Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Dances with Kids

President Obama, who might now get the Indian name of Dances With Kids, in Dillingham, Alaska, watching, dancing and talking to Native children during his visit.  Video is about 4 and a half minutes, and priceless.

Here's a preview of announcements President Obama plans to make on his last day in Alaska to address climate crisis issues in that region, including a Denali Commission and federal coordinator to help deal with current and future effects of climate crisis--or "adaptation" and "resilience" in the common jargon.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Climbing the Mountain


President Obama's remarks at the GLACIER conference in Anchorage on Monday probably preview the tenor of what he will be saying from now until the Paris climate summit in December.  His words are very, very direct--no leader has spoken more clearly on the climate crisis.

Climbing the mountain to an international treaty will take such boldness and directness, as well as persistence, endurance and spirit.  This is an impressive start.

Two notable examples:

 "...any so-called leader who does not take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke -- is not fit to lead."

"On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late. That moment is almost upon us."

The full speech text is here, the YouTube is here though the President's speech doesn't start till about halfway through. [Update: Here's a better link to just Obama's speech.] Here are some direct excerpts:

...the point is that climate change is no longer some far-off problem. It is happening here. It is happening now. Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy, our infrastructure, human health, human safety -- now. Today. And climate change is a trend that affects all trends -- economic trends, security trends. Everything will be impacted. And it becomes more dramatic with each passing year.

Already it’s changing the way Alaskans live. And considering the Arctic’s unique role in influencing the global climate, it will accelerate changes to the way that we all live.

And the fact is that climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. That, ladies and gentlemen, must change. We’re not acting fast enough.

I’ve come here today, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that the United States recognizes our role in creating this problem, and we embrace our responsibility to help solve it. And I believe we can solve it. That’s the good news. Even if we cannot reverse the damage that we’ve already caused, we have the means -- the scientific imagination and technological innovation -- to avoid irreparable harm.

We know this because last year, for the first time in our history, the global economy grew and global carbon emissions stayed flat. So we’re making progress; we’re just not making it fast enough.

So we are working hard to do our part to meet this challenge. And in doing so, we’re proving that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth. But we’re not moving fast enough. None of the nations represented here are moving fast enough.

Even America and China together cannot do this alone. Even all the countries represented around here cannot do this alone. We have to do it together.

This year, in Paris, has to be the year that the world finally reaches an agreement to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can.

So let me sum up. We know that human activity is changing the climate. That is beyond dispute. Everything else is politics if people are denying the facts of climate change. We can have a legitimate debate about how we are going to address this problem; we cannot deny the science. We also know the devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue. That is not deniable. And we are going to have to do some adaptation, and we are going to have to help communities be resilient, because of these trend lines we are not going to be able to stop on a dime. We’re not going to be able to stop tomorrow.

But if those trend lines continue the way they are, there’s not going to be a nation on this Earth that’s not impacted negatively. People will suffer. Economies will suffer. Entire nations will find themselves under severe, severe problems. More drought; more floods; rising sea levels; greater migration; more refugees; more scarcity; more conflict.

That’s one path we can take. The other path is to embrace the human ingenuity that can do something about it. This is within our power. This is a solvable problem if we start now.

And we’re starting to see that enough consensus is being built internationally and within each of our own body politics that we may have the political will -- finally -- to get moving.

So the time to heed the critics and the cynics and the deniers is past. The time to plead ignorance is surely past. Those who want to ignore the science, they are increasingly alone. They’re on their own shrinking island. (Applause.)

And let’s remember, even beyond the climate benefits of pursuing cleaner energy sources and more resilient, energy-efficient ways of living, the byproduct of it is, is that we also make our air cleaner and safer for our children to breathe. We’re also making our economies more resilient to energy shocks on global markets. We’re also making our countries less reliant on unstable parts of the world. We are gradually powering a planet on its way to 9 billion humans in a more sustainable way.

These are good things. This is not simply a danger to be avoided; this is an opportunity to be seized. But we have to keep going. We’re making a difference, but we have to keep going. We are not moving fast enough.

