Saturday, August 20, 2016

257.4 - Some reasons for hope about climate change

Some reasons for hope about climate change

Okay. Last week I gave you a pretty bleak view about global warming, both how bad effects have become and how those effects will get worse in the not-distant future. I also promised you that this week I would offer some reasons for hope. So let's set about doing that and lift the gloom at least part way.

Start with the fact that there are some relatively recent technological advances that offer some promise in at least slowing the advance of climate change - and for reasons I'll get into a bit later, slowing the advance could be a very important achievement.

I'm going to start, however, by running down a list of some ideas for addressing climate change that actually are very bad ideas but the fact that they are being discussed indicates how serious some researchers and engineers are aware the situation is.

- Shoot sulfur into the air to reflect incoming solar radiation back to space - in other words, fake a volcanic eruption.
- Construct a "sun shade" by creating an artificial ring of small particles or spacecraft that would block some of the sun's rays from hitting the Earth, thereby reducing heating.
- Make airplane flights longer by requiring planes to fly at lower altitudes, which could reduce the formation of heat-trapping contrails - while the planes use even more fuel.
- Make clouds brighter with injections of seawater - which would reflect back more of the sun's heat but for the same reason would reduce evaporation, so when those clouds move to other areas, they will not produce the rain they would otherwise, potentially causing or worsening drought.
- Scrub the air of CO2, which makes sense if you're talking about something like the smoke stack of a coal plant. Otherwise, remember that CO2 makes up about 1/2 of 1% of the air, so scrubbing the air at a level to be effective against global warming would cost an amount equal to a good chunk of the US GDP.
- Dump iron into the ocean to stimulate the growth of algae, in the hopes the blooms will act as a major carbon sink - which won't work because as the phytoplankton sinks, other small ocean organisms consume and excrete them, recirculating the carbon back up to the ocean surface.

An idea related to that last one comes from James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis, which views Earth as one huge organism. He suggests artificially ramping up ocean mixing, which would stimulate the growth of carbon-munching algae, thereby sinking more carbon dioxide into the ocean. Unhappily, it runs into the same problems as the idea of dumping iron, not only that the carbon tends to get recycled back into the ocean and then to atmosphere, but adding carbon to the oceans increases their acidification.

And all of these notion share one fundamental flaw: None of them involve reducing our output of carbon, our use of fossil fuels. Rather, they aim at allowing us to continue doing so.

So how about some more serious ideas.

One is what's known as carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS or short. It involves physical and chemical processes to capture CO2 from emissions from industrial operations, separate it out, turn it into a liquid form, and inject it into cavities in the Earth, often depleted oil wells or formations of sandstone that containing briny groundwater. The process is difficult and expensive and there are always worries about the gas escaping from the underground rock where it is supposed to be contained.

But now, researchers working in Iceland say they have discovered a new way to trap the CO2 deep underground: by changing it into rock. Results published this week in the journal "Science" show that injecting CO2 into volcanic rocks triggers a reaction that rapidly forms new carbonate minerals - potentially locking up the carbon forever with no fear of it leaking because there is no longer a gas.

What they did was instead of injecting the CO2 into sandstone, they injected it into basalt. They thought the reactions involved to turn the CO2 into carbonate minerals such as calcite would take a long time, but were startled to discover that by their best estimates about 95% of the CO2 had been mineralized in just a year and a-half.

There are still real problems with making this economically feasible on a scale large enough to impact climate change: First is that the source of the CO2 in this case is a geothermal plant - and coal plants emit 20 times as much carbon as do geothermal plants, which means you'd need 20 times the storage capacity. Second, coal plant emissions are dirtier and no one knows if they will have the same sort of quick conversion to mineral form.

But perhaps the biggest problem is that there aren't many places in the world with basalt formations easily available from the surface: Most of the basalt is at the bottom on the ocean. Iceland is one of the exceptions.

Still, none of that takes away from the fact that scientists say the project, dubbed CarbFix, offers a ray of hope.

Meanwhile, still on the topic of CCS, a new study is showing that a material made from biomass could be 65% more effective in carbon capture, that is, in pulling carbon out of the emissions from industrial operations, than our current methods.

The material, which has been around for 10 years, is called Starbons and it is made from waste biomass including stuff like food peelings and seaweed. It has a mesoporous structure, which means it contains pores between 2 and 50 nanometers across. For comparison, the average pore on your skin is around 50,000 nanometers across, so we are talking truly tiny here. That extremely fine but still porous structure makes it excellent for the purpose of CO2 scrubbing, the first step in CCS.

It's other advantage is that while the process is expensive, it is less expensive than other methods of CCS. On the other hand, this is still CCS, remember, so it is another stop gap - but again, such stop gaps could mean more than we realize, as again, I will get to in a minute.

Because it's important to bear in mind that even without such technological advances we already have the tools to address global warming. The website Skeptical Science, which refutes the arguments used by the nanny-nanny naysayers on global warming, calls the idea that we do not today have the technology to address climate change a "myth."

That can be seen in developments around the world. Here are just a couple:

In May, Portugal did something truly significant: a combination of solar panels, wind turbines, biofuels, geothermal heat, and hydroelectric power came together and for four consecutive days, the entire country's electricity needs were supplied using nothing but renewable energy.

Three US cities - Aspen, Colorado, Burlington, Vermont, and Greensburg, Kansas - are now powered by 100% renewable energy and 96 cities around the world have pledged to reach the same goal.

The entire nation of Denmark is aiming to have half its energy from wind by 2020 and all of its energy from renewables by 2050.

By 2018, Dutch trains will run on electricity generated by wind power.

More than 200 of the 523 coal-fired power plants in the US, just under 40%, have closed since 2009.
China is now the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, but even there a change is taking place, and coal usage in China has declined by 21% since 2007.

More recently, as part of its pledge to continue to reduce its carbon emissions, China plans to include carmakers in a national carbon trading scheme to encourage the manufacture of more electric vehicles.

One of the reasons these sorts of changes can be happening is that the cost of clean, renewable energy is dropping and dropping faster than most anyone predicted, largely due, bluntly, to government support for such energy and mandates about energy efficiency. Not just in the US, but in a number of other countries, including China and Germany.

