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Teacher salaries: gains and losses

Public-school teachers in several states have been challenging unfairly low pay and inadequate resources. Reflecting its suburban liberal views, a recent New York Times report charted changes in public-school spending across the United States since the Vietnam War era. A longer span would have shown how unusual the recent funding lapses have been–breaking a rising tide of investment in public schools extending since at least the 1920s.

Public elementary and secondary school spending

UsPublicSchoolSpending1929-2014

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2018

Major changes in U.S. public education are often faintly remembered. For European-American, English-speaking students, the norm of basic literacy and arithmetic skills was a revolution during the early nineteenth century. The extensions to high-school education and participation of African-American students, native-American students and foreign-language speakers took over a century more. A high-school education became a national norm only in the 1950s.

Percent elementary and secondary school enrollments

UsSchoolEnrollments1900-1990

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 1993

Costs of living: Few reports on recent strikes and protests over teacher pay and school spending consider how costs of living warp the comparisons. Because of steep costs for housing, utilities and food, when an apparently middle-class $58 thousand average yearly pay for Hawaii teachers is adjusted for the state’s high cost of living against the U.S. average cost of living, it shrinks to about $33 thousand–near the edge of poverty.

The following table shows average salaries of K-12 public-school teachers by states. They are adjusted by statewide costs of living: equal for a state matching the U.S. average cost and proportionately scaled for states with higher or lower costs. The table also shows percentage changes in teacher pay–using constant, U.S. inflation-adjusted dollars–over 47 years that the U.S. Department of Education has analyzed data.

Average teacher pay, adjusted for costs of living

State Adj. Pay Change
Michigan $74,100 -1.5%
Pennsylvania $69,002 +15.7%
Illinois $67,725 +0.2%
Ohio $65,992 +6.9%
Wyoming $65,558 +10.9%
Iowa $64,892 +3.3%
Georgia $64,260 +16.8%
New York $64,227 +19.9%
Massachusetts $62,560 +38.2%
Delaware $62,532 +4.0%
Connecticut $61,686 +22.0%
Texas $61,603 +12.8%
Minnesota $61,465 +3.1%
Wisconsin $61,093 -4.5%
New Jersey $61,033 +18.7%
Nebraska $60,203 +10.5%
Kentucky $59,690 +17.2%
California $59,653 +18.8%
Indiana $59,300 -10.9%
Arkansas $59,170 +20.0%
Nevada $58,560 -3.1%
Alabama $57,830 +11.6%
Tennessee $57,662 +7.0%
Rhode Island $57,474 +17.9%
Missouri $57,404 -3.6%
Kansas $56,847 -1.9%
Louisiana $56,600 +10.8%
North Carolina $56,296 +3.5%
Maryland $55,598 +11.1%
Alaska $55,455 +0.4%
North Dakota $55,325 +20.0%
Idaho $55,058 +7.3%
Montana $54,731 +5.2%
Oklahoma $54,203 +2.3%
Washington $54,026 -8.6%
Mississippi $53,901 +15.3%
New Mexico $53,487 -5.2%
Virginia $53,377 -1.5%
Vermont $53,286 +17.6%
New Hampshire $53,201 +14.7%
Florida $53,169 -8.6%
Arizona $52,987 -15.3%
Utah $52,754 -3.8%
District of Columbia $52,250 +15.2%
South Carolina $52,193 +9.2%
Oregon $50,935 +8.8%
West Virginia $50,924 -7.0%
Colorado $48,579 -6.7%
Maine $48,047 +5.0%
South Dakota $45,824 +3.7%
Hawaii $32,730 -5.0%

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2018

Contrary to impressions colored by recent teacher strikes, Kentucky, Arkansas and Arizona do not come out as drastically unfair states. Instead they rank 17, 20 and 42 nationally on teacher pay–adjusted for state costs of living. Hawaii, South Dakota and Maine are at the bottom of that list–on average paying public-school teachers the equivalents of about $33, $46 and $48 thousand per year, as adjusted to states nearest the average U.S. costs of living: notably Maine, Washington, Nevada and Delaware.

Similarly, California, New York and Massachusetts are not top-paying states–as popularly reported–when considered against costs of living. Instead Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois are at the top of that list–on average paying public-school teachers the equivalents of about $74, $69 and $68 thousand per year, as adjusted to states nearest the average U.S. costs of living.

Gains and losses: In the Change column, the table reflects gainers and losers among the states. The public-school teachers of Massachusetts have been by far the greatest gainers. Their average pay, adjusted for inflation, rose about 38 percent between 1969 and 2016. Over that period, the public-school teachers of Arizona have been the greatest losers. Their average pay, adjusted for inflation, fell about 15 percent–most of those losses since 2009. In 1969, Arizona ranked 20th nationally in unadjusted teacher pay, but in 2016 it ranked 45th.

State public-school spending per student

Not adjusted for state costs of living

UsStateSchoolSpending2014

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2018

On average, annual pay of U.S. public school teachers reached about $59,500 for school year 2016, adjusted for statewide costs of living, an increase of about 8 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars over the previous 50 years. However, there are many more stories to be told about gains and losses. Although they involve economics, they more often reflect politics.

While Massachusetts has seen an economic success-run, thanks to high tech, it has been strong teacher unions that tapped the wealth. The state now ranks ninth from the top in teacher pay, but if the state had made only an average increase in teacher pay it would rank fifth from the bottom. No force in government is compensating for enormous gaps in average public-school teacher pay between the states: as adjusted for costs of living, about $33 thousand a year in Hawaii versus $74 thousand a year in Michigan.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 5, 2018


Robert Gebeloff, Numbers that explain why teachers are in revolt, New York Times, June 4, 2018

Ricardo Cano, Pay raises for teachers and staff vary across Arizona school districts, Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ), June 3, 2018

David M. Perry, Why the Arizona teachers strike should terrify anti-union governors, Pacific Standard (Social Justice Foundation, Santa Barbara, CA), May 3, 2018

Michael Hansen, Hidden factors contributing to teacher strikes in Oklahoma, Kentucky and beyond, Brookings Institution (Washington, DC), April 6, 2018

Digest of Education Statistics for 2016, U.S National Center for Education Statistics, February, 2018

Current expenditures per pupil for public elementary and secondary education by state during 2015, Figure 1 in Cornman, et al., January, 2018 (category bounds $9,000 $11,000 $13,000 $15,000 per year)

Stephen Q. Cornman, Lei Zhou and Malia R. Howell, Revenues and expenditures for public elementary and secondary education during school year 2014, U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, January, 2018

Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools by state, U.S. Digest of Education Statistics (preliminary), Table 211 for 2017, January, 2018

Costs of living data by states for 2017, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, January, 2018

Thomas D. Snyder, ed., American education: statistical portrait of 120 years, U.S. Department of Education, 1993

Star Wars revisited: shooting fish in a barrel

Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) has been underway in the United States over 20 years, managed since 2002 by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. The objective has been to disable long-range ballistic missiles at high altitudes, by striking them with interceptor missiles. The program sprang out of “Star Wars”–the Strategic Defense Initiative begun in 1983 during the first Reagan administration.

Efforts were inhibited by the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 between the U.S. and the former USSR, and only research occurred at first. During the first Walker Bush administration, the U.S. withdrew from the treaty and began full-scale development and deployment–then called the National Missile Defense program, later renamed GMD. Following a longstanding pattern of problems with military programs–”buy before fly”–about 30 GMD interceptors were deployed to the field years ago, long before any successful test.

