Author Archives: Curtis Tangredi

It’s Crunch Time for the Republican Party

Mother Jones

How the world works, 2017 edition:

July 2016: Republicans are united in outrage when James Comey declines to recommend charges against crooked Hillary Clinton despite mountains of evidence that she is totally guilty.

Today: Republicans are united in disappointment at Comey’s decision to harm poor Hillary Clinton by breaching agency guidelines against commenting on investigations and interfering with an upcoming election. Thank God he’s finally been fired.

The official story about Comey’s firing goes something like this. On April 25, Rod Rosenstein was confirmed as deputy attorney general. It takes him less than two weeks to put together a memo arguing that: Comey was wrong to usurp the attorney general’s prosecutorial authority. He was wrong to hold a “derogatory” press conference about Clinton. He was wrong three months later to claim that keeping quiet about the Huma Abedin emails amounted to “concealing” them. He shouldn’t have said anything on October 28. Rosenstein concludes by saying that everyone from the janitor to the pope agrees that this was obviously egregious behavior on Comey’s part. Within hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommends Comey be fired and Trump immediately announces Comey’s termination. Comey hears about it on TV.

Needless to say, there is precisely nothing new in any of this. As Rosenstein says, these criticisms of Comey have been obvious from the start, and Trump could have used them as justification for firing Comey at any time. But he didn’t. Until now.

The difference between then and now, of course, is that then Comey was helping bury Hillary Clinton, and now Comey is investigating ties between Russia and Trump. So only now is it time for Comey to go.

So far, there are a tiny handful of Republicans who are “troubled” by Comey’s firing. Will they go any farther? Will any more Republicans join them? Or is everyone going to take one for the team and pretend that Comey really was fired because of how badly he treated Hillary Clinton?

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It’s Crunch Time for the Republican Party

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The Fifth Ring: How Conspiracy Theories are Born

Mother Jones

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As we all know, there was a glitch in the Olympic opening ceremonies yesterday. But not everyone saw it:

Somehow it seemed fitting when a set of floating snowflakes suddenly transformed themselves into Olympic rings — but only four of them. The fifth snowflake never changed.

Russian television viewers, however, saw all five rings, as the show’s producer Konstantin Ernst recognized the malfunction shortly before it occurred and immediately ordered an image from rehearsals to be transmitted in its place. “It would be ridiculous to focus on the ring that would not open,” said Ernst later. “It would be silly.”

That’s quick thinking! But I suspect it’s going to give birth to a thousand conspiracy theories. After all, millions of Russians saw all five rings, so why are all the Americans and Europeans saying there were only four? It must be Photoshop trickery from westerners designed to make Russia the butt of jokes. Right?


The Fifth Ring: How Conspiracy Theories are Born

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We’re Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 14, 2014

Mother Jones

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Marines assigned to Reconnaissance Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct live fire training aboard the USS Boxer (LHD 4) at sea Jan. 8, 2014. The 13th MEU is deployed with the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. David Gonzalez/Released)

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We’re Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 14, 2014

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The 39 Worst Words, Phrases, and Parts of Speech of 2013

Mother Jones

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Many words were spoken in 2013. Not all of them were created equal. Here is a brief, but by no means complete, guide to the words and phrases (and symbols, and parts of speech) we’d like to retire in 2014.

Please print this out and post it to your refrigerator or cubicle wall for convenient access.

“#.” R.I.P., early Twitter feature. We’ll bury you next to your friend, the FourSquare check-in.

adverbs. Ban all adverbs. They’re mostly just gulp words, really.
“all the things.”

“because noun”: (i.e. “because science.”)

brogurt.” No.


“controversial tweet.” There’s just no way to make this sound dignified, and besides, it leads to think pieces.

“derp.” It’s been an emotional ride, but it’s time to send this one off on the ice floe.

“disrupt.” Luxury car apps aren’t disruptive.

“Donald Trump is considering a run for…” No, he’s not. He just isn’t. And if you’d like to get him unearned publicity, you should at least get some stock options out of it.

“doubled down.” Unless the candidate did it while biting into a delicious sandwich, let’s just say the candidate “reaffirmed his/her position” on transportation funding or burrito drones or whatever we’ll be discussing in 2014.