If we were to abandon our course of action, if we stop trying to build a clean-energy economy and reduce carbon pollution, if we do nothing to keep the glaciers from melting faster, and oceans from rising faster, and forests from burning faster, and storms from growing stronger, we will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair: Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields no longer growing. Indigenous peoples who can’t carry out traditions that stretch back millennia. Entire industries of people who can’t practice their livelihoods. Desperate refugees seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own. Political disruptions that could trigger multiple conflicts around the globe.

That’s not a future of strong economic growth. That is not a future where freedom and human rights are on the move. Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that -- any so-called leader who does not take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke -- is not fit to lead.

On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late. That moment is almost upon us. That’s why we’re here today. That’s what we have to convey to our people -- tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And that’s what we have to do when we meet in Paris later this year. It will not be easy. There are hard questions to answer. I am not trying to suggest that there are not going to be difficult transitions that we all have to make. But if we unite our highest aspirations, if we make our best efforts to protect this planet for future generations, we can solve this problem."

Your presence here today indicates your recognition of that. But it’s not enough just to have conferences. It’s not enough just to talk the talk. We’ve got to walk the walk. We’ve got work to do, and we’ve got to do it together."

Update: speech embedded below

Salmon is Everyone

President Obama's first stop on his Alaska trip was to a roundtable with Alaska Native leaders.  Don't think Native leaders everywhere didn't notice.  Among other things, it is of enormous significance to them and usefulness to the rest of us that President Obama is actively listening to and enlisting Native peoples in efforts to address the causes and effects of the climate crisis.  The President said:

Since I took office, I’ve been committed to sustaining a government-to-government relationship between the United States and our tribal nations. We host tribal leaders in Washington every year. I’ve visited Indian Country at the Standing Rock Reservation and the Choctaw Nation. This week, we're going to be visiting two more tribal communities here in Alaska -- in Dillingham and Kotzebue.

And in fact, by the end of my time in office, I’ll have visited more communities -- more tribal communities than any previous sitting President, which I feel pretty good about -- in case anybody is keeping track.

Returning Denali 's indigenous name, the mountain known officially as Mount McKinley until yesterday, was a symbolic act of great significance, first to the Native communities, but also to Alaska.  Denali is derived from the Native Koyukon language, and means the Tall One or the Great One.  It is the mountain's traditional name, and has been for 10 to 20 thousand years.

Our non-Native culture may not be able to remember anything from a decade or two ago, but Native cultures, through stories, ceremonies and traditions, continue ties to all of its past.  President Obama noted this as a contribution to the discussion.  (Richard Nelson's books, particularly Make Prayer to the Raven and The Island Within, make specifically Koyukon wisdom accessible and relevant to the modern non-Native world, in this global crisis.)

The discussions in Alaska dealt with the problems of rural Native communities dealing with high energy costs and the clear and present dangers brought by climate change.  These impacts are felt in Alaska as nowhere else (yet) in the US.  Alaska and the Arctic are experiencing global heating at twice the rate as the global average.  Alaska may well be the future for the lower 48.

 The round table also touched on other important (and related) issues, such as:

"My administration also is taking new action to make sure that Alaska Natives have direct input into the management of Chinook salmon stocks, something that has been of great concern here."

Down here on the North Coast of California, a victory was achieved as the last legal challenges to the federally mandated increases in water flow from the cold Trinity River were turned back, and millions of salmon may be saved.  The efforts to have the flow increased were led by tribes, such as the Yurok (the largest indigenous tribe in California) and Hupa.  They have joined their traditional knowledge with expertise in the relevant sciences, and they had quantitative evidence in the language of science that could not be ignored, except by politics.  In this instance, they prevailed.

This past Sunday the reading of much of Salmon is Everything was held in HSU's largest theatre, and it was full--very unusual for a Sunday afternoon, and nothing more elaborate than a reading and talk.   Following the salmon die-off in 2002 on the lower Klamath, the play was created over two years as a collaboration between HSU theatre professors, Native professors and administrators, but largely by Native students (who got stories from their families) and non-Native students and community members.  Its first production was in 2006.

