Global Warming

No other issue today seems to inflame the passions more than the issue of Global Warming.  Most youth and certainly the vast majority of scientists are convinced that the earth is heating up, that this will cause the sea levels to rise, and that human activity is the cause of it all.  In order to prevent predicted catastrophe, they want significant action immediately implemented to hopefully change the trajectory of reported environmental trends.

To understand Global Warming we have to look at each aspect of the controversy.  We need to consider the issue in historical context.  We need to understand the scientific data.  We need to understand the motivations of those involved on each side.  We need to look at the proposals for change and their probable effect.  And we need to analyze and reflect on our own prejudices and behaviors.  This post can only scratch the surface, but it will point you in the right directions for further study.

Most people are woefully unfamiliar with anything that has happened outside of their own personal experience.  This means that they don’t understand what the past was like, and what happened “way back when”.  Rising sea levels and recently increasing numbers of destructive storms seem to be evidence of Global Warming.  The fact is that sea levels do change over time.  For example, in the time of the Roman Empire, Ravenna Italy and Ephesus Turkey were both coastal sea ports.  Both are now miles from the coast.  The ancient seaport of Ur in Iraq is now 150 miles from the coast.  Storm frequency is rising in our lifetimes, but as recently as the 1940’s, people didn’t move to Florida because of the huge storms that so frequently battered it.  So things may appear to be changing, but in the long term historical context, these changes appear to be a return to previously “normal” conditions.

The vast majority of scientists due indeed believe in Global Warming.  But here both the data and the motivations are suspect.  There have been numerous cases where data was “fudged”.  The famous case of emails from the British University of East Anglia shows collusion to manipulate data to conform to what scientists want it to say.  Scientific research is almost wholly funded by government subsidy; the bigger the problem, the bigger the subsidies.  If Global Warming was debunked, many in the scientific community would lose significant funding.  Going against accepted theories also results in scientific ostracism.  If you don’t agree with the others, you end up understanding how Galileo must have felt in dealing with the Catholic Church in late medieval times.

Rising temperatures and sea levels are only part of the issue.  The other half of the Global Warming controversy is that it is caused by Human Activity, specifically the output of carbon dioxide (CO2).  CO2 is the byproduct of burning stuff (like fuel) and of breathing.  Most of the proposals for dealing with Global Warming are directed at changing Human Activity.

Humans are polluting the earth.  We can literally see air pollution in major cities.  We know that our oceans are filling up with plastic that doesn’t disappear.  Chemical dumping is actually increasing in the world, and many rivers are so contaminated the water is literally poison to plants and animals alike.  The developed west (USA, Western Europe, Japan, Canada and similar) have made great strides in combating pollution since the 1960s.  Of course, they could still do better, especially with auto emissions and non-biodegradable garbage.  But most of the real pollution of the planet is now happening in China, the former Soviet Union, and the poor countries of the Third World.  We in the west can do little to change their ways.  The Paris Accords are a mechanism for sending money from rich countries to the Third World to get them to change.  Unfortunately, money given to Third World countries just ends up in the bank accounts of corrupt leaders.

An unfortunate and misguided underlying message in much of the discussion of Global Warming is that Humans are inherently bad for the planet.  Many Global Warming advocates believe the world is overpopulated and that we must take urgent steps to reduce the size of the population.  I personally believe the planet could support multiples of the current population.  The second biggest exporter of food in the world is the Netherlands.  Look at how tiny this place is on a map.  The reason they can export so much food is how they use their land and resources.  Our problem isn’t that there are too many of us, it is that we don’t adequately use what we have, we waste a lot, and we still pollute too much.

What to Do

We need to pollute less.  We need to use less disposable non-biodegradable products (like plastic).  We need to incentivize movement away from such materials.

We need to reduce air pollution.  We are at the point in the west where most things are pretty compliant with clean air standards.  But I still see vehicles emitting black clouds on the road.  The police should be able to immediately impound those vehicles that pollute more in a day than my vehicle does in year.

We need to encourage other countries to pollute less, and incentivize their doing so through our trade and other international relations policies.  Just giving them money is NOT the way to do this.

