Wednesday, September 30, 2020

CNN's iceberg is just the tip of the iceberg

(Apologies here for using icebergs only as a metaphor in a climate blog. Real iceberg content can be found elsewhere at RR.)

CNN points to Ivanka Trump's little scheme:

Trump wrote off $26 million in unexplained "consulting fees" between 2010 and 2018, with almost $750,000 apparently going to his daughter, Ivanka, in one disclosure....

"Ms. Trump had been an executive officer of the Trump companies that received profits from and paid the consulting fees for both projects — meaning she appears to have been treated as a consultant on the same hotel deals that she helped manage as part of her job at her father's business."

....1) In at least two deals -- hotels in Hawaii and Vancouver, Ivanka Trump appears to have double-dipped -- serving as both a project manager in her official capacity as a senior staffer for her father's company and as a "consultant" to those same projects.

2) In those deals, Ivanka Trump's apparent categorization as a "consultant" allowed her father to write off three-quarters of a million dollars. (The IRS allows "consulting fees" to be written off as business expenses.)

...But it appears as though the Times may only have found the tip of the iceberg here. 

Why? Because of the $26 million that Trump wrote off as "consulting fees" between 2010 and 2018, none is allocated to any specific person or entity....So we don't know who received the other $25-ish million that Trump wrote off to "consulting fees" during that time.

But it appears to me as though CNN only found the tip of the iceberg here.

Why? Because of the next parenthetical sentence in the article, "(Worth noting: The Times reports that Trump wrote off roughly 20% of all income he made on projects over that time to 'consulting fees.')" 

What may be happening is a net profit distribution, something that should be taxed as corporate profit, is being disguised as consulting expenses. That makes it tax evasion and a way for the Trump family to make money while claiming a loss. And it's not just Ivanka's $750,000, and not "just" the $26 million, it's the 20% of all gross income made on projects over that time.

CNN and others speculate that this is a gift of funds from Donald to kids that illegally evades gift taxes, much like how Donald (and to a lesser extent his siblings) evaded gift taxes in the 1990s through one-sided business deals with their father. Not impossible, but I'm not sure. Fred Sr. did help Donald financially when Fred was mentally competent but only to the tunes of millions of dollars. The hundreds of millions transferred when Fred was senile, so his consent is questionable.

I question whether Trump is that generous to his children while Trump is still living. I don't doubt that lacking any spiritual or philanthropic legacy, Trump wants to vicariously live forever through wealthy children and would want to cheat estate and gift taxes, but that's in the future. So not impossible, but I'd tend to choose the most selfish option as the most likely one for Trump.

I'll just throw in a third possibility here for fun. Maybe it's really not an untaxed profit or untaxed gift but something that could legitimately be paid as income to Trump family members - except they asked to be paid as consultants instead, so they could do the exact same tax evasion as Trump does by making up deductible expenses. Employee income is income after all, but only the profit from business revenue is taxable, and you can do a lot to reduce the apparent profit. We need to see the Trump family taxes.

A disclaimer - I don't have a great handle on taxation of privately-held corporations, so I'm not certain my first possibility will hold up if researched (but it might). Regardless, the gift-tax evasion and the expanse-padding possibilities seem really strong.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Arsenic clothng-dye denial

 This one's a new one to me:

I've known about tobacco denialism, of course, and how many of the same liars and lies ported over to climate denialism. Before tobacco denialism, we had lead denialism - not just about lead paint and lead gas but even earlier with lead pipe, installed freely over the eastern half of North America (and mostly still there). A brief tangent - it occurs to me that there's a bit of an overlap between using lead pipes and geoengineering. You can avoid the worst effects of both if you're diligent, but if you ever drop the ball in injecting stratospheric haze or forget to watch the pH of water going through your pipes, then really bad things happen.