How dramatic has been the drop? In March 2011, computer scientist Ramez Naam looked at the fact that the cost of solar energy had dropped from nearly $10 a watt to about $3 a watt over two decades to predict it could drop to just 50 cents a watt by 2030. Last year, he admitted he was wrong: The cost of solar had already dropped to just over 50 cents a watt. Fifteen years early.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a company that invests in renewable energy, in 2015 solar power per unit of output cost 2/3 of 1% of it cost in 1975. Meanwhile, the number of solar installations is now 115,000 times what it was then.

That company predicts that even as coal and natural gas prices stay low, within 15 years wind and solar will be cheaper than them in many countries and cheaper in most of the world not long after. In some places where solar energy is most easily available, it is already clearly cheaper: Dubai has received a bid to supply 800 megawatts of solar power at a rate equivalent to "US 2.99 cents per kilowatt hour."

It's not just the Middle East, either: Austin, Texas, and Palo Alto, California, have signed contracts for solar-generated power at under four cents/kwh. Even if you take out the federal investment tax credit, it still comes out at seven cents/kwh, which is still well below the national average residential price for electricity, which is 12 cents/kwh.

The bottom line of all this can be found in two recent studies:

Researchers and engineers from Stanford University and U.C. Berkeley have developed a state-by-state plan to convert the entire US to 100% renewable energy by 2050, that is, in 34 years.

Even more significantly, a Greenpeace report from last fall says that it is possible for the entire world to be powered 100% by renewable energy by 2050 - including providing electricity access to the third of the world's population that now lacks it.

The prediction sounds incredible, but in the past equally dramatic Greenpeace predictions have proven accurate. In fact, the US-based Meister Consultants Group said last year that "the world's biggest energy agencies, financial institutions and fossil fuel companies for the most part seriously under-estimated just how fast the clean power sector could and would grow." But Greenpeace hasn't, which is why it's predictions have been much closer to the mark.

The plan would take a considerable investment - about $1 trillion a year - but it would also reduce fuel costs by just over $1 trillion a year, meaning the transition would essentially pay for itself.

A renewable energy future for the whole world is not a pipe dream. It is possible.

Which is why those technological advances I cited at the top about improving carbon capture and sequestration are so important. They in themselves do not reduce our use of fossil fuels or aid a transition to a renewable future - but what they and other advances can do is to help delay the onset of the worst effects of climate change.

Remember that these renewable futures, based on detailed analysis and existing technologies, have target dates of around 2050 - and last week I was telling you about major effects of climate change in the 2030s. That renewable future is, must be, our goal, but it will not arrive soon enough to avoid serious climate impacts around the world. But if new technologies about things like CCS can push those timelines for trouble back, so that, for example, instead of talking about the 2030s we're talking about the 2040s, and if we can find the will to pursue that renewable energy future, then maybe, just maybe, our children and our grandchildren won't wind up hating us for our selfishness and shortsightedness.

One last thing: The US stands nearly alone in the degree to which global climate change is controversial. Other nations might argue about the best way to respond, but I don't know of another major nation where you have significant numbers of people doubting the importance or dismissing the whole idea of global warming out of hand as a "hoax."

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication says the issue is "more politically polarizing than abortion; more politically polarizing than gay marriage."

But even here there is reason for some hope: surveys by Jon Krosnick of Stanford University show that nearly 90 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of independents and 70 percent of Republicans believe the increase in world's temperature over the past century was mostly or partly caused by humans. What's more, 90 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of independents, and even half - barely half, but half - of Republicans believe global warming will be a serious or very serious problem for the United States.

And according surveys to by Yale and George Mason University, the fastest-growing segment of the population is the one that is alarmed by climate change and wants action now.

So I will end by asking you again the question I asked last week: Even allowing that blocking the worst of global warming will require some moderation in our standard of living, was the way you lived say 20 years ago so bad that you would sacrifice a world to avoid living that way again?

Because that world can be saved. We have the means, we have the technology, we have the money. The only question is if we have the will.

Sources cited in links:

Friday, August 19, 2016

257.3 - Milwaukee: learning the wrong lessons

Milwaukee: learning the wrong lessons

On Saturday, August 13, a black man named Sylville Smith was shot and killed by a cop in Milwaukee.

The anger that erupted in response lead to two days of violence in the streets of the city, with businesses and cars trashed, rocks and bricks thrown, guns fired in what's become known as the "Milwaukee uprising."

I'm not here to pass judgement on the cop: According to various sources, his body cam - the recording has not been released at the time I write this - shows that Smith was carrying a gun in his hand and that he aimed it at the cop. In those circumstances, you really can't blame the cop for firing and I don't.

What I am concerned about is the reaction to the reaction, the reaction, that is, to the anger in the streets. I fear that - as happens all too often - we will learn all the wrong lessons from this, draw all the comforting but deeply wrong conclusions.

This explosion of anger and frustration - which is what riots are - was decades in the making. It reflects deep-seeded and long-standing ills and pain.

But I fear we won't say that. We won't say this is a call to justice, a call to repair the social fabric, a call to alleviate suffering, a call to challenge bigotry.

I fear that instead of blaming racism and injustice and poverty and desperation, we will blame - as some already have - the "underclass" and its "behaviors." We will blame "tribal behavior." We will blame "outside agitators" - one official even specifically named the Revolutionary Communist Party from Chicago.

We will hear about "cop haters" and people who just "want to riot, to steal and loot."

We will be told over and over in statements full of tut-tuts and clicking tongues how "violence solves nothing" as if hunger, unemployment, and police brutality were not themselves violent and by implication how passive acquiescence - that is, "don't bother me" with your troubles - solves everything because it allows us to ignore those problems.

I fear, that is, that even as the roots of the anger are getting some notice in the media, even as some attention is being paid to the long-standing pain in Milwaukee, that it will be just another blip on our social and political radar and we will at the end of the day chalk it up to how "those people don't know how to behave."

And so relearn all the wrong lessons.

Sources cited in links:

257.2 - Clown Award: Rudy Giuliani

Clown Award: Rudy Giuliani

Now for one of our regular features; this is the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

Okay, picking this week's clown was ... interesting. I had a couple of candidates but one stood out so clearly that days before doing the show I was sure I had my clown. But at almost the last minute he was outclassed by a pro.