“…favorited a tweet you were mentioned in.” No one has ever wanted to know this.

“gaffe.” It’s going to be a long-enough election year as it is.

“game-changer.” What you’re describing probably won’t change the game. But if it does, would you want to spoil the moment with a cliche?

“Guy Fieri.” What if we all decided to just never mention him again? Would he disappear?

“hashtag.” This refers to the spoken utterance of the word “hashtag,” often accompanied by air-quotes. People can see you doing this.

“hipster. Wearing glasses is not something people do because they’re hipsters; it’s something people do because they’re nearsighted. People don’t drink hot chocolate because it’s a hipster thing to do; they drink hot chocolate because it’s literally liquid chocolate. Yes, I wrote “literally.” That’s what happens when you use a word so casually and carelessly in think pieces as to render it meaningless.

“I can’t even.” You can. Dig deep. Find your Kentucky.

“impact.” (When used as a verb.)
“…in .gifs.”

“…in one chart.” We’re aiming high in 2014. Two chart minimum!

“listicle.” This is the last one.

“literally the worst.” Actually, while we’re at it, let’s ban “literally.” Literally is the “not the Onion” of fake things.

“millennial.” Young people are living with their parents because their parents’ generation destroyed the global economy. Next.

“nondescript office park.” As opposed to the Frank Gehry ones.
“not the Onion.

“Rethuglicans, Repugs,” “Republikkkans,” “Demoncrats,” “Dumbocrats,” and every other variation thereof. Please just use the normal proper nouns; you can add whatever modifier you like before or after.

“selfie.” But what do they tell us about our society, in the digital now? Let’s ask James Franco.

“Snowfall.” (In the future, a high-cost digital production that doesn’t live up to the hype shall be known as a “Skyfall.”)

“the Internets.” This was a George W. Bush joke or something, right? You can still use the Internet—just drop the “s.”
“This Town.”

“thought leader.” Mostly beaten out of existence, but don’t think we didn’t notice that Paul Allen interview, Wired. You’re on notice.

#YOLO. Seriously.

I am guilty of most of these sins. Let us never speak of this again.

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The 39 Worst Words, Phrases, and Parts of Speech of 2013

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Will Spike Lee’s Original Three-Hour Cut of "Oldboy" Ever See the Light of Day?

Mother Jones

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“Tough fucking business.”

Those are the three words director Spike Lee used to explain the studio-led mangling of his latest film, Oldboy (FilmDistrict, 104 minutes).

The movie, which hits theaters on Wednesday, is a remake of Park Chan-wook‘s acclaimed 2003 South Korean revenge film of the same name. Lee’s version stars Josh Brolin as Joe Doucett, an alcoholic ad man and deadbeat father who is mysteriously abducted in 1993. He is held in a privately run detention facility (managed by a warden played by Samuel L. Jackson), where he learns he’s been framed for the rape and murder of his ex-wife. The authorities are hunting him, and his young daughter is placed into foster care. Twenty years later (a passage of time that Lee marks with clips of Clinton, Bush, 9/11, Iraq, Katrina, Obama, and more), Joe is suddenly released, and embarks on a gore-filled mission to find his daughter, make his captors suffer, and discover why he was detained for two decades.

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Will Spike Lee’s Original Three-Hour Cut of "Oldboy" Ever See the Light of Day?

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The Great Eviction: Black America and the Toll of the Foreclosure Crisis

Mother Jones

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

We cautiously ascend the staircase, the pitch black of the boarded-up house pierced only by my companion’s tiny circle of light. At the top of the landing, the flashlight beam dances in a corner as Quafin, who offered only her first name, points out the furnace. She is giddy; this house—unlike most of the other bank-owned buildings on the block—isn’t completely uninhabitable.

It had been vacated, sealed, and winterized in June 2010, according to a notice on the wall posted by BAC Field Services Corporation, a division of Bank of America. It warned: “entry by unauthorized persons is strictly prohibited.” But Bank of America has clearly forgotten about the house and its requirement to provide the “maintenance and security” that would ensure the property could soon be reoccupied. The basement door is ajar, the plumbing has been torn out of the walls, and the carpet is stained with water. The last family to live here bought the home for $175,000 in 2002; eight years later, the bank claimed an improbable $286,100 in past-due balances and repossessed it.