Test fatigue: At a cost of around $40 billion, the GMD program conducted 40 test flights between June, 1997, and August, 2017, with about half involving some type of missile interception (listed in the GMD Wikipedia article). About half the flights are officially marked as “success.” However, the most recent one during May, 2017, was the first to disable a long-range missile.

To alert readers, the 2017 test was unconvincing. The target missile’s range of travel was just barely enough to make it a long-range missile: less than two-thirds the range between North Korea and Los Angeles, which is the longest potential range achieved so far by North Korea. Much more discouraging: the target’s path was aimed directly toward the interceptor missile, making interception far easier than a wide-angle path.

All but a few of the GMD interceptors–ones used in testing–have been deployed to Alaska, where they have midcourse access to flight paths between North Korea and places in the continental United States. However, using that access would require interceptions at angles of up to 90 degrees. No test so far has explored the practical need for wide-angle interception at very high speed and altitude.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 4, 2017


Robert Burns and Lolita Baldor, Pentagon missile defense program scores direct hit, Associated Press, May 31, 2017

Robert Burns, Leery of North Korea, U.S. plans first test of ICBM intercept, Associated Press, May 27, 2017

Laura Grego, The upcoming GMD missile defense test, Union of Concerned Scientists (Cambridge, MA), May 25, 2017

Cristina Chaplain, et al., Missile defense: some progress, U.S. Government Accountability Office, May, 2017

Ken Dilanian, U.S. may not be able to shoot down North Korean missiles, say experts, NBC News, April 19, 2017

Andrew Glass, President Reagan calls for launching Star Wars in 1983, Politico, March 23, 2017

David Willman, Flaw in the homeland missile defense system, Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2017

Ground-based Midcourse Defense program overview, U.S. Missile Defense Agency, 2016

Thomas Karako, Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, DC), 2015

London high-rise fire: tragedy of the commoners

A catastrophic fire June 14, 2017, at Grenfell Tower, a London high-rise public housing building–killing at least 80 occupants–has developed into a tragedy of the commoners. It is not being visited on British elites. In its aftermath, officials of the current, Tory government spared no effort–to offload blame. Suspicions pointed at building materials that quickly spread flames up the outside of the building.

Philip Hammond, the famously arrogant Chancellor of the Exchequer, tried to claim that materials used in a recent renovation of Grenfell Tower had been banned under the British building code. He was promptly refuted by reporter David D. Kirkpatrick, writing in the New York Times.

The officials patched together a national emergency action, ordering managers of public housing that had used similar building materials to submit samples for so-called “fire safety” testing–but not managers of private housing. Without waiting for results or advice, the Camden council, in north London, ordered evacuations of five high-rise public housing buildings that had been renovated using such materials.

A testing mystery: Building contractors and materials manufacturers had stated that their practices met standards of the British building code, which include standards for fire resistance. A few days after the catastrophe, however, Tory officials said some samples of materials they received had failed “fire safety” testing–tending to offload blame. At ten days after the catastrophe, the officials disclosed that all 60 samples from public housing tested to date had failed. How could that be?

Nothing from mainstream British news sites explored the obvious conflict. One story in the Guardian said recent tests “lack transparency,” but it stopped there. Absent gross fraud, the “fire safety” tests hastily arranged by officials of the Tory government somehow had to differ from tests claimed to have been performed by manufacturers and builders under the British building code.

The current building code allows two approaches. Individual materials can be tested for “fire spread,” using British Standard BS 476 procedures and regulations. Otherwise, a large sample of an assembled “cladding system” can be tested using British Standard BS 8414 procedures and classified under British Research Establishment BRE 135 regulations.

Manufacturers usually test for “fire spread” using BS 476, or a European equivalent, and builders usually seek materials so tested. The alternative via BS 8414 and BRE 135, or European equivalents, is much more costly to test. Moreover, that approach would limit application to a specific “cladding system” design and to its choices for multiple materials and fastenings.

Potentially flammable materials used on the exterior of Grenfell Tower were Celotex RS5000 insulation, 6 inches thick, and Reynobond PE rainshield, 1/8 inch thick–both manufactured in Europe. Both those materials burned in the catastrophe, but most news reports ignored the rigid polyisocyanurate foam insulation and focused only on the rainshield. It consists of a solid polyethylene core and two thin aluminum outer layers.

If Reynobond PE rainshield gets hot–only around 300 F–highly flammable polyethylene in the core will melt. Liquid might leak from an edge and ignite, or an entire metal layer might release, exposing polyethylene to fire. However, BS 476 test procedures do not create such conditions. They subject a patch in the middle of a rainshield panel to a small flame for a minute. The outer metal layer does not burn, and the brief heating does not melt the whole core and release the metal, so such a panel of rainshield material passes that test.

Mystery resolved: At some time on Monday, July 3, according to automatic logging by other sites, British Research Establishment (BRE) staff, who had been performing emergency “fire safety” testing for Tory government officials, added notes to one of their Web pages describing what they were doing. BRE staff admitted they had used rogue “screening tests” to measure “gross heat of combustion” of materials, not a standard test–such as International Standards Organization ISO 1716–and not a test for “fire spread” or for “combustibility.”

According to the BRE statement, “procedures set out in the [ISO] standard [for heat of combustion] have not been followed.” BRE staff did not test for “combustibility” either, as Tory officials have repeatedly claimed–that is, whether a material will catch fire, under some specified condition. Instead, BRE staff have been scraping out core fragments from samples of rainshield material and then measuring how much heat will be produced when the fragments are forced to burn in an artificial environment of pure oxygen.

Now it is clear why tests according to the British building code might pass but tests recently reported by Tory officials might fail. They are different tests. Rogue tests being carried out by the BRE staff do not measure whether materials will catch fire under controlled conditions. Instead they measure how much heat is produced when core fragments scraped from the materials are forced to burn.

The rogue tests, of course, have not been systematically validated against actual risks of building fires. Such a process would involve extended experiments, analysis, documentation and review. If compared, for example, against longstanding, carefully developed BS 8414 procedures and BRE 135 regulations, rogue tests might either overestimate or underestimate fire hazards from practical situations.

Other options: Little noticed by the public, some building materials apparently similar to those used at Grenfell Tower have passed the rogue test ordered by Tory government officials and conducted by BRE staff. The headline for an article on the BBC News site did not help, saying, “Three hospitals fail fire safety.” The text, however, claimed that “cladding at 11 sites passed the checks, while the other 19 sites which flagged up potential fire safety issues have been told they do not need to take further action.”

The Tory government still has not ordered testing of private housing or commercial buildings, but Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt started a national emergency action to test hospital buildings. When reported by BBC News, 30 had passed the rogue test or been exempted, and only three had failed. Apparently British hospital renovations were more cautious in some ways than those performed by public housing authorities.

Three main grades of metal-clad rainshield materials have been marketed in Europe for about 25 years. They are often designated “PE” (polyethylene core), “FR” (fire-retardant core) and “A2″ (limited combustibility core)–the last one a classification from the European Normative EN 13501 fire-resistance standard.

The Alucobond company of Switzerland introduced an “A2″ product in the early 1990s. Like most other such products, its core is nonflammable mineral wool plus a few percent by weight of polymer binder. At very high temperatures the polymer will char, but flames will not spread far. This type of product is more expensive and more difficult to install than other composite rainshield products. The distribution of results obtained by BRE staff suggest that “A2″ products may pass their rogue test, while “PE” and “FR” products may fail.

Lessons learned and unlearned: Some building renovation managers apparently took more cautious approaches than others. However, the Tory government’s attempt to shift blame for the Grenfell Tower catastrophe onto project designers and managers and onto materials manufacturers amounts to a scam.

