Temperature Changes in Alaska

President Obama recently visited Alaska and stirred the urge to check into the global warming controversy. He visited the Exit Glacier and mentioned that it had retreated 1.25 miles in 200 years. I was inspired to check into temperatures in Alaska and found one web site that says it is managed by members of the “American Association of State Climatologists.” They observe that, “The topic of climate change has attracted widespread attention in recent years and is an issue that numerous scientists study on various time and space scales. One thing for sure is that the earth’s climate has and will continue to change as a result of various natural and anthropogenic forcing mechanisms.” (Bravo!)

The site presents a graph showing that temperatures since the late 1970s have trended upward. However, they point out there has been little warming “…with the exception of Barrow (on the coast above the Arctic Circle) and a few other locations. The stepwise shift appearing in 1976 corresponds to a phase shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation from a negative phase to a positive phase.” That causes “…increased southerly flow and warm air advection into Alaska during the winter, resulting in positive temperature anomalies.” I don’t understand how increasing levels of carbon dioxide could have caused that, but I’m not a climatologist.

One article I read about President Obama’s visit to Alaska should have been checked more closely for errors before it went to print. It said (and I’m certain this must have been an error) that “The administration asked Congress to speed the acquisition of a new heavy-duty Coast Guard ice breaker from 2022 to 2020 and begin planning for the acquisition of additional ships that could help maintain year-long access to polar regions.” Why am I so convinced this must have been an error? It makes no sense to build ice breakers when the global warming models indicate polar ice will be mostly melted in the next few years.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center web site shows current levels of ice are less than those measured in 2013 and 2014, equal to 2011, and much more than 2012. A quick look at the graphs for the last five years indicates the levels of ice are about constant. Perhaps we should hope the data eventually will begin to track with the predictions from the global warming models and we can save money by not needing ice breakers.

Ponderer was kind enough to comment on the information above and points out that Dr. Strangelove would have wanted us to not have an icebreaker gap with the Russians reminiscent of the fallout shelter gap of that movie (not the exact words, but sorta close). Ponderer also thought it would be fair to show a chart of Arctic sea ice from the 1950s, which dramatically demonstrates that there is much less ice today. Point taken. However, I continue to have the suspicion that nature (including solar activity) has more to do with the extent of sea ice than the influences caused by man.

Castro!: An Impact Biography

castroI recently posted a commentary about President Obama’s initiative to normalize relations with Cuba. I noticed this small book by Don E. Beyer at the library and I’m glad I checked it out.  The book quickly gets to the point of explaining Fidel’s origins and how he became the face of revolution in Cuba. The first sentences of the book are, “Fidel Castro is a man at odds with the world. He likes to say he came into it under conditions natural for a guerrilla fighter. He was born on August 13, 1926, as an explosive storm swept over the mountains of the Oriented Province, the wild land that has long served as an incubator of revolution in Cuba.”

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born illegitimate, one of seven children from two mothers. His father, Angel Castro, and his mother, Lina Ruz Gonzalez, were not married until several years after Fidel’s birth.  Fidel’s combative nature was displayed frequently in childhood. He was described as rebellious and combative. His brother Raul described him as dominating every situation. “He challenged the biggest and strongest ones, and when he was beaten, he started it all over again the next day. He would never quit.” As a student he displayed a photographic memory. “In later years, Fidel’s prodigious memory enabled him to give the impression of knowledge and competence where it did not exist.” Spanish Jesuit teachers taught him to admire Spanish Fascists such as Francisco Franco. He later admired Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. “He was described as walking around his school with a copy of Mein Kampf under his arm.”

Fidel began to move into revolutionary politics when he went to Havana in 1945 to study law. He admired the stories of Jose Marti who had become a Cuban independence martyr in 1895 when he was killed fighting with a revolutionary army. Castro “…saw himself as Marti’s spiritual heir.” Continue reading

Social Security Debt Collection

There was a recent media dust-up over the Social Security Administration seizing tax refunds to recoup over-payments that happened more than a decade ago. However, Stephen Ohlemacher of the Associated Press explained that the program would be halted at least temporarily in his article titled “Social Security halts effort to collect old over-payments.” A 2008 law allows use of a “…Treasury program to seize federal payments to recoup debts that are more than 10 years old. Previously, there was a 10-year limit on using the program.”  “The Social Security Administration says it has identified about 400,000 people with old debts. They owe a total of $714 million.” Some of the disputed benefits were paid to surviving parents or guardians of children eligible for survivor benefits or the benefits paid to a disabled child. The agency says it has already collected $55 million, and at least some of it was collected from children and grandchildren of those who were overpaid. Continue reading

