Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Glory Day

It was the best and most important couple of days in Pittsburgh Pirates baseball since Bonds, Bonilla and Van Slyke were the outfielders of dreams at Three Rivers Stadium in the 1990s.  This season the Pirates have been at or near the top in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, and with three straight victories over their closest rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, they not only climbed back into first place--and it's been a long long time since that's happened after the All-Star break--but at least for the moment they have the best record not only in the division, not only in the National League, but in all of major league baseball.

They did it Tuesday by winning both games of a double-header.  After a tense 11 inning 2-1 victory, they poured it on for a 6-0 win in the second game, behind a great pitching performance by a guy who had just been called back from the minors.

There are two more games in this five game set with St. Louis, and they are all in PNC Park in Pittsburgh, filled to the rafters with hungry fans in a sports city, and for one of the oldest baseball organizations in the major leagues.

I'm catching the wave of excitement way out here, which admittedly is easier to do when contemplating the dive that the Giants are taking--and knowing (as the players must) that this particular World Champion team is not going to be together much longer.  Best then to keep my eyes on the Pirates.  Beat 'em Bucs!

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Note: It's Not Just Me

I've been extensively reporting on President Obama's important speeches and statements here, because I don't see such coverage elsewhere, and particularly because I've read and heard too many people with big media voices claiming that President Obama said something he didn't, or didn't say something he did, or suddenly just started saying something he's said a number of times before, often in the very same way.

I'm not alone in noticing this.  Last week, prominent political scientist Jonathan Bernstein, who writes for the Washington Post and Salon among other outlets, wrote on his own blog about something Josh Kraushaar wrote for the conservative National Journal, claiming that President Obama's economic speech in Galesburg was his first attempt to address the issues of jobs and the economy.  Bernstein called it perhaps "the single stupidest thing I've heard anyone try to peddle yet."

I added this comment: "...while Kraushaar is an extreme example and I'm happy to see him called on it, he is hardly alone. I can't count the number of times I've heard some learned pundit pick out something in an Obama speech or statement as something new, something he should have said long ago, when in fact he'd said it several times before. You like have to listen, or at least read." 

To which Bernstein responded:  Yeah, I really agree with that last point. Not just pundits, either; partisans and activists, too (most definitely including liberal activists who want to know why Obama never says X, when in fact he says it all the time).

The Good, the Bad and the Climate

There is good news, or at least hopeful news, in the struggle to address the climate crisis.

After months of obstruction, Senate Republicans finally relented and consented to President Obama's appointment of the new Environmental Protection Agency director, Gina McCarthy, who has climate crisis cred and considers addressing it as her main mission--as does President Obama.  According to the New York Times, "The president told Ms. McCarthy that his environmental and presidential legacy would be incomplete without a serious effort to address climate change. 'I’m so glad he said that, because if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have wanted this job,” she said. “It’s an issue I’ve worked on for so many years, and it just can’t wait.”

In the NYTimes interview cited in the last post, President Obama not only affirmed that his decision on the Keystone Pipeline will be "based on whether or not this is going to significantly contribute to carbon in our atmosphere. And there is no doubt that Canada at the source in those tar sands could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release."  He also countered arguments that the Pipeline will lower gas prices (it may even increase them in the Midwest, he said) or that it is a job creator (a maximum of 2,000 temporary construction jobs, and maybe 50 permanent jobs.)  He awaits a recommendation from Sec. of State John Kerry, who is also a strong advocate for action on the climate crisis.

Good news continues on progress in clean energy, especially in the key area of energy storage and reliable flow.  Progress has been made in solar, and now in a new generation of wind turbines.  This makes wind power more available to electrical grids.  Though it is also important to note that one of the great advantages of wind but especially solar is its future as decentralized technology, not requiring all energy needs to be met by an immense grid.

But of course, the bad news also continues--as more evidence supports what many have been warning for years.  And sometimes the news is even worse.

In the department of duh (studies supporting common sense),  a study confirms that crime and violence increase with the heat, and throws in a provocative prediction: global heating will add 30,000 murders and 200,000 rapes to the expected US total by 2099.  A survey shows that in the western US, intense heat means increased damage to infrastructure: everything from sidewalks and bridges to railroads and airport tarmacs.  And the hotter temps for more of the year in more places is bringing disease-bearing insects to people and places without recent experience of them, or even any experience at all--such as a blood-sucking insect from Asia that may transmit dengue virus, or West Nile.

The worse news involves--no big surprise--the Arctic.  There's of course ongoing concern about the general heating and melting of the ice.  But there's also a lot of methane buried under the permafrost, and the damage it could cause if released is beginning to be quantified. A new study published in Nature concludes: "The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion in the absence of mitigating action — a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion). The total cost of Arctic change will be much higher."

Let me clarify what "mitigating action" means in current envirospeak.  It means addressing the cause, not just the effects. At least one assumes that's what it means in this context.  And that doubt is one reason I find this mitigation/adaptation vocabulary so pitiful.

The study notes that while some businesses and business writers have been touting the economic benefits of a warmer Arctic, this effect is a far, far greater economic negative.

According to Prof Peter Wadhams from the University of Cambridge, there's increasing evidence that methane is now being released into the atmosphere. "When you look at satellite imagery, for instance the Metop satellite, that's gone up significantly in the last three years and the place where the increase is happening most is over the Arctic," he said.  

Four-Fifths of a Nation

In a strong and even shocking study, AP pollsters supported President Obama's ongoing contention that income disparity and economic insecurity must be addressed--and then some.  Their study found that "Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream."

It's time that America comes to understand that many of the nation's biggest disparities, from education and life expectancy to poverty, are increasingly due to economic class position," said William Julius Wilson, a Harvard professor who specializes in race and poverty.

The New York Times published an interview with President Obama in Galesburg that focused on economic matters and the ensuing politics.  In it, Obama related this economic insecurity to race relations.  After correctly reminding reporters that the March on Washington was officially for "jobs" as well as "freedom," he said directly: "And racial tensions won’t get better; they may get worse, because people will feel as if they’ve got to compete with some other group to get scraps from a shrinking pot. If the economy is growing, everybody feels invested. Everybody feels as if we're rolling in the same direction. And so a lot of the other issues that we’re talking about -- whether it’s climate change or immigration, or how we manage our trade relations -- all those are eased if we’ve got our economic act together."

The AP study also noted that while President Obama's elections have bolstered the confidence of non-whites that their economic future will be better, whites are less hopeful.

But race is not exclusively or even mainly a problem for the 80% or 99% of whites who aren't rich and powerful.  When asked about those in Congress who claim he exceeded his authority in delaying implementation of part of ACA, President Obama was blunt: "And if Congress thinks that what I’ve done is inappropriate or wrong in some fashion, they’re free to make that case. But there’s not an action that I take that you don't have some folks in Congress who say that I'm usurping my authority. Some of those folks think I usurp my authority by having the gall to win the presidency. And I don't think that's a secret."

In the interview, President Obama argues strongly for the ACA as essential to economic progress and justice.  On the Republicans efforts to subvert the implementation of Obamacare, Norm Ornstein added his voice to Jonathan Chiat's in a piece entitled The Unprecedented—and Contemptible—Attempts to Sabotage Obamacare, subtitled Doing everything possible to block the law's implementation is not treasonous—just sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials.