, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) told rival candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as early as 2018, that a woman cannot win.  Although the Sanders campaign is denying this report, it is quite troubling to read this from a man who believes in the feminist cause.  Equally troubling is the report that some of the Sanders campaign workers are trashing the Lady from Massachusetts.  Finally, a major international crisis has been averted (sarcasm alert).  Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has agreed to allow the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to step back from their duties and live part time in Canada.  Thank goodness, now we can move on less pressing issues, like climate change and world heritage sites.

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Australian fire map
The apocalyptic fires laying siege to Australia has inspired Yours Truly to take look at how climate change has impacted world heritage sites.  It is no secret that the fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, and so on have increased in their intensity.  Whatever your thoughts are on the subject, you cannot deny that changing weather patterns are altering our fabric of life.  Mechtild Rossler, the Director of the World Heritage Center, told Time magazine, that "that countries need to work together to share strategies for protecting heritage sites" (; Nov. 22, 2019; date accessed Jan. 13, 2019).  The United Nations Education Scientific Cultural Organization, for example, facilitates countries to experiences of things that have worked--and things that have not worked..(Ibid)

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Flooding in  Piazza San Marco
Venice, Italy 

Venice is drowning.  Venice, Italy, famed for its canals, is drowning from the worst flooding in 50 years.  The rising waters have submerged most of the city, seeping into historic landmarks such as   Basilica San Marco, the 1,000 church considered one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture.  This risk to Basilica San Marco and other Venetian cultural properties is the filth and salt water that gets into the precious material, causing expansion, cracking, bubbling and explosion (Ibid).  It is not simply a matter of doing replacements in kind with more resilient materials, it is a matter of taking adaptive measures.

Although unusually high tides--acqua alta (Ibid)--is a normal part of Venetian life, after all the city is built on a lagoon on the edge of the Adriatic Sea, but what is not normal is their intensity and frequency because the Mediterranean historically does not have significant tide.  Be that as it may, as sea levels continue to rise, bringing the flooding with them this types of tide, flooding will become more common. Tara Law writes, "Experts say that climate change is likely to blame" (Ibid).  However, implementing protective measures has proven difficult.  Ironically, the Venetian city council  vetoed a measure to combat climate change, just minutes before chamber flooded.  Mother Nature had the last word.

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Mother Nature drops the mic
Venice, Italy city council chamber

Flooding is only one of the many consequences of climate change, threatening many sensitive areas and regions.  Ms. Law reports, "There is a threat that is not often considered say experts--the damage from climate to the world's heritage" (Ibid).  Natural and man-made cultural properties around the world are increasingly in danger of being fundamentally altered, damaged, or destroyed by climate change.Adam Markham, the deputy director of the Climate and Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Time, "...that if the worlds wants to save these sites, countries will also need to share financial resources" (Ibid).  Although cities as well-known as Venice can anticipate massive international support, the lesser-known cities have a more difficult time raising raising funds.  Ms. Rossler added,

If cities have the engineering structure and the funds available, then they can do a lot to hold it back,... But particularly in developing much money to manage these cities or these historic sites, they are either dependent on international aid or they're just no going to be able to adapt (Ibid)

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George Town, Penang, Malaysian

Climate change will affect cultural property sites in dramatically different ways.  Some places, like Venice, will suffer from flooding, others will be impacted by extreme weather events or rising temperatures.  One example, George Town, the capital of the Malaysian state of Penang is facing rising sea levels, landslides, and typhoons with increasing severity.

George Town, a former colonial town and trading center, was famed for its multicultural heritage, evident in its architecture.  However, the buildings are made from wood, which means they are highly susceptible rotting and insect damage if they get wet.  Heavy rainfall caused by typhoons can lead to landslides, which flow downhill toward the historic areas, inhabited by people.  To remedy the flooding, Penang announced plans to use a "sponge city model" (Ibid).  The proposed project would "include connecting green spaces to help soak up and clean runoff and constructing water retention areas and rain gardens..." (Ibid) 

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Underwater in the Great Barrier Reef
Changes to ocean temperatures threaten to kill off most of the spectacular coral in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.  Few cultural property sites are as vulnerable to climate as the Great Barrier Reef in northeast Australia.  Globally, coral is going white--bleaching--which can cause mass die offs.  Ms. Law reports, "Corals bleach when under stress, especially from higher temperatures.  Researchers have found that there has been an 89% percent decline in the spawning of new coral in the the Great Barrier reef and the situation is likely to only get worse" (Ibid).

Further, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that if global temperatures increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), an estimated 70 to 90 percent of the coral in the world would decline.  However, if global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), over 99 percent of the coral would disappear (Ibid).  To protect the reef, Australia launched a program that includes a plan to combat coral-eating starfish and curb runoff.  However, Mr. Markham is not so optimistic.  He said,

...If you talk to the coral reef biologists who are actually there...The only we can save the Great Barrier Reef is by slowing global warming....Coral reefs will be devastated by climate change.  There's just no doubt about that.

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Yellowstone National Park
Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho United States
The good news about Yellowstone  Park is that it is not about get swept into the ocean, therefore protecting it requires a different approach,  Adam Markham warns that it could look radically different due to climate change, albeit, the changes are occurring to slow for visitors to notice.  The composition of the flora and fauna that make their home in the park is expected change--i.e. "...the land has less forest and more scrub" (Ibid).  Mr. Markham said,

It's going to be an amazing ecosystem, but it's going to be a slightly different ecosystem (Ibid)

He cautions that the scientists and park rangers who want to protect the park will have to adopt a "go with the flow" (Ibid) approach.  Any changes in the climate could create a domino effect many aspects within and without the park.  For example, changes in the snow pack and melting rates can reduce the water flow in the rivers that the surrounding communities outside the region depend upon for drinking, agriculture, energy, and other purposes.  Changes in the river flows can affect fish spawning and encourage more invasive species (Ibid).

The United States National Parks Service is working to ensure that Yellowstone can withstand climate change.  For example, beetles and fungi have damaged the white bark pine trees in the park.  Scientists are planting more fungi-resistant white barks however, the tree are likely to be placed in higher elevations as temperature rise, according to NASA's Earth Observatory (Ibid).

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Skara Brae
Orkney Islands, Scotland

Climate change also poses a threat to archaeological sites around the world.  Among the more vulnerable sites are those along the coast such as the Neolithic village Skara Brae in Scotland's Orkney Island.  The village was inhabited between 3200 and 2200 B.C.E., overlapping the construction of Stonehenge.  Adam Markham pointed out the uniqueness of Skara Brae, "...while more European village of its age were made of wood, the village at this particular site was made from stone.  That means it's possible to get a better glimpse of how people actually lived--..." (Ibid).

Be that as it may, sometime archaeological sites can be vulnerable after they have been discovered because they are exposed to the elements.  According to Mechtild Rossler, in Skara Brae's case, the biggest dangers is that it can be literally washed aw ay.  Although there is a protective sea wall, it is unstable and could be breached; the areas not protected by the sea wall erodes after storms.  As we speak, scientists are working to document the extent of the danger to the site.  Tara Law writes, "Experts say that some coastal sites could potentially be protected by sea walls, breakwaters and dune restoration" (Ibid).  However because there are so many coastal archaeological sites like Skara Brae, implementing protective measures could be cost and time inefficient.

Climate change is the greatest risk we face today.  Combating it requires cultural changes as well as protective measures.  Believe the science and the scientists.  Historically, climate changes all the time but only humans can change their behaviors to slow down the pace.