The Predictable Surprise

book cvr_ predictable surpriseThe subtitle of this book by Sylvester J. Schieber is “The Unraveling of the U.S. Retirement System.” The book is neither a fun nor easy book to read (unless you are a compulsive accountant). However, you should consider the book if you want to know about the history and current status of Social Security and other retirement plans. Sadly, I must say the book does not have easy answers for how we can get our politicians to address some daunting problems. The dust cover explains, “Social Security is projected to deplete its funds in the 2030s. Pensions from previous generations have either disappeared or been completely reengineered…Americans are faced with the conundrum of how to pay for a growing retired population with dwindling financial resources.” The author believes privatizing part of Social Security would be a good first step, but has given up on that idea because politicians have made it a toxic idea.

I consider the most important part of the book to be a series of quotes made by Barack Obama at a roundtable discussion with the editorial board of the Washington Post four days before his first inauguration. “As soon as the economic recovery takes place, then we’ve got to bend the curve and figure out how we get federal spending on a more sustainable path…We are going also to have a discussion about entitlements and how we get a grasp on those…As bad as these deficits that have already been run up have been, the real problem is with our long-term deficits, actually, have to do with our entitlement obligations…So we’re going to have to shape a bargain. This, by the way is where…some very difficult issues of sacrifice, responsibility, and duty are going to come in because what we have done is kick this can down the road and we are now at the end of that road. We are not in a position to kick it any further…I have told my folks, to some consternation on their part, that we have to signal seriousness in this by making sure that some hard decisions are made under my watch and not under somebody else’s because the usual game is to say, ‘well, here’s what is going to happen but, by the way, it just happens to start in the ninth year from now.’ What we have to signal is that we are willing to make hard decisions now.”  (This passage is on pages 373-374 of the hard cover book I read. I’m providing a link to the full recorded statement.) Continue reading

Costa Rican Distrust of U.S. Foreign Policy

We were vacationing in Costa Rica when a tour guide on our bus surprised us by announcing that President Obama had refused to help Costa Rica after Nicaragua had moved large numbers of soldiers into Costa Rica for the purpose of “building a new canal.” The guide said Costa Rica has no military and had asked President Obama for help. He then said Mr. Obama’s reaction was to continue his policy of bowing to every belligerent. He emphasized the point by making a series of stiff bows in several directions.  The guide said the people of Costa Rica continue to appreciate Ronald Regan and his support for the Contras who fought against the Communist Sandinistas. The guide explained that Daniel Ortega, the Communist ruler of Nicaragua, continues to have designs on Costa Rica, and that the U.S. refused to help. “The Canadians helped and the Nicaraguans withdrew.”

I was fascinated with the story, and began searching the Internet to educate myself. President Obama visited Costa Rica for two days in May 2013. The descriptions of his visit were mostly about the extreme security measures taken for his protection. There were a few hundred people allowed to view his limousine trip through the capital city. A few dozen gathered in the city park to protest the visit. Most complied with the order to stay home and watch television coverage. This is in contrast to John F. Kennedy visiting and wading into adoring crowds. Kennedy is called the “most beloved U.S. President” based on the memories of his visit and the Peace Corp. Continue reading

Constitutionality of Obamcare

President Obama admitted at the health care summit he convened in 2010 that there would be people who would lose their existing health insurance coverage. He admitted that when he was challenged by Eric Cantor that some people would not be able to keep the policies they had selected, and he casually dismissed the question. The following is a transcript of that exchange:

Eric Cantor said, “Because I don’t think you can answer the question in the positive to say that people will be able to maintain their coverage, people will be able to see the doctors they want, in the kind of bill that you are proposing.”

Mr. Obama’s response was, “Since you asked me a question, let me respond. The 8 to 9 million people you refer to that might have to change their coverage — keep in mind out of the 300 million Americans that we are talking about — would be folks who the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office,  estimates would find the deal in the exchange better — would be a better deal. So, yes, they would change coverage because they got more choice and competition.” Continue reading

Killing or Capturing bin Laden

An article in the October 2012 edition of the ABA Journal titled “Detention Dilemma” describes legal problems created by continuing to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. One very interesting part of the article is an argument whether “…the balance between gaining detainee intelligence and the high cost of defending detention decisions has precipitated a shift away from detentions and toward targeted killings.” The article then says, “Taking the judge at her word–that the high court hinted at the need for more killings–would be profoundly unsettling.”

The official policy seems to have accepted the “hint” given by the high court. We are killing terrorists with drones instead of trying to capturing them. Another point for that argument is given by the accounts of the night bin Laden was killed. Those accounts lead me to believe there was no intention of taking him captive. He was said to have been killed when he raised a hand and his rifle was nearby. Continue reading