It’s May 2012 and we’re in Woodlawn, a largely African American neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The crew Quafin is a part of dubbed themselves the HIT Squad, short for Housing Identification and Target. Their goal is to map blighted, bank-owned homes with overdue property taxes and neighbors angry enough about the destruction of their neighborhood to consider supporting a plan to repossess on the repossessors.

“Anything I can do,” one woman tells the group after being briefed on its plan to rehab bank-owned homes and move in families without houses. She points across the street to a sagging, boarded-up place adorned with a worn banner—”Grandma’s House Child Care: Register Now!”—and a disconnected number. There are 20 banked-owned homes like it in a five-block radius. Records showed that at least five of them were years past due on their property taxes.

Where exterior walls once were, some houses sport charred holes from fires lit by people trying to stay warm. In 2011, two Chicago firefighters died trying to extinguish such a fire at a vacant foreclosed building. Now, houses across the South Side are pockmarked with red Xs, indicating places the fire department believes to be structurally unsound. In other states—Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New York, to name recent examples—foreclosed houses have taken to exploding after bank contractors forgot to turn off the gas.

Most of the occupied homes in the neighborhood we’re visiting display small signs: “Don’t shoot,” they read in lettering superimposed on a child’s face, “I want to grow up.” On the bank-owned houses, such signs have been replaced by heavy-duty steel window guards. (“We work with all types of servicers, receivers, property management, and bank asset managers, enabling you to quickly and easily secure your building so you can move on,” boasts Door and Window Guard Systems, a leading company in the burgeoning “building security industry.”)

The dangerous houses are the ones left unsecured, littered with trash and empty Cobra vodka bottles. We approach one that reeks of rancid tuna fish and attempt to push open the basement door, held closed only by a flimsy wire. The next-door neighbor, returning home, asks: “Did you know they killed someone in that backyard just this morning?”

The Equivalent of the Population of Michigan Foreclosed
Since 2007, the foreclosure crisis has displaced at least 10 million people from more than four million homes across the country. Families have been evicted from colonials and bungalows, A-frames and two-family brownstones, trailers and ranches, apartment buildings and the prefabricated cookie-cutters that sprang up after World War II. The displaced are young and old, rich and poor, and of every race, ethnicity, and religion. They add up to approximately the entire population of Michigan.

However, African American neighborhoods were targeted more aggressively than others for the sort of predatory loans that led to mass evictions after the economic meltdown of 2007-2008. At the height of the rapacious lending boom, nearly 50% of all loans given to African American families were deemed “subprime.” The New York Times described these contracts as “a financial time-bomb.”

Over the last year and a half, I traveled through many of these neighborhoods, reporting on the grassroots movements of resistance to foreclosure and displacement that have been springing up in the wake of the explosion. These community efforts have proven creative, inspiring, and often effective—but in too many cities and towns, the landscape that forms the backdrop to such a movement of hope is one of almost overwhelming destruction. Lots filled with “Cheap Bank-Owned!” trailers line highways. Cities hire contractors dubbed “Blackwater Bailiffs” to keep pace with the dizzying eviction rate.

In recent years, the foreclosure crisis has been turning many African American communities into conflict zones, torn between a market hell-bent on commodifying life itself and communities organizing to protect their neighborhoods. The more I ventured into such areas, the more I came to realize that the clash of values going on isn’t just theoretical or metaphorical.

“Internal displacement causes conflict,” explained J.R. Fleming, the chairman of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign. “And there’s no other country in the world that would force so much internal displacement and pretend that it’s something else.”

Evictions at Gunpoint
It was three in the morning when at least a dozen police cruisers pulled up to the single-story, green-shuttered house in the African American Atlanta suburb where Christine Frazer and her family lived. The precise number of sheriffs and deputies who arrived is disputed; the local radio station reported 25, while Frazer recalled seeing between 40 and 50.

A locksmith drilled off the home’s locks and dozens of officers burst into the house with flashlights and handguns.

