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AWOL in the climate war PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 19 October 2011 17:22

As its economic rivals take the lead in dealing with global warming, the U.S. is shackled by political rhetoric that denies the existence of the crisis that solid, credible science predicts

We hear a lot about the U.S. falling behind other countries in education and health care, as we should—these are clouds over America’s future. But shamefully little is heard these days about another cloud over America’s future—global warming.

Little is being heard because the U.S. is ignoring the problem of man-made climate change. Meanwhile, other countries are moving forward to deal with it.

China is adopting a cap and trade system with penalties for excess pollution. India has enacted a carbon tax on coal. Australia is about to levy a carbon tax. The European Union’s emissions trading system, adopted in 2005, is expanding annually on schedule.

The irony here is that the U.S. should be leading way, rather than being unable to even follow. This is true not just because the U.S. puts more carbon in the atmosphere than any other country, but because climate change caused by energy consumption is the sort of challenge that can-do, problem-solving America ought to be able to handle better than any  nation, given the power of its technology and the capitalist engine of its still world-leading economy.

Scholars looking back from a future era may be able to determine how climate change became a political issue in the first decades of the 21st century in the U.S., but for now we’re stuck with the bizarre reality that it is, and that a significant number of elected officials, candidates for office and voters think that the proper response to global warming is to deny it exists.

Some leaders who do believe the science of climate change are daunted by its politics. President Barack Obama promised “a new chapter in American leadership on climate change,” but now doesn’t talk about it.

The scientists, however, are talking. The National Academy of Sciences issued a report in September warning that failing to act now to reduce carbon emissions will leave the country with terrible choices in the future.


The report emphasized that the science forecasting the dangers of climate change is valid.

The academy put together a diverse committee of scientists, business leaders and politicians to weigh the evidence and produce the report in an attempt to counter the anti-science bias that seems to account for much of the global warming denial phenomenon.

The notion that the scientists raising the alarm about climate change, representing the vast majority of the scientific establishment, are inept or fraudulent defies reason. Some of the same Americans who trust science to find cures for disease, send humans into space and develop amazing weapons, among other wonders it accomplishes, find science untrustworthy when it comes to analyzing the cause and effect of climate change.

In parts of the world where climate change is being addressed an understanding is emerging that reducing gas-trapping air pollution is not just an imperative, but an opportunity to abet economic growth through the development of new technologies.

They are facing the reality that dealing with climate change is about more than windmills and solar panels and other non-polluting sources of energy. It is also about making cleaner, more efficient use of the oil, coal and gas that will be needed to power the world for many generations, if not centuries, to come.

In the race to reap the benefits of dealing with climate change, the U.S. has conceded the lead to Europe and, more ominously, to the gigantic Asian nations that are or will be our chief  economic rivals.

A recent Pew Research Group poll found that 59% of Americans believe global warming is happening. That’s down from 79% in 2006, perhaps a reflection of the tenor the political rhetoric, but still a solid majority.

It’s time for that majority to be heard. Its message should be: Don’t cast America as a know-nothing, science-doubting society so bereft of vision that it can’t see a way to take on global warming while sustaining its free-market economy. If America is a world leader—as it has been and should be—it must lead in meeting the coming climate crisis.

 
Nest eggs and market manipulators PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by DONALD J. HALL JR.   
Wednesday, 12 October 2011 23:57

A stock market made dangerously volatile by flash traders is another place middle-class Americans are vulnerable in an under-regulated economic system

It’s hard to know precisely what the growing ranks of the Occupy Wall Street protestors are protesting. They haven’t articulated exactly what it is that makes them angry, except to point to financial institutions that helped bring on the crash of 2008 and then were bailed out with taxpayer money and are now recovered and prosperous, while the poor, the unemployed and the middle class continue to struggle.

Vague as that may be, it would not be surprising to find that many middle-class Americans, even those who have jobs and lifestyles that though diminished by the recession are still moderately comfortable, empathize with the protestors in their uncertainty over futures that, at least in the financial sense, are out of their control.

Consider the stock market. Once considered a playground for investment sophisticates, it is today the repository for the nest eggs of millions of ordinary Americans, folks who invest in stocks to grow their savings in Individual Retirement Accounts and 401(k) accounts to provide for their needs after retirement, or in EdVest college savings accounts to help pay for their children’s or grandchildren’s college educations.

These investors are not speculators or day traders; they are mostly people who entrust their savings to mutual fund managers to buy equity in solid, well grounded, profitable companies with the idea that when the companies prosper so will their investors.

