Impervious surfaces

Include our brains. This report about Houston from last year outlines how unchecked development remains a priority in the famously un-zoned city, creating short-term economic gains for some while increasing flood risks for everyone:

The area’s history is punctuated by such major back-to-back storms, but many residents say they are becoming more frequent and severe, and scientists agree.

“More people die here than anywhere else from floods,” said Sam Brody, a Texas A&M University at Galveston researcher who specializes in natural hazards mitigation. “More property per capita is lost here. And the problem’s getting worse.”

Why?

Scientists, other experts and federal officials say Houston’s explosive growth is largely to blame. As millions have flocked to the metropolitan area in recent decades, local officials have largely snubbed stricter building regulations, allowing developers to pave over crucial acres of prairie land that once absorbed huge amounts of rainwater. That has led to an excess of floodwater during storms that chokes the city’s vast bayou network, drainage systems and two huge federally owned reservoirs, endangering many nearby homes — including Virginia Hammond’s.

We must learn to do better, but long-term thinking tends to challenge us more than anything.

A Financial Choice, Act II

In early September 2008, I drove down to Charleston to visit a cousin who had recently suffered a terrible accident. Throughout the drive I listened to extended public radio reports on an evolving calamity: the collapse of Lehman Brothers financial services firm. The horror that the government was going to allow such a large firm to go under was decorated with the baroque gadgetry of terms that would become more familiar in the coming years: credit default swaps, subprime mortgage lending, tranches, CDOs. The gore and detail of the cover that had been constructed around scams and fraud at the broadest level was audible in the voices of interviewers and guests. There was a tinge of disbelief within their attempts to explain what these terms meant and how they had gotten us all (!) into so much peril. It was as close to 1929 as we had come and potentially far worse – so extensively had the giant vampire squid of financial engineering welded its tentacles to every sector. Housing, banking, investing, construction, debt, bonds… this is business America now, and every other activity is vulnerable to its caprice. It was the stretch run of a presidential election as well; one candidate tried to suspend the campaign, the other fortunately tried to hold things together.

And he did mange to hold things together, despite rather obvious at the time challenges he personally faced. But the Lehman moment got everyone’s attention, everyone who mattered. $700 billion for Troubled Asset Relief (TARP), $250 billion for Capital Purchase(CPP), in addition to billions more in government-backed guarantees to individual banks. And eventually, in July 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was enacted. It seemed the public assistance required to save the vampire from itself had sealed the argument in favor of financial reform.

Yesterday, the Republican House of Representatives passed the Financial Choice Act and can you guess what it does? Right! Overturns Dodd-Frank. And not only is it a bad idea to weaken a law that requires stronger banks,

The bill also offers the wrong kind of relief. During the last crisis, all kinds of financial activity — including insurance, money-market funds and speculative trading at banks — depended on government support. That’s why Dodd-Frank placed limits on banks’ trading operations and provided added oversight for all systemically important institutions, and why regulators require them to have enough cash on hand to survive a panic.
Those provisions aren’t perfect — simpler and more effective options exist — but the Choice Act just scraps them. What’s more, it would eliminate the Office of Financial Research, created to give regulators the data they need to see what’s going on in markets and institutions. The law would leave regulators in the dark, and taxpayers implicitly or explicitly backing much of the financial sector.

If you didn’t click, that’s coming from fcking Bloomberg. The financial industry doesn’t even think it’s a good idea. In trying to undo more Obama-era legislation, the know-nothings in Congress are re-setting the table for our financial catastrophe guests. Sure, certain things could make Dodd-Frank unnecessary. But unfortunately, none of the thousands of people, firms, funds and frauds who populate this sector care about a stronger financial system or its being more competitive. It’s the logic of business – the democracy, whiskey, sexy of fools.
Image: Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch, ca. 1500

Spite and the reckless assault on nothing

The stupidity of millions, millions of individually stupid decisions, has brought a spiteful revolution to its denouement. Or a screaming kid to its mall, whichever you prefer.
He was able to trot out on a sunny afternoon and announce a positively pointless jab to his own eye. Wisht it had been more pointed:

It is similar to the predominant response to liberal terror over the prospect of handing the most powerful office in the world to an impulsive congenital liar with authoritarian tendencies. Conservatives on the whole devoted less attention to pondering the risks Trump might pose to their own country and party than enjoying the liberal tears.