“Who’s in the house?” they shouted. Aside from Frazer, a widow with a vocal devotion to the Man Above, there were three other residents: her 85-year-old mother, her adult daughter, and her four-year-old grandson. Things began to happen fast. Animal control rounded up the pets. Officers told the women to get dressed. Could she take a shower? Frazer asked. Imagine there’s a fire in your house, the officer replied.

“They came to my home like I was a drug dealer,” she told reporters later. Over the next seven hours, the officers hauled out the entire contents of her home and cordoned off the street to prevent friends from helping her retrieve her things.

“I have no idea where some of my jewelry is, stuff I bought when I was 30 years old,” said Frazer. “I am sixty-three. They just threw everything everywhere, helter-skelter on the front lawn in the dark.”

The eviction-turned-raid sparked controversy across Atlanta when it occurred in the spring of 2012, in part because Frazer had a motion pending in federal court that should have stayed the eviction, and in part because she was an active participant of Occupy Homes Atlanta. But this type of militarized reaction is often the outcome when communities—especially those of color—organize to resist eviction.

When Nicole Shelton attempted to move back into her repossessed home in a picket-fence subdivision in North Carolina, the Raleigh police department sent in more than a dozen police officers and an eight-person SWAT team. Officers were equipped with M5 submachine guns. A helicopter roared overhead. In Boston, one organizer with the community group City Life/Vida Urbana remembers the police acting so aggressively at an eviction blockade in a Haitian neighborhood that the grandmother of the family had a heart attack right in the driveway.

And sometimes it doesn’t require resistance at all. On the South Side of Chicago, explained Toussaint Losier, a community organizer completing his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, “They bust in the door, and it’s at the point of a gun that you get evicted.”

Exiles in America
There have been widespread foreclosures—and some organized resistance—in predominately white communities, too. Kevin Kirkman, captain of the civil division of the Lee County sheriff’s office, explained, “I get so many eviction papers in here, it’s unbelievable.”

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The Great Eviction: Black America and the Toll of the Foreclosure Crisis

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Are American Political Parties Becoming Defined Largely By Race?

Mother Jones

A new AP report suggests that 80 percent of the U.S. population struggles with poverty at some point in their lives. Ryan Cooper riffs on this to make a nonpartisan point about American political parties:

It’s probably fair to say also that poor whites are overwhelmingly Republican, and in large part due to an overhang of racial resentment….This is why I despair of analysis like Matt Yglesias’ or Sean Trende’s making the case the Republicans can keep winning with white voters alone (though NB that Trende doesn’t argue that this means the GOP doesn’t have to change). Because that does not bode well for our future.

I lived in South Africa for a time, where voting breaks down almost entirely by race. To a first approximation, blacks vote for the African National Congress, whites and Coloureds (the non-offensive term adopted by mixed-race people) vote for the Democratic Alliance. The upshot is that because blacks make up about 77 percent of the population the ANC has won every election with over 60% of the vote. (An outcome, I should add, that is the predicable outcome of the Apartheid state’s vicious racist terrorism.)

But the lack of political competition has been disastrous. Especially during the tenure of Thabo Mbeki, the whole South African government was shot through with corruption and rank incompetence, culminating in the 2008 power crisis. Single party states, outside of a few possible exceptions like Singapore, are a recipe for failure.

I don’t have time right now to ruminate on this at length. But it’s worth tossing out for further thought. My big problem with Cooper’s thesis is simple: it’s not clear to me that poor and working-class whites actually do vote overwhelmingly Republican. That’s certainly true in the South, but everywhere else this vote is split fairly evenly between the parties—and this has changed very little over the past few decades. There’s really no national trend of working-class whites becoming more Republican.

At least, that’s one view. Andrew Levison and Ruy Teixeira present a different one here. They don’t address regional differences, but they present fairly dire national data and go on to suggest that things might actually be even worse than they look. Democrats really are losing the white working-class vote, and this is a recipe for disaster unless things change.

I share Cooper’s apprehension about the future of American politics if our major political parties both end up being defined largely by race and ethnicity. For that reason, among others, it’s important to figure out which of these views is actually true.

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Are American Political Parties Becoming Defined Largely By Race?

