Sunday, November 22, 2009

So Far, So Good

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on December 4th 2008 in Metro √Čireann By Charles Laffiteau

Since it looks like my Cabinet predictions regarding the players in the incoming Obama administration came pretty close to the mark, today I want to discuss their implications for the Obama presidency as well as my dear “old” Republican Party.
Some of my Republican cohorts believe I was just another one of those poor souls who fell under Obama’s spell after drinking some Obama “kool-aid”. But when it comes to my country and domestic politics, I have always been a cold eyed realist. As such I am not given to dreamy visions of great things coming to pass as the result of the election of any one individual or the ascension to power of any political party.
The fact of the matter is, I spend very little time celebrating the triumphs of those I have supported politically because I have this annoying habit of immediately beginning to worry about what mistakes they are going to make and how soon they will make them. As a natural optimist, I know this may strike some people as being a somewhat cynical outlook, but it is nonetheless an attitude about American politics that has evolved over the years based on my past experience and many political disappointments. So ever since Obama’s election on 4 November, I have been closely watching the Obama Presidential transition and the Cabinet choices Obama is making for signs of impending problems.
In what I hope is a good sign for the future of the United States, I must confess that I have thus far been unable to find any fault with Obama’s decisions about who he plans to place in positions of power within his Presidential administration. In a notable departure from past Republican and Democratic administrations, Obama isn’t just giving jobs to his friends and political hacks from his party or the special interest groups that supported him. Not since the pre-Civil War day’s selection of William Seward by Abraham Lincoln, has a US President been so bold as to offer an important and highly visible Cabinet position like Secretary of State to his most bitter political rival.
While Obama’s unexpected courtship and selection of Hillary Clinton to be America’s top foreign policy official has been hailed by some as a shrewd political move to neutralize his top political opponent, I suspect it is more than just a savvy political decision. Let’s face it, unlike Lincoln’s pick of Seward; Hillary Clinton also brings a former President named Bill Clinton and all the attendant Clinton baggage with her as well. So I believe picking Clinton for this particular post is actually a clear demonstration of Obama’s confidence in himself as President and his commitment to surround himself with strong, smart political personalities who won’t hesitate to disagree with him.
Given the myriad of complex foreign and domestic crises the US is currently facing, the incoming President will need the best and brightest of its politicians and policy wonks to effectively deal with America’s problems. Some of my Republican colleagues have cynically noted that Obama has been picking the same old Washington DC “insiders” to help him govern instead of the outsiders one would expect from a President who promised he would change the way the US Federal Government operates.
Maybe I’m wrong and they will prove to be correct in this assessment. But I would counter with the argument that these experienced Washington hands are also more likely to get the new legislation the US needs to address its problems passed in Congress than outsiders unfamiliar with the way business gets done in our nation’s capital. Unfortunately many American’s, including those Republican’s who are so enamored of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, cling to the romantic notion that you need inexperienced fresh faces in Washington to shake things up and move the country forward.
They forget that President’s Carter and Clinton went that route and failed miserably while consummate Washington insiders like President’s Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon got landmark Civil Rights and Environmental Protection laws passed. Unlike President Clinton, Obama has decided that Tom Daschle will be both his Secretary of Health and Human Services as well as his White House health “czar”, a strategy that will avoid potential conflicts and ensure something gets done in this policy arena. Unlike President Bush, Obama is also bringing the brightest of both his personal friends and Washington insiders into his administration instead of a bunch of old buddies whose most outstanding qualities were their years of loyalty to him or partisan Republican ideology.
Thus far, none of Obama’s choices have been individuals who are considered overly partisan by most knowledgeable Republicans. People like Rahm Emanuel and Phil Schiliro have demonstrated expertise developing pragmatic solutions to address problems as well as the steps necessary to win support for them from opponents across the aisle. Indeed, they and the other open minded Washington insiders Obama has picked, like Peter Orzag as Budget Director and Eric Holder as Attorney General, are respected by Republicans and Democrats alike for their practicality, professionalism and honesty.
The dilemma for the Republican Party is going to be coming up with viable alternatives to the legislative solutions Obama’s experienced Washington insiders will be proposing in the very near future. But the Republican Party currently lacks leaders who can articulate a vision that addresses America’s foreign and domestic problems that is also significantly different than the failed policies of President Bush as well as those being proposed by President-elect Barack Obama.
While I am encouraged by what I have seen from President-elect Obama so far, I am under no illusions that he and his team have all the answers. In the long run I believe the interests of the American people are best served if President Obama and the Democratic Party have a strong Republican opposition party in Congress to prevent them from over-reaching in their attempts to fix the problems the US is facing. So next week I’ll discuss the Republican Party’s prospects in 2010 and beyond.