“Everybody who hates Trump wants him to stay in Paris,” argues conservative activist Grover Norquist. “Everybody who respects him, trusts him, voted for him, wishes for him to succeed, wants him to pull out.” Here is an argument that approaches, even if it does not fully reach, complete self-awareness: The Paris climate agreement is bad because it is supported by people who oppose Trump. Therefore, the opposing position is the correct one.

If the liberal global elites have established a policy architecture to minimize the threat of climate change, weakening that policy architecture is its own reward. There is not much more to it than that.

All of those who chose not to vote for her, voted for this.

Today is Towel Day

In tribute to the great Douglas Adams.
And while we’re at it:

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”
“What?”
“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”
“I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”
Ford shrugged again.
“Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happenned to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.”
“But that’s terrible,” said Arthur.
“Listen, bud,” said Ford, “if I had one Altairian dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say ‘That’s terrible’ I wouldn’t be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin.”

No specific gin or lizard endorsement.

Holy Chapter 11, Batman!

“That’s right, Robin.”
The Affordable Care Act has driven down personal bankruptcies by 50% since 2010:

As legislators and the executive branch renew their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act this week, they might want to keep in mind a little-known financial consequence of the ACA: Since its adoption, far fewer Americans have taken the extreme step of filing for personal bankruptcy.

Filings have dropped about 50 percent, from 1,536,799 in 2010 to 770,846 in 2016 (see chart, below). Those years also represent the time frame when the ACA took effect. Although courts never ask people to declare why they’re filing, many bankruptcy and legal experts agree that medical bills had been a leading cause of personal bankruptcy before public healthcare coverage expanded under the ACA. Unlike other causes of debt, medical bills are often unexpected, involuntary, and large.

Emphasis added. There’s no way to be flippant about this. President Obama took a beating over this for years. Congresspeople lost their jobs, and knew they would, for voting for it. Still, they did it. This is what the whole thing is about – all the politicking, all the voting, all the clever name-calling and ratfcking. It mobilized the entire right-wing firmament because they are expressly against this. This!
This is socialism?

Fifty Years In

Like smartphones teach us to be dumb – to not know things, to not be able to find our way except by using the device – we are also learning how to forget the past. Or how to remember it inaccurately, disconnected from the forks in the road where our path darkened and we lost something irretrievable, something we did not make nor deserve but that came from us and birthed us, was us, the best and the worst, that pushed us in the right direction because we were scared to go on our own until we learned we could pull ourselves there if we could just join enough hands.
April 4, 1968, the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN, the alternately riotous and trippy sixties, the whole twentieth century, came crashing to a sudden end.
Now, 50 years into the 21st we wonder how long it’s going to last. This should not be our mindset; it wasn’t his. Is there an ideal that’s not an ideology? Is there optimism greater than hope?
Can we contemplate the breadth of shared possibility? How much justice will the market allow? The answers are not in your phone.

Secular values, temporary tattoos

Interesting op-ed on a longitudinal study on religion and family life in America, which added the non-religious to observant and produces interesting findings that also come as no surprise:

High levels of family solidarity and emotional closeness between parents and nonreligious youth, and strong ethical standards and moral values that had been clearly articulated as they were imparted to the next generation.

“Many nonreligious parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the ‘religious’ parents in our study,” Bengston told me. “The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterized by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose.”

My own ongoing research among secular Americans — as well as that of a handful of other social scientists who have only recently turned their gaze on secular culture — confirms that nonreligious family life is replete with its own sustaining moral values and enriching ethical precepts. Chief among those: rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of “questioning everything” and, far above all, empathy.

Again, this is only interesting and not a great surprise, unless you were convinced that heathens are, by nature, evil (one study-aid among many provided to you by one flavor of good book or another). And speaking of which, contrast this with the good-natured white nationalism of strong christian and Iowa congressman Steve King. How (rhetorical) does an adult human living in this country in 2017 believe in some kind of civilization that relies on demographic purity? Might it be a view emanating from, if not sanctioned by, very strong beliefs in Judeo-Christian tradition? Forgive the broad brush but come on – it almost seems like too much to be able to withstand such certainty. And no, there is no convincing this person or others otherwise. But there is calling them out as pathetic and racist, and that we must resolve to do.