So, lead denialism goes back at least to the 1920s, but I didn't know about arsenic-dye denial that went even earlier. Add that to the historical record. I wonder if we'll eventually get to scaffold-makers in Salem denying that witchcraft had been disproven.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Mike's Real Nature Trick

Over time Eli the Wise has noted a great deal of confusion about Mike's Nature Trick (TM Phil Jones). Here for example is James Delingpole being confused

Pretty much lots of lagomorphs get this wrong, except for those who follow Eli on Twitter and a few select others, but even people like Phil Jones and Skeptical Science do.

The key thing is that proxy records are calibrated against instrumental records and if there had not been a significant change in temperature in the instrumental record period this could not have been done. You cannot calibrate a change or variation or anomaly against a constant independent variable, all you get is the corresponding value of the proxy at one point and no information about how the dependent variable changes with a change in the independent variable that one is calibrating against. 

There was something of a conversation about this at Jame's Empty Blog about one of Nic Lewis' Curry tricks, Eli got into it with the sorely missed Pekka Pirilä (just saw a paper of his on a recent email, it's been five years since he died, may memory of his wisdom remain)

If the temperatures were as constant as in the handle of the hockey stick all proxy recalibrations would fail or to use another term, be uninformative, and, if you look at the hockey stick, it is pretty clear that would be close to the case if all we had was data from the handle.

A key step in MBH was to use the instrumental records to build a 2D record of surface temperature variability (anomalies) against which the instrumental data was calibrated. Unfortunately, IEHO, they used Jones' sparse instrumental record from 1992 which degraded the resolution of the reconstructed anomaly patterns but there really was not much else to be had, and GISS only went back to 1880.

Eli has often wondered about whether if a paired design, such as the USCRN was used, would that improve the reconstructions (there may not be enough stations close to each proxy). Another problem is that Jones' data set is notoriously weak in the polar regions where the changes are larger (and where a lot of the proxys were located)

Calibration was done against the instrumental record from 1902 to 1980, validation against the instrumental record from 1850 to 1902. Looking at the global HADCRUT in the validation period (Wood for Trees), it is pretty flat. The calibration period is better, but still not much of a change because it only goes to 1980.  Still  remember that the calibrations were done against regional temperatures which are more variable.

Going back to the future it is interesting to look at the higher resolution Berkeley Earth instrumental reconstruction for the Yamal Nenets region that was also the subject of some unpleasantness about a decade ago

This is really flat in the validation period and thus pretty useless. The correlation coefficient for a flat curve is zero which sheds some light about why the too and fro about correlation was empty air. All you have left is the small and noisy annual variation masked by local precipitation variations. Importantly Mann Bradley and Hughes included precipitation in the 2D variation record they used for calibration

So let Eli return to Delingpole's no ethical scientist bit about plotting proxy and instrumental data in the same figure. What the overlay shows is that the calibration works. Sort of basic, but this point has gotten lost in the wash. 

Well, what about that the overlay stop at 1960? It was known by 1998 that a lot of the tree ring records started to diverge from the temperature about then, the so called divergence problem.

The bottom line here is it can be assumed that the divergence started in 1960, or that the tree rings were not correlated to local temperatures at (m)any times earlier than 1880. If that were so, the variation in the tree ring records would diverge from the variation in the other proxys and they don't.

Thus Mike's Real Nature Trick, correlating proxy records against a 2D model of surface temperature and precipitation variations.  

Friday, September 18, 2020

A cheer for Ginsburg, and a wish that she retired in 2013

If I thought there were a chance that a relative or friend of RBG would read this, then I'd stop that headline with simply a cheer for her and all the amazing things she's done. I only wish she listened to the advice of many people more prominent than me to retire in 2013. Same for Breyer, and he'll get the chance to fix it next year if the Democrats take the Senate and if a 6-3 Republican Supreme Court doesn't steal the presidency.

As I said in the 2013 post below, it's another excellent reason to have term limits at the Supreme Court. Not only would the Court better reflect the popular vote, limits would mean justices would likely fill regular terms of office and leave in a reasonably orderly fashion. And it's one of the tiny number of reforms that still have bipartisan support.