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Yet More Reporting on NSA’s Surveillance Programs

Mother Jones

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I can’t keep up with all the new reporting on NSA surveillance programs tonight. Here are two more. First, Mark Hosenball of Reuters reports that although NSA collects metadata for every phone call made, it makes only modest use of them:

Millions of phone records were collected in 2012, but the paper says U.S. authorities only looked in detail at the records linked to fewer than 300 phone numbers.

A person familiar with details of the program said the figure of fewer than 300 numbers applied to the entire mass of raw telephone “metadata” collected last year by the NSA from U.S. carriers — not just to Verizon, which is the only telephone company identified in a document disclosed by Snowden as providing such data to the NSA.

Is this true? Is this figure only for searches that began with a U.S. phone number, or for all searches of any kind? I don’t know, but I’m passing it along. Take it with a grain of salt for now.

Next up is an AP story that describes how the PRISM program works. Prior to 2007, it reports, tech companies responded to warrants manually. But after the passage of the Protect America Act, NSA decided it wanted to streamline things:

Though the companies didn’t know it, the passage of the Protect America Act gave birth to a top-secret NSA program, officially called US-98XN.

It was known as Prism….What the NSA called Prism, the companies knew as a streamlined system that automated and simplified the “Hoovering” from years earlier, the former assistant general counsel said. The companies, he said, wanted to reduce their workload. The government wanted the data in a structured, consistent format that was easy to search.

….Under Prism, the delivery process varied by company. Google, for instance, says it makes secure file transfers. Others use contractors or have set up stand-alone systems. Some have set up user interfaces making it easier for the government, according to a security expert familiar with the process.

Every company involved denied the most sensational assertion in the Prism documents: that the NSA pulled data “directly from the servers” of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL and more.

Technology experts and a former government official say that phrasing, taken from a PowerPoint slide describing the program, was likely meant to differentiate Prism’s neatly organized, company-provided data from the unstructured information snatched out of the Internet’s major pipelines.

How accurate is this? It sounds about right to me, but reporting on this is reaching a fever pitch, so our understanding might change in the near future. Apparently the government is also preparing an unclassified white paper about all this, so we’ll have that to chew over before long. Stay tuned.

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Yet More Reporting on NSA’s Surveillance Programs

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"Arrested Development" Creator Explains How Herman Cain Inspired Season 4—and Cain Responds

Mother Jones

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The new season of Arrested Development has a sharp political edge that should feel familiar to fans of the show. The series’ original three-season run on Fox, which aired between 2003 and 2006, contained some of the richest TV satire of the Iraq War and Bush years (bad WMD intel, “Mission Accomplished,” “preemptive strike,” Abu Ghraib, CIA dysfunction, war protests, and so on). The fourth season, which debuted on Netflix in late May, depicts the infamous Bluth family in the context of a new political era, one defined by the American housing crisis, economic collapse, and out-of-control drone warfare. But of all the political elements of this long-awaited season, arguably the most important—or at least most visible—real-world inspiration for this new batch of episodes is Herman Cain, the one-time 2012 GOP presidential front-runner and former pizza baron.

One of the fourth season’s central story arcs involves an illicit sexual relationship between Lindsay Bluth Fünke (played by Portia de Rossi) and Herbert Love (played by Arrested newcomer Terry Crews), a charismatic, philandering California Republican congressional candidate explicitly modeled after Cain. Both are black, bespectacled, and intensely conservative and anti-Obama, and Love’s “low-high” economic prescription sounds an awful lot like Cain’s widely blasted 9-9-9 tax plan. (Furthermore, both men use Krista Branch’s song “I Am America” in their campaigns, and Love’s campaign manager looks, acts, and smokes like Cain’s 2012 chief of staff Mark Block.)

Cain is well aware of this satirical, comic rendering of his 2012 “Cain Train“—he just couldn’t care less about it. “I heard about it, haven’t seen it, and I’m unfazed by it,” Cain said in a statement sent to Mother Jones. “In the vernacular of my grandfather, ‘I does not care.'”

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"Arrested Development" Creator Explains How Herman Cain Inspired Season 4—and Cain Responds

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Oklahoma Tornado: Is Climate Change to Blame?