We also need to “Keep Calm and Not Panic”.  Change to sea levels and climate are mostly part of natural cycles that move between extremes across millennia.  There are warmer periods, and there are ice ages.  There are times of extreme weather and times of relative calm.  For example, there are recent increases in seismic activity.  I am waiting to hear from the alarmists how humans are causing that.

We need to do much better at using the resources we have, but limiting or restricting the number of Humans we “allow” on the planet is not the way.  We need to be better stewards of our planet and take better care of it, and the more people in the developed world, the better we can do this.

The Republic

The founders of the United States were very knowledgeable people who understood history.  As they rebelled against a monarchy, they had no desire to replace it with a dictatorship, as they understood that this was merely another form of absolute rule.  And it was extremely rare that an absolute ruler would be a fair and honest person putting the needs of the people first.  So instead, they looked at the history of Rome and Greece to come up with a viable alternative.

So the United States was founded as a democratic Republic.  Under such a system, rulers are not determined by birth.  Instead, people vote to elect representatives who in turn act as their agents in making important decisions regarding the governance of the country.  The ideal was that people would seek out and support wise and selfless individuals who would do what was best for the country.

The founders were afraid of what had, in their understanding, been the greatest dangers to democracies and Republics in the past.  These threats were populism, demagoguery, and corruption.  This is why they opted to design a system of government that would protect the country from these things.  This is why the United States is not a pure democracy, but rather a Republic.

Looking back over time, the founding fathers saw too many instances of people appealing to the masses by “telling them what they wanted to hear”, using their support to gain power, and then using that power to either enrich themselves or to try and grab even more power.  The founding fathers were terrified of the “golden tongued” populist and the demagogue.

To protect the country they set up a government of three branches, including a set of “checks and balances” to keep too much power out of the hands of anyone.  But underlying this was the principle that the people were represented by the wise and honorable.  In fact, Senators, the members of the senior body of congress, were not elected directly by the population; instead, they were elected by State legislatures.  So originally, Senators were the representatives chosen by other representatives.  The hope was that this would further insure that the wise and honorable, rather than populists and demagogues would be making important government decisions.

The constitution was changed in 1913 to have the population directly elect Senators.  Only a few at the time, such as revered Elihu Root, opposed this change.  Since this change happened so long ago, few understand the long term effects of the change.  But consider this.  Today, 32 state legislators are Republican controlled.  Another 6 are split between Republican and Democrat control.  If half of the split controlled states, plus all the Republican controlled legislatures sent Republican Senators to congress, there would be 70 Republican Senators.  Obamacare never would have happened in the first place.  In addition, 70 is more than two thirds, and would allow for things such as the removal of Federal and Supreme Court Judges who are modifying the laws of the country without ANY input from the electorate.

What To Do

Study and learn more about the constitution.  Not just what the document says, but WHY it was set up the way it was.  The Constitution was written by one of the noblest bodies of wise and honorable people ever to assemble.  Almost every revolution in history was subverted by a Populist or Demagogue (think of the French or Russian revolutions).  But NOT in the United States, because of our Constitution and those that upheld it.

The Constitution is the bedrock of the United States.  It is not a “living, breathing” document that is changed by the whims of the times.  Recognize that the Constitution has been attacked in the past.  And it is in increasing danger as its principles are “modified” to suit the needs of those who wish to rule by dictate.  Commit yourself, as part of an educated electorate, to defend the Constitution and its principles.

The Korean Military Options

US MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile

Wars are rarely the result of someone having an evil master plan to take over the world.  They are much more frequently the result of serious miscalculations regarding how the other side will respond to extremely aggressive actions.  Militaries and Governments, not just people, have a tendency to over-react and NOT passively stand by when they are threatened.  This is what makes the situation in North Korea so dangerous.