So our wannabe clown is one Ken Taylor, mayor of a rural town in the southeast corner of Arizona. He received an invitation to a meeting of the US-Mexico Border Mayors Association to take place on August 24 in Laredo, Texas. The organization aims to have mayors on both side of the border "speak in one voice in Washington, DC and Mexico City," as one put it, on issues affecting them.

Taylor answered in no uncertain terms that he would NOT - in all caps - be attending because he was deeply, deeply offended by the fact that the invitation was written in both English and, quotng him, "Spanish/Mexican."

"One nation means one language," he declared, "and I am insulted by the division caused by language."

Of course, there are two nations involved here, but it seems he couldn't be bothered reading far enough to realize that, being much too busy being outraged by the fact that anyone would or would want to be able to speak a language other than English.

His defense, no surprise, was to blame the media for taking things "out of context."

Okay, so what was the context that he says was ignored? Taylor said his greatest objection is that the by trying to arrange cooperation among mayors on both sides of the border, the organization is "giving away US sovereignty and making America subservient to Mexico."

Oh yeah, well, that's much different.

By the way, Taylor is mayor of Huachuca City, "huachuca" being an Apache word meaning "thunder mountain." And Huachuca City is in Cochise County. Just what is the "one language" Taylor thinks we should all be speaking?

Okay, given that, how in heaven's name could he not be this week's clown? Because it came in the same week as a true gem.

So the Big Red Nose this week goes to perpetual loudmouth Rudy Giuliani.

On August 15, introducing TheRump at a campaign event in Youngstown, Ohio, Giuliani declared that "Under those eight years before Obama came along, we didn't have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack in the United States. They all started when Clinton and Obama got into office."

Let's recall first that Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York City on September 11, 2001. Let's recall next that he tried to run for president in 2008 with a campaign that consisted mostly statements that, as Joe Biden famously put it, "contain a noun, a verb, and '9/11.'"

So whose fault was this latest bit of numbskullery? You know already: it was the media, for failing to realize he was using "abbreviated language," that he meant "the eight years since 9/11" even though that's not what he said. And in fact, several outlets actually jumped to his support over the next day, noting that yes, he had mentioned 9/11 in his speech before he had his senior moment.

Rudy Giuliani
So yeah, okay, the years since 9/11, those were the "eight years before Obama came along." Except, of course, Obama was elected in November 2008, just over seven years after 9/11, not eight, and became president two months later. So maybe it's not his memory that is failing Rudy, it's his skills at basic arithmetic.

But no, a likelier explanation is that he did not forget 9/11, he forgot when it happened - because, like all good right-wing jackasses, it's part of his religion that George Bush could not have been responsible for 9/11. It had to be somebody else's fault.

But even granting all of that, even cutting him all that slack, he is still a doofus.

After 9/11 but before Obama became president, there were at least four attacks on US soil that were declared by the FBI to be Islamist terrorist attacks or were carried out by people who said they were driven by such an ideology. And there are others from the same period which may have been driven by an extreme Islamist ideology.

On top of all of that there is the fact that Rudy the G deliberately limited his oh-so-deep concern about terrorism to "radical Islamic" terrorism because as we all know, no other sort of terrorism counts, no other sort is worthy of attention, no other sort has victims important enough to be recognized - at least by Rudy Giuliani.

So no matter how you look at it, Rudy Giuliani, who earlier this month found TheRump's statement that Obama is the "founder of ISIS" to be "legitimate political commentary," is exactly what he has proved himself to be over these last nearly 15 years: a total clown.

Sources cited in links:

257.1 - Good News: Belize court knocks down anti-gay law

Good News: Belize court knocks down anti-gay law

We've got some Good News to start the week on a topic we haven't touched on much recently and while this actually doesn't affect the US, at least directly, it is evidence of a continuing change in attitudes in a number of places and I think it's good enough or at least happy enough to be worthy of mention.

On August 10, the chief justice of Belize, one Kenneth Benjamin, ruled that a section of the Belize criminal code which barred "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" contravenes the guarantees in the Belize constitution that every citizen has the right to dignity, privacy, and equal treatment under the law.

Technically, the law does not single out gay men, but that's how it has been understood and that is how it has been applied.

Under Belize's system, Justice Benjamin does not have the power to repeal the law, but he can - and did - make it essentially unenforceable.

Which yeah, I think is good news.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #257

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of August 18-24, 2016

This week:

Good News: Belize court knocks down anti-gay law

Clown Award: Rudy Giuliani

Milwaukee: learning the wrong lessons

Some reasons for hope about climate change

Sunday, August 14, 2016

256.4 - A dark overview of the effects of climate change: the future

A dark overview of the effects of climate change: the future

It's time to take this out of discussions of numbers and years and talk about what global climate change means and more importantly will mean to the environment and to people around the world.

In fact, global warming is already wreaking havoc with ecosystems around the world. It has, for one thing, triggered the third recorded global coral bleaching, and in Australia 93% of the reefs along the 2,300km Great Barrier Reef have been affected by bleaching. In the northern parts of the reef, it's believed the majority of coral is dead, and on some reefs over 90% of the coral is dying.

For another, the National Center for Atmospheric Research says that climate change has caused a drop in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans. (The warmer the water, the less oxygen it can hold.) The effect is already discernible in some parts of the world and should become evident across large parts of the ocean during the 2030s, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other types of marine life struggling to breathe.

Some types of fish off the south coast of California are feeling the effects already. These fish are not considered commercially valuable, so not a lot of attention had been paid to their decline, but they are part of the food chain that supports other species of marine life.

For a third, consider the Solomon Islands, a sparsely populated archipelago of more than 900 islands east of Papua New Guinea. They are low-lying, with the highest points on some of the islands being no more than several feet above sea level.

According to a study published in Environmental Research Letters, five of the Solomon Islands have completely disappeared under water since 1947, which was about the time the dramatic warming that marked the latter part of the 20th century got going. The most recent case of losing an island to the sea came in 2011.

Another six islands have lost more than 20% of their surface area, forcing communities to relocate as the shoreline closes in on their homes and islanders now face the likelihood of having to relocate Taro, a provincial capital. That will involve moving major infrastructure in health, education, sewage, and electricity services and could cost hundreds of millions of dollars which the islanders can't afford.

Those and other changes in climate and ecosystems have other, follow-on effects.

Warming temperatures will allow disease-spreading insects to spread to much wider areas. Threats now confined to the tropics will likely become problems at higher latitudes both north and south.

