Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Dreaming Up Daily Thanksgiving 2015 Quote

"That our world is in crisis--to the point where survival of conscious life on Earth is in question---in no way diminishes the value of this gift; on the contrary. To us is granted the privilege of being on hand: to take part, if we choose, in the Great Turning to a just and sustainable society. We can let life work through us, enlisting all our strength, wisdom and courage, so that life itself can continue."

Joanna Macy
her essay on Gratitude

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

17 Days to Save the World

While Americans gear up for three big holidays (Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday), world leaders, diplomats and climate experts prepare to go to Paris for the fateful Climate Change Conference.

Paris is still on guard after the terrorist attack, nearby Belgium is in its third day of a remarkable national lockdown, and the U.S. State Department has just issued a worldwide travel alert, anticipating attempted terrorist acts.

But President Obama has made it clear he's going to Paris for the conference opening on November 30.  137 other world leaders will also attend--of all who were invited, exactly none have cancelled.

Things are different however for various activist groups that planned marches and demonstrations supporting a meaningful agreement to address the climate crisis.  All such activities have been banned by the French government because of the terrorist possibility.  They'll have their hands full protecting the conference itself.

Some activist groups first said they would defy the ban, and there may be some activism from within the country, but the established international organizations have since decided to obey it.  Bill McKibben, speaking for .350, emailed supporters with the message: Next weekend, when we would have been marching in Paris, we need everyone who is not there marching everywhere else. It’s going to be a test of our nimbleness. Already there are more than 2,000 rallies scheduled around the world...The problem is global warming, we have a global movement, and now we need to show it."

Meanwhile, the only political party in the world to deny the need to address the climate crisis continues to try to undermine President Obama's efforts, and therefore his credibility with world leaders.

They do so in the face of mounting evidence that the climate crisis is underway, and among other things is causing destruction, economic and social devastation, injury and death, and making life worse especially for the non-rich, and most especially for the poor.

A new UN report out today shows that in the past 20 years, the United States has had the highest number of weather-related disasters in the world.  These disasters happened twice as often as in the decade before.  There are an average of 335 such disasters worldwide--every year.

The numbers are huge: weather-related disasters killed some 600,000 worldwide, and injured more than four billion others.  The economic losses were more than 2 trillion dollars.  Weather events accounted for 90% of all disasters, and they are increasing.  Said the report:

"While scientists cannot calculate what percentage of this rise is due to climate change, predictions of more extreme weather in future almost certainly mean that we will witness a continued upward trend in weather-related disasters in the decades ahead," the report said.

Margareta Wahlstrom, head of the U.N. disaster office, and Debarati Guha-Sapir, a professor at the Louvain center, said the report's findings "underline why it is so important that a new climate change agreement emerges" from a crucial meeting of the world's governments in Paris in December.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Climate and Violence

The terrorist attacks on Paris--ostensibly over French participation in the Syrian civil war--so close in time to the upcoming international climate conference in Paris, brought the two subjects together.

While many US Republicans are trying very hard to push the terrorism fear button, in part to drive out any other issue, Senator Bernie Sanders was quick to assert that the climate crisis remains the most dangerous challenge, in part because of its role in ongoing wars, including in Syria.

The latest to be mocked for saying this--but also the latest to inspire stories that make the link--is Prince Charles of the UK, who will speak at the conference in Paris.  Others also have been making this case.

But we don't need to debate the past, or the present, to see the potential for climate-related violence in the future--and the more extreme the climate crisis, the more extreme is the potential violence.

Recently an acknowledged scholar of the Nazi Holocaust argues that the climate crisis could bring about another genocide.  His contention is based on his research into the history of  Germany under Hitler, and the causes of German aggression.  An ideology of superiority and destiny justifying any action was crucial.  But what has been forgotten is the prime motivation: Hitler's conquests to obtain resources, especially natural resources.

The scholar Timothy Snyder put it this way: "[Hitler] led Germany into a war to seize the fertile territory of Ukraine. That’s what the war was actually all about. The western front, which we focus on, was a distraction for Hitler. The main thing was the eastern front, destroying the Soviet Union, seizing Ukraine."

This seems to contradict the way many understand World War II, and Hitler's "inexplicable" turn to Russia after the fall of France, when invading England seemed the next logical step.  But Snyder's view is not 21st century revisionism.  Some observers at the time believed this as well.  Journalist Pierre van Passen also believed Hitler's turn to the Soviet Union was about resources, although he emphasized iron ore.  Others claim that the Holocaust was in part a trial run for the genocide of Slavs, and the conquest of  farmlands of Poland and eastern Europe.

The first climate related (specifically drought-related) genocides may have already happened in Africa.  Extreme climate often destroys resources, with too little water or too much, with the devastation that continues after extreme weather, including disorder and disease.  People will fight over food, and groups--ethnic groups, nations--will fight for access to food and other resources.  To minimize those conflicts and that suffering in the future as well as understanding it and dealing with it appropriately in the present, requires addressing the causes and the effects of the climate crisis.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Twenty-Five Days to Save the World

Paris was attacked by terrorists, and the goals of the upcoming Paris climate conference attacked by the response--at least from those who wish to derail climate action anyway.  Fortunately, supporters of climate action have not backed down--and have made the case again and again that the climate crisis threatens humanity.

Trying to exploit the visceral response to an horrific terrorist attack is only one tactic being employed, as the time for the conference draws closer.  Congressional Republicans are engaged in McCarthyite tactics against climate scientists, while--in the words of the New York Times article--"The Senate voted on Tuesday to block President Obama’s tough new climate change regulations, hoping to undermine his negotiating authority before a major international climate summit meeting in Paris this month."

It's political grandstanding, since there were not nearly enough votes to override the President's veto, which is a certainty if the bill passed both houses.  The opposition has played the politics of perception before successfully, and it's all they've got now.  But this time there is much stronger public support, and much less media timidity.

Meanwhile as widely reported (but in the words of Jeff Masters at Weather Underground): October 2015 was Earth’s warmest month on record by a huge margin, according to data released by NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on Wednesday. October 2015 was the second consecutive month with a new all-time warmest month record: September 2015 previously held the record for the largest positive departure of temperature from average of any month among all 1630 months in the historical record that began in January 1880. 

