Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The New Normal?

Eureka broke its all-time temp record Tuesday, not only for the date, but for the month of July.  I'm sure Arcata did as well, because it was hotter here.  Wednesday will likely be and feel hotter, since we had a saving strong breeze Tuesday, expected to be gone Wednesday.  For us to be in the 80s for more than a fluke day or two is unheard of.  Just a few miles inland they're hitting high 90s and into the 100s.  San Francisco is expecting a high of 90 Wednesday. Doesn't look too cool elsewhere in the country either, with Chicago and New York set for heat waves as well, but unusual cyclonic activity brought a huge tornado that spun on the ground in Calgary for three hours, snow in Idaho, thunderstorms in Wyoming, heavy rain and flooding in Des Moines, Iowa. All on Tuesday. Well, I suppose this is going to stop being news.  But it's happening.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

More Whether

Whether El Nino is stronger than dirt or not, all of California may not see lots of rain after all.

It's that warm water off the coast, which anecdotally is warmer than last year.  It's not part of the warm spot in the Pacific that denotes El Nino, and apparently it could even be its enemy.

According to this WAPost piece, it's known as The Blob, and is responsible for blocking moisture coming ashore:

 That pool of incredibly warm ocean water was a major player in the weather over western North America this past winter. A strong ridge of high pressure was parked over the region, keeping things warm and dry from California to Alaska. It was a tangled feedback process between hot, dry soil, the strong ridge, and the blob — all working together to enhance the ridge itself, leading to more hot, dry weather. The wintertime pattern has been so domineering that West Coast meteorologists dubbed it the “ridiculously resilient ridge.”

This was particularly evident hereabouts, especially when there was rain all around us and none falling here.  Still, we had a wet December, which saved us after the almost totally dry previous winter.  The Blob was not present for the last super El Nino that did in fact bring a lot of rain here, in 1996-7.  It may not be enough to keep all the rain away this winter...fingers crossed.  But it illustrates the problems of the climate crisis--while some new factors may combine and others offset, there are new synergies with two and three new factors involved.  The chances of these combining for good outcomes becomes smaller and smaller.

Meanwhile, warm river waters in Oregon are killing half the sockeye salmon migrating on the Columbia.  I suspect this is just the first such story.  Warmer ocean water doesn't help either.  Climate changed hotter air plus the drought and the lack of cooling snowmelt in the rivers are preventing salmon from spawning.  Salmon fishers here on the North Coast were already pessimistic.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Whether Report


El Nino Update 2 (7/24): A Washington Post article is more positive on this being declared a strong one, officially perhaps by the end of July, and on track to be one of the strongest ever recorded-- though of course they haven't been recorded for all that long, but since 1996-7 was our first winter here, we know what it could mean on the North Coast: lots of rain, with some very heavy rains and flooding.  With less hillside logging but more drought-depleted soil, there still could be major mudslides this winter, as there will likely be in southern CA.


It's like summer here.  Hot sun, a bit sticky and close inside, the doors swelling in the humidity.  A Sunday lethargy reminding me of summer afternoons in Pennsylvania, with temps a good deal higher than here.

We had some light rain and foggy days in June and July, in our coastal microclimate.  Within sight on certain days were somber clouds dumping torrents of rain on Blue Lake, a few miles inland.  Further inland the temps get quite high.

In southern California over the weekend, remnants of Pacific hurricane Delores doused LA and environs.  The San Diego Padres had the second rainout in their ballpark's history. Beaches were closed!  And out in the California desert, the rain crumbled supports under a major highway, closing "the 10" all the way to Arizona.

Surfers in the Bay Area and up here on the North Coast report warmer ocean water, a bit of anecdotal support for the talk of a strong El Nino.  Water temps are tracking to continue rising to a peak by winter, and so the feeling here is getting pervasive that we're in for a wet winter, and quite possibly a stormy one.

Meanwhile, the annual International NOAA report just issued shows that 2014 broke records to score the highest yearly surface temperatures, highest ocean surface temperatures, and highest upper level ocean heat content.

Also the highest atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide--the greenhouse gases.  Whether or not the world gets control of this in the next few years with hopes to save the far future, the weather is going to keep being strongly affected by the greenhouse effect for decades.  That's what this report really says: we're starting to feel it, and more is coming.

Update on El Nino: The LA Times published a kind of primer that's probably a bit more conservative and sensible at this stage about El Nino this year.  Namely that while it is building, it isn't big enough yet to say for certain that a rainy winter will extend up this far north, or more to the point for the state as a whole,  even into the Sierras where the snowpack is crucial.  It notes that there are differences with this El Nino, including the warmer coastal water I mentioned, that make this less predictable.  But that's climate change.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Avarice Rewarded

Sixteen--count 'em!--sixteen candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, or there will be by Tuesday.

Why so many?  The way I explain it is--well, why listen to me?  Gabriel Sherman says what I mean succinctly, and besides, he's more important and New York Magazine publishes him.  Basically:

"What this year's primary shows is that — at least when it comes to presidential elections — the GOP is at risk of becoming less of a political party and more like a talent agency for the conservative media industry. Jumping into the race provides a (pseudo)candidate with a national platform to profit from becoming a political celebrity. "If you don’t run, you’re an idiot," a top GOP consultant told me.

And the money is nothing to sniff at:

Since January 2014, Ben Carson has earned as much as $27 million from delivering 141 speeches and publishing three books including You Have a Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K B.I.G. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina made nearly $1 million in speeches last year and published a memoir. Mike Huckabee’s Fox News contract was worth $350,000 a year before he left to join the race, according to sources. This year he also released a book God, Guns, Grits and Gravy. Ted Cruz made a reported $1.5 million for his book A Time for Truth.

Just becoming a candidate can double your lecture fee, and these days that can be big money.  That is, like a lot of things, it's either very big money or no money at all.

So why aren't a dozen Dems cavorting for their piece of the action?  While it's true that the Clintons command big lecture fee bucks, there are fewer lucrative sources, among other factors that Sherman neatly summarizes:

The disparity between the size of the two primary fields is driven by political and structural forces. The rise of billionaire donors and Super PACs enable more fringe GOP candidates to fund their campaigns. Conservatives’ palpable sense of cultural victimhood encourage them to embrace (and reward) their former candidates even if they lose badly. “The people on the right are heroes to their supporters and that’s how their books sell,” Shrum says. And, conservatives who promote free-market gospel on the lecture circuit, can get easily booked by deep-pocketed corporations who benefit from their message. "A bank is never going to hire Bernie Sanders to speak, but it might hire Rick Perry," says one GOP adviser.