The core of the problem has been grossly inadequate building code regulations–allowing an irresponsible alternative to carefully developed fire resistance standards. That is compounded by lack of fire suppression measures, particularly requiring fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings.

The British government had ample, local warning about the potential for a catastrophe. In 2009, the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, similar in many respects, killed three women and three children. Nothing of much significance was ever done to prevent another such disaster.

The current, Tory government nominated Sir Ken Knight, who compiled a report on the Lakanal fire, to head a panel that is to examine “safety actions” in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe. Sir Ken Knight had advised against regulations requiring fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings.

Former Tory housing minister Gavin Barwell told the House of Commons in October, 2016, that the British Building Regulations for fire safety would be reviewed in response to the Lakanal House disaster, but he did nothing. His punishment, after being defeated for re-election, has been to serve as chief of staff to the prime minister, Theresa May.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 6, 2017


Three hospitals fail fire safety checks, BBC News (UK), July 4, 2017

Grenfell Tower fire: ACM cladding testing, British Research Establishment (BRE), July 3, 2017

Richard Hartley-Parkinson, Man overseeing Grenfell disaster previously advised against fitting sprinklers, London Metro, June 28, 2017

Robert Booth, Tower cladding tests after Grenfell fire lack transparency, say experts, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 26, 2017

Sylvia Hui, Associated Press, All samples from high-rise towers in UK fail fire safety tests, Chicago Tribune, June 25, 2017

Caroline Mortimer, Grenfell response: number of tower blocks failing fire tests rises to 60, London Independent, June 25, 2017

Shehab Khan, ‘Hundreds’ died in Grenfell Tower fire, says shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, London Independent, June 24, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, Danny Hakim and James Glanz, Why Grenfell Tower burned: regulators put cost before safety, New York Times, June 24, 2017

Danica Kirka, Associated Press, London council evacuates residents amid fire safety concerns, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 23, 2017

Lucy Pasha-Robinson, Tens of thousands of people could be living in lethal tower blocks, tests reveal, London Independent, June 22, 2017

Jack Simpson, Fire experts slam ‘outdated’ Building Regulations following Grenfell, Construction News (UK), June 21, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, UK officials said cladding on tower burned in London was banned, but it wasn’t, New York Times, June 19, 2017

Tom Peck, Grenfell Tower cladding is banned in UK, Philip Hammond says, London Independent, June 17, 2017

Dan Bilefsky, London fire death toll rises to 17, New York Times, June 15, 2017

Robert Booth, Ian Sample, David Pegg and Holly Watt, Experts warned government against cladding material used on Grenfell, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 15, 2017

Gregory Katz and Danica Kirka, Associated Press, Death toll rises to 12 in London apartment building inferno, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 14, 2017

ISO 1716:2010, Determination of the gross heat of combustion, International Standards Organization (Geneva, Switzerland), 2017

Resistance to fire: EN 13501, the European standard, Odenwald Faserplattenwerk (Amorbach, Germany), 2017

EN 13501-1: Fire test to building material, Ecosafene Safety and Testing World (Xiamen, China), 2017

BS 476-7: Fire test to building material, Ecosafene Safety and Testing World (Xiamen, China), 2017

Prashant Thakkar, 1992 market introduction of Alucobond A2, Glazing Shopee (Vadodara, India), 2017

Sara Colwell, Illustrated guide to British fire safety testing and standards, British Research Establishment (BRE), 2014

Fire safety: Approved Document B, The Building Regulations 2010, [British] National Archives (effective April, 2007, as amended through 2013)

Craig Bolon, High-rise fire in London: needless catastrophe, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2017

High-rise fire in London: needless catastrophe

Around 1 am local time Wednesday morning, June 14, a kitchen fire began in a London high-rise public housing building. It was reported promptly to 999, London emergency services. The Grenfell Tower structure in west London–built mainly with precast concrete, steel and glass–should easily have resisted a kitchen fire long enough for the London Fire Brigade to arrive and extinguish it, but instead the fire spread.

Fire escaped through a window on a lower floor of the building, ignited newly installed, flammable materials on the exterior and quickly spread upwards. By the time the London Fire Brigade arrived, only a few minutes after the emergency call, the fire had already climbed well up the building of 24 floors, and it was also spreading sideways.

London high-rise fire, June 14, 2017, about 2 am

GrenfellTowerFireLondon20170614
Source: London emergency services

Desperate efforts: The London Fire Brigade was able to extinguish the kitchen fire, but its efforts against the massive fire on the outside of the high-rise building proved futile. By the time water flowed from aerial pumpers, the fire had spread onto two or more sides of Grenfell Tower and had reached the upper floors. As shown in photos, water streams rose only about halfway up one side of the building and a third of the way up a second. Apparently the London Fire Brigade could not access other sides when it mattered most.

The intense fire warped or melted new, thin aluminum window frames, and window panes fell out, allowing the fire inside. The building never had sprinklers. Contents of nearly all dwellings above the eighth floor and some below eventually ignited, further spreading fire from window to window. Interior fires became mostly air-limited and very smoky. Photos show interior fires burning at least 12 hours, until there were no more dwelling contents left to burn.

Inside Grenfell Tower, survivors say chaos reigned. In some areas, fire alarms did not sound or could not be heard. Emergency lighting was dim. Residents had been warned to stay inside dwellings in case of fire, but many ran through smoky corridors and down the single, narrow stairway, colliding with firefighters rushing upward. Most Grenfell Tower residents survived, but many who followed instructions became trapped.

While the lowest floors of Grenfell Tower suffered water damage, photos show at least three-quarters of the building incinerated. Five days after the fire began, London police stated that at least 79 people had perished. News reports speculated that final numbers could be much higher. Parts of the structure had been found unstable, so that dogs had been sent in to search for remains.

Causes of the catastrophe: The Grenfell Tower fire of 2017 did not compare to property damage from the Great London Fire of 1666, but the death toll may have been higher. The British prime minister has ordered a public inquiry directed by a judge. While that is likely to take at least months, contributing factors are already known.

It was clear from the outset that materials installed in a recent renovation of Grenfell Tower spread fire outside the building. High-rise structures were traditionally built with fireproof materials: typically concrete, steel, brick and glass. The renovation clad the building in a thick layer of insulation and a thin layer of rainshield. Both the added layers contained flammable materials, and both apparently burned.

Early news reports mentioned several different materials used in renovating Grenfell Tower, including highly flammable polystyrene and polyurethane. Discovery of specifications narrowed the list to Celotex RS5000 insulation, 6 inches thick, and Reynobond PE rainshield, 1/8 inch thick–both manufactured in Europe. The Celotex product is rigid polyisocyanurate foam, fire resistant but not fireproof. The Reynobond PE product has a solid polyethylene core, easily melted and readily flammable.

For a short time, Philip Hammond, the famously arrogant Chancellor of the Exchequer since July, 2016, muddied waters with a claim that Grenfell Tower renovation materials were banned under British building codes. If so, that might shift liability away from the UK government and toward renovation contractors. Writing in the New York Times, reporter David D. Kirkpatrick soon showed Hammond misinformed or lying.

In recent years, flammable materials have been allowed on the exteriors of high-rise buildings in several places, including France, Britain, Dubai, Singapore, South Korea and Victoria, Australia. That has resulted in a series of so-called “cladding fires” on the outsides of high-rise buildings. Until the Grenfell Tower catastrophe, the most widely publicized of those fires occurred in Dubai.