In fact, the American College of Physicians says that climate change is already harming people's health by promoting illnesses linked to warmer temperatures and changing weather patterns. They report that respiratory illnesses, heat stroke, and infectious diseases like Zika virus, dengue fever, and cholera are flourishing as global temperatures rise.

Other researchers point to tick-borne diseases such as babaseosis and Lyme disease or even anthrax, which killed 2000 reindeer in 2016 - along with killing one child and sickening 23 other people - after a 75-year-old carcass thawed. Some even point to the risk of so-called "zombie diseases," bacteria long frozen in the tundra which could still be viable, such as one that was discovered in the Siberian permafrost in 2015, still infectious after being frozen for 30,000 years. That particular one is harmless to humans - but it raises the clear possibility that there are others out there which aren't, that we potentially could be facing diseases with which humans have not had to deal for several millennia or longer. Shades of the X-Files.

Rising global temperatures have also been clearly linked to increasing waterborne food poisoning as the bacterium vibrio, which can make people sick from eating undercooked seafood or drinking or just swimming in tainted water, and which needs warm water to live, is spreading into new regions with the warming waters.

And as disease spreads, food shrinks. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford predicts that global warming will decimate nutritious crops, killing as many as half a million people every year by 2050 as the result of reductions in fruit and vegetable supplies.

Here at home in the US, the California drought is probably the best-known local example of the impact of climate change. We've seen the photos of the dried-up marinas and the almost-gone lakebeds. But what's less well-known is the disparate impact on low-income communities as the impacts of drought deepen and the cost of water goes up.

Because of course the poor bear the brunt of the impact. And it - as it shouldn't be necessary to say - of course that is true not only here.

A World Bank report from last fall said that absent aggressive efforts to help the poor, "Climate change could result in an additional 100 million people living in extreme poverty by 2030."

The researchers found that when they asked, people list three major factors in why they fell into poverty: "Agricultural shocks, including an increase in food prices; natural disasters such as floods, droughts, storms; and health issues, including malaria, diarrhea."

All of which come with global warming and in ample supply: The report itself referred to studies showing climate change could result in global crop yield losses as large as 5 percent by 2030 and 30 percent by 2080 - that is, the world would be producing 30% less food than it does now - and studies showing warming temperatures could increase the number of people at risk for malaria by 150 million.

The report also found that the "hotspots" for climate impacts on poor people were sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

At the same time, Jos Lelieveld, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and a professor at the Cyprus Institute, says the annual number of extremely hot days in Northern Africa and the Middle East, where 500 million people live, has doubled since 1970 and "the very existence of its inhabitants is in jeopardy."

He says that by mid-century, the number of extremely hot days could rise from the current average of 16 to 80 - and if fossil fuel use is not cut back, the number of days of extreme heat, we're talking 122F or 50C, could reach 200 per year.

Such prolonged heat waves coupled with desert dust storms increased by the heat could render parts of the region uninhabitable.

That's the future we are facing, that is the future we are risking with our inaction: a future of disease, hunger, drought here and floods there, 100 million more people in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, parts of Northern Africa and the Middle East uninhabitable from the heat, coastal cities awash with sea water, and millions - tens of millions, scores of millions - of environmental refugees.

We are facing, in short, mass social chaos on an international level.

The United Nations Environment Program has found that over the last 60 years, at least 40 percent of all internal conflicts have been linked to the exploitation of natural resources, whether high-value resources such as timber, diamonds, gold and oil, or scarce resources such as fertile land and water. Conflicts involving natural resources have also been found to be twice as likely to relapse, that is, to relapse into violence and blood.

That study, yes, concerned itself with internal conflicts. But are we really going to think that those types of conflicts, conflicts over resources such as access to food, to water, to energy, have stopped or ever will stop at national boundaries? Are we really going to think that the pressure of dealing with a sea of refugees is not going to create a tinderbox of xenophobia even among those nations making at first an honest attempt to deal with them? If you wonder about that, just consider how quickly Europe's welcome for Syrian refugees has worn thin and realize that the numbers involved there would be swamped by those driven from their homes by climate change, by flood, by drought, by hunger, by sheer heat.

And as you contemplate that world of perhaps, just to take a middle figure, 30 to 50 years in the future, that world of both ecological disruption and social disorder on a world scale, that world of conflict, of struggle for the basic resources of life and civilization, remember one other thing:

There are today, right now, over 5,000 nuclear weapons deployed - actually deployed, not in storage or whatever, but deployed - across nine nations.

I have, as I said I would, drawn a very dark picture. But it is not hopeless and next week I promise to discuss some of the reasons for that, some social or political, some technological.

But the truth is, heading off the worst effects of global climate change will require some moderation in the standard of living for those of us in the industrialized world, those of us who have drawn the most benefit from our indifference to the long term.

So for the moment, until next week, I want you to think about where we are headed right now and I want you ask yourself a question: Think about, say 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, or heck if you're an old fart like me think back to the '60s, and ask yourself if the way you lived then, if the level of technology and convenience you lived with then, ask yourself if that was so horrible that you would sacrifice a world to avoid living that way again.

Sources cited in links:

Saturday, August 13, 2016

256.3 - A dark overview of the effects of climate change: now

A dark overview of the effects of climate change: now

I promised myself that I would talk some about global warming* this week. It's one of those vital topics that is always percolating in the background but all too often  - usually, even - gets drowned out by the shout of some spiking event or interest. Kind of like (to show how technologically out of touch I am) something that keeps getting posted to Reddit but never gets to the first page.

But it is something that should have and maintain our interest because of its importance both now and in the future. And contrary to what you would think if you relied on the corporate media's notion of what's important, which now consists mostly of what's the latest dumb thing Donald TheRump said and who's ahead in which poll in which state, and which when they can be bothered to address global climate change it consists mostly of some version of this-one-said-this-and-the-other-one-said-this as if there really was some scientific controversy about this, despite what that would make you think, it is getting worse.

I'm going to talk about that and I warn you in advance I am going to paint a very dark picture.

Start with the simple fact that 2015 was the hottest year by far in the historical record, breaking the record set way, way back in 2014.

Four major agencies in three countries track temperature records, each using their own data sets and their own methodology. They are, in the US, NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which have records dating to 1880; the Met office, which is the UK's national weather and climate service and has records dating to 1850; and the Japan Meteorological Agency, whose records date since 1891. All four said 2015 was the warmest on record and by a long shot.