Seldom do I agree with an analysis so completely as when it confirms precisely my own observations.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Towards A More Hopeful World


Update: Amy Davidson's account of President Obama's press conference on the Iran nuclear weapons deal.  "What's your alternative?"

The Washington Post:

"The United States and other world powers reached a historic agreement with Iran here Tuesday, aimed at preventing the Islamic republic from building a nuclear weapon in return for the lifting of sanctions that have isolated the country and hobbled its economy."

“This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change,” Obama told a nation that awoke Tuesday morning to news of the accord. He said it would ensure that Iran had no possibility to achieve rapid nuclear weapons “breakout” for at least the next decade.

“Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off,” Obama said.

In Vienna news briefings and Washington conference calls, senior administration officials joined the president in hailing the agreement — which limits Iran’s nuclear capability and imposes strict international monitoring in exchange for lifting international economic sanctions — as a way to make America and the world more secure."


The Post story includes a one-minute video explaining the terms of the deal.  The deal is amazingly good.  It takes away the most prominently known flashpoint that could lead to war, and opens possibilities for different relations over the next couple of decades, enough time for the younger generation in Iran--notably uninterested in confrontations with the West--to graduate into power there.

On the deal itself, the New York Times quoted:This explains why it took so long,” Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, a private group in Washington, said of the negotiation. “I rate this as one of the most complex agreements — if not the most complex — ever to deal with nuclear issues. It’s much stronger that we expected.”

Reuters: Iran and six major world powers reached a nuclear deal on Tuesday, capping more than a decade of negotiations with an agreement that could transform the Middle East. U.S. President Barack Obama hailed a step towards a "more hopeful world" and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said it proved that "constructive engagement works". But Israel pledged to do what it could to halt what it called an "historic surrender".

The agreement will now be debated in the U.S. Congress, but Obama said he would veto any measure to block it.

"This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction," Obama said. "We should seize it."

Tactically, Republicans know they can't block this agreement in Congress because they don't have the votes to override a veto.  So in the unlikely event that they wanted to present a cautious, measured, nuanced response, ha ha, they don't have to.  They'll be as extreme as they believe their 2016 primary voters are.

But that's not to say they aren't genuinely upset.  Borowitz in the New Yorker has the true story on that:

"By easing tensions with Cuba and now Iran, President Obama is “recklessly squandering America’s precious supply of enemies,” the leader of a conservative think tank said on Tuesday."

"Regardless of his future actions, Obama’s detente with Cuba and Iran will likely tarnish his legacy forever, Dorrinson said. “On this President’s watch, America lost two of its most enduring foes,” he said. “He’s going to have to live with that for the rest of his life.”

Throne of Cards

As we sampled one of the latest hits in the ongoing so-called Golden Age of Television, I finally realized what these shows have in common: a very old form, born in radio but a staple of television for decades.

The soap opera.

That's basically what Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Mad Men, even Dowton Abbey, and the one we most regrettably watched, The Blacklist, all are: soap operas, with large casts of extreme characters to which seemingly random but extreme things are done in the course of many episodes.  With no reason other than to shock, and create new storylines.

 Mad Men and Dowton Abbey most obviously fall into the category, since their sturm und drang is basically domestic and workplace related, like the daytime soaps.  The others however (and all their close relatives) may be less obvious, because they center on specific worlds, like Washington politics or police, FBI, CIA etc.  And they are incredibly violent.

 They may have elements of thrillers, and resemble latter day Grand Guignol but like soap operas they emphasize sensationalistic grabbers to keep you watching for the next episode, dangling questions and subjecting characters to the most extreme fates, repeatedly. (This sounds like melodrama, but technically melodrama pits good against evil.  These shows don't.  Everybody is more or less evil.)

 Almost by definition, soap operas have no actual center or spine or reason for being, no actual story to tell.  They exist to keep on going, keep people watching and talking, whatever it takes.  Plausibility, let alone integrity, just don't figure in.

The Blacklist stars James Spader, who I've been watching since Sex, Lies and Videotape, and loved in Boston Legal.  But this series is nothing less than a sadomasochistic soap opera, with no discernible purpose other than to light up Twitter with its latest twisted twist.

After seeing the pilot and first four episodes and vowing never to see another, I nevertheless read the plot descriptions on Wikipedia of every episode so far (two years worth; it's been renewed for a third season.) It all becomes quite clear. Spader's character murders somebody in just about every episode.  The female lead (an FBI agent; there's also a badass female CIA agent) is tortured, and tortures people, including her husband, though they later get back together. (?--but why bother...)  One of the key characters is diagnosed with a terminal illness, and then he isn't. A new villain is introduced for each story, each more inventively and horrifically evil than the last. No one is who they say they are, everyone betrays everyone, there is no moral center to any of it.

I'm aware that my response may to some degree be related to age as well as taste.  I also resent all the articles offered on the Internet that are headlined "Shows We Love" or "why we like" etc.--assuming a hive mind "we" on almost any subject.  That the kind of action that appears on these shows every week just doesn't happen in the real world (the multiple times that heavily armed men waylay FBI convoys, kill lots of people and make off with somebody in custody--how many times has that happened in America?  How about never? Is never good for you?) --this is part of the postmodern pleasure for some I suppose.  It just pisses me off.

But I do think it is worse than that.  Though it may express a pervasive anxiety in viewers, it also creates that anxiety big time, which bleeds into anxiety about the real world.  Everyone on the street becomes a potential psycho-killer terrorist or sadistic, super-intelligent serial killer.  All done with the purpose of manipulating viewers, which is apparently what passes for innocence in Hollywood.

  Though the intention may be just ordinary cynical manipulation for ratings, the worldview that gets expressed is fascistic.  Various excesses by "law enforcement" on various levels is a staple of every such show, to varying degrees, which makes real world police excesses less of a mystery.

 But shows like The Blacklist (the name itself defiles the name of an historically significant and actually fascistic phenomenon and time in America) promote torture, first by showing it as a regular investigative tool, and by suggesting that it works in extracting good information, which of course is its justification.  That's not debated, it's part of these shows. (That this show is a child of 24 is obvious even if you don't know that the producers' first choice for the lead was Keifer Sutherland.)

This portrait of torture is wrong factually, not to mention morally. How many times did it work in the war on terror?  Check the studies and it's never.  Is never good for you?  It seems the Bush administration really isn't over.  It's alive and well in the Golden Age of Television.

That honorific was previously given to TV's earliest days--the Golden Age was live TV in New York, dramas by real dramatists, comedy by geniuses like Sid Caesar, Ernie Kovacs, Jackie Gleason, Steve Allen.

