An Inconvenient Ignorance

By Paul Fisk, Editor

This summer I had the privilege of spending a three-day weekend with Al Gore (and 1,200 of his closest friends) learning about climate change science, effects and solutions.  Mr. Gore’s organization, The Climate Reality Project, has trained over 20,000 “Volunteer Climate Reality Leaders” from 149 countries and territories in spreading the scientific truth about climate change and what we can and must do about it.  As an aging, retired public servant I have become increasingly troubled by the political and environmental legacy my generation is leaving our children and grandchildren.  So I have been increasingly active in organizations devoted to combating the twin existential threats to our democracy and our planet’s habitability posed by Trumpism and the climate crisis.  Paul Fisk

The steady news stream of ever-more mind boggling outrages and audacity by our President has largely displaced necessary discussion of what has been happening to the world’s climate. Only recently has increasing public concern been regularly featured in the mainstream media.

It’s been thirteen years since Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth warned us that global warming was threatening our current civilization. Scientists have known it could happen this way since the 1800’s. The fossil fuel industry knew they were causing it since at least the 1950’s. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the “IPCC”) issued its first report in 1990 that human activity was causing increased greenhouse gas emissions to steadily increase global temperatures and that business as usual would result in further increases and rising sea levels. The IPCC subsequently issued four more reports, each more dire than the last, as they gained new knowledge and refined projections. The world’s nations acknowledged the need to act in the Paris agreement of 2015. And it’s been two years since Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power reminded us of the need to act quickly and aggressively to stave off the worst of the projected negative effects on the habitability of the planet.

We have been pouring heat trapping “greenhouse gas” emissions, primarily carbon dioxide, into our atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Burning fossil fuels has been the chief contributor to dramatic increases in the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Scientists have shown how average temperatures on earth have fluctuated over the past 800,000 years as CO2 levels have fluctuated, within a similar range as we moved between ice ages. Carbon dioxide levels have now spiked well beyond that range to levels that have not been seen since the asteroid that doomed the dinosaurs hit the earth.

We are already experiencing the effects of rising temperatures: more severe hurricanes that intensify more quickly and stay in place longer, creating more flooding from the increased rainfall; more severe and prolonged droughts that lead to more wildfires, food shortages and population migrations; ocean hotspots and the decline of ocean dwelling creatures; increased rates of animal extinctions; the spread of formerly tropical diseases; melting glaciers and ice caps; sea level rises; and, deaths from extraordinary heat waves that reach temperatures in the ranges of 110 degrees, 120 degrees, even 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

If we continue to grow our carbon emissions, scientists warn we are destined to see all the above conditions intensify, rendering increasing portions of the earth uninhabitable by humans.

While there is clearly increased public interest and concern, we in this nation still lack the widespread consensus and sense of urgency that we must adopt if we are to come together in the grand efforts that will be required to blunt the ominous climate trends of today. Yet our tentative and relatively feeble efforts at the national level have been dismantled and reversed by an administration that now actively promotes increased greenhouse gas emissions, destruction of the nation’s mature forests, and increased “big agriculture” approaches to farming, all of which are antithetical to maintaining earth’s habitability.

Fortunately, individual citizens, environmental groups, municipalities and states have stepped up to take actions and create change, partially filling the vacuum left by the absence of national leadership. Many corporations have realized it is in their best interest to reduce their carbon footprint to meet customer demands and reduce costs. Technological advances and economies of scale have made wind and solar power and storage vastly more affordable and adoption trends are rising dramatically.  Smaller farms are adopting regenerative agriculture techniques.  Even automakers initially resisted Federal attempts to roll back emissions standards.

While all these efforts are good news, they are nowhere near the scale necessary to solve the climate problem. That will require a national effort equivalent in scope to winning WWII. Wholesale changes in our energy, transportation and agriculture sectors are necessary, with all sectors adopting available technologies to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid the worst effects of current warming trends.

The knowledge is there, but not yet the willingness. For that we need broader public understanding of the problem to demand change from the bottom. And we need knowledgeable, capable leadership from the top. We need profiles in courage, not the current cowardice, complicity, and ignorance.

A dwindling but still highly significant portion of our population remains either blissfully ignorant of the facts or actively hostile to the science, dismissing it as some kind of elaborate hoax or conspiracy. How did this happen?

For decades now, the fossil fuel industry and associated conservative billionaires have been mounting well-funded and fairly well disguised efforts to sow doubt and encourage denial. They took their cues from previous efforts such as the cigarette industry’s campaign to raise doubts about the links between smoking and cancer. They have established numerous organizations with high minded sounding names to spread misinformation and disparage scientists personally and question the relevant scientific facts. They have induced some scientists, often from unrelated fields, to publish biased papers from fake conferences and in journals that pretend to be respected. Unfortunately, they have been successful in persuading a significant minority that this is all some liberal scheme to undermine their rights and the free enterprise system. It’s time to join Al Gore and the many legitimate environmental groups in getting the facts out.