The worst of at least five recent high-rise cladding fires in Dubai heavily damaged the Address hotel on New Year’s Eve, 2015, the Sulafa tower on July 20, 2016, and the ironically named Torch Tower on April 2, 2017. The disasters resulted in several injuries but no deaths. In response, Dubai reportedly tightened building requirements, with some previously installed building materials needing to be replaced.

Avoiding another catastrophe: A cladding fire in Melbourne, Australia on November 25, 2014, showed how multiple fire-safety measures can avoid catastrophes. Lacrosse Docklands is a 23-story apartment building similar to Grenfell Tower. The exterior had been clad with similar flammable materials. A cigarette left in a plastic dish on a balcony ignited the dish and the wood table under it, starting a fire.

The burning wood table ignited an adjacent area of rainshield material, starting the cladding fire. The rainshield on this building was known by the trade name Alucobest. Like the Reynobond PE product, the standard Alucobest product has a readily flammable solid polyethylene core. As with the Grenfell Tower fire, the Lacrosse Docklands fire warped and melted aluminum window frames, and window panes fell out, allowing the fire to enter dwellings.

That is where similarities end and differences begin. Unlike Grenfell Tower, the insulation behind the rainshield at Lacrosse Docklands in Melbourne was non-combustible, not merely fire resistant: glass wool instead of polyisocyanurate foam. That probably slowed the speed of fire spreading, and it fed less fuel to the fire. The design of Lacrosse Docklands features bays of dwellings separated by protruding fins. The fire in Melbourne rose rapidly up one bay but did not jump to adjacent bays.

Unlike Grenfell Tower in London, Lacrosse Docklands in Melbourne had sprinklers–likely the most important difference. They worked as intended and kept fire from spreading inside dwellings, even though fire had been able to enter through damaged and open windows. The intensity of the fire did not increase through igniting dwelling contents, and fire did not spread inside the Melbourne building.

Unlike the London Fire Brigade performance, water flows from aerial pumpers in Melbourne reached to the top of the Lacrosse Docklands building and extinguished the cladding fire. There was substantial property damage in Melbourne, but there were no deaths or major injuries. Multiple safety measures combined to prevent a disaster from becoming a catastrophe.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 21, 2017


A visual guide to what happened at Grenfell Tower, BBC News, June 20, 2017

Danica Kirka and Frank Griffiths, Associated Press, 79 now believed to have died in London high-rise fire, ABC News, June 19, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, UK officials said cladding on tower burned in London was banned, but it wasn’t, New York Times, June 19, 2017

Justin Pritchrd, Associated Press, Insulating skin on high-rises has fueled fires before London, ABC News, June 18, 2017

Tom Peck, Grenfell Tower cladding is banned in UK, Philip Hammond says, London Independent, June 17, 2017

Danica Kirka, Associated Press, Anger erupts over possible flaws at burned London tower, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 16, 2017

Aaron Morby, Twenty London high-rises with Grenfell cladding system, Construction Enquirer (UK), June 16, 2017

Tom Bergin, Maker of panels at London tower cautioned on high-rise fire risk, Reuters (UK), June 16, 2017

Hayley Dixon, Sarah Knapton, Steven Swinford, Leon Watson and Danny Boyle, Grief gives way to anger as Grenfell Tower residents demand answers over string of failures, London Telegraph, June 15, 2017

Dan Bilefsky, London fire death toll rises to 17, New York Times, June 15, 2017

Hannah Lucinda Smith, The Grenfell Tower blaze was a disaster waiting to happen, The Spectator (UK), June 15, 2017

Benedict Brook and Rose Brennan, Melbourne skyscraper fire, caused by cladding, may have been a warning for London, News Corp Australia, June 15, 2017

Calla Wahlquist, Cladding in London high-rise fire also blamed for 2014 Melbourne blaze, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 15, 2017

Henry Bodkin, Fire safety expert had warned government advisors ‘entirely avoidable’ deaths would occur at structures like Grenfell Tower, London Telegraph, June 14, 2017

Jon Gambrell, Fire hits Dubai high-rise complex near world’s tallest tower, Associated Press, April 2, 2017

Unattributed, AFP, Dubai toughens fire rules after tower blazes, Business Times, January 22, 2017

Unattributed, Dubai fire: blaze engulfs more than 30 floors of Sulafa Tower, BBC News, July 20, 2016

Lacrosse Docklands fire: post-incident analysis report, Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board, Victoria, Australia, April 27, 2015 (5 MB)

Andrew Moseman, Huge fire engulfs Dubai skyscraper full of apartments, Popular Mechanics, February 20, 2015

Renewables: inherit the wind

Some are furious at the cockroach President for blowing off the Paris climate treaty, but many expected that, since it had been one of the few stable goals of his lurching campaign. There is little the cockroach can actually do. Under the treaty’s terms, it remains in effect until at least the fall of 2020, and thus it is sure to become a strong factor in the next campaign. If the cockroach tries to run again, he looks likely to lose.

Some political corruption from pandering by the cockroach President will be thwarted by economics. In many places, coal power is no longer cost-competitive, and in some places wind power does not need new subsidies to thrive. The five leading wind-power states–Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota–all voted for the cockroach, but they are not aligned with his hostile views on renewable energy. Many people in those states now earn their livings from it, while few there are sustained by the coal-power industry.

Growth of renewables: The growth of renewables in the U.S. energy supply is a trend decades long. It began with hydroelectric power heavily funded by the federal government during the 1930s. The next surge was wood-fired power from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Despite later being labeled “carbon neutral,” that has fallen out of favor. Toxic emissions are difficult and costly to control. Outputs have been gradually dropping over the past 30 years.

Renewables in the U.S. energy supply

UsRenewableEnergy
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

There are now four major U.S. renewable energy sources: hydro, biofuel, wood and wind–in declining current amounts. As of 2016, each one contributed about 2.0 to 2.5 quadrillion Btu per year. Sources still gaining are biofuel–taking off around 2002–and wind–climbing around 2007. Led by ethanol, biofuel is mostly used for transportation. The other renewable sources are mostly or entirely used to generate electricity.

Two other substantial renewable sources are solar power and waste burning, both around 0.5 quadrillion Btu per year. Solar began to climb around 2013 and is still in early stages of growth. Waste burning has seen little growth since the 1980s. It spreads toxic pollutants–worse than wood. Renewable sources now provide over a tenth of U.S. total energy use: for 2016 about 10.2 out of 97.4 quadrillion Btu.

Although prevailing customs do not count nuclear power among the renewables, it emits hardly any greenhouse gases. For 2016, the U.S. reported 8.4 quadrillion Btu. It is in decline, with older plants closing and new plants rarely opening. When combined with renewable sources, the United States is now getting about 19 percent of total energy consumption from sources that emit little or no greenhouse gases.

Sustainable progress: The dominant influences on renewable energy are now state regulations and local initiatives, not federal programs. They will provide sustainable progress despite the cockroach President, although federal programs could improve outcomes. The most important among the state regulations are renewable energy portfolios for electricity, now enforced in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

Renewable energy portfolios by states

RenewablePortfolioStates
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Laggard states are in the Deep South and the Mountain West, plus the coal-mining states Kentucky and West Virginia. Standards vary widely. Those in Hawaii and Connecticut are among the most demanding, requiring 30 and 27 percent renewable energy in 2020. Stronger states limit qualifying sources to new wind, solar and geothermal plants. Other states accept hydropower, nuclear power and waste burning. Pennsylvania accepts burning so-called “waste coal.” Ohio accepts burning so-called “clean coal.”

Governors of several states recently announced they had formed a new organization called U.S. Climate Alliance, intended to promote and organize renewable energy standards. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative–organized in 2003 by New England states, New York, New Jersey and Delaware, and more recently joined by Maryland and Virginia–has provided a durable model for effective state coordination.