Though I fondly recall the latter part of that period from my childhood, and know how formative some of the 1950s shows were for me, it's not the period of my viewing I'd call the Golden Age.  That would be the late 80s, early 1990s, with Northern Exposure, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Twin Peaks, Moonlighting, Thirtysomething, even Miami Vice.

While some of the more recent, much praised shows that I nevertheless choose not to watch may be very good in some respects, I also suspect that there is a vicious cycle now involving social media, the media that now reports on social media as a main focus, and the shows themselves.  The ability to instantly text your did you see that? and the amped-up social pressure to watch the shows so you've got something to say on Facebook as well as at work the next day, give these shows maybe more buoyancy than they might otherwise have.  

All that self-involvement may be creating a bubble, that will eventually burst.  As a form, ultraviolent soap operas don't interest me.  They are a huge waste of time and emotion.  And some are worse than that.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The European Nightmare

Things are getting a little too interesting in Europe.  The European bailout deal with Greece, dictated by Germany and the big banks, is getting some very bad reviews.

Writes Suzanne Moore in the Guardian: "By infantilising Greece, Germany resembles a child who closes its own eyes and thinks we can not see it. We can. The world is watching what is being done to Greece in the name of euro stability. It sees a nation stripped of its dignity, its sovereignty, its future."

John Cassidy in the New Yorker called it "an agreement that is perhaps the most intrusive and demanding contract between an advanced nation and its creditors since the Second World War."  He characterized it as a Greek "surrender" to the demands made principally by Germany and its allied banks,"at great cost to the country’s [Greece's] political sovereignty, the political landscape of the continent looks different, and not a little ominous."  The headline on the article reads "A Humiliating Deal for Greece."

In general, these articles support the basic pattern which N. Klein exposed in The Shock Doctrine, in which entire nations are forced into policies and debt that enriches the rich, the banks and big corporations, at the expense of the 99% and the nation as a whole.

It has been contrasted to the forgiveness of German loans after World War II that enabled Germany to prosper.

The new and perhaps most unsettling element is the role these articles attribute specifically to Germany and its Chancellor Merkel.  Cassidy's article ends: "But if what happened over the weekend doesn’t quite amount to a coup, it has nevertheless been a ruthless display of power politics on Germany’s part and a chilling reminder of the remorseless logic of a monetary union dominated by creditors and pre-Keynesian economics. In the words of Paul De Grauwe, a well-known Belgian economist who teaches at London School of Economics, a “template of future governance” of the eurozone was written over the weekend: “Submit to German rule or leave.” In the years and decades ahead, Germany may discover that many Europeans would prefer the second option."

According to the New York Times:"The strict terms of the deal imposed on Greece by fellow members of the eurozone on Sunday inspired hundreds of thousands of comments on social networks deriding the agreement as the equivalent of a coup against the left-wing government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras."

An unsigned editorial in UK's Telegraph also refers to the deal as "nothing less than national humiliation. The country that quarried the foundation stones of Western civilisation is now humbled, forced to impose more austerity measures and allow billions of euros of state assets into an internationally-controlled trust because its creditors do not trust its politicians to keep their promises. All this only days after the Greek people clearly voted against austerity as a condition for international bailouts."

Later this editorial also puts its finger on the nature of the crisis precipitated by the deal itself: "There is a certain bleak irony to the Greek agreement. Europe has gone to extraordinary new lengths to stop the integrationist project falling apart, yet never has that project looked so unstable and unsustainable as it does today."

There is more turmoil to come as the government of Greece will debate accepting these terms.  But at first blush this looks like the most serious challenge to what had been the most hopeful international project of the past 100 years or more: what Jeremy Rifkin called "the European Dream": the peaceful, democratic unification of Europe, previously the center of centuries of war, culminating in the two most destructive wars in human history.

Update/Last Word: In a Washington Post piece entitled "Greece has surrendered but Europe loses too" Matt O'Brien begins: "At least they still get to call it Greece." 

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The One Nest

After noting just a few days ago: "Unprecedented June heat scorched portions of four continents during the past week, and many all-time heat records are likely to fall across multiple continents this July as the peak heat of summer arrives for what has been the hottest year in recorded human history. Already on July 1, in Wimbledon, England--site of the classic Wimbledon tennis tournament--players are enduring the city's hottest day in tournament history," and noting that the month's heat wave in India killed upwards of 2500 while 1750 died just in Pakistan's largest city, Dr. Jeff Masters continued Friday:

Brutally hot conditions fried portions of three continents during the first three days of July, and four nations have already set all-time July national heat records this month: the Netherlands, the U.K., Thailand, and Colombia...Belgium's all-time hottest temperature was beaten on Thursday, as well as during the 2003 and 2006 heat waves. And in Paris, which measured its 2nd hottest temperature in its history on July 1 (39.7°C)... London's Heathrow Airport hit 98.1°F (36.7°C) on July 1, setting an all-time July heat record for the UK.

Speaking of heat waves in England and London's Heathrow Airport, Stewart Lee has an acerbic column in the Guardian about the heat, the business efforts to push forth a third Heathrow runway to add yet more carbon pollution, hastening eventual extinction.  It's a humorous column (possibly) since it suggests that the game is up and we ought to go straight to extinction as soon as possible, but the details he selects about conditions in England are telling.

First about the current heat wave: "In Norfolk on Thursday, the tarmac melted, and ducklings became trapped in sticky blackness. When a lioness whelped in an ancient Roman street, Caesar thought something was up. Here, solid matter transmuted to hot liquid and swallowed baby birds whole. How surreal do the signs and warnings have to become before we stop in our tracks? Are whales required to fall from the sky? Does Tim Henman have to give birth to a two-headed cat on Centre Court?"

As species disappear, on the diminishment already:

And in 50 years, will there be anyone left to remember what it was like before a sterile and toxic environment gradually became the norm? Can it only be four decades ago that every summer holiday trek along A-roads to South Devon caravan sites left our Morris Marina windscreen smeared thick with now-disappeared invertebrates, that sparrows swarmed around morning milk bottles, that sticklebacks and minnows spawned in every park pond, that hedgehogs gathered at night in suburban gardens and lay flattened in their thousands on roads every morning, and that an actual hare ran out of the encroached common land of Palmers Rough, on the fringes of Birmingham, to be chased by my grandfather along Arnold Road in that same Morris Marina, a sight that would seem as surreal today as escaped hippos wandering the streets of some collapsed eastern European capital?

"The absence of abundance is already accepted. The metaphors of the nature poets, mapping human hearts through once commonly understood imagery, are irrelevant and impenetrable. “The sun of Winter, / The moon of Summer, and all the singing birds / Except the missel-thrush that loves juniper, / Are quite shut out.” I’m sorry. The missel-what? Can the juniper be monetised? Is this missel-thing for sale? Our children already have no stable baseline from which to calibrate the loss of all that lives. It’s game over."

