Glacier Collapse Magnified

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Scientists Warn of Rising Oceans from Polar Melt,” provides more sobering evidence of the effect of human activities on the earth and should provide an impetus for conservative politicians in the United States to understand that this issue should be beyond politics.

It is getting harder and harder for them to deny the effects of climate change, and this news is especially critical because two independent teams of researchers came to the same conclusion: global warming has destabilized six glaciers holding together the Antartica ice sheet, making the effects of rising seas several magnitudes higher than previously thought. In other words, the devastation will be worse; it’s happening now; and it will be very difficult if not impossible for reverse.

For my conservative friends who feel piled upon by scientific evidence, I give my plea for a reversal of your stance — on this one issue, the fate of every human being on the planet is at stake; so even if you still have some doubts, please allow the implementation of some steps to mitigate the damage. The Earth is the only home we have, so it makes sense to take some precautions by reducing greenhouse emissions, even if you are unsure about the situation. Just in case. Otherwise, the coastal cities requiring evacuation will include New Orleans, Miami, Boston and New York.

Missing Nigerian Girls

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “In Town of Missing Girls, Sorrow, but Little Progress,” describes a poignant and untenable situation where young Nigerian children are being punished because of the world view of government rebels. These children, who were kidnapped by an Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, were only guilty of trying to lift themselves from the depth of poverty through the mobility provided by a good education.

They had not even reached the level where they could distinguish themselves, perhaps possible in later grades, but were learning because of the commitment of their parents who only imagined a better life for their progeny. The belief that girls should not get an education belongs in a previous century, but even if you have strong feelings about this as a Muslim, the solution is not to take it out on the children.

Yet burned-down schools apparently litter the landscape in this region of Nigeria, and it is the responsibility of the national government to provide basic protection. At least Nigerian leaders are smart enough to request international assistance, and perhaps with the help of Britain, France and the United States, the children will eventually be found and liberated.

Meanwhile, Boko Haram is threatening to marry the girls off into a life of slavery. The civilized world must rise as one to prevent this atrocity.

Progressive NYC Budget

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a different kind of budget for New York City yesterday, one he described as humane and prudent. It provided increased funding for education, social services and other quality of life issues such as reducing traffic fatalities to zero.

The public school system received hundreds of million dollars more including generous support for after-school programs. Projected compensation costs for other city unions differed from the miserly budgets of Mayor Bloomberg and conveyed a respect for union labor and needs.

The final budget still must be negotiated with the city council, and the deadline is July 1 for the beginning of the new fiscal year. It is critical for the council to accept Mayor de Blasio’s priorities to help make the city the showcase of successful liberal policies.

The budget does make certain assumptions and relies on a pledge by organized labor to find more than three billion dollars of savings without increasing workers’ premiums. But Mr. de Blasio has gotten off on the right foot by honoring many of his campaign pledges and showing what the implementation of a liberal agenda can achieve. A focus on fiscal issues without a heart was typical of the Bloomberg years, and Mr. de Blasio is attempting to accomplish so much more.

Putin Backs Down?

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Putin Hits Pause in Ukraine Crisis Amid Skepticism,” signals a possible new direction for the Kremlin, and President Obama should be praised for the calm and collected way he handled the situation.

It appears that the concerns of the Russian business community may have affected Mr. Putin’s calculations, and the rise of “black swans” may have triggered his reactions to the chaos currently afflicting Eastern Ukraine. Black swans is a term used in international relations to describe random, unpredictable events.

Russia’s claim that they are removing their troops from the border region remains to be verified by satellite imagery, and it could possibly prove to be a false statement. Russia had made a similar promise prior to its annexation of Crimea, and only one battalion had withdrawn.

If, on the other hand, the Kremlin statement can be verified either now or in the near future, Mr. Putin will have pulled off a skillful manipulation of the situation in Ukraine. He would have secured the country’s only warm water port in Crimea and asserted his influence over large swaths of Ukraine while pulling back from actual war that would not have been bloodless like Crimea and would have inevitably diminished the high levels of domestic popularity he had gained through his decisive actions.

Climate Crisis

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “U.S. Climate has Already Changed, Study Finds, Citing Heat and Floods,” makes a compelling case for immediate action regarding global warming. It cites current weather anomalies as based on a changing climate and predicts further devastation unless something is done.