Tactics v. Strategy, an ongoing series

So… who ever thought The Cossacks Work for the Czar would become a literal trope? If you are keeping score at home, and really should be, the skullduggery looks like this. A campaign received election assistance from a foreign government, discussed potential policy changes as recompense for the successful assistance [ON TELEPHONE CALLS THAT WERE MONITORED], publicly complimented and assured the leader of the same foreign government, and blames enemies and the media (Venn diagram available) for existence of, as well as attempts to call out, this treason.
Not unrelated, continued efforts in the only actual work the administration is currently pursuing consists entirely of working the refs:

While the administration is battling a large swath of the media, the fight with CNN has special intrigue because its parent company has a massive piece of business awaiting government approval: a proposed $85.4 billion sale to AT&T Inc. Messrs. Kushner and Ginsberg, who have been friends for a decade and whose discussion covered a variety of issues including Israel and the economy, didn’t discuss the merger in their recent meeting, said the people familiar with the matter.

If you know where to jump in here, please do. In the trumped up [ugh] dispute with CNN, its president’s relationship to the reality show that launched this whole fiasco is only mentioned in passing. But there it is.
Image: Painting by Ilya Repin, The Zaparozhe Cossacks Writing a Mocking Letter to the Turkish Sultan

Front Lines

For a long time, I’ve thought that living in Republican-dominated states, especially in the South, was a form of being on the front lines – of racism, of anti-union sentiment, of hostility to immigrants and civil rights broadly construed. Even the lesser evils of being among people who feel over-taxed, persecuted for their (in every sense dominant) religious beliefs, sub-par infrastructure (no mass transit and the promotion of personal automobiles as priority transportation concerns) and general discomfort with the world as more people deservedly take their places in it, you are confronted with this it all up close. You know what it’s like and grow accustomed to fear and self-loathing as it leaks out everywhere among the shiny automobiles and neat, though increasingly sad [and appropriately named] subdivisions. After not too long, you begin to sense among the dominant political persuasion an uneasiness that borders on paranoia. The lack of confidence about the way things are going, despite the fact that they are in charge, is unmistakable and results in all kinds of frantic attempts to standardize and codify the fear. But it’s not normal and doesn’t sell easily. It’s not inevitable that these attempts fail, but often enough, people seek allies and gain them in the smallest way. Smiles and nods turn to conversations and simple shared affinities on this side of the line. You have every opportunity to reinforce your own convictions and/or assure others, in any way you choose. And to choose not to. You can also nod along, turn attention to more temporal concerns. Get along. Move along.

The new administration is simply this dynamic writ large; the anti-everything good and decent now has an official imprimatur that is the rushing the worst people and measures out front with great haste and uncut distrust. But the unease is the same, if broader. They know they are somehow on the wrong side, hence the anger and lack of confidence.
For this side, people have discovered the streets again. Attention has been gained by atrocious indecency, a willingness to loot not just the treasury but the national moral character itself. We don’t have laws against this stuff, to stop those depraved enough to endanger everyone. And again, it’s not inevitable that the nominal Our party will be able to seize the moments and string them together into a coherent future direction, foment the positive and give people in the streets a reason to overwhelm the polls when it comes time again.
But we’re all on the front lines now, and we have been for a while though not everyone is fighting, yet.

A Specific Case of Sometimes

There exists a misunderstood or mischaracterized mantra, if we will, that you cannot really succeed without the possibility of failure. And it would seem to make sense, though it is often enough forgotten how much trouble the very rich have over-compensating for the fact that they don’t feel legitimate in their own eyes. (There is a very good novel idea in there somewhere, and you get to it before me, good on you). There is also a specific case of sometimes, if green means that you win even if you lose, how were you ever going to be able to prevail?

Turns out that Robby Mook was the perfect campaign manager for Hillary Clinton after all. He’s just like his boss: can’t win an election, but can get rich giving revolting speeches afterwards.

Buzzfeed reports that Mook has, thanks be to god, landed on his feet after failing to defeat a racist clown who may well devastate countless lives before his term is done. Mook will be teaming up with Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s (failed) campaign manager, to “offer a future-focused look at why Trump won” in front of any audience willing to pay enough for their presence. How fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We were all naive, of that there is no doubt. But he wasn’t looking into the abyss we were, or are now. This is first-rate corruption, even to my tender eyes. Golf clap from the hedge-fund gallery, but please let’s awaken, all you little Saint-Justs everywhere. In a dark time, the eye begins to see.