Saturday, October 24, 2015

Weekend Update: Breakdown, Canada, guns, Native Lives Matter

Updating topics of previous posts:

Paul Ryan has agreed to run for Speaker of the House, though his so-called demands were not met.  Margaret Hartmann and Jonathan Chiat are among those who are skeptical that he can make much of a dent in GOPer dysfunction.  Dan Balz at the Washington Post sees the Benghazi committee as further proof of GOPer disarray :

"Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton’s appearance before the House Benghazi committee provided one more example of the breakdown of a Republican Party torn by factionalism and heavily influenced by a cadre of supporters who are far less interested in governing than in expressing its anger.

By the time the committee ended 11 hours of questioning of the Democratic presidential front-runner, the long day of testimony had come to symbolize seven years of Republican frustration with the administration of President Obama — and the fears within the party that it could face another four or eight years of Democratic occupation of the White House."

I mentioned the cost of congressional dysfunction to me and other seniors in the Medicare/Social Security mess.  An oped writer suggests another set of consequences for places all over the country, as Congress allowed the Land and Water Conservation Fund to dry up.

Paul Krugman analyzes the economic implications of Justin Trudeau's victory in Canada, hoping it is an early sign of the new direction.  Another NY Times columnist, Timothy Egan, suggests the U.S. has its own socialistic practices in its common sense governance mix.

Yet another government forecast more strongly supports the likelihood of El Nino rains coming to all of California this winter.  Warm ocean waters, probably enhanced by both El Nino and global heating, helped intensify a storm that grew from nothing to a Category 5 hurricane in 36 hours--Patricia, the strongest hurricane ever recorded at sea.  It roared onto land at nearly 200 mph, in an area of Mexico with relatively few people and no large urban centers.

A previous post here cited a speech by Senator Robert F. Kennedy during his 1968 presidential primary campaign, shortly before his assassination by gun, advocating for a simple gun control measure in the town where the recent Umpqua Community College mass gun killing was perpetrated.  Though presented a bit melodramatically, Salon found earlier remarks he made on the topic that year--the day after Martin Luther King, Jr was shot and killed.

Finally, a couple of post-Columbus Day notes concerning Indigenous peoples in the Americas:  the unnoticed violence against them (in "Native Lives Matter") and the efficacy as well as justice of Canada fighting the climate crisis by honoring treaties with First Nation peoples.  Another item for the new Trudeau's agenda.

"Run World Run" by Clarissa Hudson (Tlinit)--print available at

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fifty Days To Save the World

The news on the climate crisis future keeps getting worse--if not in terms of the range of what might happen, then in terms of probability, or even of accumulating data that makes what was once an extreme possibility into something that has to be taken seriously by government at all levels.

Most recently there's been more concern over various possibilities for abrupt climate change, rather than gradual and fairly even change (which given the interactions and delicate balances thrown awry, was always an illusion.)

The general question was asked in this Washington Post piece, with reference to a new study.  The Post piece begins: It has been quite the week for climate change news: We’ve learned that scientists can now quantify the United States’ expected levels of inundation by rising seas, that droughts in the Amazon could triple, and much more.  But the most troubling study, the article says, suggests that "out of 37 abrupt changes detected in these climate simulations, fully 18 of them occurred at temperature levels less than 2 degrees Celsius of warming."  Keeping projecting heating to that 2 degrees is the goal of  the Paris meeting to begin in early December.

One of these possibilities is abrupt climate change caused by movement in the North Atlantic current that history shows could radically change climate in North America and Europe, paradoxically bringing a kind of Ice Age--the so-called Day After Tomorrow thesis, named after that 2004 movie, although it was also part of Kim Stanley Robinson's Science in Washington trilogy.  Both fictions were based on scientific explanation--the possibility was taken seriously for awhile, then deemed remote. But today, as this Salon piece notes , there are indicators that this might actually be happening, and also the ramifications.  The change is less abrupt (over decades) than it is long-term, however.

Quantifying sea level rises, as mentioned in the Post piece, made news (again), and the extent and vividness of such data, as well as the experience of freakish and extreme weather, floods, fires, drought, etc. seem to be getting through.  A new poll says that fully three-fourths of Americans agree that climate change is happening, about 10% more than last year.

Meanwhile, the news on the likelihood that Paris will produce a meaningful agreement continues to get better.

For example, the Guardian reports: Nearly 50 leaders of America’s defence and foreign policy establishment are calling on political and business leaders to “think past tomorrow” and lead the fight on climate change. In a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal the experts – 48 former secretaries of state and defense, national security advisers, diplomats and members of Congress from both parties – say it is time for America to claim global leadership on climate change."

Earlier, 68 US large companies joined the 12 already on board in pledging to address climate crisis causes by moving to renewable energy and making other efforts.

On the other hand, evidence emerged of what was suspected: that Exxon acknowledged the realities of the climate crisis internally as early as the 1980s, and then spent millions in spreading lies that it is a hoax.  

Also, there were suggestions of how the international agreement in Paris might be shaped: the international acceptance and preference for cap and trade systems, and the preference for a "legally binding" agreement that nevertheless includes no enforcement mechanism.

The election of Liberal Justin Trudeau as the new Prime Minister of Canada was an unexpected boost, if not on some issues like the Keystone pipeline, then on more robust commitments in a Paris agreement.