 October 2015's warmth makes the year-to-date period (January - October) the warmest such period on record, according to both NOAA and NASA. October 2015 was the sixth consecutive month a monthly high temperature record has been set in NOAA's database, and the eighth month of the ten months so far in 2015. "

Apart from global heating itself, a contributing factor is the very strong El Nino, and it's likely to add even more in coming months.  From the Weather Underground El Nino report:

Weekly Update (November 16, 2015):
The weekly sea surface temperature reading, taken within the Niño 3.4 region near the equator, has risen to 3.0°C above average. This is the highest weekly value observed during any El Niño event in NOAA’s records. This week’s reading beats the highest weekly departure of 2.8°C recorded in late November 1997 during the record-setting 1997-98 El Niño. In a news release issued on Monday, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Center warned that “this naturally occurring El Niño event and human induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways which we have never before experienced.” 

War on Everyone

ISIL planted a bomb on a Russian civilian airliner, killing everyone aboard, which Russia finally acknowledged this week.  ISIL was behind the gun and bomb attacks in Paris that killed 129 and injured hundreds.  On Wednesday, ISIL bragged about bringing down the Russian airliner, threatened the U.S. including New York (as they had previously threatened Washington), and beheaded two hostages, one Norwegian and the other Chinese.

So ISIL has very quickly made direct enemies of France and Russia, and now China, and threatened the U.S.  France has declared war on ISIL, though perhaps not formally yet.  Russia has vowed vengeance, and now so has China. 

This kind of thing didn't happen in the 20th century or even earlier in this century. Before this, even a terrorist group would try to play off one major power against another, or divide them in some way, or at least seek an ally willing to provide funds, arms and safe havens to befuddle their adversaries, or just their competition.

ISIL is not doing that. Already the enemy of a number of countries in the Middle East, ISIL seems to be waging war on the nation state itself.  If not the concept, then the nation states as currently organized.  But for all intents and purposes: the nation state.

This takes what has been dubbed asymmetric warfare to its logical conclusion.  ISIL's most potent symbol so far is the soda can bomb which it claims brought down the Russian airliner.

Meanwhile, the President of France is declaring total war, vowing to eradicate ISIL.  But reports so far suggest that France's only international action, its air strikes, have not been very effective.  Same with Russian air strikes, which seem to kill as many civilians and ISIL's enemies as they do ISIL fighters.

ISIL seems to be trying to exploit the weakness of the nation state, which is political.  Nations can protect their citizens, though not absolutely.  Most analysts believe that for example the U.S. is pretty well protected against ISIL attacks--see here and here and here and here-- but since 9/11 the terrorist's greatest weapon is the suicide attack, so it is always possible.  Otherwise, domestic gun massacres have killed far more Americans than terrorists, especially if 9/11 is excepted.

But nations cannot tolerate the political cost of being shown up and terrorized. Anger and fear are natural, but politicians feed hysteria, they bluster and turn against each other.  National unity is weakened or exposed as a house of cards.  Or conversely, a virtual dictatorship is the source of temporary unity, often engaging in suicidal violence.

Russia has vowed vengeance, China has vowed justice, and France has vowed eradication.  Depending on how those terms are defined, Russia and China have a shot. France has little chance.  ISIL can invite their violent ire because it doesn't care how many innocent people get killed when it is attacked.  Innocent death is another recruiting tool.  Meanwhile, they have inspired bluster and the appearance of impotence from nation states who have no model for fighting them.

The only leader so far who has spoken the grim reality is President Obama (as Ryan Lizza noted in the New Yorker.)  In his press conference, after describing all that the U.S. has done in counter-terrorism and diplomacy, etc. he said:

 " And keep in mind that we have the finest military in the world and we have the finest military minds in the world, and I’ve been meeting with them intensively for years now, discussing these various options, and it is not just my view but the view of my closest military and civilian advisors that that would be a mistake -- not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before, which is, if you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremes, that they resurface -- unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.

And let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist network that’s operating anywhere else -- in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?

So a strategy has to be one that can be sustained. And the strategy that we’re pursuing, which focuses on going after targets, limiting wherever possible the capabilities of ISIL on the ground -- systematically going after their leadership, their infrastructure, strengthening Shia -- or strengthening Syrian and Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces that are prepared to fight them, cutting off their borders and squeezing the space in which they can operate until ultimately we’re able to defeat them -- that’s the strategy we’re going to have to pursue."

It's important to note that ISIL's war on the nation state is not its primary goal.  ISIL is at war with everyone and everything that isn't ISIL.  It wars against other terrorist groups (as its lethal attacks recently in Lebanon) and specifically other religions as well as other sects.  In its destruction of ancient monuments, it is at war with the past and with cultures it hasn't invented.

With several of its known leaders killed in recent weeks, it's not clear if this latest flurry is a sign of strength or desperation.  But at the moment, ISIL has the nation state flailing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Modest Request

In the interests of keeping language alive and useful, I have a request for my millions of avid readers.  For the rest of this week at least, let's all try to avoid just one cliche overused to the point of madness.  Do you think it's possible?

Let's start with this one:

Wake up call.

Those of us old enough to have ever had an actual wake up call might lead the way.

We might even try to think of what we actually mean when we use that phrase, because it is almost never what that phrase means.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Republican Holy War

Update: President Obama in a press conference Tuesday: 
"We are not well served when in response to a terrorist attack we descend into fear and panic...We don't make good decisions if it's based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks."
Of Republican candidates:
"They've been playing on fear to score political points or to advance their campaigns and it's irresponsible. It needs to stop because the world is watching," Obama said."I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric coming out of here in the course of this debate." 

Jonathan Chiat's column today casts the despicable and predictable Republican response to the Paris terror attack in a bright if frightening light: nearly everything their leaders are saying are exactly what ISIL/ISIS/ Islamic State and the jihadists want them to say--exactly what will provide them with more power and troops.

Republicans are promoting a holy war of us (white Christian rabid right Republicans) against them (the entire Islamic world.)  It's the mirror image of ISIS, engaged in a holy war of them (a minority with a twisted interpretation of Islam) against us (everyone else, including most of the Muslim world.)

The stakes in defining this conflict could not be higher.  Chiat writes:

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, believes in defining the conflict in the most narrow terms. There is a very good reason for this. The United States is not actually at war with Islam. Non-extremist Muslims account for the lion's share of the victims of jihadist terror, and are needed as allies in the conflict.