From the discussion Sunday it was clear that with the perspective of time, this process ten years ago was enormously important within Native communities.  One person in the audience said that without the efforts that started with this play, the focus that resulted in this year's victory would not have been achieved.

For the audience of Natives and non-Natives, this reading was another step in a positive ongoing relationship. For the audience of students--particularly first years in the STEM program--the reading and discussion afterwards could be an inspiration that can guide their academic careers and perhaps stay with them for the rest of their lives.

This reading followed an appearance by Anna Deavere Smith in Klamath, on the Yurok reservation last Monday.  Though her emphasis was on education, she performed one character directly pertinent to these issues--a fisherman who talked about the meaning of the salmon and the river to the Yurok culture.  For a little more about both events, go here.

Native cultures here realize in a specific, particular way that to save the salmon is to save themselves.  In different ways, in the context of the climate crisis and the ecological crisis of global dimensions, it is true of all of us.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Roosevelt & Hopkins: FDR's Last Words and Postscript

This is the last of a series on Roosevelt & Hopkins, a book by playwright and presidential aide Robert Sherwood about President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his close aide Harry Hopkins during World War II, published in 1948. 

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the first and so far only times that atomic bombs were used on human populations, in August 1945, when American planes bombed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  FDR died in office several months earlier (April 12,1945) but he had approved the Manhattan Project and knew that scientists at Los Alamos were close to constructing an atomic bomb. (The first test bomb was successfully exploded on July 16, 1945.)  The Project was highly secret, and Robert Sherwood, among others who worked in the White House, did not know about it.

Robert Sherwood was among other things a speechwriter for FDR, although Roosevelt did the final drafts.  The last speech Sherwood worked on was the last speech FDR wrote, for Jefferson Day (April 13.)  He would not live to deliver his prepared remarks.

Sherwood writes (pp. 879-80):

“For the Jefferson Day speech, he asked me to look up some Jefferson quotations on the subject of science. He said, ‘There aren’t many people who realize it, but Jefferson was a scientist as well as a democrat and there were some things he said that need to be repeated now, because science is going to be more important than ever in the working out of the future world.’

The Jefferson quotation that I found, and that Roosevelt used in his undelivered speech, referred to ‘the brotherly spirit of science, which unites into one family all it votaries of whatever grade, and however widely dispersed throughout the different quarters of the globe.’

I did not know it at the time but I realized later that when Roosevelt spoke of the importance of science in the future he was undoubtedly thinking of the imminence of the atomic age.  He said in his last speech, “Today we are faced with the pre-eminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships—the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together in the same world, at peace.”

The immense responsibilities of World War II and a 13 year presidency during the Depression and the war very likely shortened FDR's life.  Harry Hopkins life was almost over even before the war began.  He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1939 and given weeks to live.  FDR got the best medical experts available and transfusions with blood plasma were credited with halting Hopkins deterioration.

Then the war came and Hopkins' life was dedicated to winning it.  He made numerous trips aboard and was FDR's most trusted diplomat with allies.  Both Churchill and Stalin thought highly and even affectionately of Hopkins, and his diplomacy and counsel were instrumental in the successful management of this immense undertaking.  The world had never seen anything like it before, or since.

After FDR's death, Hopkins tried to retire but the new President Truman needed him to continue diplomacy particularly with the Soviets until the end of the war.  He died about five months after the war officially ended, on January 29, 1946.  He was 55.

FDR's political enemies could be verbally vicious as well as obstructive (some Republicans were still talking that way ten or fifteen years after his death, when I was a child.)  But FDR's popularity, and his position as the leader of the free world in wartime, muted much of that expression.