One more thing: it's not court-packing if you're fixing a stolen seat. Republicans stole Garland's seat, resulting in a two-vote switch. Adding two seats is fixing what Republicans stole, and still leaves Roberts as the decision-maker. Democrats should add two seats to the Court if they win in November.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Thanks, Ginsburg, and now please retire. Also, Anthony Kennedy's mixed legacy.

Glad that we got some good court rulings out today on gay rights. Definitely good in a policy sense; I haven't made a deep dive to decide if I completely agree on the law. So thanks to Ginsburg for all her good votes, and as I said after the election, now is the time for the 80-year old, two-time cancer survivor to step aside because it's the best chance in at least 4 years to get a decent nominee through the Senate.

End of Court term is a traditional time to announce resignation. If she waits until next year, it'll be campaign season with even fewer Republican senators willing to vote rationally. In Fall 2014, some 21 Democrats will be up for re-election as opposed to 14 Republicans in an off-year election that usually disfavors the president's party, so the Senate make-up is very likely to get worse. Hopefully the make-up will improve after November 2016 when the ratio for that election is reversed, but whether it will meet or beat what we've got today is unclear (not to mention we don't know who'll be President).

Regardless of whether even a healthy 80-year old has good odds of being to work another 4 years, I can guarantee that a 50-something replacement has better odds, as well as lasting through the contingency of four or more years of a Republican presidency. She should quit.

Hopefully I'll soon look like an idiot for my next statement:  she won't do it. Judges have truly impressive sense of their own importance, and I doubt the Supreme Court reduces that sense.

In my "also" about Kennedy, I think the last two days' ruling against voter rights and for gay rights are a decent example of the mixed legacy I've seen since 2005. While he's responsible for many awful decisions, he also supported human rights on some occasions that came at a personal cost during the Bush administration, losing the chance to be Chief Justice.

Still, if you assume he's acting with a legacy motivation (possibly a motivation for Obama on climate too), then I think he personally comes out better this way. He'll be remembered for making the right decision on social values at a minor personal cost, as opposed to being the Chief Justice who made terrible decisions. Think about that, John Roberts.

UPDATE:  yep, Ginsburg refuses to retire. More proof that the Supreme Court and possibly the appellate courts need term limits.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

My 2019 Op-Ed on California wildfires

Last year the San Jose Mercury News published an op-ed I wrote about California wildfires, then republished by Green Foothills (now my current employer). Seems a bit relevant today, so it's below. I'll add that fighting for better land use will also do a lot to help fight climate change.

As still more wildfires hit California this fall, we remain in denial about the primary cause of our disastrous wildfire risks.

Climate change contributes to wildfire now and will grow even further in importance, but it is not currently the primary risk factor and not subject to denial here in climate-conscious California. Similarly, there’s no denial of the need for certain helpful actions, using different building materials and setting prescribed fires to burn out fuel loads before they get out of control. These acknowledged issues also are not the primary drivers of wildfire risks, although they dominate the discussion and potential actions by government agencies.

The primary factor creating wildfire risk is land use, specifically the extent to which we scatter residential development in wildland areas, like lighter fluid on a bundle of wood. California county and city governments do not acknowledge this fact in their own “mini-constitutions,” their General Plans. Until they do – and then take action to do something about it – wildfire history will continue to tragically repeat itself.

Research has made clear that the greatest risk of losing a home to fire comes from land use decisions that disperse development across the Wildand-Urban Interface, the so-called “WUI”.  You can map this risk rising and falling like a hill on a graph, where risk is low at very low density development in the WUI, rises high in the middle level of density, and then drops low again with increased density approaching suburban lots. Research from Alexandra Syphard of the Conservation Biology Institute, and by many others, has demonstrated the problem.