Global warming and how it is affecting Ireland’s weather

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on July 24th 2008 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In today’s column I want to discuss one of our favourite subjects here in Ireland….the weather and the impact of global warming on it. As some of you may recall (or may not wish to given how awful it was) last summer was Ireland’s wettest summer in the last 10 years and one of the wettest in Ireland’s history. It was also the coolest summer since 2002, but having said that, it was still one of the 10 warmest summers in Ireland’s recorded weather history, with temperatures averaging more than a half a degree higher than the average for the 30 years from 1961thru 1990.
Fortunately for those of us living in Ireland this year, at the half-way point in July it appears we will be spared a repeat of last summer’s 60 straight days of rain, which stretched from mid-June thru mid-August until we got a bit of “Indian Summer” relief during late August and September. But for those of us living in Dublin and eastern Ireland the summer of 2007 was the most miserable that even the oldest natives can ever remember. Furthermore, the Poulter index, (a more scientific method of determining how good or bad our summer weather was because it uses a formula based on mean temperature, rainfall and sunshine at weather station to quantify Ireland’s summer weather) showed the lowest (i.e. miserable) value for Dublin since 1986 and the fourth lowest value for Birr since they began measurements there almost a hundred years ago.
What I and I’m sure many others living in Ireland are wondering though is this; was last summer just a freak of nature (an aberration if you will) or was it a sign of what we have to look forward to in the coming years as a consequence of global warming?
In an attempt to answer this question I decided to do a bit of research, some of it unscientific, but the vast majority of it was based on real, hard, factual data that it would be nigh unto impossible for anyone to dispute. To put things in perspective lets review what has occurred so far this summer if for no other reason than it would appear to support the contention that last summer was just an aberration rather than a consequence of global warming we can expect to see more of in the future.
Last summer was foreshadowed by a lovely warm April and early June sandwiched around a fairly miserable month of May. Of course it turned out May was a harbinger for what most of the rest of last summer became, wet and wretched. Thus far this summer has been almost the reverse of last in that April was quite cool and the first half of June was both cool and rainy, while May was the driest it’s been in the last 15 years as well as the hottest May Ireland has seen in more than a century. Since the past month has also seen nothing like the 60 straight days of rain we saw last summer from mid-June onward, one could make a reasonable though unscientific case that last summer wasn’t a consequence of global warming but was just a natural seasonal anomaly.
Unfortunately, a closer look at Ireland’s historical weather patterns based on scientific measurements and other factual data leads one to conclude that such is probably not the case however. When viewed from a much broader perspective based on decades of weather research data, last summer is likely to be repeated more often than any of us living here in Ireland would care to see. This is due to the fact that last summer as well as this summer both fit within a pattern that has recently emerged which shows that Ireland is both wetter and hotter than it was 30 years ago. Both of these characteristics, wetter and hotter, are the unnatural consequences of global warming for the Emerald Isle.
But the fact that temperatures have gotten warmer and rainfall has increased over what it was 30 years ago isn’t what people living here in Ireland need to be concerned about. It’s the other consequences that are linked to this changing weather pattern that should concern all Irish residents because dealing with them won’t be as simple as buying a few more umbrellas or some lighter weight clothing.
Our wetter climate will result in increased soil erosion throughout the island as well as an increase in flooding and the damage to homes and businesses that comes with it. Our hotter climate will also lead to water shortages in some areas of the country, particularly when strong high pressure systems settle over the country.
This past May was exceptionally warm, especially over the western half of the country and temperatures rose above 20°C in many places around the country during the second week in May. In fact both April and May were relatively dry except in parts of the west, even though March and June were wetter than normal in most areas of the country.
A wetter and hotter Ireland will also continue to experience more extreme forms of weather just as Ireland’s neighbours to the east in the UK and on the continent are also confronting with increasing frequency. Tornados, which are common in the lower latitudes of my native land, and extremely high non-tornado wind gusts, have become an increasing danger in European countries over the last 10 years. Right here in Ireland the highest wind gust in the last 50 years, 73 knots (135km/hour), was recorded this year at both Valentia Observatory on March 10th and at Belmullet on March 11th.
Believe it or not, this summer’s June downpours and storms also broke long-standing records around the country according to Met √Čireann, even though twice as much rain fell in June of last year. Furthermore Dublin was struck with the strongest winds it has seen in almost 30 years dating back to 1980. Next week I will discuss some more consequences.