Friday, July 19, 2013

Vacation Time

We're on our way to Oregon and Washington for vacation this morning.  We'll stay at Mt. Shasta tonight, and then at a cabin on the McKenzie River for four days.  we'll next proceed up to Portland, where Joan will attend the 4-day National Handbell Convention.  We'll get to stay with a dear friiend of mine from college, Jeff Deiss, and while Joan's at the conference I'll get to chum around with Jeff and my other college friends Tom Reardon, Ron Schlichtenmyer and Dana Brown.

Then it's up to Seattle to meet up with my sister Toni.  After touring Seattle and environs for a couple of days it's down to Ashland, Oregon for some plays.  The two Shakespeare are Midsummer Night's Dream and Taming of the Shrew.  The two non-bard are Robin Hood and one set in Mexico.  It should be a great time!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Air Pollution Kills

The New York Times reports that the National Academy of Sciences has released a scientific finding on air pollution.  It finds that people in the northern part of China have their lifespans shortened by an average of five years compared to residents of southern China.  The reason?  Heavy air pollution caused by the massive proliferation of coal-fired electrical power plants.  The north is industrializing to a greater extent than the south, accounting for most of the difference.  There are also greater hydroelectric resources in the south.

The study was conducted by four scientists: two Chinese, one American, and one Israeli.  The study, examining records over a 20-year period from 1981-2001, may actually understate the effect, since many more plants have been built since then.  Such statistical analyses over twenty years and encompassing a large population make clear the heavy human cost of specific developmental choices.

The message is clear: cost-benefit calculations must include more than just direct economic factors.  They need to extend to such factors as medical,  life-expectancy, water and indeed all human and environmental costs associated with any contemplated course of action.  That would show the true cost of some seemingly cheaper developmental options.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Loving the National Parks

My oldest daughter visited us for the weekend, and yesterday we spent the day at Sequoia National Park.  I was reminded again how great our national parks are, and for so many reasons.  To start with, they preserve the rare and the beautiful.  The Giant Forest area of Sequoia, which includes the General Sherman tree, the largest living thing on earth, is about an hour and a half drive from home.  Without the national park idea, these trees would all be gone, cut down for lumber.  As it is, we have only three percent of the redwood forests that existed 150 years ago.  They would be extinct had they not been placed in a federal preserve as urged by John Muir and guarded by the "buffalo soldiers" beginning in 1890.

The parks preserve natural ecosystems, giving us baseline examples by which to measure the health of the natural world.  They give us welcome respites from the noise and grit of the modern world, and that in turn seems to bring out the best in the human spirit.  As Jeanette and I climbed Moro Rock or hiked the Alta Trail we came across people from many different countries.  We heard conversation in many tongues, both identifiable and mysterious, and  the common denominators were happiness and friendliness.  People were universally in a good mood, smiling and laughing, faces gazing upward to the canopy in wonder or to the sculpted horizon in awe.  Brotherhood reigned as folks shared their impressions, asked directions or shared sights and pictures with complete strangers in pidgin or gestures.  The atmosphere at a national park gives me hope that maybe someday international problems can be surmounted and we can all get along.  There is something about unspoiled nature that brings out the positive in people.

Photo: With daughter Jeanette today at Sequoia  National Park

Monday, July 1, 2013

Comprehensive Immigration Stalled?

I'm beginning to think the chances are growing that comprehensive immigration reform may run into an unresolvable roadblock in the House of Representatives.  Like the fiscal "grand bargain" and sensible gun regulation, the national need, public opinion and the long-term good of the Republican Party are likely to be sacrificed to right wing ideology and the short-term political imperatives of getting re-elected in strongly conservative districts. 

Everyone knows the long-term national prospects of the Republican Party are dismal unless they can find a way to reverse their recent terrible performance with Hispanic voters.  Mitt Romney won only 27% of the nation's largest and fastest -growing minority group in the 2012 election.  What's more, national surveys indicate strong support across the country for an immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship.  In last week's passage of comprehensive immigration, 14 of the 46 GOP senators broke with their leadership and voted for the bipartisan plan that increases border security in exchange for a lengthy process that would allow the undocumented to eventually become citizens.  Together with unanimous support from Senate Democrats, the final vote produced an impressive 68-32 majority for reform.

Even so, heavy obstacles remain in the House.  None is more important than the composition of the Republican districts their members represent.  The great majority of GOP congress men and women are in safe Republican districts.  70% of congressional districts represented by a Republican are less than 10% Hispanic.  So even though they know their party needs to make inroads in the Hispanic vote to win the macro political struggle, especially in the long run, in their own cases they have much more to fear in their particular districts from primary challengers from their right who will accuse them of voting for "amnesty" for "illegal aliens," two terms that are political dynamite among arch conservatives. 

The only way to pass comprehensive immigration in the House is a bill that would win over the Democrats and 15 or 20 of the most moderate Republicans.   But Speaker John Boehner, whose own position is precarious and has shown little ability to stand up to the tea party extremists in his own caucus, has said he will introduce no bill in the House that doesn't have majority Republican support.  That rules out any bill that doesn't support harshly punitive steps against undocumented workers, the type of bill that cannot pass the Senate.  In the final analysis, in order to get anything done, House Republicans would have to vote for the national interest and their party's long term interest over their own individual short-term political interests. 

That takes political courage.  It is is the kind of thing many House Democrats did in passing health reform in 2010, and many paid for it that November with the loss of their seats.  Up to now, it is the kind of perspective we have seen precious little of from the members of this Republican House.  Though it would be a welcome development, it may be too much to hope for.