As the conference gets closer, so does the urgency in speeches by Secretary of State Kerry and others.  The Dalai Lama made his strong support for an international agreement known, not only as a human imperative, but also to save fragile areas in the Himalayas, in Tibet and India.  His statement was recorded, suggesting he is still fragile himself.  But the Dalai Lama is also a head of state, and he may very well join members of his Tibetan government in exile at the Paris conference.

On November 13-14, there will be worldwide demonstrations and actions to raise awareness and support the Paris talks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Washington Sticking It To Seniors

This hits home, literally.  The recent announcements from Social Security and Medicare raise multiple issues, but the very local bottom line amounts to what for me is a hefty cost, as my medical insurance monthly rate will increase by 50%.

As per stories like this one in the Washington Post, Social Security announced there will be no cost of living increase in payments next year, because the Consumer Price Index formula they use says that costs haven't gone up.

Then in the very next breath, the Medicare branch of Social Security announced that medical costs have gone up for them so much that the charge for Medicare part B (covers doctors) will be raised from around $100 to over $150 a month.

The logic of this is incredible.  Cost of living hasn't gone up, and mine has just gone up by $50 a month.  First of all, anybody alive in California and most places in the US know that costs of almost everything essential have been going up all year--you know, little things like food, clothing and shelter.  Just about the only thing that hasn't increased lately is gasoline.

So where does gas figure in the costs of seniors I wonder?  Except for the RV crowd, not very high--certainly not as high as food, clothing and shelter--and medical care.

The situation is crazier because not all seniors will feel this Medicare increase--just some of those collecting Social Security, and all of those of us who aren't yet but have Medicare.  We're waiting to claim when the benefits get a little higher.  They will still be inadequate, but they'll be a little higher.  Except thanks to this increase, they won't be even as much as they would have been--because this premium raise will be deducted from those monthly checks, which otherwise haven't been increased because the cost of living hasn't gone up.  Right.

So let's review: Congratulations, the cost of living hasn't gone up so neither does your Social Security check.  And incidentally, we'll be deducting an extra $55 or so from your check because our medical insurance costs have gone up by 50%.  It's a new definition of fixed income.

I'm paying Medicare B even though I've yet to use it but that's perhaps beside the point.  It's insurance.  Still I'm one of the unlucky ones who gets to pay even more--a lot more.

As this Post story indicates, some people in the federal government--in the White House, even in Congress--recognize the multiple injustices in these announcements.  But thanks to our non-functional Congress, the chance of something actually being done in a timely fashion to correct any or all of this, approaches the vanishing point.

Like an indecent proportion of my limited income.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Welcome Home, Canada

Update 10/20:  Speaking apparently on the theme of this column, Justin Trudeau said: "To this country's friends all around the world, many of you have wondered that Canada has lost a compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years," Trudeau told jubilant supporters in Ottawa. "Well, I have a simple message for you on behalf of 35 million Canadians: we’re back."

In 1977 eminent and by no means radical Canadian author Robertson Davies told an audience, contrasting Canada and the US: "We have recognized that all nations of the first rank nowadays are socialist in their general political trend, and we act on that knowledge sometimes ruefully, but with a philosophical determination."

Down here we heard about that enacted fantasy of national health (the "single payer" kind we still can only dream about) but even a decade after Davies appraisal, I experienced different manifestations of the Canadian approach--the shockingly clean and quiet Toronto subway and a flight that didn't last long enough on Canadian Airways--with the same palpable sense of being in a wondrous dream.

But for the last decade, Canadians persisted in electing Stephen Harper as their Prime Minister, and permitting him to whittle away and dismantle the characteristically Canadian approach to good governance in favor of big oil money and other forms of corporate greed, and the attendant, facilitating hypocrisy and chicanery.

Today however Canada began restoring itself by voting overwhelmingly for the Liberal party and its leader, the young Justin Trudeau, son of the Canadian Prime Minister at the time of Davies speech.  Pierre Trudeau was first elected as a northern version of a Kennedy in 1968, and with one brief respite, remained PM until that fateful Reaganic-Orwellian year of 1984.

The full numerical dimensions of this victory are still being counted but appears tremendous--sweeping majorities among a much higher turnout of voters, with at this moment the CBC projecting an outright parliamentary majority for the Liberals, particularly impressive in a three-party race that had appeared almost even until recently.

Stephen Harper has resigned as head of his Conservative party, taken his defeat publicly with good Canadian grace, and Justin Trudeau is the next Prime Minister of Canada--just in time to be photographed matching smiles with President Obama over a North American solidarity position on the climate change negotiations in Paris, or at any rate, as general allies on the side of saving the world rather than the oil companies.  

Down here we're watching the early crazy days of a presidential campaign that would be unimaginable except that it's happening before our eyes: Donald Trump (whose policy prescriptions are on the order of ending Obamacare and replacing it with "something terrific") and millionaire speechgiver and author Ben Carson leading the down-flaming Republican polls, while the second-leading Democratic candidate is preparing a major speech on his definition of "democratic socialism."

Yes, socialism is mentioned--and cheered--in a US presidential campaign for the first time since the 1930s.  Perhaps only the brash Americans will name it, but the restoration in Canada will likely (and quietly) move back towards it (even if the New Democratic party might have been more forthright about it.)

And if that wasn't enough for Canada to cheer about, the Toronto Bluejays applied their own hefty majority on the Kansas City Royals to win their first home game of the ALCS.  Go, TO!