Worldwide energy use trends

WorldEnergySources
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Despite struggles, the United States continues to maintain a strong record in energy sourcing. As compared with 19 percent of U.S. total energy from sources that emit little or no greenhouse gases, for 1990 through 2012–the latest comprehensive data–worldwide performance remained stuck at 15 to 16 percent. Progress with renewables has been swamped by growth in coal burning by countries of southeast Asia, led by China.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 3, 2017


Matt Viser, Kerry says Trump’s decision was ‘a day of craven ignorance’, Boston Globe, June 2, 2017

Jeremy Bloom, Trump will pull U.S. out of Paris Agreement–in 4 years, Clean Technica (Honolulu, HI), June 2, 2017

David Abel, Massachusetts joins other states to fulfill U.S. pledges on carbon, Boston Globe, June 2, 2017

John Flesher, Associated Press, States and cities pledge action on climate without Trump, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 1, 2017

Valerie Volcovici and Jeff Mason, Trump says U.S. to withdraw from Paris climate accord, Reuters (UK), June 1, 2017

Associated Press (Berlin), As Europe talks tough on climate, data show emissions rose, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 1, 2017

Emma Gilchrist, Trump won’t stop the renewable energy revolution, Clean Technica (Honolulu, HI), March 31, 2017

Monthly Energy Review, U.S. Energy Information Administration, May, 2017 (20 MB)

State renewable portfolio standards and goals, National Conference of State Legislatures, 2017

Program Design, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, 2017

David Abel, Suit faults Massachusetts record in cutting emissions, Boston Globe, January 3, 2016

International energy outlook, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2016

Renewable portfolio standards, U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2015

Matthew L. Wald, Power plants try burning wood with coal to cut carbon emissions, November 3, 2013

Craig Bolon, Surfing a vortex: energy and climate, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2017

Craig Bolon, Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress, Brookline Beacon, September 6, 2016

Craig Bolon, New gas pipelines spurned: no subsidies from electricity rates, Brookline Beacon, August 17, 2016

Craig Bolon, Greenhouse gases: passing the buck, Brookline Beacon, January 11, 2016

Craig Bolon, Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants, Brookline Beacon, September 19, 2015

Craig Bolon, Renewable energy: New England experience, Brookline Beacon, August 15, 2015

Craig Bolon, U.S. energy for 2014: a year of gradual progress, Brookline Beacon, March 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Some “green energy” reminds us of leprechauns, Brookline Beacon, April 8, 2014

Power-plant toxics: no longer a political trinket

By appointing Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma attorney general, as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the cockroach President signaled another warp in the long struggle against emissions from U.S. power-plants. During his former service, Pruitt garnered large political contributions from managers in poultry industries, who wanted to scuttle rules for waste disposal at chicken farms. Pandering to their causes against public interests, Pruitt became Chief Chicken Shit of the Southwest.

If the cockroach were to fall to a heart attack tomorrow, the environment could become even more threatened. Vice President Pence was a promoter of Pruitt. Writing in the Huffington Post, John Halstead described Pence as an environmental racist. While Indiana governor, Pence responded quickly to lead found in the water supply for Greentown, a community that is 97 percent white. He ignored problems in East Chicago, where a majority-black neighborhood suffers from the worst soil concentration of lead ever reported in the U.S.

Industrial waste: At an auto-industry event on March 15, 2017, the cockroach promised, “My administration will work tirelessly to eliminate…industry-killing regulations.” The context was fuel efficiency. The cockroach promoted lower efficiency: that is, more fuel waste, more emissions and a retreat from U.S. energy independence. Some applause came from locals but not from the Detroit Free Press, whose business reporter said the push would undermine “innovation we need to see more of in the Michigan economy.”

On March 28, the cockroach President staged a fantasy act with coal miners in the Oval Office, signing Executive Order 19, an unhinged and antisocial maneuver. It directs that federal “agencies immediately review…regulations that potentially burden…use of domestically produced energy…[where] ‘burden’ means significant costs [for]…utilization…of energy resources.” Climate issues got nearly all the media attention then, but regulations on toxic power-plant emissions also loomed as likely targets.

Pruitt was Oklahoma’s supervising counsel for White Stallion Energy v. EPA, the DC Appeals Court case on toxic power-plant emissions that led to Michigan v. EPA, decided in 2015 by the Supreme Court. That proved to be the last attack on the public interest from clever, antisocial former Justice Scalia, who had managed to bend the ear of Justice Kennedy. Against precedent, Scalia’s opinion said the EPA had to consider costs when regulating toxic power-plant emissions.

According to Coral Davenport, writing in the New York Times, “Pruitt, [then] attorney general of Oklahoma…sued the EPA at least 14 times [in only six years], often in concert with the nation’s largest fossil-fuel companies, to block major environmental regulations.” Fortunately for the environment, he was rarely as successful as he was in Michigan v. EPA, and fortunately that case will have little direct impact.

Contrasts: Residents of the Boston area for more than 50 years will likely remember days when smoke darkened the sky. Before the 1960s there were few air quality rules. Power-plants, factories, offices and homes belched smoke from coal, oil and wastes. “Efficient” cars meant ones getting more than about 12 miles to the gallon. Cities, towns, institutions and businesses burned trash in open incinerators.

Smoke-blackened Washington Street, Boston, 1915

SmokeBlackenedWashingtonStreet1915
Source: Boston Public Library Archives

In November, 2013, a survey of large U.S. cities found that “Boston tops the list as the city with the cleanest air and boasts the lowest Air Quality Index score possible. Boston’s accessible public transportation system…the Air Pollution Control Commission…[and] annual precipitation…are good indicators that Bostonians are breathing easy.” Quite a change from the grimy Boston environment between about 50 and 150 years earlier.

Progress and mischief: Before 1970, most efforts to reduce air pollution were state initiatives. The federal 1970 Clean Air Act amendments [Public Law 88-206] became a watershed, aiming at uniform requirements that states would refine and enforce rather than initiate. The 1970 law authorized national “air quality” standards and regional “performance” standards for pollution emitters.

Coal has long been the most harmful fuel. In recent years, activists became concerned that it produces the most carbon dioxide. However, there are longstanding concerns over emissions of sulfur dioxide, mercury, arsenic and particles of toxic metals from burning coal. The U.S. EPA moved extremely slowly to regulate sulfur dioxide, finally spurred by 1990 Clear Air Act amendments [Public Law 91-604] requiring actions to combat acid rain. Until the Obama era, the agency failed to restrict other toxic components of coal smoke.

The Walker Bush administration tried to gut regulation of power-plant emissions through its proposed Clean Air Mercury Rule and Delisting Rule. The music stopped when the DC Appeals Court denounced those two shabby attempts in its decision for New Jersey v. EPA. [517 F.3d 574, 2008] A dramatic sequence of seven federal court rulings overturned much of the environmental mischief oozing from the Walker Bush administration.

*** New York v. Environmental Protection Agency (2005) vacated the New Source Review Rule.
*** New York v. Environmental Protection Agency (2006) vacated the Equipment Replacement Provision Rule.
*** Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (2007) vacated the refusal to regulate carbon dioxide.
*** Environmental Defense, v. Duke Energy (2007) affirmed the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Rule.
*** New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated the Clean Air Mercury Rule.
*** North Carolina v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated the Clean Air Interstate Rule.
*** Sierra Club v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated 2006 Clean Air Act emission limits.

