Thursday, July 11, 2013

Blog will be on vacaton until early August; I posted a bunch of commentary in advance

Why so many posts today?  I will be on vacation for the next month, so I wrote some posts in advance.  Look for weekly post resumptions in early August. 

Snowden...a man without a country?

Edward Snowden’s quest for refuge reminds me of  a short story I read moons ago, “The Man Without a Country”, by Edward Everett Hale. Whether you believe Snowden was just a whistle blower or traitor for disclosing the extent of our government’s record keeping on its citizens,  Snowden’s plight has some parallels with this work of fiction. I wonder if he would eventually meet the same emotional end  as did the subject of Hale’s story.
Hale wrote about a fictional  Army Lieutenant, Philip Nolan, who was being tried for treason for being too close to Aaron Burr, a former Vice President of the United States,   who , in real life, was also tried for treason but acquitted.   
Nolan renounced his country during the trial and shouted out  with anger “, "I wish I may never hear of the United States again!" . He should have been careful for what he wished. The judge sentenced him to spend the rest of his life aboard US Navy warships, never permitting him to step on US soil, and anyone in contact with him was forbidden to mention his country.
 He still was treated per the privileges due his rank  on board the ships he sailed and he was never confined to the  brig.   Even so, he gradually realized how much he missed home and his country., Nolan tried to contact sailors to get news of home   and once he was reported to warn a sailor not to make the same mistake he had as he realized the value of the country he denounced. He missed it   more than his friends or family, more than art or music or love or nature. Without it, he felt he was nothing.   The day before he died,after  56 years on ships,   he revealed his feelings to the fictional teller of his story. In his cabin, the narrator saw  The Stars and Stripes  draped around a picture of George Washington.  Nolan had painted a bald eagle over his bed.
The plight of exiles and  their conflicted emotions in later life, are often the subject of  works of fiction. Many in real life must of have traveled that road to inspire writers to draw on that theme so frequently. .  Like Dorothy returning from Oz, waking up, sometimes  there is a realization that there is no place like home.  Opera, too, had its exiles inspired by late 18th and early 19th  century fiction. The Flying Dutchman was set to music by Richard Wagner. One version of the story that may have inspired Wagner was   John Leyden’s writing in Scenes of Infancy  in 1803: “The crew of this vessel are supposed to have been guilty of some dreadful crime, in the infancy of navigation; and to have been stricken with pestilence ... and are ordained still to traverse the ocean on which they perished, till the period of their penance expire”.  The Dutch man’s ghost ship was graphically portrayed in the movie, “ Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”.
 Snowden for now  can only find refuge in those countries who count themselves as critics  of the US and most of those are a  fire into which he jumps from the frying pan…autocratic, repressive, and hardly champions of freedom of the press or freedom of expression. The three countries he considered for refuge,  at the time of writing the column, could  face  regime changes in these days of democratic populist upheaval..   Where he lands is likely to be only a temporary perch forcing him to  sail from one safe place to another during his lifetime to avoid facing justice in the US.
 One thing is for sure, his blowing the whistle on his hosts would never be appreciated by   those kinds of  countries offering him refuge.  He should be careful for  what he wishes.

States rights, states wrongs in debate over the size of the federal government

 Have you ever noticed that the states that have governments dominated by conservative leaning GOP governors and / or legislatures  are among the first to cry foul if the hated federal government turns down their request for  disaster aid?  Or did you notice, too, that some states’ politicians who decry federal spending  the loudest get more money from the feds than they pay back to the federal treasury in taxes?  Both are irritating whiners.
The New York Times, June 23, 2013, reported  outrage on the part of Texans, victims of the West,  Texas fertilizer plant blast,  who were turned down for $17 million in  FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)  disaster aid because FEMA told Texas they  had enough funds in its coffers to provide the aid themselves.  FEMA regulations, the Stafford act, requires federal funds to aid only those states that lack resources to address recovery.   Texas has just given its citizens $1 billion in tax relief, and their rainy day fund has another $8 billion in it.
The president had already authorized the federal government to cover 75 percent of the state’s cost for debris removal and emergency responders and $25 million to the state and affected families and another $8 million in grants and low interest disaster loans for individuals.  The state had then asked for an additional  $17 million to cover public infrastructure that was uninsured because they claimed  could not cover it.….and Texas wanted us, the rest of the US taxpayers,  to cover the additional $17 million? That request is for an unnecessary  federal handout from a state that overwhelmingly supported Mitt Romney, who proposed to abolish FEMA.
On the other hand, Texas is the same state that just refused to co-operate with Obamacare, turning down an increase in Medicaid funds that would have covered 30% more than are being covered now.  Give Texas credit for being ideologically purely conservative on that particular issue, but there will be pressure to be more pragmatic. The cost to Texas for such coverage? 0, zip, nada for the first several years and then to cover 10% of the increased federal  funds thereafter. It is a good deal, requiring  far less than the matching required for the existing Medicaid program.    Obamacare will not pick up that added 30% , leaving a sizeable gap of the near poor of  those without health insurance.
 The question will be how long  their constituents  will  tolerate that and wonder why they do not have coverage like other states or why continued masses of uninsured flooding their expensive emergency rooms , and passing the uncompensated  costs to the insured.  The eyes of Texans will then be upon  states like Colorado that  accepted Medicaid expansion, and whose health and  financial well being of its citizens  benefited.
The  most irritating whiners  are the GOP  dominated    states that   take in more money in federal funds than they return to the federal coffers and  are among the loudest  to rant about Federal deficits, big government,  and  federal overreach.
The Economist Magazine on line, August 1st 2011, made a study of fiscal transfers between states and the federal government from 1990-2009 and ranked them by states  receiving more  from the feds than they paid in taxes.  These  debtor states  ranking highest in receiving federal funds and lowest in tax contributions to the federal treasury  were New Mexico, Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, South Carolina, Virginia,  Kentucky, Vermont, Maine, Montana, and  both Dakotas.
Some of those states have  high numbers of Native American reservations that receive federal funding,  but  ironically,  that list also contains many states that are  the home of  the  most vocal  Teaparty tax protestors.  I wonder in what shape their budgets would be or to what extent their poor would be helped    if those transfers were less.