 Air strikes and counterterrorism may be important tools against ISIS, but in the long run, we need non-radicals to maintain the loyalties of the majority of the Muslim world. If the Muslim world gravitates toward its most extreme elements, the West will find itself in an unwinnable struggle against an enemy that can generate fighters moving invisibly among 1.6 billion people worldwide. 

The radicals want to persuade the rest of the Muslims that they represent Islam writ large in a clash against Christians and Jews. The West’s strategy is predicated on breaking down this link, making it as hard as possible for them to claim that the West is at war with Islam as a whole."

In this context, it's worth noting this, from an evaluation of terrorist threats to the U.S.:"And Daniel Byman, a Brookings Institution analyst, noted in an interview that many such plots since the attacks of September 11, 2001 have been disrupted because of tips from American Muslims."

The most extreme elements of the religious right have long had this twisted mirror agenda of holy war, as it fulfills what they believe is the prophesy--for the end of the world, which of course only they will survive in clouds of glory.

Republicans were falling over each other to see who could be more extreme in their response.  Marco Rubio won--he endorsed this holy war.  But Jeb Bush wasn't far behind--he proposed that America accept only Christian refugees.

At a news conference at the G20 conference, President Obama was blunt and passionate: Without naming him, Mr. Obama singled out a comment by former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, one of the Republicans seeking to succeed him, for suggesting the United States focus special attention on Christian refugees. “That’s shameful,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s not American. It’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

He denounced ISIL as "the face of evil" but refused to be terrorized into overestimating its strength in the Paris attacks:
“If you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weaponry that they possess. But it is the ideology they carry with them and their willingness to die.”

He noted that he has used force (often to criticism) but insisted on maintaining a sane pragmatism in word as well as deed.  Not only does ignorant bluster play into the hands of terrorists who recruit members on the basis of a holy war, it is the talk of irresponsible people who fortunately for the moment don't have responsibilities to actually respond.  The Times report concludes:

But he said he would not be pressured into “posing” as a tough president by doing things that will not make the situation better to satisfy his critics.

Some of them seem to think that if I was just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference,” he said. “Because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough."

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Thousands of words have already been written and said responding to the terrorist attacks in Paris, for which the group known as ISIL and a half dozen other names has claimed responsibility.

But going forward, I find this essay in Newsweek to be the most sensible and comprehensive.

Despite whatever historical precedents and causes, or more recent policies and outcome that might have contributed, there appear to be two new elements in this attack.  First, that ISIL is engaging in terrorist attacks outside the Middle Eastern territories it claims for itself.  Second, the nature of those attacks--small arms used in unguarded public places to maximize casualties--so-called soft targets.

The sensible response is to quickly develop and/or deploy strategies to deal with these changes. This may well involve public debate over policies and proposals, but as Kurt Eichenwald notes, strength lies in unity.  He notes that terrorists closely observe political responses, and suggests that making the terrorist attacks in the Benghazi a partisan political issue, especially without foundation, conveys an inability to seriously develop and deploy a unified response.

The difference is the political attacks that tend to de-legitimize the national leadership, adding to confusion and fear.  Sure enough, as he points out, rabid right Republicans were quick to do so, attacking President Obama for what happened in France.

But according to news reports, the nature of attacks by two of the Democratic candidates against the frontrunner in Saturday's debate were too close to being of the same type.  Instead of discussing the way forward for the nation, there were attacks on past votes and policies.  At this moment, when Americans are looking for leadership, such attacks are dispiriting and inappropriate.  Disagree with proposals for action, certainly.  But political sniping misreads the moment and damages everyone.

This is especially true when everyone knows that Secretary Clinton is the person most likely to be elected President of the United States in a year's time.  It's not that she can't be politically opposed.  But it is her proposals that are to be debated, and the proposals of others, especially on the response to terrorist acts and threats.
We need that level of focus and seriousness, particularly when the Republican candidates' "proposals" vary from ignorant bluster to more sophisticated warmongering.

Senator Sanders was certainly correct, however mockingly the question was meant, that the climate crisis is the most serious problem facing the world, in part because it is a source of conflict and chaos that leads to war and terrorism, including much that is going on right now.  That needs to be kept in mind, because this terrorist act does not diminish the urgency for what nations will gather to do in a few weeks, in Paris.

Friday, November 13, 2015

With Paris

All eyes turned to Paris for a reason very different from the climate crisis on Friday, as terrorists attacked seven locations in the city, killing at least 120 and injuring hundreds more.

 Among the many events cancelled was the remainder of the Climate Reality Project 24 hour telethon, which Al Gore was anchoring in Paris.

In the immediate aftermath, there were acts of generosity and solidarity from around the world.  President Obama was among the world leaders who pledged support to the French people, and called the attacks a crime against humanity.

Among the images emerging is this peace sign shaped as the Eiffel Tower, reportedly first posted on Instagram by Jean Jullien.  If the recent past is any guide, other emotions will emerge, but let us recall the empathy, compassion and courage of this moment.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thirty Days to Save the World

The level of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere reached a new high last year--news but not news.  That's been the story every year for the past thirty years.

What is news is the level now reached: the dangerous threshold of 400 parts per million.  The planet's average temperature also passed the dangerous mark of 1 degree C over normal. "We are moving into uncharted territory at a frightening speed,” said Secretary General Michel Jarraud of the World Meteorological Organization, that released the greenhouse gases data.

Scientific American put these findings in context, in a succinct summary of where we are right now.  It starts with: The Earth's climate has changed.  That's has changed, as well as is changing.

Scientists who studied extreme weather events of last year were able to report that at least 14 of them were at least influenced by global heating.

A few weeks before the world turns its attention to Paris,  UK climate expert Lord Stern emphasized the critical moment for the human future, and called on European countries to significantly increase their pledges of cuts to greenhouse gases.  Various nations are positioning themselves publicly on aspects of prospective agreements.

A German delegate to the conference and an advisor to German Chancellor Merkel as well as Pope Francis, John Schellnhubber expressed optimism about the outcome. Noting that more than 80 countries will participate, he said: “That is a very telling thing - a sign of hope - because people at the top level do not want to be tainted by failure.”  He stressed the action that must follow, enabled in part by Paris pledges: a 30 year crash program in renewable energy. "Otherwise we have no chance of avoiding dangerous, perhaps disastrous, climate change.”