Obama-era progress: The Obama administrations issued two major air-quality regulations: the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) in 2011 and the Clean Power Plan in 2015. When reporting about lawsuits attacking them, news media sometimes failed to distinguish the two regulations clearly. MATS is directed toward the toxic pollutants that have been longstanding concerns of the U.S. EPA. The Clean Power Plan is a climate initiative, intended to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions.

The cockroach President was able to suspend the Clean Power Plan, but the great majority of fossil-fueled power is now produced by plants that comply with MATS. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that as of April, 2016, nearly all coal-fired plants had installed equipment. According to Paul Ciampoli, writing in Power Plant Daily, plants representing about 2 GW out of about 276 GW total–less than a percent of industry capacity–were still operating on MATS waivers. The cockroach mashed by feet on the ground.

Good news for the U.S. is that economics blocked obscene politics. When power-plant emissions are filtered enough to bring down ordinary chemical pollution, costs of coal-fired power rise too high for new plants and are shuttering many old ones. Brayton Point in Somerset, MA–once among the filthiest in New England–was outfitted with pollution controls. Recently it has operated less than a quarter of the time, and it is scheduled to close permanently in May, 2017–no longer competitive.

Power from natural gas-fired plants, not government policy, has been the main agent evicting coal-fired power. In plains areas of the Middle West and in giant river valleys of the Pacific Northwest, wind turbines also provide advantages along with very low emissions. There, where winds tend to be stronger and steadier than in other places and where installation costs tend to be lower, one major form of renewable energy no longer needs new subsidies to prosper. Again, the cockroach mashed by feet on the ground.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 16, 2017


Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, Court freezes Clean Power Plan lawsuit, signaling likely end to Obama’s signature climate policy, Washington Post, April 28, 2017

Sonal Patel, Trump’s EPA signals changes for power-plant mercury rule, Power Magazine, April 20, 2017

Jonathan Mattise, Associated Press, Federal utility CEO: coal plants not reopening under Trump, WTOP (Washington, DC), April 18, 2017

Michael Biesecker and Sam Hananel, Associated Press, EPA seeks to derail cleanup of coal power-plant pollution, WTOP (Washington, DC), April 18, 2017

Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Andrew W. Lehren, With Trump appointees, a raft of potential conflicts and no transparency, New York Times, April 15, 2017

Coral Davenport, Coal is on the way out at electric utilities, no matter what Trump says, New York Times, April 5, 2017

Emily Hammond, President Trump’s executive order on “energy independence,” Vox Media (Washington, DC), March 29, 2017

On promoting energy independence and economic growth, Executive order 19, White House, March 28, 2017

Matthew Daly and Jill Colvin, Associated Press, Trump takes aim at Obama’s efforts to curb global warming, Boston Globe, March 27, 2017

Jill Colvin, Associated Press, Trump announces challenge to Obama-era fuel standards, Boston Globe, March 15, 2017

John Gallagher, Why Trump’s rollback of tailpipe emissions rules is a bad idea, Detroit Free Press, March 15, 2017

John Flesher, Matthew Daly and Catherine Lucey, Associated Press, Climate and other programs get deep cuts in EPA budget proposal, WTOP (Washington, DC), March 3, 2017

Coral Davenport, EPA workers try to block Pruitt in show of defiance, New York Times, February 16, 2017

Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner, Scott Pruitt, EPA designee, expresses doubts on climate, defends oil industry funding, Reuters (UK), January 18, 2017

Alex Formuzis, EPA pick Pruitt stymied cleanup of scenic river fouled by factory chicken-farm waste, Environmental Working Group (Washington, DC), January 14, 2017

John Halstead, Mike Pence’s environmental racism, Huffington Post (Washington, DC), January 14, 2017

Eric Lipton and Coral Davenport, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA pick, backed industry donors over regulators, New York Times, January 14, 2017

Inside the Clean Air Act, US Legal (Jackson, MS), 2017

Edward Wong, Trump calls climate change a Chinese hoax, New York Times, November 19, 2016

Ryan H. Wiser and Mark Bolinger, Wind technologies market report, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, August, 2016

EIA electricity generator data show power industry response to EPA mercury limits, U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 7, 2016

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Consideration of cost in the “appropriate and necessary” finding for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants, 81 FR 24420-24452, April 25, 2016

Keith Goldberg, High court won’t halt EPA mercury rule, Law360 (New York, NY), March 3, 2016

Laura Barron-Lopez, Supreme Court stays Obama’s carbon emissions plan, Huffington Post, February 9, 2016

Elena Craft, Graham McCahan and Mandy Warner, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, Environmental Defense Fund (New York, NY), 2016

Rachel Cleetus, Steve Clemmer, Jeff Deyette, Brenda Ekwurzel, Julie McNamara, Jeremy Richardson and John Rogers, The Clean Power Plan: a climate game-changer, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2016

Michael B. Gerrard, Supreme Court ruling on mercury shows little deference to EPA, New York Law Journal 254(49), September 10, 2015

Michigan v. EPA, case no. 2014-46, U.S. Supreme Court, 576 U.S. (2015) June 29, 2015

Samuel Worth, Why EPA should have prohibited cost considerations in White Stallion, Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 42(2):593-606, April 10, 2015

White Stallion Energy v. Environmental Protection Agency, case no. 2012-1100, U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, 748 F.3d 1222, April 15, 2014

Erin Ailworth, Owner reaffirms 2017 closing of Brayton Point plant, Boston Globe, January 27, 2014

Tracey Jones, Ten cities with the best air quality, CreditDonkey (Pasadena, CA), 2013

Nicholas Morales, New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency, Harvard Environmental Law Review 33(1):263-282, 2009

New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency, case no. 2005-1097, U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, 517 F.3d 574, February 8, 2008

George A. Gonzales, The Politics of Air Pollution, State University of New York Press, 2005

James J. MacKenzie. Boston’s sufferance of sulfur dioxide, Science 172(3985):792-793, 1971

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Fall town meeting: pipe dreams, Brookline Beacon, December 4, 2014

Craig Bolon, Coal-fired and oil-fired electricity in New England, Energy and Environment, October 17, 2013

Craig Bolon, Tangle of air pollution regulations affecting energy, Energy and Environment, 2008

Undeclared wars: the rain of U.S. cruise missiles

This month, the cockroach President joined the missile wars. That administration has now become the most aggressive ever, launching 59 cruise missiles so far during its first calendar quarter. None of the missile attacks have been authorized by Congress. Congress has not declared war since 1942, during World War II.

Missiles per quarter Presidential administration
18 Herbert Bush
26 Clinton
27 Walker Bush
6 Obama
59 Trump

In early April, news media reported a U.S. Navy carrier strike group deploying to international waters near North Korea. It includes the USS Vinson nuclear-powered CVN aircraft supercarrier, the USS Bunker Hill and Lake Champlain CG guided missile cruisers, and six DDG guided missile destroyers: the USS Benfold, Gridley, Higgins, Russell, Sterett and Stockdale.

Together the carrier group has around 8,000 personnel, 100 aircraft and 800 guided missiles–of which about two-thirds are typically cruise missiles. Attached to the carrier strike group may be one or more SSGN submarines, each carrying about 150 cruise missiles.

U.S. origins: The United States developed cruise missiles in the 1970s, mainly to launch attacks with nuclear weapons from U.S. Navy vessels at sea. The historical model was the German V-1, also called the “buzz bomb”–used against Britain during World War II. While versions were developed to launch from aircraft and trucks, only ship and submarine cruise-missile launchers are now deployed.

Seven models of cruise missiles have been manufactured by General Dynamics, McDonnell Douglas and Raytheon. They have been operational since 1983. Several models are in current production. A total of around 6,000 cruise missiles have been delivered to date, at an average program cost of around $2 million each.

