Monthly Archives: November 2019

The New Normal

This week, Northern California had its first significant rain and our fire season ended. (Unfortunately, as I write this, there is a big fire burning in Southern California near Santa Barbara.) For the last several years, fire season has lasted longer than it once did, and the fires have been more ferocious. Californians are beginning to acknowledge that this is the new normal.

Here in Sonoma County — north of San Francisco — we’re still recovering from the mammoth Kincade fire, which started on October 23rd and was fully contained on November 6, 2019. It burned 77,758 acres and destroyed 374 buildings.  Amazingly, no one was killed; probably because the County Sheriff ordered a massive evacuation and our local utility company turned off almost all the county’s electricity.  (Once the evacuation order was lifted, it took several days for power to be restored.)

Most of the locals see the Kincade fire as a consequence of three factors: global climate change, reckless building in the “wildland-urban-interface” (WUI), and infrastructure decay.  Climate change has caused our summers to become much drier and the fall winds to be more intense.  (During the Kincade fire there were 96 mile-per-hour winds.)  For a variety of reasons, California’s suburbs have pushed into the wildland-urban-interface and shortsighted city planners have let developers build in locations there were once thought to be too dangerous because of the possibility of wildfires.  Finally, our energy infrastructure has not been properly maintained by the primary Northern California provider, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E); now, when the winds kick up, we are at risk because of aging transmission lines and transformers.  (Belatedly, PG&E acknowledged this; early in the course of the Kincade fire, the utility shut off all electric service in the projected path of the firestorm — most of west Sonoma County.)

The question Californians now face is how to adapt to the new normal.  One option would be to relocate, but that would likely mean a move out of state because all parts of California are now threatened by wildfires.  (Indeed, most of the western states have this problem.)  And, of course, moving to another state means moving to an area that is subjected to another consequence of climate change, such as hurricanes.

The other option is to remain in California and support substantial action to mitigate fire risk.  Two approaches have been suggested; both of them involve major financial expenditures.  One is to upgrade the electrical grid in a way that minimizes the fire risk.  The other is to “harden” vulnerable communities.

As a consequence of the 2017 Tubbs fire — also in Sonoma County — and the 2018 Camp Fire — up the road in Butte County — PG&E declared bankruptcy. (  Now Californians are embroiled in discussion about what to do with the utility.  This will take several years to work out.

In the meantime, Californians, who live outside big cities, must be prepared to have their power shut off for days at a time — during fire season. In other words, Californians who live in rural areas, or the “WUI,” will have to have substantial backup power — generators or solar panels plus batteries  — or do without.  This new reality applies to both homes and businesses — one of the problems uncovered during the October Sonoma County evacuation was that many gas stations did not have power and therefore their pumps didn’t work.  (Obviously, the prospect of continuous power outages places a singular burden on the less fortunate members of the community.)

Regardless of the ultimate disposition of PG&E, the electrical grid needs to hardened.  In many cases this means burying transmission lines and distribution lines.  In other cases this means fortifying electrical substations and transformers.

Vulnerable communities also need to be hardened.  City planners need to severely restrict further building in the WUI.  (A restriction that runs head-on in California’s desire to provide more housing units.)  Communities must provide incentives for landowners to maximize their defensible space.  Evacuation routes need to be widened and adjacent foliage needs to be cleared.  Substantial fire breaks need to be created between communities — spaces at least one-quarter mile wide.  Finally, funding should be provided so that communities can provide “shelter-in-place” fire refuges.

(If these steps aren’t taken, insurance companies are going to declare large swaths of California as uninsurable.  Meaning that many rural communities will disappear.)

If you live outside California, and think none of this relates to you, you’re mistaken.  Global climate change will impact all regions of the United States.  If you live in areas along the Atlantic or Gulf coast you will be subjected to hurricanes and rising tides.  If you live in the midwest, you will be subjected to ice storms and tornados.  When you recognize that this is the new normal, you will be faced with the same decisions that confront Californians: either move or take dramatic action to accommodate these new challenges.  You can run, but you cannot hide.

Talking to Republicans About Impeachment

The holidays are coming.  And with them,  more opportunities to talk to those recalcitrant Trump supporters in your family.  Such as Aunt Bertha who believes God sent Donald on a mission.  And Uncle Bert who wants Trump to blow up Washington. Here are ten tips on how to talk to them about the impeachment process.  Ten responses to familiar Republican (false) arguments.

Contention 1: “Democrats are trying to overthrow the 2016 election.”  This a good place to start the conversation because there is an element of truth in this Republican argument.  Response: Yes, impeachment is about removing the President from office and replacing him with the Vice President.  Democrats are using this process because they believe Donald Trump has committed grave offenses that threaten our Democracy.  (Helpful hint: Don’t mention that Vice President Mike Pence could also be a candidate for impeachment because of his involvement in the Ukraine scandal.)