“The avalanche will start because ultimately nothing can compete with renewables,” he told the Guardian. “If you invest at [large] scale, inevitably we will end up with much cheaper, much more reliable, much safer technologies in the energy system: wind, solar, biomass, tidal, hydropower. It is really a no-brainer, if you take away all the ideological debris and lobbying.”

He believes that pledges will be met because nations don't want to lose face. Public pressure is “really holding the key to this”, said Schellnhuber, who has attended most of the 20 previous UN climate summits. “The last, best hope we have is moral argument.”

Meanwhile, a couple of events from last week continue to reverberate.  Did President Obama's decision to nix the Keystone pipeline "help save the world?" a New York compendium of reactions asked.  Some say yes, some say no, some say stop, and some say go go go.

The reporting that found Exxon Mobil suppressed for decades their own scientists' certainty that global heating was happening and was dangerous to the planet led to a dramatic suit by the state of New York, accusing Exxon Mobil of securities fraud in perpetuating this deception.  What may look like symbolic grandstanding may not be, according to the Reuters report on the unusual statute in New York law that applies.  More on the probe, which may spread to other energy companies.  This suit follows a similar one against Peabody Coal, which admitted wrongdoing.

Here's background on the suit from PBS Newshour. The revelations and the suit led to this past Sunday's Doonesbury cartoon, as reproduced above.

Late Updates

A live 24 hour global telethon sponsored by the Climate Reality Project and featuring a mix of celebrities and political leaders happens on Friday.

But according to a survey, it is Pope Francis who has been an effective advocate for action addressing the climate crisis, especially among Catholics, but not limited to them in the US:

Some 17 per cent of all respondents and 35 per cent of Catholic respondents said they were influenced by Pope Francis’s message that climate change is a crucial moral issue. The percentage of Catholics who said they were “very worried” about global warming more than doubled compared with spring. And the number who denied the scientific consensus that human-caused climate change is happening declined by 10 percentage points among Catholics and 6 points among the US population in general.

Canada is gearing up for Paris big time:

All Liberal cabinet ministers have been charged with ensuring the success of the new government’s commitments on climate change, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said in an interview Wednesday as he prepares to engage the country’s diplomatic corps in the international fight against global warming.

A veteran climate warrior, Mr. Dion will play a pivotal role in the Liberal government’s climate agenda, both as minister for global affairs and as chair of the cabinet committee on environment, climate change and energy. He is expected to join Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna at the Paris climate summit at the end of the month..." 

Meanwhile, new scientific findings in Greenland add urgency to Paris action. The Washington Post:

"As the world prepares for the most important global climate summit yet in Paris later this month, news from Greenland could add urgency to the negotiations. For another major glacier appears to have begun a rapid retreat into a deep underwater basin, a troubling sign previously noticed at Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier and also in the Amundsen Sea region of West Antarctica."

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Red, the Whites and the Blue

"The whole business stopped making sense some time ago."
Ann Davidson in the New Yorker, on the Republican presidential race.

Echoing my own opinion expressed some months ago, Jonathan Chiat observes: "But now [Ben] Carson actually is running for president. Or is he? It is hard to tell. Conservative politics are so closely intermingled with a lucrative entertainment complex that it is frequently impossible to distinguish between a political project (that is, something designed to result in policy change) and a money-making venture.

"Declaring yourself a presidential candidate gives you access to millions of dollars' worth of free media attention that can build a valuable brand. So the mere fact that Carson calls himself a presidential candidate does not prove he is actually running for president rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to build his brand. Indeed, it is possible to be actually leading the polls without seriously trying to win the presidency. And the notion that Carson could be president is preposterous."

In recent weeks, the media consensus seems to be that neither Trump nor Carson are serious contenders, although Frank Rich for one doesn't believe their lackluster performances in this week's debate will rattle the polls much (and weirdly enough, Fox News agrees.)  Yet there's also conventional agreement that they are expressing deep anger that's not going away.

That anger is found mostly in the white working class, in the Red States. Election results last week renewed the impression that despite then-Senator Barack Obama's bravado proclamation in 2004,  America is largely divided into red states and blue states, with further divisions just as stark within them.

Population losses and gains as well as movement (sometimes to blue states for jobs or for a sympathetic community; sometimes to red states for lower housing and other costs) are reinforcing the division.

The anger and the reasons for it--leading to political paradox and frustration--are pretty ably analyzed in this post-election piece by Christian Science Monitor staffer Patrick Jonsson.  That government has let such people down should be sobering to those who support public solutions to common problems.  The reason for Trump and Carson can partly be found in the impression that this segment of the electorate is suspicious of both parties, including Republican ties to big business.

The plight of the lower middle class is real, and has not been successfully addressed by either party, or by either public or private sectors.  That's one very sobering message.

There were other factors in this particular election.  Lots of post-election day political stories blaming President Obama for GOPer gains in various places, like Kentucky.  But as other analysts show--particularly Chiat in a very perceptive column--as well as John Cassidy in the New Yorker) the results are kind of like global heating--a powerful force that exaggerates normal variations.  The normal weather variations include gains by the out-party in a President's last term.  Global heating is the ongoing demographic division of America and its political consequences.  It's at least as old as Blue States and Red States of 2000, though likely trending that way 20 years before that (i.e Reagan), and it's getting more permanent and pervasive.

Democrats and progressives did make gains this year, but in Pennsylvania for example, a presidential Blue State that has enough of a white lower middle class and a strong enough centrist tradition that state government usually switches parties every 4 or 8 years.  An unusual number of vacancies in the state Supreme Court led to a highly contested election, and the Democratic candidates won all the open seats, and with young judges, so a progressive cast seems guaranteed for years to come.  Pennsylvania is a light to medium Blue State that may be becoming a dark Blue State. There were similar victories in places like Colorado, transitioning to Blueness.

Of course, it is in a sense President Obama's fault as his color makes it easier for GOPer candidates to exploit racial hatred and xenophobia.  The deep Red deep South spreads into what used to be called border states, and Kentucky and Tennessee are absorbed completely.

