Wednesday, October 30th 2019

News Review III

We Didn't Start the Fire. Markets reflect climate change. Ukraine and Trump swirl. Freedom slips away from Hong Kong. Concentration camps make a return in China.
Fire in California


Learning to live with fire: As the world warms, precipitation becomes more sporadic, and water supplies evaporate, fires become prevalent and harder to stop. Federal fire suppression costs have climbed steadily from just over $500m in 1985 to more than $3B in 2019. California is particularly fire-prone, but it is hardly alone in facing record fires. Tennessee's Great Smoky Montains Fires in 2016 killed at least 14 people and Kansas experienced its largest wildfire to date, the Anderson Creek prairie fire, which burned 625 square miles (400,000 acres). The environmental costs of more than a century of industrialization are becoming ever clearer, but increasingly they seem to be growing exponentially, not linearly as time goes on. Read the article

Coal must die: Coal-fired power plants, the world's primary source of energy, are no longer compatible with a habitable planet over the next 50 years. Beyond returning hundreds of billions of tons of carbon back into the atmosphere, where it traps heat, they also consume more than 10,500 gallons of water (a 100-day supply for a typical American household) per megawatt produced. Thankfully, markets are beginning to reflect the realities of coal. In the U.S., Murray Energy, a major coal producer, has filed for bankrupcy. Since 2010, 298 coal-fired power plants have shut down or announced intentions to do so. Abroad, India has cancelled 14 GW worth of coal power plants as solar has become cheaper than coal for the 1.3B person nation.

Sea level rise factoring into home pricing: Paper showing that homes likely to be affected by sea level rise sold for 7% less than equivalent homes: Bernstein et al 2018. Another paper showing a price premium placed on homes at higher elevations in south Florida: Keenan et al 2018

An offshore wind farm   

36,000 terawatt hours of offshore wind: A study by the International Energy Agency showed that all usable sites for offshore wind farms (no greater than 60km off the coast, no deeper than 60 meters) have the potential to generate 36,000 terawatt hours of electricity annually. Current annual global demand is 23,000 terawatt hours. Read the article

Andrew Yang's Thorium reactor: Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang wants to invest $50B in the development of thorium molten-salt nuclear reactors. These reactors produce heat using a molten salt solution containing dissolved thorium and a small amount of uranium. They do not use Uranium rods, produce far less waste, and are resistant to meltdown. However, compared to Uranium reactors, Thorium molten salt reactors are not yet well understood, and lack the infrastructure required to scale to meet electricity demand. The reality is, climate change does not afford us the time to focus on exotic reactor technology. Uranium 235 reactors are incredibly effective, safe, and well understood. Most important, they can scale to meet our needs for carbon-free energy in the time we have to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Andrew Yang, please focus on the imminent. Read the article

Long live CO2: GE researchers have produced a 10 megawatt turbine that is powered by supercritical CO2. When 73 atmospheres of pressure and a temperature of 31.10 °C are applied to CO2, it begins to have properties of a gas with the density of a liquid. At higher temperatures, it can exert significantly greater forces on a turbine relative to steam, and could be a very interesting advancement in power generation. Read the GE report


White House's Ukraine transcript omitted key details: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, testified on Tuesday October 29th that the transcript of President Donald Trump's call with Ukraine President Zelensky had been edited to exclude 'key words and phrases'. The mysterious ellipses contained in the transcript released by the President are now obviously denoting these omissions. Colonel Vindman also testified that several of his attempts to change the reconstructed transcript to accurately reflect the call were blocked. As expected, the Colonel and his military career are being attacked and questioned. You can see the White House transcript of the call on the White House website. Read the article

President Trump and King Charles I: President Trump has consistently asserted executive priviledge when refusing to turn over impeachment-related documents to Congress. As they say, history rhymes, and in this case the rhyme is several centuries old. "In 1649 the English House of Commons impeached King Charles I for treason. Charles was alleged to have unlawfully subverted English democracy, and the final article of impeachment charged that he colluded with England’s foreign adversaries in his campaign against his domestic political rivals. ...At one point Charles infamously insisted that he was immune from impeachment altogether because “the king can do no wrong.”" The framers of the constitution recalled this event and agreed that the House would have a right to diplomatic documents during an Impeachment. Read the article

Judges rule on inquiry into President's finances: A 2-1 decision by a panel of federal judges found financial statements from Trump's accounting firm sought by Congressional investigators relevant to the investigation. Their ruling laid out that the requests are part of a legitimate legislative inquiry. While the panel put a temporary hold on their decision to allow for appeal, the ruling helps lay out the legitimacy of the requests, all of which Trump has thusfar stonewalled. Read the article

