Anxious aged

Thomas Edsall, writing for the New York Times, offers opinions on why American voters tend to resist government redistributive policies. He cites, in particular, older citizens dependent on Social Security and Medicare, who fear cuts to these programs as a consequence of funding the Affordable Care Act, especially. Indeed, as Edsall reports, the Obama Administration has stated that his signature health care initiative will slash nearly $800 billion from Medicare budgets over the next ten years.

But Edall cites other reasons for Americans’ resistance to redistribution. He writes:

A second factor in the declining support for downward redistribution is a shift in the balance of political power at the state and federal levels, away from labor unions and progressive nonprofit interest groups to the corporate sector and politically influential affluent classes.

Money talks, as usual, big money most of all. The corporate takeover of politics, which began in the late 70s, has completely overwhelmed efforts by the Rest of Us to build and sustain a more just and equitable society.

Imagining things

From ginandtacos.com:

It is only because so many people in this country believe things that are demonstrably, incontrovertibly wrong that we do not find this more alarming. We’ve simply become used to it and we hardly flinch when we see True Believers, with the fires of sincerity burning in their eyes, insisting that whatever fantasy occupies the far right at the moment is true. It is odd that labeling these delusions as part of our political or religious beliefs inoculates them from the kind of reaction they would get if “Muslims” was replaced with “unicorns.”

In a similar vein, Charles M. Blow with the New York Times:

One of the reasons cited was Americans’ inverse understanding of the reality and perception of crime in this country. As the report spells out, in the 1990s, people’s perception of the prevalence of crime fell in concert with actual instances of violent crime. But since the turn of the century, things have changed: “A majority of Americans (63 percent) said in a Gallup survey last year that crime was on the rise, despite crime statistics holding near 20-year lows.”

He’s asking if the National Rifle Association has won.

How we live [U]

A most insightful piece by architect Mark Hinshaw in Crosscut on urban construction, patterns, and personal preferences. Both Millennials and Boomers are flocking to the cities, Seattle being one of them. Unlike our parents, we shun the suburbs and sprawl. Well, not all of us, certainly, as the clogged freeways attest. Hinshaw:

…In a sense, Seattle is a victim of its own success. With all the articles and rankings touting its culture, its music, its natural setting and its high-paying jobs are we really surprised that so many people want to move here? Even corporations that previously located in outlying areas — Weyerhaeuser, Facebook and Expedia, for example — are piling on.

The pace of development here has also been fueled by dramatic changes in the national demographic makeup. Households are smaller but more numerous. Boomers, who make up a quarter of the population, are downsizing and opting for more compact dwellings in urban places that offer transit, cultural amenities and high-quality health care. Millennials, another 25 percent of the population, are eschewing the suburbs in favor of density, diversity and public transit that only urban places offer.

As for new families departing cities for the house-cum-garage-cum-fenced-yard, Hinshaw suggests otherwise:

…In sharp contrast to past generations, Millennials are putting off marriage and kids. Moreover, their values are rooted in lifestyles that only denser urban places can provide.

We are seeing a sea change in the preferences of younger Americans. For one thing, Millennials are acutely aware of the environmental damage done to this country by five decades of outward expansion into an auto-dependent landscape. Climate change is only one negative outcome of those growth patterns.

But these preferences for denser patterns of development are being met with questionable design and inferior construction, as property owners scramble to keep up. New apartment complexes, often built with five stories of lumber, suffer under the wet and windy Northwest climate. Hinshaw:

Because wood expands and contracts in response to changes in weather and moisture content, certain types of rigid materials used on building surfaces pull apart at their seams, leaving cracks that wind-driven rain can penetrate. And penetrate it did.

Along with the accompanying mold and mildew, water damage led to massive insurance claims, litigation and costly repairs. For more than a decade, numerous buildings around Seattle were cocooned in plastic wrap while their exteriors were being reconstructed. As it turns out, only a few materials perform well when stretched across many floors of wood framing. Many of these materials, such as “Hardy” planks and metal sheeting, are, well, as boring as sheet rock, aesthetically speaking.

Hinshaw tells us that new materials are now available to withstand the soggy weather. We urbanites hope that developers and architects will offer better design.

I look forward to the second part of Hinshaw’s essay.

UPDATE:

Here is part 2 of Hinshaw’s piece. He makes the case for shared walls.

Not so clean

The Snohomish County PUD, which supplies electricity to the people of Snohomish County and Camano Island, relies almost exclusively on renewable resources, hydropower being the principal component. The only fossil fuel used comes by way of market purchases, a small slice of the utility’s overall portfolio.

However commendable the achievement, which I have wholeheartedly endorsed as one of the utility’s policy makers, the rest of the world is clearly losing the war against carbon emissions. Consider this chart from a recent article in Vox:

global_energy_use_by_source.0

President Obama has sought to curb greenhouse gas emissions by means of the Clean Air Act. Even though final rules have yet to be promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency, coal states have sued the U.S. government. This, from the linked New York Times article:

Patrick Morrissey, attorney general of West Virginia, which is leading the states’ petition against the E.P.A., said the agency is trying to exploit the ambiguity in a law to enact sweeping regulations that could transform the American energy economy. “They are trying to bring life to a clerical error,” he said. “Now it’s being used to put forth a major transformation to American energy policy — and to cause harm to West Virginia.”

Opponents of the rule say they are optimistic about the outcome in part because of the judges presiding over the case. All three were appointed by Republican presidents — two by President George W. Bush, and one by his father.

We know that Congress will not act to curtail emissions. If the courts side with West Virginia and others, the executive branch may be neutered in its attempts to combat climate change. Then it’s business as usual as the world warms.

Shuttering our doors

Consider this chart from Thomas Edsall’s column in the New York Times:

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 9.23.42 AM

If you ask why business dynamism is waning, you’ll likely receive an array of opinions that align with ideological prejudices. And therein lies the problem, suggests Edsall:

In theory, elections are designed to put in office politicians skilled at winning enactment of legislation. At the moment, however, polarization is resulting in the election of men and women who are opposed to governing, if governing requires them to compromise.

In these circumstances, the economy will be held hostage in the battle for supremacy between two ideological poles, with no relief in sight.