The national political parties are another factor. As Cassidy's piece points out, GOPers have done a better job for some years in identifying and supporting young leaders, and generally building local politics.  Labor unions used to be a big factor in cultivating young leaders and organizing locally, but since their decline, the Dems haven't done so well.  Barack Obama and other individual candidates inspired new people to become involved, but that enthusiasm and loyalty wasn't always transferred.

There are some unsettling and worrisome factors beneath all this.  The split between rich and the rest has layers.  The ultra rich are GOPer primarily.  Some of them have as extreme views as this year's leading GOPer candidates.

 But there is also a split between the college educated urban upper-to- middle middle class, and the white not-so-educated, not so urban lower middle class. The former trends Dem and vaguely progressive (though there's a weird and naive brand of libertarianism among the new techies.) The latter is now defining the GOPer party as angry, fearful (with a lot of paranoia) and prone to the kind of simplistic explanations that tend to support totalitarian regimes, even while disguised as revolts or revolutions.

What awaits analysis--or at least, any I've seen--is comparing the white lower middle class with the non-white segments.

There are battles ahead between the Red and the Blue, and they could get out of control under the pressure of events--such as effects of the climate crisis. Jonsson's piece offers some hope in this regard, as he emphasizes ties to local communities as still strong in red states.  (Then again, the racist violence unleashed in New Orleans by Katrina can no longer be covered up.)  In any case, over time and mostly through elections, or in emergency situations, the Red and the Blue are in a battle for more than political power--maybe even the nation's soul.

Monday, November 09, 2015

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

‘‘I don’t know if it’s a function of age or temperament, but I’m no longer seeking those major exclamatory notes of pleasure. I want a life that has pleasure contained within it.’’
Terry Gross

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Fulcrum of the Future Continued

A few more notes on Friday's news, of President Obama's decision to deny the Keystone pipeline passage through America, which I feel might be a major moment, a fulcrum of the future...

Activist organizations claimed credit for the decision with accustomed quickness, and only a few in my in-box took the opportunity to ask for money, though they couldn't resist asking for "your signature" so they could ask for money in the future.

But according to the New York Times, they might deserve some of that credit:

Both sides of the debate saw the Keystone rejection as a major symbolic step, a sign that the president was willing to risk angering a bipartisan majority of lawmakers in the pursuit of his environmental agenda. And both supporters and critics of Mr. Obama saw the surprisingly powerful influence of environmental activists in the decision.

“Once the grass-roots movement on the Keystone pipeline mobilized, it changed what it meant to the president,” said Douglas G. Brinkley, a historian at Rice University who writes about presidential environmental legacies. “It went from a routine infrastructure project to the symbol of an era.”

The announcement and its meaning had me thinking about two books.  One of them actually arrived in the mail on Friday--my copy of Kim Stanley Robinson's Green Earth.  It's a one volume version (with about a fifth of the pages edited out) of his Science in Washington trilogy, Forty Days of Rains, Fifty Degrees Below and Sixty Days and Counting which is about a cast of characters-- including a President of the US-- as the climate crisis hits.

It's a domestic comedy (in the classic sense of comedy, ending with marriages), a political thriller, near-future science fiction, and much more.  But the climate crisis is the center of its world and environment.  

Published 2004 to 2007 about an unspecified near future, it is now a mixture of history, contemporary and science fiction (as the author says in the new introduction.)  Read today, it "predicts" events and situations similar to some that have already happened.  At least one of them is eerie: a "perfect storm" called Sandy that ravages the East Coast.

But what seemed most science fictional about it was positing a young President who is guided by science and sets America on a new course to not only addressing the causes and effects of the climate crisis, but to a better future.

That fictional President is not very much like Barack Obama.  But Obama's announcement on Friday was the first time I really felt this element of the fiction could be more than wishful fantasy.  Before, reading Sixty Days and Counting in particular was like watching The West Wing during the Bush years--it was an alternative reality.  Now, it seems a little closer to maybe coming true.

The other book I thought of when I heard President Obama say these words:

"And three weeks from now, I look forward to joining my fellow world leaders in Paris, where we’ve got to come together around an ambitious framework to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can."

He's used a variation of that expression before: the one planet or the only planet we've got.  It reminded me of where I first heard that sentiment expressed that way, with plenty to back it up: as the title of the Paul Shepard Reader published by Sierra Books in 1996 as The Only World We've Got.

Paul Shepard remains the unsung hero of our environmental understanding, and any depth it has acquired in the past twenty years.  The breadth and depth of his work is astonishing still.  But from the beginning, as a pioneer of ecology in the 60s, he insisted on the vital importance of humanity and human institutions understanding that they exist in the context of the natural world, and the human heritage of many thousands of years embedded in that world, and formed by it, by relationships with animals and landscape that are embedded in the human being.

His work is echoed and amplified and built on in so many places, unacknowledged.  Even in Green Earth--in a very early chapter, in the ruminations of a scientist named Frank Vanderwal.  Though he is partly inspired by the primatologist Frans de Waal, one of the paragraphs of his ruminations about the persistent influences of human origins could have come directly from Paul Shepard.

Most of  Shepard's books are still in print, though ironically not this one (nor another of his best, The Sacred Paw.)  But he as well as Kim Stanley Robinson are among those who share in this moment, especially if it is seen someday as a kind of turning point, towards a better future for the only world we've got.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Keystone, Paris and The Fulcrum of the Future

If a moment can be the fulcrum of the future, it may have been today, when President Obama announced that the federal government would not issue a permit for the construction of the Keystone tar sands oil pipeline through the US.

It wasn't so much the pipeline itself as the reasons, the context, the timing and the ramifications.

The reason was that the pipeline adds nothing to the American economy, and adds too much to greenhouse gases--as Bill McKibben was quick to point out, making President Obama "the first world leader to turn down a major project on climate grounds."

The timing was with little more than thirty days to save the world--that is, before the Paris conclave on climate.  This single act emphasizes American determination to lead the efforts to address the causes of global heating, specifically in Paris beginning at the end of this month.  It adds even more credibility to President Obama's own leadership, and strengthens his hand at the negotiations, as Bloomberg put it.

