Thursday, January 13, 2011

Climate Change and Weather Disasters

It turns out that 2010 ties 2005 as the hottest year on record (I think records go back for about 111 years).

And now, in just two weeks of year 2011, look at what we have in terms of rainfall:

Terrible floods in Brazil.  Over 400 feared dead  (dateline Jan 13, 2011)

Terrible floods in Australia, over 20,000 homes swamped, dozens dead across the country, with floods in Brisbane, the state of Queensland, and Toowoomba.  (dateline Jan 12, 2011)

Record flooding in Sri Lanka, with 300,000 people fleeing their homes (dateline Jan 13, 2011)

Bad floods in KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, with evacuations and some drownings. (dateline Jan 5, 2011).

And of course, California has been having the heaviest winter rains on record (highest December rainfalls ever).

In December, parts of Eastern Europe also had the heaviest rains ever in living memory.

Eau Claire, Wisconsin had 22 inches of snow on December 11th, part of that massive snow storm that hit Minnesota and Wisconsin December 9-11th. A few days later the United Kingdom and Europe were hit by one of their worst winter storms ever. More snow storms actually happen in warmer years.

Okay, so the world is a big place, with thousands of regions and areas, and at any given moment, just by statistical chance, there will be a few places having their wettest or driest, coldest or hottest weather on record, right?  So, are all these extreme weather events just a statistical blip, a random event, or are we seeing something indicating a change in global climate patterns?

Meanwhile, an anti-science conservative has just taken leadership in the House of Representatives.  The Chamber of Commerce, which opposes research into development of renewable energy, has successfully helped elect its friends into office.  Meanwhile, China is about to go far ahead of us in investment in renewable energy.  The Chinese are building entire new cities with an emphasis on getting power from renewable energy. What is America doing?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Recent Right Wing Violence or Threats

When you combine serious mental illness, depression, horrible life circumstances, and social isolation with some sort of ideology or rhetoric that blames a group of people for the world's problems (liberals, Jews, Democrats, whatever), you get situations where bad stuff can happen.  There is an interesting question, through, whether certain crazed lone gunmen wouldn't just kill randomly anyway.  I mean, is it worse for a violent maniac to shoot down a politician or judge or a bunch of people at a political meeting than a group of school children or a group of shoppers, or a group of sports fans?  If people didn't have a certain right-wing paranoid narrative to focus their hatred toward police or liberals or federal agencies or politicians, wouldn't they just find some other group to focus their hatred and fear?  Perhaps there would be mass shootings on Wall Street, or in banks, or in customer service departments of cable companies or phone companies, instead of attacks on Democrats or abortion doctors or whatever.

 But when I think of shooting rampages or violent threats against political figures, I can't think of any in the past 40-50 years that were motivated by Communist or Socialist ideologies, unless possibly the Assassination of JFK had some connection to Marxism. There have been many threats against liberals and Democrats, but do conservatives and Republicans get the same degree of threats and murder attempts?  In most of the shooting sprees, I think untreated mental illness plays a role, and the shooters are not politically motivated (think of Charles Whitman, the University of Texas shooter, who was suffering from a brain tumor, or John Hinckley, Jr., Ronald Reagan's would-be killer).  Here are some reminders of the sort of attacks Democrats and liberals have experienced in recent years:

On December 10th of 2010, Charles Turner Habermann, of Palm Springs California, called Democrat James McDermott and threatened to kill him. Mr. Habermann threatened to assault and murder a United States official, with the intent to impede, intimidate, and interfere with the official’s performance of official duties (he tried to persuade McDermott to vote in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy).  It’s Case MJ11-16.  Read the Complaint of Violation, and see how Habermann said, “He [McDermott] advocates stealing people’s money to give it to losers.”

Last April, Charles Alan Wilson made a threat against Patty Murray, another Democrat of Washington State.  He opposed the health care bill, and didn’t like the fact that Patty Murray had voted in favor of it.

John Troy Davis, A Colorado man who claimed to be suffering from schizophrenia, also threatened a Democrat, Senator Michael Bennet. Mr. Davis was having difficulties getting his Social Security, and he warned Bennet’s home office staff that he was “going to come down there and shoot you all.”

In July of 2008, Jim Adkisson killed two people in a Unitarian Church. He wanted to kill liberals, and every Democrat in the Senate and House.

In April of 2009, Richard Poplawski shot and killed three police officers. Mr. Poplawski was fearful that the Obama administration was going to ban guns.

In July of 2010, Byron Williams was on his way to kill people at a liberal non-profit in San Francisco when he became involved in a gun battle with police.

In late May of 2009 Scott Roeder assassinated Dr. George Tiller. Mr. Roeder had been a member of the Freemen group.

Would it be possible to think of a similar list of conservative and Republicans who have been threatened or attacked?  If not, why not?

The first comment on this post was an excellent observation from an anonymous source, who pointed out that there were indeed many threats made against prominent conservatives.  I followed up on some advice from the comment, and found some good links to share here.