In wilder areas with few residences, the chances of a human-caused ignition are low, and the space for a fire to burn out without harming anyone are higher. In places with suburban residential densities or greater density, the amount of trees and brush that catch and carry fire are lower, fire stations are closer and quicker to respond, and multiple homes can be protected at the same time. Between the two with the highest level of risk is the worst of all worlds, where residences are scattered liberally as ignition sources with plenty of wildland fuels to threaten life and property. That worst of all worlds is what land use planning for rural areas usually designates in county General Plans, as well as many cities that also oversee undeveloped lands.

Look at the General Plans for Santa Clara County, Contra Costa County, and Sonoma County, and you will not find an acknowledgment of land use patterns as the primary driver of fire risk. At best they have some suggestion of minimizing development in fire hazard areas, not an acknowledgment that this development is the core problem. These three counties are now revising their General Plans, and now is the time to fix this problem.

Counties and cities need first to get over the denial and to expressly acknowledge that scattering new development in the WUI is currently the primary driver of wildfire risk. Then they start doing something about it. Doing something would not mean forcing people out, but it could put strong restrictions on new development and give alternatives to people after a wildfire who do want to leave.

The good news is that while land use planning doesn’t yet acknowledge the problem, recognition is increasing in the media and in public discussion. We need the land use driver of wildfire risk to be acknowledged where it counts most, in county and city General Plans. Just like climate change, we must acknowledge and end this denial in order to have a chance to overcome it.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Democratic Party improvement over the Green New Deal

My usual timeliness here, but I want to highlight this part of the Democratic Party platform:

To reach net-zero emissions as rapidly as possible, Democrats commit to eliminating carbonpollution from power plants by 2035 through technology-neutral standards for clean energy and energy efficiency. We will dramatically expand solar and wind energy deployment through community-based and utility-scale systems, including in rural areas. Within five years, we will install 500 million solar panels, including eight million solar roofs and community solar energy systems, and 60,000 wind turbines, and turn American ingenuity into American jobs by leveraging federal policy to manufacture renewable energy solutions in America. Recognizing the urgent need to decarbonize the power sector, our technology-neutral approach is inclusive of all zero-carbon technologies, including hydroelectric power, geothermal, existing and advanced nuclear, and carbon capture and storage.

The emphasis-added is the environmental improvement over the Green New Deal. While GND is somewhat amorphous, the sometimes-explicit rejection of nuclear and carbon storage constituted a policy choice that no matter how much those technologies could help the fight against climate change, GND supporters preferred opposing the technology.

To be fair, nuclear power hasn't done well in say the last 40-plus years, and a technology-neutral approach would price in externalities from nuclear waste and revoke liability limitations for massive accidents. Carbon sequestration similarly has a checkered history, and it's a joke to think coal, which is already noncompetitive with renewables, could handle an additional 30%-40% surcharge to pay for carbon sequestration. Still, other carbon sequestration might be possible, including carbon-negative sequestration from biofuels, and maybe the long-prophesied, new nuclear technologies can occur. Let them compete and see what they can do.

The promises for massive amounts of solar and wind also aren't exactly compatible with the technology-neutral approach, but we can acknowledge the reality that they are going to be main forms of increased renewable power for the next two decades. The numbers they give within the next five years are impossible under normal political conditions, but not impossible under a massive buildout plan. I don't expect that to happen, but there's nothing wrong pushing for it.

Two other notes: first, the platform is treating large-scale hydropower as the equivalent of any other renewable resource. Traditionally that hasn't been the case, with some reason - hydropower used to be so big a source that it would drown out any incentives for budding new technologies like solar and wind. That isn't the case any more. I personally would have an incentive geared to immature renewable technologies that large-scale hydro couldn't access, but I think it's reasonable for large hydro to compete with other mature, near-zero carbon technologies.

Second, there's the whole weirdness of dropping the plank calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. Completely unacceptable, especially the obfuscation regarding which individual people's actions resulted in the plank being dropped - shades of the 2016 Republican platform dropping the call to provide military weaponry to Ukraine. Still, as the link notes, Biden's still saying he'll end subsidies, and that's more important than the party platform.

We just need to make sure in November that Trump is gone in January.