Contention 2: “Democrats are making a false charge.  Trump’s call to Ukraine was perfect.”  Helpful hint: take a deep breath.  Response: have you read the White House memo on the July 25th call?  (It’s not a transcript.) Trump discusses U.S. aid to Ukraine and then says “I would like you to do us a favor” and mentions an investigation of Hunter and Joe Biden. Many constitutional lawyers have stated that Trump’s action is bribery. That’s why there is an impeachment inquiry.

Contention 3: “The Whistleblower was out to get Trump.”  Time for another deep breath.  Response: everything that was mentioned in the Whistleblower report has been confirmed by the White House memo on the July 25th call and witnesses to the event.  Trump has admitted the basic facts so the Whistleblower is no longer relevant to the investigation.

Contention 4: “All the evidence is second hand.”  Response: While the original Whistleblower report was indeed second hand, this information has been confirmed by the White House memo on the July 25th call and witnesses to the event.  For this reason, the critical evidence is first hand; it’s been provided by Donald Trump or others who listened to the phone call.

Contention 5: “What about the Bidens?  Shouldn’t they be investigated?”  Response: Democrats have no objection to an investigation of the Ukraine activities of Hunter and Joe Biden.  However, this investigation has nothing directly to do with the impeachment inquiry; it is a separate matter.  [Pause for emphasis.]  Donald Trump controls the Department of Justice and and the FBI and they have yet to initiate an investigation into the activities of Hunter and Joe Biden.  [While this was being written, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham — chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee — launched a problem into the Bidens ( ). ]

Contention 6: “There was not a crime because no damage was done; Ukraine got the money.” Take another deep breath.  Response:” After the July 25th phone call, military aid to Ukraine was put on hold by Trump.  The aid was not released until September 11th, after the whistleblower report and after the House of Representatives launched related investigations.  Because of this sequence, many characterize what happened as a failed bribery attempt.  Nonetheless, a bribery attempt that fails is still a crime.

Contention 7: “The Impeachment process is flawed.”  Response: The Impeachment process is similar to that used in previous impeachment inquiries — for example, the Clinton impeachment — except for the fact there is no special counsel involved.  This process follows the rules set down by the House of Representatives and those rules include the involvement of Democrats and Republicans at each phase.

In addition, it would help the process if Donald Trump did not forbid the testimony of relevant witnesses.  (Of course, it would also help if Trump testified before the impeachment panel.)

Contention 8: “Trump should be able to confront his accusers.”  Take a deep breath.  Response: There are two phases of the impeachment process; the inquiry — held in the House of Representatives — and the trial — held in the Senate.  Trump will be able to confront his accusers during the Senate trial.  In addition, House Speaker Pelosi has offered Trump a chance to give testimony during the inquiry and offered his counsel an opportunity to present evidence during the House process.

Contention 9: “Whatever… it’s not an impeachable offense.”  Take two deep breaths.  Response: Whether or not Trump’s acts — bribery, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power — are impeachable offenses needs to be decided after the process has played out — by a vote in the Senate.  It’s serious enough that it should not be dismissed on a purely partisan basis.

Contention 10: “I don’t care what Trump did.  As long as the economy works for me and my family, I’m supporting Trump.”  Take many deep breaths.  Response: “I will pray for your moral compass to be restored.”

Ranking the Democratic Candidates

 While the impeachment inquiry continues to command most of the attention of the mainstream media, in the background the Democratic presidential candidates continue their slog towards the February 3rd Iowa caucuses. Here’s the BB perspective on how these candidates are doing.  And a prediction as to what the race will look like coming out of “Super Tuesday,” March 3rd.

1.Elizabeth Warren: Massachusetts Senator Warren garners the number one slot for two reasons: she has the most momentum and she has “out wonked” all the other candidates.  Elizabeth has a plan for everything stretching from the very serious (how to deal with global climate change) to the other extreme (how to get Americans to eat more vegetables).

In addition to would-be-dictator Trump, Americans are beset by a frightening array of problems:, including climate change, wealth inequity, and cancerous capitalism.  Senator Warren is the only candidate to have a well-thought-out plan on all of these.  It’s convenient to characterize Warren as a candidate of the left and others, such as Joe Biden, as a candidate of the “center,” but the reality is that Elizabeth wants big change in American society and many of the other candidates — such as Biden — seek modest changes.  The BB perspective: The U.S. needs big changes.

2. Joe Biden: Former Vice-President Biden is a nice guy who was a worthy sidekick to Barack Obama.  Can he run the show on his own?  I’m not convinced.  Biden seems old — he’ll turn 77 at the end of the month — and lacking the energy required to run the big show.