(Accompanying photo of a mistle-thrush was taken in Morocco.)

Saturday, July 04, 2015

An American Tradition

Among my eccentric interests, I keep a lookout for historical information about convergences of Native American and African American cultures, which seems a very understudied subject.  This interest began when I heard echoes of the blues in Native American songs and vice versa.

So this article on the origins of an Independence Day ritual, the outdoor barbeque, caught my eye today.  It's another convergence of those cultures, and like a lot of American traditions it's filled with irony.  These two subjugated groups created what has since been assimilated and appropriated as an American thing, which for most means a white thing.  The African origins in particular are never attributed, according to this article.

There were many places where African American and Native American cultures met, the most conspicuous being in Louisiana, especially New Orleans, and to some extent in Florida.  Another is South Carolina, as per this piece, and I wish I remembered more clearly what a Native American trio of singers (or maybe a duo--all women in any event) said in introducing a Native blues song--but I believe they referenced an area of North Carolina for this convergence.

I heard this group years ago at the Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, which is held in early June.  The July 4 events are part of the Pittsburgh Regatta, which this year does not include anything actually on the water.  The rains were so persistent in June that the flow rate of the rivers is four times normal, so boat races, etc. are too dangerous.  But the fireworks will go off tonight.  When I lived in Pittsburgh, particularly the year I lived on the South Side and could see them from just outside my apartment (and from my windows), I loved the fireworks.

It's a little more complicated here in California, where the drought adds extra danger to playing with fire.  We're just looking to get through it safely.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Get the Idea Yet?

Nothing happening here move along is harder to get away with when it's happening in your backyard, literally.  Lots of places--from PA to Georgia--experienced unusually severe weather in the past few days, but some of it converged on the Washington DC area.

The Washington Post reported: In the middle of the night, in July’s opening moments, the most violent complex of the storms since the June 2012 derecho blasted the immediate D.C. area. It downed scores of trees and produced blinding rain and almost non-stop lightning as it swept straight up the I-95 corridor from near Dale City through the District and into Baltimore. This morning, area utilities, including Pepco, are still dealing with thousands without electricity.

The story appended tweets and photos--a lot of the tweets said the same thing--I was as scared as I've ever been by a storm.  (The same thing Margaret's mother said from Arlington, VA.)  Booming thunder and near-constant lightning flashes as well as heavy rain (an inch in an hour) characterized this event.

Meanwhile, Jeff Masters latest blog at Weather Underground begins: Unprecedented June heat scorched portions of four continents during the past week, and many all-time heat records are likely to fall across multiple continents this July as the peak heat of summer arrives for what has been the hottest year in recorded human history.
WA Post time lapse photo over five minutes: Silver Spring, MD

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summer Weather Report

A week's worth of weather--the first official week of summer-- as reported on the Weather Underground site is enough to fill the entire newspapers that mostly ignore it.

Last Sunday, the US Southeast was in the midst of a sweltering heat wave.  On Tuesday, reports of at least 12 damaging tornadoes in the High Plains and Midwest.  Severe thunderstorms hit the Northeast on Wednesday. On Thursday, storms caused significant damage and caused widespread power failures in Missouri.  Today a huge dust storm hit Phoenix, and flooding in the Midwest killed two while also causing power failures.

Meanwhile an extreme heat wave had settled into the interior Pacific northwest from northeastern California as far north as British Columbia.  Records for June highs were broken in many locations, and significantly for this area, so were record high nightime lows--that is, things didn't really cool off as much as they usually do at night there (Portland, Oregon for instance.)  Moreover, the conditions causing this heat weren't changing, and were likely to persist into July--breaking records for the length of the heat wave as well as its intensity.  The summer fire season in these regions is already far advanced to what used to be midsummer levels.

And incidentally, heat waves in Pakistan have killed more than 1200 people, with more heat and more deaths expected.

Studies announced this week included one that showed that summers in every region of the US have been getting hotter consistently since 1970.  There's an interactive map to illustrate it.

Another study: Scorching summertime heat waves in Europe, Asia and North America, as well as extreme cold snaps in central Asia, have become more likely because of changes in the way air is flowing over those regions, a new study detailed in the journal Nature suggests.

The exact relationship of these changes in atmospheric patterns to global heating from greenhouse gases emissions is yet to be determined.  Is it causal or interactive? Do the two phenomena have different causes that tend to reinforce, exaggerate or counter effects of the other?  At this point it seems that the effects vary from place to place.  But for most places, it adds to the heat of hotter summers.

Amazing Grace

President Obama's eulogy in Charleston Friday has received various characterizations and praises, but most use the template of searing discussion of race.

My response to seeing it as recorded was different.  The context that he created for talking about Charleston and broader racial history and issues, plus related specific issues such as the Confederate flag and gun control, was what I found remarkable.  It was a highly Christian context, in a eulogy that seemed even more specifically evangelical.  He spoke with the vocabulary of a member--or a minister--of the church he spoke in, the African Methodist Evangelical church.

His overarching and at times subtle theme was grace.  I hesitate to call it a metaphor, since it seemed he meant it specifically in the Christian sense.  His definition in fact was the one I learned in Catholic school.

That he ended his eulogy by leading the singing of Amazing Grace--a few minutes excerpted from it in various media--was entirely consistent with the eulogy, even to its beginning as he recited lines from this song.  Update: I missed an aspect of this context; fortunately Jelani Cobb did not.  President Obama had just stated that the Confederacy fought for slavery, and it was wrong.  Then he launched into this song, written by a slaverunner who turned abolitionist.

My impression was that the murders in that church did send him deeper into his own faith.  And that faith is remarkably orthodox.  Much of it I can no longer share, but I found myself thinking that the logic of it for a real evangelical Christian would be profound.  I could even see sincere white evangelicals thrown into a crisis of political faith by his trenchant and clearly sincere lesson from their putatively shared religious faith.  It was, as some have pointed out, the most thoroughly religious speech a recent US President has ever given.  That alone should change some hearts and minds, if they are at all open.

The Week That Was: Legacy Continued

David Remmick's New Yorker piece continues the theme of Obama's big week, but adds some perspective on the week's events, especially Supreme Court decisions and President Obama's eulogy in South Carolina.