Two models equipped with nuclear explosives, deployed from 1983 through 2013, were rated at yields of up to 200,000 tons of TNT–around ten times that of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb near the end of World War II. Five models with chemical explosives are rated at yields of up to about 1/2 ton of TNT.

U.S. cruise missiles have flight ranges of about 800 to 1,500 miles at variable speeds, about 250 to 550 mph. Different models are controlled by inertial guidance–gyroscopes and acceleration sensors–by radar, by optical systems, by satellite signals and by combinations.

Air attacks: From first offensive use in 1991 through the early spring of 2017, the U.S. military has launched a reported 2,217 cruise missiles in attacks against other countries. Flying at night, as they often have, their practical accuracies have been too limited to disable strategic targets reliably with chemical explosives. That has led to launching tens to hundreds of missiles in air attacks.

Year Missiles Target countries
1991 288 Iraq
1993 46 Iraq
1993 23 Iraq
1995 13 Bosnia
1996 44 Iraq
1998 79 Afghanistan, Sudan
1998 415 Iraq
1999 218 Serbia, Montenegro
2001 50 Afghanistan
2003 802 Iraq
2008 2 Somalia
2009 2 Yemen
2011 124 Libya
2014 47 Syria
2016 5 Yemen
2017 59 Syria

Several organizations promoting military activities have estimated schemes to attack North Korea before it can deploy nuclear weapons on long-range missiles. They find the window closing, with North Korea developing anti-missile and anti-ship defenses. North Korea already has several nuclear sites, weapons factories and military communications centers–plus around 200 truck-mounted missile launchers.

With ten or more cruise missiles needed to disable a strategic target reliably, the United States might need to launch a few thousand–essentially its current inventory. It might need to supplement those with strikes by land-based, supersonic “stealth” aircraft–the F-22 and B-2–and strikes by carrier-based forces. Such a campaign could far exceed the aggression against Iraq during the Walker Bush era.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 9, 2017


Idrees Ali, U.S. Navy strike group to move towards Korean peninsula, Reuters (UK), April 9, 2017

Bassem Mroue, Associated Press, U.S. strike on Syrian air base has limited impact on Assad, WTOP (Washington, DC), April 8, 2017

John Davison, Syrian jets take off from air base U.S. missiles struck, Reuters (UK), April 7, 2017

Corey Charlton, Japan to bomb North Korea in missile strike before crazed despot Kim Jong-un can destroy the country in nuclear attack, London Sun, March 28, 2017

John Pike, BGM-109 Tomahawk operational use, Global Security (New York, NY), 2017

Sam LaGrone, USS Mason fired three missiles to defend against cruise missiles from Yemen, U.S. Naval Institute News (Annapolis, MD), 2016

Rodger Baker, Assessing the North Korean hazard, Stratfor (Austin, TX), 2016

James Pearson, North Korea test-fires new anti-ship cruise missile, Reuters (UK), 2015

Tomahawk cruise missile: fact file, U.S. Navy, 2014

Carlo Kopp, Defeating cruise missiles, Air Power Australia, 2012

Craig Bolon, Circuses: cheaper than bread, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2017

Reopen the Senate: practice democracy

From the daily news

“U.S. Senators prepared for a potentially rancorous day Tuesday, even by recent standards of partisan rancor, as Democratic leaders threatened to change filibuster rules to stop Republicans from blocking White House nominees for Administration appointments.

“Several votes were scheduled to test whether Republicans will allow simple-majority confirmations of a handful of long-stalled nominations. Some Senators expressed hopes for a breakthrough early Tuesday after none was reached during a rare, three-hour private ‘caucus’ of nearly all Senators Monday night.”

Associated Press reporter Charles Babington was summarizing events during the summer of 2013 that had led to what looked then like a radical proposal.

“If neither side retreats, potential consequences would last for years. A rules change that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) proposes is limited. It would end the ability of 41 Senators to block action on White House nominations other than judges. The out-of-power party still could use filibusters to block legislation and judicial nominees. Some critics say Reid’s plan would prompt Republicans to retaliate by doing even more to reduce the minority party’s rights when they regain control of the Senate–as early as 2014 elections.”

The struggle four years ago led to the first major write-down of the Senate’s so-called “filibuster” customs–really a gross misnomer. The outcome allowed the Obama administration to confirm key appointments over objections of Senate Republicans. Those included Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency and Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

As Prof. Sarah Binder recounted in Congressional testimony published by the Brookings Institution, the so-called “filibuster” was not a founding tradition of the U.S. Senate. It is an invention: a legacy of the infamous Aaron Burr, who assassinated Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury, in 1804.

The original, founding Senate members adopted Rule 8 in April, 1789, under which any debate could be curtailed by a motion for the previous question, requiring a majority vote of those present. Mr. Burr urged on the Senate a custom of unlimited debate in his March, 1805, farewell speech as Vice President. The Senate warmed to his unctuous sense of self-importance and removed Rule 8 the following year.

The term “filibuster” was a borrowing. In the middle of the nineteenth century, it meant a rogue military operation or piracy. There was no actual attempt at seizing the Senate floor for unlimited debate until March, 1841, over an issue of replacing the Senate printers.

For the following 76 years the filibuster, although rarely practiced, was an absolute barrier to Senate action. Then Senate Rule 22, the cloture rule, was adopted in 1917, most recently modified in 1975–reducing the vote count from 67 to 60. Although curbed by the 2013 changes, the supermajority threshold of cloture has left the Senate paralyzed on significant issues.

What goes around comes around. There is never an ideal opportunity for major change. If Republicans abolish or choke off Senate filibusters this year, events are likely to favor future Senate Democrats. Historical precedents suggest small chances for the cockroach President to win a second term. He is at least as much disliked as former Pres. Polk (1845-1849) became.

The 2020 elections may install a Democrat as President and return Democrats as the Senate majority. If that were to happen, the gridlock of 2011 through 2013 could return. It was only partly relieved by the change that former Sen. Reid sponsored. The original Rule 8 should be revived.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 31, 2017


Mary Clare Jalonick and Erica Werner, Associated Press, Democratic opposition to Trump court pick grows, Schumer warns Republicans, WTOP (Washington, DC), March 31, 2017

Charles Babington, Associated Press, As filibuster talks flag, Senate faces showdown, New York Times, July 16, 2013

Jonathan Weisman, The Senate’s long slide to gridlock, New York Times, November 25, 2012

Sarah Binder, The history of the filibuster, Brookings Institution, 2010

Craig Bolon, Circuses: cheaper than bread, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2017

Second day: millions protest

The day after the recent inauguration of a new President, millions of protesters marched in more than 600 events held world-wide. The protest in Washington, DC, drew about three to five times the numbers at the inauguration, by different estimates. It may have been the largest demonstration ever held there, rivaling the 1969 protest against the Vietnam War.

At least 500,000 demonstrated in Washington and in Los Angeles, 200,000 in New York and in Chicago, 150,000 in Boston and many hundreds of thousands in at least 300 other U.S. cities–all together the largest single day of demonstrations in U.S. history. Many more hundreds of thousands demonstrated in London, Paris, Buenos Aries, Mexico City, New Delhi, Sydney and hundreds of other locales on all the continents.

Despite its enormous scale, the Washington, DC, protest did not result in arrests. No major incidents were reported from any of the other U.S. events. Protesters called for respecting women’s rights and civil rights and for promoting friendship. “Love Trumps Hate” was a common theme–mocking the sexist, racist, hate-filled campaign conducted by last year’s winning candidate.