We don’t have much time left to begin major environmental efforts. Experts say that action this decade is critical.   We need to quickly stem the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, then steadily reduce them in order to limit future temperature increases. We also need to regain our place as leader of the free world, not be the only nation on earth to spurn efforts to maintain its habitability. We need “regime change” for starters.

Election results mostly as expected; turnout better than four years ago

Yesterday’s elections offered a handful of unexpected results, but incumbents mostly won.  Turnout ticked up compared with 2015.

As projected here on August 13th, County Executive Mark Poloncarz was victorious, but his margin was smaller both in terms total votes and in percentages than in 2015.  Lynne Dixon worked hard, but she offered no compelling reason for a change in leadership in County Hall. Poloncarz’s taking-care-of-business style worked just fine.

Poloncarz’s winning margin was 14,489; he carried 53.5 percent of the vote to Dixon’s 46.5 percent. Total turnout in the county was approximately 34.4 percent; turnout in the City of Buffalo was just 22.8 percent.

The Erie County Legislature’s Democratic majority stayed at seven of the eleven members. Democrat John Gilmour will take Dixon’s seat, while Democrat Jeanne Vinal replaces retiring Democrat Tom Loughran. Republican Frank Todaro defeated Democratic incumbent John Bruso in the 8th District.

The majority party will be composed of legislators who are very light in county government experience. Only new Democrat Kevin Hardwick has had more than two years at the Legislature; he has been there for 10 years. The other six members in the Democratic caucus will, as of January 1, have an average of less than one year in county government. On the other hand the three legislators of the Republican caucus who will return to office average 11 years of service, and will now be joined by Todaro.

Democrat Diane Devlin defeated Republican Gerald Greenan in the only contested election for State Supreme Court by a very small margin of less than 2,000 votes in the eight county Eighth Judicial District.

In Niagara County Republicans maintained control of the County Legislature. Niagara Falls elected a new mayor, Democrat Robert Restaino, who will replace the retiring Paul Dyster. Lockport Democratic Mayor Michelle Roman was re-elected to a full term as Mayor.

Orchard Park voters approved the addition of two members to the town board, beginning in 2021. The town became the third of five towns in Erie County to return to a five member town board as the Kevin Gaughan-promoted experiment in three member boards continues to be reversed. Alden and Evans still have three member boards, while Hamburg and West Seneca previously reverted to five member legislative bodies.

The Town of Tonawanda and Cheektowaga elected full slates of Democrats to town offices.  Democrats won control of the Town Board in Hamburg.  Republican Joseph Spino won a seat on the Amherst Town Board, although his margin of victory, 48 votes, will be subject to absentee votes and a final tabulation.

With only two contested elections out of 12 offices on the ballot in the City of Buffalo, turnout in the City was once again much lower than that of the rest of the county. Mark Supples made a try as the Republican candidate for Council in the Niagara District but was handily defeated by incumbent David Rivera. There was a token Republican candidate for Comptroller but the Party has essentially ceded the territory to the Democrats.

Democrats in the City of Buffalo regularly fails to turn out in anywhere near the proportions of Democratic turnout in the suburbs, which has had a negative effect on countywide and statewide candidates. Which the Republicans are very happy with.

It will take some further analysis, but it appears that the first use of the early voting system served more as a convenience for voters to be able to vote at a time and place other than their regular polling place on Election Day, rather than much of a stimulant for increased participation. There were a total of 205,313 voters in Erie County yesterday compared with 152,655 in 2015. While the total number of votes who voted early was 4.4 percent of total registered voters, another way of looking at the early voting numbers is that the nine day turnout produced nearly 13 percent of the actual election vote for 2019.

The early voting system operated well and produced 26,514 votes in Erie County, far more than all but one other county in the state. The fact that Erie County had many more voting locations than other counties (Niagara County only had two sites compared with Erie’s 37) contributed to the voting activity last week. The system passed its test, worked well, and will likely be much more promoted and used in 2020, with the presidential election dominating public attention.

 

The Public Campaign Financing Commission’s work could be more of a legal issue than a political one

The state created Public Campaign Financing Commission is heading toward decisions and a report on how the state will run a program for the use of public money in statewide and state legislative races. And maybe an end to fusion voting. The report will be out on November 27th.

The Commission held a public hearing in Buffalo on October 29th, attended by about 200 people and seven of the nine members of the Commission. The majority of the speakers supported public financing of campaigns and also opposed the end of fusion voting. At this point, however, except for a handful of stories about what the Commission might decide, what they may do is mostly speculation. Since the Commission’s planned actions are not very transparent, it will be time to get into what they come up when they come up with it.

At the Buffalo hearing, the last of four held around the state, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown strongly supported public financing but did not comment on fusion voting. Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner recommended the end of fusion voting but did not comment on public financing.

Republican State Assemblymen Angelo Morinello, Michael Norris, and Andrew Goodell, along with Republican State Chairman Nick Langworthy, all questioned the whole purpose of public financing of campaigns, suggesting that the money (up to $100 million) could be better spent on other things. Langworthy strongly attacked Governor Andrew Cuomo’s behind-the-scenes role in the work of the Commission.