Jonathan Chiat at New York adds his perspective on what he calls a time of social revolution.  And another at the New Yorker, looking more specifically at the Charleston eulogy, comparing it with Lincoln's second Inaugural, and the way forward from it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Obama Legacy

Sarah Larson's report in the New Yorker on President Obama's garage podcast interview has this key quote from it.  Obama said his job sometimes is  “to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that, in ten years, we’re in a very different place than we are now.” People might want fifty degrees, now, but that might sink the ship, he said.

He's been using that metaphor since 2008, though he extended it a bit here.  And it's why I'm not disappointed with Barack Obama as President.  Because he's right, and that's what he's been doing, as well as setting an agenda and providing a framework for the future with what he chooses to talk about and what he says.  And he's been pretty consistent in those areas, too.

Sometimes the change comes pretty quickly.  Though the Affordable Care Act isn't ever going to fix the US healthcare system entirely, it's made a crucial difference for many, many people, and has beat most projections for coverage and cost containment.  That's a strong precedent as well as a "people eat everyday" reform.

Another change is the suddenly burgeoning clean energy industry.  President Obama used the stimulus package in 2009 to seed that sector, and it is taking off.  Bill McKibben had an eye-opening article about solar power this week.

I'm not saying people can't criticize this or that, or that I agree with everything, especially in the murky NSA/CIA areas.  And I'm in a pretty constant state of dismay over the politics in Washington and the reversion of an entire political party to barbarism, while the other party has it seamy sides as well.  But I can't think of any area where what Obama says contravenes important facts as I know them.  Of course, I can be like WTF host Marc Maron who admitted that he's had periods where he's tried to run the country from his couch.  "A lot of people do," Obama replied.  But I try to maintain a little humility about what I know and what I don't know.

But here's something I know.  There were a lot of stories today (Thursday) about how Obama had such a great day and great week because Obamacare didn't get dismantled by the Supreme Court, and after much politics on the Hill, he got the essentials of his trade package going.  At least one story said that these were two of the three remaining mainstays of his "legacy."  The third is a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

That's wrong.  The achievement that will be just as important, and finally much more important that these, is a global deal on carbon and other efforts to address the causes of the climate crisis, and maybe even some framework for organizing responses to the effects.

That test will come finally in December.  Right now there is an unprecedented global momentum consciously being built, a maybe last ditch effort to get this done.  The encyclical by Pope Francis is a major part of that,  and the support for it from leaders of institutions both within the Catholic Church and representing other denominations is part of that effort.

As the year goes on, the do or die focus will intensify, hopefully so strongly that the media can't doze through it, their attention continually flickering away to the latest bright object.

President Obama already has the most significant legacy on the climate crisis of any President, but this is the big one.  As he is clearly aware, this is the most important issue for his youngest constituents, who will live on a planet that we hesitate to imagine.  That's the reality of legacy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

No, It's the Flag!

At least couple of writers--like one at New York Magazine, another at the New Yorker--have now noted that the Confederate flag frenzy has rather neatly shifted all attention from doing something that might actually matter the next time somebody gets a mass-murder impulse: gun control.

Which leads me to wonder: could the power behind this flag thing actually be the National Rifle Association?

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Subject is Racism

Jonathan Chiat at New York:

The mysteriousness of Dylann Roof’s motivations for allegedly murdering a room full of African-Americans, rated on a scale of 1 through 10, is zero. Roof has been described by people who knew him as obsessed with racial hatred, has been photographed with racist symbolism, told his victims he planned to murder them because of their race, and even let one live specifically so that she could let the world know the reason for his crime. It is entirely possible that some form of mental illness or adverse life event caused Roof to embrace violent racism, but there is zero doubt that racism directly motivated his actions.

The rest of this column is about how Republicans, including presidential candidates, have avoided saying that this the motivation for this mass murder was racism.  A companion column provides a sampling of what candidates did say. As Chiat points out, they didn't have to handle it this way.  Call it racism, say it has no place in American society, disassociate yourself from these views.  This used to be the minimum political standard.  Not any more.  The Republican party is very close to officially admitting it is a party for racists.  I suppose they gets some points for acknowledging the truth.

Trending today is the Confederate flag--move it from the South Carolina capitol, take it off the shelves of Walmart, etc.  In part this looks like a mix of guilty conscience, misdirection, a way to talk about this without talking about this, and an Internet-fed instant fad.  We'll see.

President Obama spoke some pointed words on racism in an unusual interview--a podcast recorded in a garage.  Here's a good story on it, here are some quotes, here's the link. Here's another story/summary in the New Yorker.

Update 6/23: The Confederate flag thing continues to spread.  There's an educational component about why that flag flies at all, addressed in this story, by Jelani Cobb, which also provides contemporary context:

Fifty-five per cent of the black population of the United States resides in the South. A hundred and five Southern counties have a population that is at least fifty per cent black. The idea of the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride presumes that there was some universally accessible virtue associated with the circumstances under which that flag came into existence. The more honest assessment would preface the word “Southern” with the adjective “white.”

As for the flurry of other announcements today, there seems to be a degree of "we feel guilty but we can't think of anything else to do" apparently motivating retailers, who get positive publicity from people most likely to buy their products, and yet, as the above linked story concludes:

"When I spoke to Anton Gunn, a former state legislator who ran Obama’s primary campaign in South Carolina, he asked, “If you take the flag down tomorrow, what is going to substantively change in the lives of black people and people affected by inequality in South Carolina?”

The situation in South Carolina has become a tragedy wrapped in an irony. The Confederate flag was erected as a pandering symbol to a segment of the white population who could expect little else from the government. Taking it down offers a kind of equality—an equality of emptiness—to black South Carolinians."

Which is to say that Republicans aren't going to address substantive changes, nor in most cases support and implement government programs that address the needs of blacks as well as others, like Medicaid and Obamacare.  But apart from that, I suppose this flag frenzy could be the symbolic beginning of a new round of addressing residual racism as reflected in institutions.  And probably it will be taken too far, so that eventually some kid who brings a Confederate flag to school for history class will get expelled.  

Friday, June 19, 2015

Your Friendly Neighborhood Terrorist


President Obama calls out Congress for aiding and abetting killers by refusing to pass the simplest gun control laws, while the white racist murderer who was invited into an historic black church in Charleston for Bible studies says he almost didn't carry out his plan because they were so nice to him.  But he had a mission.  Jon Stewart calls him a terrorist, much more dangerous to at least black Americans than any foreigners who might target white people. David Remmick at the New Yorker places this in historical and political context (i.e. Obama.) There's not much more to add to what Stewart says in this video. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

A World of Falling Skies

For me, reading Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth by Craig Childs felt like the end of a sequence of books I've read (and often written about) over the past decade or so--books specifically about the climate crisis.