The study emphasizes what more than 90 percent of climatologists already know: that climate change is leading to extreme weather including droughts in the Southwest, torrential rains in the Northeast and ecological modifications in habitats around the globe. It is causing severe dislocations in Alaska where entire communities have been forced to move inland and in infestations of pine forests by beetles favored by warmer climates.

The President will be proposing new climate regulations in June, and one hopes that Republicans will become more amenable to common-sense ways to lower U.S. emissions. While China has recently surpassed the United States in harmful pollution, on a per capita basis we are still way ahead.

Even if you retain doubts about these weather phenomena, it makes sense to do something, just in case, before it is too late. There is no way we should risk our planet, the only home we have, because of party ideology. It is frightening to think that all the changes we have already witnessed derive from an increase of two degrees in our atmosphere when scientists are predicting a possible 10 degree rise by the end of the century.

Russian Natural Gas

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Kiev Struggles to Break Russia’s Grip on Gas Flow,” describes an economic stranglehold making Ukraine dependent on Russia’s natural gas to heat its homes and run its factories.

Moreover, Russia, through its state-controlled gas company, Gazprom, changes the price of its natural gas to Ukraine depending on who is in power. With the current European-friendly government, it is charging $485 per thousand cubic meters compared to $268 when President Viktor Yanukovych was in charge.

In order to break this dependency, Ukraine is trying to arrange “reverse-flow” deliveries from Slovakia, even though that nation gets 60 percent of its own supply from Gazprom. And Europe as a whole gets about a third of its natural gas supply from Gazprom.

These facts on the ground give Russia tremendous leverage during geopolitical crises because it becomes problematic to arrange effective economic sanctions when so many nations in Europe are vulnerable to a complete cutoff. And Vladimir Putin knows how to utilize this reality to the full power of his ability.

Should the power supply be interrupted in European households, it is the democratically elected leaders who will face an outcry, especially during the winter. Putin knows this, and European leaders know that he knows, and that makes the situation in Ukraine all the worse for its peaceful law-abiding citizens.

NYC Teacher Accord

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Teacher Accord Gives City a Map for Other Deals,” describes a significant change in attitude between New York City’s administration and its work force and can be attributed directly to a change in the mayor’s approach.

Previously, the Bloomberg administration was engaged in a confrontational stand off between the city and its unions, using all stick and no carrot to try to force a deal down the unions’ throats. They demanded and cajoled instead of trying to understand the real needs and role of union representation.

Mayor de Blasio, on the other hand, worked together with union representatives and mediation to craft a deal beneficial to all. The final pact was fiscally responsible while respecting the needs of teachers as people by allowing them to do their job better. Raises were granted, but the deal spread them out over nine years, significantly longer than most previous labor pacts. In turn, the union agreed to find more than $1 billion in health care savings and empowered the mediator to find them if they were unable to do so.

Perhaps, most importantly, the deal allowed the teachers as a whole to bring pride back to their reputation. Poor performers and misconduct can be more easily punished, and teachers can alter the length of the school year and the curriculum more easily. They can also increase the number of parent teacher conferences appropriately.

Kudos Mayor de Blasio on a job well done.

The Reality of Poverty

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Changed Life of the Poor; Better Off, but Far Behind,” takes a penetrating look at the effects of poverty and what it means in today’s economy by looking at global trends and their effect on the least among us.

The cost of many manufactured goods has declined due to the increase in technology and its downward pressure on prices. This trend gives the poor more material abundance than ever before and seems to be a driving reason for the Republican analysis of their status as “takers.”

But the Republicans are missing an important point. The same trends that make goods affordable throughout society have also led to the disappearance of many industrial jobs that used to provide a good living. Without these employment opportunities, the poor are caught in a structural trap, making it impossible to lift themselves into the middle class.

Two important factors are keeping the poor stuck. The rising cost of a college education has been bucking the downward trend on many other necessities, and without one, it is virtually impossible to succeed in today’s society. The second factor involves the rising cost of healthcare, especially child care. Rates ranging from $6,000 per year and more have forced poor women out of the workforce and made it even harder for them to achieve advancement.

So yes, the poor are maintaining a more comfortable lifestyle. But without a college education or childcare, they are trapped in the morass of living from paycheck to paycheck.