(For the US in particular, according to NOAA, 2015 was the second-warmest year on record for the lower 48 states, second only to 2012.)

More significantly, according to NOAA's annual State of the Climate Report, released August 2, surface heat was not the only record set: 2015 also showed the highest CO2 levels, the highest sea surface temperatures, the highest level of heat in the upper oceans, the highest ocean levels, and the record low extent of Arctic sea ice.

What's more, the heat levels measured in the first months of 2016 all but guarantee that barring some dramatic turnaround, 2016 will be the hottest year on record and probably will break the 2015 record by a margin even greater than that by which 2015 beat out 2014.

Meanwhile, glacial melt in Greenland is accelerating and new research published in the peer-reviewed science journal Nature says that Antarctica’s vast ice cap is less stable than previously thought.

Glacial melt
Previous forecasts were that the world's seas could rise as much as a meter - about three and a-quarter feet - by the end of the century. But those forecasts did not take into account any melt from Antarctica, where increasing snowfall was expected to keep the ice sheet in balance. That is, any ice lost would be replaced by increasing snowfall so that the net loss of ice from Antarctica would be zero and so have no impact on sea levels.

This new study reveals that that assumption is incorrect and unless there is a major reduction on the use of fossil fuels, the actual rise could be double the previous forecast: around two meters or about 6-1/2 feet, a rise which could swamp many coastal cities.

And now, in what has to be considered an ominous event, a long-predicted and feared feedback loop may be making an appearance. A feedback loop, just in case you don't know even though I expect you do, it one where an effect of a process causes more of that same process. A causes B, but having more B means you get more A, which causes more B, and so on.

Here, the feared feedback loop is that the warming climate would result in the thawing of the permafrost in the Arctic. Permafrost is permanently frozen ground - it's not ice, it's ground. As it thaws, soil decomposition accelerates, which releases methane as a natural byproduct.

As a greenhouse gas, methane is 30 times more powerful than is CO2 but because there is so little of it compared to the amount of CO2, it hasn't had nearly the impact. But as more is released as the permafrost thaws, there is more warming, which melts more permafrost, which releases more methane, and so on and so on until a tipping point is reached where a self-reinforcing cycle takes over.

One related fear has been the development of methane "burps" where instead of the slow release from decomposition there is a sudden release of methane that had been trapped below the surface. That fear may be coming to pass.

On the remote Belyy Island in the Kara Sea off the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, researchers have found patches of trembling or bubbling grass-covered ground. When the researchers prodded such mounds with their feet, they described them as like "jelly." When the mounds were punctured they released carbon dioxide at a concentration 20 times above the normal level of concentration and methane at 200 times the normal level.

Now to be accurate, we can't say for certain that this is caused by global warming, particularly since there aren't temperature records for the region to see if Belyy Island is warming. But it is what you would expect if a feedback loop of melting permafrost releasing methane which adds to warming was getting under way.

After the Paris Climate Summit last December, much was made over a provision in the final agreement setting a goal of a maximum of a 1.5C increase in global temperatures over pre-industrial times. That's significantly below for former target of 2C, which really was just a guidepost to try to head off the worst effects. This new goal, we were told, indicated how serious the governments of the world were in dealing with climate change.

Unfortunately, it was a meaningless exercise in political feel-good:

- Based on the data gathered by meteorologist Ed Hawkins from the Reading University, the average global temperature as the new limit is declared is already 1C over pre-industrial levels and there were even instances where the temperature reached 1.38C over that level.

- Researcher and professor Chris Field from Stanford University said the 1.5C goal "now looks impossible or at the very least, very, very difficult."

- Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales in Australia, calls the 1.5C target "wishful thinking," saying "I don't know if you'd get 1.5C if you stopped emissions today" because of the inertia in the climate system. That is, the stuff we've already put out there would keep the planet warming for some years even if we totally stopped using fossil fuels immediately. We are locked in to it getting warmer than it is.

What's even more, the actual pledges nations made to cut their emissions not only are non-binding, they would, according the the UN's own analysis, lead to a temperature increase of 2.7C by the end of the century, a third higher than the old target and 80% higher than the new one.

All we get is talk-talk while the world is sick with fever.

And we are going to talk more about this after the break.

*Okay, it shouldn't be necessary to say this but I suppose from time to time it should be: You will sometimes run into nanny-nanny naysayers who try to make much out of the fact that a fair number of folks now talk about "climate change" rather than "global warming," treating the shift as if they had uncovered some nefarious plot.

So for the record: The two terms are synonyms. They mean the same thing, refer to the same set of effects, are based on the same scientific facts and observations.

Some folks don't like "global warming" because they think it implies that everywhere will get warmer and by the same amount, which is not what will happen: Some areas will gain more heat than others and some may even cool because of changing weather patterns, even as the Earth's overall average surface temperature rises. Others don't like "climate change" because it doesn't say how the climate is changing. If we were experiencing global cooling, it would still be climate change even as the environmental effects would be significantly different.

I use the terms interchangeably. If you do meet one of those nanny-nanny naysayers, don't be distracted.

Sources cited in links:

256.2 - Footnote: Survey reveals that ISIS is not popular in Arab Muslim world

Footnote: Survey reveals that ISIS is not popular in Arab Muslim world

As a Footnote to that, three researchers recently reported on their efforts to measure the support for ISIS among ordinary Muslims in the Arab world.

They added several questions to the standard Arab Barometer survey to ask a scientific sample of respondents in five Muslim nations - Tunisia, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Algeria, and Morocco - these three questions:

- To what extent do you agree with the goals of the Islamic State;
- To what extent to do you support the Islamic State's use of violence; and
- To what extent do you believe the Islamic State's tactics are compatible with the teachings of Islam?

The percent agreeing with Daesh's goals range from 0.4 percent in Jordan to 6.4 percent in the Palestinian territories. Those agreeing with the use of violence range from 0.4 percent in Morocco to 5.4 percent in the Palestinian territories. And those agreeing that Daesh's tactics are compatible with Islam range from 1.0 percent in Jordan to 8.9 percent n the Palestinian territories.

That is, in none of the nations on any of the questions did support for Daesh reach 9%. Daesh is, to put it kindly, not popular in the Arab world or among Muslims.