Some Democrats are attracted to Joe because he’s a “safe” choice.  They believe he’s the most likely to beat Trump: The current Real Clear Politics poll of polls shows Biden beating Trump by 10.2 percent.  However the same poll shows Warren beating Trump by 7.3 percent.  So they both beat Trump — and Biden has way more name recognition than Warren does.

The election has two steps: beat Trump and fix America.  Warren would do a better job on second step.

3. Bernie Sanders: Bernie doesn’t seem to have the same fire that he did in 2016.  He seems tired — although not as tired as Biden, who is one year younger.  Bernie has been “out wonked” by Elizabeth Warren.

On October 1st, Senator Sanders had a heart attack.  A month later, the attack doesn’t seem to have slowed him down.  Nonetheless, while his fundraising is ticking along, Bernie has slipped slightly in the polls. (For example, the latest New Hampshire Quinnipiac poll shows Bernie running behind Biden, Warren, and Buttigieg.)

BB prediction: after losing the New Hampshire primary, Bernie will drop out and support Elizabeth Warren.

4. Pete Buttigieg:  So far, the big surprise of the Democratic presidential primary contest has been Mayor Pete.  (In the second quarter, Buttigieg raised more money than all other Democratic contenders — $24.9 million.)  Mayor Pete is very smart and has a remarkable public presence.

If Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are candidates of the left, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg are “moderates.”  For those Democrats who initially supported Biden, and now think he is too old, many have shifted to Mayor Pete.  (Who is 37; forty years younger than Biden.)

BB prediction: After “Super Tuesday,” March 3rd, Biden will drop out and the competition will narrow to Warren, Buttigieg, and the billionaires.

By most accounts, Warren, Biden, Sanders, and Buttigieg have more than 75 percent of the primary votes of Democrats.  No other candidate has double digit support.  Why?

The women: Harris, Klobuchar, and Gabbard.  Six months ago Senator Kamala Harris was a hot political property — challenging Warren, Sanders, and Biden as a frontrunner.  Now her support has greatly diminished.  Two problems: Harris didn’t give voters a clear reason to support her and she got out wonked by Warren and Sanders.

I’ve expected Senator Amy Klobuchar to surge in Iowa.  For “moderates” she seems like a good alternative to Joe Biden.  Instead, Pete Buttigieg has taken this role.

Tulsi Gabbard keeps hanging around.  The “maverick” candidate.  Some say that if Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, Gabbard will be his choice for VP.

The billionaires: Bloomberg and Steyer. The big news this past weekend is that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has jumped into the race for the Democratic nomination.  (He’s the sixth richest person in the U.S.; one of our 2153 billionaires.)  Bloomberg has good liberal credentials — for example, his positions on climate change and gun control — but he isn’t an exciting candidate.

For months San Franciscan Tom Steyer has been pushing for the impeachment of Donald Trump.  (And for taking action on climate change.)  HIs hearts in the right place but I don’t see Steyer becoming a frontrunner — the latest California Democratic primary poll shows Elizabeth Warren in 1st place with 27 percent of the vote and Steyer in ninth place with 1 percent.

The “outsiders”: Yang, Booker, and Castro.  Andrew Yang is another “maverick” candidate — who has gotten more traction than Tulsi Gabbard.  Nonetheless, his national support continues to languish in the single digits.  If Biden or Sanders falter, will Yang get more support?  I don’t think so.

What’s the story with Cory Booker?  He does well in the debates but it doesn’t seem to translate into more voter support.  I expect Booker to drop out before Iowa.

Several months ago, Julian Castro surged and then faltered.  He’s a candidate who looks better on paper than he does in person.  I expect him to drop out before Iowa.

(As this was being written, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick entered the New Hampshire primary.  It’s another indication that “moderate” Democrats aren’t happy with Biden.)

Summary: The competition for the Democratic nomination will come down to Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.

Impeachment and Ukraine

Although the impeachment inquiry is cloaked in legalese — such as whether Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense — it’s also about the relationship between Trump, and his associates, and Ukraine.  There is a counterintelligence aspect: Trump was trying to manipulate the Ukrainian government on multiple fronts.

The Crime: There are two pivotal documents in this matter.  The first is the “Unclassified Memorandum of [Juy 25th] Telephone Conversation” between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky ( ).  Early in this conversation, Trump says: “We do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing.”  Zelensky says, “We are almost. ready to buy more Javelins [missiles] from the United· States” and Trump responds, “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”  

The second pivotal document is the “Unclassified Whistleblower memo to Senator Richard Burr and Congressman Adam Schiff.”  ( In this memo the whistleblower says that during the July 25th phone call, Trump pressured Zelensky to do three things:

    • “initiate or continue an investigation into the activities of former Vice President Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter Biden;
    • assist in purportedly uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine, with a specific request that the Ukrainian leader locate and turn over servers used by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and examined by the U.S. cyber security firm Crowdstrike, which initially reported that Russian hackers had penetrated the DNC’s networks in 2016; and
    • meet or speak with two people the President named explicitly as his personal envoys on these matters, Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General Barr, to whom the President referred multiple times in tandem.”