Here is one about threats made against President Bush.  I'd make a distinction between people who carried signs saying "kill Bush" (awful and illegal and unethical) and those who wanted to see Bush put on trial, found guilty, and executed (awful and legal, and of debatable ethical quality). I personally would find it satisfying to see Bush put on trial, and if he is guilty of crimes, which I suspect he is, I'd like to see him forced to make restitution or receive punishment for it, although I'm open to the possibility that he is innocent, and I certainly don't think putting him or his worst cabinet officials and administration functionaries on trial should be a priority. But at any rate, as the page I've linked to shows, there was very hateful and angry and violent imagery at some anti-Bush rallies, and I think it's clearly in the same category of troublesome rhetoric as what we see aimed at Obama and his administration.

And here are other stories about conservatives being threatened: Ann CoulterFreedomworks and the Tea Party; and other famous conservatives.  Compare those to the cases I've cited and linked to above, or similar threats.

And yet, I see a difference as well. It seems to me that some of the voices using the violent rhetoric and exhibiting hateful paranoia against liberals and the president now (and during the Clinton administration) are relatively famous mainstream people. And while it's now clear people on the left can be just as vicious and divisive, it just seems to me that there aren't so many public figures on the left that are this angry or hostile.  I guess two of the harshest anti-conservatives I know of on the left are people like Michael ParentiTed Rall, and Jim Hightower, and comparing them to their conservative equivalents (perhaps Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, or Sean Hannity), it just seems to me that the rhetoric from the mainstream far right conservatives is harsher than the rhetoric from mainstream far left liberals. When it comes to name-calling or threats from the mainstream left, I think of Al Franken and his mildly amusing book "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot," but it was not the sort of book that claimed Limbaugh was an enemy of America, at least I don't remember it being so.

And it's clear that there have been death threats against people on the right, and disgraceful violent rhetoric against some people on the right.  But, does the left have anyone like Jim Adkisson, who really did kill a bunch of Unitarians because they were liberals, and really did take some of his inspiration from right-wing radio personalities and mainstream far-right authors?  Or is there anyone on the left who acted beyond theats, and really shot at people or attempted to kill people, like Byron Williams?  The closest thing I can think of is Washington Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad, who was apparently somewhat motivated by class and race (against European-Americans and middle-class or wealthy persons).

I'm not sure I have a point here with this post.  I'm just asking some questions, and trying to see if there is a fair cause to distinguish between political sides in assigning blame for the debasement of rhetoric and debate. It is clear there are crazy people on the far left who will threaten violence, just as there are on the far right. Maybe there is a difference in degrees or frequency or style of threats and actions by these partisan extremists and hateful persons.

This past year I listened to the debates between Lincoln and Douglas (acted by Richard Dreyfus (as Stephen Douglas) and David Straithairn (as Lincoln).  The debates were heated, and there were personal attacks, but although the debates were aggressive and full of conflict, I thought the tone and style was far more agreeable, and less demagogic than what I've heard or seen in modern media. I wish partisan debates today were as full as substance and eloquence and courtesy as these debates were over 150 years ago.

Update on April 1, 2011: The left now has a person crazed by her anger, who threatened the lives of Republicans. This is Katherine Windels of Wisconsin.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Household consumption in the Hadley-Ives family, 2010

I keep track of my spending and consumption, and almost every transaction, be it with cash, credit card, or checking account, gets recorded and assigned a category in some spreadsheets I use. Every two weeks I check on these and update them. The spreadsheets keep a running total for our spending in the various categories. I’m interested in my own household as a case study in economic life.

So, let me share how our expenses went into various categories in 2010.

The top two categories are:
Housing: 12%
Travel and Lodging: 12%

The four-way tie for third place in spending are:
Groceries and household expenses: 10%
Taxes: 10%
Vehicle purchase, maintenance, and insurance: 10%
Other: 10% (mostly retirement savings)

In seventh place, we have:
Utilities: 7%

Then, tied for eighth place, we have:
Health: 6%
Education: 6% (mostly college savings)

The remaining categories are:
Giving: 4%
Food out-of-home: 3%
Entertainment: 3%
Clothing: 3%
Gas: 2%
Interest on debt: 2%
Communication: 1%
Money given to our sons: 1%

Explanation of these categories follows:

The housing figure includes both the interest and principle on our mortgage, but not our property taxes. I figure unless one is wealthy or inherits a home, the interest on a mortgage is unavoidable, and is just part of the cost of owning a home, so I keep it as a housing expense rather than looking it as interest.

The travel and lodging category includes both work-related travel for which I was later compensated and personal travel, and also includes all cash withdrawals made while traveling abroad, even though much of the cash spending could more accurately have been assigned to “food out-of-home” or “entertainment” or “groceries”. If we subtract the money I received from faculty development or scholarly grants for the travel, it would drop to 11%, and another 1%-point could be reassigned from travel to entertainment, and probably another 1% reassigned to food out-of-home. Gas costs for travel are kept separate in the “gas” spending category. So, a most realistic estimate for actual travel expenses in 2010 would be 9% of our spending. That is still quite high, but we all went to Asia this summer, and Jeri went back to Taiwan in March and December as well. I had conferences to attend in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Dallas, and Strasbourg. We also visited Vancouver and Oregon this year (I went to Oregon twice), although most of the expenses on those trips were covered by others, so not many of those expenses are included in this category.