The Oklahoma twister was a ‘classic look’, but the data shows we are experiencing more volatility in the US tornado season. Oklahoma National Guard Soldiers and Airmen respond to a devastating tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., May 20, 2013. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James, Oklahoma National Guard). Global climate change and politics are linked to each other – for better or worse. No clearer was that the case than when Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island gave an impassioned speech on global warming in the aftermath of Monday’s deadly Oklahoma tornado, and the conservative media ripped him. Whitehouse implied that at least part of the blame for the deadly tornado should be laid at the feet of climate change. Is Whitehouse correct? It’s difficult to assign any one storm’s outcome to the possible effects of global climate change, and the science oftornadoes in particular makes it pretty much impossible to know whether Whitehouse is right. Let’s start with the basics of what causes a tornado. A piece from my friend (and sometimes co-chatter) Andrew Freedman two years ago sets out the basics well. First, you need warm, humid air for moisture. The past few days in Moore have featured temperatures in the upper 70s to low 80s, with relative humidity levels regularly hitting between 90% and 100% and rarely dropping below 70%. Second, you need strong jet stream winds to provide lift. As this map from Weather Underground indicates, there were definitely some very strong jet stream winds on Monday in the Oklahoma region. Photograph: Weather Underground Third, you need strong wind shear (changing wind directions and/or speeds at different heights) to allow for full instability and lift. This mid-level wind shear map from the University of Wisconsin shows that there were 45 to 50 knot winds, right at the top of the scale, over Oklahoma on Monday. University of Wisconsin Fourth, you need something to ignite the storm. In this case, a frontal boundary, as seen in this Weather Channel map, draped across central Oklahoma, did the trick. Weather Channel The point is that all the normal ingredients were there that allowed an EF-4 tornado to spawn and strike. (Examination of the storm site may cause an upgrading to EF-5.) It happened in tornado alley, where warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico often meets dry air from the north and Rocky mountains for maximum instability. There wasn’t anything shocking about this from a meteorological perspective. It was, as a well-informed friend said, a “classic” look. The long-term weather question is whether or not we’ll see more or less of these “classic” looks in our changing meteorological environment. It turns out that of all the weather phenomena, from droughts to hurricanes, tornadoes are the most complex to answer from a broader atmospheric trends point of view. The reason is that a warming world affects the factors that lead to tornadoes in different ways. Climate change is supposed, among other things, to bring warmer and moister air to earth. That, of course, would lead to more severe thunderstorms and probably more tornadoes. The issue is that global warming is also forecast to bring about less wind shear. This would allow hurricanes to form more easily, but it also would make it much harder for tornadoes to get the full about lift and instability that allow for your usual thunderstorm to grow in height and become a fully-fledged tornado. Statistics over the past 50 years bear this out, as we’ve seen warmer and more moist air as well as less wind shear. Meteorological studies differ on whether or not the warmer and moister air can overcome a lack of wind shear in creating more tornadoes in the far future. In the immediate past, the jet stream, possibly because of climate change, has been quite volatile. Some years it has dug south to allow maximum tornado activity in the middle of the country, while other years it has stayed to the north. Although tornado reporting has in prior decades been not as reliable as today because of a lack of equipment and manpower, it’s still not by accident that the six least active and four most active tornado seasons have been felt over the past decade. Another statistic that points to the irregular patterns is that the three earliest and four latest starts to the tornado season have all occurred in the past 15 years. Basically, we’ve had this push and pull in recent history. Some years the number of tornadoes is quite high, and some years it is quite low. We’re not seeing “average” seasons as much any more, though the average of the extremes has led to no meaningful change to the average number of tornadoes per year. Expect this variation to continue into the future as less wind shear and warmer moister air fight it out. The overall result could very well be fewer days of tornadoes per Harold Brooks of the National Storm Center, but more and stronger tornadoes when they do occur. Nothing about the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, or tornadoes over the past few decades break with this theory. None of it proves or disproves senator Whitehouse’s beliefs either. Indeed, we’ll never know whether larger global warming factors were at play in Monday’s storms. All we can do at this moment is react to them and give the people of Oklahoma all the help they need.

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Oklahoma Tornado: Is Climate Change to Blame?

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Oklahoma Tornado: Is Climate Change to Blame?

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