House Republicans storming a secure room   

House Republicans storm secure hearing and block testimony: After Matt Gaetz's prior stunt to access committee proceedings of which he was not a part, he's back again to play the victim, this time with friends. On Wednesday October 23rd, about 30 House Republicans led by Gaetz attempted to force entry into the closed-door hearing where Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense, was scheduled to testify in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump and Ukraine. The group alleges that they are being shut out of the impeachment process, but there are Republicans on the three panels conducting the investigation — the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees — that are present and able to ask questions at every hearing. The Republicans walked into the hearing room with their electronics, which is prohibited in the space, known as a SCIF — a sensitive compartmented information facility — because it's a secure room used for discussing and handling classified information. Also of note, Matt Gaetz is currently under investigation by the Florida bar and Congress for attempts at witness tampering before the testimony of former Trump lawyer Micahel Cohen. Read the article

WSJ editorial board chimes in on Trump's 'lynching': Read the article

Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria   

Trump Administration admitted to withholding billions in hurricane recovery funds from Puerto Rico: In June 2019, Congress passed a disaster relief bill providing $19B to nine states and two American territories, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The bill came with a stipulation requiring the Department of Housing and Urban Development to notify the targeted states and territories. Two HUD officials recently admitted that all but Puerto Rico were notified of the aid, effectively denying them from applying for the relief to rebuild after the 2017 Hurricane Maria decimated the island. Read the article

White House threatens to veto bill requiring campaigns to report illicit offerings from foreign governments: On the heels of indictments of Ukranians who worked with President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to fulfill the President's desire for dirt on a political opponent, the President attempts to further gut U.S. election law. The Federal Election Comission, already functionally defunct after the administration neglected to appoint replacements for departing leadership, has stated it does not have the resources to investigate the campaign finance violations indicated by the arrest of Rudy Giuliani's Ukranian associates. It is worth noting that several high ranking members of Trump's 2016 campaign were convicted of sharing data with Russian intelligence and the infamous Trump tower meeting included an offer of damaging information on Hillary Clinton from Kremlin-linked Russians. Read the article

Facebook found Russia and Iran already interfering in US 2020 election: Read the article

The treatment Uighurs in Chinese custody: While the world today has certainly helped expand our imaginations, the Chinese detention of millions of Uighurs — a Chinese Muslim ethnic minority — goes beyond the imaginable and leaves the Nazis' treatment of Jews during World War II ringing in the ears. A Uighur escapee detailed gang rapes, human experimentation, and other systematic abuses meant to strip the humanity away from the prisoners. Please read the article

Protesters fighting for independence in Hong Kong   

Hong Kong enters recession: Hong Kong has been frayed by 5 months of anti-government protests stemming from an extradition law seen as an attempt by China to continue to wrest independence from the autonomous democratic territory. The Finance Secretary stated that the city is unlikely to achieve any growth this year. Read the article


Robbing Syrian oil: U.S. military convoys are re-entering Syria. President Trump has stated that U.S. forces will be securing Syrian oil fields to protect them from ISIS or Russian forces. What happened to Trump's proud declarations of victory over ISIS? Trump went on to say that he'd like to see U.S. companies extract the oil. Read the article

A U.S. Delta Force squadron in Iraq in 2005   

ISIS announces replacement for figurehead killed in U.S. raid: The October 26 2019 U.S. Delta Force attack on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi led to his death by suicide vest after he was chased into a tunnel network. Intelligence officals working in the region stated that Baghdadi was a figurehead and was not directly responsible for coordinating the organization. ISIS' official news outlet announced his replacement, Abdullah Qardash, who had been previously nominated by Baghdadi himself, just one day later on the 27th. Read the article

After Turkey invades Syria, evidence of ethnic cleansing emerges: Evidence of war crimes against Kurdish civilians perpetrated by Turkish forces in Syria has been discovered by U.S. forces in the region. Additionally, more than 100 ISIS prisoners are confirmed to have escaped since the Turkish invasion of Syria began just over two weeks ago. Read the article

There are over 7,000 U.S. soldiers in Africa   

200,000 U.S. soldiers deployed internationally: I had absolutely no idea about the scale of the U.S. military's international presence. It's easy to forget that power projection is not limited to sailing carrier groups around North Korea and through the South China Sea, since that's what most often makes it into the news. While not in active combat zones, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers are deployed near sites of potential future conflicts, amounting to almost 1/6 of the American military. Read the article