True to form: The recently installed President, who campaigned like a sleazebag, began governing like a jerk. His first full day in office sounded like a two-year-old’s tantrum. According to Julie Pace of Associated Press:

“[With] a memorial to fallen CIA agents…as the backdrop, [Trump claimed that] journalists are ‘the most dishonest human beings on Earth.’ Looking out at an audience of men and women who have played a direct role in the nation’s wars against terrorism, Trump said, ‘I have a running war with the media.’ High-level CIA leaders stood silently as the commander-in-chief unleashed his off-topic attacks….”

John O. Brennan, the outgoing CIA director, called out the incident, saying he was “deeply saddened and angered” at the remarks. According to a wire-service report based on interviews with participants, “Many people felt used and awkward.”

The new President has nominated a rigidly reactionary slate of appointees and touted a hostile, insulting approach to government. He has gone far outside conservatism into a cult of personality. For better or worse, he has already ignited flames of conflict within his administration and with Congress.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 22, 2017


Alanna Durkin Richer, Tami Abdollah, Juliet Linderman, Brian Witte, Matthew Barakat and David Dishneau, Associated Press, Defiant women to Trump: your agenda won’t go unchallenged, Action News (Pittsburgh, PA), January 22, 2017

Colin Dwyer, Maggie Penman, Mandalit del Barco and Frank Langfitt, Women’s Marches go global: postcards from protests around the world, (U.S.) National Public Radio, January 21, 2017

Jason Easley, Women’s March is the biggest protest in U.S. history as an estimated 2.9 million march, Politicus USA (Los Angeles), January 21, 2017

Timothy B. Lee, Aerial photos show large crowds at Women’s Marches across the country, Vox (New York City), January 21, 2017

John Wright, DC Metro reports second busiest day in history for Women’s March, behind Obama inauguration. NCRM News (Washington, DC), January 22, 2017

Associated Press, More than 1 million trips taken on DC rail system for Women’s March, Action News (Pittsburgh, PA), January 22, 2017

Jessica Rice and Heather Navarro, 750 thousand flock to downtown LA for Women’s March, NBC Los Angeles, January 21, 2017

Evan Allen, Eric Moskowitz, Laura Crimaldi, Patricia Wen and Nicole Fleming, Boston rally draws up to 175,000, officials say, Boston Globe, January 21, 2017

Julie Pace, Associated Press, Trump promises big change but picks small fights, WTOP (Washington, DC), January 22, 2017

Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin, Trump uses bogus claim to knock media on reports, Associated Press, January 22, 2017

Ryan Browne, Former CIA chief Brennan bashes Trump over speech during CIA visit, Cable Network News, January 22, 3017

Jonathan Martin, Inaugural speech dims GOP hopes for a more conservative Trump agenda, New York Times, January 21, 2017

Doina Chiacu and Jason Lange, White House vows to fight media ‘tooth and nail’ over Trump coverage, Reuters (UK), January 22, 2017

Peter Baker, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, Rocky first weekend for Trump troubling top aides, New York Times, January 22, 2017

Obama’s legacy: tracking hate crimes

Electing an African-American as U.S. President in 2008 capped centuries of bigotry and began a legacy of inclusion. An image of Obama taking the oath of office became a picture worth a billion words. Despite all the flapping from Europe and Asia about peace and tolerance, so far nothing comparable happened there. For example, there has been no Franco-Arab president of France–not even someone mentioned or on the horizon.

A quiet message, the obverse of promoting inclusion, was delegitimizing racial and ethnic hate. From growing up with bigotry, signs are easily remembered–serving as sly handshakes through words and acts that signal shared outlooks: “one of the gang.” Electing a black President, then re-electing him to another term said, “No, that’s not OK any more. That’s not us.”

Lynching and race riots grew in the aftermath of the Civil War and continued into the 1940s. The way of inclusion became an official outlook through the Great Depression, the era of World War II and the landmark Brown v. Board decision from the Supreme Court in 1954. That did not make it the common way of life. Hate crimes against African-Americans surged during civil rights struggles of the 1950s through the 1970s.

Tracking hate crimes: The U.S. Department of Justice finally began to record hate crimes in 1992, as required by the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 and the Arson Prevention Act of 1996. [Public Laws 101-275 and 104-155] About 17,000 law enforcement agencies now contribute to annual reports. Records since 1996 are available online as part of Uniform Crime Reports compiled by FBI central offices. However, the Justice Department does not publish trends and has not tried to provide consistent reporting.

Anti-African-American hate crimes

usantiblackhatecrimes2009thru2015
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

Data from the U.S. Department of Justice show that the most numerous reported hate crimes target African-Americans, Jews and Muslims. For 2015, recent hate crime data show about 1,750 incidents targeting African-Americans, about 660 targeting Jews and about 260 targeting Muslims.

Anti-Jewish hate crimes

usantijewishhatecrimes2009thru2015
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

The most recent U.S. population survey for race and ethnicity estimates 43 million African-Americans. The most recent survey for religion estimates about 6 million Jews and 3 million Muslims. Proportionately, the 2015 rates of hate crimes per million residents were about 40 targeting African-Americans, 110 targeting Jews and 90 targeting Muslims.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes

usantimuslimhatecrimes2009thru2015
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

Crime trends: Hate crime statistics reflect crime motives as reported by law enforcement agencies–not as determined by courts or as found by other third parties. They are affected by reporting bias. If, for example, law-enforcement training increased likelihoods that incidents were flagged as hate crimes, then rates of reported hate crimes would rise, but such increases would reflect training rather than changes in crime rates.

The falling rates of reported hate crimes targeting African-Americans, down about 20 percent for the five years from 2010 to 2015, signal apparent progress during core years of the Obama administration. There was similar apparent progress in lower rates of reported hate crimes targeting Jews, falling about 25 percent over that five-year span.

However, reported hate crimes targeting Muslims increased significantly, about 60 percent over those years. All of that increase occurred during the final year, 2015. Not shown in the foregoing charts, a sustained and even greater increase occurred in reported hate crimes targeting Native Americans. They tripled between 2010 and 2013, then remained nearly steady at the increased rate.

Situations of Native Americans might be so different from those of other groups for reported rates to be largely fictions. On the basis of hundreds of interviews, Barbara Perry, a professor of criminology at the Ontario Institute of Technology, estimated in 2008 that hate crimes targeting Native Americans had been drastically under-reported. A sharp rise in reported rates between 2010 and 2013 could stem from reporting improvements during the Obama administration. Ken Salazar, Interior secretary during those years, promoted policies of inclusion toward Native Americans. So far no systematic survey has addressed the issues.

Causes and consequences: Filth spread by Donald J. Trump’s campaign for President acted to relegitimize and encourage racist behavior, starting in 2015. Trump did not need to “be” a racist or an anti-Semite but just to become a fellow traveler. His race-baiting dog whistles drew poisonous support from Nazi, Klan and other white supremacist groups. He circulated some of their propaganda. There is an obvious precedent. Former President Wilson also drew support from racist groups. The first Southerner elected since Taylor in 1848, he resegregated parts of the federal workforce, notably the Post Office.

Just as Wilson’s attitude and behavior encouraged lynching and growth of the Ku Klux Klan, vile propaganda emerging around the Trump campaign probably encouraged recent hate crimes–notably against Muslims, whom Trump savaged. People with antisocial outlooks and violent bents are apt to find signs of acceptance and perhaps approval. Unless Donald J. Trump were somehow to reverse his ways and become a beacon of tolerance, we can expect a parade of moral cretins and their crimes to surge in future years.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 18, 2016


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