I'll note in passing that I find it interesting that the highest levels of support on each question are found in the occupied territory of Palestine.

What makes the findings even more significant, however, is that the researchers then allowed for the fact that people might say "I don't know" or decline to answer because they don't want to be seen as supporting Daesh even when they do. So they added those responses together with the pro-Daesh answers and saw that even then, even assuming the non-answers to be pro-Daesh, the highest level of support for Daesh on any of the questions in any of the countries was 13%, that in Algeria on the question of if the group's tactics are compatible with Islam - and that, of course, does not mean you support the group or the tactics, only that they are compatible with the religion, in the same way that someone could say that drone strikes are compatible with Christianity while still opposing them.

The idea that being Muslim means you support - tacitly or otherwise - Daesh or any other form of terrorism is as false in the Middle East as it is here. It's time, well past time, to stop the bigotry.

Sources cited in links:

256.1 - Muslim group posts "ISIS Sucks" billboard

Muslim group posts "ISIS Sucks" billboard

I always like to start with some Good News but this time it's a bit different and I can't really call it Good News so instead I'm going to call it News to Make You Smile.

A Muslim-American non-profit organization called The Sound Vision Foundation aims to, in its words, "provide Muslims with thinking and talking points to manage crisis, fight against Islamophobia, and challenge extremism and radicalism among Muslim youth." It has started a campaign in response to the on-going Islamophobic bull that Muslims have been "silent" about Daesh, that is, ISIS, an accusation with the implication that such "silence" means tacit support.

So if you're driving down the highway in Chicago, you may come across this: a giant billboard reading "Hey ISIS, you suck!!! From: #ActualMuslims."

The billboard is part of an "ISIS Sucks" campaign the organization has launched.

While this really did make me smile, I can't call it Good News because of the Islamaphobia which made it necessary. Leena Suleiman, the director of creative engagement at Sound Vision, said the campaign was begun "in light of the constant pressure on American Muslims to condemn ISIS," a condemnation, I note, that would never be loud enough or long enough to satisfy the bigots. She also called the billboard "an expression of real human frustration at trying to live peacefully while being associated with a menace that wreaks havoc on mostly other Muslims."

Which is true: The vast majority of the victims of ISIS are themselves Muslim. And most of those fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria are also Muslim. So while the billboard did make me smile, it shouldn't have been necessary to say.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #256

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of August 12-18, 2016

This week:
Muslim group posts "ISIS Sucks" billboard

Footnote: Survey reveals that ISIS is not popular in Arab Muslim world

A dark overview of the effects of climate change: now

A dark overview of the effects of climate change: the future

Sunday, August 07, 2016

255.9 - Fight against Trans-Pacific Partnership not over; Clinton may flip-flop

Fight against Trans-Pacific Partnership not over; Clinton may flip-flop

I have talked several times before about the TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership, this so-called "free trade deal" among among 12 Pacific Rim nations which together account for 40 percent of the world economy - making it biggest trade deal since NAFTA, a deal which has been responsible for the loss of millions of high-paying manufacturing jobs in the US in exchange for the creation of millions of low-paid service industry jobs.

I call it a "so-called" free trade deal because it is more like a transnational corporation bill of rights. The more people know about it, the less popular it becomes, enough so that Bernie Sanders could make his long-standing opposition to it a centerpiece of his campaign and Hillary Clinton, who once called it the "gold standard" for trade agreements, has been forced to make sounds opposing it.

Here's the thing: There is going to be a push on to ratify the monster during the lame-duck session of Congress after the election. That effort may fail - hopefully it will and I think it reasonably likely not only because of general opposition but because it would be especially politically risky to do it during a lame-duck session; Hillary Clinton is among those who have specifically rejected the idea of a lame-duck approval of TPP. The important point is that that won't be the end of it because there are persistent signs that Clinton, assuming she wins the presidency as I expect she will, will after the election or more exactly the inauguration is safely behind her flip-flop again back to supporting the deal.

Those signs include the fact that there is no opposition to the deal in the Democratic national platform despite the efforts of Sanders' supporters to get it in, the fact that she chose as a running mate a strong supporter of the pact, and most recently the statement by Terry McAuliffe - governor of Virginia and a Clinton bestie - that with just a couple of changes in pact Clinton will support it.

Put another way, once she's safely in the White House, a few tweaks would become her justification for going back on her word and returning to her classic position of supporting big business over the working public and by the way, whatever happened to asking about the transcripts of those speeches?

I'll say it again: if you live in a swing state, a tossup state, where a small number of votes could make the difference, I suppose you'll have to swallow your bile and vote for Hillary Clinton. But do it knowing what you're getting and knowing the fight is by no means over.

Sources cited in links:

255.8 - White support for voter photo ID increases when shown blacks voting

White support for voter photo ID increases when shown blacks voting

As a sort of Footnote to that and since  I was talking earlier about voter ID, it's worth noting a study from a couple of years ago that make a related point which is still valid.

The study was done in 2014 by the University of Delaware's Center for Political Communication. It found that sixty-seven percent of white Americans support voter ID laws.

But if the question was accompanied by a photo of a black person using a voting machine, support jumped to 73 percent. The change was called modest but statistically significant, meaning it represented a real shift.

Asking the question together with a photo of a white person at a voting machine or with no image at all made no difference in the level of support. Only showing the black person had an effect.

And no, it did not "go both ways." The three different examples, the two images and no image, made no difference in the degree of support for voter ID given by blacks or Hispanics.

Just a reminder. And another reason why Joseph Curtatone is a hero.

Sources cited in links:

255.7 - Hero Award: Mayor Joseph Curtatone, Somerville, MA

Hero Award: Mayor Joseph Curtatone, Somerville, MA

Now for one of our occasional features; this is the Hero Award, given out as the occasion arises to someone who just does the right thing on a matter big or small.

Our hero this time is Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, Massachusetts, oddly enough not for what he did but for what he didn't do.

For nearly a year, a banner has hung over Somerville city hall reading "Black Lives Matter."

But now, the police union in Somerville is demanding the banner be taken down and replaced with one carrying the vapid greeting card sentimentality of "All Lives Matter."