The pre-history of this sequence begins in the late 1980s, when several very hot summers in the eastern US coincided with the first extended revelations of what were then called the Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming.  Bill McKibben claims to have written the first book on the subject in The End of Nature, but there were others at about that time, as well as After the Warming, James Burke's excellent television treatment (which included describing history that had been determined by climate, then a novel idea but now much more accepted.)  Science writer Jonathan Weiner devoted several chapters of his 1990 book The Next One Hundred Years to global heating research to that point, and its likely dramatic effect on the future.

After writing Earth in the Balance in 1992, then running for President without much mentioning these issues in 2000, Al Gore gave the climate crisis its highest profile to that point in 2006 with his film and book, An Inconvenient Truth.  Unfortunately, those needing political cover to oppose efforts to address the climate crisis so as to please fossil fuel billionaire donors, found it in a former Democratic presidential candidate--especially hated since they all knew he'd actually been elected.

But for my purposes here, I note An Inconvenient Truth as representing other books and articles of the period, in that they made the substantial case for global heating caused by carbon pollution, and warned of future consequences.  Gore in particular talked about how there was still time to "solve" the climate crisis.  How do you solve a crisis?  You don't--you address a crisis, you solve a problem--but it did convey the idea that action now could mean there would be no climate crisis.

Other works generally followed this line.  Then came Forecast by Stephan Faris, in which the author reported on consequences already happening.  The bigger ones were far away (Darfur, where climate caused scarcity that fed warfare), South Asia, South America and the good news for some/bad news for others of Arctic warming.  More subtle effects felt in the US included changes in the California wine industry as the best climate for grapes was moving northward.

Faris' book was largely ignored, however.  The idea of present consequences didn't follow either the rabid right line (move along, nothing will ever happen here) or the left line (we still have time to pass cap & trade or a carbon tax and solve this.)

The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning by James Lovelock (2009) was not the first to say it is basically too late, but Lovelock (co-originator of the Gaia theory) was both revered and considered a bit radical by environmentalists.  Bill McKibben gave this book a respectful review but found fault with main conclusions.  Lovelock wrote that perhaps only 200 million people on the entire planet would survive the climate crisis and related phenomena, all living in polar regions. There wasn't sufficient evidence for that, McKibben said.

But then something happened.  Scientific observations--particularly of polar melting--were showing consequences not predicted to happen for decades under worst case scenarios for global heating.  The change in tone was immediate.  For me the first and still most powerful was David Orr in Down to the Wire (2009.)  The evidence that global heating was causing grave consequences--and due to lag times in effects, would continue into the near future--became a guardedly accepted premise, it seemed almost overnight.

 As Orr wrote, "The news about climate, oceans, species, and all of the collateral human consequences will get a great deal worse for a long time before it gets better.  The reasons for authentic hope are on a farther horizon, centuries ahead...The change in our perspective from the nearer to the longer term is, I think, the most difficult challenge we will face."  So no longer were we going to solve the climate crisis.  We were going to have to deal with its effects, while at the same time attacking its causes, not to save ourselves or even our grandchildren, but the ultimate future of human civilization and perhaps the human race. (Al Gore eventually joined in this view.)

This presented two basic problems that are both intellectual and emotional.  One is: how do you work up the hope and resolve to attack and try to solve these problems when you'll never see the better outcome, but you will see things get worse?  The other--and perhaps emotionally the first--how do you deal with what's to come, that (somewhat depending on where you are) may look a lot like apocalypse?

Both of these became the grim and delicate subjects of such books as Bill McKibben's Eaarth (2010), the title indicating that the planet has already changed and won't change back, and the best we can do is "manage our descent."   Paul Gilding's The Great Disruption (2010), while suggesting that the climate crisis will mean "we'll tragically lose a few billion people," maintained that humanity will rise to the occasion and save itself from extinction, thus providing this book's rep as "optimistic."  In his third book on the climate crisis and related matters, James Gustave Speth mixed the same dire assumptions and hope with a plan in  America the Possible (2013.)  Mark Hertsgaard, who got onto the time lag consequences early, wrote clearly on the two time frames and what they mean in Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth (2011.)

Since then, the news of effects has been--as Orr predicted--increasingly bad.  Though the far future looks a little better, with the rise of clean energy and new carbon regulations (both fostered by the Obama administration), and with hopes for a meaningful global treaty later this year, we still must deal with those two basic problems, conceptually and emotionally.

That all leads to Apocalyptic Planet (published in hardcover in 2012, and in paperback in 2013.)  Dealing emotionally with the apocalyptic possibilities is an ongoing process, with lots of changes in perspective and feeling.  What Craig Childs did was to visit places where apocalypse is visible in various ways: where climate crisis consequences are visible and tangible and ongoing, and to extreme places where apocalypse already happened, perhaps a very long time ago, and in a sense is still happening.  Although I discovered this book late, it also took me a long time to read it all.  I could only handle so much apocalypse at a time.

Childs begins in the desert and moves on to the glaciers.  It's clear from these first two chapters that his writing is vivid, economical and eloquent.  He describes his own single set of experiences and those of companions in these extreme landscapes.  The combination of beauty and fear in these places produces a complex awe.  As his party of documentary filmmakers finds one astonishingly fast-melting glacier after another, several couples find crevices in the ice where they have sex.

These places are indicators of apocalypse.  The extreme and alien landscape of the Mexican desert is inexorably expanding into Arizona, as drought deepens and consolidates.  Scientists in his party are astounded by the speed with which the glaciers they observe can melt and drain away--feelings echoed more recently in statements about melting in Antarctica.

He goes to Alaska with his intrepid mother to look at consequences of sea level rise. He returns to his birthplace of Arizona to explore the rise and fall of civilizations, where he talks with an archeologist.  "As dark came on, Wright and I talked about how civilizations tend to fall, common themes you see throughout time: environmental decay, failure of top-heavy infrastructure, resource depletion, loss of social egalitarianism, disease, conflict."

He asked Wright what such an apocalypse would look like.  It would start out looking like Phoenix today, with decay beginning at the edges.  Apocalypse can be a slow process in human time.  Childs grapples with the twin sense that apocalypse simply happens over and over, and every civilization that has risen so far has fallen, but that once anticipated some of these fates may be avoidable.

Or apocalypse can happen relatively quickly.  In Greenland he discusses with a climate scientist the possibilities of rapid climate change.  It's happened before, without human help--and this is one of this book's contributions: it deals in different time frames, including a multi-billion year perspective.