The context was provided succinctly by President Obama's brief statement as he made the announcement, flanked by Vice-President Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.  He made a bit of other news, by relating a conversation with the new Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, who officially (if not enthusiastically) backed the pipeline project, which would take Canadian oil through the US to be exported on ships.  Trudeau "expressed his disappointment, given Canada’s position on this issue, we both agreed that our close friendship on a whole range of issues, including energy and climate change, should provide the basis for even closer coordination between our countries going forward. And in the coming weeks, senior members of my team will be engaging with theirs in order to help deepen that cooperation."  This obviously refers to Paris.

The President began by rebutting the arguments that the pipeline would help the economy or lower gasoline prices.  He got to note that today's employment report was unexpectedly strong--with job growth and a drop in the unemployment rate to 5%, the lowest since before the Great Recession.  He contrasted the few jobs the pipeline might bring, to the thousands of jobs and longterm economic benefits of  "a serious infrastructure plan" to repair and replace aging, inadequate and sometimes dangerous infrastructure.

The pipeline would not help American energy security. "What has increased America’s energy security is our strategy over the past several years to reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world. Three years ago, I set a goal to cut our oil imports in half by 2020. Between producing more oil here at home, and using less oil throughout our economy, we met that goal last year -- five years early. In fact, for the first time in two decades, the United States of America now produces more oil than we buy from other countries."

Moreover the transition to clean energy is proceeding faster than "experts" ever believed. "Since I took office, we’ve doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas by 2025; tripled the power we generate from the wind; multiplied the power we generate from the sun 20 times over. Our biggest and most successful businesses are going all-in on clean energy. And thanks in part to the investments we’ve made, there are already parts of America where clean power from the wind or the sun is finally cheaper than dirtier, conventional power."

"The point is the old rules said we couldn’t promote economic growth and protect our environment at the same time. The old rules said we couldn’t transition to clean energy without squeezing businesses and consumers. But this is America, and we have come up with new ways and new technologies to break down the old rules, so that today, homegrown American energy is booming, energy prices are falling, and over the past decade, even as our economy has continued to grow, America has cut our total carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth."

Today, we’re continuing to lead by example. Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.

As long as I’m President of the United States, America is going to hold ourselves to the same high standards to which we hold the rest of the world. And three weeks from now, I look forward to joining my fellow world leaders in Paris, where we’ve got to come together around an ambitious framework to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can.

That's the fulcrum of the future.

And yes, the video does give the President a mantle of green leaves across his shoulders.  I'm sure that was an accident.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Forty Days to Save the World (Part 3) : Fire

Over the years we've been learning what global heating can do to the climate and the weather: more violent storms, forest fires, flooding, drought.  Melting of polar ice, melting of permafrost, sea level rise swamping coasts.  Acidification and other big problems in the oceans, plus the possible shift of major ocean currents.

We've learned about consequences of a general rise in global temperature, such as disease-bearing insects moving northward, threats to the survival of entire species of plants and animals, for which the polar bear has become the poster child.  (Joined perhaps by the snow leopard.)

But in learning about these and the possible social, political and economic ramifications, the most direct consequence has not been so widely discussed.  That is, that global heating means: heat.

But a study published in Nature dealt with at least the economic consequences of heat--that is, of the relationship of hot temperatures and productivity.  As one report put it: The warmer it gets, the less productive a country’s economy will likely be.

Economic performance, the UC Berkeley and Stanford researchers found, tends to decrease when the average temp rises above 55F.  They correlated the countries where this would be so if global heating continues "unmitigated": 77 percent of countries in the world would see a drop in per capita incomes relative to current levels, with global incomes falling 23 percent by 2100.  That's a 23% drop in this century.

The lesson that an economics reporter at the LA Times takes from this is that the cost of "mitigation" (dealing with the causes of global heating by cutting back carbon pollution severely) now has an economic justification: it will cost more not to do it than to do it.

Whether this particular study is valid or not, it's striking that it tries to quantify only the factor of heat and its effect on human beings, the factor that is seldom discussed directly.  Is that because it is actually the scariest prospect of all?

Because ultimately it is about more than economics.  It's about incessant extreme heat that threatens life, that threatens the ability to think clearly, to control emotions, to move physically.

A different report, done by researchers at three universities and published last week in Nature Climate Change (in the words of the Washington Post story) "warned that Persian Gulf cities could experience extreme summer temperatures that are literally too hot for human survival. But scientists say climate change will inevitably lead to hotter, longer heat waves and higher rates of heat-related deaths across large swaths of the planet."

This study surprised even some climate experts by showing that such heat is possible in this century.  But once again, the study suggests that dealing with the causes of global heating--as proposed for the Paris conference--could limit the heat.

heat wave in Pakistan that killed hundreds
Yet another report cited in the Guardian confirmed that: "South-east Asia over the next three decades could lose 16% of its labour capacity due to rising heat stress, which could cause absenteeism due to dizziness, fatigue, nausea and even death in extreme cases, the British firm Verisk Maplecroft said."

All of this follows a study issued in July officially by the EPA combines economic analysis with ecological and other effects to show the dire cost of global heating left unchecked.  It includes killer heat waves in the US as well as elsewhere.  A report issued in May concluded:

The risk of exposure to extreme heat could be as much as six times higher for the average U.S. citizens by the year 2070, compared with levels experienced in the last century, researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the City University of New York found. The projected change carries significant implications for Americans’ health, as extreme heat kills more people than any other weather-related event, the study’s authors report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

When writers like Eric Holthaus at Slate suggest that we're doing enough on addressing causes of global warming to avoid the worst outcomes, and now we should concentrate on dealing with the effects ("adaptation", in the jargon), it sets up truly nightmarish possibilities.  Like the dwindling number of people who can afford it, hunkering behind more and more fossil fuel-driven air conditioning, "adapting" while the future is condemned.

This is precisely why I use the terminology of causes and effects--because they are not separate, and must never be separated.  The terminology of "mitigation" and "adaptation," besides being imprecise, abstract and obscure, are fatally flawed because they are not linked, as if one has nothing to do with the other.

 But in reality the causes and effects are always linked. The causes and effects of the climate crisis must each be addressed, and they must both be addressed.  Before the heat gets to us, and we end in violence, and it's the fire this time.

In related news, the UN continues to raise the stakes for Paris with a report that quantifies likely severe damage to the world's food supply caused by global heating, which could send an additional 600 million people into malnutrition by 2080.

The new Prime Minister of Canada was sworn in, as was his Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna  (the Climate Change part was restored after the previous government dropped it.)