Joseph Curtatone
Demonstrating true command of hyperbole, the union's letter to the mayor accused the Black Lives Matter movement of "inciting" violence against police, called the banner "deeply troubling," "inconceivable," and "demoralizing," and accused the mayor of "standing silent over the seemingly daily protest assassinations of innocent police officers around the country."

Just as a sidebar: Thirty-three cops in the US have been killed by gunfire so far this year. Well over a third, perhaps half of them if not more, were killed by white people.

So what didn't Mayor Curtatone do? Capitulate.

"My unwavering support for our police officers does not and cannot preempt our commitment to addressing systemic racism in our nation," Curtatone said.

The banner remains. And Joseph Curtatone is a Hero.

Sources cited in links:

255.6 - To Barack Obama: Pardon Chelsea Manning!

To Barack Obama: Pardon Chelsea Manning!

As a Footnote to that, I want to make clear what I have said before: I regard Chelsea Manning as an American hero who in the best tradition of the honorable practice of conscientious whistle-blowing, saw the public being lied to and took steps to let us know what we have a right to know.

There is a tradition that at the end of their terms in office, presidents issue pardons.

So, Barack Obama:
prove yourself the lover of peace you claim to be;
prove your commitment to the transparency you - so far falsely - claimed would be a hallmark of your administration;
stand for the justice in which you say you believe;
and pardon Chelsea Manning!

255.5 - Outrage of the Week: Chelsea Manning faces charges for attempting suicide

Outrage of the Week: Chelsea Manning faces charges for attempting suicide

Speaking of war crimes brings us to one of our regular features. This is the Outrage of the Week.

A couple of weeks ago, I reported that Chelsea Manning, the war crimes whistle-blower now in prison for 35 years for the heinous crime of letting the American public know the nature of the war we were fighting in Iraq; Chelsea Manning, who had survived months of solitary confinement - considered torture under UN treaty; Chelsea Manning, who proved herself stronger than the government ever knew, nonetheless had hit a wall and tried to commit suicide.

I was able to report that she survived and described herself as well and glad to be alive.

What the government has put her through - with, we can and must assume, the full knowledge and approval of the Amazing Mr. O - is outrageous enough, but this latest news goes beyond the bounds of even minimal decency.

According to the ACLU, which is representing her, on July 28 she was informed that she is facing serious new charges based on her attempt to commit suicide. In other words, having brought her to a moment of such despair that she tried to kill herself, the Army is now talking about punishing her for that very act.

These so-called "administrative offenses" include:

- resisting a group of prison guards called "the force cell move team," which is truly odd because she remembers nothing of the night and was unconscious when they got to her cell;
- having "prohibited property," with no indication of what that "property" would be; and
- "conduct which threatens" because she apparently threatened someone or something by trying to kill herself.

Chelsea Manning
If she is convicted of these "offenses," she could be reclassified into maximum security, have an additional nine years in medium custody added to her sentence, or even be placed in solitary confinement indefinitely, up to and including the rest of her 35-year sentence.

This is not the first time the Army has tried this: Last year, she was threatened with solitary for possession of LGBTQ reading material and - I'm serious - an expired tube of toothpaste.

Chelsea Manning is a transgender woman being forced to serve out her sentence in an all-male prison who has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement and denied medical treatment related to her gender dysphoria - the anxiety and depression connected with the stress of experiencing a conflict between one's physical characteristics and their gender identity - a denial that has continued even after her suicide attempt.

Chelsea Manning had a moment where her emotional pain had grown to such an extent she couldn't bear it - and now the Army wants to punish her for being in such pain.
It is indecent, it is unconscionable, it is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

255.4 - US militarism, Hiroshima to Libya

US militarism, Hiroshima to Libya

I'm going to spend just a couple of minutes, not going to go on a long rant about it, but just a couple of minutes to note two anniversaries: August 6 and August 9 are the 71st anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only two times - happily - nuclear weapons have actually be set off in war and two of the greatest war crimes at least in our history if not the world's.

And yes, they were war crimes because they were so unnecessary. In the spring and summer of 1945, Japan was a defeated nation. Its army had been driven back to its own shores, its navy had been largely destroyed, its air force decimated, even its air defenses so beaten down that the military could not mount an effective defense against US air raids that had already leveled large parts of Tokyo and other major cities and ports.

So much so that, as is reasonably if not largely common knowledge by now, Japan had made overtures about surrender before the attack on Hiroshima. What is less commonly known is that the US rejected that offer because the surrender was not unconditional - only to accept essentially the same terms after the bombing of Nagasaki.

Since the bombings gained so little in the surrender terms, so little in political or military terms, it raises the question of why they were done. And the answer is simple even as it is chilling: The real target was not Japan, it was the Soviet Union, and the bombings were to show to Stalin that we had this enormous power and were ready to use it so he'd better be really, really careful about crossing us in the postwar world.

Whether or not and to what degree that attempt at intimidation, one carried out on the bodies of scores of thousands of Japanese in each of the two cities, is not important. What is important is that that was the real reason, the underlying reason, the deep reason, why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed.

Many nations, including Germany and Japan and more recently places like El Salvador and Chile have undertaken efforts to confront and face their own pasts of violence and militarism, whether that violence and militarism was turned outward, as in the cases of Germany and Japan, or inward against their own people, as it was in El Salvador and Chile. But face them they did. It is another area in which we in the US lag far behind.

And don't expect that to change: Our Nobel peace prize Prez has bombed seven countries in seven years: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, and Somalia. He tried to get Iraq to let US troops stay beyond the agreed withdrawal date, backing off only because Iraq refused to give US troops a blanket exemption from Iraqi laws. He has stretched out our presence in Afghanistan, is expanding our presence in Iraq - and has now initiated what the Pentagon is calling an "extended campaign" of bombing in Libya, another land that, like Iraq, thanks to our "help" has replaced repression that killed a few with chaos that has killed unknown thousands.

And all we got at Democratic National Convention was chest-thumping over how "tough" we have been and are being even as the Amazing Mr. O looks forward to handing over the reins to someone even more of a militarist than he has been.

A age of perpetual warfare is on us - and far too many of us don't seem to care because we are not the ones doing the dying.

And most of those who pass themselves off as "progressive" don't even have the decency to be ashamed.