One of the lessons of the last three turbulent years is that it doesn’t always work that way. Market swings largely unrelated to the performance of public companies have cost investors dearly, leaving them with the sense that the future they expected their savings to ensure is in the thrall of forces they cannot influence or understand.

Light is now being shed on one of the most egregious of those forces by an investigation into computerized high-speed stock market trading, the phenomenon that caused the precipitous market dive of 700 points in just minutes on May 6, 2010, a massive, instant sell-off triggered by computers that caused what is now known as a flash crash.

This is not the most sinister of the effects on small investors of high-speed computer trading. Evidence is surfacing that such trading is being used to manipulate markets by issuing and then cancelling huge buy or sell orders that were never meant to be completed.

In high-speed computerized trading, thousands of buy or sell orders can be issued in a second. A respected Wall Street trader quoted by the New York Times blamed the investment companies that practice this for the market’s dangerous volatility: “They make a fortune whereas the public gets whipsawed by this trading.”

Strict monitoring and regulation are needed to identify and punish the market manipulators and make the stock market a safer place for small investors.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is working on this. As for regulation of other elements of the nation’s financial sector, no help should be expected from Congress, where some representatives and senators are so out of touch with the vulnerabilities of middle-class Americans that there is a move afoot to undo the sensible regulations imposed by the Dodd-Frank Act on the activities of Wall Street companies whose risky schemes undermined the financial system to the point of collapse.

Is it any wonder that the anti-Wall Street protests gain adherents by the day?


 
Lessons of a valorous rescue PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 05 October 2011 15:52

The dramatic cheating of tragedy on the Port Washington breakwater last week attested to the fury of Lake Michigan and the essential role of the county rescue boat

The rescue of two men clinging for their lives to the Port Washington lighthouse under the furious assault of gale-driven waves on Sept. 26 provided not only high drama, but two lessons that should be carved in stone and displayed prominently at the lakefront.

Lesson one: Lake Michigan is a force of nature that has the ability to turn instantly from benign to menacing with a ferocity that can match that of any of the world’s seas, whether inland or ocean, fresh or salt water. Doubters should refer to the photograph on Page One of last week’s Ozaukee Press, taken at almost the precise moment the alarm was sounded about the two men marooned under the lighthouse, showing the 58-foot-high lighthouse dwarfed by an exploding wall of water, spume and spray.

Lesson two: The county rescue boat berthed in the Port Washington Marina is an essential life-saving tool, certainly not some sort of government amenity or convenience that should be the target of recurring threats of funding cut-offs. In the saving of two lives last week, there was no alternative to the rescue boat; it was the last hope. Conditions were so severe that the U.S. Coast Guard was unable to reach Port Washington by air or water.

Amid waves so powerful that rescuers and victims alike were  at various times washed off the breakwater, county Water Safety Patrol members put the bluff bow of the husky 42-foot rescue boat against the concrete breakwall, and bold, skilled members of the Port Washington Fire Department managed to reach the stranded men, then hypodermic from hours of assault by the waves, and get them aboard the rescue boat.

The rescue was hours in the making. When first alerted to the emergency, with the northeast wind blowing at 40 miles per hour and waves cresting at shocking heights, the fire department’s divers and rescue personnel were unable to approach the breakwater either in the rescue boat or smaller inflatable craft. A helicopter was summoned from the Coast Guard station at Traverse City, Mich., and tasked to aid the rescue, but its mission was aborted due to squalls over the lake.

By the time the rescue was made, the wind had shifted and conditions, though still dangerous, had moderated somewhat. Had the lake not relented, it’s impossible to say what the fate of the weakened, freezing pair cowering behind a lighthouse pillar would have been. But it can be safely assumed that the plucky, well-trained team of firefighters and members of the Water Safety Patrol would not have given up, however daunting the odds.

Now, what are the odds of the rescue boat surviving? Though obvious to many, the need for a county-funded rescue boat stationed at Ozaukee County’s only Lake Michigan port has been questioned repeatedly in past years by County Board members bent on eliminating or sharply reducing funding for the Water Safety Patrol.

The events in the wave-ravaged breakwater basin last week make a persuasive case that that is nonsense.

There has been some comment suggesting that the two who were rescued, 18 and 19-year-olds from West Bend who walked out on the breakwater at 4:30 a.m. to go fishing, were foolhardy and brought their tribulations on themselves. The same hindsight that sees that might also note that when they ventured on the pier the lake was not in a dangerous state. Sure, they should have checked a weather forecast, but let’s be generous enough to acknowledge that humans have been pursuing perfection from time immemorial and the quest is still nowhere near being successful.

Consider it one more reason the rescue boat is needed.

 
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