 According to the CBC report: "The appointment comes less than a month before the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris that begins November 30. McKenna said Canada will come up with a plan for a "huge reduction in emissions" and will play a "constructive role" with governments."

So it is less than thirty days until the Paris conference begins.  And less than forty days all told to save the world.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Forty Days to Save the World (Part 2): Ice

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in melting ice.  There's significant news concerning melting in Greenland and especially the Antarctic.

A New York Times web story is less about news than a feature about on-the-ground findings in Greenland, worth a look if only for the spectacular video banner and other graphics.  They're so big in fact that I'm unable to navigate past them.  The conclusion though is that on site research is showing previously unknown mechanisms for melting, suggesting the situation is even worse than previously believed.

The major news concerns the Antarctic. "It may be the biggest climate change story of the last two years," the Washington Post story begins:

In 2014, several research groups suggested that the oceanfront glaciers in the Amundsen Sea region of West Antarctica may have reached a point of “unstoppable” retreat due to warm ocean waters melting them from below. There’s a great deal at stake — West Antarctica is estimated to contain enough ice to raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters, or well over 10 feet, were it all to melt.

The urgency may now increase further in light of just published research suggesting that destabilization of the Amundsen sea’s glaciers would indeed undermine the entirety of West Antarctica, as has long been feared.

Using a new climate model (and the knowledge of how melting works gained by research in Greenland and other places) a study concludes: "if the Amundsen Sea Sector is destabilized, then the entire marine part of West Antarctica will be discharged into the ocean.”

This would result in massive sea level rises, though probably over a very long time period before they reach maximum.  But the article is careful to note that more on site research must be done to confirm these findings, and there are major uncertainties that affect the time frame.  Some scientists fear that serious effects will be felt much sooner.

This story followed by a day the stories about a NASA study that found that ice is currently being added to the Antarctic that outweighs the losses to glacier melting.  This study was immediately exploited by the usual suspects as evidence that global heating isn't happening after all, but that's not the conclusion the NASA scientists draw.

The study found that a long-term trend that increased snowfall in parts of the Antarctic was still adding ice, so that technically the continent does not have less ice than before.  But it's a race between the melting and the ice created by snow, and pretty soon, the melting will likely be winning:

But it might only take a few decades for Antarctica's growth to reverse, according to Zwally. "If the losses of the Antarctic Peninsula and parts of West Antarctica continue to increase at the same rate they've been increasing for the last two decades, the losses will catch up with the long-term gain in East Antarctica in 20 or 30 years - I don't think there will be enough snowfall increase to offset these losses."

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Forty Days to Save the World (Part 1): Overview, Paris and Energy

The November issue of National Geographic is devoted to the climate crisis, and it is well worth checking out.  There's an  online version, which has the advantage of some moving pictures, in both senses.  But the print magazine itself has its own visual splendors, and thoughtful articles and reporting to savor.  It's a keeper.

  It clarifies the crucial questions and what answers there are.  There are maps and charts and so on, but the photos of people in places makes it real, for it is the ultimate story of humanity in the natural world.  Robert Kunzig's opening essay, "This could be the turning point," sets the stage for Paris.

Meanwhile, as the Paris climate talks approach, the dialogue gets more specific.  The UN issued an assessment on levels of carbon reduction pledged by nations so far, and found (in the words of the Washington Post): "And the upshot is both that countries have raised their climate ambitions greatly, but also that even by 2025 or 2030, global emissions are expected to still be rising despite their best efforts."

More to the point, these pledges are unlikely to result in staying below the 2C limit.  As the story points out, all this is based on assumptions that could be off, but by the usual measurements, the global temp will rise to 2.7C, at best.  The good news is that the rate of growth will drop (and in fact is dropping.)  Nobody really knows where the tipping point might be for runaway global heating--it might even be below 2C, or above it.  But that's the announced goal.

  A day later, Eric Holtshaus at Slate opined that the pledges meant that: While most close climate watchers—myself included—have bemoaned the fact that the 2-degree goal is probably no longer possible, there’s a huge achievement on the horizon in Paris that’s clearly worth a victory dance: The nightmare worst-case scenario, in which the planet warms by 4.5 degrees or more, is now likely off the table."  But the lesson he takes from this is dangerous in a way I will write about later. 

So the UN says nations must try harder in Paris.  The more positive spin, from the White House and some environmental groups, is that this is a good start:

“The foundation has been poured, but to build from this the Paris agreement must deliver transparency and accountability against these pledges, and ensure that countries accelerate their ambition over time,” added the Nature Conservancy’s director of international government relations Andrew Deutz in reaction to the new report.

Or, as Kunzig writes, "We don't have to be able to see the whole road ahead to a happy end--but we have to believe we can get there."

More generally, support for climate action seems to be solidifying.  This Detroit column sums up the case pretty well.  Activists are gearing up for a big climate march in Paris November 28, with other demos etc. around the world.  After the Dalai Lama's statements on the climate crisis, an organization that goes beyond Buddhism in one country or region--the Global Buddhist Climate Collective--produced a declaration encouraging action signed by leaders of Buddhists everywhere.

Ending the carbon era requires replacement by clean energy.  Making this kind of a world happen has become the mission of Bill Gates, as explained in this interesting interview in the Atlantic.  (Though National Geographic seems more optimistic on the prospects for a clean energy future.) Progress and expansion in renewable energy is still ongoing, says this analysis, despite falling oil prices that might make staying with fossil fuels more attractive.

It is probably not a coincidence that oil prices fall when clean energy threatens to achieve a self-perpetuating growth.  Oil companies are hardly above that kind of manipulation.  Or apparently above attempting to intimidate journalists who report on Exxon's supression of its own climate crisis research, and paid millions to deny what they knew.

The latest desperate, cynical move in that industry comes from Canada, where builders of the Keystone pipeline suddenly requested that the State Department put off deciding whether to approve the pipeline in the US--perhaps (it seems obvious to many) long enough to allow the possibility of a Republican President who might approve it.  Update: Nice try.  President Obama announced he will make the Keystone pipeline decision before he leaves office, rejecting the request for suspension.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Happy Holy Day

Today is All Saints Day.  In the Catholic Church, it's a twofer this year: a holy day of obligation, which means practicing Catholics must attend Mass, but also Sunday, so they have to attend Mass anyway.