Sources cited in links:

255.3 - Footnote: Sam Brownback is a big loser

Footnote: Sam Brownback is a big loser

Oh and by the way - those primaries in Kansas on August 2? In them a whole string of real right-wing types aligned with reactionary Gov. Sam Brownback - about 12 - went to to ignoble defeat at the hands of more moderate GOPpers.

This may not mean much; after all, what is a "moderate" Republican in the context of Kansas? Nonetheless, it does at least mean that people are tiring of and getting wise to Brownback's "Kansas experiment," which supposedly was going to prove the right-wing mantra that there is no problem that can't be cured by less government.

So it may not mean a lot - but it means something more than nothing.

Sources cited in links:

255.2 - Good News: Five court victories for voting rights

Good News: Five court victories for voting rights

Moving on from there to more good news that also involves North Carolina, a series of five recent court rulings have struck blows against the on-going attempts by the reactionaries to keep minorities, students, and others they think are more likely to vote liberal from voting at all.

The first blow came on July 19, when Federal District Court Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that Wisconsin voters without required photo id can vote in the fall elections by signing an affidavit swearing to their identity.

A higher court had already ruled in favor of the law, so Adelman could not strike it down - but he could limit its impact, and he did. And yes, I talked about this before, just a couple of weeks ago. It bears repeating.

The next day, July 20, was when the full 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a voter ID law in Texas discriminates against blacks and Hispanics and ordered that a temporary remedy be put in place before the November election.

According to Myrna Perez, an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voter rights, about 600,000 registered voters in Texas lack state-specified forms of identification.

Interestingly, student IDs, employer IDs, and utility bills, the latter a traditional way of proving ID and residence, are among the forms of ID the law considers unacceptable - while a concealed handgun permit will do just fine.

The court sent the case back to the district court to consider if the law intended to discriminate but added that regardless of intent, the discriminatory impact was clear enough and sufficient to demand a remedy.

Two days, two victories for voting rights.

And just over a week later, on July 29, came not a one-two but a one-two-three combination against the vote blockers.

First came North Carolina, where a sweeping decision by a panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the state's voter ID law as clearly unconstitutional, ruling that it consciously "target[s] African-Americans with almost surgical precision" in an effort to depress black voter turnout.

The court permanently blocked provisions that required certain photo IDs to vote, limited early voting, eliminated same day registration, ended out-of-precinct voting, and prohibited pre-registration of young voters.

In finding that the state intended to discriminate, the court noted that state lawmakers first sought data breaking down voting practices by race and then cut back or eliminated those practices disproportionately used by African-Americans and required forms of ID that African-Americans disproportionately lacked.

Just hours later on that same day, federal district judge James Peterson struck down a series of voting restrictions in Wisconsin, ruling in a case different from the one decided earlier in the month.

Peterson wrote that
The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement.... Wisconsin's strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease.
He ordered the state to make photo IDs more easily available and to broaden the range of student IDs that are accepted at the polling station while throwing out other rules, including ones that lengthened the residency requirement for newly registered voters and sharply limited the places and times at which municipal voters, many of them Milwaukee blacks, could cast absentee ballots in person.

Then later the same day, the light shone on Kansas. Kansas had passed a law saying you had to produce proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. But that was in conflict with federal law, so the state tried to create a two-tier voting system, so if you didn't have the proper response to "your papers, please," you could vote in federal elections but not in state or local ones. Some 17,500 Kansas voters were stuck in this legal limbo, a number projected to rise to 50,000 by election day.

The ACLU sued on their behalf, saying, in the words of ACLU attorney Sophia Lakin, "You're either registered or you're not. There's no such thing as half registration."

On July 29, Shawnee County judge Larry Hendricks agreed, ruling that those voters can have their votes counted in state and local races as well as federal ones. The ruling went into effect  immediately, meaning they could vote in the state's primary election, which took place on August 2.

The injunction is temporary to cover the primary; Judge Hendricks has set a September 21 court date for an evidentiary hearing ahead of the November general election. But in normal practice, such an injunction is not issued unless there is a good chance that those trying to advance rather than restrict voting rights will prevail in the broader suit.

In his ruling, Judge Hendricks said that "Losing one’s vote is an irreparable harm."

Damn straight.

Of course, the fanatics are not about to give up and will continue to spin their lying lies about hordes of illegal voters flooding our ballot boxes with fraudulent votes.

32 states now have some form of voter ID requirement, with 17 states tightening voter rules since 2012, most of those coming in the wake of, and taking advantage of, the Supreme Court tearing the heart out of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

The truth is, of course, that they are lying and they know they are lying. They can't not know they are lying. The evidence that voter fraud is almost vanishingly rare in US elections is overwhelming.

For example, two years ago the Washington Post cited what it called in its headline "seven papers, four government inquiries, two news investigations and one court ruling" all showing that voter fraud, especially the type of voter impersonation fraud that voter ID would address, is mostly a myth.

Those studies are in no way the only ones and other studies have shown that such laws do have the overall impact of depressing turnout among minorities - which is the point. And now it's gotten so obvious that the courts are coming to recognize the reality, even if, as in the Texas decision, only the effect rather than, as in the case of North Carolina, the intent.

Which is maybe why the argument is shifting from "It's all about preventing fraud!" to the right-wing's now-standard version of accuse the accuser: Just like if you address racism you'll be faced with some Hannity-wannabe escapee from the loony farm screeching that "You're the REAL racist!" so now some among the reactionaries are frothing and moaning about how decisions like these are part of a plot - I am not joking here and only very slightly exaggerating - part of a Democratic party plot to steal elections from the right.

For example, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory made sure to refer to the members of the 4th Circuit panel who ruled against him as "Democratic judges" who are "undermining the integrity of our elections."

Or maybe I'm not even exaggerating: Two members of the North Carolina legislature, State Senator Phil Berger and House speaker Tim Moore, said in a joint statement that "We can only wonder if the intent [of the ruling] is to reopen the door for voter fraud, potentially allowing fellow Democrat politicians ... to steal the election."

So we still have a long way to go and a lot of fights remain - but bear in mind that the drive to expand restrictive voter ID to more states has stalled in some cases over the past few years, including Pennsylvania - which gave up a court fight over its law - Iowa, Nevada, and Massachusetts, where it never even got off the ground. So even as the fights continue, the battlefield does not seem to be growing. Which is its own form of Good News.

And as for these five recent court victories for voting right? They are definitely Good News.

Sources cited in links:
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