A major figure in this long Greenland chapter is Koni Steffans, an European climate expert whose research camp Childs is visiting.  From time to time, government officials and others visit the camp for updates.  "What he tells people who visit is not that the sky is falling but that we live in a world of falling skies and it is best not only to know your options but to make moves ensuring the worst does not happen." [p.176]

Childs does not limit his explorations to consequences of the climate crisis.  He looks at tectonics in Tibet, volcanoes in Hawaii (a monster volcano eruption is probably the best candidate for near-instant, near-total apocalypse.) The Tibet chapter includes a daring ride down an uncharted river, a surprising release from the book's main tensions.

But for me the scariest landscape he describes is a corn field in Iowa--genetically modified corn to resist predators is combined with chemical killers of all non-modified life.  The crops themselves are depleting the soil without regenerating it: they are killing the future they are feeding.

This environment of deliberate industrialized death is the occasion for discussion of species extinction (the specific subject of Elizabeth Colbert's 2014 book The Sixth Extinction.)  This somehow is the most emotionally powerful aspect of apocalypse, perhaps because there is nothing of awe and terror in it.  It is indirect but conscious destruction, invisible and hollow.  A scientist points out that individual animals of species about to disappear are mostly not ill or weak.  Their environment, their breeding grounds, makes following generations smaller and then impossible.  So one day they are just not there anymore.

Childs and his companion spend days and nights in these corn fields, searching for any life at all--insects, birds, grass.  They find little, but the little they do find is a source of some hope.

Time scales and the constituents of apocalypse, including the climate crisis, come together in the final chapter, as Childs searches out the limits of life in the severest desert he could find, in South America.  He looks beyond what we define as the living to find the life of the planet.  "The earth is a seed planting itself over and over."

There is no easy solace, or easy despair.  This book expands the usual view of the Earth, in time and space, in levels and variety.  It becomes a little like contemplating the realities we suppress, of what happens over time in our own lives, in the inevitability of death and the mysteries of life changing and continuing.

This book helps to provide a different perspective for thinking and feeling through future prospects as shaped by global heating.  But it doesn't simplify those thoughts and feelings into a philosophical complacency.  Its strongest message is to experience fully what we are privileged to be part of in our own brief time on Earth, in all its dimensions.  It also supports hope as an operating principle, as a kind of responsibility that comes with being alive.  The responsibility is to contribute to a better future--even if that means a less awful future that it might otherwise be-- together with our responsibilities to people and communities and places in our present.    

Monday, June 08, 2015

A Tragedy We Share

A young black man in New York City, who had been imprisoned and tortured for three years without charge (he'd been arrested for stealing a backpack, which he denied) killed himself.  His story had been told in the New Yorker, and the writer posted this news.

The Mayor of New York, who had made changes in response to the initial story, today vowed more reforms.

We hardly needed more evidence to know that the entire police and prison system is enveloped in darkness.  In many places in America, corruption that apparently reaches into district attorney and judicial offices, institutionalized cruelty,  and the phenomenon of police departments acting as autonomous agencies that rule by their own law have become startlingly clear.  The Guardian (in England of course) has a running count of individuals killed by U.S. police.  The count for this year so far is at 490.

But especially troubling about the story of Kalief Browder, who was sent to Rikers Island when he was 16, kept in solitary for long periods without charge, and whose beatings by prison staff and other inmates are documented in video obtained and posted by the New Yorker, is simply how many people had to know what was happening to him, and let it happen, or helped it happen.  They cooperated, they said nothing.  No public officials responded (and perhaps were never contacted) until the New Yorker story, which was published after Browder was finally released without ever being charged.

For those who believe that human nature is all about individual survival and success, and that cruelty and violence dominate our genetic legacy, all of this must seem natural.  That view of human nature is historically recent and short, and is being superseded in our time by science that shows cooperation, empathy, altruism, generosity are just as vital to human nature.

Individual conscience and courage tip the scales, but cultural standards can make a big difference.  Law is part of those standards, and the law must take an interest in situations like this that should never happen in this country.  Never.

But cultural standards are everyone's responsibility.  That not a single person apparently rose to the occasion before Kalief Browder's psyche was destroyed is shocking and sobering.  None of us hold our heads high today.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Eulogy of Hope



President Obama's eulogy for Beau Biden is more than a tribute to this "good man" but the statement of life principles that illuminate not only his own commitments but a path for others.  His words were underscored by those of Beau's kid sister and his brother at the funeral Saturday.  The entire service is viewable on C-Span, as are the other eulogies and songs.

I spotted a story today I won't dignify by linking that asserts that these events shed a different light on Joe Biden, who has otherwise been seen as a joke, a punchline. Pretty obviously, nothing has changed but the media spin.  Joe Biden, as these eulogies attest, has not changed--that's really the point that runs through these memorials, from Joe and his parents even before that, to Beau and his siblings, and to the next generation of their children, the same commitments to the love that is always there, to compassion, generosity and service.  But the media can't deal with anything so incomprehensible, and would rather stick with the Republican-fed cynicism, slavery to fashion and triviality and the cliche-ridden sensibility for which they are so justly infamous.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

A Family in Grief


I've moved this back to the top today, in honor of the official mourning period for Beau Biden.  Here is the White House page on Beau Biden, text and mostly photos, many with his two small children.  May he rest in peace.

Two similar pieces appeared recently in the wake of the death of Beau Biden, the Vice-President's 46 year old son, from a brain tumor: one in the New Yorker, one in Politico (not otherwise known for kindness towards Democrats.)  They both noted the tragic nature of this death, of a young man with an already distinguished record, who seemed to have no enemies, and who was headed for the governorship of Delaware and perhaps beyond.  They both noted all the tragedies endured by Joe Biden, including the deaths of his wife and child blindsided in their car, and the injuries of two other children including Beau.

But both pieces center on the universally recognized authenticity of Joe Biden and his family.  Without much saying so, they certainly imply the rarity of that authenticity in American political life.  This is especially obvious when this sad news broke the same week as revelations about the secret crimes of the former Republican Speaker of the House and multimillionaire, Dennis Hastert--a man so utterly not what he seems that fittingly enough, he has completely disappeared.

Joe Biden was "a surprise pick" for v.p. nominee, as the Politico piece says, but evidently Obama saw something authentic in the man and his family, and the the two families quickly bonded.  The Politico piece passes on an observation by David Axlerod, who was in the Obama White House in its first years:

Axelrod said the only day in his two years on staff at the White House that he remembers Obama being distracted was the day in 2010 when Beau Biden had his stroke — the first public sign of the brain cancer that took his life. “He just stared out the window and started talking about how hard this would be for Joe,” Axelrod recalled.

This piece implies that one reason Joe Biden wasn't actively pursuing a presidential nomination this year was his concern for his son's health.