Three things jump out of these documents.  The first is there was a quid pro quo.  Trump mentions aid to Ukraine and then says “I would like you to do us a favor.” Many constitutional lawyers have stated that Trump’s action is a violation of U.S. Government Code title 18 Section 201(b) (, which states that any public official who “corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for… being influenced in the performance of any official act” is breaking the law.

The second thing that jumps out is the sequence of the ask: first Trump asks for assistance in “uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine;” and then he asks for helps investigating the Bidens.  It’s clear from the memorandum of the July 25th telephone conversation that the former is what’s on Trump’s mind — he spends more time talking about it.

The third thing that jumps out is that Trump goes out of his way to malign the previous U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. “The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news… she’s going to go through some things.”

Ukraine and Paul Manafort: What lurks in the background is the unsavory relationship between Trump, and his associates, and sketchy characters in Ukraine.  This relationship first became apparent in June of 2016, when Trump hired (former Ukraine) political operative Paul Manafort as his campaign manager.  Manafort served in this position for three months, resigning in August of 2016.  During this period — which included the Republican convention — three significant event happened: Manafort was part of the notorious Trump Tower meeting with Russian agents; Manafort intervened to weaken a Ukraine policy item in the Republican platform; and Manafort’s connection to former former Ukrainian President Yanukovych, and his for-Russian party, was revealed to the American press.  (In addition, the Mueller report noted that, during this period, Manafort passed proprietary campaign polling data to pro-Russian Ukrainians.)

On October 30, 2017, Manafort was arrested by the FBI after being indicted by a federal grand jury as part of the Mueller investigation.The indictment charged Manafort with conspiracy, money laundering, failing to register as an agent of a foreign country, and making false statements.  In March of 2018, Manafort was sentenced to seven and a half years in Federal prison.

Many have reported that Manafort maintains contact with Trump.  Recently released Mueller documents reveal that, in 2016, Manafort told Trump that he thought Ukrainians had been responsible for hacking the DNC during the presidential campaign. (  Whatever the reason, Trump has long nurtured resentment towards Ukraine (

Ukraine and Rudy Giuliani: The “memorandum of the July 25th Trump-Zelensky phone call” makes it clear that Rudy Giuliani is Trump’s man in Ukraine.  Trump encouraged  Zelensky to talk to Attorney General Barr and Rudy G.  There’s some (baroque) logic to the involvement of Barr — he’s leading an investigation into the origins of the Mueller investigation.  But there’s no clear logic to Giuliani’s involvement.

Rudy G has been involved in Ukraine for couple of years.  He’s worked as a U.S. lobbyist for Ukrainian businessmen and he’s tried to get American companies lucrative Ukrainian contracts.  Giuliani was part of a small group that, apparently, worked outside the U.S. State Department to influence the government of Ukraine.  One member of this group was Trump-donor turned Ambassador-to-the-EU, Gordon Sondland.  Another member was Energy Secretary Rick Perry.  (Recently the Wall Street Journal noted that, “Rick Perry wanted to put two U.S. energy industry veterans on the board of Ukraine’s state-owned energy company, according to text messages written by the former Ukraine special envoy.”)  Giuliani also has ties with controversial Ukrainian Oligarch Dmytro Firtash ( ).

Giuliani pushed for the replacement of U.S.Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.  On November 7th, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent told the House Intelligence Committee: “Throughout March 02019], Giuliani trafficked in ‘slander’ designed to get… Marie Yovanovitchhas  fired from her posting in Kyiv and clear a roadblock to the agenda Giuliani and his clients were pursuing there.”  ( ) Now Rudy’s activities are under investigation by Manhattan-based Federal Prosecutors ( ).

Summary: There are four part of this affair.  First, Trump came into the White House with animosity towards Ukraine.  Second, Trump did not trust the State Department to manage relations with Ukraine so he commissioned Rudy Giuliani to represent him with President Zelensky.  Third, Giuliani and Trump deliberately withheld much needed Ukrainian military aid in order to coerce Zelensky into launching two investigations: possible Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the activities of Joe and Hunter Biden.  Fourth, Giuliani and (no doubt) Trump conspired to have Ambassador Yovanovitch removed from her position.

And, of course, Trump has abused his position by not cooperating with the impeachment inquiry.