A prayer for fire fighters; remembering the wildfires of 1994

The  tragedy in Yarnell, Arizona,  in which 19 hotshot firefighters were killed in a wildfire ,brought back some traumatic  memories of the hot summer of 1994 in Colorado. On July 6 fourteen young firefighters lost their lives near Glenwood Springs in the Storm King fire, formally named the South Canyon fire.  There were immediate impacts  and some long term ones. The tragedy of Storm King is  so similar to Yarnell’s, it gives me chills.
I did not witness the Storm King fire, but I was  close to another   wildfire that had erupted the same week a hundred miles away in southwestern Colorado that had consequences as well.. Firefighters in   the Storm King fire,  like the  ones in Yarnell , tried to escape a fast moving blaze by hunkering down in their protective blankets.    Inquiries and new procedures  followed Storm King  Those same new procedures should have saved the Yarnell victims, but something  went terribly wrong. Federal and state investigators have already announced they will  spend time to discover what happened and whether any procedures could be changed to avoid another tragedy like Yarnell.
 The Storm King fire’s  long term impact was  procedural and tactical.. There was an immediate impact, too, that changed  the strategy to battle the other wildfire.  On July 3,   wildfire broke out which nearly entered  the  town of Durango and gave me an eye opening dose of wildfire savvy. Among lessons learned  was that human power  was puny next to Mother Nature’s rage.  
Lightening struck the south side of a ridge fifteen miles west of Durango on July 3. Stiff winds from the west,  100 degree temperature  and  bone dry juniper  and scrub oak converged  to create a flaming holocaust of a crown fire..  In one day the  fire blew ten miles east,  nearly to the Animas River..  Had the wind shifted, coming  from the south instead, it could have jumped the ridge and taken out a large subdivision  to the north , and continued  across US 160   to our daughter’s home  in Durango West where I was, by chance, visiting.
The Black Ridge Fire, as it was named, burned mostly on Southern Ute Reservation land, but the wind blew steadily   toward Durango for nearly a week..  Parts of Durango were evacuated and   Durango West was  put on alert to prepare to evacuate.  .  During mornings  when the winds were calmer,  tankers and helicopters dumped retardant and water.  In the heat of the afternoons, fire and smoke  created a  horrifyingly awesome storm over the ridge.
With the Storm King fire fresh in fire commanders’ minds, nearly 1000 firefighters were dispatched to dig fire lines mostly night when the fire laid down.  Fortunately, only a few structures were in the fire’s path  so long as the fire was contained to the southern outskirts of Durango and on the south side of the ridge. After six days of  crossing our fingers   and avoiding a smoke choked Durango,   the 17,000 acre wildfire was declared under control.. It was on the 7th day  the wind shifted from the south, blowing toward the house, but the worst was  over and we were safe. 
Since then, the Utes have built a firebreak to prevent any future fires from crossing over the ridge to the canyon and the subdivisions as part of the national fire plan.
That same year we were also building our home in Winter Park on the edge of a  mountain ridge , which  explains why  our home is clad in stucco and brick, not in the shingles we had planned.
The front range fires last summer, the Black Forest fire this year, and the Yarnell tragedy have rekindled emotions I felt those 19 years ago  and I utter a prayer for the victims and the firefighters every time.I watch the news reports.  .