"Holy days of obligation" have changed since my childhood indoctrination.  Now the holy days change from year to year.  They're also different by country and state and even diocese.  In the US three of the traditional holy days (including All Saints) cedes its obligation if it falls on a Saturday or Monday. But this year (and next) the usual six are all obligations.

What "obligation" means has also changed.  Today's doctrine states that missing Mass on such a day might be a venial or a mortal sin (apparently if it's part of a pattern.)  My childhood catechism is unequivocal: it's a moral sin.  Assuming it's intentional and not subject to the many mitigating circumstances we used to discuss and invent in religion class, if you die in that state, you go directly to Hell.  So if you're wondering, there are no bonus points for non-Sunday holy days, but having one on a Sunday means just one day a year less on which you could invite eternal damnation.

Next up in the holy day of obligation calendar is the Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas (Dec. 25), then January 1, which used to be called The Circumcision (not the most appealing subject for meditation), now called Solemnity of Mary.  Which actually changes the balance, so that the Virgin Mary now has three holy days of obligation (including Immaculate Conception, Assumption on August 15.)  Jesus Christ is the subject of two now, and the other two Members of the Trinity still get zilch.  November 1 is the only one reserved for human beings.

Halloween derives from All Hallows Eve, the vigil of All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day.  November 2 is All Souls Day, which includes the dead who aren't saints, and is traditionally a day of remembrance for family members.  These three days are linked by their focus on the departed.  (Saints must be long dead before becoming official saints.)

Halloween absorbed its current traditions by being superimposed on "pagan" days of observance, as so many Christian holy days are.  The traditions in part derive from rituals to propitiate with food and gifts the dead who return on this one day of the year.

 In part what we now call Halloween is a day that marks the beginning of winter with rituals.  Our ritual this year--since it fell on a Saturday-- is the switch from the summer's Daylight Saving Time to the gloomier Standard Time, when six pm arrives in darkness.

Halloween is a big deal around here.  The stores begin promoting it in late September, but I've noticed that some homes have Halloween decorations up for the entire month of October, which is longer than some display their Christmas gear. The costume aspect is very big.  I passed the university library on Friday and saw through a window a huge rabbit at its desktop computer.  Margaret was in Arcata during the day on Saturday, and reports that Wonder Woman was a very popular look, princesses for little girls, and one man who appeared to be wearing a garbage can, with a large puppet down his back who seemed to be carrying the can he was in.

This business of holy days is the etymological origin of "holiday."  Holy days--especially those superimposed on older celebrations--were once days of festivals. And so the general idea of holiday.  Even in today's Catholic Church, a holy day of obligation also carries with it the obligation to refrain from work.

Looking up this etymology I learned something interesting.  The greeting "Happy Holidays" originated in England, but it referred to the summer holidays from school.  In America, Happy Holidays was first applied to the Christmas/New Years etc. period in a 1937 ad for Camel cigarettes.  Talk about your ancient "pagan" traditions.

  These ads used all the greetings--Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings and happy holidays in an effort to make cigarettes a frequent Christmas gift.  Which it turned out to be.  I recall people giving and receiving cartons of cigarettes in the 50s and afterwards, along with the occasional box of cigars or tin of pipe tobacco (though not always Prince Albert, "the national joy smoke" in this ad. That's a different kind of smoke these days.)  In any case, Happy Holidays and "the holiday season" has been associated with the Christmas/New Years and everything in between or close enough season ever since.

Happy Holydays!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Dreaming Up Saturday Quote

The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity."

Glenn Gould (and why isn't he up there?)
click for full photo of mural in Eureka, CA Oct. 2015 by William Kowinski

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“It is not fashionable nowadays to say that one’s life has moments of piercing beauty, or that it brings hours which are not merely recompense, but ample and bounteous reward for all the anxieties and dark moments. But I am not a fashionable person, and I am saying that now.”

Robertson Davies

Monday, October 26, 2015

Could they really be doing something?

Rumors of a possible budget deal between the White House and congressional leaders has become a New York Times story which suggests the deal is close to completed.

Apart from avoiding potential upcoming unpleasantness over the debt ceiling as well as funding the government, the two year deal also reportedly remedies the scheduled 50% rise in Medicare B premiums for many seniors (including me).  The Times:

The prospective agreement would also prevent expected increases in out-of-pocket costs for millions of Medicare Part B beneficiaries. The increases would have been caused by the rare absence of a cost-of-living increase in Social Security for some beneficiaries, because of unusually low inflation.

The headlines will say that cuts are made in Medicare and Social Security but these appear to be technical and administrative, and do not affect benefits, including to the disabled.

The story does not deal with political prospects for its passage by Congress.  So stay tuned.

Update: As of Monday evening, according to the Washington Post, the deal has been taken to Republican members in the House and Senate.  Conservatives have signaled that they aren't going to contest the debt ceiling hike this time, but no word yet on the other elements of this two year budget deal.

Update 2: As of late Monday, a CNN story says a number of Republicans are upset by the deal, but the story agrees with earlier stories that probably there are enough Republicans to join with Democrats to pass the deal, which the current House Speaker John Banal will likely bring to the floor on Wednesday, just before Paul Ryan is nominated as the next Speaker.

Update 3: Just before midnight Monday House GOPer leaders introduced the budget deal bill on the House floor, ensuring that it will come to a vote no later than Wednesday, according to the Washington Post. (As you recall from Civics, spending bills must originate in the House.) The provision preventing the Medicare premium rise from going into effect is in this bill.

Update 4 Tues: The Washington Post summarizes the provisions in more detail, while the New York Times narrates how the deal came about--a combination of the unique circumstance of a Speaker leaving, and President Obama's firmness in budget priorities, backed by congressional Democrats.  According to the Post, the rise in Medicare premiums will be $18 a month, instead of $54.  Still an unusually large jump in premiums.  The House is expected to vote on the package Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday.  It's expected to pass in both houses.

Update Wednesday: The House passed the bill with only 79 Republican votes, 266-167. No major changes in it were reported.

Update Friday: After a nightime fillibuster by Rand Paul and other GOPers, the budget bill passed the Senate on Friday, and President Obama announced he would sign it.  The immediate effect is to avoid the government running out of money in a few days, and another preposterous fight over authorizing the US to pay its debts.  But the Medicare provision remains in the law.