Apparently, being asked to run for vice-president surprised even Joe Biden.  The New Yorker:

He rose through the Senate, ran twice for the Presidency, said things he wished he had not, paid for them, recovered—only to find himself, to his surprise, asked to join a fellow senator, Barack Obama, in a historic run for the White House. In the Vice-Presidency—the most maligned job in Washington—Biden has often projected the look of a man who can’t quite believe his good fortune. Ted Kaufman, his friend for more than four decades, once told me, “If you ask me who’s the unluckiest person I know personally, who’s had just terrible things happen to him, I’d say Joe Biden. If you asked me who is the luckiest person I know personally, who’s had things happen to him that are just absolutely incredible, I’d say Joe Biden.”

The New Yorker quotes President Obama:

After the news broke on Saturday, the President praised Beau Biden for “a life that was full; a life that mattered.” He said it was a testament to Jill and Joe Biden that Beau lived “a life that reflected their reverence for family.” “The Bidens,” he said, “have more family than they know.” 

There is something to that. In a town where “family” is often brandished as a political prop, the Bidens have never attracted a cynical reading. In their tragedy, their striving, their survival, and their improbable optimism, the Bidens are a deeply American family—a clan that, even as it edged into privilege, has never looked out of reach or out of touch.

Both pieces have variations on "an American family" in their titles.  Perhaps the Bidens are more like American families than most people in Washington.  It seems so plausible as to be obvious, so perhaps this moment should jolt us into realizing how seriously warped that is.  Really, once the Obamas and the Bidens leave, who is left?

On the other hand, maybe there aren't enough families like them to constitute anything but an ideal American family.  Which may be even worse.  But both pieces note the outpouring of real emotion from Washington and elsewhere. Perhaps they are models to aspire to and identify with, in our national heart of hearts.  And so we grieve with them.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Heard These? Probably Not.

Two bad news stories you probably haven't heard or seen or read: one of them very bad, and the other astonishingly bad.

There's an ongoing heat wave in India that has killed thousands. It's become the fifth deadliest heat wave in history. The Minister for Earth Sciences of India noted that this heat plus the predicted failure of this year's annual monsoons after last year's complete failure, indicates that climate change is involved.

"So, let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heat wave and the certainty of another failed monsoon,” said Dr. Harsh Vardhan. He recalled President Obama’s candid statement on the three-year-running drought in California which has ruined that state’s fruit crop.

He pointed out that the Indian monsoon is known to be heavily dependent on oceanic, atmospheric and land surface conditions. The drastic changes brought about through change of the character of land and resultant atmospheric pollution are definitely influencing the monsoon. Dr Harsh Vardhan remarked, “Scientists till now had not considered the local implications of global change. Think global act local is happening now.”


That's the very bad story.  The possibly worse story--though no present deaths are involved--is a new study predicting that global heating is melting glaciers in the Himalayas so fast that by century's end their volume will be decreased by 70 to 90%.

Like other key areas of the world, the effects on local populations will be immense:

The food and livelihoods of more than a billion people living in Asia would suffer greatly by drastic glacial retreat in the Himalayas, a report by The Guardian says. Both the generation of hydroelectric power and agriculture would be severely affected. And, in addition to a dramatic reduction in meltwater, glacial retreat also can trigger a chain of events leading to avalanches and catastrophic floods, the authors say.

But that isn't the end of it.  For reasons not entirely understood, the Himalayas (especially near Tibet) are important to the world's weather.  The area greatly influences the atmospheric tides that govern global weather and climate in real time.  So in addition to local effects of the climate crisis, we're seeing the possibility of global consequences from local effects.

But of course all that isn't nearly important as the big stories of the day, like multimillionaire Caitlyn Jenner and granny panties.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Roosevelt & Hopkins: War Tourists, Congress and the President

The mythology of World War II has the United States, seeing Hitler as the evil threat he was, united to defeat him.  We've seen that wasn't true, before the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 or afterwards, until Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor meant the US declared war not only on Japan but on its ally, Germany.

The mythology also has the homefront united in the war effort.  While the homefront was crucial and most Americans felt it was their patriotic duty to obey rationing and endure other sacrifices, collect materials for armament, and work overtime if asked in war production.  But private enterprise was not always so dedicated.

For instance, Roosevelt and Hopkins records this episode:

 “The ships moving along the Atlantic Coast at night, although showing no lights themselves, passed between the waiting [German]submarines and the glare of lights from the shore and therefore presented easy targets. Morison has written, ‘Miami and its luxurious suburbs threw up six miles of neon-light glow, against which the southbound shipping that hugged the reefs to avoide the Gulf Stream were silhouetted. Ships were sunk and seamen drowned in order that the citizenry might enjoy business and pleasure as usual.’
After three months of this massacre, the military authorities ordered the lights dimmed in coastal areas—it was called ‘the brown-out’—and ‘squawks went up all the way from Atlantic City to southern Florida that the tourist season would be ruined.’”

Pressure from private enterprise was applied to Congress.  Congress approved war spending routinely, with one exception:

“However, seriously controversial political issues were created by measures which involved arbitrary interference with the civilian economy. The American people, who were so willing and proud to give whatever was required of them in blood and sweat, were loudly reluctant to cut down on their normal consumption of red meat and gasoline and their use of such essentials as electric toasters and elastic girdles. More than any other people on earth, Americans were addicted to the principle that you can eat your cake and have it; which was entirely understandable, for Americans have been assured from the cradle that 'there is always more cake where that came from.'”

When Congress couldn't take the heat, they gladly passed it on to Roosevelt, and then criticized him for acting.  That they criticized his use of executive power--though they were glad he did them the favor of taking responsibility and acting--sure sounds familiar. In taking action against inflation, FDR told Congress to act or he would--which is what President Obama did on immigration.  In both cases, Congress failed to act, but the President did.

“The President had the power to stabilize prices and wages by Executive Order without reference to Congress and some of us believed that he should do just that immediately and not run the risk of hostile action or no action at all on Capitol Hill. There were unquestionably many Congressman who fervently hoped that he would do it this way and thereby absolve them from all responsibility for decision on such a controversial issue. (It was an ironic fact that many of the Congressmen who were loudest in accusing Roosevelt of dictatorial ambitions were the most anxious to have him act like a dictator on all measures which might be unpopular with the people but obviously valuable for the winning of the war.) 
 Roosevelt himself was in favor of an arbitrary Executive Order to achieve stabilization, and his speech was at first written as a proclamation and explanation of that; but some of his advisers, notably Hopkins and Henderson, strongly recommended that he ut the issue up to Congress in the form of an ultimatum—‘you act before October 1st or I will’—and their arguments finally prevailed.”