Much of the reporting that has occurred thus far has focused on the fusion voting issue, with speculation about whether the Commission will end the system. Many suggest that Governor Cuomo is behind the effort as a means of settling scores with the Working Families Party, which endorsed him in 2014 and 2018, but nonetheless maintains a dicey relationship with the Governor. The Governor and his team deny any such effort.

The state Conservative Party and the Working Families Party have the most to lose if fusion voting is ended. Their clout, which includes support for various public policy issues but also results in patronage opportunities, would probably evaporate if they could only run members of their own party for office, rather than be an important extra line on the ballot for Democratic and Republican candidates.

No Republican has ever been elected to statewide office without the Conservative line since the Party was established in 1962. In Erie County the Conservative line has been largely responsible for the success of Republican countywide candidates for office for many years.

While the politics of the Commission’s activities and even its existence has absorbed most of the dialogue so far, it seems very likely that legal issues concerning the Commission’s work will ultimately take precedence.

For openers, there is a baseline legal question that was raised by Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo, who spoke at the Buffalo hearing. Lorigo raised this issue: the members of the Commission are “public officers” covered by terms of the Public Officers Law. The law defines a public officer as “every officer appointed by one or more state officers, or the legislature.” That would include members of the Commission.

The law, among other things, requires all public officers to file with the appropriate government office an “Oath of Office” card, certifying that they accept their responsibilities under the law. The law requires that the cards be filed within 30 days of the public officer’s appointment, and must precede any official action by the officer. Failure to file the oath card within 30 days vacates the appointment.

The thing is, Lorigo says that members of the Commission failed to file their oath cards within 30 days of their appointments as Commission members, which occurred several months ago. I have no reason to question what Lorigo is saying since he is skilled at such things, and he would wind up with egg on his face if in fact it turned out that he was not correct.

If oath cards for the members have not been filed on a timely basis then that could make whatever actions the Commission has taken thus far invalid. The cure for this problem would be for the appointments to be made again and then have the oath cards appropriately filed. That takes a little time. Under the law that created it, the Commission has less than a month to complete its work.

This is a substantive issue. There have been examples of offices becoming vacant upon the failure to file the Oath of Office.

And then there is the matter of whether a non-elected state commission can be given the power by the State Legislature to, in effect, legislate. The same issue was raised in regards to the state Commission that was appointed in 2018 to establish pay raises for statewide officeholders, legislators and state departmental leadership. That Commission went on to say that there would be limits on outside income of legislators, starting in January 2020. The issue has been challenged in two court cases but has not yet been definitively decided.

So the question remains for the Public Financing Commission, how much power does the Commission actually have to create a public financing system and possibly to end fusion voting?   Law suits have already been filed, although it would seem that there needs to be a Commission policy in place before such a challenge could go forward.

The State Legislature will have between December 1 and December 22 to convene and turn down the Commission’s recommendations if it chooses to do so. Whatever is decided might not in any case actually go into effect until 2022.

If the State Legislature defers on action concerning the policies on public financing and fusion voting the Commission puts forth, then the Commission plans will go into effect, subject to court action that will likely land in the hands of the State Court of Appeals. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode.

For Election Night analysis on November 5th, tune in to WBFO-FM, 88.7. I will be joining News Director Dave Debo and Warren Galloway to discuss the results. I will post an article about the results on this blog on Wednesday.

Follow me on Twitter on Election Night or anytime @kenkruly

More questions for Republican candidates in NY27

Last week’s post concerned options for changes in medical insurance in the United States. It was noted that the Republican Party, led by Donald Trump, has been working to eliminate coverage for millions of Americans while also eliminating consumer protection on such things as denial of coverage for pre-existing medical conditions.  Republican candidates for Congress in NY27 have been tripping over themselves to indicate which one is the most committed and best supporter of Trump.  So last week’s post asked where they stand on health insurance coverage.  Don’t hold your breath waiting to hear their responses.

International developments over the past two weeks pose another series of questions for those Republican candidates. Voters in NY27 deserve to know where the would-be members of Congress stand on issues of major consequences. Continue reading

Republicans are working to damage health care in the United States

As we prepare to watch the next debate of the Democratic presidential candidates, it is likely that we will see more back and forth about the type of comprehensive health care coverage that should be put in place. Options on the table include Medicare-for-all; Medicare-for-all who want it; and the restoration and strengthening of some of the key features of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka, Obamacare. Continue reading

Collins’ MO finally catches up with him; what comes next?

Chris Collins is now a former congressman. Before that he was a former county executive.  At least when he became a former county executive all he needed to worry about was setting up his new home in Florida.  His next home won’t be quite as nice.

Collins was Erie County Executive from 2008 through 2011. He sold himself as the businessman who would run the county right, and after the Giambra administration years in County Hall, the voters bought that argument. Continue reading