As I have previously noted, the North Koreans have committed numerous Acts of War, and the affected democracies (South Korea, the US, and Japan) have done little if anything about them.  The new and naive leader of North Korean had dangerously accelerated the frequency of outrageous acts, and thinks that no-one will do anything about it.  In the past, his father might do something outrageous every year or two.  He is now doing such things about once a month.  In the past, the tension caused by such acts was allowed to dissipate, and this in large measure allowed North Korea to “get away with it”.  But now, the democracies are figuring out that this isn’t going to go away, and will only get worse.

There is a very strong likelihood of a military response from the US and its allies.  At which point, the North Koreans will over-react in turn, probably to the point of doing something tantamount to invading South Korea.  Hopefully they understand the implications of “mutually assured destruction” and don’t actually use a nuclear weapon.

Here is a realistic example of what the democracies might do.  They might send missiles against North Korean missile factories and nuclear weapon construction sites.  In addition, since neither the Chinese nor Russians want to stop sending supplies and resources to their ally, the democracies also strike to take out infrastructure like bridges and rail lines just inside North Korea.  Maybe they even mine the ports of North Korea.  They could even hit some command bunkers to show Kim he isn’t safe anywhere.

In response the North Koreans might fire missiles at South Korea and Japan.  Worse yet, they might have their submarines torpedo South Korean or Japanese shipping.  Or, they could indeed start shelling Seoul.  Any of these North Korean responses would then result in all out war with South Korea and America, and maybe even Japan.  And Russia and China could easily get dragged in, just like in the original Korean War of the 1950’s.

Such responses would mean the end of the North Korean regime.  The problem is, Kim just doesn’t get this.  And God help us all if someone decides to use a nuke.

What to Do

It’s more a question of what NOT to do.  Being rational about the whole situation is best.  And that means not over-reacting.  The North Koreans under the latest Kim have yet to commit an Act of War.  Yet we are in a dangerous situation because of the bad decisions made up to decades ago.  Now, because of the nuclear threat, we have to wait for a flagrant Act of War by North Korea before we should do anything severe.

We should, however, bolster defenses in the region and increase military capability in the area.  We need to be able to take out the entire North Korean navy in very short order if we needed to.  We need to be able to take out North Korean transportation and military infrastructure quickly.  And this means moving our own medium and short range missiles, some of them nuclear tipped, into the region.

The North’s objective is to get the US to abandon its allies in the region.  Kim’s path of doing this is backfiring, as Japan and South Korea will now redouble their own efforts to arm and protect themselves.  This means that both democratic governments are probably already working on their own nuclear weapon plans.  At this point they would be naïve not to.

Circling the Wagons

One of the best things about the USA is that when there is a disaster, people help each other.  Americans have a strong sense of community, like almost no-where else.  Many European friends have told me over the years how different the United States is from their countries in response to disasters.  Americans get out and help each other; they don’t wait for a government response.

I believe that this cultural willingness to help each other, to bond together in tough times, comes from our pioneer and settler history.  Almost no one in American history made it solely on their own in new lands.  They had to band together to help each other out, as no one was self sufficient.  They couldn’t be.  There were too many demands on their time and limited resources.  So they banded together in settlements, or in the wagon trains that moved west.  As they did so, they provided each other with mutual protection, and not everyone had to carry with them every single kind of tool, or every kind of repair part.  Resources were shared, and each contributed to the success of the group.

We still see this today, as it is a deep part of American culture.  Whenever there is a tornado, or an earthquake, or, like recently, a flood, Americans come together to help each other out.  We help with the labor, we share what we have, and we put ourselves in danger to rescue others.  This is a wonderful thing to see, and something that should both fill us with pride, and with optimism that we can handle tough things by helping each other out.

When people tell me that they are “prepping” because they are worried about the future, I have to tell them that they are delusional if they think they can handle the future on their own.  This is because anyone with any kind of military or police or security background will tell you that you (or even you and your family together) cannot protect your home.  You cannot be awake and alert that long, and you can’t look in every direction all the time.  Trying to be safe on your own is folly.

The tried and true method for safety and security is to band together, to “circle the wagons” in times of crisis.  Only like minded large groups and communities can fend for themselves, can provide themselves with basic security, and can pool and share needed resources in extremely tough times.