The groceries and household expenses include any charge or spending made at a grocery store, department store, or hardware store. Well, if I remember specifically buying prescription drugs, clothing, or toys I do assign those expenses to their appropriate categories (e.g., health, clothing, entertainment). Mostly though, if we buy something to eat or use in our home, it goes in this category.

Taxes include income taxes and property taxes, and some small portion of our total sales taxes. Actually, if I went through our purchases and shifted all the sales taxes we pay into the tax category, it’s likely our groceries and household category would shrink by nearly half-a-percentage-point, and taxes would go up by half-a-point.

The “Other” category is mainly the retirement savings from my paycheck, life insurance, and a few miscellaneous expenses that are hard to categorize. I do not qualify for any social security (I’m a state worker, and exempt from Social Security taxes, but I won’t get any Social Security benefits when I retire). I also will not receive any pension when I retire (I’m in the self-managed plan for academic workers in the University of Illinois system, which means that when I retire all I get is the money I’ve saved in the self-managed plan, and no pension). As my family has a history of heart disease and I have (treated) high blood pressure, I assume I won’t have many years of life in retirement, if in fact I live long enough to retire, and the self-managed plan has the benefit that my heirs and survivors will get all I’ve saved, whereas if I was enlisted for a pension my survivors would get very little.

The Vehicle purchase, maintenance, and insurance category costs include the costs of repairing my bike and our two cars. It also includes the interest in the loan we used to purchase our minivan, which seemed more appropriate in this category rather than in the “interest” category.

The utilities cost is much higher this year because we had a new heating and cooling system installed this year. That was put in “utilities” rather than “housing” as a spending category.

The education spending category includes the college savings we have put away, and certain purchases of school materials, educational books, subscriptions to news and science magazines and journals, and so forth. My memberships in scholarly associations are also included as “educational” expenses in my system of accounting. Our educational expenses ought to be much less, as we must save a high percentage of our income to pay for college, and college ought to be far more affordable (subsidized by the public).

The health spending category includes medical, dental, and vision care, including services, insurance, and medicine or glasses / contact lenses. At only 6%, it’s a bit low, as a household such as ours ought to be paying much more for health services (to make health care universally accessible to poor, sick, and elderly households). I include Medicare taxes in health spending rather than in the taxes category.

Our giving is about 2.5% charitable giving and 1.5% buying gifts or sending money for family members and friends.

Our “communications” spending includes our internet service, phone service, postage on packages and stamps, and our subscription to the local newspaper.

Politically-Motivated Assassination in Arizona

It is dangerous to have rhetoric of talking about "taking out" political opponents and having political campaign rallies in which people shoot guns at targets (I find it difficult to believe reports that Gabrielle Giffords' opponent in the 2010 mid-terms actually had supporters shoot at photos of Gabrielle in a campaign rally—that must surely be an exaggeration). The hateful partisan rhetoric, using violent imagery, is most dangerous because in a nation with over 200 million adults, some fraction are unbalanced, and suffer from disorganized thinking, delusions, and perhaps hallucinations, and some fraction of these persons are highly suggestible, and some fraction of those highly suggestible persons with psychotic disorders will pay attention to the hateful rhetoric with violent imagery, and take it seriously and literally.

There is also a danger that persons who are cunning and calculating and not suffering from a diagnosable mental illness will be pulled into conspiracies to assassinate or act violently against our democratic system and political figures with whom they disagree, but it always seems to me that poisonous rhetoric is most likely to poison persons who minds are weak and vulnerable, as Jared Lee Loughner's mind clearly was. Some terrorists, whether claiming Islamic or Christian religious identity or no religious identity, have had loose connections to reality in their minds (think of Michael Enright and Zacharias Moussawi).

Judge Roll, who was assassinated, had been threatened, and local Arizona rhetoric against him was very heated. This was partly because he had presided over a court case in which undocumented immigrants were suing an Arizona rancher. It seems possible that someone older (and less mentally disorganized) person helped Jared Loughner get to the rally.

This reminds me of the reaction to Timothy McVeigh's terrorism, where people talked about how bad the anti-government rhetoric had become, and suggested it be toned down. Really, we ought to instill in Americans a sense of disgust with rhetoric that crosses a certain line, so that hate-mongering demagogues wouldn't be so popular. The quality of public debate and rhetoric ought to be a subject for consideration in middle school and high school, and perhaps even elementary school.

Christina Taylor Green, 9-years-old, wanted to go to college and learn how to help people. Maybe she would have been a social worker, a nurse, or a lawyer. She was recently elected to her student council, and this interest in leadership and being an elected representative might have inspired her to go see her congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Christina was evidently born on September 11, 2001. Her uncle, Greg Segalini described her as, "real special and real sweet."

Another person killed in the assassination was Gabe Zimmerman, a social worker with an MSW, who worked as Gabrielle's community outreach worker. I will certainly mention him and describe his life and work to my future classes of students in social welfare policy or community organizing. "He had a heart for people" said Doug Hart.