Instead, Republicans (and their newspaper loyalists) turned their hatred on Hopkins, FDR's closest aide who for most of the war actually lived in the White House.  What they didn't dare say about Roosevelt, they said about Hopkins, with impunity.  Hopkins had three sons serving in the armed forces.  One of them was killed in combat in 1943, and combined with Hopkins periodic illness from overwork, caused Harry to be hospitalized.  Sherwood writes (p. 807):

“When Hopkins moved early in May [1943] from Rochester, Minnesota to the Army’s Ashford General Hospital in White Sulphur Springs, there were the usual protests from some of the press. ‘Who entitles this representative of Rooseveltian squandermania to treatment and nursing in an Army hospital?’ was one of the questions. The War Department issued a statement that Hopkins was entitled to this hospitalization as Chairman of the Munitions Assignment Board and that the Secretary of War had authorized his admission.”

In 1948, Sherwood concluded this long book with passages (on p. 932) that ought to be pretty sobering right now in 2015:

“The remarkable luck that we have had in meeting major emergencies in the past should not prevent us now from giving most serious consideration to the question: where is the guarantee that this luck will hold? 

 Presumably it lies in the genius of the American people, but one does not need to have access to any secret documents to know how difficult it is for this genius to express itself or even to realize itself. In the fateful years of 1933 and 1940 the people needed and demanded leadership which could be given to them only by the President, the one officer of government who is elected by all the people and whose duty is to represent the interests of the nation as a whole rather than the purely local or special interests which are too often the predominant concerns of the Congress.

 There is no factor in our national life more dangerous than the people’s lack of confidence in the Congress to rise above the level of picayune parochialism; the threats of Communism or Fascism are trivial as compared with this.”

Referring to the new Atomic Age, Sherwood concludes (p.933): “Our need for great men in the Presidency will continue, and our need for great men in the Congress will increase.”  Today he would add "and women" in both cases, but the point remains the same.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Whose Party Now? And Obama Recharged

I know, I swore to ignore the 2016 presidential race.  Because basically it's a waste of energy and attention.  Jonathan Chiat states my analysis and I don't see it changing: assuming she is nominated, Hillary will win because she's not crazy, and all the Republicans are.

But I can't help but notice how Donald Trump is driving the Republicans crazier.  I saw the headline on my news feed today that Scott Walker proposes a border wall---with Canada.  I had to click on it to make sure it wasn't Borowitz or the Onion.  It isn't.

Trump is as close to crazy as an apparently functional human can be, and not even in a complicated way.  He only knows two judgments: fabulous or terrible, and all he does is state this without much more than a shred of factual evidence, if that.  Trump is bullshit and he's always been bullshit.  When I was editor of Washington Newsworks in 1976 he was a young developer who came to town with a proposal for a convention center.  Our reporter on this story (who later went on to report and edit for the New York Times) thought he was bullshit then.  So that's 40 years of bullshit.  Good way to become a billionaire (if he actually is.)  That may make it smell sweeter for some.  But it doesn't alter what it is.

 But right now he's being taken seriously in a political sense, and Chiat's latest column on this is interesting in that he feels sure Trump is going to wind up running as an independent or third party candidate.   And as Chiat wrote in a previous column, he's going to lose because he is crazy. (While as Rolling Stone says, he may no longer be funny, he's crazy like a dictator.) An independent candidacy will also doom the Republican candidate.  The problems he is causing other Republican candidates are analysed here. 

While we're hanging out at the New York Magazine site, the top rated post for about a week now is an interview with film director Quentin Tarantino.  It's wide-ranging and culturally interesting, and contains a political note about President Obama.  You supported Obama.  How do you think he's done? the interviewer asks.  The fashionable thing is to express disappointment if not disillusionment. But that's not what Tarantino does:

"I think he’s fantastic. He’s my favorite president, hands down, of my lifetime. He’s been awesome this past year. Especially the rapid, one-after-another-after-another-after-another aspect of it. It’s almost like take no prisoners. His he-doesn’t-give-a-shit attitude has just been so cool. Everyone always talks about these lame-duck presidents. I’ve never seen anybody end with this kind of ending. All the people who supported him along the way that questioned this or that and the other? All of their questions are being answered now."

The Washington Post has a nice summary of the President's just concluded vacation, from which he's returned (he says) recharged and feisty.  Tomorrow it's Alaska and ramping up the visibility of the climate crisis. 100 days to save the world.