What to Do

For these reasons it is all the more important in troubled times to be involved in our own communities, at the most basic neighborhood and local levels.  We need to know each other and how we can help each other.  We need to know who can do what, and who can help with different important aspects of life.

For example, I know a guy in my neighborhood who is a professional expert in water purification.  I know others who are good mechanics, who is a decent plumber, and I myself am a pretty good electrician.  We can all help each other and our other neighbors in case of a serious disaster.

So, get involved in your neighborhood and in your towns and cities.  Find like-minded people and others who would be willing to pitch in and “Circle the Wagons” with you should it come to that.

Saving Health Care

The biggest drag on our economy is health care.  We are paying WAY too much for it, both as individuals and as countries.  Attempts to provide health care to everyone through government programs have bankrupted entire nations.  We need to radically reform how we deal with health care.  And neither Obamacare nor government run health care is the answer.

Most of what I have learned about health care comes from the exceptional book “Catastrophic Care” by David Goldhill (Vintage Books, 2013).  In this book, Mr. Goldhill, a New York Democrat, clearly describes both what is wrong with the health care system in the United States, and what could be done to fundamentally fix it.

Insurance is the basis of the American health care system.  The problem is that “insurance” works when a large number of people pay for a risk that few suffer.  Think of having a house fire.  We all insure for this, as losing hundreds of thousands of dollars suddenly would be a catastrophe, but how many people do you know who actually had a house fire.  Now think about health care.  How many people are going to get sick?  The answer is EVERYONE.

Most think that health insurance is a way to pay for health care with someone else’s money (the government’s, our employer’s, or others).  But it isn’t.  Because we all use it, we are all paying.  And paying a LOT.  In “Catastrophic Care”, Mr. Goldhill shows that an employee of his, who he expects will earn $3.85 Million over her working life, will spend $1.9 Million on health care.  That’s HALF of her earnings.  That’s what each of us is paying right now.  It is deductibles, plus insurance premiums, plus what the employer pays, and taxes (income and health taxes).  And just so you understand, what the employer pays would be our SALARY if they didn’t have to pay it – so make no mistake, it ALL comes out of our pockets.  We don’t get anything for “free”.

We pay so much because we are no longer the “customers” in health care.  We don’t pay the doctors or the hospitals, the insurance companies do.  And because of this, the system is set up to benefit not us, but the health care industry and the insurance companies.  Obamacare was written by Health Industry and Insurance lobbyists.  So that law benefits hospitals and insurance companies, while each of us pay more and more.

We have to take back both control and responsibility for our own Health Care spending.  Mr. Goldhill recommends a four part system:

1 – Mandatory Health Savings Accounts.  You are required to put so much into this every year.  You can only use it for health expenses.

2 – Catastrophic Health Insurance.  You must buy insurance (with a high deductible) for the health equivalent of house fires.  This covers the scary things that could happen, but rarely actually do.

3 – Health Loans that allow you to borrow against anticipated future deposits of your Health Savings Account.  This way if you (or your family) had health issues while younger, you can still access what you will eventually put into your account.

4 – Funding the Health Savings Accounts and Catastrophic Health Insurance for those without the necessary income.  We are doing more than this right now, as those at the bottom of the economy use expensive services like emergency rooms for their medical care.  So this would actually save over the current ways we subsidize healthcare for the poor.

“Catastrophic Care” even includes the road-map for a transition plan.  The outlined plan would move us from our current broken system, to one where individuals again have control (and responsibility) for their health care spending and choices.  An added bonus is that since it is our own money, if we don’t use it, we and our families get to keep what’s left over!

What to Do

The first meaningful step to taking action is getting educated on the problem.  So, I would highly recommend getting a copy of “Catastrophic Care” and reading it.

Next is to put pressure on elected representatives.  They need to do things for those they represent rather than the lobbyists and special interest groups that give them so much money.  We CANNOT have the rules about any industry written by the lobbyists from those industries.

Lastly, we need to recognize that we don’t get anything for free.  We all have to pay for our health care, in one way or another.  We need to take back this responsibility.  When we do, the health care system will become more responsive, improve the quality of its care, and become a LOT CHEAPER.